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Pope in Colombia at Beatification Mass: 'Reconciliation is not an abstract word'

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 03:29
(Vatican Radio)  “Reconciliation is not an abstract word” Pope Francis told Colombians as he celebrated Mass in the city of Villavicencio , and he appealed to them to open a door to “every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict” because, he said, “when victims overcome the temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace”. The Pope’s words came during a Beatification Mass celebrated in the Colombian town which is seen as a symbolic model for reconciliation. Villavicencio,  at the heart of an area which was once besieged by rebels, overwhelmingly backed the President’s peace plan and has taken the step of welcoming back the FARC whose leaders have pleaded for forgiveness and launched a development project. The Mass comes on the second day of Francis’ visit to Colombia which is cantered on the theme “Reconciliation with God, among Colombians and with Nature.” And the two Catholic priests beatified during the ceremony – Bishop Jesus Jaramillo and Father Pedro Ramirez – are intimately identified with Colombia’s conflict and provide strong testimonies in a nation in desperate need of forgiveness and healing. Both of them, Pope Francis said, are “a sign of the expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness,” a sign of the closeness of the Gospel and of the Church to its people. Pope Francis’s call to Colombians to overcome what he called the “understandable” temptation of vengeance is key to the divided country’s reconstruction as is the inclusion of the many groups of victims of the conflict in the government’s plan for a peaceful future. That’s why some 112 different communities of indigenous people were present as were thousands of victims from all walks of life. The Pope’s beautiful homily included other key themes for reconciliation including the need to overcome chauvinistic attitudes towards women. Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, Francis said it is a powerful commentary of a world in which “psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident.” Overcoming that violence, he said, is also key to the sort of full reconciliation that recovery from  conflict requires. And perhaps, most poignant of all was his call to reconcile with a “weeping” environment. Villavicencio is the door to the Colombian Amazon rainforest, home to many of the displaced or threatened indigenous communities and to the nation’s rich and wonderful natural heritage. Quoting from his own encyclical “Laudato Sì” and from a Colombian songwriter he described the trees as weeping  witnesses to so many years of violence and said that  “the violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in water, in air, in all forms of life”.” Saying “yes” to reconciliation – Pope Francis concluded – means saying “yes” with Mary and singing with her the wonders of the Lord who wishes Colombia to be reconciled: “a promise made also to its descendents forever”. In Colombia with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia prays for victims of Mexico quake and Hurricane Irma

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 01:45
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said he is close to all those suffering the consequences of the devastating earthquake that has struck Mexico and that he is praying for them and for all those affected by Hurricane Irma . The Pope’s words of vicinity and concern came at the conclusion of a Beatification Mass on Friday in the Colombian town of Villavicencio during his five-day apostolic journey to Colombia. Decrying the fact that the powerful earthquake that rocked Mexico on Thursday night has caused death and destruction the Pope said he is spiritually close to “those who have lost their lives and to their families”. He went on to say that he is also following closely the crisis situation caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean region “as it leaves many victims and huge material damage in its wake, while causing thousands of people to be displaced.” “I am following the situation with my heart and I am praying for them” the Pope said and he asked those present at the Mass to join him in his intention. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia: celebrates Mass, beatifies 2 martyrs in Villavicencio: Full text

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 00:19
(Vatican Radio) “Mary is the first light who announces night’s end, and above all, the impending day”, Pope Francis said during Mass on Friday to celebrate the Nativity of Mary and the beatification of two martyred Colombian clerics in Villavicencio. Keeping to the theme of his visit to Colombia, that of ‘Reconciliation and Peace,’ the Holy Father reflected on how Mary transmitted God’s light. She reflected the rays of that light in her home which she shared with Joseph and Jesus, reflecting it also in her people, her country and that home which is common to all mankind: creation, he said. Referring to the genealogy of Jesus from the day's Gospel, he made a comparison with that of the people of Colombia whose genealogy also can be traced.  He said Colombia's is a genealogy full of stories, many of love and light; others of disagreement, insults, even of death. Speaking about the two Colombian martyrs whom he beatified during Mass, the Pope called Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, Bishop of Arauca, and the priest of Armero, Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, "a sign of an expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness". Please find below the official English translation of the Pope's prepared Homily: “To be reconciled in God, with Colombians and with Creation” Villavicencio Friday, 8 September 2017 “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, is the new dawn that proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you has been born the sun of justice, Christ our God” (cf. Antiphon for the Benedictus ).  The feast of the birth of Mary shines its light over us, just as the gentle light of dawn radiates above the vast Colombian plain, this beautiful landscape whose gateway is Villavicencio, and shines its light too upon the rich diversity of its indigenous peoples.    Mary is the first light who announces night’s end, and above all, the impending day.  Her birth helps us to understand the loving, tender, compassionate plan of love in which God reaches down and calls us to a wonderful covenant with him, that nothing and no one will be able to break. Mary knew how to transmit God’s light, and she reflected the rays of that light in her home which she shared with Joseph and Jesus, reflecting it also in her people, her country and that home which is common to all mankind: creation. In the Gospel, we have heard the genealogy of Jesus ( Mt 1:1-17), which is not a “simple list of names”, but rather a “living history”, the history of the people that God journeyed with; by making himself one of us, God wanted to announce that the history of the just and of sinners runs through his blood, that our salvation is not a sterile entity found in a laboratory, but rather something concrete, a life that moves forward.  This long list tells us that we are a small part of a vast history, and it helps us not to claim excessive importance for ourselves; it helps us elude the temptation of over-spiritualizing things; it helps us not withdraw from the concrete historical realities in which we live.  It also integrates in our history of salvation those pages which are the darkest and saddest, moments of desolation and abandonment comparable to exile. The mention of women – though none of those referred to in the genealogy has the category of the great women of the Old Testament – allows us a particular rapprochement: it is they, in the genealogy, who tell us that pagan blood runs through the veins of Jesus, and who recall the stories of scorn and subjugation.  In communities where we are still weighed down with patriarchal and chauvinistic customs, it is good to note that the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history. And within all this we see Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Mary with her generous yes permitted God to take charge of that history.  Joseph, the just man, did not allow his pride, passions or zeal to expel him from this light.  The narration lets us know, before Joseph is even aware, what has happened to Mary.  His decision, made before the angel helped him to understand what was happening around him, shows his human qualities.  The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity; and today, in this world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph is presented as a figure of the respectful and sensitive man.  Even though he does not understand the wider picture, he makes a decision favouring Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life.  In his hesitation as how best to act, God helped him by enlightening his judgment. The people of Colombia are God’s people; here too we can write genealogies full of stories, many of love and light; others of disagreement, insults, even of death… How many of you can tell of exile and grief!  How many women, in silence, have persevered alone, and how many good men have tried to put aside spite and resentment, hoping to bring together justice and kindness!   How can we best allow the light in?  What are the true paths of reconciliation?  Like Mary, by saying yes to the whole of history, not just to a part of it.  Like Joseph, by putting aside our passions and pride.  Like Jesus Christ, by taking hold of that history, assuming it, embracing it.  That is who you are, that is who Colombians are, that is where you find your identity.  God can do all this if we say yes to truth, to goodness, to reconciliation, if we fill our history of sin, violence and rejection with the light of the Gospel.  Reconciliation is not an abstract word; if it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance.  Reconciliation means opening a door to every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict.  When victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace.  What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so.  We need only one good person to have hope!  And each of us can be that person!  This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts.  This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices.  Recourse to reconciliation cannot merely serve to accommodate unjust situations.  Instead, as Saint John Paul II taught: “[Reconciliation] is rather a meeting between brothers who are disposed to overcome the temptation to egoism and to renounce the attempts of pseudo-justice.  It is the fruit of sentiments that are strong, noble and generous that lead to establishing a coexistence based on respect for each individual and on the values that are proper to each civil society” ( Letter to the Bishops of El Salvador , 6 August 1982).  Reconciliation, therefore, becomes substantive and is consolidated by the contribution of all; it enables us to build the future, and makes hope grow.  Every effort at peace without a sincere commitment to reconciliation is destined to fail. The Gospel text we have heard culminates in Jesus being called Emmanuel, God-with-us.  That is how the Gospel of Mathew both begins and ends: “I will be with you always, to the close of the age” ( Mt 28:20).  This promise is fulfilled also in Colombia: Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, Bishop of Arauca, and the martyred priest of Armero, Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, are a sign of this, an expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness. In these beautiful surroundings, it is up to us to say yes to reconciliation; may our yes also include the natural environment.  It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and to subjugate.  One of your countrymen sings this in a beautiful way: “The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence.  The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth” (Juanes, Minas Piedras ).  “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” ( Laudato Si’ , 2).  We need to say yes with Mary, and sing with her “the wonders of the Lord”, for as he has promised to our fathers, he helps all nations and peoples, he helps Colombia which today wishes to be reconciled; it is a promise made also to its descendants forever. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to beatify Fr. Ramirez in Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:37
