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Pope Francis prays for Iraq as number of civilian deaths rise

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 16:56

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2017 / 04:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the battle for major ISIS strongholds heating up in Iraq, Pope Francis has voiced his closeness to the country, praying for the safety of people on the ground, particularly civilians caught in the crosshairs of the fighting.

“My thoughts go out to civilians trapped in the western districts of Mosul and displaced because of the war, to whom I feel united in suffering, through prayer and spiritual closeness,” he said during his March 29 general audience.

“While expressing deep sorrow for the victims of the bloody conflict, I renew to all the call to engage with every effort in the protection of civilians as an imperative and urgent requirement.”

During the audience, which took place in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope greeted a delegation of Iraqi Superintendents representing various religious groups accompanied by the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.  

“The richness of the beloved Iraqi nation lies in this mosaic which is unity in diversity, strength in union, prosperity in harmony,” he said, encouraging them to go forward on this same path.

Francis also asked for prayers for Iraq that they might find reconciliation and harmony and “peace, unity and prosperity” among their different ethnic and religious groups.

His appeal followed a sharp rise this week in the number of reported civilian deaths in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as ground forces backed by the strikes are closing in on two of the Islamic State's main urban strongholds: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

According to the Washington Post, the reports have fueled accusations that the U.S. and its partners may not be acting with sufficient regard for the safety of civilians.

During his main address to pilgrims, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the theme of hope, drawing attention to the close connection that exists between the virtue of hope and the virtue of faith.

“Great hope is rooted in faith, and as such is able to go beyond all hope,” he said, “because it is not based on our word, but the Word of God…When God promises, he accomplishes what he promises.”

“I'd like to ask you a question,” the Pope said. “We, all of us, are we convinced of this? Do we believe that God loves us and that everything he has promised us will be brought to fruition?”

All we have to do is have an open heart, and God will teach us how to hope and will do “miraculous things.” The only price, he said, is to “open our hearts to faith and he will do the rest.”

To illustrate the point, Pope Francis drew on the Old Testament story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, quoting the words of St. Paul in the Letter to Romans, that Abraham “believed, hoping against hope.”

Despite the advanced age of he and his wife Sarah, Abraham, “did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body as dead (he was almost a hundred years old) and the dead womb of Sarah,” who was barren.

We are also called to live this experience and example of faith, Francis said, adding that Abraham, “who, even before the evidence of a reality that seems destined for death, trusts in God, ‘fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to bring to completion.’”

Francis said this is a “paradox,” yet at the same time is the strongest element of our hope. A hope, he said, which is “founded on a promise which from the human point of view seems uncertain and unpredictable, but which does not fail even in the face of death.”

“The God who reveals himself to Abraham is the God who saves, the God who has come out of desperation and death, a God who calls to life,” he said. “In the story of Abraham all becomes a hymn to God who frees and regenerates.”

And we recognize and celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises in the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, he explained.

Hope, then, is not something we can possess based on “human reassurance,” but “it occurs where there is no hope, where there's nothing left to hope for, just as it did for Abraham, in front of his imminent death and sterility of his wife Sarah.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, today we ask the Lord for the grace to remain founded not so much on our safety, on our own strength, but on the hope drawn by the promise of God, like true children of Abraham,” he concluded.

Vatican official honors Mother Angelica with Mass at St. Peter's

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 23:31

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Rino Fisichella celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of Mother Angelica, saying the nun changed the face of the New Evangelization by riding the digital wave and using to communicate the Gospel in a fresh and appealing way.

“Before John Paul II spoke of the New Evangelization, (Mother Angelica) was able to do it concretely with television, the new way of communicating the Word of God,” Archbishop Fisichella told CNA March 27.

Because of this, he said Mother “was a New Evangelist, she concretely did the New Evangelization” alongside another major saintly personality in the U.S. at the time: Archbishop Fulton Sheen, whose cause for canonization has been opened.

“Fulton Sheen and Mother Angelica, for the whole Church they are the image, the icon of what the New Evangelization through the new media of communications means,” he said.

Head of the Vatican’s Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Fisichella celebrated Mass March 27 at the altar of St. Joseph inside St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the one-year anniversary since Mother Angelica’s death.

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation founded EWTN in 1981, and it has since become the largest religious media network in the world. She died March 27, 2016 – Easter Sunday – after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years-old.

In his homily for the Mass, which was concelebrated by former Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi and attended by journalists from various media outlets as well as Hungarian Ambassador to the Holy See Eduard Habsburg, Fisichella praised Mother as someone whose legacy would continue to last.

A year after her death, “we try to remember her words, her preaching – because it was (a type of) preaching – her witness and the work she did for the Church,” he said.

“The mystery of death raises questions in all of us, but it’s still a mystery,” he said. “We live and we are in front of a death to give sense to our lives.”

He pointed to the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the day’s first reading, who said that “no longer shall there be an old man who does not round out his full lifetime.”

“I think this word of the prophet can also be applied to Mother Angelica,” he said, explaining that “the sense of our lives, the sense of her life was determined by an encounter. She encountered Jesus Christ in her life, and for this reason she consecrated her whole life to Christ.”

Because of this Mother Angelica was above all “a woman of faith,” he said, and recalled an expression Mother herself frequently recited: “my dear friends, faith is what gets you started; hope is what keeps you going; love is what brings you to the end.”

Mother Angelica, he said, “was sustained by faith, she was a witness of hope, but love moved her entire life.”

Pointing to a passage from the day’s Gospel from John in which a nobleman, after learning that Jesus healed his son, “believed through the Word what Jesus had spoken to him, and he went his way.”

“I think that is beautiful to reflect on Mother Angelica’s life with this expression,” Fisichella said. “She believed through the Word that Jesus spoke to her, she believed and there is no other reason.”

“She believed and all that she created was a consequence of this faith, of this encounter of faith. And then she went her way, and her way is what today millions of people can watch, can listen to, can reflect on.”

EWTN, he said, is not just a television network, but “a work and consequence of this vocation, of this encounter of Mother Angelica with Christ.”

“This was her vocation, this she understood as the gift that Jesus himself gave to her. And she did it in a very strong way,” he said, noting how she was able to communicate the Gospel on TV “sine glossa,” meaning “without adding” or interpreting.

At times Mother even caused trouble with people, he said, explaining that “every time we announce the Gospel, we give trouble to someone.” But what Mother did was offer “a challenge.”

It was above all a challenge “to find the sense of your life, especially in a culture in which indifference and atheism is, it seems to be, in first place for many people,” he said.

Referencing another passage from Isaiah that says “‘they shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyard they plant,” the archbishop said Mother Angelica continues to live through EWTN’s witness.

“Mother Angelica’s vocation continues to give witness to the world of today, with your ability, capacity, will, to announce the Gospel of the Lord,” he told employees of the organization attending the Mass.

Fisichella closed his homily with another quote from Mother, who said that “everything starts with one person. I don’t care if you are five or 105, God from all eternity, chose you to be where you are at this time in history, and he chose you to change the world.”

“We keep these words in our hearts and in our minds, like a new challenge one year after her death, to remember the task that everybody should have in this service to the Church,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are five or 105, what is important is that God, from all eternity, chose you.”

After the Mass veteran Vatican journalist Joan Lewis, Rome Bureau Chief for EWTN and former employee of the Holy See Press Office’s Vatican Information Service, recalled the moment when she was “commissioned” by Mother Angelica after accepting the job as bureau chief.

While Mother was already speechless after suffering a debilitating stroke, Lewis told CNA that she approached Mother, who was in a wheelchair, and knelt down so the two could look each other in the face.

“It was very moving for me because although she couldn’t talk, she blessed my ears, my mouth, my hands and my eyes, so that I would use all of those to do what she had done for so many years, which was to bring the Word of the Lord, the teachings of the Church to the world,” Lewis said.

