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Pope Francis praises Assisi's new 'sanctuary of renunciation'

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:03

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Sunday thanked Assisi's bishop for creating a shrine dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi's divestiture, when he renounced his family's wealth, embracing poverty as he stripped himself of his fine clothes.

Recalling his October 2013 to Assisi and the Room of Renunciation in the archbishop's residence,  the Pope said that “in that room were so many eloquent testimonies to the scandalous reality of a world still so marked by the gap between an immense number of indigents, often deprived of basic necessities, and the miniscule portion of the rich who hold the greatest part of wealth and who think they can determine the destiny of humanity.”

Pope Francis' Oct. 16 letter to Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino commended him for his decision to establish a shrine to St. Francis' renunciation, which will be inaugurated May 20. It will be in Santa Maria Maggiore, the city's original cathedral, and include access to the Room of Renunciation in the archbishop's residence.

In his renunciation, St. Francis “stripped himself, to the point of nudity, of all earthly goods, to give himself entirely to God and to the brethren,” the Pope recalled. “Renouncing all earthly goods, he unchained himself from the enchantment of the god-money which had ensnared his family.”

“Certainly the young convert did not intend to disrespect his father, but he remembered that one who is baptized must put love for Christ above all other affections,” Pope Francis wrote.

“Unfortunately, 2,000 years after the announcement of the gospel and eight centuries from the testimony of Francis, we face a phenomenon of 'global inequality' and an 'economy that kills'.”

He said, “the new Assisiani sanctuary was born as a prophecy of a society more just and in solidarity, and reminds the Church of its duty to live, in the footsteps of Francis, stripping itself of worldliness and investing itself with the values of the Gospel.”

For Pope Francis “today it is more necessary than ever that the words of Christ characterize the way and the style of the Church. If in so many traditionally Christian regions of the world there is a shift away from the faith, and we are therefore called to a new evangelization, the secret of our preaching is not so much in the force of our words, but in the charm of our testimony, sustained by grace.”

Recalling that St. Francis was told by Christ to repair his house, and that the Church is always in need of such repair  – for “it is holy in the gifts it receives from above, but is formed by sinners, and therefore is always in need of penitence and renewal” – Pope Francis asked, “how can it renew itself, if not by looking to its 'naked' Lord?”

“Christ is the original model of 'renunciation',” he said. “In the Child of Bethlehem the divine glory is concealed, as it were. It will be even more veiled on Golgotha.”

“From Christmas to Easter, the way of Christ is entirely a mystery of 'renunciation'. Omnipotence, in some way, is eclipsed, so that the glory of the Word made flesh is expressed above all in love and in mercy. Renunciation is a mystery of love! It does not mean disdain for the realities of the world. And how could it? The world is entirely from the hands of God … The renunciation teaches us to make use of them in a way marked by sobriety and solidarity, within a hierarchy of values which give to love the first place. One has to renounce, in substance, not so much things in themselves, but rather the egoism which encases us in our interests and our own goods, which prevents us from discovering the beauty of the other and the joy opening our heart.”

The Pope said that “an authentic Christian path leads not to sadness, but to joy. In a world marked by so much 'individualistic sadness', the Sanctuary of the Renunciation is meant to nourish in the Church and in society evangelical joy, simplicity, and solidarity.”

Benedict XVI's 90 years: 'I am grateful to God'

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 03:24

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At his birthday party on Monday, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told his guests that “My heart is full of gratitude for the 90 years which the good God has given me.”

The April 17 gathering at the Vatican's Mater Ecclesiae Monastery was held in observance of Benedict's 90th birthday, which fell on Easter Sunday, the day prior.

Some 50 guests from his homeland of Bavaria were present, including his elder brother, Fr. Georg Ratzinger.

Today #BenedictXVI celebrated his 90th #birthday with a big Bavarian-style festa, and a pint via @oss_romano

— Elise Harris (@eharris_it) April 17, 2017 Pope emeritus Benedict XVI celebrated his 90th birthday with Bavarian beer and pretzels today! ???? Although his actual birthday was yesterday, the celebration was postponed until today to observe Easter Sunday. Happy birthday, Benedict XVI! ????: L'Osservatore Romano #happybirthday #celebrate #cheers

A post shared by Catholic News Agency (@catholicnewsagency) on Apr 17, 2017 at 2:25pm PDT

Be men and women of life, Pope Francis says Easter Monday

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 17:30

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2017 / 05:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Easter Monday, Pope Francis said how it is Christ’s resurrection that calls each of us to bring the message of Easter – a message of hope and life – to the world.

“There is life!” the Pope said April 17. Now, following the Resurrection, “we will be resurrection men and women, men and women of life.”

We are called to show solidarity, welcoming, and peace to people “in the midst of events that afflict the world – there are many today – in the midst of worldliness that is distant from God,” he said.

These are only human signs that we can give, he continued, but “inspired and sustained by faith in the Risen Lord,” we can gain effectiveness “well beyond our capacity.”

Pope Francis gave his message Easter Monday before leading pilgrims in the Regina Coeli prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s square.

It is customary for the Pope to lead this traditional Marian prayer on the Monday following Easter Sunday, also sometimes called the “Monday of the Angel” for the angel which announced Christ’s resurrection to the women at the tomb.

During the fifty days of Easter, the Regina Coeli will replace the usual recitation of the Angelus on Sundays.

In the message of the Angel to the women on Easter morning, “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead,’” we hear our directions as well, he said. The angel invites us as well to “act quickly” and to “go” to “proclaim to the men and women of our time this message of joy and hope.”

This message is hopeful because on the dawn of the third day, Jesus was risen from the dead, therefore “the last word is not death, but life! And this is our certainty. The last word is not the grave, is not death, it is life!”

And our Mother Mary can help us to live this out, Francis said.

“The Virgin Mary, silent witness of the death and resurrection of her son Jesus, helps us to be clear signs of the risen Christ among the events of the world.”

“Those who are in distress and difficulties,” he explained, can “find in us so many brothers and sisters who offer them support and consolation.”

“And this is so because Christ is alive and active in history through his Holy Spirit, redeems our miseries, reaches every human heart and gives hope to anyone who is oppressed and suffering,” he said.

“Our Mother, help us to believe strongly in the resurrection of Jesus: Jesus is risen, he is alive here, among us, and this is a wonderful mystery of salvation with the ability to transform hearts and lives,” he prayed.

“And intercede in a particular way for the Christian communities persecuted and oppressed as they are today, in many parts of the world, called to a difficult and courageous witness."

As Benedict turns 90, a rare glimpse into his 'joy'-filled life

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 03:00

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a lengthy interview with EWTN's German television branch, Benedict XVI's closest aide describes how the retired pontiff is doing as he turns the milestone age of 90, giving a rare look into what life is like for the Pope Emeritus.

Archbishop Gänswein has been Benedict's personal secretary since 2003, while the latter was still Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He has remained close at Benedict's side throughout his papacy, resignation and his life of retirement.

In anticipation of Benedict XVI's 90th birthday, which this year falls on Easter Sunday, April 16, Gänswein gave a lengthy interview to EWTN.TV in German, sharing insights into how the Pope Emeritus plans to celebrate his birthday and highlights and personal memories of his pontificate.

Among other things, the archbishop recalls how Benedict handled his election, the frequently negative media-firestorm that enveloped much of his pontificate, his hope for what people take from his papacy as well as how he spends his days in retirement.  

Please read below for the full interview with Archbishop Gänswein, conducted by the head of EWTN.TV Martin Rothweiler, and translated from the original German by EWTN’s Silvia Kritzenberger:

EWTN.TV: The question everyone's interested in is, of course: How is Pope Benedict? The Psalm says: “Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years.” That happens to be psalm 90. And now on the 16th of April, Pope Benedict will celebrate his 90th birthday! How is he?

Gänswein: Yes, indeed, on Easter Sunday he will turn 90! Considering his age, he is remarkably well. He is also in good spirits, very clear in his head and still has a good sense of humor. What bothers him are his legs, so he uses a walker for help, and he gets along very well. And this walker guarantees him freedom of movement and autonomy. So, for a 90-year old, he is doing pretty well – even though, from time to time, he complains of this or that minor ailment.

EWTN.TV: How will he celebrate his birthday?

Gänswein: On Easter Sunday, priority will of course be given to liturgy. On Easter Monday, in the afternoon, we will hold a small celebration. He wanted something not too exhausting, appropriate to his strengths. He didn't want to have a big celebration. That was never an option for him. A small delegation from Bavaria will come, the Mountain troops will come... The Bavarian Prime Minister will come to the monastery, and there we will hold a small birthday party in true Bavarian style!

EWTN.TV: Have you any idea if Pope Francis will come to see him?

Gänswein: That is quite likely. He will surely do so.

EWTN.TV: No one knows Pope Benedict better than you – apart from his brother Georg Ratzinger. How did you get to know Pope Benedict?

Gänswein: Actually, through literature. Back in the day, when I was just about to finish gymnasium, my parish priest gave me Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity, urging me: “You absolutely have to read this! That's the future!” I said: “Okay, but have you read it?” “No,” he replied, “but you have to read it!” And I did. Later, when I started to study theology in Freiburg, and then in Rome, and then again back in Freiburg, I had practically read everything the then-professor and cardinal had written. But it was only 21, or maybe 22 years ago, that I finally met him in person here in Rome, when I was asked to become a collaborator of the Roman Curia … More concretely, I met him in the Teutonic College, that is, in the chapel, where Cardinal Ratzinger used to celebrate Mass for the German pilgrims every Thursday, joining us for breakfast. That was how the first personal contact with Cardinal Ratzinger came about, and since then we never lost that contact.

