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It's official: Pope Francis to visit Myanmar, Bangladesh in November

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 14:00

Vatican City, Aug 28, 2017 / 02:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday the Vatican confirmed rumors that have been swirling the past few weeks about a papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, announcing that Pope Francis will visit the two Asian countries Nov. 27-Dec. 2.

“Welcoming the invitation of the respective heads of state and bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Myanmar from 27 to 30 November 2017, visiting the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw,” an Aug. 28 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke read.

The communique also noted that after Myanmar, the Pope will head to Bangladesh “from 30 November to 2 December 2017, visiting the city of Dhaka.” The logo for the trip was also published, however, the schedule is expected to be released shortly.

The Pope has been talking about a visit to Asia for several months, however, until now nothing had been confirmed. Still, he managed to slip the visit in just before Christmas. It also falls just two months before a second tour of South America, which will take him to Peru and Chile in January 2018.

The Pope has been talking about a visit to Asia for several months, however, until now nothing had been confirmed. Still, he managed to slip the visit in just before Christmas. It also falls just TWO MONTHS before a second tour of South America, which will take him to Peru and Chile in January 2018.

Though India was initially part of the plan for this year's Asia trip, a visit to the country had to be cut due to complications with the country's government.

Despite hopes from all sides, it's taken longer than anticipated to work out some of the details with the government of Prime Minister Narhendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist seen by many as hostile to India's Christian minority.

Francis' decision to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar, however, is not only a shining example of his attention to the peripheries, but it also speaks of the great attention he has placed on Asia since his election.

His second trip as Pope was a visit to South Korea in August 2014, made in part to celebrate Asian Youth Day, and just five months later, in January 2015, he traveled to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

The upcoming visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, then, will mark his third tour of Asia so far in his four-year tenure.

According to the 2014 census of the Burmese government, at 88 percent Buddhism is the primary religion of Myanmar. In an overall population of roughly 5.1 million, Christians make up just 6.2 percent, around 700,000 of whom are Roman Catholics, while Muslims make up 4.3 percent and Hindus are only .5 percent.

The Holy See and Myanmar officially established diplomatic ties in May, agreeing to send ambassadors to each others' countries when the country's de-facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited the Vatican.

The move to officially establish diplomatic ties comes just two months after Myanmar's parliament voted in March to make their country the 183rd nation to enjoy diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

Also serving as Myanmar's Foreign Minister, Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese diplomat, politician and author who currently serves as the country's State Counselor. Before her rise to power, she spent much of her career under house arrest due to her push for human rights and democracy, which contradicted the military rule at the time.

As far as the Catholic Church in Myanmar, the country has 16 Catholic dioceses and a total of 29 living bishops, both active and retired. In 2015 Pope Francis appointed Myanmar's first-ever cardinal, giving a red hat to Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon.

Just this past year, in the November 19, 2016, consistory, the Pope made a similar gesture toward Bangladesh, naming Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka the first-ever cardinal for the Muslim-majority country.

Listed among the top ten most populated countries in the world, with roughly 163 million citizens, Bangladesh has a minority Catholic population of around 0.3 percent, while the majority of the population, about 90 percent, is Muslim.   

In addition to Francis' affinity for the global margins, another key element of the trip close to his heart is the plight of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya people, which he has spoken of often and is likely a key reason for his symbolic decision to travel to both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The Rohingya

The Rohingya are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group largely from the Rakhine state of Burma, in west Myanmar. Since clashes began in 2012 between the state's Buddhist community and the long-oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority, some 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced, while more than 100,000 have fled Myanmar by sea.

In order to escape forced segregation from the rest of the population inside rural ghettos, many of the Rohingya – who are not recognized by the government as a legitimate ethnic group or as citizens of Myanmar – have made perilous journeys by sea in hope of evading persecution.

In 2015, a number of Rohingya people – estimated to be in the thousands – were stranded at sea for several months with dwindling supplies while Southeastern nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia refused to take them in.

However, since last year around 87,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, giving way to horrifying stories of rapes, killings and arson by security forces. Dozens of new deaths have been reported in recent days amid fresh clashes between the Rohingya and Myanmar's army.

In Bangladesh, however, the Rohingya have had little relief, since they are not recognized as refugees in the country. Since last October, many who had fled to Bangladesh have been detained and forced to return to the neighboring Rakhine state.

Pope Francis and the Rohingya

Pope Francis has spoken out on behalf of the Rohingya on several occasions, first drawing attention to their plight during an audience in 2015 with more than 1,500 members of the International Eucharistic Youth Movement.

“Let’s think of those brothers of ours of the Rohingya,” he told attendees. “They were chased from one country and from another and from another. When they arrived at a port or a beach, they gave them a bit of water or a bit to eat and were there chased out to the sea.”

This, he said, “is called killing. It’s true. If I have a conflict with you and I kill you, its war.”

He brought the topic up again a month later in an interview with a Portuguese radio station, and he has consistently spoken out on behalf of the Rohingya in Angelus addresses, daily Masses and general audiences.

In his Feb. 8 general audience, Pope Francis asked pilgrims to pray with him “for our brother and sister Rohingya. They were driven out of Myanmar, they go from one place to another and no one wants them.”

“They are good people, peaceful people; they aren’t Christians, but they are good. They are our brothers and sisters. And they have suffered for years,” he said, noting that often members of the ethnic minority have been “tortured and killed” simply for carrying forward their traditions and Muslim faith.

He then led pilgrims in praying an “Our Father” for the Rohingya, asking afterward for St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a former salve and the patroness of annual international day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking, to intercede.

The Pope also used yesterday's Angelus address to draw attention to a recent uptick in violence that has caused nearly 100 new Rohingya deaths. 

His visit, then, will likely be used as an occasion to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that puts respect for human dignity above ethnic disputes.

As far as previous Popes, St. John Paul II visited Bangladesh in 1986. However, Francis' visit to Myanmar will mark the first time a Pope has ever made an official visit to the country.

Other confirmed international trips for Pope Francis are his upcoming visit to Colombia Sept. 9-13, and his visit to Chile and Peru at the beginning of next year, from Jan. 15-21, 2018.

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

Let Church teaching pervade your work, Pope Francis tells Catholic politicians

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 00:51

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2017 / 12:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis received a group of Catholic lawmakers from around the world on Sunday, telling them their work must build bridges with others and bring Catholic teaching into public life. “As long as the contribution of the Church to the great questions of society in our time can be put into discussion,” he said, “it is vital that your commitment be constantly pervaded by her moral and social teachings, in order to build a more humane and just society.” “The laws that you promulgate and apply ought to build bridges between different political perspectives: even when they respond to precise ends ordered to the promotion of greater care for the defenseless and the marginalized, especially the many who are constrained to leave their countries; and when they are in order to favor a correct human and natural ecology,” said the Pope, according to Vatican Radio. The lawmakers were in Rome for a meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network. The network aims to  bring together Catholic lawmakers to discuss common concerns and to share ideas about bringing their faith to their work. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and British parliamentarian Lord David Alton founded the network in 2010. The Pope said the lawmakers that their gathering represented a broad spectrum of political opinion. He noted that their numbers had increased over previous years. U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.V.) participated in the legislators’ network gathering and spoke to Vatican Media before attendees met with the Pope. “We have an opportunity to meet here with other Catholic legislators and elected officials from other parts of the world, and to discuss common concerns – problems, opportunities – for our faith, and how to work together and support each other,” he said. “It’s very inspiring to see how people are fighting for family values,” Rep. Mooney continued, adding “it’s just more encouraging to see faithful Catholics from every country promoting the values of the Church.”

Pope urges 'full rights' be given to persecuted Rohingya minority

Sun, 08/27/2017 - 16:50

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2017 / 04:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis made a fresh appeal on behalf of the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, voicing his closeness to those suffering from recent violence, and asking that members of the ethnic group be given full rights.

During his Aug. 27 Sunday Angelus address, the Pope said he is following the “sad news of the religious persecution of our brother and sister Rohingya.”

“I would like to express all of my closeness to them,” he said, and asked pilgrims to pray for “the Lord to save them, to arouse men and women of goodwill to help them, who give them full rights.”

The Rohingya are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group largely from the Rakhine state of Burma, in west Myanmar. Since fighing began in 2012 between the state's Buddhist community and the long-oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been displaced, while similar numbers have fled Myanmar by sea.

In order to escape forced segregation from the rest of the population inside rural ghettos, many of the Rohingya – who are not recognized by the government as a legitimate ethnic group or as citizens of Myanmar – have made perilous journeys by sea in hope of evading persecution.

Just since last year, around 87,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, giving way to horrifying stories of rapes, killings and arson by security forces.

However, in Bangladesh the Rohingya have had little relief, since they are not recognized as refugees in the country. Since last October, many who had fled to Bangladesh have been detained and forced to return to the neighboring Rakhine state.

The Pope's appeal Sunday comes as the number of new deaths continues to rise amid renewed clashes between the Rohingya and the Myanmar army, which sprung up Friday on the outskirts of the large city of Maungdaw.

The spat, which is the worst since last October, has prompted the government to evacuate staff and non-Muslims from the area. According to the Guardian, nearly 100 have died and thousands have been evacuated as fighting goes into it's third day.

The death toll from the renewed spat of violence has climbed to 98, including 80 from among Rohingya insurgents and 12 Myanmar security forces.

So far, the government has reportedly evacuated at least 4,000 villagers, with nearly 2,000 Rohingya Muslims, mostly women and children, fleeing across the border to Bangladesh, where they are now living as refugees in makeshift camps along the border.

Pope Francis, who is expected to make a trip to both Myanmar and Bangladesh sometime before Christmas, has spoken out on the behalf of the Rohingya frequently, and their plight – rights included – is likely to be a key talking point during his visit to the Asian nations.

In his Angelus address Sunday, Pope Francis focused on the Gospel passage from Matthew, in which Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus in turn tells Peter that “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.”