“So it was her example, even when she couldn’t speak, that really infused in me the desire to go ahead and do her work,” she said, explaining that Mother Angelica was particularly inspiring for what she did as a woman.

“What a wonderful woman courage she was, of vision, of foresight, a person who just didn’t let obstacles get in her way,” Lewis said, noting that at the time, women in the United States often still hit “a glass ceiling.”

“If you were a woman, you couldn’t go any higher – you would hit this glass, but un-seen ceiling,” she said, but recalled that with Mother Angelica, “she never sensed that. There was never a barrier to whom or how she could tell the truth, and I try and remember that when I write.”

Referring to Archbishop Fisichella’s homily, Lewis said his decision to quote Mother’s phrase that “faith sets you out on the path, hope keeps you going, and love brings you to the end,” was particularly moving. “It just doesn’t get any better.”

Pope Francis: Eliminating nuclear weapons is a moral imperative

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 20:55

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2017 / 08:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday, Pope Francis acknowledged the difficulty of totally eliminating nuclear weapons, but said the challenge is still a necessary undertaking, especially given what’s at stake.

“The ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative,” he said in a message to United Nations members March 28.

The message was read before the “United Nations conference aimed at negotiating a legally binding instrument on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination,” held in New York March 27-31.

Presented by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Secretary for Relations with States and head of the Holy See’s delegation at the meetings, the Pope’s message acknowledged that the goal is a “demanding” and “forward-looking” one.

And this is true especially given the present international climate, which is both “cause and indication” of the difficulties of furthering and strengthening a nuclear ban, he said.

“If we take into consideration the principal threats to peace and security,” he continued, “for example, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty, not a few doubts arise regarding the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to such challenges.”

These combined with the “catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences” that would follow the use of nuclear weapons make the goal a moral and ethical necessity, he said.

Additionally, the resources spent on nuclear weapon development could be used for more worthy causes, such as poverty, and the promotion of peace and integral human development.  

Considered to be only the first part of UN meetings to ban and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, the talks are supported by more than 120 countries, as well as numerous disarmament groups.

On the other hand, more than 40 countries have declined to participate in the talks, including the United States and most other nuclear powers, such as Britain and Russia.

On Monday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki R. Haley led a group of dozens of UN members in boycotting the discussions, saying she did not think that it was the right time to have these talks given the unlikeliness of North Korea banning nuclear weapons, according to the New York Times.

In his message, Pope Francis said the conference “intends to negotiate a Treaty inspired by ethical and moral arguments.”

“It is an exercise in hope and it is my wish that it may also constitute a decisive step along the road towards a world without nuclear weapons. Although this is a significantly complex and long-term goal, it is not beyond our reach,” he said.

“International peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”


As abuse survivor leaves, Vatican group aims to listen better to victims

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 22:26

Vatican City, Mar 27, 2017 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a victim who suffered past clerical abuse resigned from the Vatican's anti-abuse commission, the group is aiming for more effective ways to communicate with survivors and include them in its work.

According to a March 26 press release from the commission, members “unanimously agreed to find new ways to ensure its work is shaped and informed with and by victims/survivors.”

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) met March 24-26 at the Vatican for their eighth Plenary Assembly since being formed by Pope Francis in Dec. 2013.

The session came less than one month after clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from her position on the commission, citing pushback from certain Vatican dicasteries, specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as one of the main reasons for stepping down.

In a March 1 communique announcing her decision, the commission praised Collins as someone who has “consistently and tirelessly championed for the voices of the victims/survivors to be heard, and for the healing of the victims/survivors to be a priority for the Church.”

In their latest meetings, commission members again voiced “strong support” for Collins and for “her continuing work to promote healing for victims of abuse and the prevention of all abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” the press release stated.

Members also expressed gratitude that Collins has agreed to continue working with the commission in their educational programs for new bishops and with other offices of the Roman Curia.

With relation on how to best include survivors as they go forward, the commission’s statement said that they are carefully considering several ideas that have been successfully implemented in other places for recommendation to Pope Francis.

In addition, the commission discussed the response to communications from survivors/victims directly to their office and other offices of the Holy See, agreeing that “acknowledging correspondence and giving a timely and personal response is one part of furthering transparency and healing.”

They talked over the importance of responding “directly and compassionately,” while acknowledging that this is a major undertaking due to the volume of this type of correspondence the Holy See receives.

Each letter also requires a large amount of attention in order to give the specific resources and assistance necessary.

However, the commission agreed to send further recommendations on this matter to Pope Francis for consideration.

The latest plenary session of the PCPM immediately followed an educational seminar held March 23 at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The event was co-hosted by the PCPM and the Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection.

The day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home, and was attended by at least half a dozen heads of Vatican departments, with every Vatican department represented in some way.

Let go of 'false lights' that lead down the wrong path, Pope says

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 16:52

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2017 / 04:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said Lent is a key time to open ourselves to the light of Christ and let go of all the “false lights” that lead us away from him, taking us instead down a path of darkness marked by our own selfishness.

“If now I were to ask you, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe that he can change your heart? Do you think you can see reality as he sees it, not as we do? Do you believe that he is light, that he gives us the true light?” the Pope asked March 26, telling pilgrims to respond in silence.

The walk in the light of Christ means to convert, he said, explaining that this transformation means above all “abandoning false lights.”

One of these false lights, he said, is the “cold and fatuous light of prejudice against others, because prejudice distorts reality and builds hate against those who we judge without mercy and condemn without an appeal.”

Gossip is an example of this, he said, noting that to speak badly of others leads away from light, and down the path of darkness.

Another false light that is particularly “seductive and ambiguous,” he said, “is personal interest.”

“If we evaluate men and things based on the criteria of our profit, our pleasure, our prestige, we will not live the truth in relationships and in situations,” the Pope said. “If we go down this path of seeking only personal interests, we will walk in darkness.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address, focusing on the day’s Gospel reading from John which recounts the healing of man blind from birth who, after receiving his sight, recognizes and worships Jesus as the Son of God.

“With this miracle Jesus manifests himself as the light of the world,” Francis said, explaining that the blind man represents each of us, who, blinded by sin, “need a new light, that of the faith, which Jesus has given us.”

Referring to the Gospel passage, Francis noted that it was precisely by “opening to the mystery of Christ” that the man gained his sight.  

Francis pointed to the line in the passage where Jesus asks the man “do you believe in the Son of Man?” and tells him that “you have seen him, it is he who is speaking with you.”

The man then prostrated himself and worshipped Jesus, the Pope observed, saying the episode serves as an invitation to reflect on our own faith in Christ, and to remember the moment we received it in our Baptism.

Baptism “is the first sacrament of the faith: the sacrament which make us ‘come to the light,’ through rebirth in water and in the Holy Spirit,” he said, noting how the blind man’s eyes were opened after bathing in the Pool of Siloam, upon Jesus’ request.

The man’s need for healing and rebirth is a sign of the times when we fail to recognize “that Jesus is the light of the world, when we look elsewhere, when we prefer to rely on small lights, when we fumble in the darkness.”

The fact that that blind man didn’t have a name, Pope Francis said, “helps us to see ourselves with our face and our name in his story.”

We have also been “illuminated” by Christ through our Baptism, he said, explaining that because of this, we, like the blind man, “are called to act like sons of light.”

But to do this “requires a radical change of mentality, a capacity to judge men and things according to a new scale of values, which comes from God,” the Pope said, adding that Baptism itself requires “a firm and decisive choice” to let go of the false lights, and live as children of the true light of Christ.

Francis concluded his address by praying that Mary, welcomed Jesus as the “light of the world,” would intercede for us in obtaining the grace needed to really welcome “the light of faith” into our lives during Lent.

“May this new illumination transform us in attitude and action, so that also we, starting from our poverty, may be bearers of a ray of the light of Christ.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis offered special thanks to the diocese of Milan for his March 25 pastoral visit.