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ‎will declare Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez Ramos ‎ of Colombia “Blessed”, which is a step away from final sainthood.  Both were martyred for their faith in the last century.  The Pope will beatify them at a morning Mass on Friday in Villavicencio, some 94 kms southeast of the Colombian capital Bogota.   On July, Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Fr. Ramirez, killed during  the outbreak of Colombia’s civil war known as “La Violencia”.  Refused to abandon his people Born in La Plata on Oct. 23m 1899, Fr. Ramirez was ordained to priesthood in 1931.  He served as the pastor of Chaparral then of Cunday and later of El Fresno before opting for Armero , where he was killed on April 10, 1948.   When violence between the liberals and conservatives erupted, families in Armero offered to smuggle him out of the area to safety but he refused to abandon his people.  The rebels burst into his church and dragged him to the town square where they lynched and mutilated him.  Trinitarian Father Antonio Doménico Sáez Albéniz, the postulator or promoter of the cause of beatification and canonization of Fr. Ramirez, told Vatican Radio that he was a very faithful priest given much to prayer, especially to the Eucharist, and quite demanding in questions of morality of the people.  As he was about to be taken to the town square by the rebels, he wrote down his last declaration, thanking the bishop for having posted him in Armero and expressing his gratitude to the Church.  He said he was ready to shed his blood for his people .  Fr. Saez said Fr. Ramirez is a martyr because he died for his faith and for justice .  With several Protestant sects and Communists active there, Armero was not a particularly religious town.  Several priests assigned to Armero before him had given up and gone away but Fr. Ramirez volunteered to go there.  Faithful to the last The postulator said that with the eruption of violence in 1948 in Bogota, Armero also was involved, with Fr. Saez was accused of everything.  Some women persuaded him to go into hiding, but the priest said he had “consulted his Lord” who asked him to say on.  While being dragged to the square amidst insults, Fr. Ramirez forgave those about to kill him, Fr. Saez said.   The messge of Fr. Ramirez is one of fidelity , which he expressed in the profound awareness of his priesthood, Fr. Saez added.   (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to beatify Bishop Jaramillo in Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:36
(Vatican Radio)  One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ Sept. 6-11 Apostolic visit to Colombia, is to offer the nation  emerging from decades of armed conflict, two martyrs to imitate in their task of peace, reconciliation and nation building.  At a morning Mass on Friday in Villavicencio, some 94 kms southeast of the capital Bogota, Pope Francis will declare Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca and Father Pedro María Ramírez Ramos Blessed, which is a step away from final sainthood.  Both were killed for their faith in the last century. Critic of rights abuses A strong critic of the armed rebel group, the National Liberation Army ( ELN ), Bishop Jaramillo, a member of the Xaverian Missionaries of Yarumal, spoke out against the group’s atrocities in the conflict and a drug war .  Opting to be the voice of the poor and the marginalized, he came to be known as a zealous and caring pastor, fighting against social injustice.  The ELN, that on Monday agreed to a temporary ceasefire with the Colombian government, killed Bishop Jaramillo  on Oct. 2, 1989, after kidnapping him. Zealous pastor Redemptorist priest, Fr. Antonio Marrazzo, the postulato r or promoter of the beatification and canonization of Bishop Jaramillo, spoke to Vatican Radio about his martyrdom.  He said the 73-year old bishop preached the Gospel not just by word but more by promoting the human person .  He joined the Xaverians who were reaching out to Colombia’s remote and abandoned regions inhabited by peasants and the natives .  He set up institutions for their uplift and also started a hospital for them. Fr. Marazzo noted that Bishop Jaramillo lived at a time when the armed guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were born.  The ELN, active in the area of the bishop, criticized and calumniated him and his apostolate.  The group also falsely denounced the bishop for misappropriating the salaries of teachers from an institution set by the government in collaboration with the bishops’ conference.  Serene in his last moments The postulator said that Bishop Jaramillo was killed for his faith because he was a stumbling block to the ELN ideology.  The bishop was on a parish visit along with two priests, when they were abducted by the rebels.  The bishop asked that the priests be allowed to go.  One of the priests came back to the spot where they were abducted and found the tortured body of Bishop Jaramillo with several bullet wounds.  Fr. Marazzo noted that Bishop Jaramillo is well known to Colombians, including young people, particularly for his integrity of life and total fidelity to Christ.  From the two priests who were abducted by the rebels, Fr. Marazzo said, they came to know that the bishop was serene in his last moments, knowing he was doing God’s will.   The fact that Pope Francis is himself beatifying Bishop Jaramillo, is not just a sign of hope but also an invitation and an exhortation to the people to forge ahead in promoting the human person in his/her integrity.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Colombians seeking peace and reconciliation

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:30
(Vatican Radio) Colombians are looking not just for peace – a word which can have political connotations – but also for reconciliation as Pope Francis visits the country this week. That was the message of Father Mauricio Urbina , a priest of the Archdiocese of Bogotà, an assistant to Cardinal Rubén Salazar and pastor of a parish in the nation’s capital. “Colombia has been a country that has suffered from different… fractures, we can say, along its history, so reconciliation inside the families, and even inside the same church, is very important for us, and I would hope would be the main topic,” said Fr Urbina, speaking with Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni. EVANGELIZATION Asked about the Pope’s message for priests and religious, which the Holy Father will give on Saturday in the city of Medellín, Fr Urbina said he thought the Church in Colombia has been heading in the direction already pointed out by Pope Francis: Going out of the sacristies, going out of “our own places, our own houses, of our own, also, mental ideas” to evangelize the many Colombians who are waiting for the Gospel. He said he would “receive and hope for” a word in that sense.” RECONCILIATION With the world’s attention focused on Colombia, Fr Urbina said he hoped Colombia would be seen as a “place where we can reconcile [with] each other.” Referring to the theme of the Apostolic Visit – “Let us take the first step” – he emphasized that the first step is “toward Christ.” Colombians, he said, “are taking the first step, not towards violence, not towards division, but towards unity, towards making a new reality out of this country that has suffered so much for so many years.” Father Urbina noted the importance of hearing the voices of the victims of decades old conflict, especially during a meeting with the Holy Father at Villavicencio on Friday. He said it is important to hear the voices of the victims themselves, but also to have their voices heard through the Pope. It is important, he said, to see how Colombians have suffered – but also to see how they are willing to be reconciled to one another. Listen to the full interview of Father Mauricio Urbina with Linda Bordoni: (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope: “vulnerability is the essence of man”

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 08:43
(Vatican Radio) Concluding a long day in Bogotá, which began with an official welcome ceremony and ended with the celebration of Holy Mass in the presence of over one million people, Pope Francis was given a goodnight and goodbye display of fireworks from the city that sees him depart for Villavicencio Friday on day 3 of his apostolic journey to Colombia. And before turning in for the night at the Apostolic nunciature, the Pope was greeted by a crowd of singing faithful and a group of children and teenagers with mental disabilities waiting for a word and the comforting touch of the man who never fails to uphold their rights and their human dignity. And sure enough, Pope Francis – who must have been very tired – did not hasten by, but took time to look each of them in the eyes, hugging them fiercely to his chest. “Vulnerability” a visibly moved Pope said “is the essence of the human person”. “We are all vulnerable, he continued, except for the Lord himself”. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope denounces thick darkness that threatens Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 07:47