EWTN.TV: At some point, he decided to call you to his side. Why did his choice fall on you?

Gänswein: Well, you must know that I didn't come directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; my first employment was at the Congregation for Divine Worship. But when, in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a German priest left after a certain period of time in order to go back to Germany, Ratzinger asked me to come. “I think you are suitable for the post, and I would like you to come,” he said to me. “If you agree, I would like to speak with the respective authorities.” And he did. That was how it came about that, in 1996, I entered the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post I held until 2003. Afterwards, he made me his Personal Secretary – which I still am, to this very day.

EWTN.TV: What was your first impression of him? What did you think when he called you to work closely with him?

Gänswein: My first thought was: Have I done something wrong? Don't I have a clean record? So I examined my conscience, but my conscience was clear. And then he said: “No, it is something that concerns your future. Something I think might be a good task for you. Consider it carefully!” Of course, I was very pleased that he thought I was capable of working in his entourage. It is indeed a very demanding task, one that requires all your strength.   

EWTN.TV: Which personality traits and characteristics did you discover in him?

Gänswein: The same I had already discovered in his writings: a sharp intellect, a clear diction. And then, in his personal relations, a great clemency, quite the contrary of what he has always been associated with and still is, of what has always been said about him, when he was described as a “Panzerkardinal” (army tank Cardinal), someone rough – which he is not. On the contrary, he is very confident when dealing with others, but also when he has to deal with problems, when he has to solve problems, and, above all, in the presentation of the faith, the defense of the faith. But what moved me most, was to see how this man managed to proclaim our faith with simple, but profound words, against all odds and despite all hostilities.

EWTN.TV: What were the main issues on his agenda when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Gänswein: When I joined the Congregation, he was dealing with the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, and then with Dominus Jesus, documents which date back to years when I was already part of the Congregation. Later, of course, it was also about religious dialogue – a subject he revisited and deepened also after he'd become Pope. And then the big issue of faith and reason. A whole chain of subjects, so to say, I could witness in person. And it was all highly interesting, and a great challenge, too.

EWTN.TV: It was Pope John Paul II who nominated Cardinal Ratzinger Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What kind of relationship did they have? What kind of relationship did Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, have with the Pope who was, as we now know, a holy man?

Gänswein: Cardinal Ratzinger, that is to say, Pope Benedict, had contributed with a relatively long essay to a small, but beautiful little book that was published on the occasion of the canonization of John Paul II. An essay, in which he describes his relationship with the holy Pope John Paul II –  after all, they had worked closely together for 23 years – and the great admiration he has for him. He spoke of him very often. It is of course a great gift, an immense grace, to work for so long, and so intensely, side by side with a man like John Paul II, facing also many a storm together! And the then Cardinal Ratzinger had to take many blows for John Paul II, since the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clearly cannot be everybody's darling: He has to offer his back, so that he can take the blows that are actually meant for the Pope.

EWTN.TV: How strong was his influence on the pontificate of John Paul II?

Gänswein: I am convinced of the fact that the pontificate of John Paul II was strongly influenced and supported not only by the person of the then Prefect of the Congregation of Faith, but also by his thoughts and his actions.

EWTN.TV: Pope Benedict once said that he had learned and understood much of John Paul II when he watched him celebrate Mass; when he saw how he prayed, how very united he was with God, far beyond his philosophical and mental capacities. What do you think when you watch Pope Benedict celebrate Mass, when you might be present while he is praying?

Gänswein: In fact, that is something I see every day, but especially since the moment I became secretary to Pope Benedict. Before, I was already his secretary, but we didn’t live together. It did happen that we celebrated Mass together, of course. But from the very moment of his election, it was no longer a work communion, but also a communion of life. And the daily Mass has become part of this life, then and today. It is moving to watch Pope Benedict during Mass simply abandon himself to what is happening, even now, in his old days, with all the physical handicaps that come with it; to see how intensely he enters the depths of prayer, but also afterwards, during the thanksgiving in front of the tabernacle, in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament. As far as I am concerned, it makes me enter the depths of prayer. That is highly motivating, and I am very thankful that I was given the chance to have an experience like this.

EWTN.TV: 2005 is the year that marked the end of the long and public suffering and death of John Paul II. How does Pope Benedict XVI remember this moment today? After all, with his resignation, he has chosen to let his own pontificate end in a different way...How does he remember the suffering and the death of John Paul II?

Gänswein: I remember very clearly what he said to me when he made me his secretary. He said: “We two are interim arrangements. I will soon retire, and you will accompany me until that moment comes.” That was in 2003. Time passed by...and then came 2005. The interim arrangement lasts and lasts. And he was really looking forward to having some time off in order to be able to finish writing his book about Jesus. But then things turned out differently. And, well, I think that after the death of Pope John Paul II he had other plans, hoping that the new Pope would let him take his leave, entering his well-deserved retirement. But once again, things turned out differently: he became Pope himself, and the Lord took him up on his promise once again. He had plans, but there was another who had different plans for him.

EWTN.TV: Did he expect – or fear –  that in any way?

Gänswein: He certainly did not expect it – but, at a certain point, he might have feared it. In this context, I always remember his first press conference (as Pope), where he described the 19th of April, the day of his election when, in the late afternoon, the ballot was so clear that it became obvious that he would be elected. Well, the image he used, the one of the guillotine, was a very strong one, and full of tension. And later, in Munich, referring to the image of the bear of St. Corbinian, he said that the bear was actually supposed to accompany the then-bishop Corbinian to Rome, and then return to where he had come from, whereas he, unlike the bear in the legend, couldn't go back, but has remained in Rome to this very day.

EWTN.TV: How was your first encounter, after he had become Pope? What did he say to you?

Gänswein: We had our first encounter in the Sistine Chapel, right under the Last Judgement. The cardinals had approached him and sworn obedience to him. And since I had been allowed to be present at the Conclave – Ratzinger, being the Deacon of the Cardinals, had the right to take a priest with him, and his choice had fallen on me – I was the last in the queue. There were others before me, I was the last. And in this very moment...I remember it so well…I can still see him, for the first time all dressed in white: white pileolus, white cassock, white hair – and all white in the face! Practically a whole small cloud of white...He sat there, and in this moment I granted the Holy Father my unconditional availability, promising him that I would always gladly do whatever he might ask of me; that he would always be able to count on me, that I would back him, and that I would gladly do so.

EWTN.TV: What were the joys of this pontificate? Usually, the burden of the Petrine ministry is what first comes to mind. But are there also moments, events, when you could feel the joy Pope Benedict experienced in carrying out his ministry?

Gänswein: There were, without any doubt, moments in which he felt utter joy, and also manifested it. I think, for example, of various encounters, not only during his travels. Encounters with the Successor of Peter are always special encounters; even here, during the General Audiences or the Private Audiences – and, in another, very special way, when he acts as officiant, that is, during the celebration of the Holy Mass or other liturgical celebrations.  There were indeed moments full of joy, fulfilled with joy. And afterwards, he never failed to remark on it. It made him really happy.

EWTN.TV: Are there any events you remember particularly well, especially in connection with Pope Benedict’s visits to Germany, which we all remember vividly, for example the first World Youth Day?

Gänswein: Yes, well, the first encounter hadn't been brought about by Pope Benedict himself, but by John Paul II. And so, in 2005, as we all know, it was Benedict’s turn to travel to Cologne. It was surely something great, something really moving. It was the first time in his life he met such an immense crowd of young people, who were all waiting for him! How will it go? Will the ice break, will the ice melt? Or will it take some time? And how will we get along with one another? But there was no ice at all! It simply worked, right from the start!  And I think, he himself was more surprised by it than the young people he met.

EWTN.TV: What are the key messages of his Pontificate? His first encyclical letter was Deus Caritas est, “God Is Love.” The second one was dedicated to hope; his third encyclical, the one on faith, was passed on to his successor who completed it. Don't you think that especially Deus Caritas est, so full of tenderness and poetic language, was something many didn't expect?

Gänswein: Yes, one has to say, he published three encyclical letters. And we must not omit Caritas in veritate, which is very important. In fact, the one about the third theological virtue, faith, fides, was then published under his successor: Lumen fidei. But these four encyclicals clearly contain a fundamental message that has moved him his whole life long; a message he wanted to bequeath to men, to the Church.

Another constant of Pope Benedict is a very important word, a very important element: joy, “la gioia,” in Italian. He always spoke of the joy of faith, not of the burden, the hardship, the weight of faith, but of the joy that comes with it. And he said that this joy is an important fruit of faith – and also the one thing that gives men wings; that this is how faith gives human life wings: wings which, otherwise without faith, man would never have.  

Another important thing for him is – obviously – liturgy, that is to say the direct encounter with God. Liturgy does not represent something theatrical – it means to be called into a relationship with the living God. And then, in theology, we have the person of Jesus Christ: not a historical “something,” a historical person long lost in the past. No, through the scriptures and liturgy, Jesus Christ comes into this world, here and now, and above all: he also comes into my own life. These are the pearls Pope Benedict has bestowed upon us. And we should treat these pearls very carefully, just as we do with precious jewelry.

EWTN.TV: This joy of faith is something Benedict never lost, despite often even heavy media criticism. He never really was the media's darling, at least not as far as the German media are concerned. How did he account for that?

Gänswein: Well, I have to say, to me that is still a mystery. Whoever defends the truth of faith – to say it with Saint Paul – be it convenient or not, cannot always trigger joy. That is clear. Some essential things just aren't for sale, and then there's always a hail of criticism. But he has never answered to provocation, nor let himself be intimidated by criticism. Wherever the substance of the faith is at stake, he had no doubts, and always reacted explicitly, without any inner conflict whatsoever.