He also gave a shout-out to Blessed José álvarez-Benavides y de la Torre and his 114 martyr companions, who were beatified yesterday in Spain.

“These priests, religious and laity were heroic witnesses of Christ and his Gospel of fraternal peace and reconciliation,” he said, and prayed that their example and intercession would “sustain the commitment of the Church in building the civilization of love.”

In Milan, Pope makes youth promise to never be a bully

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 01:27

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In last meeting during his day trip to Milan, Pope Francis issued a harsh criticism of bullying in schools, asking youth to promise him and Jesus to never bully others, and telling teachers to be aware of the problem.

“There is an ugly phenomenon in education today: bullying. Please, be aware,” the Pope said during a March 25 encounter with youth in Milan.

He responded to a question posed by a catechist asking how to foster an open dialogue between educators, students and their parents. Among other points, he told teachers to watch out for bullying before addressing the youth about it themselves.

“I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?” the Pope asked.

“Think about this. This is called bullying," he said, and asked the youth – many of whom will receive the sacrament of Confirmation this year – to use their Confirmation to “make the promise to the Lord to never do this” and to pray that it doesn’t happen in their schools, neighborhoods or parishes.

“Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?” he said. Not satisfied with the strength of their answer, he again asked the youth the same question, which was then met with a roaring "yes".

“Think in silence if you do this and if you are able to promise this to Jesus. Promise Jesus to never bully.”

Pope Francis spoke to a stadium filled with youth at the end of his March 25 daytrip to Milan.

The pope started his trip visiting the city’s impoverished “White Houses” complex greeting several of the families who live there, including a Muslim family.

He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious before praying the Angelus and eating lunch with inmates at the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison.

After lunch, he celebrated Mass at Milan’s Parco di Monza for the Feast of the Annunciation, traveling by car after to the Meazza-San Siro Stadium where he met with some 78,000 people, including catechists, volunteers and many of the 45,000 youth who have either received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 2017 or will receive it, along with their parents and family members.

After scripture readings and a series of performances by the youth, Francis responded to three of their questions, one of which was posed by a boy named Davide, one by a couple with three children and one by the catechist.

In his response to Davide’s question about what helped him to grow in friendship with Jesus when he himself was young, the Pope said it came down to three main things: his grandparents, playing with his friends and participating in groups at this parish.

Francis recalled how one grandfather had told him to “never go to bed without saying something to Jesus; tell him goodnight.” This reinforcement combined with the prayers he learned from his grandmothers and his mother helped reinforce the faith, he said.

“Grandparents have the wisdom of life, and with that wisdom they teach us to grow closer to Jesus,” he said, urging the youth to talk to their grandparents, “ask them whatever questions you want. Listen to what they say.”

Playing with friends also helps, he said, because in knowing how to play well with others, “without insulting each other,” you learn “to respect others, you learn to make a team, to work together, and this unites us to Jesus. So play with your friends!”

Parish life is also crucial, he said, and jestingly encouraged the youth to have the same excitement about Mass as they do about their groups and activities.

When answering the couple’s question on how they can transmit the beauty of the faith to their children without sounding boring, annoying or authoritarian, Pope Francis advised them to think of who helped them to grow in the faith.

He asked the stadium to take a moment and ponder the answer in silence, explaining that an important figure for him was the priest who baptized him and who was then present throughout his life until he entered the novitiate with the Jesuits.

“I never, never forget that priest. He was an apostle of the confessional; merciful, good, a hard worker. And so he helped me to grow,” the Pope said, explaining that he asked for this reflection because “our children watch us constantly; even when we are not aware.”

On this point, as he often has in the past, Francis warned against the damage it can do to children when they see their parents fight.

“You don’t understand the suffering a child experiences when they see their parents fight, they suffer. And when their parents separate, they pay the price,” he said, explaining that when parents bring a child into the world, “you must be aware of this.”

“We take responsibility to help this child grow in the faith,” he said, and suggested that the couple reach Chapters 1 and 4 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a fruit of the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Dedicated to love in marriage and in the family, the Pope told them the chapters, particularly the first, would be helpful, and told them to never forget that “when you fight, children suffer and they don’t grow in the faith.”

He also stressed the importance of playing with their children and practicing the works of mercy together, which help nourish faith and family life.

Sunday’s are an especially good day to spend together as a family, he said, but noted that for some this is hard to do, since many have to work on weekends in order to provide for their families.

“Parents at this time can’t or have lost the virtue of playing with their children,” he said, explaining that whenever when he hears a parent complaining about their children’s behavior, he often asks if they take time to just sit and play with their children.

Many parents “don’t know how to respond,” he said, recalling how he once spoke with a father who only saw his children on the weekends, since he left for work while they were still asleep and came back after they were already in bed.

“It’s this life that takes your humanity,” he said, and told parents to “play with your children, and transmit the faith.”

On Annunciation, Pope says God still seeks hearts like Mary

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 22:19

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 10:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation in Milan, telling mass-goers that even today God is still searching for hearts like Mary’s that are open to welcoming his invitation and providing hope, even when it’s hard.  

As in the past, “God continues to look for allies, he continues to seek men and women capable of believing,” remembering and recognizing that they are part of his people and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, the Pope said March 25.

“God continues to walk our neighborhoods and our streets, he pushes in each place in search of hearts capable of listening to his invitation and making it become flesh here and now,” he said.

In the end, the Lord “continues to seek hearts like that of Mary, disposed to believe even in very extraordinary conditions.”

Pope Francis offered his reflection during Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated in Milan’s Manzo Park during his daytrip to the city, marking the first papal visit there since Benedict XVI’s trip in 2012.

He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, marked by acute poverty, visiting two families in the complex before stepping out to greet families gathered outside, including immigrants and some Muslims.

After greeting families in the complex, Francis headed to the cathedral, where he delivered an off-the-cuff speech to priests and seminarians of the diocese, answering three of their questions.

He then prayed the Angelus with pilgrims before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which holds about 1,700 detainees, and greeted employees and police officers who work at the prison before greeting the inmates themselves. He ate lunch with 100 of them before heading to Mass at Monza Park.

In his homily, the Pope referred to the day’s Gospel reading from Luke recounting the Annunciation, saying he likes to read it alongside the “annunciation” to Zachariah of John the Baptist’s birth.

One annunciation happens to a priest in the Temple of God during a liturgy where everyone is waiting outside, while the other happens to a young woman named Mary in a small town that didn’t necessarily have a good reputation, he noted.

This contrast is “not insignificant,” he said, noting that it serves as a sign “that the new Temple of God, the new encounter of God with his people will take places in places which we normally don’t expect, on the margins, on the peripheries.”

“By now it will no longer be in a place reserved for the few while the majority wait outside. Nothing and no one will be indifferent, no situation will be deprived of his presence: the joy of salvation began in the daily life of the home of a youth in Nazareth.”

Just like he did with Mary, God also takes the initiative in our lives, inserting himself into our daily struggles, anxieties and desires, the Pope said, explaining that it’s precisely in the daily routine of our lives that we receive “the most beautiful announcement we can hear: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is with you!’”

However, despite the joy of hearing this annunciation, we can also be distracted by the “speculation” of our times, asking like Mary, “how will this be?” he said.  

Nowadays “one speculates on the poor and migrants, one speculates on youth and their future,” he said. “Everything seems reduced to figures, leaving, on the other hand, that the daily lives of many families is tinged with uncertainty and insecurity.”

“While the pain is knocking on many doors, while in many youth dissatisfaction is growing due to the lack of real opportunities, speculation abounds everywhere,” Francis continued, noting that the “dizzying rhythm” we have become accustomed to at times seems to “rob us of hope and joy.”

In the midst of the speed and pressures of society, it’s easy to lose time for family, friends and community while rushing to build a better society, Pope Francis said.

