Pope Francis Talks of Gospel Freedom; Naysayers Go Bonkers

Pope Francis Talks of Gospel Freedom; Naysayers Go Bonkers September 15, 2021

1 Peter 2:17 (RSV) Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the [pagan, anti-Christian, persecuting] emperor.

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Even in your thought, do not curse the king, . . .

Titus 3:1-2 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, [2] to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.

We live in an age where everything is now broken up into soundbites. And we ourselves are smashed up into a hundred different factions. Currently this is massively going on, even among orthodox Catholics. The devil is having a field day. He laughs himself silly all day long at the divisive, contentious actions of millions of Catholics.

The big game and perhaps Satan’s most successful tactic today (to divide Catholics) is to take a few snippets of a talk or writing by Pope Francis (invariably taken out of context) and give them the worst possible (inaccurate, incorrect) slant, and then hundreds of Francis-bashers get together in a forum and try to out-do each other in being dense and obtuse and stupefyingly asinine.

It goes on all the time, and there’s no end in sight. And (here’s the saddest part) it will no doubt continue with future popes, since this utter lack or respect and reverence towards the Supreme Head of Christ’s Church: the successor of St. Peter, is an essentially unCatholic mentality that is not and will not be confined to reactions to one pope alone.

In American courts, one who is called to take the stand takes an oath by agreeing with the notion: “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” This is an excellent resolve to make. Today we have an epidemic of half-truths drawn from Pope Francis, that look at first glance like something other than what they are. A half-truth is often no better than an outright lie.

I’ve closely examined many instances of this sort of thing in my 205 defenses of Pope Francis. It’s almost always (if not always) much ado about nothing; a tempest in a teapot; making a mountain out of a molehill at worst. That’s my experience as an apologist. I can’t pretend that it is other than what it is. I ran across another of the innumerable mudfests today, as I scrolled through Facebook.

This post was a meme put up by Sancta Familia: in agreement with the Holy Father, since it introduced the excerpt from him as “powerful words.” He was cited from an address in Slovakia on 9-13-21:

Perhaps some people are used to this [rigidity], but many others, especially the younger generations, are not attracted by a faith that leaves no interior freedom, by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.

[“official” Holy See version at the Vatican website: “Some people may be used to this. But many others – especially the younger generations – are not attracted by a faith that leaves them no interior freedom. They are not attracted by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.”]

Now, the pope-bashers and the papal nitpickers and those given to rumormongering and gossip seemed to think this was the height of absurdity and/or hypocrisy for the pope to speak in such a way. Of course, in its entirety it was a beautiful and profound message, soaked in the Bible and the Gospel. I’ll get to that when I cite much of it, but first let me share with you some of the reactions. The thread [public setting], which has been up about 41 hours, as I write, has garnered 582 comments (not all negative, but most). Here are some from the nattering nabobs (and several names you may know):

Tony Esolen And when and where in the last 50 years has the Church been “rigid”? [88 likes]

Karl Keating I suspect there was a mistranslation. “Flaccid” and “rigid” are easy to confuse. [38 likes]

Larry Chapp Exactly what I was thinking. You can’t trust these darn translations.

Edward Wassell Isn’t Traditiones Custodes precisely an imposition of rigidity on the faithful and priests. Just accept the modern liturgy and obey.

Robert Brennan And for the 1,245th time, something the Pope says has to be explained to me. I’m growing weary.

[I couldn’t resist that, so I chimed in: “And for the 1,245th time it was no doubt taken out of context and a bunch of naysaying cynics give it the worst sort of interpretation. As a defender of this pope, let me tell you I am sick to death of that by now.” I have received no “likes” or replies at all after 17 hours: the usual routine in these hit-threads: groupthinking clones]

Phillip Campbell If he does not want a church where we are all supposed to be alike and blindly obey, then he should stop pushing indiscriminate conformity with his new legislation restricting the traditional Latin mass.