(Vatican Radio) Amongst the over one million faithful attending the Papal Mass in Bogotá on Thursday there were thousands of victims of Colombia’s conflict and groups of Venezuelan refugees on the run from violence and misery in their own country. The former in search of the strength needed to forgive, the latter hoping for consolation and support, support they have been receiving from the Churches on the border between the two countries, and from Venezuelan and Colombian Bishops who are setting up an emergency pastoral programme in response to the situation. In the city's Simon Bolivar park, the deeply religious faithful listened in sombre silence as Pope Francis denounced the “thick darkness'' that sparks violence and takes human lives in Colombia and elsewhere. He said such darkness is a “thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority, the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims.'' The Pope has described himself as a “pilgrim of peace” in Colombia which is trying to take the first steps of a difficult post-conflict process. A process set off by the signing of a peace deal between the government and FARC rebels who have disarmed and converted into a political party, and just last week the announcement of a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN rebel group. Essential steps on the road to peace for sure, but true peace does not yet reign in Colombia where ongoing violence by paramilitary groups and a fistful of smaller rebel militias continues to displace communities and create power vacuums in territories now being taken over by paramilitaries and drug traffickers. So, well aware of his flock’s deep need for words of enlightenment indicating the direction and beauty of human existence, Pope Francis reminded the faithful to trust in the Lord “whose word – he said - is fruitful even where the hostility of human darkness” destroys and plunders. “We need to call out to one another, to signal each other” he said, to see each other again as “brothers and sisters, companions on the way, partners in this common cause which is the homeland”. The Pope concluded his homily quoting the theme of this intense day of faith, support, comfort and commitment in Bogotà: leave selfishness, fears and paralysis behind – he said - and become “artisans of peace, promoters of life”. In Bogotà with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Bogota: Full text‎

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 06:44
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated his first public Mass on Colombian soil on Thursday evening at the Simon Bolivar Park ‎in Bogota, encouraging Colombians‎ to keep trusting in Christ in the ‎difficult journey towards peace and reconciliation. He pointed to the figure of St. Peter in the day’s Gospel who heeded to Christ’s ‎exhortation to put out into the deep and came up with a wonderful catch. Noting that, like anywhere else, in Colombia too there is darkness such as injustice, ‎social inequality, corruption, selfishness, disrespect for human life, vengeance and hatred. The Holy Father said, “Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared ‎risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him…” Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's prepared homily: Homily: “Artisans of Peace, Promoters of Life” Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 The Gospel writer tells us that the calling of the first disciples happened along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, where the people came together to hear a voice capable of guiding them and illuminating them; it was also the place where fishermen used to bring their tiring days to an end, where they looked for sustenance in order to live a dignified and happy life, one not lacking the basic necessities.  It is the only time in the whole Gospel of Luke that Jesus preaches near the Sea of Galilee.  On the open sea their hopes for a bountiful catch are turned into frustration with what seem to be pointless and wasted efforts.  According to an ancient Christian interpretation, the sea also represents the vastness where all peoples live; because of its turmoil and darkness, it evokes everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it. We use similar expressions to define crowds: a human tide, a sea of people.  That day, Jesus had the sea behind him, and in front of him a crowd that followed him because they knew how deeply moved he was by human suffering… and they knew of his impartial, profound, and true words.  Everyone came to hear him; the word of Jesus has something special that leaves no one indifferent; his word has the power to convert hearts, to change plans and projects.  It is a word demonstrated by action, not academic findings, cold agreements, removed from people’s pain; for his is a word valid both for the safety of the shore and the fragility of the sea. This beloved city, Bogotá, and this beautiful country, Colombia, convey many of the human scenarios presented by the Gospel.  Here too the crowds come together, longing for a word of life to englighten all their efforts, and to indicate the direction and beauty of human existence.  These crowds of men and women, the young and the elderly, dwell in a land of unimaginable fertility, which could provide for everyone.  But here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life: the darkness of injustice and social inequality; the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all; the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims.  Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness with the command he gives to Peter in the boat: “Put out into the deep sea” (Lk 5:4).  We can get tangled up in endless discussions, adding up failed attempts and making a list of all the efforts that have ended in nothing; just like Peter, we know what it means to work without success.  This nation knows this all too well, given that in a period of six years, from its beginning, there were sixteen presidents, and the country paid dearly for its divisions (the “foolish homeland”); the Church in Colombia knows also about unsuccessful and fruitless pastoral work…, but, like Peter, we too are able to trust the Master, whose word is fruitful even where the hostility of human darkness renders so many attempts and efforts fruitless.  Peter is the man who resolutely accepts Jesus’ invitation, to leave everything and follow him, to become a new fisherman, whose mission is to bring to his brothers the Kingdom of God, where life is made full and happy. But the command to cast out the nets is not directed only to Simon Peter; he was directed to put out into the deep, like those in your homeland who first recognized what is most compelling, like those who took the initiative for peace, for life.  Casting out the nets involves responsibility.  In Bogotá and in Colombia a vast community journeys forwards, called to conversion in a healthy net that gathers everyone into unity, working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother’s womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization.  Great multitudes of people in Bogotá and in Colombia can also become truly vibrant, just and fraternal communities, if they hear and welcome the Word of God.  From these evangelized multitudes will arise many men and women transformed into disciples, who with a truly free heart, follow Jesus; men and women capable of loving life in all its phases, of respecting and promoting it. We need to call out to one another, to signal each other, like fishermen, to see each other again as brothers and sisters, companions on the way, partners in this common cause which is the homeland.  Bogotá and Colombia are at the same time the shore, the lake, the open sea, the city through which Jesus has passed and passes, to offer his presence and his fruitful word, to call out of  darkness and bring us to light and to life.  He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms;  to go into the boat of every family, that sanctuary of life; to make space for the common good above any selfish or personal interests; to carry the most fragile and promote their rights. Peter experiences his smallness, the immensity of the word and the power of Jesus; Peter knows his weakness, his ups and downs…, as we all know our own, as is known in the history of violence and division of your people, a history which has not always found us sharing the boat, the storm, the misfortunes.  But in the same way as Simon, Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him; to give up our fears which do not come from God, which paralyze us and prevent us becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope urges CELAM to empower youth, laity and women

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 06:27
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ’ eagerly awaited discourse to the leaders of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM) provided a rich and colourful canvas of ideas and proposals for an integral response to the many challenges of the continent in this time of change. Francis has deep-rooted ties to CELAM, an institution founded in the 1950s and that has produced a series of key documents for the Church in the continent including the pivotal “Aparecida” document authored by the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. That Aparecida document, based on the belief that the Church needs to “rid itself from all expired structures that do not favour the transmission of the faith” is widely seen as a sort of a manifesto for Pope Francis’ pontificate, and surfaces again and again in his vision of the role of the Church today. His speech to CELAM leaders, on this special Thursday in Bogotá, confirmed Bergoglio’s firm conviction that the only way for them to take forward their continental mission is by empowering young people, women and lay people, expanding their role and trusting them to help the Church rise to the many challenges it faces. The Pope reaffirmed his trust in CELAM and reminded those present that its mission is to place Jesus’ message of salvation at the very heart of the Church “making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of its structures, the results of its labours, the fruitfulness of its ministers, and the joy they awaken.” And echoing words he has already pronounced in more than one occasion since his arrival in Colombia, “Without joy, he said, we attract no one.” He spoke of the need for closeness and encounter which, he said, are the means used by God “who in Christ always draws near to meet us” and said that “If we do not set out with him on our mission, we quickly become lost and risk confusing our vain needs with his cause.” He underlined the fact that “mission with Jesus in Latin America today” means being concrete and warned his brother bishops against being paralyzed in “air-conditioned offices” urging them to “speak to men and women in their concrete situations” in “one-on-one contact”. Francis also addressed CELAM’s role in encouraging intra-continental unity both in the Church and wider society and praised its work to build bridges, tear down walls, integrate diversity and promote encounter and dialogue. “No lasting construction in Latin America can do without this essential foundation” he said. Francis’ long and complex discourse ended with a call to the Church in Latin America to put trust and hope in three elements: its young people, women, and laity. He urged CELAM to invest time and resources in training young people and in empowering lay Catholics whom he described as protagonists in the Church. And he had strong words for the role of women without whom – he said - the Church will lose its power “to be continually reborn,” and that “if we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.” And with yet another reference to Aparecida’s core message, he concluded saying that Latin America’s deepest problems will not be resolved by “textbook answers” and “talk show platitudes” but through “that Christian simplicity hidden to the powerful, yet revealed to the lowly.”     (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis addresses the Conference of Latin American Bishops

