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Middle East peace center of meeting between Francis, Abbas

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 18:47

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2017 / 05:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Vatican Saturday before inaugurating his country’s new embassy to the Holy See, where he met with Pope Francis for a discussion focused largely on peace efforts in the Middle East.

Described as “cordial” in Jan. 14 communique from the Vatican, the discussion between the two began by making note of the good relations they enjoy, which were “sealed” by a Global Agreement made by them in 2015 recognizing the “essential aspects” of the life and activity of the Church in Palestine.

“In this context, mention was made of the important contribution of Catholics to favoring the promotion of human dignity and assistance for those most in need, especially in the fields of education, health and aid,” the communique read.

Conversation then shifted to the peace process in the Middle East, and hope was voiced that direct negotiations between the different parties “may be resumed to bring an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations, and to find a just and lasting solution.”

“To this end, it is hoped that, with the support of the international community, measures can be taken that favor mutual trust and contribute to creating a climate that permits courageous decisions to be made in favor of peace.”

An emphasis was also placed on the importance of “safeguarding the sanctity” of Holy Sites, which are frequently a source of division and conflict between the different faiths in the area, as well as other conflicts affecting the region.

After his 23 minute meeting with the Pope, Abbas then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

He arrived at the Vatican at 10:10a.m. with his 10-15 person delegation and was met by the Pope, who told him in Spanish “It is a pleasure to receive you.” The president responded, saying “I am happy to be here.”

Pope Francis gifted the president the official medal for the Jubilee of Mercy as well as a copy of Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si, telling Abbas they had been translated.

For his part, Abbas gave the Pope five gifts: an icon of the face of Jesus, a stone from the site of Golgotha in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, a golden icon of the Holy Family, the book “Palestine and the Holy See” and a documentation of the work being done in restoring the Basilica of the Nativity.

When they sat down at the desk before the start of the meeting, the Pope told Abbas “things are arriving to me (from your area), and at a certain point in the discussion the president spoke to the Pope about the new embassy, telling Francis it’s a “sign that the Pope loves the Palestinian people and loves peace.”

The president was in Rome to inaugurate the new Palestinian embassy to the Holy See, just one year after the Holy See-Palestine agreement, signed May 13, 2015, took effect and made official the Holy See's recognition of the State of Palestine.

The fact that the Holy See referred to its agreement with “the State of Palestine” rather than the Palestinian Liberation Authority or another title, immediately gained international attention.

It was hoped that the agreement will encourage the international community to acknowledge an independent State of Palestine, alongside Israel.

In addition to referring to Palestine as a State, the Vatican-Palestinian agreement also recognized freedom of religion in Palestine, and outlined the rights and obligations of the Church, its agencies, and its personnel in the territory. The comprehensive agreement followed upon a “basic agreement” that was signed in February 2000.

The bilateral commission was established after the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization strengthened official relations. After the 2000 agreement, negotiations between the parties picked up again in 2010, with the aim of completing the basic agreement.

In his Jan. 9 speech to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See Pope Francis renewed his appeal for Israel and Palestine to resume dialogue aimed at “a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two States within internationally recognized borders.”

“No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!”

Compassion should be heart of financial, political decisions, Pope says

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 17:52

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2017 / 04:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Saturday warned of growing harmful trends throughout political and financial realms, pinning them on the negative effects of globalization and insisting that authentic compassion is the only thing that can really overcome indifference.

Francis opened his speech with a bang, saying “a world economic system that discards men, women and children because they are no longer considered useful or productive according to criteria drawn from the world of business or other organizations, is unacceptable, because it is inhumane.”

This lack of concern for people is a sign of “regression and dehumanization in any political or economic system,” he said, explaining that those who either cause or allow others to be discarded – whether they be migrants, exploited children or poor who die on the streets – become like “soulless machines.”

“We need to learn ‘com-passion’ for those suffering from persecution, loneliness, forced displacement or separation from their families,” and how to suffer alongside “those who lack access to health care, or who endure hunger, cold or heat,” he said.

Having this type of compassion, the Pope continued, will enable financial and political powers “to use their intelligence and their resources” not only to monitor the effects of globalization, but to help leaders at all political levels “to correct its orientation whenever necessary.”

Pope Francis spoke to members of a delegation from the “Round Table” of the Global Foundation, an Australian organization dedicated to not only providing a platform to address modern problems such as the environment, hunger and conflict, but also partnering with leaders in ensuring progress is being made.

In his speech, the Pope noted how in 1991 when St. John Paul II was responding to the fall of various oppressive political systems at the time as well as the “progressive integration of markets” more commonly known as globalization, the Polish Pope “warned of the risk that an ideology of capitalism would become widespread.”

This ideology would entail “little or no interest for the realities of marginalization, exploitation and human alienation, a lack of concern for the great numbers of people still living in conditions of grave material and moral poverty, and a blind faith in the unbridled development of market forces alone,” he said.

John Paul II, he recalled, asked if an economic system such as this would eventually become the model proposed to those seeking economic and social progress. In giving his own answer to the question, Francis noted, John Paul “offered a clearly negative response. This is not the way."

“Sadly, the dangers that troubled Saint John Paul II have largely come to pass,” he said. However, at the same time real efforts are being made by both individuals and institutions to reverse the unhealthy trends that are developing, he said, citing Mother Teresa as one of them.

Calling her “a symbol and icon of our time,” Francis pointed to how the newly canonized Saint “bent down to comfort the poorest of the poor, left to die on the streets, recognizing in each of them their God-given dignity.”

“She was accepting of every human life, whether unborn or abandoned and discarded, and she made her voice heard by the powers of this world,” he said, explaining that this must be “the first attitude leading to fraternal and cooperative globalization.”

The Pope stressed that if we want to follow on this path, each of us must first of all personally “overcome our indifference to the needs of the poor.”

Francis closed his address ensuring the Church’s awareness of the “immense potential of the human mind” when it lets itself be both helped and guided by God, as well as the good will of people from all states and situations in life.

He encouraged attendees to “draw constant inspiration from the Church’s social teaching” as move forward in promoting “a cooperative globalization, working with civil society, governments, international bodies, academic and scientific communities, and all other interested parties.”

Seeking Christ is always a risk – but it's worth it, Pope says

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 04:04

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2017 / 03:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his homily on Friday morning, Pope Francis commented on the Gospel story of the paralytic lowered through the roof, saying that stagnant faith breeds unkindness while authentic faith takes risks to be closer to Jesus.

Searching for Christ “isn’t easy, but it’s wonderful! And it’s always a risk,” the Pope said. When we ask Jesus for healing or the answer to a problem, he said, Christ goes even further, healing the spirit and offering the forgiveness of sins.

During Mass at the Chapel of Santa Marta, the Pope spoke about the men in the Gospel who created a hole in the roof, lifting down a paralytic man to where Jesus was teaching, so he could be close to Jesus and ask him for healing.

Speaking out against the spectators who didn't follow Jesus, but who stayed in their place, Francis warned against the danger of growing into clericalism. It is the judgmental who see the simple-hearted and judge them for unknown or even impure intentions, he said.

“Those who didn’t move…and watched. They were sitting down…watching from the balcony. Their life was not a journey: their life was a balcony! From there they never took risks. They just judged.”

What is important, the Pope emphasized, is to follow Jesus, even with imperfect intentions. Searching for Jesus imperfectly still contains the desire for the forgiveness of sins.

When Jesus hid away after crowds wanted to make him into a king to rule politically, he still allowed them to follow. The danger is staying in place and not seeking Jesus, Francis said, stressing that those who have faith are unconcerned with looking ridiculous and like sinners.

Just as the men who lowered the paralytic had risked a legal case with the owner of the house, and the woman who touched Christ's cloak in a crowd had risked public ridicule, Pope Francis noted that following Christ can create risk and fear in our own lives.

He ended the homily encouraging his listeners to consider these questions, and to think about what holds them back from taking risks.

“Do I entrust my life to Jesus? Am I walking behind Jesus even if sometimes I seem ridiculous? Or am I sitting still, watching what others are doing?”


Siblings arrested in cyberattack that compromised Vatican computers

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 03:28

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2017 / 02:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two arrests have been made in a widespread cyber-attack that compromised communications of prominent Italian institutions and individuals, including the Vatican.

Italian police have arrested Giulio Occhionero, 45, and his sister Francesca Maria Occhionero, 49. The siblings, who also work as engineers and have dual residencies in London and Rome, are accused of illegally accessing classified information, and breaching and intercepting information technology systems and data communications.

The attack reportedly hacked as many as 18,000 accounts, including computers used by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi at the Pontifical Council for Culture, computers at a Vatican guest house regularly used by prelates visiting Rome, and thousands of e-mail messages.

Vatican officials have not yet commented on the attack, and it is yet unknown to what extent sensitive Vatican information may have been compromised.

According to Italian authorities, the illegally accessed information was stored on servers in the United States, leading to an ongoing investigation with the assistance of the FBI’s cyberdivision.

Authorities suspect the Occhioneros may have ties to the Freemasons, because the malware used in the hack was called “Eye Pyramid,” believed to be a reference to the all-seeing eye of God, or Eye of Providence, a symbol typically associated with Freemasonry. Several of the compromised accounts belonged to Mason members.

Whether or not there are ties to the Masons, cyber security experts believe it is highly unlikely that the sibling pair acted alone.