When Jesus asks his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” he understands from Peter's response that “thanks to the faith given by the Father, there is a solid foundation on which to build his community, his Church.”

Jesus, he said, wishes to continue building his Church today, which is a house “with solid foundations, but where cracks are not lacking, and which needs to be continually repaired, as in the time of St. Francis of Assisi.”

We typically don't feel the big rocks, only the small stones, he said, but stressed that “no small stone is useless.”

“Rather, in the hands of Jesus it becomes precious, because he picks it up, looks at it with tenderness, works it with his Spirit and puts it in the right place, where he has always thought and where it can be most useful to the whole building.”

Each of us, no matter how small, “have become living stones of his love, and so we have a place and a mission in the Church,” Francis said, explaining that “this is a community of life, made by many stones, all different, which form a single building in a sign of brotherhood and communion.”

Pope Francis then led pilgrims in praying the traditional Angelus prayer, and offered prayers for the victims of recent flooding in Bangladesh, Napal and India.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is the tender queen of Poland, Pope says

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 18:42

Vatican City, Aug 26, 2017 / 06:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the highly revered image of Our Lady of Czestochowa prepares to get a new crown, Pope Francis sent a message to Poland, saying Mary in many ways is at the heart of Polish society as their tender queen and mother.

“If Czestochowa is at the heart of Poland, it means that Poland has a maternal heart; it means that every beat of life happens together with the Mother of God,” the Pope said in his Aug. 26 videomessage.

“To her you usually entrust everything: the past, present, future, the joy and sorrows of your personal lives and if your beloved country. This is very beautiful,” he said.

The image of Czestochowa, he said, shows that Mary is not “a distant queen that sits on her throne,” but is rather “the Mother who embraces her Son and, with him, all of us her children.”

“She is a true mother, with a marked face, a mother who suffers because she truly carries in her heart the problems in our lives,” the Pope said. “She is a close mother, who never loses us from her sight; she is a tender mother, who holds our hand on the path of daily life.”

Pope Francis made his comments during a video message sent to Poland for the 300th anniversary of her crowing as “Queen of Poland.”

With more than 94 percent of Poland’s population being Catholic, the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also called the “Black Madonna,” has a significant meaning for Poles and is highly venerated throughout Europe.

This September marks 300 years since the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa was crowned Queen and Protector of Poland by Clement XI. Nearly 200 years after that, in 1909, the golden, bejeweled crowns of the image – one for Mary and one for the Christ Child – were stolen, along with a pearl “robe” also belonging to the image.

After the theft, Our Lady was crowned again by St. Pius X in 1910, and later again by St. John Paul II in 2005, however, the original crowns were never recovered.

Now, in honor of the 300th anniversary of the first coronation and as a gift to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the original crowns have been replicated in gold diadems, and were crafted by an Italian artist and goldsmith renowned for his religious art.

The new crowns, which were blessed by Pope Francis May 17 at the Vatican, were unveiled during a July 28 ceremony in Czestochowa, marking the first anniversary of Pope Francis' visit to the shrine during his visit to Poland for World Youth Day 2016.

The crowning itself will take place Sept. 8, marking the culmination of Poland’s Jubilee Year celebrations, the 300th anniversary of the first canonical coronation of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the feast of the Nativity of Mary.

In his message, Pope Francis recalled his visit to the shine last year, noting that as he stood “beneath the gaze of the Madonna,” he entrusted to her everything that was “in my heart and yours.”

“I keeps alive and grateful those moments, the joy of also having come as a pilgrim to celebrate, under the gaze of the Mother, 1050 years of the baptism of Poland,” he said.

Turning to the first crowning of Our Lady of 300 years ago, Francis said “it's a great honor to have a queen for a mother, the same queen of the angels and saints, who gloriously reigns in heaven.”

“But it gives even more joy to know that you have a queen for a mother, to love as Mother she who you call 'Lady,'” he said.

As the date of the new crowning draws near, the Pope said his hope for the culmination of Jubilee celebrations is that it would be “a favorable time to feel that not one of us is an orphan, because each one of us has a Mother that is close, a Queen unsurpassed in tenderness.”

Mary, he said, “knows us and accompanies us with her typical maternal style: meek and courageous at the same time; never invading and always persevering in the good; patient in front of evil and active in promoting harmony.”

He closed his message praying that Mary would give the Polish people the grace of “rejoicing together” around their mother.

“In this spirit of ecclesial communion, rendered still stronger by the the unique bond that unites Poland and the Successor of Peter, I give you my heartfelt apostolic blessing,” he said, and asked for their prayers.

Cardinal Parolin: Russia has key responsibility in brokering world peace

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 00:02

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After his recent visit to Russia, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said a key message of his overall “positive” trip was the crucial role the country plays in working for peace, which he voiced to President Vladimir Putin.

“I tried above all to say this, this was the message that I wanted to convey: that Russia, because of her geographic position, her history, her culture, her past and her present, has a great role to play in the international community, in the world,” Cardinal Parolin said Aug. 25.

Because of her role, Russia also has “a particular responsibility regarding peace,” he said, adding that “both the country and her leaders have a great responsibility regarding the building of peace and they must really strive to put the higher interests of peace above all other interests.”

Cardinal Parolin spoke to Alessandro Gisotti from the Secretariat for Communications after returning from his Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, during which he met with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and civil authorities.

Having met with the Pope immediately after returning to Rome,  Cardinal Parolin said Francis was happy to hear about the “positive result” of the visit to Russia.

Pope Francis, he said, “is very, very attentive to all opportunities for dialogue that there can be, he is very attentive to value all the dialogues we have and he is very happy when making steps in this direction.”

Overall, the cardinal said that for him, “the result of this trip is a very positive result and so my sentiments are, of course, sentiments of gratitude to the Lord for having accompanied me during these day.”

The meetings “were characterized by a climate of cordiality, a climate of listening, a climate of respect. I would define them as meaningful encounters, they were also constructive encounters,” he said.

In addition to sharing how he was moved by the faith and religiosity of the Russian people, both Catholic and Orthodox, Cardinal Parolin said many different issues were addressed, including Ukraine and Syria.

Suggestions for future areas of collaboration between not only the Holy See and Russia, but also the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, were also discussed, such as the release of prisoners in Ukraine, the restitution of Church property confiscated during the communist regime, and collaboration in providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine and the Middle East.

However, Cardinal Parolin stressed that the proposals made “must be verified and possibly implemented after an adequate discernment and study.”

Given the overall positive result of the visit, “I would say that in the end – to use this word – it was a useful trip, it was an interesting trip, it was a constructive trip.”

Below is CNA's full English translation of the interview:

Q: Eminence, there was understandably great expectation for your visit to Russia. What sentiments do you have coming back to the Vatican?

I think the balance of this trip is a very positive balance and so my sentiments are, of course, sentiments of gratitude to the Lord for having accompanied me during these days. We were able to realize the program that was already fixed, to keep the scheduled encounters, and I have to say that these meetings – at the level of civil authority with President Putin and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov, and then with the leaders of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion – were characterized by a climate of cordiality, a climate of listening, a climate of respect. I would define them as meaningful encounters, they were also constructive encounters. I feel that I have to put a bit of emphasis on this word: “constructive encounters.” Of course, then, there was also the part of the encounter with the Catholic community. Above all thanks to the conversation and dialogue we had with the bishops in the nunciature, it was possible to know from a bit closer the reality, the life, of the Catholic community in Russia, her joys, her hopes, but also her challenges and the difficulties she has to face. For the latter, in part, it was possible to represent them, to expose them to the authorities. I cite one for all: the theme of the restitution of some churches that were confiscated during the time of the communist regime and for which there still has not been any restitution in the face of the need of the Catholic community to have adequate places of worship. So, I would say that in the end – to use this word – it was a useful trip, it was an interesting trip, it was a constructive trip.

Q: Have you already had the chance to speak with the Holy Father about the trip? What can you share about what you said?

Yes, naturally as soon as I returned I went to the Holy Father to give him a short, brief, concise account of both the contents and the results of the trip and naturally I conveyed the greetings that were given on the part of all parties I met, from the affection and closeness of the Catholic community, to the respectful greetings of the authorities. I remember that President Putin – I think it was also recorded in the public part of the meeting – underlined the living memory he keeps of his meetings with Pope Francis in 2013 and 2015. And then also the fraternal greeting of Patriarch Kirill. Of course the Pope was pleased with these impressions, of these positive results which I communicated; the Pope, as we know – he repeated also in this circumstance – is very, very attentive to all opportunities for dialogue that there can be, he is very attentive to value all the dialogues we have and he is very happy when making steps in this direction.

Q: What were the principle themes discussed in the meeting with Patriarch Kirill?

I would say that fundamentally we considered this new climate, this new atmosphere which reings in the relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church; this new climate, this new atmosphere which has been established in recent years and which, naturally, has had a particularly significant moment and strong acceleration thanks to the meeting in Havana between the Patriarch and the Pope, which this event followed. Truly, I noted from the part of both Orthodox interlocutors how they were moved by the experience of the visit of the relics of St. Nicholas of Bari to Moscow and St. Petersburg, but in the sense that they were touched by the faith and religiosity of the people. It was highlighted that as many Russians who belong to the Orthodox tradition but don't practice, drew close to the Church on this occasion. It was truly a great event both in terms of size – there were two and a half million faithful who visited the relics – and in terms of the impact of faith and spirituality that this event produced. We then went through some of the steps that have been taken and those that will be, which ought to be the steps taken in the future. To me it seems that on their part, as naturally also on our part, they do not want to exhaust the potential that this new phase has opened, and naturally the collaboration can take place in various areas, at various levels: from cultural collaboration – academic – to humanitarian...this point was heavily stressed, that in front of the situations of conflict that exist in the world, the two Churches can really carry out an incisive and effective humanitarian work. Also touched on – with respect and at the same time frankness – themes that are a bit prickly in relations between the two Churches; however, we tried to give – at least in my opinion, what I took away – a rather positive sense, that is, to explore shared ways to tackle and to try to solve these problems. And of course even these shared paths, these concrete proposals that emerged must be verified and possibly implemented after an adequate discernment and study.