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 04:29
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis appreciated the efforts of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) of making their conference a home at the service of communion and the mission of the Church in Latin America. The Pope’s words came on Thursday, when he met the Executive Committee of CELAM in the Apostolic Nunciature after his meeting with the Bishops of Bogota. He recalled his last meeting with them four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro and the mention he made then of the  pastoral legacy of Aparecida which he said is  a treasure yet to be fully exploited. The renewed awareness born of an encounter with the living Christ he said, requires that his disciples foster their relationship with him; otherwise, the face of the Lord is obscured, the mission is weakened, pastoral conversion falters. He called them to carry out their mission by one to one contact and to make a Church able to be a sacrament of unity and hope. He entrusted his brother bishops of CELAM, the local Churches that they represent, and all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the protection of Our Lady under the titles of Guadalupe and Aparecida. Please find below the full text of the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech:  Meeting with the Executive Committee of CELAM Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 Dear Brothers,           I thank you for our meeting and for the warm words of welcome by the President of the Latin American Episcopal Council.  Were it not for the demands of my schedule, I would have liked to visit you at the CELAM offices.  I thank you for your thoughtfulness in meeting me here.           I appreciate your efforts to make this continental Episcopal Conference a home at the service of communion and the mission of the Church in Latin America, as well as a centre for fostering a sense of discipleship and missionary spirit.  Over these decades of service to communion, CELAM has also become a vital point of reference for the development of a deeper understanding of Latin American Catholicism .  I take this occasion to encourage your recent efforts to express this collegial concern through the Solidarity Fund of the Latin American Church .           Four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, I spoke to you about the pastoral legacy of Aparecida, the last synodal event of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean.  I stressed the continuing need to learn from its method, marked in essence by the participation of the local Churches and attuned to God’s pilgrim people as they seek his humble face revealed in the Virgin fished from the waters .  That method is also reflected in the continental mission , which is not meant to be a collection of programmes that fill agendas and waste precious energies.  Instead, it is meant to place the mission of Jesus at the heart of the Church, making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of her structures, the results of her labours, the fruitfulness of her ministers and the joy they awaken.  For without joy, we attract no one.           I went on to mention the ever-present temptations of making the Gospel an ideology, ecclesial functionalism and clericalism.  At stake is the salvation that Christ brings us, which has to touch the hearts of men and women by its power and appealing to their freedom, inviting them to a permanent exodus from themselves and their self-absorption, towards fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters.           When God speaks to us in Jesus, he does not nod vaguely to us as if we were strangers, or deliver an impersonal summons like a solicitor, or lay down rules to be followed like certain functionaries of the sacred.  God speaks with the unmistakable voice of the Father to his children; he respects the mystery of man because he formed us with his own hands and gave us a meaningful purpose.  Our great challenge as a Church is to speak to men and women about this closeness of God, who considers us his sons and daughters, even when we reject his fatherhood.  For him, we are always children to be encountered anew.           The Gospel, then, cannot be reduced to a programme at the service of a trendy gnosticism, a project of social improvement or the Church conceived as a comfortable bureaucracy, any more than she can be reduced to an organization run according to modern business models by a clerical caste.           The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples.  The Church is a Mystery (cf. Lumen Gentium , 5) and a People (cf. ibid., 9).  Better yet, in the Church the Mystery becomes present through God’s People.           Hence my insistence that missionary discipleship is a call from God for today’s busy and complicated world, a constant setting out with Jesus, in order to know how and where the Master lives.  When we set out with him, we come to know the will of the Father who is always waiting for us.  Only a Church which is Bride, Mother and Servant, one that has renounced the claim to control what is not her own work but God’s, can remain with Jesus, even when the only place he can lay his head is the cross.           Closeness and encounter are the means used by God, who in Christ always draws near to meet us.  The mystery of the Church is to be the sacrament of this divine intimacy and the perennial place of this encounter.  Hence, the need for the bishop to be close to God, for in God he finds the source of his freedom, his steadfastness as a pastor and his closeness to the holy people entrusted to his care.  In this closeness, the soul of the apostle learns how to make tangible God's passion for his children.           Aparecida is a treasure yet to be fully exploited.  I am certain that each of you has seen how its richness has taken root in the Churches you hold in your hearts.  Like the first disciples sent forth by Jesus on mission, we too can recount with enthusiasm all that we have accomplished (cf. Mk 6:30).           Nonetheless, we have to be attentive.  The essential things in life and in the Church are never written in stone, but remain a living legacy.  It is all too easy to turn them into memories and anniversaries to be celebrated: fifty years since Medellín, twenty since Ecclesia in America , ten since Aparecida!  Something more is required: by cherishing the richness of this patrimony ( pater/munus ) and allowing it to flourish, we exercise the munus of our episcopal paternity towards the Church in our continent.           As you well know, the renewed awareness born of an encounter with the living Christ requires that his disciples foster their relationship with him; otherwise, the face of the Lord is obscured, the mission is weakened, pastoral conversion falters.  To pray and to foster our relationship with him: these are the most essential and urgent activities to be carried out in our pastoral mission.           When the disciples returned excited by the mission they had carried out, Jesus said to them: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place” ( Mk 6:31).  How greatly we need to be alone with the Lord in order to encounter anew the heart of the Church’s mission in Latin America at the present time.  How greatly we need to be recollected, within and without!  Our crowded schedules, the fragmentation of reality, the rapid pace of our lives: all these things might make us lose our focus and end up in a vacuum.  Recovering unity is imperative.           Where do we find unity?  Always in Jesus.  What makes the mission last is not the generosity and enthusiasm that burn in the heart of the missionary, even though these are always necessary.  It is rather the companionship of Jesus in his Spirit.  If we do not we set out with him on our mission, we quickly become lost and risk confusing our vain needs with his cause.  If our reason for setting out is not Jesus, it becomes easy to grow discouraged by the fatigue of the journey, or the resistance we meet, by constantly changing scenarios or by the weariness brought on by subtle but persistent ploys of the enemy .           It is not part of the mission to yield to discouragement, once our initial enthusiasm has faded and the time comes when touching the flesh of Christ becomes very hard .  In situations like this, Jesus does not feed our fears.  We know very well that to him alone can we go, for he alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).  So we need to understand and appreciate more deeply the fact that he has chosen us.           Concretely, what does it mean to set out on mission with Jesus today, here in Latin America?  The word “concretely” is not a mere figure of speech: it goes to the very heart of the matter.  The Gospel is always concrete, and never an exercise in fruitless speculation.  We are well aware of the recurring temptation to get lost in the cavils of the doctors of the law , to wonder how far we can go without losing control over our own bailiwick or our petty portion of power.           We often hear it said that the Church is in a permanent state of mission .  Setting out with Jesus is the condition for this.  The Gospel speaks of Jesus who, proceeding from the Father, journeys with his disciples through the fields and the towns of Galilee.  His journeying is not meaningless.  As Jesus walks, he encounters people.  When he meets people, he draws near to them.  When he draws near to them, he talks to them.  When he talks to them, he touches them with his power.  When he touches them, he brings them healing and salvation.  His aim in constantly setting out is to lead the people he meets to the Father.  We must never stop reflecting on this.  The Church has to re-appropriate the verbs that the Word of God conjugates as he carries out his divine mission.  To go forth to meet without keeping a safe distance; to take rest without being idle; to touch others without fear.  It is a matter of working by day in the fields , where God’s people, entrusted to your care, live their lives.  We cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by our air-conditioned offices, our statistics and our strategies.  We have to speak to men and women in their concrete situations; we cannot avert our gaze from them.  The mission is carried out by one to one contact. A Church able to be a sacrament of unity           What lack of focus we see all around us!  I am referring not only to the squandering of our continent’s rich diversity, but also to a constant process of disintegration.  We need to be attentive lest we let ourselves fall into these traps.  The Church is not present in Latin America with her suitcases in hand, ready, like so many others over time, to abandon it after having plundered it.  Such people look with a sense of superiority and scorn on its mestizo face; they want to colonize its soul with the same failed and recycled visions of man and life; they repeat the same old recipes that kill the patient while lining the pockets of the doctors .  