On other points, I have to say, there was a mixture of incomprehension, and also aggression, aggressiveness, that became like a clustered ball that consistently hit at the person of the Pope. The incomprehension of many, and especially the media, is still a mystery to me, something I have to take note of, but cannot sort out. I simply have no answer to it.

EWTN.TV: Pope Benedict was never shy about talking to journalists. In the introduction you wrote to the book Über den Wolken mit Papst Benedikt XVI. (Above the Clouds with Pope Benedict XVI), published to mark his 90th birthday – above the clouds, because it contains interviews often given during Papal flights – you state that these conversations reveal his particular cordiality, his often not understood or underestimated humanity...

Gänswein: Pope Benedict has never shunned away from personal contact with the media, with the journalists. And one great gift was that everything he says is well-worded, ready for printing. He was never shy about answering questions, even questions that were embarrassing – well, not embarrassing, but difficult. And that made it even more incomprehensible that it was exactly this corner from where the arrows came, where the fire was set – and for no clear reason at all. He, too, took notice of it. Of course, there were also things which offended, hurt him. Especially when it was clear to see that there was no reason at all, when you couldn't help asking yourself: why this snappish remark, this acrimonious presentation? Things like that would hurt anyone, that's only normal. But, on the other side, we also know that our measure is not the applause we get; our measure is inner righteousness, the example of the Gospel. That thought has always comforted him; it was the line of reasoning he has always pursued, until the end.

EWTN.TV: But was he also aware of the value of the media in the process of evangelization? After all, he has awarded the Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice to Mother Angelica, founder of our television network, which means he must really appreciate her! How did he judge the role of the media in the concrete work of evangelization?  

Gänswein: The media are an important means; a means that will become ever more important, especially in our time. He has never failed to recognize the value of the media, of the work done by the media and those who are behind it. Because media work is done by people, not by “something.” Behind every camera, every written word, every book, there is a person, there are people he appreciated, whose work he appreciated, regardless of what sometimes had been used or said against him.

EWTN.TV: One cannot think of Pope Benedict without rekindling the memory of his resignation. That is not about to change, and will continue to be a subject that stirs people's interest. So I would like to ask you again: Did you see it coming? Was it clear to him that he would go down that road one day?

Gänswein: Well, as far as I'm concerned, I didn't see it coming. If and since when he started to nurture this thought, is something I don't know. The only thing I know is that he told me about it when the decision was already made. But I definitely didn't see it coming – and that made the shock for me even greater.

EWTN.TV: In his latest memoirs – I refer to the interview-book Last conversations with Peter Seewald – Benedict XVI makes it very clear that external pressure or adversities would never have made him resign. So this cannot have been the case…

Gänswein: That's right.

EWTN.TV: …So this is the final word that puts an end to the discussion on possible motives...

Gänswein: In another book – the penultimate project carried out with Peter Seewald in Castel Gandolfo – he had already answered the question whether or not a Pope could resign, in the affirmative. I don't know in how far he had, already then, considered resignation, stepping back from his office, an option for himself. When you start to have thoughts like that, you do it for a reason. And he has named these reasons very openly…and very honestly, too, one has to say: the waning of his forces, spiritual and physical. The Church needs a strong navigator, and he didn't have the feeling that he could be that strong navigator. That's why he wanted to put the faculty bestowed upon him by Jesus back into His hands, so that the College of Cardinals could elect his successor. So obviously, the pontificate of Benedict XVI will also go down in history because of his resignation, that is clear, inevitable...

EWTN.TV: I found it really moving to watch him deliver his last speech to the priests of the diocese of Rome, the one on the Second Vatican Council. In that moment, I couldn't help asking myself: Why does this man resign? There was clearly a spiritual force! It was an extemporaneous speech in which he exposed one more time his whole legacy, so to say, on the Second Vatican Council, expressing his wish it might one day be fulfilled...

Gänswein: In fact, that was in the Audience Hall. There was this traditional encounter, established many years ago, where the Pope, every Thursday after Ash Wednesday, met with the clergy of Rome, the clergy of his diocese. There were questions and answers, or even other forms of encounter. And in 2013, he was asked to talk about the Second Vatican Council, which he did. He delivered an extemporaneous speech in which he described, one more time and from his point of view, the whole situation and development of the Council, giving also his evaluation. It is something that will remain; something very important for the comprehension of the Second Vatican Council and Ratzinger's interpretation of it. As far as I know, up to this day there is no other theologian who has defended the documents of the Second Vatican Council on so many levels, and so intensely and cogently as he did. And that is very important also for the inner life of the Church and the people of God!

EWTN.TV: And I think it is safe to say that he contributed to the shaping of the Council...

Gänswein: In fact, being the consultor, the advisor of Cardinal Frings, he did have a part in it. Many of the theological contributions of the Cardinal of Cologne had actually been written by Professor Ratzinger. There are lots of documents where you can clearly see that. And there are also dissertations on this subject which investigate into the possible influence of the then-Professor Ratzinger.

EWTN.TV: Let's come back to the moment of his resignation, the very last hours. Whoever watched it on TV, was surely moved to see the helicopter departing for Castel Gandolfo. You, too, were visibly moved…And then, the final moment, when the doors in Castel Gandolfo  closed. That was the moment when I – and I guess, many others – thought that we might never see Pope Benedict again. But then things turned out quite differently…  

Gänswein: Yes, indeed, the farewell: the transfer to the heliport, the flight in the helicopter over the city of Rome to Castel Gandolfo, the arrival at the Papal Villa. And indeed, at 8 p.m. the closing of the doors. Before, Pope Benedict had delivered a short speech from the balcony, his farewell speech. And then? Well, the works in the monastery Mater Ecclesiae hadn't been finished yet, so the question was: where could he stay? And the decision was quickly taken: the best option would be Castel Gandolfo. There he will have everything he needs, since no one knows how long the works will last; so he can stay there as long as necessary.

And so two months later, he returned to Rome, and has been living in the monastery Mater Ecclesiae ever since. He himself had said that he would withdraw, going up to the mountain in order to pray. He didn't mean a withdrawal into private life, but into a life of prayer, meditation and contemplation, in order to serve the Church and his successor. His successor often told him that he shouldn't hide. He invites him often to important public liturgies, consistories like – I remember it well – the inauguration ceremony of the Holy Year on the 8th of December 2015.

He is present, even when no one sees him. But often he has been seen. He simply wants to be present, as much as possible, while remaining all the same invisible.

EWTN.TV: Many people wish to meet him, and he allows them to. Does he enjoy these encounters? I myself had the chance of a brief encounter with him. There are still many people who ask to see him.

Gänswein: Yes, there are many people who ask to meet him; and many are sad when this is not possible. But those who come, are all very happy, very glad. And the same goes for him. Every encounter is also a sign of affection, a sign, so to say, of approval. And human encounters always do us good.

EWTN.TV: Do some of these people also ask him for advice?

Gänswein: Definitely. I'm convinced of that. I'm never there, though; these encounters are private. Of course, he sometimes talks about it, we talk about those visits. There are indeed people who seek his advice on personal matters. And I'm convinced that the advice they receive is indeed good…

EWTN.TV: Does he still receive many letters? Who writes to him?

Gänswein: People he has known in the past. And also people I don't know, and he doesn't know, but who have clearly re-discovered him through literature. They express their gratitude, their happiness, but also their worries: people from all around the world. The people who write to him are very different; they do not belong to the same category, no: it's people of different ages, of different positions, from all walks of life, a complete mixture.   

EWTN.TV: We have talked about “seeking advice:” Pope Francis, who is of a certain age himself, has always said that we should ask our grandparents for advice. Has Pope Francis ever asked Benedict for advice? What kind of relationship do they have?

Gänswein: Yes, indeed, in one of his interviews, Pope Francis is said to be happy about having a grandfather like Benedict – a “wise” grandfather: an adjective not to be omitted! And I am convinced that, as far as this is concerned, one thing or another will come up, or come out, from their contacts and encounters.

EWTN.TV: Your relationship with Benedict is a very close, very personal one. I don't know if it would be appropriate to talk about a relationship between father and son. Have you ever talked with him about your future?

Gänswein: No.

EWTN.TV: It is known that you would love to engage in pastoral care, that you already do engage in pastoral care.

Gänswein: It was always like that: we didn't talk about it. Only the very moment he said that he would resign, he asked me to accept the office I still hold. It was his decision, and he hadn't talked with me about it beforehand. I was very skeptical, and remarked: “Holy Father, that might not be my thing. But if you think it is right for me, I will gladly and obediently accept it.” And he replied: “I do think so, and I ask you to accept.” That was the only time we talked about me and my future career.

EWTN.TV: What are the subjects you talk about? What are the issues that concern him in our world full of crises; what worries him about the situation of the Church?

Gänswein: Well, of course, Pope Benedict takes an interest in what happens in this world, in the Church. Every day, as the conclusion to the day, we watch the news on Italian TV. And he reads the newspapers, the Vatican press review. That is a large range of information. Often we also talk about actual issues that concern our world, about the latest developments here in the Vatican, and beyond the Vatican, or simply common memories regarding things happened in the past.

EWTN.TV: Is he very worried about the Church?

Gänswein: Of course, he has noted that the faith, the substance of the faith, is about to crumble, above all in his homeland, and that inevitably worries, troubles him. But he is not the kind of man – he never was and never will be – who will have the joy taken away from him! On the contrary: he brings his worries to his prayers, hoping that his prayers will help to put things right.