Raffaele Marchetti, coordinator of the digital revolution and cybersecurity courses at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, told the New York Times that the information gathered was likely of interest to another party.

“That kind of information is useless unless you have an institutional or financial contact that has some interest in having it,” Mr. Marchetti said.

“Them, alone, isolated without contacts is an unreasonable story. We should expect more worrying information to emerge, who actually took advantage of this information and who backed, supported or gave coverage to these operations.”

The Occhioneros appeared before a judge in Rome on Wednesday, but have denied involvement in the attack. 

Youth to be protagonists in upcoming synod of bishops

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 19:33

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2017 / 06:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family barely falling out of sight, the preparatory document for the next synod dedicated to youth has been released, indicating that young people will play an active role in both the preparation and the discussion.

“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” a preparatory document for the 2018 synod read.

“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them.”

The theme for the 2018 50th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” was announced Oct. 6, 2016.

According to the document, in choosing this specific theme, the Church wanted to not only ask herself “how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love,” but also “to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today.”

“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”

Released Friday, the document for synod is divided into three parts focusing on the themes of “Young People in Today’s World,” “Faith, Discernment and Vocation” and “Pastoral Action.”

It concludes with a series of questions directed at the synods and councils of patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, episcopal conferences, dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General.

While some of the questions are more general, others are divided by continent in order grasp the differing realities of youth around the world, as well as to go outside of the “ Western, European, even an Italian” lens the reality of the Church is often read through, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said.

Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops presented the text at a Jan. 13 news conference alongside Bishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary of the Synod, as well as two youth, a man and woman pursuing university degrees and who are actively involved in their parish life, as a sign of the synod’s interest in making youth more than just observers in the discussion.

In addition to the questions included in the text, a separate questionnaire specifically aimed at youth and “their expectations and their lives” will be available online. Though it’s not active yet, Cardinal Baldisseri said the site is expected to be ready by March 1, and will be

He said the Synod of Bishops is taking time to ensure the language used for the questionnaire is more attractive and appealing than the “high, technical” speech frequently used by Church hierarchy.

When asked about the participation of youth in the synod discussions, Baldisseri said “the synod is a synod of bishops,” but the auditors, who participate in the meeting but can’t vote, will include young men and women with different vocations from around the world.

Answers to both questionnaires will form the basis for the eventual drafting of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document” of the 2018 synod, which Baldisseri said ought to be ready at the beginning of next year.

“Young People in Today’s World”

The preparatory document defines youth as being individuals 16-29 years old, but also takes into account that the definition of “young” is different depending on where you’re from.

While the text clarified that in no way does it provide a complete reading of the situation of youth today, it did say that in order to get an accurate perspective certain factors need to be taken into consideration, such as how countries with high birth-rates where young people make up the majority of the population differs from those where population is diminishing.

Also important to keep in mind is the history that separates countries or continents where Christianity is an ancient part of their tradition and culture, versus others where “Christianity is the minority and oftentimes only recently present.”

Special attention was also given to the growing differences related to gender, “masculine and feminine.” While gender on one hand “determines different perceptions of reality,” on the other it is often the basis “of various forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination, all of which societies need to overcome.”

The text also covers several difficulties youth can face, including: unemployment, poverty, a lack of education, gang and drug violence, child soldiers, various forms of slavery and exploitation, globalization, environmental degradation as well as the differing causes of the increased number of migrants and refugees.

It also touches on the benefits and dangers of technology and the problem of child brides and women forced to marry against their will, noting that obstacles surrounding work and education specifically are “even more difficult for young women to overcome.”

Multiculturalism was another point emphasized, since societies are increasingly more intercultural and interreligious. From the faith perspective, the document said “the situation is seen as a sign of our times, requiring greater listening, respect and dialogue.”

The document also pointed out that youth need both personal and institutional points of reference “who are able to express empathy and offer them support, encouragement and help in recognizing their limits, but without making them feel they are being judged.”

However, it also notes that youth can be “cautious by nature” when it comes to those outside their realm of relationships, leading them to “nourish mistrust, indifference or anger toward institutions,” including the Church.

The skills of youth are needed in order to overcome these challenges, the document says, explaining that “it is significant that young people — often withdrawn into a stereotype of passivity and inexperience — propose and practice alternatives which show how the world or the Church could be.”

“If society or the Christian community want to make something new happen again, they have to leave room for new people to take action.”

“Faith, Discernment and Vocation”

The second section of the text begins by saying that to respond to the challenges faced by today’s youth, “the Church, beginning with her Pastors, is called to make a self- examination and to rediscover her vocation of caring for others.”

It offered different ideas for accompanying youth, “beginning with the faith and listening to the tradition of the Church.” The ultimate goal is to support youth in their vocational discernment and in making “fundamental choices in life, starting from an awareness that some of these choices are permanent.”

It then posed the question: “how does a person live the good news of the Gospel and respond to the call which the Lord addresses to all those he encounters, whether through marriage, the ordained ministry or the consecrated life? Where can a person’s talents be put to good use: a professional life, volunteer work, service to the needy or involvement in civil and political life?”

Proper discernment is needed if these questions are to be answered, the text said, providing a three-step plan to discernment outlined by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “to recognize” one’s thoughts and feelings, “to interpret” them and then “to choose.”

As with all important things in life, “vocational discernment is a long process unfolding over time,” during which the different signs given by the Lord “to indicate and specify a vocation that is very personal and unique” must be monitored.

“Pastoral Action”

The document’s third section begins with a question: “How does the Church help young people accept their call to the joy of the Gospel, especially in these times of uncertainty, volatility and insecurity?”

A broad overview of pastoral activity is then given focusing on the different roles of those involved in the caring for the vocational discernment of young people.

When it comes to walking with youth, the document offers three tips for adopting a pastoral style similar to that of Jesus: “going out,” “seeing” and “calling.”

Pope Francis has often voiced his desire for “a Church that goes out,” but when it comes to vocational discernment, the synod’s preparatory document says that accepting this invitation from the Pope first of all means “abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible” and tossing out a way of “acting as Church which at times is out-dated.”

When it comes to accompanying youth on the path of discernment, the text emphasizes that parents, educators and priests all have primary roles in forming youth and walking with them as they discover what God wants for their lives, beginning with how they are called to serve him.

It also distinguishes between spiritual accompaniment and psychological support, which often “has a basic importance.”

Pope Francis
In a letter from Pope Francis coinciding with the document’s publication, the Pope told youth that “I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart.”

He recalled how when he was in Krakow for World Youth Day over the summer, he had asked the youth on several occasions “Can we change things?” to which they responded with a loud, resounding “yes!”

“That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference,” Francis said, urging young people to “listen to the cry arising from your inner selves!”

“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity,” he said, telling them not to be afraid of the “bold choices” proposed to them by the Holy Spirit and to not delay “when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.”

“The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism,” he said, telling youth to make their voices heard, to “resonate in communities” and to be vocal even to “your shepherds of souls.”

Pointing to the example of how St. Benedict urged his abbots “to consult, even the young, before any important decision” since “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best,” Francis said that this is also the case “in the journey of this Synod.”

“My brother bishops and I want even more to work with you for your joy,” he said, and prayed that Mary would “take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: ‘Here I am.’”

Love God now – because you might not have tomorrow, Pope says

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 21:56

Vatican City, Jan 12, 2017 / 08:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis reflected on Thursday how each person, not knowing what will happen in the future, has only “today” to love God and open their heart to the Holy Spirit – while the temptation to put things off is foolish, because there may not be another day.

“I do not say this in order to scare you, but simply to say that our life is the present moment: today or never,” he said Jan. 12. “I think upon this. Tomorrow will be the eternal tomorrow, without sunset, with the Lord, forever. If I am faithful to this moment.”

In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s first reading, which comes from the Letter to the Hebrews and says, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice, ‘harden not your hearts…’”

And a few lines later: “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.”

As this passage points out, the Pope said, it is “a present moment in which we have received the love of God, God’s promise to find him.” Therefore, he said, even though it is tempting to say, “I will do it tomorrow,” it is possible that tomorrow simply “will not be.”

Francis illustrated his point using two of Jesus’ parables: The 10 foolish virgins who did not have oil for their lamps, so when they returned, found the door closed to them, and the man who knocked at the door, but to whom the Lord said, “I do not know you: you arrived late.”

It is “only this day in our life,” he emphasized, “the present moment,” that we are able to renew “our alliance with God’s fidelity.”

If you struggle with this, one thing you can do is ask the Holy Spirit directly for help, the Pope said, simply praying: “How do I live, this moment?”

It is also important to cultivate a heart that is open to the Lord, one that has faith and is not caught in the snare of sin, he said.

The present moment is played out in our hearts, he said, since it is there that we are able to truly encounter God and have a relationship with him.

The Pope said it always strikes him when an elderly person, many times a priest or a sister, asks him to pray for them in their “final perseverance” before death. He responds to them, he said, saying, “But, you have lived your whole life well, all the moments of your day are in the service of the Lord, but you have fear…?”

No, they respond, they are not afraid, but they know that “even now my life is not set: I wish to live it fully, to pray that the moment arrives full, full, with the heart steadfast in the faith, and not ruined from sin, from vices, from corruption…”

For ourselves then, he said, we must search our hearts, asking ourselves the questions: “how does it go, my present moment, in the presence of the Lord? And my heart, how is it? Is it open? Is it solid in the faith?” Does it leave space for “the Lord’s love?”