Reanen Maxwell worst Pope ever

Phillip Campbell Definitely at the bottom of the list

[another one I couldn’t resist, as I know Phillip personally, and he has been in my house, and I’ve recommended a book of his; so I replied: “Right down there with Honorius, Vigilius, Liberius, and the whoremongers and murderers, huh?” Again, no “likes” or reply after 17 hours.]

[Fr.] Erik Richtsteig The irony is thick with this one.

Michael Tamara This is true on its face, but ironic considering the source and recent events in the Church.

The younger generations, if they still practice the faith at all, tend to gravitate toward tradition because they understand that true freedom cannot come from relativism and trying to appease the lawlessness of the secular world, but only through loving Jesus by obeying His commands. They yearn for a Church that will not affirm them in their fallenness, but that will once again challenge them to be raised up by Christ out of their sins and vices. They desire a Church that believes in them – that it is possible to live holy lives and strive to be saints – and encourages them in that effort rather than telling them not to bother because they’re fine the way they are. Yet, it seems lost on the Holy Father – with his most recent motu proprio drastically handicapping the Traditional Latin Mass and marginalizing the vital and steadily growing group of Catholics who find their spiritual home and nourishment there – that it is younger families, priests, and religious who he has most greatly distressed by his own apparently rigid disdain for Catholic tradition.
Sheila Banks Dixon What is wrong with this man!
Tom Sharpling Well, the new Motu proprio on the Traditional Mass is an exact example of requiring everybody to blindly follow and believe and think in the same way. I have in the past made it quite clear that this was a bad tempered and impulsive mistake and will do nothing other than detract from the diversity and richness of the Church.
Teresa Toner This pope has an unfortunate way with words. . . . his words are often ambiguous and easily misconstrued.
Reggie-Lou Fashbaugh He has a Luciferian PERFECTED well intended way of words.
Olisa Francis Achike Signs and symptoms of clericalism. An out of touch statement by a clueless prelate.
Sheila Banks Dixon Can you ever in a million years imagine Pope St John Paul speaking about the young people like this. He drew the young to him. There’s something wrong about this Pope.
[Yeah, it’s obvious that Pope Francis has trouble drawing and appealing to youth: only three million showed up for the final Mass at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 2.5 million for the final Mass at World Youth Day in Krakow Poland in 2016: more than three times the population of that city (source); clearly a problem]
Kevin T Rush He’s such a demagogue. Always twisting truth with straw man arguments. He’s so tiresome; I marvel at the Lord’s patience.
To give just one of a billion examples, elsewhere: Ed Feser is a Thomist philosopher, who fancies himself as quintessentially Catholic. Yet he doesn’t talk much like a Catholic at all when it comes to Pope Francis (much more like Luther and Calvin). Here he is, from an article dated 7-18-21:

Usually, errant popes exhibit serious failings of only one or two sorts.  But Pope Francis seems intent on achieving a kind of synthesis of all possible papal errors.  Like Honorius I and John XXII, he has made doctrinally problematic statements (and more of them than either of those popes ever did).  Like Vigilius, his election and governance have involved machinations on the part of a heterodox party.  The Pachamama episode brings to mind Marcellinus and John XII.  Then there are the bad episcopal appointments, the accommodation to China’s communist government, and the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which echo the mismanagement, political folly, corruption and decadence of previous eras in papal history.  And now we have this repeat of Victor’s high-handedness.  Having in this way insulted a living predecessor, might Francis next ape Pope Stephen VI by exhuming a dead one and putting the corpse on trial?

Probably not.  But absolutely nothing would surprise me anymore in this lunatic period in history that we’re living through.

Yeah we sure are living through a “lunatic period of history”: but not for the reasons he thinks. He himself is in on the lunatic anti-papal, Luther redux faction.
And it goes on and on, ad nauseam. You get the idea. Yet as I read the entire address, I can see nothing whatsoever wrong with it. He is massively misunderstood, as usual: certainly by those who won’t trouble themselves to have the fairness and intelligence to read the whole thing, and even by many who do read it, because hostility breeds a lack of objectivity at best, an inability to comprehend, and flat-out lies and slander at worst.
So why don’t we actually read this beautiful, Bible-soaked address to Bishops, Priests, Religious, Seminarians, and Catechists by Pope Francis? It had three themes: freedom, creativity, and dialogue. For the sake of relative brevity, I’ll concentrate on the first and third.
I have come as your brother, so indeed I feel like one of you. I am here to share your journey – this is what a Bishop and a Pope is supposed to do – your questions, and the aspirations and hopes of this Church and this country;
Humility. Jesus also called His disciples His “brothers” and “friends” and washed their feet, etc.