In this context, the Pope said it would be good to stop and ask ourselves how we can live the joy of the Gospel in our cities, and whether or not it’s possible to have hope in the here and now of our concrete situations.

Francis said by looking to the Gospel passage of the Annunciation, we see that the Angel Gabriel gives us three keys to finding this hope and accepting the mission entrusted to us.

The first, the Pope observed, is the importance of “evoking memory.” Just as the angel reminded Mary of the history of salvation, which she is a part of, we are also invited to look to our own past “in order not to forget where we come from,” he said.

Referring to Milan, Francis noted that “this land and it’s people have known the pain of two world wars; and sometimes thy have seen their deserved reputation for industriousness and civilization polluted by unregulated ambitions.”

However, taking time to remember helps us “to not remain prisoners of speeches which sow fractures and divisions as the only way to resolve conflicts,” he said, adding that “to evoke memory is the best antidote to our disposition in front of the magic solutions of division and estrangement.”

A second key the angel gives us is a sense of belonging to the People of God, he said, explaining that a part of remembering salvation history is remembering that we, like Mary, are among God’s chosen people.

In this sense, he pointed to the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic background of Milan, saying that because of this, they specifically are called to welcome differences and “integrate them with respect and creativity and to celebrate the novelty that comes from others.”

Finally, Pope Francis noted that the third key we get from the angel is his assurance to Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.”

“When we believe that everything depends exclusively on us we remain prisoners of our abilities, of our strengths, of our horizons,” he said, noting that if we don’t allow ourselves to be helped, advised or open to grace, “it seems that the impossibility begins to become reality.”

However, pointing to the many missionaries who have come to the area, the Pope noted that in overcoming “the sterile and divisive pessimisms, they opened to God’s initiative and became a sign of how fertile a land can be that doesn’t allow itself to close in its own ideas, in its own limits and in its open capacity and opens to others.”

After Mass, Pope Francis will head to Milan’s Meazza-San Siro stadium to meet with youth before heading back to the Vatican.

Don't fret about numbers, but your mission, Pope tells Milan religious

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 18:31

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his daytrip to Milan Saturday, Pope Francis told the diocese’s priests and religious not to fear the challenges that come with their ministry nor the increasing number of empty convents, urging them instead to focus on the core of their mission: bringing Christ to his people.

“Our congregations were not born to be the mass, but a bit of salt and yeast which would have given their own contribution so that the mass grows; so that the People of God have that ‘condiment’ they were missing,” the Pope said March 25.

He noted that for many years in the past, congregations moved forward with the idea that they needed to “occupy spaces” more than launching new processes and projects.

The perception then, he said, was that “ideas (or our impossibility to change) were more important than reality; or that the part (our small part or vision of the world) was superior to the whole Church.”

But today’s reality serves as a challenge, and “invites us to again be a bit of yeast and a bit of salt,” he said, asking “Can you imagine a meal with too much salt? Or a pasta that’s totally fermented? No one would eat it, no one could digest it.”

“I've never seen a pizzamaker use a kilo of yeast and a gram of flour” to make the dough, Francis said, and urged religious to “listen to reality, to open ourselves to the ‘mass,’ to the Holy People of God, to the entire Church.”

Pope Francis spoke to priests and religious inside Milan’s cathedral of St. Mary of the Nativity during his March 25 daytrip to the city.

He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, an area marked by acute poverty where many migrants, including Muslim families, live. He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious.

<blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Up-close view of a papal blessing to some small pilgrims in <a href="">#Milan</a> via <a href="">@andygag</a> <a href="">#PopeFrancis</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href="">March 25, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The Pope took questions from three members of the audience, including Ursuline sister Mother M. Paola Paganoni, parish priest Fr. Gabriele Gioia and Robert Crespi, one of the diocese’s 143 permanent deacons.

Instead of taking notes and giving an entirely off-the-cuff speech as usual during his Q&A sessions, this time Francis decided to follow a written text due to the day’s full schedule, deviating to add a few lines here and there.

The question on numbers was posed by Sr. Paganoni, who asked the Pope how to be a prophetic sign in modern society, and to which peripheries they should go, given that religious are small in number and constitute a “minority” in the Church.  

In response, the Pope not only told the nun to not fret about numbers, but he also cautioned against the feeling of “resignation,” which he said can frequently creep up when looking at how few they are.

“Without realizing it, each time that we think or see that we are few, or in many cases elderly, we experience the weight, the fragility more than the splendor, and our spirit begins to corrode from resignation,” he said.

In turn, resignation can lead to the spiritual sin – also called a “disease” – of acedia, about which the Fathers of the Church issued sharp warnings since it essentially leads a person into despair, indifference and apathy regarding the faith and one’s vocation.

“Few yes, a minority yes, elderly yes, but resigned no!” he said, explaining that the lines in this regard are fine, are can only be recognized by a process of self-reflection in front of the Lord.

“When resignation takes hold of us,” he said, “we live with the imagination of a glorious past which, far from awakening the original charism, increasingly surrounds us in a spiral of existential heaviness. Everything becomes heavier and difficult to lift up.”

He warned religious to stay away from this attitude, as well as the temptation to use the empty structures to get money by turning them into hotels or looking for other “human solutions” to the problem. Doing this, he said, “hinders or deprives us of joy.”

And while he said he can’t tell them which peripheries to go to, since that’s the job of the Holy Spirit, who inspired their original charism, Pope Francis urged religious to choose them well and reawaken “the hope spent and sapped by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others.”

“Go and bring the ‘anointing’ of Christ,” he said, telling them never to forget “that when you put Jesus in the midst of your people, they find joy…only this will render our lives fruitful and will keep our hearts alive.”

In response to Crespi’s question on what contribution deacons can give to the Church, the Pope said they have “a lot to give,” specifically when it comes to managing the tensions and blessings of ministry and family life.

However, Francis also cautioned against viewing deacons as “half-priests and half-laity,” because in reality “they are neither here nor there.”

Looking at them in this way “does harm to us and does harm to them” and takes strength away from their vocation in the Church, he said, explaining that the deaconate “is a specific vocation, a family vocation that recalls service as one of the characteristic gifts of the people of God.”

“The deacon is – so to speak – the guardian of service in the Church,” Pope Francis said. Because of this, his specific mission consists of “reminding all of us that faith, in its various expressions – communitarian liturgy, personal prayer, different forms of charity – and in its various states of life – lay, clerical, familial – has an essential dimension of service.”

Speaking directly to the deacons, he said they are “a sacrament of service to God and to your brothers. A vocation which like all vocations is not only individual, but lived inside the family and with the family, inside the People of God and with the People of God.”

Francis also answered Fr. Gioia’s question on what can be done in order not lose the joy of evangelizing in the face of challenges such as secularism and ministering to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic flock with different religions.

In his response, the Pope said we shouldn’t be afraid of challenges, because they are “a sign of a living faith, of a living community that seeks its Lord and has eyes and hearts opened.”

Rather, what we must fear instead is “a faith without challenges, a faith believed to be complete, as if everything has been said and realized,” because without challenges, there is a danger that our faith becomes “an ideology.”

The Pope also spoke of the importance of recognizing the richness of the differences in the Church throughout its history, explaining that “the Church is one in a multifarious experience.”
Although there can also be “horrors” and errors in the ways some interpret religion, he stressed the need to separate and distinguish between the “luminous aspects and the dark aspects” of each.

He also cautioned against confusing unity with uniformity and plurality with pluralism, saying that in both cases “what is being sought is to reduce the tension and remove the conflict or ambivalence to which we are subjected as human being.”

Finally, the Pope in his last point to the priest emphasized the need for pastors to offer better formation in discernment, particularly to youth.