With these questions, he said, “we ask the Lord for the grace of which every one of us has need.”


What's behind Pope Francis' meeting with the Palestinian president

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 09:02

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis' private audience with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas this Jan. 14 will be a delicate diplomatic moment for the Holy See.
Mahmoud Abbas heads to Rome to inaugurate the new Palestinian embassy to the Holy See, one year after the Holy See-Palestine agreement took effect and made official the Holy See's recognition of the State of Palestine.
This visit will prove how Vatican diplomacy is able to walk a thin line. The Holy See is in dialogue with both Palestine and Israel. It has been criticized by the Israeli state for the recognition of the State of Palestine that was part of the comprehensive agreement.
However, it would be wrong to think that the Holy See's position is imbalanced. At a recent Catholic-Jewish joint meeting, the Holy See backed a final document that implicitly criticized a UNESCO resolution that failed to call by their Hebrew names some of the most sacred places of Jerusalem, like Temple Mount.
At root, the Holy See does not officially take any stance for one party or the other. Rather, it looks attentively to the events in the Holy Land and advocates for a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Yet in his speech delivered to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See Jan. 9, Pope Francis underscored that the Holy See renewed its urgent appeal for the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians towards “a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”

“No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace,” the Pope said. “The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!”
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced his upcoming visit to Rome in a message delivered to Palestinians on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

In the message, Abbas stressed that the meeting with Pope Francis will zero in on “the advancement of justice and peace in the region, as well as encouraging interfaith dialogue towards more understanding and respect.”
The Palestinian president also said that he and the Pope will “reiterate our strong position that no Holy Book should be used as an excuse or to justify the commitment of any kind of crimes or violations.” Another of the main topics of the meeting will be “the historic agreement between the State of Palestine and the Holy See as an example for the rest of the region on how to strengthen the presence of Christians and their institutions.”

“Christians are the salt of this earth, and we don’t conceive a Middle East without its indigenous Christians,” Abbas said. “We will continue to cooperate with the heads of Churches in Jerusalem, who are part of Palestine and its people, to advance these mutual goals.”
The Holy See-Palestine agreement was signed June 26, 2015 and came into effect Jan. 1. The agreement, in 32 articles, recognizes freedom of religion in Palestine and outlines the rights and obligations of the Church, its agencies and its personnel in the territory. The agreement also backed the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the agreement was officially announced, the Israeli foreign ministry deemed the treaty to be a “hasty step” that “damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel.” It stressed its view that the agreement’s provisions “do not take into account Israel's essential interests and the special historic status of the Jewish people in Jerusalem.”
The issue of the historic status of Jewish people in Jerusalem was also raised in a UNESCO resolution Oct. 13, 2016. The resolution, put forward by the Palestinians and six Muslim countries, protests Israel’s actions in and around the Temple Mount and against Muslims praying or seeking to pray there.
However, none of the places involved was named with its Hebrew name. Temple Mount is called “al-Haram al-Sharif,” meaning “Noble Sanctuary,” while The Western Wall plaza is named in quotation marks, and indicates its name as “al Buraq Plaza.”
The resolution drew no Vatican comment. As a source within the Holy See diplomacy explained to CNA, “the Holy See does not enter into a political questions” such as those raised by the resolution, which was significantly titled “Occupied Palestine.”
A simple reading of the resolution indicates it was mostly political. The text never considered the question of whether the Western Wall is or is not a sacred location for Jews. Rather, it focused on two specific issues: the fact that Orthodox Jews always more often go to the Temple Esplanade, not just to the Western Wall, claiming their right to pray on the Mount of the temple; and how Israeli authorities manage excavations and infrastructures in the area of the Temple Mount.

However, the fact that the resolution used only Arabic names is perplexing, given that the resolution affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls for the three monotheistic religions, also affirming that nothing in the current decision, which aims, inter alia, at the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine and the distinctive character of East Jerusalem, shall in any way affect the relevant Security Council and United Nations resolutions and decisions on the legal status of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
Though the Holy See, prudently, does not take an official stance on that question, its position could be glimpsed in a Nov. 30, 2016 document signed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See. The document was issued the end of a two-day meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission composed of the Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See commission for religious relations with Judaism.
The two parties have met on a regular basis ever since 2002. The delegations are restricted to six and seven members.

The meetings were interrupted only in 2009, following the lifting of the excommunication of Lefebvrist Bishop Richard Williamson, who had also made anti-Semitic comments. This was an isolated case. After a clarification, the schedule of the meetings was restored.
The commission’s last meeting took place Nov. 28-30. The last point of the joint statement stressed: “in discussion on current issues, the principle of universal respect for the holy sites of each religion was affirmed; and note was made of attempts to deny the historical attachment of the Jewish people to its holiest site. The bilateral commission vigorously cautioned against the political and polemical denial of biblical history and called on all nations and faiths to respect this historic religious bond.”

Though the reference was not explicit, it was clear that the document implicitly referred to the UNESCO resolution.
This way, the Holy See diplomacy maintained a balanced position. But in terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, diplomacy is always a thin needle to thread.
This is the diplomatic background of the Mahmoud Abbas visit to Pope Francis. Any comment, and any move of the Palestinian state, will be weighed with Israel. The Holy See will stay in the middle, advocating for peace, as it has always done.

Vatican ambassador predicts Trump will drop campaign rhetoric

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 05:14

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2017 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- Ken Hackett is preparing to wrap up his term as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See as Donald Trump's presidential inauguration looms next week.

And while he says no one can predict what Trump will do in office, he expects the fiery campaign talk to simmer down once the “reality of governing” sets in.

Hackett, a former head of Catholic Relief Services who was pulled from retirement in 2013 to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, sat down for an interview in Rome with CNA Jan. 10.

Running a nation, he reflected, “calls you to be your best, to weigh decisions, to listen to advice, to play the role on the world’s stage that the United States has played and is capable of playing.” He voiced optimism that “good will prevail” and Trump will “take the best advice that's offered to him.”

One of the issues Trump was most outspoken on during the campaign, and where some of his most controversial and provocative statements were directed, was immigration – a major priority for Pope Francis.

When asked whether he anticipates the topic being problematic for relations between the Trump administration and the Holy See, Hackett said “no government agrees with another government on everything.”

However, there's “no more dynamic, moral leader in the world than Pope Francis at this moment in time, so I think you better find a way to engage, and I’m sure the Trump administration will.”

As of now, no new ambassador has been selected. Once Trump nominates someone, several months will be needed for security vetting and for the Senate to issue their approval. In the interim, the U.S. will be represented by the Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Louis L. Bono.

In his interview with CNA, Hackett reflected on some of the highlights of his tenure, points of mutual collaboration between the U.S. government and the Vatican, as well as expectations for the future administration.

Please read below for the full text:


You are just finishing your term as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. Can you tell us what some of the highlights have been?

Unquestionably the highlight was the Pope’s visit to the United States. That was so because we worked hard on it, on both the logistics and the substance. There was a lot at stake. This was really his first visit to the United States of America and we didn’t know which way it was going to go, and it was a rousing success. His speech on the White House lawn, his speech in Congress, his speech at the basilica, at the U.N., at Madison Square Gardens, St. Patrick’s, and then in Philly. It was great.

Do you have any specific memories of Pope Francis or memories that stood out, either during the trip or in general in your time here?

I would say Congress was particularly memorable and that’s because most of us who were keen observers really didn’t know how he was going to come across. Should he make the speech in Spanish? Should he make it in Italian? Should he make it in English? It’s not his first language and he chose to make it in English and he did marvelously. When he said ‘home of the free, land of the brave,’ bingo! That hit. Then when he talked about Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, he connected with the American people. Not [just] American Catholics, but American people, and that was powerful.

The Pope in that speech reiterated a lot of things he’s been firm about from the beginning. What have been some of the greatest areas of collaboration between the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Vatican?

Well the Holy Father is particularly taken with the issue of migration and the subset of that is of course trafficking of persons and he has asked that there be special attention on that. That’s one area we’ve worked very closely on. Then the issues of peace and stability and security, whether it be in the Central African Republic where he visited, in Southern Sudan, in Congo, in the Philippines, trying to bring a peaceful settlement in Colombia, resolution of the situation in Venezuela, and of course Cuba. So there were many areas where we found common cause and were able to be supportive, engaged, offering help, encouragement. A lot of areas.

I remember and have seen that the Embassy has partnered in hosting and organizing a lot of different initiatives, particularly on trafficking. Do you expect some of the partnerships in these areas to continue?

I can’t but expect them to continue. I mean these are devastating parts of the human condition that need to be fixed, so no matter what administration comes in I’m sure that we’ll be able to continue to engage on many, many of these things. On human rights issues, on war and peace, and issues that affect people’s dignity. That’s where we’ll continue, I’m sure.

Specifically on the topic of peace. In the Pope’s speech to diplomats this year he mentioned peace really needing to be more than a theory when it comes to politics. How important do you think this message is in today’s context?

It’s terribly important. The whole speech was directed at peace and security and he really covered the globe. He challenged nations to on the one hand look at issues of the common good, not just for themselves, but in the broader sense: go away from your country and think about your part in bringing peace and a better society on a worldwide basis. That was a big challenge. He picked out individual countries and challenged the governments in those countries. He talked about a re-capture of the European experiment, the “project” as no longer an experiment, and he wanted nations to lift themselves up to the best they could be and that’s a challenge.