Q: Now, Eminence, regarding more sensitive themes: the question of Ukraine is one of the most delicate in relations between the Holy See and Russia. You visited Ukraine a year ago. Is there some news after your visit?

New, until now, there is none...perhaps it's premature to think about something new. The Lord – we hope – will make it sprout and bear fruit, if there were those seeds of good that we tried to plant. However, as noted, the question of Ukraine is one of the issues of greatest concern for the Holy See: the Pope has spoken many times about this topic...It's obvious that this could not be treated, this theme; it could not be forgotten in that circumstance. I would say that above all in the sense of trying to see, to evaluate, whether there were any concrete steps that could be made toward a lasting and just solution to the conflict, which are virtually the agreements reached between the two parties. And it is well known that the Holy See has first of all insisted on the humanitarian aspects starting with the Pope's great initiative in Ukraine (last year's collection). In this sense, for example, one of the themes is that of the freeing of prisoners: this is one of the “humanitarian” topics that could really be important in giving some impetus to the entire process, even politically, to get out of this stasis and and to advance – for example – the topic of the truce, the ceasefire, the topic of security conditions in the area, the topic, also, of the political conditions in order to make progress in the global solution. So we hope that something can help to walk in the right direction, taking into account – when we talk of solutions, of humanitarian issues – that we are speaking about people and speaking about suffering. And I think that this is what everyone must have in mind precisely to try to make an extra effort to go in the right direction.

Q: The media naturally gave a lot of attention to the encounter in Sochi with Vladimir Putin. How did the meeting with the Russian president go?

I would say that the meeting with President Putin enters a bit into the evaluation that I have at the beginning: it was a cordial meeting, it was a respectful meeting in which we were able to address the issues that at least we had in our hearts to discuss, such as, for example, the Middle East, the situation of Syria in particular, and in this context also the issue of the presence of Christians: we know that one of the coincidences that there are between Russia and the Holy See is precisely this attention to the situation of Christians, the theme of Christian persecution, which we tend to widen to all religious groups – naturally – and to all minorities, trying to involve even Muslims, as was done for example in that seminar that took place in Geneva last year. Then, on the topic of Ukraine, we have already spoken a bit; the theme of Venezuela: I saw that some media also reported some statements that were made in this sense. So, other than bilateral themes, which I mentioned at the beginning, we presented some situations of difficulty for the Catholic community. I tried above all to say this, this was the message that I wanted to convey: that Russia, because of her geographic position, her history, her culture, her past and her present, has a great role to play in the international community, in the world. A great role to play. And so it has a particular responsibility regarding peace: both the country and her leaders have a great responsibility regarding the building of peace and they must really strive to put the higher interests of peace above all other interests.

Q: Finally, Eminence, other than the most significant encounters, is there another moment or specific aspect you want to highlight?

Yes, there was the beautiful moment of Mass together with the Catholic community. The cathedral was crowded with people and it was a bit of a surprise, because it was a holiday, so that many people weren't expected. Then, of course, the faith and devotion of this people always moves me: how the participate in Mass, with such attention, with such reverence, with such silence, they are present there. And I think that they came more than anything to express their attachment to the Pope and the fact of being members of the universal Church. So that was a nice moment. Another beautiful moment was the brief visit to the Sisters of Mother Teresa who work in Moscow. We were able to meet and greet the people they assist, even there it was shown a great affection toward the Pope. And then, the last thing that I want to recall: I was very impressed by the visit we made one evening to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the Orthodox cathedral of Moscow; the cathedral that was blown up during the communist regime. So it was also a moment to remember this painful history in the age in which they wanted to completely eradicate the faith from the hearts of believers and eliminate every dream of the presence of God and the Church in that land. Something they weren't able to do, because God is greater than the projects of men. 

Pope Francis sends message of encouragement to imprisoned youth

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 18:01

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Thursday sent a video message to youth in a prison in Argentina who are part of a program helping them attend university while in jail, praising the program and speaking words of encouragement for their futures.

Those in prison “are serving a penalty, a penalty for a mistake committed,” he said Aug. 24. “But let us not forget that, for punishment to be fruitful, it must have a horizon of hope, otherwise it is enclosed within itself and is only an instrument of torture, it is not fruitful.”

Though “there are problems and there will be problems,” he continued, “the horizon is bigger than the problems, hope goes beyond all the problems.”

Pope Francis sent the four and half minute message to students in Argentina’s Ezeiza Federal Penitentiary who are attending university while in prison. Located some 20 miles from where he used to live in Buenos Aires, the prison was once visited by the Argentine pope when he was a cardinal.

As the message reveals, the Pope has stayed in contact, still making weekly Sunday phone calls to the jail. He sent the message to mark the occasion of the opening of a musical course for inmates, carried out in cooperation with the University of Buenos Aires.

“I am aware of all your activities and it gives me great joy the existence of this space, a space of work, of culture, of progress, it is a sign of humanity,” Francis said.

“It is a breath of life that is happening in the prison, among you.”

The Pope listed several people who were influential in the formation of the new music course, thanking them for their work.

This course, along with the rest of the education they are receiving, provides a beacon of hope in its preparation for life after imprisonment, he said, and is the only way for punishment to be truly fruitful.

Punishment must have hope for “social reintegration,” he continued, which requires social formation, such as the program found in this particular prison.

“With this new music course you are looking at social reintegration, now you are already reintegrating with your studies, with the University of Buenos Aires, you are looking at social reintegration. It is a punishment with hope, a punishment with a horizon.”

This doesn’t make life easy, he was careful to articulate, and though it is a gift, he said, it’s one that is not easy to preserve, “that you must conquer every day.”

It’s given to us, but “we must conquer it at every step of life,” he said.

“A gift that is not easy to preserve. Have courage every day. There are a lot of difficulties, we all have them, however we care about this gift and we make it grow, we care and we make it flourish,” he encouraged.

Concluding, he told the students he prays for them and keeps them close to his heart, asking them “not to forget to do it for me.”

“May God bless you and you continue on, with a smile. At the next call!”

For Pope Francis, 'the liturgical reform is irreversible'

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 00:49

Vatican City, Aug 24, 2017 / 12:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis told a group of Italian liturgists that while the process of implementing the liturgical reform following Vatican II has been a long and at times bumpy task, the reform is “irreversible.”

“After this magisterium, after this long journey we can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible,” the Pope said Aug. 24 at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall to participants in the Italian National Liturgical Week.

The week, which this year is exploring the theme “A living liturgy for a living Church”, is organized by the Center for Liturgical Action.

Pope Francis noted that the center has existed for 70 years, and recalled the history of the 20th century liturgical movement, saying that “in the history of the liturgy, events have occurred which are substantial and not superficial.”

“There are two directly related events, the Council and the reform, which did not blossom suddenly, but after long preparation,” Francis said.

He referenced steps taken both by St. Pius X, who aimed to restore Gregorian chant with his 1903 motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini and who formed a commission on liturgical renewal ten years later; and by Venerable Pius XII, who introduced a revised psalter, attenuated the Eucharistic fast, allowed some use of the vernacular in ritual, and reformed Holy Week.

Francis also referred to Ven. Pius XII's 1947 encyclical on the sacred liturgy, Mediator Dei. In that document the late Pope had said, among other things, that “one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform” and that the assertion that priests cannot offer Mass at different altars at the same time is among “certain exaggerations and over-statements which are not in agreement with the true teaching of the Church.”

These culminated, Francis argued, in Vatican II's constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, “whose lines of general reform respond to real needs and to the concrete hope of a renewal; it desired a living liturgy for a Church completely vivified by the mysteries celebrated.”

He asserted that the direction traced by the Second Vatican Council “took form according to the principle of respect for sound tradition and legitimate progress in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI.”

The application of these changes is a lengthy process and is still ongoing, he said, noting that this is in part because “it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.”

The reformation of liturgical texts “introduced a process that demands time, faithful reception, practical obedience, and wise implementation” not only from ordained ministers, but from all who participate in the liturgy, he said. “In truth, we know, the liturgical education of pastors and the faithful is a challenge to be faced ever anew.”

Seeming to acknowledge the varied reception of the liturgical reforms which followed Vatican II, he quoted from a 1977 address of Bl. Paul VI to a consistory of cardinals declaring that “The time has now come definitely to leave aside divisive ferments.”

“And today, there is still work to do in this direction, in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions, and practices that disfigure it,” he declared.

“It is not a matter of rethinking the reform by reviewing its choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, even through historical documentation, of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it.”

This comes as Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has in recent years called a “reform of the reform” a “spiritual necessity”, saying its possibility or desirability cannot be dismissed and that “that there has been an increasing amount of critical study by faithful sons and daughters of the Church asking whether what was in fact produced truly implemented the aims of [Sacrosanctum Concilium], or whether in reality they went beyond them.”

Having iterated the irreversibility of the liturgical reform, Pope Francis then turned to the theme of the liturgical week, “ A living liturgy for a living Church”.

The Church sought a liturgy that was “alive” and helped the Church to become “fully enlivened by the celebrated mysteries,” he said.

Quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, he said faithful shouldn't go to the liturgy “as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.”

Pope Francis then outlined three key points to living the liturgy, which he said is centered on Christ, involves the entire people of God, and serves as a school of Christian life.

The liturgy “is alive” thanks to the sacrifice of Christ, who through his death and resurrection gave us new life, the Pope said, explaining that without “the real presence of the mystery of Christ, there is no liturgical vitality.”

“As without a heartbeat there is no human life, so without the beating heart of Christ no liturgical action exists,” he said.

Going on, Francis said the liturgy is also a source of life “for the entire people of the Church,” and because of this, her nature is in fact “popular” and not “clerical,” since it's ultimately an action “for the people, but also by the people.”