EWTN.TV: He brings them to his prayers and surely also to Holy Mass. On Sundays, he delivers homilies, and is also keeping notes. What happens to these notes?

Gänswein: Well, it is true that Pope Benedict comments on the Gospel. He does so every Sunday, and most of the time only in the presence of the (consecrated laywomen of) “Memores Domini” and myself. Sometimes there might also be a visitor, or – should I not be there – a fellow priest who will then concelebrate. His homilies are always extemporaneous. It is true, he has a sermon notebook, and he takes notes. And I have been asking myself the same question: what happens to these notes? Of course we will keep a record of them. I would like to ask him one day if he could take a look at the notes we have, in order to approve them. I don't know, though, if that day will ever come.

EWTN.TV: Pope Benedict is undoubtedly one of the greatest far as of our century is concerned, he surely is! He has been referred to as the “Mozart of theology.” In your introduction to the already mentioned book Über den Wolken mit Papst Benedikt XVI (Above the Clouds with Pope Benedict XVI) you wrote: “Pope Benedict XVI is a Doctor of the Church. And he has been my teacher up to this day.” What have you learned from him, maybe even in the last weeks?  

Gänswein: As I already said, my theological thinking started with the reading of Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. The theological teacher who accompanied my theological studies, and the time that followed, has always been the theologian Ratzinger, and still is. Being given the chance to meet him in person, to learn from his personal example, is of course an additional gift, something unexpected, and I am very grateful for that. I know it is a grace – a grace for which I will thank the Lord every single day.  

EWTN.TV: So what could be, in your opinion, the lesson Pope Benedict would like us to learn from his pontificate?

Gänswein: His great concern was that the faith could evaporate. And it is surely his greatest wish that every man be in direct relationship with God, the Lord, with Christ, and that we might dedicate to this relationship our time, strength and affection. Whoever does that, will prove the same sentiment Benedict has in mind when he talks about “joy.” I think the greatest gift would be, if men allowed his proposal or what moved him, to become part of their lives.

EWTN.TV: Our wish to you: could you please assure Pope Benedict also in the name of our viewers, of our thankfulness, our sentiments of appreciation, and convey him our heartfelt best wishes for his 90th birthday! And thank you so much for this conversation!

Gänswein: Thank you. I will gladly convey your wishes, and thank you for having me!

Pope on Easter: The Resurrection is more than a party – it’s the source of eternal life

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 17:17

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2017 / 05:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis reminded Christians Easter Sunday that the Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith – and that even in the face of unexplainable tragedy and suffering in the world, we can declare, “Christ is risen!”

“This is not a fantasy. The Resurrection of Christ is not a party with many flowers,” he said during Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square. “This is beautiful, but it is not this, it is more; It is the mystery of the rejected stone that ends up being the foundation of our existence.”

“This throwaway culture,” he said, where we use something and then throw it away, “where what is not needed is rejected, the stone – Jesus – is discarded” but then becomes the source of eternal life.

The world has many misfortunes, such as disease, human trafficking, wars, destruction, revenge and hatred. We may be tempted to ask, “But where is the Lord?” he said. “Today, the Church continues to say: ‘Stop, Jesus is risen.’”

The Pope said that before God, we can each say: “I do not know how this goes, but I'm sure that Christ is risen, and I'd bet on that.”

“Brothers and sisters, this is what I wanted to tell you. Go home now, repeating in your heart: ‘Christ is risen,’” he concluded.

Following Mass, Pope Francis gave the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

He said how through his death and Resurrection, Christ the Shepherd has come to save his people – those “lost sheep” who through sin have wandered onto the wrong path and away from him.

“All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep. But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us. To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross,” he said.

In his prayer, the Pope listed by name some of the current conflict zones around the world, especially the Middle East, Africa, South America and Ukraine, and called for peace in those regions of ongoing violence.

In particular, he named an attack which took place on the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria April 15. A bomb blast on a crowded Syrian bus convoy killed at least 112 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said April 16.
“In these times, especially support the efforts of those who work actively to bring relief and comfort to the civilian population in Syria, the victims of a war that continues to sow horror and death.”

“Just yesterday the last despicable attack on fleeing refugees which resulted in numerous deaths and injuries,” he prayed.

The Pope also prayed for all those caught in forms of slavery and for all those forced to leave their home because of conflict, terrorism, famine or oppressive regimes.

“In every age, the Risen Shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion – the wounds of his merciful love – he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life,” he said.

Please see below for the full text of the Pope’s "Urbi et Orbi" message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church echoes once more the astonishing message of the first disciples: “Jesus is risen!” – “He is truly risen, as he said!”

The ancient feast of Passover, the commemoration of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery, here finds fulfilment. By his resurrection, Jesus Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death, and has opened before us the way to eternal life.

All of us, when we let ourselves be mastered by sin, lose the right way and end up straying like lost sheep. But God himself, our shepherd, has come in search of us. To save us, he lowered himself even to accepting death on the cross. Today we can proclaim: “The Good Shepherd has risen, who laid down his life for his sheep, and willingly died for his flock, alleluia” (Roman Missal, IV Sunday of Easter, Communion antiphon).

In every age, the Risen Shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion – the wounds of his merciful love – he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life. Today too, he places upon his shoulders so many of our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms.

The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization. He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.

He takes upon himself all those victimized by old and new forms of slavery, inhuman labor, illegal trafficking, exploitation and discrimination, and grave forms of addiction. He takes upon himself children and adolescents deprived of their carefree innocence and exploited, and those deeply hurt by acts of violence that take place within the walls of their own home.

The Risen Shepherd walks beside all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes. Everywhere he helps these forced migrants to encounter brothers and sisters, with whom they can share bread and hope on their journey.

In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the Risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace. May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.

Especially in these days, may he sustain the efforts of all those actively engaged in bringing comfort and relief to the civil population in Syria, prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death. Just yesterday the last despicable attack on fleeing refugees which resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. May he grant peace to the entire Middle East, beginning with the Holy Land, as well as in Iraq and Yemen.

May the Good Shepherd remain close to the people of South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who endure continuing hostilities, aggravated by the grave famine affecting certain parts of Africa.

May the Risen Jesus sustain the efforts of all those who, especially in Latin America, are committed to ensuring the common good of societies marked at times by political and social tensions that in some cases have resulted in violence. May it be possible for bridges of dialogue to be built, by continuing to fight the scourge of corruption and to seek viable and peaceful solutions to disputes, for progress and the strengthening of democratic institutions in complete respect for the rule of law.

May the Good Shepherd come to the aid of Ukraine, still beset by conflict and bloodshed, to regain social harmony. May he accompany every effort to alleviate the tragic sufferings of those affected by the conflict.

The Risen Lord continues to shed his blessing upon the continent of Europe. May he grant hope to those experiencing moments of crisis and difficulty, especially due to high unemployment, particularly among young people.

Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!” May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days. Happy Easter!

Christ renews a weary humanity, Pope Francis says at Easter Vigil

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 01:46

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2017 / 01:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During Easter Vigil at the Vatican Pope Francis noted that many people today mirror the sadness and grief of the women who went to Jesus' tomb thinking he was still dead.

However, the Resurrection, he said, offers new hope for those who have perhaps lost it.

“That is what this night calls us to proclaim: the heartbeat of the Risen Lord. Christ is alive!” the Pope said April 15.

It is the excitement of this message, he said, that made them hurry back to tell the others that Jesus had risen: “That is what made them return in haste to tell the news. That is what made them lay aside their mournful gait and sad looks. They returned to the city to meet up with the others.”

Like the women, each us has also visited the tomb during the vigil, he said, and urged Christians to “go back” with the women into their cities with news of Jesus’ rising.

“Let us all retrace our steps and change the look on our faces,” he said. “Let us go back with them to tell the news in all those places where the grave seems to have the final word, where death seems the only way out.”

The Pope told them go back and proclaim the truth that “the Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity.”

“If we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, then we are not Christians,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke during his homily for the Easter Vigil, which he celebrated, as usual, in St. Peter's Basilica as the culmination of his Holy Week events. Apart from the vigil, Pope Francis will also celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square Easter morning and give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.

After delivering his homily, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – to 11 people, one of whom, Ali Acacius Damavandy, is from the United States.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb in the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, it’s easy to imagine their uncertain steps and their “pale and tearful” faces.

These women didn’t run away, but remained steadfast, and were people that had took life as it came and “knew the bitter taste of injustice.” However, they were still unable to accept Jesus’ death, he said.

By imagining the scene as it plays out, we can picture in the faces of these two women the faces of many others who “bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality,” he said.

“In their faces we can see reflected all those who, walking the streets of our cities, feel the pain of dire poverty, the sorrow born of exploitation and human trafficking,” Francis said, explaining that we can also see the reflection of those treated with “contempt” because they are immigrants.

“We see faces whose eyes bespeak loneliness and abandonment, because their hands are creased with wrinkles,” he continued.

The faces of these women also mirror “the faces of women, mothers, who weep as they see the lives of their children crushed by massive corruption that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams. By daily acts of selfishness that crucify and then bury people’s hopes. By paralyzing and barren bureaucracies that stand in the way of change.”

Francis pointed to the pain of all those “who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified,” saying this is also reflected in the grief experienced by the two women.

The women can also represent the faces of each of us personally, he said, explaining that like them, many of us can feel driven to continue walking forward and not to resign ourselves to the fact that “things have to end this way.”

While we carry God’s promise of faithfulness inside of us, our faces, the Pope said, often we bear the mark of various wounds, including infidelity on our part or the part of another, or of battles we have lost.

“In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration,” he said, noting that even worse, we can also convince ourselves that “this is the law of life.”