Sharing was the style of the first Christian community: they were constant in prayer and they walked together in concord (cf. Acts 1:2-14). They also quarrelled, but they walked together.

This is what we need most of all: a Church that can walk together, that can tread the paths of life holding high the living flame of the Gospel. The Church is not a fortress, a stronghold, a lofty castle, self-sufficient and looking out upon the world below. Here in Bratislava, you have a castle and it is a fine one! The Church, though, is a community that seeks to draw people to Christ with the joy of the Gospel, not a castle! She is the leaven of God’s Kingdom of love and peace in our world. Please, let us not be tempted by worldly trappings and grandeur! The Church must be humble, like Jesus, who stripped himself of everything and made himself poor in order to make us rich (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). That is how he came to dwell among us and to care for our wounded humanity.

How great is the beauty of a humble Church, a Church that does not stand aloof from the world, viewing life with a detached gaze, but lives her life within the world. Living within the world means being willing to share and to understand people’s problems, hopes and expectations. This will help us to escape from our self-absorption, for the centre of the Church is not the Church! When the Church is self-absorbed, she ends up like the woman in the Gospel: bent over, navel-gazing (cf. Lk 13:10-13). The centre of the Church is not herself. We have to leave behind undue concern for ourselves, for our structures, for what society thinks about us. This will only lead us to a “cosmetic theology”… How do we make ourselves look good? Instead, we need to become immersed in the real lives of people and ask ourselves: what are their spiritual needs and expectations? What do they expect from the Church? It is important to try to respond to these questions.


It’s a beautiful and moving reflection and exhortation to those who have devoted their lives to serving Jesus in the Church. I fail to see how any Christian familiar with the Bible and sacred Catholic tradition could disagree with this.

For me, three words come to mind.

The first is freedom. Without freedom, there can be no true humanity, for human beings were created free in order to be free. The tragic chapters of your country’s history provide a great lesson: whenever freedom was attacked, violated and suppressed, humanity was disfigured and the tempests of violence, coercion and the elimination of rights rapidly followed.

Freedom is not something achieved automatically, once and for all. No! It is always a process, at times wearying and ever in need of being renewed, something we need to strive for every day. It is not enough to be free outwardly, or in the structures of society, to be authentically free. Freedom demands personal responsibility for our choices, discernment and perseverance. This is indeed wearisome and even frightening. At times, it is easier not to be challenged by concrete situations, to continue doing what we did in the past, without getting too deeply involved, without taking the risk of making a decision. We would rather get along by doing what others – or public opinion or the media – decide for us. This should not be the case. So often times nowadays we do what the media decide we should do. In this way, we lose our freedom. Let us reflect, though, on the history of the people of Israel: they suffered under the tyranny of the Pharaoh, they were slaves and then the Lord set them free. Yet to experience true freedom, not simply freedom from their enemies, they had to cross the desert, to undertake an exhausting journey. Then they began to think: “Weren’t we better off before? At least we had a few onions to eat…” This is the great temptation: better a few onions than the effort and the risk involved in freedom. This is one of our temptations. Yesterday, speaking to ecumenical representatives, I mentioned Dostoyevsky and his “Grand Inquisitor”. Jesus secretly comes back to the earth and the inquisitor reproaches him for having given freedom to men and women. A bit of bread and little else is enough. This temptation is always present, the temptation of the leeks. Better a few leeks and a bit of bread than the effort and the risk involved in freedom. I leave it to you to think about these things.