He really did emphasize this need for individual nations to go beyond themselves and look to the entire global sphere in promoting the common good. Do you think that’s realistic?

It’s an ideal. But shouldn’t we have ideals? And he calls us to raise up to our ideals, as nations, as individuals. If you take his concept of mercy and look at it very broadly, it could apply to nations too. Reaching out for the other, going beyond yourself. You can always be more than just what the lowest common denominator is in your nation. We in the United States could do so much more. We do a great deal, but we could do even more and we could be more accommodating, we could be more engaged. It’s an ideal that we should be searching for.

Another point the Pope mentioned in his speech was the topic of his message for the World Day of Peace, which was nonviolence as a style of politics. How do think this factors into developing policies? He’s linked this to the migration crisis, how do you think this idea factors into the political and diplomatic realm?

It’s a challenge. But he wasn’t talking about pacifism. He was talking about using violence – he mentioned specifically using God’s name to justify violence. He talked about a world free of nuclear weapons, which was something that Paul VI raised. He didn’t say that nations should rid themselves of their nuclear weapons, again he said, this is the ideal. And calling people to a negotiated solution to troublesome situations. I think that’s a wonderful challenge that I hope we can raise ourselves up to.

Shifting to the future, I think these challenges and questions surrounding them are things we all have in our minds when it comes to how the new administration in the United States will handle them. In your opinion and from your experience, what do you think we can expect from the new president-elect?

I don’t know. Who knows? It would only be speculation, but what I do expect is that the rhetoric of the campaign will be put behind him and the reality of governing will kick in very soon, and that calls you to be your best, to weigh decisions, to listen to advice, to play the role on the world’s stage that the United States has played and is capable of playing. So I’m an optimist. I’m going to search for those elements where he could be leading, but I don’t know. I’m sitting here in Rome and not in the United States, so I know even less. I only know what I read in the papers, but I’m hoping and hopeful that good will prevail and he’ll take the best advice that’s offered to him.

One of the concerns despite our hopes is the constant concern about immigration. Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric during the campaign was very strong and I think many are anticipating tension between his administration and Francis on this issue since it’s such a big one for the Pope. Do you foresee this being problematic in terms of relationship between the Trump administration and the Vatican?

No government agrees with another government on everything. I believe that the people I know in the Curia and the Vatican will find a way to hold firm to their positions while at the same time attempting to dialogue on changes. So if there are differences on migration or any other issue, I’m sure that they will engage both in Washington and here, to look for solutions. Particularly in the Holy See they’re not stuck on “well, we just disagree.” They’ll try to find a way, and hopefully the Trump administration will try to find a way as well. There is no more dynamic, moral leader in the world than Pope Francis at this moment in time, so I think you better find a way to engage, and I’m sure the Trump administration will.

On the flip side, do you see areas where there is perhaps potential for strong collaboration?

There could be collaboration on particular countries, China, hopefully the Middle East and Middle East peace, extending U.S. interests throughout Latin America on peace in Colombia and a solution in Venezuela, further progress in Cuba. Those are all areas where the Holy See is interested and the U.S. government is interested. The issues of poverty, I have to believe that maybe there will be differences in approach, but nonetheless I have to believe that the Trump administration would want to eliminate some of the worst poverty that still exists in the world. And hopefully he will engage in a positive way on issues of war and peace. You’ve got to be hopeful.

What are your plans now?

My wife and I will get on the plane on January 20 and will fly to Miami with the dog, and then we have a small place north of Jacksonville, and we’ll just relax. This will be my second retirement, so I will try to enjoy it. We’ll try to see a bit of the United States that we’ve never seen since we’ve lived outside the country most of our adult lives. Then we’ll see what comes along. Who knows?

Vatican weekly paper gets a facelift

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 02:33

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2017 / 01:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday, the Vatican unveiled a “new and improved” weekly edition of its newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, which will begin with the Jan. 19 issue, and include updates to both content and the newspaper’s look, according to the director.

The changes are intended to merge new with old, keeping the newspaper’s fundamental characteristic, that it’s an “echo of papal teaching,” Director Giovanni Maria Vian told journalists Jan. 10.

New voices, including both secular and Catholic writers, will be added to four of the main sections of the paper: Vatican information, international news, religious news, and culture.

There will also be new articles written by representatives of different Christian denominations and non-Christian religions, and a new meditation on the Sunday Gospel passage.

Some content of the weekly edition will be pulled from the daily editions of that week, which is also a change. Graphics will receive an update as well.

One thing the director emphasized is that the “fundamental” content of the paper, full papal texts, an overview of the Pope’s activities, etc. will remain as they have been. The paper will also keep its “fraternity of the tongue,” Vian said, that is, “not to wound anyone and to have good relations with all.”

The updated edition comes out on the 69th anniversary of the Italian weekly’s first publication on Jan. 19, 1948.

L’Osservatore Romano – “The Roman Observer” in English – was launched in 1861 to defend the Papal States against the Italian political radical Giuseppe Garibaldi in his bid to subsume the Pope’s territories into a newly unified Italy. The paper’s ownership was independent of the Church up until 1885 when the Vatican acquired it during the reign of Pope Leo XIII.

The main, daily edition of the newspaper is in Italian.

In 1968, a weekly edition in English was started. It now has weekly editions in German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and starting Jan. 6, Malayalam, a language spoken in India. The publication also has a monthly edition in Polish.


Pope Francis: having an abortion to keep your figure is a big problem

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 16:38

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2017 / 03:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis issued strong words against worshipping idols, cautioning against the false hope that beauty, wealth and power can give, but which lead a person to trust in empty promises rather than in the Lord.

“It’s terrible, it hurts the soul what I heard one time years ago in another diocese. A woman, a good woman, very, very beautiful and who bragged about her beauty, commented as if it were natural: ‘Yeah, I had to have an abortion because my figure is so important.’”

Attitudes like this, he said “are the idols, and they take you on the wrong path and they don't bring you happiness.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall during his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on Christian hope. While he has so far focused on the meaning and source of hope, in today’s audience he highlighted several types of false hope that can endanger one’s relationship with God.

In his address, the Pope said hope is “a primary need for man: to hope in the future, to believe in life, the so-called ‘thinking positive.’”

However, he cautioned that this hope must be rooted in “what can actually help in living and giving meaning to our existence,” rather than false illusions which in the end are both useless and meaningless.

Faith essentially means entrusting oneself to God, he said, but noted that when life’s difficulties come along, “man experiences the fragility of that trust and feels the need of various certainties, tangible, concrete securities.”

When faced with these difficulties, we are often tempted to seek consolation in the ephemeral, “which seems to fill the emptiness of solitude and alleviate the fatigue of believing,” he said, noting that first places we tend to look for security are in wealth, power, worldliness and false ideologies.

“At times we look for (security) in a god that can bend to our requests and magically intervene to change reality and make like we want; an idol, indeed, that in itself can do nothing, impotent and deceitful,” he added.

Francis then recounted in off-the-cuff comments how while still in Buenos Aires, he would frequently walk by a park where “seers” would sit at small tables and tell people their fortunes for a fee.

The story, he said, “always the same: there's a woman in your life, a man will come,” or “everything will go well.” But the people paid anyway, and “this gives you security. A security of – excuse the word – stupidity.”

“This is an idol, and we are so attached,” he said, observing that “the hope of gratuity” that Jesus Christ gives is sadly something “we don't trust as much.”

Pope Francis pointed out that idols aren’t always made of metal or a statue, but also consist of “those built in our minds,” when we try to transform what is limited into something absolute or when we reduce God to our own plans and ideas of the divine.

In these cases, “an, the image of God, creates a god in his own image, and is an unsuccessful image: it doesn’t feel, doesn’t act and above all doesn’t speak. But we are happier going to idols than to the Lord.”

However, hope in the Lord who both created the world and guides our lives blatantly contradicts the trust we place “in mute idols.”

Ideologies of wealth, power and success, “with their illusion of eternity and omnipotence,” and values such as physical beauty and health are not bad in themselves, but “when they become idols to which we sacrifice everything, they are all realities that confuse the mind and the heart.”

“Instead of favoring life, they bring death,” Francis said, noting that if we place our hope in idols we eventually become like them: “empty images with hands that can’t touch, feet that can’t walk, mouths that can’t speak... incapable of helping, changing things, smiling, giving of yourself and loving.”

This risk is also present in the men and women of the Church “when we make ourselves worldly,” he said, adding that we need to remain in the world, but must always guard against its illusions.

Francis closed his address saying the “marvelous reality” of hope is that by trusting in the Lord, we become like him and “his blessing transforms us into his children, who share in his life.”

“Hope in God makes us enter, so to say, into the range of his memory, his memory that blesses us and saves us,” he said.

After the audience, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims from various countries around the world, and gave a word of caution against “tricksters” who try to sell tickets to the weekly gather, which is always free of cost.

Whether it’s in St. Peter’s Square or Paul VI Hall, the audience is always free and an opportunity to “to talk to the Pope, to visit the Pope,” he said, cautioning attendees that if someone tells them they have to pay to get in, “they are ripping you off.”

“Be aware! This is free. Here you come without paying, because this is everyone’s house and whoever tells you to pay – this person is a delinquent. You don’t do this,” he said, and gave his blessing.