By doing so, we “blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us,” and walk, like the women did, the line between the desire for God and “bleak resignation.”

However, with the Resurrection the women suddenly and unexpectedly feel “a powerful tremor,” and hear a voice telling them not to be afraid, because Jesus has risen from the dead.

The message: “Do not be afraid, brothers and sisters; he is risen as he said!” is one that has been passed on from generation to generation, Pope Francis said, explaining that “life, which death destroyed on the cross, now reawakens and pulsates anew.”

“The heartbeat of the Risen Lord is granted us as a gift, a present, a new horizon,” he said, explaining that this heart is given to us and in turn, we are also asked to give it to others as “the leaven of a new humanity.”

In his Resurrection, Christ not only rolled back the stone to the tomb, Francis said, but he also wants “to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.”

Precisely when the religious leaders of the day, in collusion with the Romans, thought they they had the last word, God enters and “upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities,” the Pope said. “God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy.”

This, he said, is the promise that has been present from the beginning and which is “God’s surprise” for his people.

Pope Francis closed by saying that hidden in every life there is a seed of the Resurrection, “an offer of life ready to be awakened.”

He prayed that all would allow themselves to be surprised by this “this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give,” and asked that we not only allow Christ’s loving tenderness to guide our steps, but that we also “allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.”

Good Friday papal preacher: In a changing world, the cross remains the same

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 22:57

Vatican City, Apr 14, 2017 / 10:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even as sinful people in a society filled with violence and increasing secularism, we have hope because Christ's cross perdures, the papal preacher said at the Vatican's Good Friday Service.

“The cross, then, does not ‘stand’ against the world but for the world: to give meaning to all the suffering that has been, that is, and that will be in human history,” Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said April 14.

He gave the homily during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. Fr. Cantalamessa also gave the homilies at Mass at the chapel of Casa Santa Marta on Fridays throughout Lent.

Today, we are constantly hearing about death and violence, he said. “Why then are we here to recall the death of a man who lived 2,000 years ago?”

“The reason is that this death has changed forever the very face of death and given it a new meaning,” he said.

Fr. Cantalamessa preached: “The cross is the living proclamation that the final victory does not belong to the one who triumphs over others but to the one who triumphs over self; not to the one who causes suffering but to the one who is suffering.”

He explained how the Carthusian monks have adopted a coat of arms that hangs at the entrance to their monastery. It has a globe of the earth with a cross above it, and written across it: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis,” or “The cross stands firm as the world turns.”

He described a painting by Salvador Dali, called “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” It depicts Christ on the cross as if you are looking from above. Beneath him are clouds, and below that, water.

In a way, the water beneath Christ in this image, instead of earth, is a symbol of the lack of firm foundation of values in our current society, he explained. But even though we live in this very “liquid society,” there is still hope, because “the cross of Christ stands.”

“This is what the liturgy for Good Friday has us repeat every year with the words of the poet Venanzio Fortunato: ‘O crux, ave spes unica,’ ‘Hail, O Cross, our only hope.’”

The point of Christ’s Passion, however, is not an analysis of society, he said. “Christ did not come to explain things, but to change human beings.”

In each of us, to varying degrees, is a “heart of darkness,” he said. In the Bible, it is called “a heart of stone.”

“A heart of stone is a heart that is closed to God’s will and to the suffering of brothers and sisters, a heart of someone who accumulates unlimited sums of money and remains indifferent to the desperation of the person who does not have a glass of water to give to his or her own child; it is also the heart of someone who lets himself or herself be completely dominated by impure passion and is ready to kill for that passion or to lead a double life,” he said.

He explained that even as practicing Christians we have these hearts of stone when we live fundamentally for ourselves and not for the Lord.

Quoting God’s words through the prophet Ezekiel, Fr. Cantalamessa said: “I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.”

He went on to explain how in Scripture we are told that at the moment of Christ’s death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.”

This description, using apocalyptic language and signs, indicates “what should happen in the heart of a person who reads and meditates on the Passion of Christ.”

“The heart of flesh, promised by God through the prophets, is now present in the world: it is the heart of Christ pierced on the cross, the heart we venerate as the “Sacred Heart,’” he said.

We believe that though he was slain, because Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, his heart has also “been raised from the dead; it is alive like the rest of his body.”

And when we receive the Eucharist, we “firmly believe” that the very heart of Christ has come to “beat inside of us” as well, he explained.

“As we are about to gaze upon the cross, let us say from the bottom of our hearts, like the tax collector in the temple, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ and then we too, like he did, will return home ‘justified’.”

Why did Pope Francis visit Benedict XVI? To say happy birthday!

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 03:35

Vatican City, Apr 13, 2017 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Early Easter greetings and birthday wishes were the reason for Pope Francis’ visit with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI on Wednesday.

Following his annual custom, Francis visited his predecessor at Vatican City’s Mater Ecclesiae monastery on April 12 to extend his greetings ahead of Easter Sunday. The Vatican Press Office said the visit had “a double celebratory character” given that Benedict XVI’s 90th birthday, April 16, falls on Easter this year.

Benedict XVI sends birthday greetings to Pope Francis every Dec. 17. Last December, on Pope Francis’ 80th birthday, the Pope emeritus sent a “very affectionate” written message that was “particularly appreciated” by the current pontiff, the Holy See press office said.

That December day, the Pope emeritus also sent three small gifts and made a personal phone call to his successor.

You can show God's love even behind bars, Pope Francis tells inmates

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 23:24

Rome, Italy, Apr 13, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis spent Holy Thursday washing the feet of inmates, telling them in a brief homily that God is someone who loves until the end. He urged them to imitate this love even while in prison.

“Having loved his people who were in the world, he loved them to the end. God loves like this, to the end,” the Pope said April 13. “He gives life to each one of us and he boasts of this because he has love, and to love until the end isn’t easy.”

“We are all sinners and we all have limits and defects,” he said. While we all know how to love, “we are not like God who loves without looking at the consequences.”

He encouraged the inmates to imitate the love Jesus showed in washing the feet of his disciples, saying they didn’t need to get up and take their shoes off, but “if you can act as a help, do a service, here in prison, do it. Because this is love, it’s like washing the feet.”

Pope Francis visited the maximum security facility of Paliano prison in the south of Rome. It houses former mafia collaborators.

The Paliano prison is famous for being the only institution in Italy reserved specifically for “collaborators of justice,” that is, criminals who choose to come clean and collaborate with the police in exchange for police protection and, at times, compensation from the State. As of April 1, there were 70 detainees in the prison.

The visit marks the Pope’s third Holy Thursday visit to a prison since he became pontiff in 2013.

After arriving around 4 p.m. local time, Pope Francis met with the inmates before celebrating the Mass that marks Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples.

During the celebration, the Pope washed the feet of 12 inmates. Three of these were women and one was a Muslim who will be baptized in June.

All of them were Italians apart from one Argentinian and one Albanian. They are serving sentences for various crimes. And apart from two who have life sentences, the rest are expected to be released between 2019 and 2073.

About 60 collaborators collaborators of justice were present for the Mass. Two of them, a man and a woman, were from solitary confinement. The Pope met with these two privately just before he celebrated Mass.

He also greeted each inmate personally.

In his brief homily, the Pope noted that even though Jesus knew his hour had come and that he would be “betrayed and handed over” by Judas, he still chose to love.

“He who was the head, who was God. He washed the feet of his disciples,” he said, explaining that washing the feet of guests was a custom at that time. Since there were no paved streets, people would frequently arrive full of dust.

According to the custom, “the slaves did this,” he said, adding that “Jesus knew and he did it.”

Pointing to how Peter in the Gospel initially doesn’t want Jesus, the Master, to stoop and wash his feet, Pope Francis said that in the moment Jesus explained “that he came into the world to serve and to serve us. To make himself a slave for us. To love until the end.”

The Pope said that although the Pope is the head of the earthly Church, the true head of the Church is Jesus: “The Pope is only the figure of Jesus and I would like to do the same that he did and the priest washes the feet of his faithful.”

“Whoever is greatest must do the work of a slave,” the Pope said, recalling the Gospel scene where the disciples were fighting among themselves about who was the greatest.

On that occasion, “Jesus said: whoever wants to be the most important must make himself the smallest,” the Pope said, adding that “all of us are poor, but he loves us as we are.”

The washing of the feet, he said, is not “a folk ceremony.” Rather, it is “an act to remember what Jesus did. Let us think of the love of God alone today.”

Inmates at the prison have access to various activities provided by the prison’s institutional projects, such as opportunities for work, education, cultural and recreational activities, religious and sporting events, and meetings with family members.

Some of the courses available to inmates include iconography classes, ceramics, a pizzeria and kitchen for sweets, a carpentry workshop and an agricultural area with organic farming and a zone blocked off for breeding goats, rabbits, chickens and pigs, and for producing honey.

According to an April 13 communique from the Vatican, prison director Nadia Cersosimo has said these efforts are “initiatives that avoid idleness, reduce distances, fight prejudices and open the path to reinsertion.”

The prisoners offered Pope Francis a handmade cross and a buffet  prepared with products from their gardens.

The Pope’s decision to visit isn’t surprising given the attention Pope Francis has often given both to prisoners, and to condemnations of mafia activities.

He has often condemned the violence of organized crime. He has made a point to visit prisons in nearly all of the international trips he takes, as well as local trips within Italy.

Right after his election in March of 2013 Francis decided to offer his Holy Thursday Lord’s Supper Mass at the Casal del Marmo youth detention center in Rome. He washed the feet of young men and women, both Christians and Muslims, detained there.