Sometimes in the Church too this idea can take hold. Better to have everything readily defined, laws to be obeyed, security and uniformity, rather than to be responsible Christians and adults who think, consult their conscience and allow themselves to be challenged. This is the beginning of casuistry, trying to regulate everything. In the spiritual life and in the life of the Church, we can be tempted to seek an ersatz peace that consoles us, rather than the fire of the Gospel that unsettles and transforms us. The safe onions of Egypt prove more comfortable than the uncertainties of the desert. Yet a Church that has no room for the adventure of freedom, even in the spiritual life, risks becoming rigid and self-enclosed. Some people may be used to this. But many others – especially the younger generations – are not attracted by a faith that leaves them no interior freedom. They are not attracted by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.

Dear friends, do not be afraid to train people for a mature and free relationship with God. This relationship is important. This approach may give the impression that we are diminishing our control, power and authority [Dave: in other words, it is not denying those things at all], yet the Church of Christ does not seek to dominate consciences and occupy spaces, but rather to be a “wellspring” of hope in people’s lives. This is the risk; this is the challenge. I say this above all to bishops and priests, for you are ministering in a country where much has changed quickly and many democratic processes have been launched, but freedom remains fragile. This is especially true where people’s hearts and minds are concerned. For this reason, I encourage you to help set them free from a rigid religiosity. May they be freed from this, and may they continue to grow in freedom. No one should feel overwhelmed. Everyone should discover the freedom of the Gospel by gradually entering into a relationship with God, confident that they can bring their history and personal hurts into his presence without fear or pretence, without feeling the need to protect their own image. You can say to them “I am a sinner”, but say it with sincerity, don’t beat your breast and then keep thinking that you are justified. Freedom. May the proclamation of the Gospel be liberating, never oppressive. And may the Church be a sign of freedom and welcome! [my bolding and italics]

This is a treasure-trove of spirituality and Christian discipleship. I could comment on it all day long, but suffice it to say that he is basically going against what is the pharisaical attitude of over-legalism and not seeing the forest for the trees. This is precisely what the naysayers and nattering nabobs of negativism above are doing: they are examining the DNA of the bark of the trees of the “forest” rather than seeing the entire forest in its fullness and wholeness. And this is what Jesus was constantly trying to get the Pharisees to see:

Matthew 23:23-24 (RSV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

St. Paul likewise rebuked those who “go with the crowd” and fall prey to the current zeitgeist and fashionable groupthink; for example:

2 Timothy 3:5-7 holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. [6] For among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, [7] who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

2 Timothy 4:1-4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

But the ultimately positive message of the pope is drawn from frequent motifs in Holy Scripture about spiritual freedom:

John 8:31-36 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [33] They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, `You will be made free‘?” [34] Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. [36] So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Acts 13:38-39 Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, [39] and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Galatians 2:4 But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage —

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:13-18 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [15] But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. [16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. [18] But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

1 Peter 2:16-18 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. [17] Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. [18] Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.

A related scriptural theme is liberty:

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

Romans 8:21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

1 Corinthians 8:9 Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

1 Corinthians 10:29 . . . why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples?

James 1:25 But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

James 2:12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

This liberty is the opposite of spiritual “bondage” (Gal 4:8; Heb 2:15).

Openness to dialogue in the task of evangelism and teaching was another of Pope Francis’ three themes in this address:

Freedom, creativity, and finally, dialogue. A Church that trains people in interior freedom and responsibility, one able to be creative by plunging into their history and culture, is also a Church capable of engaging in dialogue with the world, with those who confess Christ without being “ours”, with those who are struggling with religion, and even with those who are not believers. It is not a cluster of special people. It dialogues with everyone: believers, those living lives of holiness, those who are lukewarm and those who do not believe. It speaks to everyone. It is a Church that, in the footsteps of Cyril and Methodius, unites and holds together East and West, different traditions and sensibilities. A community that, in proclaiming the Gospel of love, makes it possible for communion, friendship and dialogue to flourish between believers, between the different Christian confessions and between peoples.