Pope Francis: Humility, service are at the heart of Christ's power

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 04:00

Vatican City, Jan 10, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis warned against the destruction of clericalism in his Jan. 10 homily, stressing that humility was power behind Christ’s authority.

“He was at the service of the people. He had an attitude of a servant,” the Pope said of Christ. In his Tuesday homily at the Casa Santa Marta, he linked the authority of Jesus with his service, closeness to the people, and sincerity.  

When Jesus emptied himself of his divinity, he committed the ultimate act of humility, the Pope said. It was through this humility that Christ's authority was so effective.

The opposite view – that of pride and a desire to be served – is seen in the Pharisee’s mentality, Francis said.  

“We are the masters, the princes, and we teach you. Not service: we command, you obey.”

Warning against clericalism, the Pope stressed against the danger of preferring authority over the concern of persons. The Pharisees prefer the approval of the crowd, looking to show off alms giving, fancy clothes, and fasting. Similarly, clericalism is a detachment from persons, he said.

Looking at the characteristics of Christ’s authority, the Pope noted, “First, a servant, of service, of humility: the head is the one who serves, who turns everything upside down, like an iceberg. The summit of the iceberg is seen; Jesus, on the other hand, turns it upside down and the people are on top and he that commands is below, and gives commands from below.”

Second, he continued, is “closeness.” Laying hands on the blind, eating with sinners, and touching lepers was how Christ became closer to the people. Pope Francis then referenced Blessed Paul VI's Evangelii nuntiandi, saying “one sees the heart of a pastor who is close [to his people.]”

Christ did not shudder away from the sick and the sinner, Pope Francis said, mentioning the men who passed the assaulted man in Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan. The hypocrites speak truth, but do not belong to the truth, he said, because their actions do not match their words.

It is Christ who was sincere, and who lived what he preached, the Pope said.

“Jesus counseled His disciples: ‘But, do what they tell you, but not what they do’: they said one thing and did another...And it is understood that one who considers himself a prince, who has a clericalist attitude, who is a hypocrite, doesn’t have authority.”

Ultimately, clericalism has no authority because people cannot respond to it, Francis said. Jesus, who was the desire of the people, became a servant, sat with the impure, and lived what he preached. People saw His authority because He became a part of the people.

“Jesus…who is humble, who is at the service of others, who is close, who does not despise the people, and who is coherent, has authority. And this is the authority that the people of God senses,” said Pope Francis.


First Filipino to lead a US diocese will take reins in Salt Lake City

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 21:45

Vatican City, Jan 10, 2017 / 08:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced the appointment of Filipino-born Bishop Oscar A. Solis, currently an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as the new head of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Bishop Solis, 63, will fill a more than 20-month vacancy in Salt Lake City, after the previous bishop, John Charles Wester, was tapped to lead the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M. in April 2015.

In an interview with L.A. diocesan newspaper Angelus News, Solis called his new role as the 10th bishop of Salt Lake City “a recognition of the diversity of the Church in America and the universality of the Church.”

“I know what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of a particular diocese,” he said. “It is a tremendous blessing and a responsibility and a privilege to be of service to the local Church in the United States of America, coming from the Philippines.”
In 2003, Bishop Solis became the first Filipino to be appointed a bishop in the United States when he was named as an auxiliary to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Pope St. John Paul II. He will now be the first Filipino to head a U.S. diocese.

In a statement on the appointment, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said “our loss will be a gift to the family of God in Salt Lake City.”

“I know that Bishop Solis will be for them a model of prayer and compassion and a great bishop. And I fully expect that he will become the leading voice for the millions of Filipino Catholics in this country, who are a beautiful sign of growth and renewal in our Church and in our country.”

Bishop Solis was born in San Jose City in the Philippines Oct. 13, 1953. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Cabanatuan April 28, 1979.

From 1979-1984 he held significant positions within the diocese, including serving as rector of the diocesan high school and college seminary, the vocations director, a professor, and on the diocesan priests council.

He was sent to Rome in 1984 to pursue doctoral studies in Canon Law. He also took time to visit family in the U.S. where he carried out some pastoral work, which led him to discern a new direction in his vocation.

“I fell in love with parish life,” Solis said in the interview. “I never did parish work in the Philippines.”

“That’s the mystery of God’s grace,” he said. “Just be open and be ready for surprises because our God is a God of surprises. Just like now!”

Moving to the U.S. in 1984, he served as parochial vicar of a parish in Union City, N. J. and later in parishes in Louisiana. In 1992, with permission from the Ordinary of his diocese in the Philippines, he was incardinated in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana.

He served there until 2003, when he was appointed Titular Bishop of Urci and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. As Bishop, he served as Episcopal Vicar for Ethnic Ministry from 2004-2009.

Since 2009, he has been Episcopal Vicar of the San Pedro Pastoral Region within the Archdiocese of L.A., and also served on the USCCB Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs, first as chairman and later as a member. He speaks English, Tagalog and Spanish.

“I will miss friends and priests and L.A.,” Bishop Solis told Angelus News, “but I know God has something in store for us when he leads us to a new place. I have wonderful priests in Utah and wonderful people. I know we won’t go wrong if we work together as a Church, as a community. God will provide the rest.”

Archbishop Gomez said that he could not be happier for Bishop Solis. “He is a fine priest and a good bishop.”

“I have relied on his good advice and pastoral judgment, and I am inspired by his love and dedication to the people of the San Pedro Pastoral Region and the whole family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We are all going to miss him greatly.”

Is unity the most important thing to Pope Francis?

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 05:04

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2017 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has decided to begin 2017 in much the same way as he did last year: praying for Christian unity.

And it's this drive for unity – not only among Christians but with other religions as well – that's emerged as sort-of personal manifesto from practically the moment he took office.

In his newest and first prayer video for the year, Pope Francis prayed for Christian unity, specifically “that all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity.”

Released Jan. 9, the video shows images of different churches and people working together in service projects as the Pope, in his native Spanish, notes how “many Christians from various churches work together to serve humanity in need, to defend human life and its dignity, to defend creation and to combat injustice.”

As the screen changes to show different hands grabbing the same rope one at a time, Francis says the desire to walk together and collaborate “in service and in solidarity with the weakest and with those who suffer, is a source of joy for all of us.”

He closes his video asking viewers to “join your voice to mine in praying for all who contribute through prayer and fraternal charity to restoring full ecclesial communion in service of the challenges facing humanity.”

At the beginning of each year the Pope’s prayer intentions for the next 12 months are released, showing topics he wants to draw attention to throughout the year. This year, Christian unity is setting the tone.

Similarly, last January Pope Francis kicked off 2016 with a monthly intention for interfaith dialogue, praying that “sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce fruits of peace and justice.”

In his first-ever video on the monthly papal prayer intentions, Francis noted that “many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways.”

“In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: we are all children of God,” he said, adding that this “should lead to a dialogue among religions. We should not stop praying for it and collaborating with those who think differently.”

Both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue have been major priorities for Pope Francis in general. But 2016, which happened to coincide with the Jubilee of Mercy, was especially packed with ecumenical and interfaith meetings and encounters, some marking historic new steps.

Almost monthly, the Pope made some sort of new gesture or held a landmark meeting. If we take a look at some of the major events from last year, we see that from the very beginning this emphasis on dialogue was in many ways a papal priority for the year.

In addition to praying for interfaith dialogue in January, Pope Francis made his first visit to Rome’s synagogue that month, where he embraced Rome’s Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, and urged Jews and Christians to unite against war and violence.  

A month later Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill Feb. 12 while on his way to Mexico, marking the first-ever meeting between a Pope and a Patriarch of Moscow.

The two signed a joint-declaration that focused at length on anti-Christian persecution, the threat of secularism to religious freedom and the Christian roots of Europe. While many, Greek Catholics in particular, weren’t happy with how the document handled the Ukraine crisis, for others it was a decent start to a nuanced yet positive process.

In March Pope Francis put this desire for interfaith unity into action by washing the feet of 12 migrants during his Holy Thursday Mass at a refugee welcome center on the outskirts of Rome. The migrants belonged to different faiths, and included Muslims, Christians and one Hindu.

April marked not only the Pope's daytrip to the Greek island of Lesbos where he met with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece to draw attention to the migration crisis, but it was also the month Francis met with the head of the Society of Saint Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay.

After what has been a lengthy and at many times tumultuous process of dialogue between the SSPX and the Vatican to restore ties, recent steps have suggested a warming in relations.

Among these steps was Pope Francis' decision in September 2015 to allow SSPX priests to validly hear confessions during the Jubilee – a mandate he has indefinitely extended – as well as his decision that year to send a cardinal and three bishops to visit the seminaries of the SSPX in order to become better acquainted with the society, and to discuss doctrinal and theological topics in a less formal context.

These moves culminated in the Pope's meeting with Fellay in April 2016, during which “it was decided that the current exchanges would continue,” a statement from the Vatican describing the meeting read.

While the canonical status of the society was not directly addressed, the Pope and Bishop Fellay determined “that these exchanges ought to continue without haste.”

In May Pope Francis made what many viewed as a quantum leap in terms of Catholic-Muslim relations when he welcomed the rector of Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University, Imam Ahmen al-Tayyeb, to the Vatican for a private audience.

Relations were strained under Benedict in 2011 with claims he had “interfered” in Egypt’s affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church, but they made a dramatic shift after Francis and Al-Tayyeb’s meeting. Following their May 2016 encounter, it was announced in October that the university and the Vatican will officially resume dialogue toward the end of April 2017.