“The culture of abundance to which we are subjected offers a horizon of many possibilities, presenting them as valid and good,” he said, noting that today’s youth are exposed to a constant “zapping” of information.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a world in which they are inserted and it’s our duty as pastors to help them pass through this world,” he said, explaining that because of this, “it’s good to teach them to discern, so that they have the tools and elements which help them to walk the path of life without extinguishing the Holy Spirit which is in them.”

After his audience with priests and religious, Pope Francis led pilgrims gathered outside the cathedral in praying the Angelus before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which in 2012 held 1,700 detainees.

At the prison, the Pope is slated to greet employees and police officers who work at the facility before greeting the inmates themselves. He is then expected to have lunch with 100 of prisoners before heading to Milan’s Parco di Monza to celebrate Mass and meet with youth after.

Protection of minors event draws swath of top Vatican leaders

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 03:32

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a significant show of unity, officials from every Vatican department – including at least half a dozen cardinals who head various dicasteries – attended a recent Rome seminar on safeguarding minors.

“I actually come from a dicastery that takes up the issue of human rights and justice,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

As head of an office that deals with human rights, awareness of what’s going on in the realm of abuse prevention is “very crucial,” he told CNA, stressing that “it’s so very important that we try to be on the same page with this commission and what they do.”

Every department of the Roman Curia was represented in some way at the March 23 seminar, an indication of its importance in the eyes of Vatican officials.

It is rare for the cardinals who head dicasteries to attend events outside of those hosted by their own department – more often, they send representatives to attend. The presence of several cardinals at Thursday’s event further indicated that the Vatican is seeking to place an emphasis on this issue, especially given that the one-day event was not specifically aimed at members of the Curia, but at academics, students and media.

Joining Cardinal Turkson at the gathering was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, president of the Vatican’s mega-department for Laity, Family and Life.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley hosted the event in his capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the seminar was also attended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Cardinal Turkson said that in the case of his own department, he sent the official charged with the topic of international law, human rights, family law and other related topics, but also decided to come himself because it is “essential to see the new things that are being said about this issue.”

“There’s no pastor who is not interested in this issue, especially if he’s a bishop, because there was a way that bishops used to deal with this issue,” he said, noting that often times, priests were simply sent to treatment centers and then put into another parish once they had completed the program. 

“Now the understanding about this is deeper,” he said. “The impression in those days was that people could go to treatment centers and get help, but that was all false.”

“So it’s good to deepen our understanding about this, very, very, very deeply and very well,” he said, explaining that he came not only to support Cardinal O’Malley, a longtime friend, but also to learn and hear updates on the issue.

Cardinal Farrell agreed. “It’s important for the Church to be here because…if you look back on the history of probably the last 20 years, it’s the greatest obstacle to preaching the Word of God and the credibility of doing what we’re supposed to do,” he told CNA.

Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.  

It included presentations by several members and collaborators of the commission, including Kathleen McCormack, chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities. It also featured presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.

The event fell just weeks after clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from her position on the commission, citing pushback from certain Vatican dicasteries, specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as one of the main reasons for stepping down.

According to Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, head of the Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, hearing and including the voice of survivors was a key point in the discussion during their plenary, which begins March 24.

In March 23 comments to CNA, Fr. Zollner said “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.” 

Regarding the involvement of survivors in the process, he noted that Collins herself said in an interview that “a certain set of skills” is needed if a survivor wants to participate in any kind of panel or commission.

“So we will see, together with survivors, what this set of skills should look like,” he said, but cautioned that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. From his perspective as someone who travels around the world trying to raise awareness on the issue, in many countries “people are not so used to speaking out about this.”

“Even if they are a survivor and victim, in some parts of the world this is still taboo and we need to help people come out of that,” he said, explaining that when their mandate is up at the end of the year, the commission will re-visit their structure and development process “so that our journey continues.”

But in the meantime, he praised the seminar as a key step, saying it was a “very successful event,” particularly in “drawing many high-ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals, and (with) all the dicasteries represented.”

Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.

How do we solve crises? Put the person first, Pope Francis tells EU

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 01:04

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 01:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Being disconnected from the values of the past – which upheld the human person and the family – has placed us in a new era of crises, Pope Francis told European leaders. However, he noted, there is hope.

“Europe finds new hope when man is the center and the heart of her institutions,” he said March 24. “I am convinced that this entails an attentive and trust-filled readiness to hear the expectations voiced by individuals, society and the peoples who make up the Union.”
“Affirming the centrality of man also means recovering the spirit of family,” he continued, “whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts.”

Europe finds this new hope, he emphasized, “When she invests in the family, which is the first and fundamental cell of society. When she respects the consciences and the ideals of her citizens. When she makes it possible to have children without the fear of being unable to support them. When she defends life in all its sacredness.”

Pope Francis met with 27 European Union Heads of State and Government, as well as Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission at the Vatican.

The leaders met in Rome for celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and is one of the two most important treaties in the modern-day European Union (EU).

In the speech, the Pope warned against having a short memory about Europe’s past – both the good and the bad – and as in previous speeches, urged a return to the roots, in this case the fundamental and founding values of the EU.

In a change from previous meetings of a similar nature, however, Francis took a very hopeful attitude toward Europe’s future, saying that while Europe is undergoing its own modern crises – in economics, migration, the institution, and the family – these don’t have to be solely destructive.

“The term ‘crisis’ is not necessarily negative,” he said. “It does not simply indicate a painful moment to be endured.”

“The word ‘crisis’ has its origin in the Greek verb krino, which means to discern, to weigh, to assess. Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it. It is a time of challenge and opportunity.”

For Europe to move past these present crises, leaders must refocus around the centrality of the human person, solidarity, the pursuit of peace, and openness to the future and the world, he said.

The spiritual and human values present in Europe’s past are the way forward in what is becoming an increasingly valueless society, one that is very different from even just 60 years ago.

“Europe has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigor, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism,” Francis said.

The Pope gave several examples of how Europe’s hope can be renewed. One major way is by investing in the future through opportunities for young people to receive a good education and to have real possibilities in the work force, he said.

In the speech, the Pope referenced at length the history of Europe, such as the “tragedy of walls and divisions,” and the efforts made to “tear down that wall” that “divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic,” separating families as well.

He also quoted at length from addresses of founding fathers of the EU at the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, including Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul-Henri Spaak; Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Luns; Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Joseph Bech; German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer; and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Pineau.

Addressing “the grave crisis of immigration,” Francis said that the issue poses deep question, that is primarily cultural, and that is: “What kind of culture does Europe propose today?”

“The fearfulness that is becoming more and more evident has its root cause in the loss of ideals. Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

“Yet the richness of Europe,” he continued, “has always been her spiritual openness and her capacity to raise basic questions about the meaning of life. Openness to the sense of the eternal has also gone hand in hand, albeit not without tensions and errors, with a positive openness to this world.”

The Pope had strong words against modern forms of populism, which he said solidarity is the antidote to. He defined solidarity as entailing “the awareness of being part of a single body” while also involving “a capacity on the part of each member to ‘sympathize’ with others and with the whole.”

“When one suffers, all suffer,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Without Christianity, the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice “would prove largely incomprehensible,” Francis said. “In our multicultural world, these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots.”

Vatican abuse prevention event 'extremely important' for Church

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 02:22

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 02:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday a Vatican event on the prevention of child abuse narrowed in on the importance of education in schools and parishes in the safeguarding of children – not only for teachers, but for parents and children – and on the Church's role.

Led by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, he told CNA at the March 23 event that Catholic schools are, of course, a very important part of the Church’s and Commission's ministry.

There are “60 million children in our care in Catholic schools and so this kind of a conference is extremely important for the ministry of the Church,” O'Malley said. “And we were very gratified that so many cardinals made time to be a part of this.”

The seminar was attended by five different cardinals in addition to O'Malley, including Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, were also in attendance.

Additionally, every Vatican department was represented in some way.

Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, who heads the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is also a member of the commission, told CNA that it was a “very successful event, in drawing many high ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals…all the dicasteries represented.”

“This is taking shape and the formation that we have offered to dicasteries has also been very fruitful.”

Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.  

It included a presentation by Kathleen McCormack, Chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities, and presentations by representatives from the South American countries of Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.

One participant, Fr. Luigi Gritti, a graduate of a CCP course on child abuse, told CNA that it was important that South America was a focus of the seminar, since the Western world is usually the focus when discussing this issue.

“It tells you that the problem is present and acknowledged by the people, but also that something is being done to address the problem. So I think it's a good development,” he said.

The presentations on South America all highlighted the importance of including children: speaking with and listening to them, teaching them about what is safe and appropriate behavior from adults, as well as becoming familiar with the visual and verbal signs that could indicate the occurrence of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual.

The presenters for each country explained the unique cultural challenges they face in preventing abuse and in handling allegations, as well as what policies are currently in place.

In the presentation on Australia, Francis Sullivan, CEO of Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said that in the end, the question of why the sex abuse crisis happened in our Church comes down to cultural problems and to corruption.

Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church. Feb. 6, Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations.

Referencing a quote from Pope Francis where he said that we don’t only need to reform the Church, but also the heart, he said that “child sexual abuse has broken the heart of the Church.”

“We have never fully appreciated that the decisions that our leaders made in order to facilitate and cover up (abuse), actually broke the heart of what it means to be Catholic, and we need to go back and fully confront that,” he said.

“Let’s not distract Church leaders from recognizing that this is a Church problem. Sure, it might happen in other institutions, sure, it happens in families. But the fact that it happened within the Catholic Church says something about the corruption within our Church… That we are not true to what we are meant to be.”

Friday the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors begins their next Plenary Assembly, and one of the central topics will be how to ensure that survivors and victims are always the first priority, O’Malley said in his introductory remarks.

“The assembly begins tomorrow and of course that is one of the things we'll be talking about,” he told CNA. A meeting of survivors is planned for June that the commission will also be involved in, he said.

Regarding the participation of survivors, Fr. Zollner told CNA that “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.”

Other topics at the Plenary Assembly will include how the commission will continue after the mandate concludes at the end of the calendar year, he said, and “we will see what are the structural steps, or the development, we will need so that our journey continues,” he said.

Pope approves second miracle for Blessed Francisco, Jacinta Marto

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:44

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 06:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis approved the second and final miracle needed to canonize Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the shepherd children who witnessed the Fatima Marian apparitions.

The Pope approved the miracle in a March 23 audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during which he advanced six other causes, approving one other miracle, two causes for martyrdom and three of heroic virtue.

In addition, the Pope also approved a positive vote from members of the canonization causes for six martyrs who are already Blessed, but do not yet have a second miracle attributed to them.

However, the most significant of the causes approved is that of Francisco and Jacinta Marto. With the approval of the second miracle, the two may now be canonized Saints. It is likely Pope Francis will preside over their canonization himself while in Fatima May 12-13 for the centenary of the apparitions.

Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, were the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the history of the Church.

The brother and sister, who tended to their families’ sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary, now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima.

During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices, offering them for the conversion of sinners. The children did, praying often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their daily crosses and even refrained from drinking water on hot days.

In October 1918, Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu. Our Lady appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon.

Bed-ridden, Francisco requested his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 14, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness as well. She was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital and operated for an abscess in her chest, but her health did not improve. She died Feb. 20, 1920.

Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta May 13, 2000, on the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, teaching us that even young children can become saints.

In addition to Francisco and Jacinta, the Pope also approved a miracle for Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, allowing for his canonization.

Causes for martyrdom approved by the Pope – meaning they can be beatified – include Fr. Giuseppe Maria Fernández Sánchez and his 32 companions, who were priests and coadjutor brothers of Congregation of the Mission, as well as six laypersons from the Association of the Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who were killed in hatred of the faith in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Another martyrdom cause approved by the Pope was that of Servant of God Regina Maria Vattalil, a Poor Clare nun killed in hatred of the faith in 1995.

The martyrs who were already Blessed but may now be canonized based on the Congregation’s vote are: Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, diocesan priests, and Matteo Moreira, layman, killed in hatred of the Faith in Brazil in 1645, and Cristoforo, Antonio and Giovanni, teenagers, killed in hatred of the Faith in Mexico in 1529.

He also declared the heroic virtue of the following people: Daniele da Samarate, a Capuchin priest; Macrina Raparelli, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Basiliane Daughters of St. Macrina; and Daniela Zanetta, a laywoman.

Pope Francis prays for victims of deadly London attack

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 18:08

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After four people died in an apparent terrorist attack in London yesterday, Pope Francis has voiced his sorry and solidarity for the victims and their families, entrusting them and the nation to God’s mercy.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy,” a March 23 letter signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

The Pope commended the souls of those who died “to the loving mercy of Almighty God,” and prayed for “divine strength and peace upon their grieving families,” while assuring of his prayer for the entire nation.

Francis’ letter comes the day after a deadly March 22 attack on London’s Parliament took the lives of four people.

During the attack, a car apparently plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing into the fence surrounding the Parliament building. The assailant then attempted to enter the Parliament building with a knife, stabbing one police officer before being shot by other officers on the grounds.

According to the Guardian, four people were killed, including the police officer who was stabbed and one man believed to be the assailant. About 20 others were reported injured, some severely.

Nearby government buildings were placed on lockdown while authorities worked to ensure the safety of the area. Scotland Yard said the attack is being treated “as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.”

The incident marks the first mass-casualty terrorist attack in Britain since the 2005 bomb attack on London that claimed the lives of 52 people when four bombers blew themselves up in the city’s public transportation system.

March 22 also marks the one-year anniversary of the Brussels airport bombings that left more than 30 dead and 300 injured. Those bombings were declared the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history.

The use of a vehicle as a weapon yesterday’s London attack is reminiscent of the methods used last year by terrorists in Nice and Berlin.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, issued a March 23 statement to the priests and parishes of his diocese saying yesterday’s attacks “have shocked us all.”

“The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city,” he said, and urged pastors to lead their people in prayer, particularly for the victims and their families.

He offered special prayers for victim Aysha Frade, who was killed by the car on Westminster Bridge and whose two young children attend the diocese’s St. Mary of the Angels Primary School.

He also offered special prayers for Frade’s husband and a group of French students who were injured in the attack, as well as police officer Keith Palmer, the officer who died, and his family.

“Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity and of calm,” the cardinal said.

“All who believe in God, Creator and Father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which we depend.”

Watch this little girl steal Pope Francis' hat

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 22:57

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 10:57 am (CNA).- A cute moment was captured on camera Wednesday, as a 3-year-old girl “stole” Pope Francis’ zucchetto – or skull cap – at the papal general audience.

Little Estella lives in Georgia. She was in Rome with her godfather, Mountain Butorac. Waiting in St. Peter’s Square at the general audience, she was invited by a member of the papal security team to go greet the Pope as he came by.

Pope Francis offered the young girl a kiss on the cheek, and she reached up and grabbed his zucchetto. A moment later, she returned the hat to a laughing pontiff.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) <a href="">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Meanwhile, Butorac captured the incident on his phone camera, and posted it to Twitter, where it quickly received more than 8,000 likes.

“It’s exciting!” Butorac told BuzzFeed News. “I’m sure every godparent would love for their godchild to meet the Holy Father. Mine just did and it was not only a special holy moment, but hilarious too!”


Pope Francis: When we want to give up, God helps us persevere

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 15:57

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said each person must strive to imitate the perseverance and consolation of God, which not only gives us the strength to keep going, but also to help others who are in difficulty.

“Perseverance we can also define as patience; it’s the ability to support, to remain faithful, even when the weight seems to become too big, unsustainable, and we are tempted to negatively judge and abandon everything and everyone,” the Pope said March 22.