Even in her many liturgical prayers the Church recalls that the liturgy itself is an action of God for the good of the people, but it's also an action from the people, “who listen to God” and praise him through the various signs they perform.

The Church, he said, gathers together all those whose heart is open to hearing the Gospel, including “the small and the great, the rich and the poor, children and elderly, healthy and sick, the just and sinners.” Thus, in Christ the liturgical assembly surpasses “every boundary of age, race, language and nation.”

In fact, the Pope said the “popular” scope of the liturgy “reminds us that it is inclusive and not exclusive, advocating communion with all but without being homologous.”

Finally, Francis said the liturgy serves as a “school of Christian life,” which initiates a process of “transforming the way of thinking and acting, and not filling a bag of it's own ideas about God.”

“The liturgy is life and not an idea to understand,” he said. Nor is it “a doctrine to understand or a rite to complete.”

“It's naturally also this but in another way, it's essentially different: it's a source of life and light for our journey of faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by telling attendees that the Church is only truly alive if she “brings life, is mother and is missionary, going out to meet the other, urging to service without pursuing worldly powers that make it sterile.”

He also noted that the “richness” of the liturgy extends beyond the Roman Rite, and pointed to the liturgical “harmony” the Catholic Church shares with Eastern rites.

“The harmony of the ritual traditions, from East to West, by the breath of the same Spirit gives voice to the one prayer for Christ, with Christ and in Christ, for the glory of the Father and for the salvation of the world,” he said.

Francis closes his speech noting that in the effort to promote liturgical reform, “fatigue is not lacking, but neither is joy!” and asked participants to help not only pastors, but all who participate in the liturgy,  “to cooperate so that the liturgy is the source and culmination of the vitality of the Church.”


Elise Harris contributed to this report.

Could the canonization of Bl. Pier Giorgio happen next year?

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 21:01

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2017 / 09:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the 2018 synod on youth in Rome, a group of Catholic young people are asking for testimonies and signatures in support of the canonization of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

“We ask for this canonization because Bl. Pier Giorgio is in a special way 'one of us' – a young person,” organizers said in a letter to Pope Francis posted on their website.

“He did not found any great congregations or rise to any powerful positions; rather, he simply lived his ordinary Christian life with extraordinary love for God and other people.”

Launched in May of this year, the site has already received 1,540 signatures from over 50 countries, and will be presented to Pope Francis before the synod on “Youth, Faith, and Discernment” expected to take place in October 2018. Next year's synod in Rome is not only an inquiry into the background and religious experience of people aged 16 through 29, but an exploration of how the Church can best aid youth in their vocational discernment.  

The Bl. Pier Giorgio petition is receiving signatures and testimonies of Catholics around the world who have experienced his intercession and have been moved by his Christian witness. Every Sunday, the number of signatures will be updated on the site.  

Out of his zealous love for Christ, the Italian youth encountered his friendships, work, and dedication to the poor with great passion during his life at the beginning of the 20th century. However, he did so in little ways, say petition organizers.

“He did not found any great congregations or rise to any powerful positions; rather, he simply lived his ordinary Christian life with extraordinary love for God and other people.”

At the young age of 24, Bl. Pier Giorgio contracted polio and died soon after. Not only did elite crowds associated with his family attend his funeral, but also thousands of mourners, including impoverished people whom he had helped.

Many testimonies on the site spoke of being impressed by his loving nature, while relating to a man who enjoyed beer, cigars, and mountain expositions – and who also struggled with his studies and family life.

In one of the U.S. testimonies, a young person named Melanie said she decided to come back to the Church when she discovered the life of this man who “was...funny! And liked beer! And played pranks on people, and climbed mountains, and was in love with a beautiful girl.”

Another testimony from a young person, Jufre from the Philippines, described how Bl. Pier Giorgio's witness and intercession helped him decide to join the Franciscan order, noting that “Bl. Pier is one of those who helped me to discern what kind of life God is really calling me to.”

The letter acknowledged the difficulty many youth have in living the Christian life within contemporary society, and the temptation among young people to doubt the possibility of sainthood.

“We know this is not the case, but to combat these thoughts, we need also to be shown that this is not the case. We need a saint who is 'one of us' – still young, not entirely sure what big plans God might have for him or her, and living not in some distant era but in our own age.”

In their letter, organizers ask that the synod bishops and Pope Francis push for the Italian's canonization, noting that Bl. Pier Giorgio would be a perfect example of  the synod's major theme – namely how youth discern God's will.

“He did not wait for the big decision to be made or the concrete direction his life would take to be clear to begin making the heroic daily decisions to love that characterized his young life,” they said.

“He is thus a model for us of discernment, showing that the bigger vocational questions are often answered gradually through the daily discernment of how to love concretely those before us.”

For Christians, life always has meaning – even when it's hard, Pope says

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 16:00

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2017 / 04:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis said going through life downcast as if it has no meaning is not the attitude of a Christian, who has the assurance that even when things look grim, there is always new hope found in Christ.

“It is not Christian to walk with your gaze turned down, without raising your eyes to the horizon. As if our entire path expires here, in the palm of a few meters of the journey,” the Pope said Aug. 23.

To live “as if in our lives there was not destination and no landing, place, and we were forced to an eternal wandering, without any reason for our many labors; this is not Christian,” he said.  

Rather, as Christians “we believe and we know that death and hatred are not the final words pronounced in the parable of human existence,” he said, adding that to be a Christian “means a new perspective: a gaze full of hope.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on Christian hope.

In his address, Francis turned to the day's reading from Revelation, in which God, seated on his throne in heaven, says “I will make all things new.”

This passage, he said, is a reminder that “Christian hope is based on faith in God who always creates newness in the life of man, in history and in the cosmos. Newness and surprises.”

Turning to the last pages of the bible, the Pope said they show us the final goal for all believers, which is the heavenly Jerusalem, described as “an immense tent, where God will welcome all men to live with them permanently.”

“This is our hope,” Francis said, noting how the bible goes on to describe how God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

He urged those present to reflect on the passage “not in an abstract way,” but in light of all the sad news published in recent days such as the terrorist attack in Barcelona and natural disasters – news “which we all risk becoming addicted to.”

Pointing to the many children who suffer from war, youth whose dreams are often destroyed and refugees who embark on dangerous journeys and who many times are exploited, Pope Francis noted that “unfortunately life is also this.”

However, returning to the day's scripture passage, he stressed that “there is a Father who weeps with tears of infinite mercy toward his children.”

“We have a God who knows how to weep, who weeps with us,” he said, adding that he is also a Father “who waits to console us, because he knows our sufferings and has prepared for us a different future.”

God, the Pope said,  “did not want our lives by mistake, forcing himself and us to long nights of anguish.” Rather, “he created us because he wants us happy. He is our Father, and if we here, now, experience a life that is not what he wanted for us, Jesus guarantees us that God himself is working his ransom.”

Some people believe that all of life's happiness lay in youth and in the past, and that living “is a slow decay.” Still others hold that the joys we experience “are only episodic and passionate,” and that the life of man “is writing nonsense,” the Pope noted.

But as Christians, “we don't believe this. We believe instead that on man's horizon there is a sun that illuminates forever. We believe that our most beautiful days are still to come.”

“We are people more of spring than autumn,” he said, and urged those present to ask themselves: “Am I a man, woman, child of the spring, or the fall? Is my spirit in the fall or the spring?”

“Don't forget that question,” he said in off-the-cuff remarks, asking again “am I a person of the spring or the fall? The spring, which waits for flowers, fruit, the sun, which is Jesus; or the autumn, which is always looking down, embittered, with, as sometimes I've said, a face like peppers in vinegar.”

There are always problems in life, such as gossip, war or illness, but in the end “the grain grows and in the end, evil is eliminated,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his address saying Christians have the knowledge that in the Kingdom of God, grain grows “even if in there are weeds in the middle.”

“In the end evil will be eliminated,” he said. “The future does not belong to us, but we know that Jesus Christ is the greatest grace of life: he is the embrace of God who waits for us at the end, but who already accompanies us and consoles us on the journey.”

After greeting groups of pilgrims from various countries around the world, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of a 4.0 level earthquake that rocked the Italian island of Ischia, roughly 88 miles off the coast of Naples, Monday, killing two and injuring at least 39 others.

Francis expressed his “affectionate closeness” to the many who are suffering as a result of the quake, and offered prayers “for the death, the wounded, for their families and for the people who have lost their homes.”

Parolin in Russia: Vatican diplomacy has a key role in global debate

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 04:11

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As he arrived to Russia for his official three-day visit, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See has a special role on the global scene given its attention to both spiritual and diplomatic themes.

“The Holy See simultaneously performs both a spiritual and a diplomatic role,” Cardinal Parolin said in an Aug. 20 interview with Russian news agency TASS. “That is why the Vatican diplomacy is of special nature.”
“It does not rely on any other force, except for taking care of every person and every nation through dialogue,” he said, adding that with these aspects in mind, discussion with his Russian counterparts will focus on “the issues which are of mutual interest for us, as well as crises in different parts of the world, which are both distant and very near.”

The meeting with Patirarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular serves as proof of the openness that has come as a result of his historic meeting with Pope Francis in Havana last year, Parolin said, noting how both Kirill a nd Francis “spoke of rapprochement as a shared path.”

“When we walk this path together and conduct fraternal dialogue, we can feel the moments of unity. This path requires the search for truth, as well as love, patience, persistence and determination.”

Cardinal Parolin spoke to TASS the day before his official Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, during which he is set to meet with several heavy-hitters including Patriarch Kirill, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and several other high-level members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The interview touched not only on the Holy See's diplomatic task, but it also focused largely on relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, specifically in terms of preserving traditional Christian values. Parolin also spoke of U.S. President Donald Trump's policies so far during his brief tenure, and the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Traveling with Parolin as part of his official delegation is Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, adviser to the apostolic nunciature of Russia and an official in the Relations with States section of the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

On Aug. 21, the first day of this visit, Parolin met with the Catholic cardinals and bishops of Russia, and in the evening presided over Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, after which he held a friendly encounter with clergy and the laity.