In June Pope Francis traveled Armenia for a trip largely made to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide and support the country’s Christian majority. During his visit the Pope met with Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, speaking to him of their brotherhood and placing a strong emphasis on unity.

At an ecumenical meeting with Armenian Orthodox leaders the day before his audience with the Patriarch, Francis prayed that they would “race toward our full communion” with determination.

As if the events of the first half of the year weren’t enough, after popping over to Poland for WYD in July, Francis made a quick visit to Assisi at the beginning of August to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the dedication of the Portiuncula chapel, the site where the Franciscan order began.

During the visit he had a surprise meeting with Mohamed Abdel Qader, the Imam of Perugia and Umbria, who was present with the Pope at the 30th World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi a month later.

Convoked by St. John Paul II in 1986, the gathering brings together representatives of various other religions, both Christian and non-Christian. During the September encounter, Francis was joined by Patriarch Bartholomew, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, as well as Imam Ahmen al-Tayyeb.

At the end of September Pope Francis made his visit to the Caucasus nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

While in Georgia, which is a majority Orthodox nation where relations with Catholics have traditionally been tense, the Pope met with Catholicos and Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, saying unity is necessary and love for God and the Gospel must overcome “the misunderstandings of the past” and the problems of the present and future.

Despite obvious tensions felt during the visit, demonstrated by the visible presence of members of the Orthodox Church protesting the Pope’s visit as well as the failure of the Orthodox delegation to show up at the only public Mass the Pope celebrated, Francis has on several occasions spoken highly of Ilia, calling him “a man of prayer.”

In Azerbaijan, which marked the first time Francis has traveled to a majority Shi’ite Muslim nation, he praised the peaceful coexistence of Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox and Jews the country enjoys. Only 600-700 Catholics live in the country.

Then in October Pope Francis made his historic visit to Sweden for a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The event also marks 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.

During a large ecumenical encounter Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a joint statement together. In a separate event later that day, Francis stressed that “we remember this anniversary with a renewed spirit and in the recognition that Christian unity is a priority, because we realize that much more unites us than separates us.”

Pope Francis gave an interview in November ahead of the close of the Jubilee of Mercy that focused heavily on the rapid progress ecumenical and interfaith relations seem to be making during his pontificate.

In the interview, Francis credited this pace to his predecessors, saying the “small and large steps” that have been taken during his tenure are not of his own doing, but are rather indicative of the path of dialogue outlined during the Second Vatican Council “which moves forward, intensifies.”

“I have met the primates and those responsible, it’s true,” he said in the interview, “but my predecessors have also had their encounters.”

While John Paul II was the first Pope to do make many of the signs Francis is known for now, such as visiting synagogues and mosques, Francis noted that “the measure in which we go forward the path seems to go faster.”

So while it has always been fairly obvious that ecumenical and interfaith dialogue have had a front row seat in Francis’ pontificate, taking a look back puts into perspective just how much of a priority it’s been.

In addition to highlighting this priority, the Pope’s prayer video this month is also a clear reflection of his preference to focus on shared areas of interest and collaboration in ecumenical and interfaith discussions, rather than points of theological division, as a means of providing both sides the common ground on which to move forward.

For Francis, while questions of theology and doctrine are important, working together to serve the poor and vulnerable is the privileged place where ecclesial unity is expressed, even if the theological wrinkles have yet to be ironed out.

And if his prayer intention this month is any indication, as we look ahead to 2017 we can anticipate that the type of events and encounters we saw in 2016 won’t slow down, but will likely continue to gain steam.

Cardinal Mueller: There's no problem with doctrine in 'Amoris laetitia'

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 01:16

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2017 / 12:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s doctrinal head has challenged several cardinals' public questioning of the doctrinal validity of Amoris laetitia, saying the document is “very clear” on doctrine, and that making the discussion public is harmful to the Church.

“Everyone, above all the cardinals of the Roman Church, have a right to write a letter to the Pope. However, I was amazed because this was made public, almost forcing the Pope to say yes or no,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a Jan. 8 interview with Italian TV channel Tgcom24.

“I don’t like this,” he said, adding that “it’s does damage to the Church to discuss these things publicly.”

The interview took place just two months after a letter signed by four prominent cardinals requesting that Pope Francis “resolve the uncertainties and bring clarity” was made public.

They submitted five “dubia,” or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia to be clarified by its author, and also made a point to draw the dubia to the attention of Cardinal Müller.

The signatories were Cardinals Walter Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences; Raymond Burke, patron of the Order of Malta and prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura; Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna; and Joachim Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne.

Although they sent the letter privately in September, after receiving no response from the Pope they published it in November, saying in a forward published alongside the letter that they interpreted the Pope’s silence as “an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect. And so we are informing the entire people of God about our initiative, offering all of the documentation.”

Debate erupted after the publication of the dubia, and rumors have come out saying that should the Pope continue his silence, the cardinals could issue a formal correction of the Pope.

In his comments to Tgcom24, Cardinal Müller said that a correction of the Pope “seems very remote, it’s not possible right now because this is not a danger to the faith as St. Thomas said.”

“We are very far from a correction and I say it is a loss to the Church to discuss these things publicly. Amoris laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret (in it) Jesus’ entire doctrine on marriage, the entire doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history.”

What Pope Francis asks in the document, Cardinal Müller said, is “to discern the situation of these people who live in an irregular union … and to help these people to find a path for a new integration into the Church according to the conditions of the sacraments, of the Christian message of marriage.”

“I don’t see any opposition,” he said. “On one hand we have the clear doctrine on marriage, on the other hand the obligation of the Church to worry about these people in difficulty.”

Cardinal Müller has consistently maintained that Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family has not changed the Church's discipline on admission of the divorced-and-remarried to Communion, and that it must be read in continuity with the preceding Magisterium.

In a May 4 speech, he countered arguments that Amoris laetitia eliminated Church discipline on marriage and allowed in some cases the divorced-and-remarried to receive the Eucharist “without the need to change their way of life.” He stated: “This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason.”

If Pope Francis' exhortation “had wanted to eliminate such a deeply rooted and significant discipline, it would have said so clearly and presented supporting reasons,” Cardinal Müller said during his address at a Spanish seminary.

The dubia and Cardinal Müller's response demonstrate the varied reception and interpretation of the apostolic exhortation within the Church.

Some, like Robert Spaemann and the cardinals of the dubia, have maintained it is incompatible with Church teaching; and others, like Cardinal Müller, that it has not changed the Church's discipline.

Still others, like Norbert Lüdecke, read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even (e.g., Rocco Buttiglione, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn) as a progression in continuity with St. John Paul II.

Pope to diplomats: when it comes to politics, peace must be more than a theory

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 17:29

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2017 / 04:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a year marred by war and terrorism, Pope Francis told diplomats Monday that for 2017, peace has to be more than just an idea or a nice theory, but must be actively pursued with concrete policies aimed at promoting the common good and the dignity of the human person.

“Peace is a positive is more than the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces,” the Pope said Jan. 9. Instead, peace “demands the commitment of those persons of good will who thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice.”

While some nations seem to take for granted long periods of peace enjoyed since the close of the First World War, for millions of others peace “remains merely a distant dream.”

“Millions of people still live in the midst of senseless conflicts,” he said, noting that we are frequently bombarded “by images of death, by the pain of innocent men, women and children,” as well as by the grief of those who have lost loved ones due to violence and the “drama” of forced migration.

In the current global climate of fear, apprehension, uncertainty and anxiety for both the present and future, “a word of hope” is needed, he said, which is capable of indicating a path on which to move forward.

Pope Francis spoke to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See as part of his traditional exchange of New Year’s greetings with the diplomats. There are currently 182 ambassadors of other countries to the Holy See, 88 of whom reside in Rome.

For the Pope, part of the peace-building process means eradicating the causes of violence and injustice, one of which is the “deplorable arms trade and the never-ending race to create and spread ever more sophisticated weaponry,” which he has frequently condemned.

In his speech, Francis said that one “particularly disturbing” example of negative effects of the arms trade “are the experiments being conducted on the Korean Peninsula.”

The nuclear tests that are continually being conducted there “destabilize the entire region and raise troubling questions for the entire international community about the risk of a new nuclear arms race,” he said.

Quoting St. John XXIII, the Pope stressed that “justice, right reason and the recognition of human dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race.”

“The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned,” he said, adding that the Holy See seeks to promote “an ethics of peace and security that goes beyond that fear and closure which condition the debate on nuclear weapons.”

Francis also threw in what seemed to be a plug for tighter gun control. Turning to the sale of conventional weapons, he said that easy access to arms, “including those of small caliber,” not only “aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear.”

“This is all the more dangerous in times, like our own, of social uncertainty and epochal changes,” he said.

On the topic of different forms of fundamentalism that have gripped the global scene over the past year, the Pope said that when it comes to religion, “every expression of religion is called to promote peace.”

“There has been no shortage of acts of religiously motivated violence, beginning with Europe itself, where the historical divisions between Christians have endured all too long,” he said, noting that healing the wounds of the past means above all “journeying together toward common goals” on a path of genuine dialogue.

However, he noted that “sadly” religion has been used as “a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.”