Consolation, on the other hand, “is the grace of knowing how to welcome and show in every situation, even those largely marked by delusion and suffering, the presence and compassionate action of God.”

He noted how these two attitudes are highlighted by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, both in reference to scripture and to God himself, who is “the God of perseverance and consolation.”

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience, the Pope continued his catechesis on the virtue of Christian hope, saying the qualities of perseverance and consolation shed light on what having hope really means.

Francis noted how in the day’s reading from Romans Chapter 15, St. Paul reminds us that these attitudes are communicated throughout scripture. The Word of God, he said, “leads us to turn our gaze to Jesus, to know him better and to conform ourselves to him, to increasingly become more like him.”

By calling the Lord “the God of perseverance and consolation,” the apostle is revealing the nature of God as someone “who always remains faithful to his love for us and takes care of us, covering our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy.”

“He’s perseverant in love for us, he never tires of loving us,” he said.

Pope Francis then pointed to how in the passage, St. Paul also insists that “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

While the phrase “we who are strong” could seem presumptuous, the Pope stressed that when understood with the logic of the Gospel, “we know that it’s not like this. Rather, it’s precisely the opposite because our strength doesn’t come from us, but from the Lord.”

“Whoever experiences in their own lives the faithful love of God and his consolation is able, even obliged, to be close to his weakest brothers and to take charge of their fragility,” he said.

The Pope stressed the importance of doing this “without complacency,” but as “a channel that transmits the gifts of the Lord,” sowing hope to the world. Witnesses of hope “are needed today,” he said, but noted that unfortunately “it’s not so easy” to do.

However, Francis cautioned that this lifestyle doesn’t mean dividing the community so that “some are from ‘group A,’ which is the strong, and others ‘group B,’ which is the weak.”

Instead, it means having the same attitude toward one another that Christ did, he said, adding that the Word of God “nourishes a hope that is concretely translated in sharing, in reciprocal service.”

This reciprocity is essential, he said, because “even those who are strong sooner or later find themselves fragile and in need of comfort from others; and vice versa, in weakness one can always offer a smile or a hand to the brother in difficulty.”

But this is only possible “if we put Christ and his Word at the center,” Pope Francis said, and urged faithful to thank God for giving us his Word through scripture.

“We never thank God enough for the gift of his Word,” he said, stressing that “it’s there that we become aware of how our hope is not based on our own abilities and our own strength, but on the support of God and on his fidelity and love.”

At the end of his audience Pope Francis also gave a shout-out to those participating in the “Watershed” Conference currently taking place in Rome in honor of the U.N. World Water Day, and which is being co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Argentinian Chapter of the Club of Rome.

“I am happy that this meeting is taking place,” he said, “for it represents yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance.”

The Pope then made an appeal for his “24 hours for the Lord” event, which takes place each year on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent

“I hope that also this year this privileged moment of grace on the Lenten path is lived in many churches in order to experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the Father, and that everyone welcomes and forgives,” he said.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) <a href="">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The Church and society need you, Pope Francis tells youth

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 02:07

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis released a video message to youth in advance of the next World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.  He said that like the Virgin Mary, they are needed, and they should not be afraid to leave their mark on the world.
“Like the young woman of Nazareth, you can improve the world and leave an imprint that makes a mark on history, your history and that of many others,” Pope Francis said in the message, released March 21. “The Church and society need you.”
“With your plans and with your courage, with your dreams and ideals, walls of stagnation fall and roads open up that lead us to a better, fairer, less cruel and more humane world.”
The message, made in advance of the annual diocesan-level “World Youth Day” which takes place on April 9 this year, reflects specifically on the spiritual journey pilgrims will take before reaching Panama, encouraging young people to cultivate a strong friendship with Our Lady, saying they “will not regret it.”
“Speak to her as you would to a Mother. Together with her, give thanks for the precious gift of faith that you have received from your elders, and entrust your whole life to her. She is a good Mother who listens to you and embraces you, who loves you and walks together with you,” he said.
The theme for the upcoming local World Youth Day is taken from the words of Mary in the Magnificat: “The Mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49).
Mary “recognized the great things that God was accomplishing in her life,” gave thanks for it, and then put it into action, going to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Pope said. She “was not a young couch potato who looks for comfort and safety where nobody can bother them.”
“Dear young people, God is also watching over you and calling you, and when God does so, he is looking at all the love you are able to offer,” Francis said.
In anticipation of World Youth Day in Panama January 22-27, 2017, the Pope also released a longer written message to youth, reflecting on themes from the last international World Youth Day in Krakow in July 2016 and on the themes of each year’s meeting leading up to Panama.
Continuing the Marian themes, in 2018 the theme will be “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:49) and in 2019, in Panama, it will be “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), the Pope said.
Francis said that he hopes preparations for World Youth Day in Panama and for the Synod of Bishops in October 2018, “will move forward in tandem,” since the topic of the Synod will be youth, faith and vocational discernment.
At the Synod, “we will talk about how you, as young people, are experiencing the life of faith amid the challenges of our time,” the Pope said. “We will also discuss the question of how you can develop a life project by discerning your personal vocation...”
In discerning the plan God has for our lives, we can look to Mary, who was very young herself, as an example of the gift of faith lived out, he said.
Referencing an address he gave at World Youth Day in Krakow, Francis said to not be afraid, for though we might think, but “I am a sinner, what can I do?” the truth is that “when the Lord calls us, he doesn’t stop at what we are or what we have done.”
“On the contrary, at the very moment that he calls us, he is looking ahead to everything we can do, all the love we are capable of giving.”
How do we prepare to, like Mary, give this love? Pope Francis offered four practical suggestions. One, is to end each day doing an examination of conscience – reflecting on our day, remembering both “the good times and the challenges, what went well and those that went wrong.”
These can also be recorded in a journal if we like and is a good way of noticing what God is doing in our lives, he said.
Another suggestion the Pope made is to spend more time reading the Bible. If you, as young people, want to make your life a “gift for humanity” it is “essential to connect with the historical tradition and the prayer of those who have gone before you,” he said.
Doing lectio divina, a method of prayerfully reading the Bible and applying God’s word to your own life will help to “illumine your steps.”
Thirdly, Francis stressed the importance of going to Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
And lastly, he said that young people must speak to and learn from the wisdom of their elders, especially grandparents or other relatives. “Do you realize how extraordinarily enriching the encounter between the young and the elderly can be?” he asked.
“Young people have strength, while the elderly have memory and wisdom.”
“The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways,” Pope Francis continued.
“The Church is heir to a long tradition which, passed down from generation to generation, is further enriched by the experience of each individual. Your personal history has a place within the greater history of the Church.”
Even young people should be mindful of tradition and the past, he said, though this is not the same as being nostalgic or remaining stuck on a certain period of history as being the best. One of the gifts of youth is questioning and dreaming about the future, he said.
“God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction. He helps us to give due value to the past so as to better build a future of happiness.”
“Many people think that young people are distracted and superficial,” Francis explained. “They are wrong! Still, we should acknowledge our need to reflect on our lives and direct them towards the future.”
“When God touches the heart of a young man or woman, they become capable of doing tremendous things.”

Good Friday Collection to benefit Holy Land Christians

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 17:57

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Christians in the Middle East continue to suffer innumerable hardships this Lenten season, the Vatican has announced that this year’s Good Friday Collection will benefit Christian communities in the Holy Land.

“Once again, from every part of the Church, expressions of solidarity come together effectively in the Good Friday Collection,” stated Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, in a recent press release.

“Our sense of communion in the suffering and risen Christ moves us again this year to undertake the important initiative that is the Collection for the Holy Land,” Cardinal Sandri said.

This announcement means that in most Catholic parishes around the world, a Good Friday Collection will be taken up to aid Christian parishes and their outreaches in the Holy Land. This initiative has been an annual tradition in the Church since its institution by Blessed Pope Paul VI.