They ignore the deepest concerns present in the heart of its people, the visions and the myths that give strength in spite of frequent disappointments and failures.  They manipulate politics and betray hopes, leaving behind scorched land and a terrain ready for more of the same, albeit under a new guise.  Powerful figures and utopian dreams have promised magic solutions, instant answers, immediate effects.  The Church, without human pretensions, respects the varied face of the continent, which she sees not as an impediment but rather a perennial source of wealth.  She must continue working quietly to serve the true good of the men and women of Latin America.  She must work tirelessly to build bridges, to tear down walls, to integrate diversity, to promote the culture of encounter and dialogue, to teach forgiveness and reconciliation, the sense of justice, the rejection of violence.  No lasting construction in Latin America can do without this unseen yet essential foundation.           The Church appreciates like few others the deep-rooted shared wisdom that is the basis of every reality in Latin America.  She lives daily with that reserve of moral values on which the life of the continent rests.  I am sure that, even as I say this, you can put a name on this reality.  We must constantly be in dialogue with it. We cannot lose contact with this moral substratum, with this rich soil present in the heart of our people, wherein we see the subtle yet eloquent elements that make up its mestizo face – not merely indigenous, Hispanic, Portuguese or African, but mestizo : Latin American!           Guadalupe and Aparecida are programmatic signs of the divine creativity that has bought this about and that underlies the popular piety of our people, which is part of its anthropological uniqueness and a gift by which God wants our people to come to know him.  The most luminous pages of our Church’s history were written precisely when she knew how to be nourished by this richness and to speak to this hidden heart.  For it guards, like a spark beneath a coat of ashes, the sense of God and of his transcendence, a recognition of the sacredness of life, respect for creation, bonds of human solidarity, the sheer joy of living, the ability to find happiness without conditions.           To speak to this deepest soul, to speak to the most profound reality of Latin America, the Church must continually learn from Jesus.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus spoke only in parables (cf. Mk 4:34).  He used images that engaged those who heard his word and made them characters in his divine stories.  God’s holy and faithful people in Latin America understand no other way of speaking about him.  We are called to set out on mission not with cold and abstract concepts, but with images that keep multiplying and unfolding their power in human hearts, making them grain sown on good ground, yeast that makes the bread rise from the dough, and seed with the power to become a fruitful tree. A Church able to be a sacrament of hope           Many people decry a certain deficit of hope in today’s Latin America.  We cannot take part in their “moaning”, because we possess a hope from on high.  We know all too well that the Latin American heart has been taught by hope. As a Brazilian songwriter has said, “hope dances on the tightrope with an umbrella” (João Bosco, O Bêbado e a Equilibrista ).  Once you think hope is gone, it returns where you least expect it.  Our people have learned that no disappointment can crush it.  It follows Christ in his meekness, even under the scourge.  It knows how to rest and wait for the dawn, trusting in victory, because – deep down – it knows that it does not belong completely to this world.           The Church in these lands is, without a doubt and in a special way, a sacrament of hope.  Still, there is a need to watch over how that hope takes concrete shape.  The loftier it is, the more it needs to be seen on the faces of those who possess it.  In asking you to keep watch over the expression of hope, I would now like to speak of some of its traits that are already visible in the Latin American Church. In Latin America, hope has a young face           We often speak of young people and we often hear statistics about ours being the continent of the future.  Some point to supposed shortcomings and a lack of motivation on the part of the young, while others eye their value as potential consumers.  Others would enlist them in trafficking and violence.  Pay no attention to these caricatures of young people.  Look them in the eye and seek in them the courage of hope.  It is not true that they want to return to the past.  Make real room for them in your local Churches, invest time and resources in training them.  Offer them incisive and practical educational programmes, and demand of them, as fathers demand of their children, that they use their gifts well.  Teach them the joy born of living life to the full, and not superficially.  Do not be content with the palaver and the proposals found in pastoral plans that never get put into practice.           I purposely chose Panama, the isthmus of this continent, as the site of the 2019 World Youth Day, which will propose the example of the Virgin Mary, who speaks of herself as a servant and is completely open to all that is asked of her (cf. Lk 1:38).  I am certain that in all young people there is hidden an “isthmus”, that in the heart of every young person there is a small strip of land which can serve as a path leading them to a future that God alone knows and holds for them.  It is our task us to present the young with lofty ideals and to encourage them to stake their lives on God, in imitation of the openness shown by Our Lady. In Latin America, hope has a woman’s face           I need not dwell on the role of women on our continent and in our Church.  From their lips we learned the faith, and with their milk we took on the features of our mestizo soul and our immunity to despair.  I think of indigenous or black mothers, I think of mothers in our cities working three jobs, I think of elderly women who serve as catechists, and I think of consecrated woman and those who quietly go about doing so much good.  Without women, the Church of this continent would lose its power to be continually reborn.  It is women who keep patiently kindling the flame of faith.  We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote the ecclesial and social impact of all that they do.  They accompanied Jesus on his mission; they did not abandon him at the foot of the cross; they alone awaited for the night of death to give back the Lord of life; they flooded the world with his risen presence.  If we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.  Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism.  For they are on the front lines of the Latin American Church, in their setting out with Jesus, in their persevering amid the sufferings of their people, in their clinging to the hope that conquers death, and in their joyful way of proclaiming to the world that Christ is alive and risen. In Latin America, hope passes through the hearts, the minds and the arms of the laity           I would like to repeat something I recently said to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.  It is imperative to overcome the clericalism that treats the Christifideles laici as children and impoverishes the identity of ordained ministers.           Though much effort has been invested and some steps have been taken, the great challenges of the continent are still on the table.  They still await the quiet, responsible, competent, visionary, articulated and conscious growth of a Christian laity.  Men and women believers, who are prepared to contribute to the spread of an authentic human development, the strengthening of political and social democracy, the overturning of structures of endemic poverty and the creation of an inclusive prosperity based on lasting reforms capable of preserving the common good.  So too, the overcoming of inequality and the preservation of stability, the shaping of models of sustainable economic development that respect nature and the genuine future of mankind, which unfettered consumerism cannot ensure, and the rejection of violence and the defence of peace.           One more thing: in this sense, hope must always look at the world with the eyes of the poor and from the situation of the poor.  Hope is poor, like the grain of wheat that dies (cf. Jn 12:24), yet has the power to make God’s plans take root and spread.           Wealth, and the sense of self-sufficiency it brings, frequently blind us to both the reality of the desert and the oases hidden therein.  It offers textbook answers and repeats platitudes; it babbles about its own empty ideas and concerns, without even coming close to reality.  I am certain that in this difficult and confused, yet provisional moment that we are experiencing, we will find the solutions to the complex problems we face in that Christian simplicity hidden to the powerful yet revealed to the lowly.  The simplicity of straightforward faith in the risen Lord, the warmth of communion with him, fraternity, generosity, and the concrete solidarity that likewise wells up from our friendship with him.           I would like to sum up all of this in a phrase that I leave to you as a synthesis and reminder of this meeting.  If we want to serve   this Latin America of ours from CELAM, we have to do so with passion , a passion that nowadays is often lacking.  We need to put our heart into everything we do.  We need to have the passion of young lovers and of wise elders, a passion that turns ideas into viable utopias, a passion for the work of our hands, a passion that makes us constant pilgrims in our Churches.   May I say that we need to be like Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo, who was never really installed in his see: of the twenty-four years of his episcopacy, eighteen were passed visiting the towns of his diocese.  My brothers, please, I ask you for passion, the passion of evangelization.           I commend you, my brother bishops of CELAM, the local Churches that you represent, and all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the protection of Our Lady under the titles of Guadalupe and Aparecida.  I do so, in the serene certainty that God who spoke to this continent with the mestizo and black features of his Mother, will surely make his kindly light shine in the lives of all. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia tells young people to dare to dream big

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 03:12