In 2014, Pope Francis said the Holy Thursday Mass at the Don Gnocchi center for the disabled. In 2015 he visited another prison, celebrating Mass at Rome’s Rebibbia prison.

For Holy Thursday in 2016 Pope Francis visited a center for asylum seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, a municipality just north of Rome. He washed the feet of refugees, who included Muslims, Hindus, and Coptic Orthodox Christians.

In new interview, Pope says to never give up hope for conversion

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 18:22

Vatican City, Apr 13, 2017 / 06:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has given an interview ahead of his Holy Thursday visit to a prison, warning, among other things, against the hypocrisy of viewing inmates only as criminals beyond hope who deserve to spend their lives in jail.

“At times a certain hypocrisy pushes us to see in prisons only people who have done wrong, for whom the only path is that of the prison,” the Pope said in the interview, published April 13, Holy Thursday.

However, as he often has before, the pontiff stressed that “we all have the possibility of making mistakes. All of us in one way or another have erred. And hypocrisy makes it so you think there is no possibility of changing one’s life.”

Francis lamented that there often seems to be a lack of trust in rehabilitation and the ability for prisoners to be reinserted into society. With this mentality, “one forgets that we are all sinners and, often, that we are also prisoners without realizing it.”

“When we stay closed in our prejudices, or are enslaved by idols of a false wellbeing, when we move within ideological schemes or make absolute market laws that crush people, in reality you doing nothing other than stand between the narrow walls of the cell of individualism and self-sufficiency.”

In doing this one is “deprived of the truth that creates freedom,” he said, cautioning that “to point your finger at someone who has done wrong cannot become an excuse for hiding one’s own contradictions.”

Pope Francis gave his interview to Paolo Rodari of Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It was published to coincide with the Pope’s Holy Thursday visit to a prison on the outskirts of Rome for former members of the mafia, where he will wash the feet of 12 men and women serving various sentences, and who are both Christian and Muslim.

The interview focused largely on the Pope’s many visits to prisons as part of Holy Week and during international trips, as well as his preference for the “discarded” and the rising danger of modern war and conflicts.

He said the idea of visiting prisons came largely through the example of the late Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casaroli, who passed away in 1998 and would frequently spend his Saturday nights at youth prisons on Rome’s Via Casal del Marmo.

Francis, who has washed the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday in both 2013 and 2015, said the reason he is choosing to do so again is because of Christ’s declaration that “I was a prisoner and you visited me.”

“The mandate of Jesus goes for each one of us, but above all the bishop, who is the father of everyone,” the Pope said, noting that when some inmates express their guilt to him, he responds by telling them: “let whoever is not guilty throw the first stone.”

“Let us look inside and try to find our faults. Then, the heart will become more human,” he said, explaining that priests and bishops must always be disposed to serve others.

When asked about his attention to those who are discarded, Pope Francis turned to the Gospel episode of the hemorrhaging woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed.

This scene, he said, reflects the fact that “Jesus gives health and freedom to the socially and religiously discriminated…Jesus’ heart is always for them, for the excluded, as among other things the woman was perceived and represented then.”

Although the woman was afraid to be seen, Jesus admired her faith and in meeting her gaze, he didn’t chastise her, but rather welcomed her with mercy and tenderness, seeking a personal encounter that gives her dignity.

The same thing goes for each of us when we feel “discarded” by our sins, the Pope said, explaining that “we must have the courage to go to him, to ask for forgiveness for our sins and to go forward. With courage, like this woman did.”

When it comes to war and conflict, Francis said that in his opinion sin today “manifests itself with all its strength of destruction in wars, in the different forms of violence and mistreatment, in the abandonment of the most fragile.”

Echoing similar statements that he frequently makes, the Pope noted that it’s the poor and vulnerable that are the first to pay the price.

When faced with these situations in the midst of Holy Week, the Pope said the only thing that comes to his mind “to ask with more strength for peace for this world subjected to arms traffickers who earn with the blood of men and women.”

Looking back at the violence of the past century, marred by two World Wars and numerous other conflicts, Francis said it’s hard to tell whether or not the world is more violent now than it was then, or if thanks to modern communications technologies we are simply “more aware of violence or more addicted to it.”

He stressed the importance of not responding to violence with violence, saying “violence is not the cure for our shattered world.”

Responding to violence with violence leads “at best” to forced migration and suffering, an imbalance in the distribution of resources, and difficulties for youth, families in hardship, elderly and the sick.

“In the worst case,” he said, “it brings the death, both physical and spiritual, of many, if not all.”

The Gospel is never gloomy, but joyful, Pope tells priests

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 15:00

Vatican City, Apr 13, 2017 / 03:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his annual Chrism Mass for Holy Week Pope Francis told priests to always convey the truth and mercy of the Gospel with joy, saying the “Good News” brought by Jesus can never be rigid or presumptuous, but is rather meek and humble.

“Everything (Jesus) proclaims, and we priests too proclaim, is good news,” the Pope said April 13. “News full of the joy of the Gospel – the joy of those anointed in their sins with the oil of forgiveness and anointed in their charism with the oil of mission, in order to anoint others in turn.”

The phrase “good news” can at times appear as just another way of saying “the Gospel,” he said, but in reality, the words “point to something essential: the joy of the Gospel.”

“The Gospel is good news because it is, in essence, a message of joy,” he said, explaining that just as Jesus did, a priest makes the Gospel message joyful “with his entire person.”

When a priest preaches, “briefly, if possible,” the Pope jested, “he does so with the joy that touches people’s hearts with that same word with which the Lord has touched his own heart in prayer.”

The Good News “is the precious pearl of which we read in the Gospel,” he said, stressing that “it is not a thing but a mission.”

Pope Francis gave his homily during the annual Holy Week Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which he blesses the oils that will be used for the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick during the coming year.

With the symbol of anointing being a strong presence throughout the Mass, the Pope typically directs his homily to priests, using it as an opportunity to offer a special message for them and their ministry in particular.

In his homily, Francis told priests that when the word “Gospel” is spoken, it “becomes truth, brimming with joy and mercy.”

“We should never attempt to separate these three graces of the Gospel: its truth, which is non-negotiable; its mercy, which is unconditional and offered to all sinners; and its joy, which is personal and open to everyone,” he said.

The truth “can never be abstract” or lack concreteness in people’s lives, he said, but at the same time cautioned that mercy can never be “a false commiseration” that leaves people in misery “without holding out a hand to lift them up and help them take a step in the direction of change.”

Similarly, the message of the Good News “can never be gloomy or indifferent, for it expresses a joy that is completely personal,” he said, and offered priests three “icons” of how to keep the Gospel fresh in every age without going sour or being poured out.

The first icon the Pope pointed to were the stone jars used at the wedding feast in Cana, which he said “clearly reflect that perfect vessel which is Our Lady herself, the Virgin Mary.”

Mary, he said, “is the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises.”

As someone who promptly responded to the angel’s announcement by going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Mary helps us overcome fear and “the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.”

A second image the Pope pointed to was the jug and wooden ladle carried by the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well.

The image of the jug and ladle point to the crucial importance “of concrete situations,” Francis said, explaining that since Jesus had no way to draw water, the woman with her jug and ladle was able to quench the Lord’s thirst.

“She sated it even more by concretely confessing her sins,” he said, and pointed to Mother Teresa as another example of a new wineskin filled with “inclusive concreteness.”

In starting her mission with one concrete person, Mother Teresa, “thanks to her smile and her way of touching their wounds, brought the good news to all,” he said.

Pope Francis then pointed a third image of the Good News, which he said is “the fathomless vessel of the Lord’s pierced heart: his utter meekness, humility and poverty which draw all people to himself.”

“From him we have to learn that announcing a great joy to the poor can only be done in a respectful, humble, and even humbling, way,” he said, stressing that “evangelization cannot be presumptuous. The integrity of the truth cannot be rigid.”

In every situation, the Holy Spirit tells us what we need to say to our enemies and guides our steps forward, he said, adding that “this meekness and integrity gives joy to the poor, revives sinners, and grants relief to those oppressed by the devil.”

Pope Francis closed his homily praying that as priests contemplate these three “icons” of the Gospel, the Good News would find in them “that contagious fullness which Our Lady radiates with her whole being, the inclusive concreteness of the story of the Samaritan woman, and the utter meekness whereby the Holy Spirit ceaselessly wells up and flows forth from the pierced heart of Jesus our Lord.”

Pope Francis: we find hope in embracing our crosses with love

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 19:21

Vatican City, Apr 12, 2017 / 07:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Church this week reflects on Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Pope Francis said that it is the cross that gives us hope, and urged faithful to enter into the mystery of Christ’s death by contemplating the joy that comes from sacrifice.

“During these days, days of love, let us be enveloped by the mystery of Jesus who, like a grain of wheat, in dying gives us life. He is the seed of our hope,” the Pope said April 12.

“Let us contemplate the Crucified Christ, the source of hope. Little by little we realize that hope with Jesus is learning to see, indeed right now, the plant in the seed, Easter in the cross, life in death.”

Speaking during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Francis told pilgrims he was giving them some homework. He instructed them when they get home to stop in front the crucifix, look at Jesus and tell him: “With you, I can always hope. You are my hope.”

“Now imagine the crucifix,” he told the crowd, “and all together say to Jesus Crucified, three times: ‘You are my hope.’” When the crowd said, Francis wasn’t convinced, and had them repeat it again even louder.

“We we really believe that in the Crucified Christ our hope is reborn,” he said, but cautioned that “it is a different hope from that of the world. What hope is this? The hope that is born of the cross.”

Love and hope come together on the cross of Christ, he said, explaining that this is a cross everyone must carry at different points in their lives.