He also met with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Tomorrow morning, Aug. 22, is dedicated to a working session with Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, while in the evening Parolin will meet with Patriarch Kirill, and will hold a brief press conference afterward.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, the last day of his visit, Cardinal Parolin will head to Sochi for his official meeting with President Putin. No other official meetings are on the schedule before the cardinal returns to Rome Aug. 24.

In his interview with TASS, Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican has been “working on the idea of the visit to Russia for a long time,” and that it is finally possible largely as a result of the February 2016 meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill.

“That meeting was the first step that had been expected for a long time,” he said. Not only did it strengthen contracts between representatives of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, “which became  more frequent and filled with concrete content,” but it also prompted the churches “to look at the discrepancies we had in the past and their causes in a new way.”

Although tensions can still be felt as the result of differing opinions on various issues, Parolin said Francis and Kirill's meeting “helped us see the unity we are striving for, the unity which is required by the Gospels we profess.”

“It is very important that we have this renewed mutual positive view that every servant of the God, priest and believer will share,” he said, stressing that in his opinion, this is the condition “for the fulfillment of new and, I would say, unprecedented steps in the development of the ecumenical dialogue and the rapprochement of our Churches.”

When asked how their Churches can work together to preserve traditional values and not impede efforts for modern democracy, Parolin noted that unfortunately “there is no shortage of challenges that the modern world produces.”

It's not just about preserving values so much as “the very concept of human personality and human dignity,” he said, pointing to the specific challenges presented by showing respect for humanity and his work, striving for social justice, interpersonal relations and relations among States.

“These are all challenges of a peaceful existence,” the cardinal said, noting that when their Churches insist on following the Gospel and upholding the values found in scripture, “they do so not to humiliate a modern person or to put unnecessary pressure on him but to show the path to salvation and fulfillment.”

“When performing this mission, which never ends, it is extremely important to establish effective cooperation between different religious denominations,” he said, adding that greater mutual understanding between Churches and the exchange of experiences “may become an important contribution to understanding of these problems.”

Pointing to the Catholic Church's decision to “loan” relics of the well-loved Orthodox Saint Nicholas, consisting of several bone fragments currently housed in Bari, to Russia over the summer, Parolin said the gesture served as a “spiritual uplift” of sorts for the Russian Orthodox Church.

“There is no doubt that this event and other similar initiatives, which can be called the 'ecumenism of the saints,' give an opportunity to fully feel what already unites Christians,” he said.

The relics were sent from Bari to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow from May 22-July 12, and were venerated by President Putin and thousands of Orthodox faithful.

Not only was the event important for the spiritual life of believers, but it also served as an example for future initiatives and gave “a new impetus” to dialogue on “more complex” issues in Church relations, he said.

When it comes to fighting terrorism, Parolin said there are two important factors to keep in mind, the first being the decisions on the part of governments “which are often dictated by concrete situations.”

“When one faces a situation of this kind, one has to make a certain choice based on the politicians’ assessments,” he said. “No doubt, the need to tackle terrorism is evident for the Church, but all actions must be weighted in order to prevent a situation in which the use of force would trigger spiraling violence or lead to violations of human rights, including the freedom of religion.”

On the other hand, the Church is always guided by a “long-term perspective,” he said, which first of all involves fostering personal development, particularly among younger generations, as well as “solid dialogue between religions.”

“During the past decades, the Holy See has been making all possible efforts to establish, strengthen or restore dialogue on the cultural and religious levels and in the social and humanitarian sphere,” the cardinal said, adding that he is “absolutely convinced that life under the guidance of the Gospel would in itself make an important contribution into forming the society and culture.”

Asked about some of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial policies since taking office, including his decision to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate agreement, and what the Vatican expects from Trump, Parolin voiced hope that the two States can move forward in mutual respect.

The meeting in May between Pope Francis and Trump “was held in the atmosphere of mutual respect and I would say, with mutual sincerity” in which both men were able to voice their thoughts and concerns.

Parolin voiced his hope that despite Trump's determination to “fulfill the electoral promises” and despite Washington's withdrawal from the Paris accord, “pragmatic approaches will prevail in continuation to the US administration's decision to keep the climate change discussion running.”

“We, in our turn, can only wish that President Trump, just like other members of the international community, does not neglect the extremely difficult task of tackling the global warming and its negative consequences.”

The cardinal then said that in his opinion, international relations are “increasingly dominated” by policies and strategies “based on open clashes and confrontations.”

Describing this phenomena as a “'dialogue of the deaf,' or, worse, (policies that) fuel fears and are based on intimidation with nuclear or chemical weapons,” Parolin said he believes there is a common realization that such approaches “do not lead to correct solutions and fail to ease tensions between states.”

He pointed to how Pope Francis' insistence that “building peace is a path,” explaining that this path “is a lot thornier than war and conflict.”

“Building peace requires a patient and constructive dialogue with mutual respect instead of focusing all attention to own national interests,” Parolin said. “This is all that is expected from the leaders of global powers.”

'Arbitrary expulsions' won't solve the migration crisis, Pope says

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 16:00

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2017 / 04:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his message for the next World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis outlined a four-step vision for responding to the ongoing global migration crisis, which he said is a “sign of the times” that can't be solved by simply expelling incoming foreigners, but rather by upholding human dignity.

Pointing to the “lamentable situation” of the many migrants and refugees who flee war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty in their homelands, the Pope said the scenario “is undoubtedly a sign of the times” which he has tried to draw attention to since his election as the Successor of Peter in 2013.

He has consistently spoken out about the issue from the beginning with his July 8, 2013, visit to Lampedusa, up to the formation of the new dicastery for Integral Human Development in January 2017.  

“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age,” Francis said in his message, released Aug. 21.

The Church in particular is asked to show solidarity with those who leave their countries in search of a better life, he said, stressing that this solidarity “must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience – from departure through journey to arrival and return.”

Part of this involves a four-step response to the crisis which Pope Francis said can be summed up with four verbs: “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.”

“Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights,” he said.

Rather, welcoming foreigners above all means “offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally.”

In order for this to happen, the Pope said there must be a commitment to “increase and simplify” the process for granting humanitarian visas and reuniting families that have been separated.

He urged a wider global adoption of both private and community sponsorship and humanitarian corridor programs for vulnerable refugees, as well as the issuing of “special temporary visas” for those fleeing conflicts in neighboring countries.

Making the human person the focal point of the issue “obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security,” he said, and stressed the importance of ensuring that migrants and asylum seekers be guaranteed both personal safety and access to basic services upon their arrival.

He also spoke out against the detainment of illegal immigrants in detention centers, saying that “for the sake of the fundamental dignity of every human person, we must strive to find alternative solutions to detention for those who enter a country without authorization.”

Dating back to 1914, when it was established under Pope St. Pius X, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated annually on Jan. 14. This year, the theme follows the Pope's action-plan: “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.”

His message comes amid heated tensions on the immigration issue in the U.S. in particular, as President Donald Trump has outlined new legislation with sweeping cuts to the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country, as well as the implementation of a merit-based visa system.  

The issue was one of the most contentious during Trump's campaign, and he even sparred with Pope Francis when he threatened to built a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border. So far during his time in office, Trump has promoted the idea of the wall, and has implemented a travel ban on six majority-Muslim countries, from which millions are fleeing due to war and violent conflict.

As it stands, current U.S. law forbids migrants from receiving food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security until they have been in the U.S. for at least five years.

However, in his message Pope Francis in his second point stressed that protecting immigrants means defending “the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status.”

“Such protection begins in the country of origin, and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure, and in providing safety from illegal recruitment practice,” he said.

This entails ensuring migrants have proper council and assistance, the right to access documents of identification at any time, the ability of opening a personal bank account and enough money to live on.

“When duly recognized and valued, the potential and skills of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are a true resource for the communities that welcome them,” Francis said. “This is why I hope that, in countries of arrival, migrants may be offered freedom of movement, work opportunities, and access to means of communication, out of respect for their dignity.”

For those who decide to return to their homelands, reintegration programs ought to be available, the Pope said, and urged for protection of underage migrants, particularly those who travel alone.

“They must be spared any form of detention related to migratory status, and must be guaranteed regular access to primary and secondary education,” he said, adding that when they come of age, these migrants must be “guaranteed the right to remain” in their host country and continue their studies.

Foster programs for unaccompanied minors ought to be set up, and nationality granted and “duly certified” for all children at birth, he said, adding that the “statelessness” some migrants fall into can be avoided with national legislation that respects “the fundamental principals of international law.”

When it comes to “promoting” the interests of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis said this refers to “a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator.”

This means ensuring freedom of religion, and promoting the personal and professional abilities of migrants, which must be “appropriately recognized and valued.”

Since work is essential to dignity, Francis voiced encouragement for “a determined effort to promote the social and professional inclusion of migrants and refugees,” guaranteeing for all – including those seeking asylum – the opportunity for employment, language classes and “active citizenship,” with enough information provided in their mother tongue to ensure that they are successful.

However, when it comes to minors, the Pope cautioned that their involvement with labor must be properly regulated in order to eliminate and prevent opportunities for exploitation. He also spoke out on the need to help disabled migrants, saying they “must be granted greater assistance and support.”

Francis also called for an increase in international humanitarian assistance for developing countries receiving high numbers of migrants and refugees, and voiced hope that local communities that are vulnerable and financially strapped “will be included among aid beneficiaries.”

His final point, integration, is something the Pope has often brought up in relation to the migrant issue, taking advantage of speaking engagements with large governmental bodies such as the the Council of Europe or foreign diplomats.

In his message, Francis said integration is not “an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity,” but rather, he said contact with others “leads to discovering their ‘secret,’ to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better.”