(Vatican Radio) Calling himself a pilgrim of peace and hope Pope Francis urged some 22,000 young people  gathered in Bogotá’s Bolivar Square not be afraid of the future: “Dare to dream big, he said, I want to invite you to that great dream today”. And of course Pope Francis was asking them to make that dream of a peaceful future for Colombia come true. He’s been very clear that his presence here at this crucial moment in which all Colombians are called to overcome fear and division is a concrete sign of encouragement and support. Just minutes earlier he had told the Bishops to give their flock the courage “to take the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering”. As the government tries to push forward its programme for reconciliation and reconstruction, it has become increasingly clear that one of the major obstacles lies in the deep divisions that wound Colombian society. That’s why young people are so important in the process as they represent the future and are those who have the most to lose or to gain. “Do not let anyone rob you of joy”, the Pope said to them, “look after that joy which unites everyone” in the knowledge that the flame of Jesus’s love is sufficient to set the whole world ablaze.  “How could you not be capable of changing this society?” The Pope did not shy away from highlighting the fact that young Colombians have “endured difficult and dark moments and how contexts of death, pain and division can impact one so deeply “that they have left you half-dazed”. But he also lingered over the fact that for young people it is so easy to encounter one another: all you need is a good coffee, a good drink, a football game – he said – and you teach us that the culture of encounter is not in thinking, living or reacting to everyone in the same way, but in “knowing that beyond our differences we are all part of something greater that unites and transcends us; we are part of this wonderful country”.  And touching on another fundamental and thorny issue of the Colombian peace process, Francis said that youthfulness makes one capable of forgiving and leaving behind what has hurt us to look to the future without the burden of hatred. “Colombia – he said to the young people – needs you!" With Pope Francis in Bogotà, I'm Linda Bordoni     (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis in Colombia: Key points from speech to bishops

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 02:56
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ met on Thursday with Colombia’s bishops, encouraging them to provide practical guidance and spiritual leadership at this crucial moment of their nation’s history. Below are the key points from that speech, which you can read here : Gabriel Garcia Marquez , Colombia’s Nobel prize winning novelist, and, of course, the Bible, provided inspiration for the pope, as he explored the “complex reality of the Colombian Church” and urged the bishops to accompany people on the path of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Pope quotes ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ Like the pope, Garcia Marquez, who died three years ago, was strongly influenced by his grandmother. She told him stories that inspired him to write his iconic novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, described in a New York Times review as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." Pope urges bishops to combat fear Quoting from that book, Pope Francis talked about the distinct kind of moral courage that peace requires, unlike war, which follows “the basest instincts of our hearts”. He spoke of fear as “a poisoned root, a bitter fruit and a painful legacy of every conflict”. Pope: “Sacrament of the first step” To combat fear, he urged the Church leaders to be “guardians and sacrament of the first step”, reflecting the theme of this intense four day visit. He spoke of key Old Testament texts where we see God taking “the first step” towards us – in creation, in the Garden of Eden, in making Abraham the father of many nations, before finally sending his Son Jesus, as the definitive, irreversible step. Pope: Listen to diverse voices of Colombian Church As he’d challenged Colombia’s president to be more inclusive, so he challenged the country’s bishops to include the many different experiences and expressions of Church, especially its African roots and its Amazonian, indigenous wisdom and spirituality. Pope: Unique role of Church in reconciliation Recalling the visits of two of his predecessors, Pope Paul in 1968 and John Paul II in 1986, Pope Francis said he hadn’t come with a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather he reminded the bishops that they do have a unique role to play in preaching peace and reconciliation.   Pope: Preach the word of God in people’s hearts Just as Garcia Marquez spoke of “the tenacious advantage of life over death” which helped his characters survive all kinds of odds, so the pope urged Colombia’s bishops to place their trust in God’s love, finding the freedom and credibility to help people write a new chapter in their nation’s history. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis meets Colombia’s bishops: Full text ‎

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 01:30
(Vatican Radio)  “Colombia needs that watchfulness, proper to you as bishops, to sustain its courage ‎in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards ‎abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so ‎much suffering.” Pope Francis made the exhortation on Thursday evening to the bishops of Colombia, where he is on an Apostolic Visit on Sept. 6-11. In a lengthy discourse at the Cardinal’s Palace in Bogota, the Holy Father also exhorted the bishops on various issues of their pastoral duties, such as family and life, young people, priests, religious, vocations and the laity. Commenting on the theme of his apostolic visit - ‎“Let’s take the first step” – he urged them never to forget that “God is the Lord of the first step”,  which he said is a “compass” that will keep them “from going astray”. He particularly urged them to preach reconciliation to the hearts of men and women, leading them to be responsible for their brothers and sisters. Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech: Address: Meeting with the Colombian Bishops Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 Peace be with you This was the greeting of the Risen Lord to his little flock after he triumphed over death.  Let it be my own greeting to you at the beginning of my visit. Thank you for your words of welcome.  I am pleased that my first steps in this country have brought me to meet you, the Colombian bishops.  Through you, I embrace the whole Church in Colombia; I hold all your people in my heart, the heart of the Successor of Peter.  I am very grateful for your ministry as bishops, and I ask you to carry it out with renewed generosity.  I offer a particular greeting to the retired bishops, and I ask them, by their prayers and their discreet presence, to continue to sustain the Bride of Christ to whom they devoted themselves so generously. I have come to proclaim Christ, and to undertake a journey of peace and reconciliation in his name.  Christ is our peace!  He has reconciled us with God and with one another! I am convinced that Colombia has one remarkable feature: it has never been a goal fully attained, a destiny completely achieved, or a treasure totally possessed.  I think of the nation’s human riches, its vast natural resources, its culture, its luminous Christian synthesis, the heritage of its faith and the memory of its evangelizers.  I think of the irrepressible joy of its people, the unfailing smile of its youth, its characteristic fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and to his Church and, above all, its indomitable courage in resisting threats of death not merely proclaimed but often experienced at first hand.  All this recedes, hides itself, from those who come here as foreigners bent on domination, while offering itself freely to those who touch its heart with the meekness of a wayfarer.  Such is Colombia. For this reason, I have come to your Church as a wayfarer, a pilgrim.  I am your brother, desirous of sharing the risen Christ for whom no wall is impenetrable, no fear insurmountable, no disease incurable. I am not the first Pope to speak to you in your home.  Two of my great predecessors were your guests here.  Blessed Paul VI came immediately after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council to encourage the collegial realization of the mystery of the Church in Latin America, as did Saint John Paul II in his memorable Apostolic Visit of 1986.  The words of both are a lasting resource; the guidelines they set forth, and the marvellous synthesis that they proposed regarding your ministry as bishops, are a legacy to be treasured.  I wish that everything I say to you may be received in continuity with their teachings. Guardians and sacrament of the first step “Let’s take the first step”.  This is the theme of my visit and this is the first thing I would say to all of you.  You know very well that God is the Lord of the first step.  He constantly goes before us.  Sacred Scripture everywhere speaks of God as exiled from himself for love.   So it was when there was only darkness, chaos, and God, going forth from himself, brought all things into being (cf. Gen 1:2.4).  So it was when he walked in the Garden and saw the nakedness of his creatures (cf. Gen 3:8-9).  So it was when, as a pilgrim, he dwelt in the tent of Abraham, leaving him with the promise of an unexpected fertility (cf. Gen 18:1-10).  So it was when he appeared to Moses herding the goats of his father-in-law and opened new horizons before him (cf. Ex 3:1-12).  So it was when he refused to turn away from his beloved Jerusalem, even when she prostituted herself in the byways of infidelity (cf. Ez 16:15).  So it was when he migrated with his glory towards his people exiled in slavery (cf. Ez 10:18-19). Then, in the fullness of time, God chose to reveal the true name of the first step, his first step.  That name is Jesus, and that step is irreversible.  It is born of the freedom of a love that precedes all else.  For the Son is himself the living expression of that love.  Those who acknowledge and accept him receive the freedom always to take, in him, that first step.  They have no fear of getting lost if they step out of themselves, for they have the down payment of the love coming from God’s first step, a compass that keeps them from going astray. Preserve, then, with holy fear and reverence, that first step which God has taken towards yourselves and, through your ministry, towards the people that he has entrusted to your care.  Realize that you are a living sacrament of that divine freedom which is unafraid to go forth from itself out of love, that has no fear of being impoverished by surrendering itself and needs no strength other than that of love. God goes before us.  We are only branches, not the vine.  So do not silence the voice of the One who has called you, or delude yourselves into thinking that the success of the mission entrusted to you depends on your own meagre virtues or the benevolence of the powers that be.  Instead, pray fervently when you have so little to give, so that you will be granted something to offer to those who are close to your hearts as pastors.  In the life of a bishop, prayer is the vital sap that passes through the vine, without which the branches wither and bear no fruit.  So keep wrestling with God, even more so in the night of his absence, until he gives you his blessing (cf. Gen 32:25-27).  The wounds of that important daily wrestling in prayer will be for you a source of healing.  You will be healed by God, so that you can in turn bring healing to others. Show clearly that you are a sacrament of God’s first step Indeed, showing clearly that you are sacraments of God’s first step will demand a constant interior exodus.  “There is no mightier invitation to love than to anticipate in loving” (Saint Augustine, De catechizandis rudibus, I, 4.7, 26: PL 40).  Consequently, every area of your episcopal ministry should be marked by the freedom to take the first step. The premise for the exercise of the apostolic ministry is a readiness to draw close to Jesus, leaving behind all that we were, in order to become something we were not (Saint Augustine, In. Psal.,121, 12: PL 36). I urge you to be vigilant not only as individuals but as a collegial body, ever docile to the Holy Spirit, with regard to this constant point of departure.  Where it is lacking, the features of the Master fade from the faces of his disciples, the mission is blocked and there is a weakening of that pastoral conversion which is nothing other than a renewed impulse to preach the Gospel of joy today, tomorrow and the day following (cf. Lk 13:33).  That same concern filled the heart of Jesus, leaving him without a place to lay his head, intent only on carrying out to the end the Father’s will (cf. Lk 9:58.62).  What other future do we have?  To what other dignity can we aspire? Do not use the yardstick of those who would have you be mere functionaries, bowing to the dictatorship of the present.  Instead, keep your gaze fixed on the eternity of the One who chose you, ever ready to accept his own decisive judgment. While acknowledging the complex reality of the Colombian Church, it is important to preserve the uniqueness of its varied and legitimate strengths, its pastoral sensitivities, its regional peculiarities, its historical memories and its wealth of distinct ecclesial experiences.  Pentecost means that everyone ought to be able to hear the message in his or her own language.  So continue to seek communion among yourselves.  Never tire of building it through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the plague.  Make every effort to take the first step, trying to understand each other’s way of thinking.  Allow yourselves to be enriched by what others can offer you and build a Church that can offer this country an eloquent witness of the progress that can be made when things are not left in the hands of a small group.  The role of the Ecclesiastical Provinces in relation to the Gospel message is fundamental, for the voices that proclaim that message are diverse and concordant. So do not rest content with a watered-down compromise that leaves the minority quietly impotent while dampening those hopes that should be courageously entrusted to God’s power rather than to our own weak efforts. Show particular sensitivity towards the Afro-Colombian roots of your people, which have contributed so greatly to shaping the face of this land. Touching the flesh of Christ’s body I would ask you not to be afraid to touch the wounded flesh of your own history and that of your people.  Do so with humility, without the vain pretension of self-serving activism, and with a heart undivided, free of compromise and servility. God alone is Lord; since we are his shepherds, our hearts must not be subservient to any other cause.           Colombia needs that watchfulness, proper to you as bishops, to sustain its courage in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering.  That watchfulness is needed for renouncing the easy yet irreversible path of corruption and for patiently persevering in the construction of a res publica capable of combatting poverty and inequality.           This is an arduous but necessary task; the path is steep and the solutions are not easy to find.  From the height of God, which is the cross of his Son, you will receive strength; with the kindly gaze of the Risen Lord, you will make your way forward; attentive to the voice of the Bridegroom whispering in your hearts, you will find the criteria to discern anew, at every moment of uncertainty, the right road to take.           One of your distinguished writers said of a certain fictional character of his that, “He did not realize that it is easier to begin a war than to end one” (Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad, Chapter 9).  All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of moral courage.  War follows the basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves.  The same author then went on to say: “He did not understand that many words were needed to explain what war was like, if one alone was enough: fear” (ibid., Chapter 15).  I need not speak to you about such fear, a poisoned root, a bitter fruit and a painful legacy of every conflict.  I would only encourage you not to stop believing that there is another way.  Know that you have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear; the Spirit himself bears witness that you are children, destined for an inheritance of glorious freedom (cf. Rom  8:15-16).           With your own eyes you see, and you are aware as are few others, how marred is the face of this country.  You are guardians of the basic parts that make the nation one despite all its wounds.  For this very reason, Colombia has need of you, so that it can show its true face, filled with hope despite its imperfections.  So that it can engage in mutual forgiveness despite wounds not yet completely healed.  So that it can believe that another path can be taken, even when force of habit causes the same mistakes to be constantly repeated.  So that the courage can be found to overcome everything that generates misery in the midst of so many treasures.           I encourage you, then, to strive to make your Churches wombs of light, capable of giving birth, even amid great poverty, to the new children that this land needs.  Find shelter in the humility of your people, and recognize their hidden resources of humanity and faith.  Listen to how greatly their ravaged humanity yearns for the dignity that only the Risen Lord can give.  Do not be afraid to abandon your apparent certitudes to seek the true glory of God, which is the living man. The word of reconciliation           Many people can help with the challenges facing this nation, but your mission is unique.  You are not mechanics or politicians, but pastors.  Christ is the word of reconciliation written on your hearts.  You have the power to preach that word not only in pulpits, in ecclesial documents or newspaper articles, but also in the hearts of individual men and women.  You have the power to proclaim it in the inner sanctum of their consciences, where they hope to hear the heavenly voice that proclaims: “Peace to those whom God loves” (Lk 2:14).  You must speak that word with the frail, lowly yet invincible resource of God’s mercy, which is capable of averting the pride and cynicism of selfish hearts.           The Church seeks only the freedom to speak that word.  She has no need for alliances with this or that party, but only the freedom to speak to the heart of every man and woman.  There, they are free to face their anxieties; there, they can find the strength to change the course of their lives.           The human heart, so often misled, wants to see life as a vast warehouse for depositing everything it accumulates. For this very reason, the question needs to be put: What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, if his soul remains empty? (cf. Mt 16:26).           From your lips as legitimate shepherds of Christ, Colombia has a right to be challenged by the truth of God, who never ceases to ask: “Where is your brother?” (cf. Gen 4:9).  That question may not be silenced, even if those who hear it can do no more than lower their gaze in embarrassment and stammer in shame that they sold him, perhaps for the price of a fix of narcotics or for some misguided notion of reasons of state, or even for the false belief that the end justifies the means.           I ask you to keep your gaze ever fixed on concrete men and women.  Do not talk about “man”, but about human persons, loved by God and composed of flesh and bones, history, faith, feelings, disappointments, frustrations, sorrows and hurts.  You will see that this concrete approach will unmask cold statistics, twisted calculations, blind strategies and falsified data, and remind you that “only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). A Church on mission           While acknowledging the generous pastoral work that you continue to carry out, let me now share with you some of my heartfelt concerns as a Pastor who wants to encourage you to be more and more a Church on mission.  My predecessors have already insisted on a number of these challenges: the family and life, young people, priests, vocations, laity and formation.  Despite the enormous efforts that have been made, in recent decades it has become perhaps even harder to find effective ways to express Church’s maternity in begetting, nourishing and accompanying her children.           I think of Colombia’s families, of the defence of life from the maternal womb to its natural conclusion, of the scourge of violence and alcoholism that often affect entire households, of the weakening of the marriage bond and the absence of fathers, with the tragic effects of insecurity and a sense of abandonment.  I think of young people threatened by spiritual emptiness and seeking to escape through drug use, frivolous lifestyles and a rebellious spirit.  I think of your many generous priests and the challenge of supporting them in their daily decision to remain faithful to Christ and the Church, while some few continue to propose the easy way out, avoiding genuine commitment and remaining isolated and self-centred.  I think of the lay faithful throughout your local Churches who continue to gather together in response to the call of God, who is communion, even as many people are proclaiming the new dogma of selfishness and the death of solidarity.  I think of the immense efforts made by so many people to grow in faith, making it a radiant light for their hearts and a lamp to guide the first step.           I offer you no recipes, much less do I intend to leave you a list of things to do.  Still, I would ask you, as you carry out in communion your demanding mission as the bishops of Colombia, to maintain your serenity.  Although you know very well that, during the night, the evil one continues to sow weeds, imitate the patience of the Lord of the harvest and trust in the good quality of his grain.  Learn from his patience and generosity.  He takes his time, because his loving gaze sees far into the distance.  If love grows weak, the heart becomes impatient, anxious to be busy about many things, hounded by the fear of failure.  Believe above all in the smallness of God’s seeds.  Trust in the power hidden in his yeast.  Let your hearts be drawn to the great beauty that leads us to sell everything we have, in order to possess that divine treasure.           Indeed, what more powerful gift can you offer to the Colombian family than the quiet strength of the Gospel of love, that generous love which unites a man and a woman, and makes them an image of Christ’s union with the Church, givers and guardians of life?  Families need to know that in Christ they can once more become a luxuriant tree capable of providing shade and bearing fruit in every season, sheltering nests of life in its branches.  Nowadays so many people glorify trees that offer no shade, trees that bear no fruit, branches bare of nests.  