“But it's beautiful to help others, to serve others,” he said, noting that this can get tiring at times, “but life is like that…This is love and hope together: to serve and give.”

“Of course, this love comes from the cross, from sacrifice, as it did for Jesus,” he said, stressing that the cross in itself is not the goal, but rather “a necessary step” to the ultimate goal, which is “glory, as Easter shows us,” he said.

It is in laying down one’s life, not holding onto it, that we find true joy, the Pope said, and pointed to the sacrifice of a mother, which he said is “another beautiful image that Jesus left to his disciples during the Last Supper.”

Jesus says in John 16:21 that “the woman, when giving birth, is in pain, because her hour has come; but, when she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the suffering, because of the joy that a child has come into the world.”

This is what mothers do, Francis said, noting that they give life to another through suffering, but then they are “joyful and happy (because) love gives birth to life and even gives meaning to pain.”

Love is the “engine” that fuels our hope, he said, and encouraged pilgrims to ask themselves: “Do I love? Have I learned to love? Am I learning every day to love more?”

“There is no other way to overcome evil and to give hope to the world,” he said, except by serving with humility and love.

“Have you thought about this?” he asked. No one likes to lose power and the logic of the seed that must die before bearing fruit is difficult to understand, he said, but stressed that this is the way of God.

He pointed to how many times in life we move forward with the mentality that the more we have the more we want. However, Jesus clearly says the opposite: “He who loves his life will lose it.”

This is why our hope is born from Christ’s transformation of death into life, he said, explaining that in the same way Jesus transforms our own sin into forgiveness, “our death into the resurrection, our fear into confidence.”

“That's why there on the Cross, our hope is born and is always born again; that's why with Jesus all our darkness can be transformed into light, every defeat into victory, every disappointment into hope. Every? Yes, every.”

EWTN exec named consulter for Vatican communications office

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 16:22

Vatican City, Apr 12, 2017 / 04:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday the Vatican announced that EWTN’s Chairman of the Board Michael Warsaw has been named by Pope Francis a consultor of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

The announcement of Warsaw’s appointment was made in an April 12 communique from the Vatican, along with the names of 13 other new consultors.

Warsaw was promoted to Chairman of the Board for EWTN in 2013. He has worked for EWTN since 1991, and had been named president in 2000, and CEO in 2009. He also serves as publisher of the National Catholic Register since the paper's acquisition by EWTN in 2011.

He has worked for more than 35 years in media, and has overseen EWTN's television, radio, and internet programming and production, as well as hosting the program “Bookmark.” He had been appointed COO in 2009.

EWTN was founded in 1981 by Mother Angelica, of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The network today transmits programming to more than 264 million homes in 144 countries. What began with approximately 20 employees has now grown to nearly 400.

The religious network broadcasts terrestrial and shortwave radio around the world, operates a religious goods catalog and publishes the National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency, among other publishing ventures.

In addition to Warsaw, other new consultors to the Secretariat are: Fr. Ivan Maffeis, Undersecretary of the Italian Bishops Conference; Fr. José María La Porte, Dean of the Faculty of Institutional Social Communications of the Pontifical University of Santa Croce; Fr. Peter Gonsalves, S.B.D., Dean of the Faculty of the Science of Social Communications at the Pontifical Salesian University; Fr Eric Salobir, O.P., Promoter General for Social Communications of the Order of Preachers; Fr. James Martin S.J. of America Magazine; Fr. Jacquineau Azétsop S.J., Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Paolo Peverini, Professor of Semiotics at Luiss Guido Carli University; Fernando Giménez Barriocanal, President and Managing Director of Radio Popular-Cadena COPE; Ann Carter of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications; Graham Ellis, Vice Director of BBC Radio; Dino Cataldo Dell’Accio, Chief ICT Auditor at the United Nations and Michael Paul Unland, Executive Director of the Catholic Media Council.

Donate blood, get free admission to the Vatican Museums

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 12:29

Vatican City, Apr 12, 2017 / 12:29 am (CNA).- A new initiative in Italy will allow blood donors to receive a free ticket to the Vatican Museums.

“Without blood, there is no life. Without art, life would be empty and sad,” said Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums.

The initiative is the product of a partnership between Rome’s Gemelli University Hospital and the blood donor group “Francesco Olgiati,” in collaboration with the Vatican Museums.

Seeking to encourage the donation of blood, which can be life-saving for patients who need transfusions, the agreement allows people who donate blood to receive a voucher, which is valid for entrance into the Vatican Museums without waiting in line. The vouchers, which are worth 4 euro each, must be used by the end of 2017.

Gemelli University Hospital distributes more than 17,000 units of blood and blood components, which are used in treating patients with a variety of conditions.

Such initiatives, Jatta said, allow the Vatican Museums to be “a living cultural institution, an integral part of the social fabric…just as Pope Francis has hoped.”

“We hope that many will take advantage of this opportunity: it benefits both themselves and others.”

Bible scholar gives inside look at Vatican's Stations of the Cross

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 03:33

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2017 / 03:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis chose French biblical scholar, Anne-Marie Pelletier, to write the meditations for this year's annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.

A recipient of the Ratzinger Prize in 2014, as well as a wife and mother, Pelletier’s meditations follow her own scripturally-based Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, based on the 14 biblical stations used by St. John Paul II in 1991.

Because the Stations of the Cross do not have a “binding form,” Pelletier told Vatican Radio, “I chose those moments that seemed particularly significant.”

Her stations are not significantly different from the traditional 14 stations followed by pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, though the biblical stations don’t include the three falls of Jesus or Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as in the traditional devotion.

She also begins with Jesus’ condemnation, rather than his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Using more than just the accounts of Christ’s Passion in the Gospels, Pelletier’s reflection weaves in Scripture and biblical references from both the Old and New Testaments as she reflects on how the entire life of Christ has been leading him, and us, to his ultimate sacrifice.

Pelletier’s meditations also reflect significantly on the perspective of the women along Jesus’ path, especially his mother, Mary.

An important scholar of contemporary French Catholicism, Pelletier has taught biblical studies at the European Institute of Religious Sciences and served as vice-president of the Jewish-Christian Documentation Information Service in Paris. She is the first woman to win the Ratzinger Prize.

The Ratzinger Prize was begun in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Benedict XVI.

The prize is awarded by the Ratzinger Foundation, which was founded in 2010 with Benedict XVI’s approval to study and promote his writings as a theologian, as a cardinal in charge of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and as Pope.

Pelletier opens the stations with Jesus’ condemnation before the members of the Sanhedrin, who “did not need a lengthy discussion to come to a decision,” she wrote. “The matter had long been settled. Jesus must die!”

Showing how at each point of his life Jesus faced enemies, she wrote that “our recollection must go back even further,” to Bethlehem, to Jesus’ very birth, when “Herod had decreed that he must die.”

Jesus escaped that time, but “already his life hung in the balance. In the sobbing of Rachel mourning her children who are no more, we hear a prophecy of the sorrow that Simeon will foretell to Mary (cf. Mt 2:16-18; Lk 2:34-35),” she writes.

In the fourth station, when Jesus is crowned with a crown of thorns, draped in a purple cloth and mocked with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews!” the paradox of Jesus’ kingship is revealed to us “as a love that seeks only the will of his Father and his desire that all should be saved.”

In this station she prays, “Lord our God, on this holy day that brings your revelation to fulfillment, we ask you to tear down every idol in us and in our world. You know the sway they have over our minds and our hearts. Tear down in us every deceitful illusion of success and of glory.”

When Jesus meets the mourning women of the daughters of Jerusalem, at the seventh station, Pelletier reflects on the gift of tears Jesus bestows upon them, asking them not to weep for him, but for the world.

The tears “fall silently down their cheeks. And undoubtedly, even more often, they fall unseen in the heart, like the tears of blood spoken of by Catherine of Siena,” she writes. “Not that women alone should weep…” she emphasizes, though it is their grief that “embraces all those tears shed quietly and without fanfare in a world where there is much to weep for.”

The eleventh station is devoted to Jesus and his mother Mary. Throughout her son’s life, Pelletier writes, Mary had entrusted each event “to the great patience of her faith” and today, the day of his crucifixion “is the day of fulfilment.”

“The sword that pierced her Son’s side pierces her own heart. Mary too plunges into that bottomless trust whereby Jesus lives to the full his obedience to the Father. Standing there, she does not desert him. Stabat Mater. In the darkness, but with certainty, she knows that God keeps his promises.”

The reflection on the tender faithfulness of women continues in the final station, as Jesus is laid in the tomb and the women prepare to anoint his body the following morning at daybreak, after the Sabbath has ended.

“Grant too that we, who have accompanied you along this path of love to the very end, together with the women of the Gospel, may remain in expectant prayer,” Pelletier concludes.

“For we know that our prayers will be answered by the resurrection of Jesus, which your Church now prepares to celebrate in the joy of Easter night.”

Consistory announced to approve Fatima children's canonization

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 22:59

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2017 / 10:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will hold an ordinary public consistory on April 20, where the cardinals of the Church are expected to pave the way for the canonization of the Fatima visionaries.

There are five causes of canonization waiting for approval by the cardinals. Most prominent is the cause of Francesco and Jacinto Marto, two of the shepherd children who witnessed the 1917 Marian apparitions at Fatima.

The cardinals’ approval at the consistory is the final step in the process leading up to canonization. Pope Francis has already given approval for the causes to move forward. Following the consistory, canonization dates will be set.

It has been widely speculated that Pope Francis will canonize the Fatima visionaries during his trip to Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there. That trip will take place May 12-13.

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 family's 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.