Unity, communion and dialogue are always fragile, especially against the backdrop of a painful history that has left its scars. The memory of past injuries can breed resentment, mistrust and even contempt; it can tempt us to barricade ourselves against those who are different. Wounds, however, can always turn into passages, openings that, in imitating the wounds of the Lord, allow God’s mercy to emerge. That grace changes our lives and makes us artisans of peace and reconciliation. You have a proverb: “If someone throws a stone at you, give him bread in return”. This is inspiring. How truly evangelical this is! It is Jesus’ own invitation to break the vicious and destructive cycle of violence by turning the other cheek to those who persecute us, by overcoming evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21). I am always struck by an incident in the history of Cardinal Korec. He was a Jesuit Cardinal, persecuted by the regime, imprisoned, and sentenced to forced labour until he fell ill. When he came to Rome for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, he went to the catacombs and lit a candle for his persecutors, imploring mercy for them. This is the Gospel! It grows in life and in history through humble and patient love.

The pope here centers on a prominent biblical theme. The Greek word, dialegomai (13 appearances in the New Testament) is the source of the English word dialogue:

Acts 17:1-3 Now when they had passed through Amphip’olis and Apollo’nia, they came to Thessaloni’ca, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. [2] And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Acts 17:17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. [often, “reasoned” in other translations: here, and in other passages with dialegomai. Unfortunately, “argued” today often conjures up in people a negative connotation of “quarreling”: which is only one of its secondary meanings]

Acts 18:4 And he argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.

Acts 18:19 . . . he himself went into the synagogue and argued with the Jews.

Acts 19:8-9 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; [9] but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran’nus.

Dialogizomai has a similar general meaning (Mt 16:7-8; 21:25; Mk 2:6; 2:8 [2]; 8:16-17; 9:33; Lk 1:29; 3:15; 12:17; 20:14). Likewise, suzeteo means “to discuss, dispute, question, examine together”:

Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

This statement was in reference to Jesus’ discussion with the Sadducees about resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). Thus, Jesus used the techniques of “argument,” “debate,” and “disputation,” just as St. Paul did, and on very many occasions as well, especially with the Pharisees. Jesus Himself used dialogue as a means of communicating His message.

Acts 9:28-29 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, [29] preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him.

Again, all of this is eminently biblical. Yet recently (8-25-21), one radical Catholic reactionary described Pope Francis’ pontificate as, for example, “the Catechism of Hypocrisy”. Claiming to be “written in the spirit of Erasmus” (believe me, it’s not. I’ve read a lot of Erasmus, and this trash has nothing to do with him), some of the “gems” of this abominable hit-piece are the following:

When it comes to preaching on the subject of hypocrisy, Pope Francis should be considered a sage.

Hypocritical is a successor of St. Peter who disregards Sacred Scripture. . . .

Apparently the catechism doesn’t matter much to the pontiff. It seems he embraces the Protestant theory that so long as you have accepted Jesus as your “personal” Lord and Savior, you’ll be just fine.

Hypocrisy is the Holy Father’s complete disregard for the presence and power of the Holy Eucharist. . . .

Hypocrisy is a pontiff who cares more about Mother Earth than Mother Church.

I beg and plead with readers: don’t fall into this! It’s sinful and slanderous. Above all, I exhort you to actually read the pope’s words: in context and in their entirety, rather than simply reading cynically selected tidbits, complete with usually worthless “commentary” from the peanut gallery. He’s a wonderful and extraordinarily insightful, gifted teacher. Then if you must (I would say, avoid most of this, in our gossipy, intellectually vacuous day and age), read commentary and opinions about them, but read both sides: pro and con, not just con. Exhibit the pious Catholic and charitable spirit of St. Paul towards a leader in his time (and not even a Christian one):

Acts 23:1-5 And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” [2] And the high priest Anani’as commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. [3] Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” [4] Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” [5] And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written [Ex 22:28], `You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”


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Photo credit: Adam Cohn (2-28-16). In May 2006, an eruption of mud began to flow in Sdoarjo Indonesia. It’s the largest mud volcano in the world, spewing 180,000 cubic meters of mud per day, and is expected to continue to flow for another 25-30 years. About a decade after the disaster began, these statues were placed to commemorate the lives lost and the lives interrupted. [Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license]
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