According to Blessed Pope Paul VI, the collection was crated “not only for the Holy Places but above all for those pastoral, charitable, educational, and social works which the Church supports in the Holy Land for the welfare of their Christian brethren and of the local communities.”

The Catholic communities that will benefit from this aid include the Latin Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody and other jurisdictions, such as the Greek-Melkite, Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean, and Armenian churches.

These funds will be used to help the parochial schools, hospitals, and community centers in these areas to protect and care for their communities, which often include refugees, asylum-seekers, children, and victims of war.

“Living the Christian faith in the Middle East is not at all easy. Especially in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where Christian communities have experienced an ‘ecumenism of blood,’ individuals are daily pressured to abandon their land or even their faith,” Cardinal Sandri stated.

“The unforgettable faces of thousands of children and teens, fleeing violence and persecution in Syria and Iraq, continue to challenge us, even as these young people, thanks to our Collection, are being welcomed by Christian schools and neighboring counties.”

While this collection is a one-time offering on Good Friday, the cardinal noted that there are additional ways of aiding Christians in the Middle East outside of the Lenten and Easter seasons.

“The small Christian presence in the Middle East has great need of the support and attention of the entire Church. Constant prayer is the first and greatest assistance they seek.”

Cardinal Sandri also said that Holy Land pilgrimages are a substantial way to grow the “vitality of the Church in the Holy Land,” and which also boost local economy.

“At least 30% of the local community in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem live and work thanks to the presence of pilgrims,” Cardinal Sandri said.

The cardinal encouraged individuals to give generously to this year’s Good Friday Collection, pointing to the words of St. Paul: “for God loves a cheerful giver.”

“As we prepare for Easter, let us renew our commitment to becoming artisans of peace, praying and working that peace may dwell in the heart of every person, especially our brothers and sisters of the Holy Land and the Middle East.”


This man was killed for defying Hitler – and now he's been beatified.

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:01

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian layman Joseph Mayr-Nusser who refused to take the Hitler oath was beatified March 18 in his home town of Bolsano.

In 1944, Mayr-Nusser, a Catholic husband and father, refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler after being drafted into the German army. He died on the way to Dachau concentration camp, to which he had been sentenced.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that Blessed Joseph is a model for all laymen and fathers “on account of his great moral and spiritual stature.”

Joseph was born on Dec. 27, 1910 to a devout family. Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.

At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.

Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head of its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.

When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser joined the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”

A few years later, civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.

The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.

Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.

However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.

According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”

Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.

As a result he was jailed, put on trial and sentenced to death for treason.  He was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.

Dachau held many religious prisoners of Nazi Germany, and became known as the “largest monastery in the world” because of the number of clerics there. The camp housed some 2,700 clergy, roughly 95 percent of whom were Catholic priests from Poland, making it one of the largest residences for priests in the history of the Church.

Joseph fell ill with dysentery before he reached Dachau, and died Feb. 24, 1945. When his body was discovered, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.

Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by his home diocese of Bolzano in 2005. Pope Francis declared him a martyr in July 2016, paving the way for his beatification.  

Pope Francis' schedule for Fatima visit released

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 21:48

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 / 09:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the Vatican released the official program for Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Portugal in May, where he’ll celebrate the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions and make a brief stop at an air base to meet the country’s president.

Francis will likely make a stop at his favorite Roman basilica, Saint Mary Major, sometime before leaving Rome at 2 p.m. May 12.

He’ll land at the air base in Monte Real around 4:20 p.m. local time, where he’ll be greeted by an official welcoming ceremony and meet with the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, before making his way to Fatima.

After his meeting with the president, the Pope is scheduled to stop by the chapel of the air base for a moment of prayer before boarding a helicopter that will take him to the Fatima’s multi-use stadium.

From there, he’ll hop inside an open car and drive to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Once he arrives around 5:30 p.m., Pope Francis will head to the Chapel of the Apparitions inside the sanctuary, where he’ll recite a prayer.

He’ll then bless the candles in the chapel and offer a special greeting, marking his first public speech of the trip, before praying the rosary with faithful.

The next day, May 13, which marks the first apparition of Mary to the three shepherd children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, Francis will meet with Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa at the city’s Casa “N.S. do Carmo” hotel-convent.

Francis will then head to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, which sits next to the official Shrine, to say Mass. After the celebration, he’ll greet sick and disabled persons who are present.

Lunch will then be served with the Portuguese bishops at the Casa “N.S. do Carmo” before the Pope heads back to the Monte Real air base for his official farewell ceremony.

He’s scheduled to leave around 3 p.m. local time, arriving to Rome’s Ciampino airport around 7 p.m. local time. As usual, he’ll likely pay another visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major to pray and leave flowers before heading back to the Vatican.

Of all Marian apparitions, those relating to Our Lady of Fatima are among the most famous. On May 13, 1917, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto – age 9 and 7 – and their cousin, 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos, took their sheep to graze near the Portuguese town of Fatima when they saw a figure of a woman dressed in white and holding a rosary.

After this first appearance, the Virgin Mary then appeared to the children on the 13th of every month from May until October. The message of the Fatima apparitions can be summarized primarily as a call to repentance and prayer.

In 1930, the Catholic Church proclaimed the supernatural character of the apparitions and a shrine was erected at Fatima. It was visited by Pope Paul VI May 13, 1967, and later by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

St. John Paul II had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a harrowing assassination attempt in 1981, he credited his survival to her miraculous intervention. As a sign of his gratitude, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in her crown.

“Pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven. United to Christ, as a priest and victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and the world,” Pope John Paul II said on that occasion.


Pope meets Rwandan president, apologizes for Church failure during genocide

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 20:46

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 / 08:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During a brief meeting with Rwandan president Paul Kagame Monday, Pope Francis voiced his sadness for members of the Church who participated in the 1994 genocide, asking for forgiveness and assuring those who still suffer of his prayer.

According to a March 20 Vatican communique, during the meeting, the Pope “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the genocide against the Tutsi.”

“He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic event,” it read.

In imitation of St. John Paul II’s gesture during the Great Jubilee in 2000, Francis implored God’s forgiveness “for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission.”

Pope Francis, in light of a statement published by the Rwandan bishops at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy asking forgiveness for the failure of the Church and her members, expressed his desire that his own “humble recognition” of the failings of that time, “which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a purification of memory.”

He also voiced his hope that the renewed apology “may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”

The genocide began April 7, 1994, after controversy over the plane crash that killed the then-president of Rwanda, a Hutu. In the aftermath, Hutu extremists killed over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

About 57 percent of Rwanda is Catholic, with another 37 percent Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. The churches have worked to bring about healing and reconciliation as well.

The Pope’s meeting with President Kagame, which lasted around 25 minutes, took place inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace and was conducted in English.

During the “cordial” discussion between the two, mention was also made of the good relations between the Church and the State in Rwanda. Specific appreciation was expressed for “the notable path of recovery toward the social, political and economic stabilization of the country.”

Likewise, the collaboration between the State and the local Church in working for “national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace” nationwide was also cited.

The two also exchanged views on the political, social and regional situation of Rwanda, with specific attention placed on areas suffering due to conflict and natural problems, including the high number of migrants and refugees in need of support from the international community.

After the meeting, Pope Francis greeted the presidential delegation of 9 people, handing each of them a rosary, before exchanging gifts.

Francis gave Kagame three books: his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

He also gave the president a medal, telling him that “I like to give this work to Heads of State because for me it represents the biblical passage: ‘a desert that becomes a garden,’ so that the countries can also become gardens.”

On his part, President Kagame gave the Pope a box with a black and white staff inside, explaining that “it’s a rod used to summon the people,” like a sort of “pastoral” hook.

After meeting the Pope, Kagame then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.