“This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings,” he said.

This process, he said, can be accelerated by granting citizenship that is free of financial or linguistic requirements, and by offering special legislation to migrants able to claim long-term residence upon arrival.

Pope Francis also drew attention to the plight of migrants who abandon their own countries only to flee their country of arrival due to a humanitarian crisis. These people, he said, “must be ensured adequate assistance for repatriation and effective reintegration programs in their home countries.”

The Pope closed his message insisting that “the contribution of political communities and civil societies is indispensable, each according to their own responsibilities” in order for a positive outcome to the current migration crisis.

To this end, he pointed to the U.N. Summit held in New York Sept. 16, 2016, in which world leaders gathered to discuss their own action-plan to support migrants and refugees with shared responsibility on a global level.

To execute this responsibility, the participating States committed to drafting and approving two Global Compacts, one for migrants and one for refugees, before the end of 2018.

In light of these ongoing processes, the Pope said the coming months “offer a unique opportunity to advocate and support” his own four point action plan, and invited leaders to “use every occasion to share this message with all political and social actors involved (or who seek to be involved) in the process which will lead to the approval of the two Global Compacts.”

Pope Francis prays for end to ‘inhuman violence’ after recent terrorist attacks

Sun, 08/20/2017 - 20:22

Vatican City, Aug 20, 2017 / 08:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis prayed for the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Spain, Burkina Faso and Finland, asking the Lord to bring peace and to end the violence of terrorism around the world.

After praying the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis led the 10,000 people present in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silence and in a 'Hail Mary' for those killed or wounded in the most recent terrorist attacks.

“In our hearts we bear the pain of the terrorist acts that in recent days have caused many victims in Burkina Faso, Spain and Finland,” he said Aug. 20.

“Let us pray for all the dead, for the wounded and for their relatives; and we plead for the Lord, God of mercy and peace, to free the world from this inhuman violence. Let us pray together in silence and, afterwards, to Our Lady.”

The night of Aug. 13 gunmen opened fire in a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou, the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, killing at least 18 people and taking hostages before police ended the standoff early Monday morning.

On Thursday of that week, at least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured in Barcelona Aug. 17 after a van sped into a crowd of people in the Las Ramblas tourist area.

Then, on Aug. 18, a stabbing in Turku in Finland left two people dead and injured eight others. Originally considered to be a murder, it is now being treated as an act of terror, according to police.

Before the Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading about the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her demon-tormented daughter.

At first, the Lord does not seem to hear her cry of pain, the Pope pointed out. But she does not let this discourage her.

"The inner strength of this woman, which allows her to overcome every obstacle, is found in her maternal love and in the confidence that Jesus can fulfill her request. And this makes me think of the strength of women,” he said.

We have all known many strong women, he continued, who with their fortitude have achieved great things. “We can say that it is love that moves faith and faith, on its part, becomes the reward of love.”

Francis explained how it is the woman's great love for her suffering daughter that leads her to persevere in her request for the Lord's healing, shouting: "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!"

"This evangelical episode helps us understand that we all need to grow in faith and strengthen our trust in Jesus,” Francis said. “He can help us find the way when we have lost the compass of our journey; when the road does not look flat, but hard and difficult; when it is difficult to be faithful to our commitments.”

“It is important to daily feed our faith, listening attentively to the Word of God, with the celebration of the Sacraments, with personal prayer as a 'crying' towards Him – 'Lord, help me!' – and with concrete attitudes of charity towards our neighbor,” he said.

In the Gospel, the woman’s perseverance and act of faith lead Jesus to heal her daughter. “This humble woman,” the Pope said, “is pointed at by Jesus as an example of unshakeable faith.”

"Her insistence on invoking the intervention of Christ is for us a stimulus to not discourage us, not to despair when we are oppressed by the hard tests of life.” The Lord does not turn away from us when we present our needs. If sometimes he seems insensitive to our demands for help, it is only to test and strengthen our faith.

And when this happens “we must continue to shout like this woman: 'Lord, help me! Lord, help me!' Thus, with perseverance and courage,” he said. “And this is the courage needed in prayer.”

"Let us trust in the Holy Spirit," Pope Francis concluded, "so that He will help us to persevere in the faith.”

“The Spirit infuses courage into the hearts of believers; he gives our life and our Christian witness the power of conviction and persuasion; he encourages us to overcome disbelief towards God and indifference to our brothers."

Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 19:54

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”

In Christ, Mary brings new joy and meaning to mankind, Pope says

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 16:26

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2017 / 04:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Francis said that in bringing Christ to the world, Mary also provides the joy and grace of her Son, which not only sustain us in difficulty, but are primarily intended for the weak and humble.

“Carrying Jesus, the Madonna also brings us a new joy, full of meaning; she brings us a new ability to pass with faith through the most painful and difficult moments; she brings us the capacity for mercy, forgiveness, understanding and supporting one another,” the Pope said Aug. 15.

Mary, he said, “is the model of faith and virtue,” and in contemplating her Assumption into Heaven, we give her thanks “because she always precedes us on the pilgrimage of life and of faith.”

We are also able to ask that she “guard us and sustain us, that we may have a strong faith, joyful and merciful; that she help us to be holy, to met her, one day, in paradise,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present for a special Angelus address given for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, which is celebrated annually Aug. 15.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – teaches that when Mary's earthly life ended, God assumed her body and soul into heaven.

The Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition even in the early centuries of the Church, and was a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However, it wasn't until 1950 that it was made an infallible teaching by Pope Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

In his Angelus speech honoring the feast, Pope Francis turned to the day's Gospel reading from Luke, in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist, despite her advanced age.

He noted how when Mary arrived to her cousin, having gone “in haste,” Elizabeth immediately proclaims the first words of the traditional “Hail Mary” prayer, saying “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

In this moment, the greatest gift that Mary brought not just to Elizabeth, but to the whole world, “is Jesus, who already lives in her,” Francis said.

“And he lives not only by faith and waiting, as in many other women in the Old Testament: from the Virgin Mary Jesus took on human flesh, for his mission of salvation.”

The Pope then noted how preceding the encounter, Elisabeth and her husband Zechariah were filled with sadness by the fact that they couldn't have children. However, in place of this “now there is the joy of a child on the way: a child who will become the great John the Baptist, precursor of the Messiah.”

And when Mary arrives, this joy “overflows and bursts from their hearts,” he said, “because the invisible but real presence of Jesus fills all meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people...everything!”

Mary herself expresses this joy when she speaks the “stupendous prayer” of the Magnificat, which is “a song of joy to God who works great things through humble people, unknown to the world, like Mary herself, like her spouse Joseph, and also like the village in which they lived, Nazareth.”

In off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope pointed to “the great things the Lord does in the world with the humble, because humility is like a void that leaves room for God.”

The humble person “is strong because they are humble, not because they are powerful,” he said, and urged those present to ask themselves “how is my humility?” and to reflect on the answer.

Going on, Francis said the Magnificat prayer is an expression of God's mercy and fidelity, as well as his plan for salvation, which he carries out with “the little ones and the poor, with those who have faith in him” and trust in his Word, as Mary did.

Jesus' arrival to Elizabeth and Zechariah through Mary brings not only a climate of joy and communion, but also “a climate of faith which leads to hope, prayer and praise,” the Pope said, noting that the same thing can happen for each person today.

Francis closed his address asking Mary to bring to each person and their families and communities, “that immense gift, that unique grace which we must always ask for before and above all other graces that are also in our heart: the grace that is Jesus Christ!”

After leading pilgrims in the Angelus, the Pope offered a special prayer for all those who are suffering due to various global situations.

He entrusted to Mary and her intercession “the anxieties and pains of the peoples who in many parts of the world suffer due to natural disasters, social tensions or conflicts,” asking that she obtain for them “consolation and a future of peace and harmony!”

In addition to the various conflicts raging throughout the world, the Pope's words come after one woman lost her life and several others were injured when a car rammed into a group of protesters at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this week, adding fuel to what were already-escalated racial tensions in the United States.

Australian bishops oppose forcing priests to reveal details of confession

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 19:20

Vatican City, Aug 14, 2017 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Australia have indicated that they will resist the Royal Commission's proposal that priests be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, facing criminal charges if they don't.

“Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Archbishop Denis J Hart of Melbourne said in an Aug. 14 statement.

President of the Australian Bishops Conference, Hart said confession “is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries.”

“It must remain so here in Australia,” he said, but stressed that “outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”

The statement came the same day Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, established in 2013, released a sweeping 85 proposed changes to the country's criminal justice system.

In addition to suggestions tightening the law on sentencing standards in cases of historical sexual abuse, the use of evidence and grooming, the commission recommended that the failure to report sexual abuse, even in religious confessions, be made “a criminal offense.”

“Clergy should not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession,” the report said, adding that if persons in institutions are aware of possible child abuse or suspect it, they ought to report it right away.

The commission cited cases brought before them in which perpetrators who had confessed the sexual abuse of children to a priest then “went on to re-offend and seek forgiveness.”

Therefore, while it recognized the importance of Confession to the Catholic Church, “the report recommends there be no exemption, excuse, protection or privilege from the offense granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.”

According to the Church's canon law, “the sacramental seal is inviolable. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other manner.”

A priest who directly violates the “Seal of Confession” incurs a “latae senentiae” excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See, which can only be lifted by the Pope himself.

In an Aug. 14 statement from the Australian Church's “Truth, Justice and Healing Council,” established in 2013 as a platform for the Church “to speak as one” on matters involving the Royal Commission, the council voiced opposition to the proposal involving Confession, but suggested that if implemented, the final decision on whether to comply would come down to each priest and his conscience.

In the statement, Francis Sullivan, CEO of the council, said that while the Catholic Church and the council itself “have consistently argued that these reporting provisions should not apply to the confessional, the Royal Commission has now made a different determination based on information and evidence it has heard over the past four years.”