Over the past year, fundamentalist terrorism “has also reaped numerous victims throughout the world,” he said, pointing to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States of America, Tunisia and Turkey as just a few examples.

“We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power,” the Pope said, renewing his appeal for all religious authorities “to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”

“Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty,” he said, noting that the only way for it to be fully defeated is with “the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.”

Pope Francis insisted that political authorities ought to focus not just on the security of their own citizens, “a concept which could easily be reduced to a mere ‘quiet life,’” but are also concerned with working “actively” for the growth of peace on a global level.

Peace, he said, “is an active virtue, one that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole.”

Turning to the Jubilee of Mercy, Francis said part of building “a culture of mercy” means eliminating indifference and striving to become societies that “are open and welcoming toward foreigners and at the same time internally secure and at peace.”

“This is all the more needed at the present time, when massive waves of migration continue in various parts of the world,” he said, calling for a “common commitment” to offering migrants and displaced persons “a dignified welcome.”

On the topic of migrants, the Pope stressed that respect must be given both right of every person to migrate while at the same time ensuring that incoming foreigners are fully integrated into their new society without feeling “their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened.”

However, he also said incoming migrants must “not forget that they have a duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received.”

For public authorities to have prudence “does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants,” but rather entails “evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection,” he said.

The issue of migration isn’t one that just some countries have to face while others are indifferent, he said, stressing that “all should feel responsible” for pursuing international policies aimed at promoting solidarity and the common good.

Pope Francis then voiced his thanks to the countries who have taken on the bulk of the burden of the migration crisis, naming Italy, Germany, Greece and Sweden in particular.

He called for a quick and peaceful resolution to the “brutal conflict” in Syria, asking the international community “to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe.”

“Each of the parties must give priority to international humanitarian law, and guarantee the protection of civilians and needed humanitarian aid for the populace,” he said, voicing his hope that the recently-signed truce “will be a sign of hope for the whole Syrian people, so greatly in need of it.”

The Pope also urged swift resolutions to the conflicts in Ukraine, Iran and Yemen, and renewed his appeal for Israel and Palestine to resume dialogue aimed at “a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”

“No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace. The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!”

Francis closed his speech saying peace is “a gift, a challenge and a commitment.” True peace, he said, “can only come about on the basis of a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity.”

“This, then, is my prayerful hope for the year just begun: that our countries and their peoples may find increased opportunities to work together in building true peace.”

He reaffirmed the commitment on the part of the Holy See and the Secretariat of State, saying they will “always be ready to cooperate with those committed to ending current conflicts and to offer support and hope to all who suffer.”

Although trips can be tiring, Pope says people make the effort 'worth it'

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 02:00

Vatican City, Jan 8, 2017 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new interview published Sunday, Pope Francis said that though his many papal trips are often very tiring, both from a physical and mental standpoint, the people he encounters and the testimonies he hears make all of it worthwhile.

“I always carry with me the faces, testimonials, images, experiences...” he said. “An unimaginable wealth, which always makes me say, it was worth it.”

The Pope’s comments on traveling were made in an interview with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli of the newspaper La Stampa and the online outlet “Vatican Insider.” The interview is part of his new book on the Pope’s trips, coming out Jan. 10.

In the interview, the Pope explains that he doesn’t really like to travel much, saying that when he was a bishop in Buenos Aires, he preferred to stay in the area of his archdiocese. “Honestly, no. I never liked to travel,” he said. “And I would never have imagined doing so many trips...”

His first trip as Pope was to Lampedusa, an Italian island, on July 8, 2013. This trip was not planned, nor were there any official invitations. But, being moved by the news of migrants dying at sea there, he felt he “had to go,” he said. 

“I saw pictures of the rescue of the survivors, I received testimonies on the generosity and hospitality of the inhabitants of Lampedusa. It was important to go there.”

Pope Francis’ next trip was to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for World Youth Day at the end of July 2013 was, of course, “already on the agenda,” he said. But after that “came another invitation, and then another. I simply said yes,” Francis explained.

“And now I feel that I have to travel, to visit the churches, to encourage the seeds of hope we have.”

These trips are “heavy,” the Pope said, but for the moment he is able to manage. Even more than the physical exertion required when traveling, he said that the time needed to prepare for each trip is also taxing. Time is spent reading and preparing, in addition to the day’s regular activities, before he leaves.

And when he returns, he usually needs at least a day to rest and recover.

Asked what it is like to be received in the different places and to encounter the enthusiasm of the crowds of people, Francis recalled something a cardinal once said about the donkey Jesus rode during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem: did he “think that those cheers were for him?”

“Here the Pope must be conscious of the fact that he ‘brings’ Jesus,” Pope Francis emphasized. He “testifies to Jesus, to his proximity, closeness and tenderness to all creatures, especially those who suffer.”

For this reason, he said, when crowds shout, “long live the Pope,” he asks them to instead shout, “Long live Jesus!”

Pope Francis then referenced a quote from Pope Paul VI to explain why he thinks it is important to make these papal trips.

“I believe that of all the dignities of a Pope, the most enviable is paternity,” Pope Paul said. 

“Paternity is an emotion that invades the spirit and the heart, that stays every hour of the day, that can’t diminish, but that grows so the number of children grows. It’s a feeling that doesn’t tire one out or cause fatigue, but it gives rest from every cause of exhaustion.”

“Never, not for one minute, did I ever feel tired when I raised my hand to give a blessing,” Pope Paul said. “No, I’ll never get tired of blessing or forgiving.”

Francis said, “I believe those words explain why popes in the contemporary era have decided to travel.”

Despite his previous feelings about traveling, Pope Francis has several big trips planned for 2017, including to Fatima, Portugal May 12-13 for the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima. He will also make a few smaller trips within Italy, such as to Milan in March.

Trips to India and Bangladesh are also being planned for later in the year, with Francis stating in his in-flight interview coming back from Sweden in November that going to Africa is also a possibility.

The homeless need urgent prayers in cold winter months, Pope says

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 20:15

Vatican City, Jan 8, 2017 / 07:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis announced that his “urgent” prayer for the month of January is for all those who live on the streets with no shelter, expecially during the cold winter weather.

“During these very cold days, I think of and I invite you to think of all the people who live on the streets, affected by the cold and many times by indifference,” he said Jan. 8.

“Unfortunately some didn’t make it. Let us pray for them, and let us ask the Lord to warm our hearts so as to be able to help them.”

The Pope made his appeal looking out over frozen St. Peter's Square and the thousands of pilgrims bundled up below the window to the Apostolic Palace.
Temperatures in Rome have made a significant drop over the past few days, lowering enough to cause the fountains inside the square to freeze over, with ice on the cobblestone beside them where the water had splashed over.

Last week the Vatican announced that the Pope would be making some changes to his monthly prayer intentions in 2017, adding an “urgent” prayer intention himself each month, alongside the usual monthly intention, in order to garner rapid support for a cause.

His attention to the homeless isn't surprising, as it has been a consistent concern for Francis since the beginning of his pontificate.

Not only did he have showers and a barber service installed in the bathrooms in St. Peter's Square to help the homeless stay clean and tidy, he has invited them to several events in the Vatican, including concerts and tours of the museums, and they have consistently been his special guests for breakfast on his birthday.

Pope Francis announced the special prayer intention during his Sunday Angelus address on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Earlier that morning he celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel and baptized 28 babies.

The Baptism of the Lord is typically celebrated by the Church on the Sunday following Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, unless in a particular country the Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 7 or 8, as it is in the US. In that instance the Baptism of the Lord is then celebrated the following Monday.

In his message before the Angelus, Francis said he would like to extend his “prayers to all parents who at this time are preparing for the Baptism of their child, or have just celebrated it.”

“I invoke the Holy Spirit upon them, and on children, because this Sacrament, so simple and yet so important, is lived with faith and joy,” he continued.

Speaking about Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, Francis reflected on how John says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

John the Baptist “is aware of the fact that there is great distance between him and Jesus. But Jesus came precisely to bridge the gap between man and God,” he said.

“For that he asks John to baptize him, because it fulfills all righteousness, that is, you realize the plan of the Father which passes through the path of obedience and solidarity with the fragile and sinful man.”

This is one of the beautiful aspects of this feast day, the Pope noted. That it “makes us rediscover the gift and beauty” of being baptized people. That we are sinners “saved by the grace of Christ.”

Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to enter into the filial relationship of Jesus to God the Father, and be “welcomed into the bosom of Mother Church,” a relationship that knows “no boundaries and barriers,” he said.

The example Jesus gives us through his own baptism, is an example of the missionary style of Christ’s disciples, Francis said, which is “to proclaim the Gospel with meekness and firmness, without arrogance or imposition.”

The real mission is “never proselytism,” he continued, but “attraction to Christ,” which is brought out through strong union with God in “prayer, adoration and concrete charity, which is service to Jesus present in the least of our brothers.”

“In imitation of Jesus, good and merciful Shepherd, and animated by his grace, we are called to make our life a joyful witness that illuminates the path, that brings hope and love,” he said.

Pope Francis to parents: teach your children the faith by example

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 18:18

Vatican City, Jan 8, 2017 / 05:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Sunday baptized 28 babies during Mass in the Sistine Chapel, reminding parents that by asking for the Sacrament of Baptism, the gift of faith, for their child, they have a responsibility to guard it and to help it deepen.