Francisco died April 4, 1919. Jacinta died the following year, 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.

The canonization cause for Sister Lucia Santo – the third Fatima visionary – is currently underway. Sr. Lucia lived to the age of 97, much longer than the other two visionaries, and the Vatican is currently examining information about her life that has been collected over the past eight years since her cause was officially opened.

In addition to the Fatima children, other causes of canonization set for approval at next week’s consistory are Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan, young martyrs of Mexico in 1529; Fr. Faustino Míguez, the Spanish priest who founded the Calasanzian Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherdess; Fr. Angelo da Acri, an Italian Capuchin priest who died in October 1739; and Fr. Andrea de Soveral, Fr. Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, Matteo Moreira, and their 27 companions, martyrs of Natal, Brazil in 1645.



Love is the best medicine, Pope Francis tells pediatric patients

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 22:56

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2017 / 10:56 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The caresses born of love are the most important medicine, Pope Francis told a group of patients, families, and doctors from Rome's Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital on Monday.

“There is the danger, the risk of forgetting the most important medicine that only a family can give: caresses! It is a form of medicine that is too costly, because to have it, to be able to do this, you must give everything, you must give all your heart, all your love,” Pope Francis said April 10. “And you give them this affection, the caresses of the doctors, the nurses, the director, everyone.”

The patients, ages 5-18, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, where he told them that “Each of you is a story. Not only the sick children, but also the doctors, the nurses, those who visit, the families.”

He recalled his Dec. 15, 2016 meeting with the group, saying that on that occasion the physicians “introduced the people to me. They all knew everyone’s names: 'This one is fighting this disease…'.”

“They also knew what was happening in their lives. And I perceived … that more than a hospital this is a family, that is one of the words you said. The most important thing was the name, the person, and only at the end was the disease mentioned, but almost incidentally, a secondary matter. It is a family, isn’t it?”

The Pope also recalled that “you were a bit ashamed of getting up and not looking good in front of the camera, and the director, who is a bit like a mother, came up to you and said, 'Come', and she encouraged you. This is the beauty of a family, this is beautiful.”

“Entering in a hospital always makes us afraid, and I see this when I come up to some children, not all, but some very little ones, and they see me in white, and they begin to cry; they think it is a doctor who has come to give them a vaccine, and they cry and are afraid. I stroke them a few times and they calm down. Because there is always the function of the hospital … one must do this …”

He said Bambino Jesu “has grown a lot lately, and has become a family. … The child, the patient finds a family there. Family and community, two words that you have said and repeated, and I wish to thank you for this, because Bambin Gesù offers witness, human witness. Human.”

“It is a Catholic hospital, and to be Catholic, first you must be human, and you give human witness today. Please, continue always on this path, grow in this way.”

Bambino Gesu (which translates to the child Jesus) is the largest pediatric hospital and research center in Europe. Owned by the Holy See and known as the Pope’s hospital, Bambino Gesu also serves children from all over the world.

The Holy Father is a popular figure at the hospital, where children write him letters and know many details of his life, including words from his homilies and facts about his home country and favorite soccer team.

Pope Francis has visited the facility several times, as did Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.

German family continues to fight for right to homeschool

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 18:02

Mainz, Germany, Apr 11, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In August 2013, a group of 20 police officers and social workers stormed the home of Petra and Dirk Wunderlich and took away their children.

Their offense: homeschooling.

The Wunderlich’s children were returned to them, but their legal situation remains precarious, as the German government continues to criminally punish families who homeschool with fines or even imprisonment.

Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since 1918, though in recent years the policy has raised questions and concerns with human rights groups who say it is an infringement on the right to family life.

The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to review the Wunderlichs' case and to look at whether Germany’s actions breached the right to family life, which is protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled in 2006 that there is no right to homeschooling.

“I sincerely hope the European Court of Human Rights will reaffirm that the state has no right to abduct children from their family just because they are being home-schooled,” Dirk Wunderlich, the father of the family, told legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Our youngest daughter was only four years old when the authorities broke into our home and took our children without warning. She couldn’t stop crying for 11 days. Her older sister hasn’t laughed since this incident. We chose to educate our children at home, because we believe this to be the best environment for them to learn and thrive,” he said.

Alliance Defending Freedom International, an Arizona-based legal group, finalized written submissions to the European Court of Human Rights last week on behalf of the Wunderlich family, asking the high court to protect the freedom of parents to homeschool their children.

“The eventual judgment in the case will have wide implications regarding parental rights for the 800 million Europeans who are subject to the rulings of the court,” the group said in a statement.

“Children deserve the loving care and protection of their parents. It is a serious thing for a country to interfere with the parent-child bond, so it should only do so where there is a real risk of serious harm,” said ADF International Director of European Advocacy Robert Clarke, lead counsel for the family in Wunderlich v. Germany.

“Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply exercised their parental right to raise their children in line with their philosophical and religious convictions – something they believe they can do better in the home environment. The right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is a fundamental right protected in all of the major human rights treaties. Germany has signed on to these treaties and yet continues to ignore its obligations with devastating consequences.”

Several German families who wish to homeschool – many of them Christian – have sought refuge in the United States, transplanting their lives in order to have the right to educate their children at home. Others have fled to countries like France or Austria, which have more lax policies.

In 2014, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that restrictions on homeschooling were justified, because the government has a compelling interest in preventing the formation of religious or ideological parallel societies. The court also argued that requiring children to attend school allows them the good of interacting with other children who may think differently than themselves.

Despite deadly attacks, Pope Francis will still go to Egypt

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 21:50

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2017 / 09:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican confirmed Monday that Pope Francis' trip to Egypt at the end of the month will go on as planned, despite terrorist attacks which killed more than 43 people during Palm Sunday celebrations in the country.

The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, told journalists April 10 that “the Pope's trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled.” The Pope himself also confirmed that the trip will take place, according to Franciscan Fr. Marco Tasca.

During a meeting April 10 with General Ministers of the Franciscan Order, Francis “very firmly confirmed his trip to Egypt,” Fr. Tasca said, adding that he is “very informed.”

Pope Francis plans to visit the Egyptian capital of Cairo April 28-29, in what is largely a bid to foster greater Catholic-Muslim dialogue, particularly on the point of ending extremist violence.  

The first of Sunday’s attacks, a bomb at the Coptic Christian church of Mar Gerges in the northern city of Tanta, Egypt killed 27 people and wounded at least 71 more, according to BBC News.

A second blast took place shortly after outside of a Christian church in Alexandria, killing 17 and injuring another 35. The man, a suicide bomber, had tried to storm the entrance to the church before being stopped by police, three of whom died in the blast. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

The attack in Alexandria narrowly missed harming the Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, who was participating in Mass inside the church.

After celebrating Palm Sunday Mass April 9, Pope Francis prayed for victims of “the attack that unfortunately took place today near Cairo,” voicing his closeness to Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, to and to the entire Coptic nation.

“I express my heartfelt sorrow,” he said, praying that the Lord would “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.”

His Holiness Pope Tawadros II is one of the religious leaders Pope Francis plans to meet with while in Cairo at the end of April. His schedule will also include a meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb.

The Pope will leave Rome at 10:45 am, April 28, arriving in Cairo around 2:00 pm.

After a brief welcoming ceremony and visit with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam will each give a speech at an international conference on peace.

Francis will then meet with state authorities and with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II.

On Saturday, April 29, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in the morning, followed by a meeting with Egypt’s bishops over lunch. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country.

In the afternoon Francis will meet with priests, religious and seminarians followed by a farewell ceremony before boarding the papal plane, which is scheduled to leave Cairo at 5:00 pm, arriving in Rome at 8:30 pm.

For a community already suffering from an attack which killed 30 at a church connected to the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo in December 2016, Sunday’s attacks have given rise to even greater concern over the security in Egypt.

'Pope Francis laundry' service opens for homeless in Rome

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 16:46

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2017 / 04:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday the latest Pope Francis-inspired initiative for the poor opened up in Rome – a new laundromat, with washing, drying and ironing services for those without a home or a fixed living situation.

"The Pope's Laundry,” as it is being called, is organized in partnership with the Community of Sant'Egidio and will be run by volunteers who will wash, dry and iron the clothes and blankets of those who otherwise can’t clean their belongings.

The initiative was born out of an invitation from Pope Francis in his apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, “to give a ‘concrete’ experience of the grace of the Jubilee Year of Mercy,” an April 10 communique from the Vatican stated.

As Francis wrote at the end of the Year of Mercy, the announcement said, “To want to be close to Christ demands to be near to our brothers, because nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a concrete sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy is made visible and tangible in concrete and dynamic action.”

The service, located in an old hospital in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, now called the “People of Peace Center,” includes six brand-new washers and dryers, donated by Whirlpool. Irons, detergent and other products needed for the service have also been donated.

The laundromat joins services to welcome and assist the poor already in place at the location for more than 10 years.

In the next few months, they plan to also add a barber, free clothing, medical clinics, and the distribution of necessities to the Center.

The laundry service follows a string of special initiatives by Pope Francis to serve the homeless in Rome.

In 2015, Francis established showers, bathrooms and a barber shop inside the Vatican to serve the homeless population.

Later in the same year, he opened up a new homeless shelter for men, just around the corner form the Vatican in Via dei Penitenzieri, furnished by the Papal Office of Charities and donations, and run by sisters from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.  

With enough space to house 34 men, the shelter brought the Vatican’s total capacity for housing the homeless up to 84.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has also invited homeless men and women to the Vatican, whether to see the Sistine Chapel, to dine with him, or for special events, showing his continued commitment to put into practice his charge to the Church to go out to the “peripheries.”