“The whole concept of confession in the Catholic Church is built on repentance, forgiveness and penance,” Sullivan said, adding that “if a child sex-abuser is genuinely seeking forgiveness through the sacrament of confession they will need to be prepared to do what it takes to demonstrate their repentance.”

Part of this, he said, especially in cases of sexual abuse, “would normally require they turn themselves in to the police. In fact, the priest can insist that this is done before dispensing absolution.”

However, since the commission has now made a suggestion counter to the Church’s position, the final decision on whether or not it will become law is up to individual parliaments to form their own view and then make the relevant changes to the law.

“If ultimately there are new laws that oblige the disclosure of information heard in the Confessional, priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences,” Sullivan said.

“If they do not, this will be a personal, conscience decision, on the part of the priest that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in accordance with the new law as best they can.”

Other changes proposed by the commission include changes to police responses, such as improvements to investigative techniques when interviewing; provisions for the improvement of “courtroom experience” for victims, making the process less traumatic; the removal of  “good character” as a factor in sentencing when that character carried out the abuse; changes requiring sentences to be placed in line with current sentencing standards rather than those at the time of the offense and the extension of grooming offenses to cover when the offender builds trust with a parent or guardian in order access the child.

Of the proposed changes, another that could affect the Catholic Church in real time is the request to change sentencing policies for historical cases of sexual abuse.

The suggestion asks that “all states and territories should introduce legislation so that sentences for child sexual abuse offenses are set in accordance with sentencing standards at the time of the sentencing, instead of at the time of offending.”

However, they said the sentence “must be limited to the maximum sentence available for the offense at the date when the offense was committed.”

“Many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse do not report the offense for years or even decades and applying historical sentencing standards can result in sentences that do not align with the criminality of the offense as currently understood,” they said.

Although it is unknown whether the change will in fact be made or how quickly it could be enforced, the move would directly affect cases such as that of Cardinal George Pell, who is currently facing charges on multiple counts of historical child sexual abuse.

The charges were announced by the police of Victoria, Australia at the end of June. As the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy since 2013 and a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell is the most senior Vatican official to ever be charged with abuse.

With the permission of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell has taken leave from his responsibilities in the Vatican in order to return to Australia for the court proceedings.

He has maintained his innocence since rumors of the charges first came out last year. At a brief hearing in Melbourne July 26, the cardinal said he would be pleading “not guilty” to the charges. He is set to appear at a preliminary hearing Oct. 6.

Despite the fact that charges against the cardinal date as far back as the 1960s, the new proposals to historical cases of sexual abuse, if implemented right away, could go into effect in time to determine how Pell is sentenced should he be found guilty.

At the time the charges were announced, Victoria Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton emphasized that at that point, there had been “no change in any procedures whatsoever,” and stressed the importance of remembering that “none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet.”

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it's important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”

Trust in Christ – not in horoscopes, Pope Francis says

Sun, 08/13/2017 - 16:41

Vatican City, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis repeated a message he often has, warning against putting one's trust in horoscopes and fortune telling rather than Christ, who is the only true security that gets us through times of trial and darkness.

Pointing to how Peter begins to sink when walking toward Jesus on the water in the day's Gospel reading, Francis noted that the same thing can happen to us when we put our trust in false securities.

“When we do not cling to the Word of the Lord, but consult horoscopes and fortune tellers, we begin to sink,” the Pope said Aug. 13.

The episode, he said, serves as a reminder “that faith in the Lord and in his word does not open a path where everything is calm and easy; it does not take us away from the storms of life.”

Rather, “faith gives us the security of a presence that pushes us to overcome the existential storms, the certainty of a hand that grabs us in order to help us in difficulties, showing the way even when it's dark.”

“Faith, then, is not an escape from life's problems, but it supports on the journey and gives it meaning.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly Angelus address, focusing on the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus walks on water in the midst of a storm, and beckons Peter to come to him. Peter initially begins to walk toward Jesus, but starts to sink out of fear when he sees the waves, and cries out for Jesus to rescue him.

This episode, Francis said, has a lot of symbolism for both individuals, and for the Church as a whole.

The boat can represent the life of each person, but also the life of the Church, he said, explaining that the wind signifies the “difficulties and trials” each will face.

Peter's cry of “Lord, command me to come to you,” and then his plea “Lord, save me!” represent both our desire feel close to the Lord, and “the fear and anguish which accompany us in the most difficult moments of our lives and our communities, marked by internal fragility and external difficulty,”  Francis said.

In the moment when he looked at the wind and the waves and began to fear, Peter wasn't founded on the Word of God, “which was like an outstretched rope to cling to in front of the hostile and turbulent waters.”

The same thing happens to us when we put our faith in trivial, worldly securities, rather than in the Lord, he said.

Pope Francis said the passage is “a stupendous image” of the reality of the Church throughout the ages: “a ship which, along the crossing, must counter winds and storms which threaten to overwhelm it.”

What saves the ship is not the courage and quality of it's men, he said, but rather, “the guarantee against a shipwreck is faith in Christ and in his word.”

“On this ship we are safe, despite our miseries and weaknesses, above all when we get on our knees and adore the Lord” as the disciples did, who, after Jesus calmed the storm, prostrated themselves and said “truly you are the Son of God!”

To drive the point home, Francis had the crowd repeat the phrase, listening as they shouted “truly you are the Son of God” three times.

Francis closed his address asking that the Virgin Mary intercede in helping all to “stay firm in the faith in order to resist the storms of life, to stay on the boat of the Church, eschewing the temptation to go on amusing, yet insecure boats of ideologies, fashions and slogans.”

He then led pilgrims in praying the traditional Marian prayer and greeted various groups of youth from around Italy before asking for prayer and giving his blessing. 

Pope orders Belgian religious group to stop offering euthanasia to patients

Thu, 08/10/2017 - 22:16

Vatican City, Aug 10, 2017 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis is cracking down on a Belgian Brothers of Charity-run organization, giving the group until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to patients in their psychiatric centers.

In addition, each of the religious brothers serving on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centers, has been ordered to sign a joint letter to their general superior, Br. Rene Stockman, declaring their adherence to Church teaching.

Brothers who refuse to sign the letter will face punitive action under canon law, while the group itself is expected to face legal action and could have its Catholic status revoked if it does not change its policy.

The Vatican order, sent at the beginning of August, follows several prior requests that the group drop the policy, which allows doctors to euthanize non-terminal mentally ill patients on its grounds.

In comments to CNA Aug. 10, Br. Stockman said he initially went to the Vatican for help in the spring, when the group, which is a state organization run by the order, decided to change their policy on euthanasia on the grounds that their stance was culturally abnormal.

Since the year 2000, the group has maintained a firm policy against euthanasia and how to cope with requests for it, he said, explaining that as a state organization, they take requests for euthanasia seriously, and try to help the patient regain their desire for life, “knowing of course that someone who is very depressive can have the tendency to ask for euthanasia.”

After doing everything possible to help alleviate any depression present in a patient, if the individual still requests euthanasia – which is legal in Belgium – the brothers would transfer them elsewhere.

“We don't accept that euthanasia should be done inside our institutes,” Br. Stockman said, noting that this had been the organization's firm policy until last year, when the group “started to deflect,” claiming that the Catholic position was “unique” in Belgium, where euthanasia is widely accepted, even for children.

The group argued that they had to “adapt,” and so developed a new vision that Br. Stockman said “we could not accept as a congregation.”

Despite the fact that all board members are Catholic, and some have high political profiles, in Belgium “secularization is very, very high, very strong,” Br. Stockman said, “so you have to ask yourself what is Catholic still?”

In response to the group's decision to change the policy, “we said very clearly first of all, for us respect of life must always be absolute,” the superior general said.

However, he said, the group responded that “respect of life is fundamental, but autonomy for the person is on the same level,” and once the two are placed on the same level, “then the autonomy of the patient becomes absolute, and not respect for life.”

Despite meeting resistance from Br. Stockman, the group insisted on implementing their new policy, which went into effect in June for each of the 15 psychiatric centers they run throughout Belgium.

As a response, the general superior went to the Belgian Catholic Bishops Conference and asked that they back him in the debate. When the organization continued to resist, despite pressure from the bishops conference, Br. Stockman took the issue to the Vatican.

He was eventually invited to present the issue before both the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, both of which became involved in investigating the issue.

The doctrinal congregation then promptly drafted a letter reiterating the Church's position on euthanasia and insisted that the group step back into line with doctrine. However, the letter was ignored.

Br. Stockman then received a specific mandate from the Congregation for Consecrated Life “to see that the organization can again be in line” with Church teaching.

Part of his mandate is enforcing the ultimatum and gathering the group's response by the end of August. Br. Stockman said he has not spoken with Pope Francis personally, but that it is the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life who conceived the ultimatum and presented it to the Pope, who gave it his full support.

Of the three brothers who are members of the organization's board of trustees – the majority of board consists of laypeople – Br. Stockman said he is still waiting for their answers, but is “quite positive about that, I can say that, I think the brothers will conform themselves.”

To ask the brothers to reaffirm their adherence to Church teaching is “logical,” he said, because “when you are a religious, then you have to be in line with the Church.”

“I know them and they are really under pressure from the whole mentality,” he said, but voiced confidence that they will send the letter without any problems.

As for the organization itself, the general superior said he has been in contact with the board members. “They said they received the letter and that they will discuss again in their board the situation,” he said, adding “I am waiting for the final answer.”

When asked if there was fear that even if the organization does change the policy back, they would be forced by the state to provide euthanasia, Br. Stockman said that thankfully, as of now institutions can't be forced, “so I think we also have to use this opening not to do it.”

“If the law changes and they say that institutions have to do euthanasia, then the situation becomes totally different. Then we have to ask ourselves, can we still continue as a Catholic hospital in a certain environment where we are forced to do euthanasia?”

“But until now we have the possibility to refuse euthanasia inside the walls of the institute,” he said.