“The faith is to believe what is the Truth,” he said Jan. 8. “God the Father who sent His Son, and the Spirit who gives life. But faith is also to trust in God, and that you must teach them, with your example, with your life.”

Pope St. John Paul II started the custom for the Pope to baptize babies in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

The Baptism of the Lord is typically celebrated by the Church on the Sunday following Jan. 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, unless in a particular country the Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 7 or 8, as it is in the US, then the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Monday following.

Faith, Pope Francis said, “must be lived,” it is a journey which must be walked, which must give “witness.”

“And the faith is light: in the Baptism ceremony you will be given a lighted candle, as in the early days of the Church. And for this reason Baptism, in those days, was called ‘illumination,’ because faith illuminates the heart, makes things seen with a different light,” he said.

During Mass, the Pope baptized 15 baby boys and 13 baby girls. During the homily, when some started to cry, Francis commented on the “concert” which was starting in the chapel, saying that he likes to think that Jesus’ first sermon was a cry while in the stable in Bethlehem.

He also assured mothers not to worry about nursing their baby if he or she needed to be fed, they should do so “without fear, with total normality,” just as Mary nursed the baby Jesus.

“You asked the faith,” Pope Francis reminded the parents. “The Church gives the faith to your children through Baptism, and you have the task to make it grow, preserve it, and it becomes a testimony to all the others. This is the meaning of this ceremony.”

Concluding, he noted how the task for parents of growing and guarding the faith in their children is a “testimony for all of us: even for us clergy, priests, bishops, everyone."

Pope Francis: the Magi represent everyone who seeks God

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 17:47

Vatican City, Jan 6, 2017 / 04:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Friday, the Feast of the Epiphany, said that the Magi are not just men who sought out and worshiped the Christ-child a long time ago – they exemplify everyone who has a restless heart, everyone searching for God.

The hearts of the Magi “were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness,” he said Jan. 6. “They were open to something new.”

“The Magi thus personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland.”

In his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis explained how this “holy longing” for God is present in the hearts of believers because we know that the Gospel is not just something of the past, but that it is also here and now.

And this longing for God is what helps to keep us alert in the face of trials, and to keep the faith, even amongst “prophets of doom” and those people and things who try to “impoverish” our lives, he said.

“That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’”

This longing can be seen throughout the New Testament, Francis pointed out. It can be seen in the elderly Simeon, who went every day to the Temple, certain that he would hold the Savior before his life ended. The same longing can be seen in the Prodigal Son, leading him to abandon his self-destructive lifestyle and return to his father.

The shepherd who leaves the 99 to search for the one lost sheep has this longing. Mary Magdalen experienced this longing too, when she went to the tomb on that first Easter morning looking for Christ.

“Longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change. Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need,” the Pope stated.

“Longing for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future,” he continued.

When we feel this longing, faith leads us to seek God, just like the Magi did, he explained, even “in the most distant corners of history.” Believers throughout history have been led to “go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelized” because of this faith, he said.

But they don’t do this through a sense of superiority, Francis noted. They go as beggars, who “cannot ignore the eyes of those who for whom the Good News is still uncharted territory.”

King Herod though, instead of having faith, was full of fear, full of the culture that preaches control and winning at any cost. And this is what led him to kill innocent children, he explained.

The Pope said that the Magi, on the other hand, wanted to worship, but they thought they would find the King in a palace: “They had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere, both existentially and geographically.”

Continuing, Pope Francis said we have to realize that “God wanted to be born where we least expected, or perhaps desired, in a place where we so often refuse him. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned.”

“That his strength and his power are called mercy. For some of us, how far Jerusalem is from Bethlehem!” Francis emphasized.

“The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day,” the Pope said. “But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuitousness. There something new was taking place.”

“The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable Infant, the unexpected and unknown Child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God.”

Following Mass, Pope Francis led around 35,000 pilgrims in the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, speaking about how Jesus is our light: “a light that does not dazzle, but accompanies and gives a unique joy.”

“In our life there are several stars,” he warned. And it’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are many “flashing lights” in our lives, like success and money, which come and go, which may be good, but are not enough, because they do not give lasting peace.

“The Magi, instead, invite you to follow a stable and friendly light, which shall not pass, because it is not of this world,” he explained. It comes from “heaven and shines in the heart.”

Today, follow the “bright star of Jesus!” he said. Have courage, because the “light of Jesus can overcome the darkest darkness.”

This Epiphany, look to the example of the Magi, he emphasized. Go out of yourself and seek: “the Christian life is a continuous journey.”

And finding the Child, the Magi worshipped him, entered into “a personal communion of love with Jesus,” giving him their most precious gifts.

Don’t give Jesus only your “spare time” or “some thought occasionally,” the Pope concluded. “Like the Magi, let us set out, clothing ourselves in light, following the star of Jesus, adoring the Lord with our whole selves.”

We need hope – not 'optimism,' Pope Francis tells quake victims

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 00:22

Vatican City, Jan 5, 2017 / 11:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During an audience with people from the areas devastated by earthquakes in Central Italy, Pope Francis emphasized the need to move forward with hope, closeness and solidarity, rather than a false sense of optimism.

“The pain is great...the wounds of the heart are there,” the Pope told thousands of people gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for the Jan. 5 audience.

He recalled how when visiting the earthquake zones in October he met the sister and parents of a little boy who was crushed under the rubble, as well as a couple who had lost their small twins.

“Now I meet you who have lost the center of your families,” he said, explaining that while the process of rebuilding is important, it's not something superficial.

Rebuilding the heart, above all, is not the rosy idea that “tomorrow will be better, it isn't optimism,” he said, adding that “there’s no room for optimism here.”

While an optimistic attitude is useful for brief moments to energize or to carry a person forward, “it’s not substantial,” he said, noting that what is needed above all is hope.

“Yes for hope, but no for optimism...Today hope is needed to rebuild, which is done with your hands.”

Pope Francis met with thousands of individuals and families from the towns devastated when a 6.2-magnitude quake hit the town of Norcia, about 65 miles northeast of Rome, Aug. 24, killing nearly 300 people.

Most of the victims were from the town of Amatrice, known for being the birthplace of the common “Amatriciana” pasta dish.

During the audience, Pope Francis listened to two testimonies and took notes, tossing his prepared speech and speaking off-the-cuff to the families, many of whom are still without homes.

In his speech, Francis said when he woke up the morning of the quake and saw the news, he felt both the need to go to the people in the area, as well as “a lot of pain. And with this pain I went to celebrate Mass that day.”

After setting his speech aside, the Pope took words and phrases mentioned by the two men who gave their testimonies – a husband and father named Raffaele, and a parish priest named Fr. Luciano – and offered his own reflection on them.

“I wanted to take your words and make them mine,” he said, adding that in their situation, “the worst thing you can do is give a sermon! It’s the worst. So I wanted to take what your hearts said and make it my own and say it with you.”

The Pope first turned to the importance of “rebuilding,” which was the focus on Raffaele's testimony, specifically the need to “rebuild hearts even before houses. To rebuild the social and human fabric.”

Starting again doesn't mean staying rooted in one's pain or letting it consume, but rather moving forward and allowing oneself to “rebuild that pain” into something new, he said, adding “no letting oneself be.”

He then turned to the image of hands, specifically of how hands were used to embrace loved ones, to guide them to safety and to free people from the rubble.

In order to really rebuild, both the “heart and the hands” are necessary, he said, pointing to the hands “with which God, like an artisan, made the world. The hands that heal.”

Francis said he always likes to bless the hands of doctors and nurses, because they are used to heal people, and pointed to the hands of the many people who have helped the quake victims “to go out of this nightmare, this pain.”

At times the thought of asking “why?” comes to mind, he said, but noted that there are some questions “that don’t have an answer.”

Turning to the testimony given by the priest, Pope Francis recalled how in his speech Fr. Luciano said that despite the devastation, many people chose to stay in order “to not hurt our land not hurt more what is already wounded.”

Focusing on the word “wound,” the Pope noted that “everyone has suffered something,” whether it is the loss of a house, parent or child. In these instances, “the tenderness of the heart” expressed in “silence and in caresses” helps to not make the wound worse, he said.

However, he pointed to how this tenderness also “makes miracles in the moment of pain,” noting that there were also moments of reconciliation between people, who put their differences aside and came together in a moment of suffering through a hug, a kiss and even through tears.

“Crying only does good; it’s an expression to ourselves and to God,” he said, but added that “crying together is better.”

Pope Francis then pointed to how in his testimony, Raffaele said that while his family is safe, “our life is not the same” after the quake.

“It’s true, we came out healthy, but we lost. Saved, but defeated,” Francis said, noting that “the wounds heal, but the scars will remain forever. And they will be a reminder of this moment of pain” and that things will never be like they were before.

However, the Pope also highlighted the virtues Fr. Luciano said he saw in the people after the earthquake. The priest said he was especially moved by the “fortitude, patience and mutual solidarity of my people.”

Francis said that just as Fr. Luciano was proud of his people, he is also proud of the priests in the area who chose to stay, rather than abandoning their people and their land in a time of need.

“This is good, to have pastors who when they see a wolf don't run away. We lost, yes, we lost many things; houses, families, but we have become a great family in another way.”

The Pope closed his speech by focusing on the importance of closeness, explaining that to stay close to one another “makes us more human, good people, more courageous.”

He also told the people not to lose the ability to dream in the process of rebuilding, urging them to have “the courage to dream one more time” as they move forward.