Cardinal Parolin says urgency of peace a key reason for Russia trip

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 23:01

Vatican City, Aug 9, 2017 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said he will be going to Russia Aug. 20-24 largely out of a desire to promote peace both there and with the West, and to solidify relations with the Eastern Orthodox.

Conflicts throughout the world, particularly in areas such as the Middle East, Syria and Ukraine, “are constant objects of attention and concern for the Holy See,” Cardinal Parolin said in the interview published Aug. 9 in Corriere della Sera.

“Because of this, the need and urgency of searching for peace and the way to do it will certainly be one of the principle themes” of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he indicated.

In addition to meeting with with Putin, the cardinal is also expected to hold meetings with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, as well as several other high-level authorities in the Russian Orthodox Church.

In his interview, Cardinal Parolin stressed that the Holy See has always held “a special interest for the vast eastern portion of Europe,” which he said “has a role to play in the search for greater stability on the continent and greater unity, including relations between East and West.”

“After the period of ideological opposition, which obviously can't entirely fade from today to tomorrow, and in the new scenarios that have opened up since the end of the Cold War, it's important to take advantage of every occasion to encourage respect, dialogue, and mutual collaboration in a view to promoting peace.”

The visit, he said, is also understood as a completion of the tour he has made of the region over the past few years, which, through official papal trips or visits he has made alone, has brought him to Belarus, the Caucasus nations, the Baltic countries, and Ukraine.

Now “I will have the opportunity to complete the picture with the visit to Russia.”

When asked whether or not he is concerned about rising tensions between the United States and Russia, Cardinal Parolin said he trusts that both parties involved “will know how to act with due responsibility to avoid the escalation of tensions.”

He also voiced confidence that the two nations will be able to recognize “the eventual errors that could have been at the origin of that situation.”

U.S. President Donald Trump recently turned up the heat in the ongoing conflict with Russia, due largely to tensions over their involvement in Syria and Ukraine, and possible meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Recently Trump hit Russia with more economic sanctions due to the country's involvement in the election, prompting Putin to expel 755 people from its U.S. embassy and consulates.

“It would be dramatic if nothing were done in this respect and, as a consequence, relations would deteriorate further,” Cardinal Parolin said, and stressed the crucial role of both Churches and civil society “in encouraging every initiative that leads to creating a more positive general atmosphere.”

The cardinal was also questioned on a comment made by Pope Francis to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a recent audience, when he said it is a “tragic contradiction” to promote unity and persist in war.

Asked if this would be a topic raised in his meeting with Putin, the Vatican Secretary of State stressed that the Church consistently calls on all political leaders “not promote national interests, or in any case, particular interests,” but rather to work for “the common good, to respect for international law.”

“Not the law of force, but the force of the law,” he said, noting that the Church also urges global leaders to make decisions which promote the integral development of man throughout the world, as well as “concord and collaboration among nations.”

“And the method is always dialogue,” he said, and pointed to a quote from a letter written by St. Augustine in which the saint says that for a true leader, “the greatest title of glory is that of killing war with the word.”

In the Latin verb, Cardinal Parolin said, this means “with negotiation, with discussions instead of killing men with the sword, and ensuring that peace is maintained with peace and not with war.”

On his meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the cardinal said relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Church would obviously be a big priority, as well as how their respective Churches interact with society in facing the “great spiritual, cultural and political themes of today.”

“From this point of view, it's important to seek a positive and open means to continue to weave inter-ecclesial relations and to contribute constructively, on the part of the Churches, to the resolution of the complex problems which afflict and challenge humanity,” he said.

“It is my living hope, then, that the encounter may serve for an ever greater awareness, mutual esteem and collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox.”

Cardinal Parolin said that while his trip is not intended as a preparation for an eventual visit from Pope Francis, he hopes that “with the help of God,” his visit “can offer some contribution in this regard.”

Pope names new bishop for Chaldean eparchy of San Diego

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 16:46

Vatican City, Aug 9, 2017 / 04:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis has named Bishop Emanuel Hana Shaleta as head the eparchy of Saint Peter Apostle of San Diego of the Chaldeans, pulling him from his prior post in Canada.

Shaleta has until now served as Bishop of  Mar Addai Eparchy of Toronto. Announced in an Aug. 9 communique from the Vatican, his appointment to San Diego came alongside the nomination of Bishop Frank Kalabat, who oversees the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit, as apostolic administrator for the Toronto eparchy.

Born in Fishkabour-Zakho, Iraq Nov. 12, 1956, the bishop completed his studies in his village before entering the Dominican-run Minor Seminary of Saint John in Mosul in 1971.

Like most clergy from Iraq, he was eventually invited to Rome for his studies, beginning courses at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in 1977, after having completed his studies in philosophy and theology.

He was ordained a priest by St. John Paul II May 31, 1984. He then continued his studies at the Urbanianum's Faculty of Theology, obtaining a doctorate in Biblical Theology in 1987.

Bishop Shaleta was then transferred to the United States through the Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Detroit, where from 1987-2000 he served as pastor of St. Paul Parish in North Hollywood, Calif.

In 2000 he was named vice-pastor of St. Joseph parish in Troy, Mich. He was subsequently named pastor in 2006, and was later named pastor of St Gregory parish in Township, Mich., a position he held until 2015.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination in 2009, Shaleta was givene the title “chorbishop,” which refers to a prelate or archpriest of honor in Eastern Christian Churches.

In January of 2015 Pope Francis named him bishop of the Mar Addai eparchy in Toronto, and he received his episcopal ordination a month later, on Feb. 6, 2015.

As far as languages, the bishop speaks Chaldean, Arabic, Italian and English, and is familiar with Assyrian, Kurdish, French and German, as well as Latin, Hebrew and Greek.

The Eparchy of San Diego's website, it was established by St. John Paul II in 2002, who at that time accepted the Chaldean Synod's election of  Fr. Sarhad Jammo as the first bishop for the St. Peter the Apostle diocese.

In total, the eparchy covers 17 States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Pope Francis: Jesus went to the cross for sinners, not the perfect

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 15:12

Vatican City, Aug 9, 2017 / 03:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said the Church doesn't exist for people without faults, but for sinners in need of God's mercy – a point he often returns to – and lamented the fact that there are many Catholics who believe the opposite.

“We who are accustomed to experiencing the forgiveness of sins, perhaps too much like 'a cheap market,' we should at times remind ourselves of how much we cost the love of God,” the Pope said Aug. 9.

“Jesus didn't go to the Cross because he heals the sick, because he preaches charity or because he proclaims the beatitudes,” he said. Rather, “the Son of God goes to the Cross above all because he forgives sins, because he wants the total, definitive freedom of man's heart.”

“He does not accept that the human being consumes their entire existence with this irremovable 'tattoo,' with the thought of not being able to be welcomed by the merciful heart of God.”

And this, Francis said, is how sinners are forgiven. Not only are they reassured at a psychological level, feeling free from a sense of guilt, but Jesus does more: “he offers the people who have erred the hope of a new life, a life marked by love.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on hope.

He began by pointing to the Gospel reading from Luke in which, after Jesus forgives the sins of a woman who anoints his feet with oil, the Simon the Pharisee asks “who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus' act of forgiving the woman's sins was “a scandalous gesture,” Francis said, noting that to have a known sinner come into the house of Simon to anoint Jesus was startling, because at the time the mentality was “between the holy and the sinner, the pure and the impure, the separation had to be clear.”

“But the attitude of Jesus is different,” the Pope said, noting that from the beginning of his ministry Jesus embraced lepers, the sick and the marginalized.

“Such behavior was by no means normal, so much so that Jesus' sympathy for the excluded, for the untouchables, will be one of the most disturbing things for his contemporaries,” he said, adding that “wherever there is a person suffering, Jesus cares for them, and that suffering becomes his own.”

Rather than following the stoic philosophers, who linked physical suffering to sin and believed such “punishment” had to be endured with heroism, Jesus shared in human pain, “and when he encounters it, from the depths of his being bursts that attitude which characterizes Christianity: mercy.”

Jesus shows compassion, but “literally: Jesus feels his insides quiver.” This is often referenced in the Gospels, where Christ incarnate “reveals the heart of God” and offers healing to those who suffer.

“It is for this reason that Jesus extends his hands to sinners,” Francis said, noting that there are many people today living a life of error “because they can't find anyone willing to look at them in a different way, with their eyes, or better, with the heart of God, which is hope.”

At times we forget that Jesus did not act with an easy love that comes “for a cheap price,” he said, adding that Jesus understands not only the physical pain of those who suffer, but also the internal pain of those who feel that they are “bad” people or that there is something essentially “wrong” with them because of their faults.

Francis closed his address telling pilgrims that it would do them well to think about how “God did not choose people who have never done wrong as the first dough to form his Church.”

Rather, “the Church is a people of sinners who experience the mercy and forgiveness of God,” he said, adding that St. Peter understood the truth about himself when the cock crowed, instead of his generous works, “which swelled his chest, making him feel superior to others.”

The Church is not for the perfect, but for sinners, he said, adding in off-the-cuff remarks that he can think of “a lot of Catholics who think they are perfect and they despise others, (and) this is sad.”

“We are all poor sinners in need of God's mercy, which has the strength to transform us and radiate hope to us every day,” Pope Francis said.

And to the people who understand this, “God gives the most beautiful mission in the world, which is to tell of his love for their brothers and sisters, and the announcement of a mercy that he does not deny to anyone.”

After greeting pilgrims from various countries around the world, Pope Francis closed his audience with an appeal for an end to violence in the world following an attack this week in Nigeria, in which a gunman entered a Church and opened fire, killing 11 and wounding several others.

He also pointed to an uptick in “homicidal violence” in the Central African Republic this week, directed against the Christian population.

“I wish that all forms of hatred and violence would cease, and that no more such shameful crimes be committed in places of worship, where faithful are gathered to pray,” he said, and led pilgrims in praying a Hail Mary for the people of Nigeria and CAR.