May your own starting point be a joyful witness to the fact that happiness is to be found elsewhere.           What can you offer to young people?  They love to feel loved; they distrust those who write them off; they look for integrity and they want to be involved.  Accept them with the heart of Christ and make room for them in the life of your Churches.  Do not undersell their hopes and expectations.  Be fearless in clearly and calmly reminding everyone that a society under the spell of drugs suffers a moral metastasis that peddles hellfire, sows rampant corruption and creates fiscal paradises.           What can you give to your priests?  The first gift is to be fathers to them, assuring them that the hand that begot and anointed them continues to be part of their lives.  In this digital age, it is not hard for us to reach our priests instantly.  Yet the paternal heart of a bishop cannot be content with an occasional, impersonal and formal communication with his priests.  A bishop has to be concerned about where and how his priests are living.  Are they truly living as Jesus’ disciples?  Or have they found other forms of security, like financial stability, moral ambiguity, a double life, or the myopic illusion of careerism?  Priests have a vital and urgent need for the physical and affective closeness of their bishop.  They need to know that they have a father.           Priests frequently shoulder the burden of the Church’s daily activity.  They are in the front lines, continually surrounded by persons with difficulties who look to them for pastoral assistance.  People approach them and appeal to their hearts.  Priests have to feed the crowds, but God’s food is never something to be merely handed out.  On the contrary, it can only come from our own poverty, which encounters God’s bounty.  To dismiss the crowds and to feed oneself on the little that one can unduly appropriate is a constant temptation (cf. Lk 9:13).           So be vigilant for the spiritual grounding of your priests.  Keep leading them to that Caesarea Philippi where each of them, from his own Jordan experience, can hear Jesus ask once more: Who do you say that I am?  The reason for the gradual decay that often leads to the death of discipleship is always to be found in a heart no longer able to answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (cf. Mt 16:13-16).  The result is seen in a loss of the courage to give freely of oneself, in interior confusion, and in the weariness of a heart no longer capable of accompanying the Lord on his way to Jerusalem.           Show particular concern for the ongoing formation of your priests, from the first moment they hear God’s call in their hearts.  The recently published Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis is a valuable resource whose implementation will help the Church in Colombia in her efforts to respond to the gift of God, who never ceases to call so many of her sons to the priesthood.           I ask you also to show concern for the lives of consecrated men and women. They represent an evangelical rebuke to worldliness.  They are called to purify every residue of worldly values in the fire of the Beatitudes lived sine glossa and in total self-abnegation for the service of others.  Do not look upon them as “useful resources” for the works of the apostolate, but hear in them the Bride’s cry of consecrated love: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).           Be concerned too for the formation of your laity, who are responsible not only for the strength of their faith communities, but in great part for the Church’s presence in the area of cultural, political and economic life.  Formation in the Church involves coming into contact with the living faith of the ecclesial community and appropriating the treasure of experiences and responses that the Holy Spirit awakens, for he is the one who teaches all things (cf. Jn 14:26).           I would now turn my thoughts to the challenges facing the Church in Amazonia, a region of which you are rightly proud, because it is an essential part of the remarkable biodiversity of this country.  Amazonia is for all of us a decisive test whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit.  I think particularly of the profound wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, and I ask myself if we are still capable of learning from them the sacredness of life, respect for nature, and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring fulfilment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions.           For this reason, I encourage you not to abandon the Church in Amazonia to itself.  Creating an “Amazonian face” for the pilgrim Church in this land is a challenge for all of you; and it calls for an increasingly conscious missionary support on the part of all the dioceses and the entire clergy of the nation.  I am told that in some native Amazon languages the idea of “friend” is translated by the words, “my other arm”.  May you be the other arm of Amazonia.  Colombia cannot amputate that arm without disfiguring its face and its soul. Dear brothers:           Let us now turn in spirit to Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá, whose image you were thoughtful enough to bring from her Shrine to the magnificent Cathedral of this city, so that I too might venerate her.           As you well know, Colombia cannot achieve that true renewal to which she aspires, unless it is granted from on high.  Let us ask this of the Lord through the Blessed Virgin.           Just as in Chiquinquirá God renewed the splendour of the countenance of his Mother, may he continue to shine his heavenly light on the face of this entire country and accompany the Church in Colombia with his gracious blessings. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis greets and blesses the faithful of Bogota

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 00:58
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis encouraged the faithful of Bogota to entrust themselves to the Lord, who is the only one who sustains us and inspires us to contribute to reconciliation and peace. On the first day of his pastoral visit to Colombia, Pope Francis greeted the faithful from the balcony of the Cardinal’s Palace in Bogota after meeting the Country’s authorities.  To the people who are trying to overcome the internal conflict of more than five decades and want to achieve reconciliation the Pope said, “I enter this house of Colombia, saying to you: Peace be with you!”  Pope Francis’ particular focus was on the many young people present there and he called on them to keep joy alive which he said is a sign of a young heart, of a heart that has  encountered the Lord. Please find below the official English translation of the Pope's prepared greeting:    Greeting to the Colombian People Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 Dear Brothers and Sisters: I greet you with great joy and I thank you for your warm welcome.  “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you” ( Lk 10:5-6). Today I enter this house of Colombia, saying to you: Peace be with you!  This was the way of greeting of every Jew, and of Jesus too.  I offer this greeting because I wanted to come here as a pilgrim of peace and hope, and I desire to experience these moments of encounter with joy, giving thanks to God for all the good he has done in this nation, in every one of your lives.  I have also come here to learn; yes, to learn from you, to learn from your faith, your strength in the face of adversity.  You have endured difficult and dark moments, but the Lord is near you, in the heart of every son and daughter of this country.  He is not selective, he does not exclude anyone but embraces all; and we are all important and essential to him.  During these days I would like to share with you the most important truth: that God loves you with the love of a Father who encourages you to continue looking for and desiring peace, that peace which is authentic and abiding. I see many young people here, who have come from all over the country: from cachacos , costeños , paisas , vallunos , llaneros .  For me it is always a pleasure to meet young people.  Today I say to you: keep joy alive; it is a sign of a young heart, of a heart that has encountered the Lord.  No one can snatch this away from you (cf. Jn 16:22).  Do not let anyone rob you of joy; look after that joy which unites everyone in the knowledge of being loved by the Lord.  The flame of the Lord Jesus’ love makes this joy burst forth, and is sufficient to set the whole world ablaze.  How could you not be capable of changing this society and accomplishing all you decide to do!  Do not be afraid of the future!  Dare to dream big!  I want to invite you to that great dream today. You, dear young people, have a particular ability of recognizing the suffering of others; volunteer workers around the world depend on thousands of you who give up your own time, your own comforts and plans, and allow yourselves to be moved by the needs of the most vulnerable, to whom you dedicate yourselves.  But this can also emerge in contexts where death, pain and division have impacted you so deeply that they have left you half-dazed, as if numb.  Allow the suffering of your Colombian brothers and sisters to strike you and mobilize you!  Help us, your elders, not to grow accustomed to pain and neglect. You, also, young men and women who live in complex environments, with varying realities, and who come from a wide range of family situations, have grown used to seeing that not everything is black and white; you have seen that daily life is made up of a broad scale of grey tones, and that this can expose you to the risk of falling into a climate of relativism, thus discarding that potentiality which young people have, of perceiving the pain of those who suffered.  You have the capacity not only to judge, to point out mistakes, but also that other beautiful, constructive ability: that of understanding .  An understanding that even behind a wrong – for wrong is [always] wrong and cannot be just smoothed over – lies an endless number of causes, of mitigating factors.  Colombia needs you so much to put yourselves in the shoes of those who, many generations earlier, could not or did not know how to do so, or did not come up with the right way to reach understanding! For you, young people, it is so easy to encounter one another .  All you need is a good coffee, a good drink or any other excuse to meet.  The young agree on music, on art… Even a final between Atlético Nacional and América de Cali is an opportunity to be together!  You teach us that the culture of meeting is not in thinking, living or reacting to everyone in the same way; it is rather in knowing that beyond our differences we are all part of something greater that unites and transcends us; we are part of this wonderful country.  Your youthfulness also makes you capable of something very difficult in life: forgiving. Forgiving those who have hurt us; it is remarkable to see how you do not get entangled in old stories, how you watch with surprise when we adults repeat events that divide us simply by being tied to resentments.  You help us in the desire to leave behind what has hurt us, to look to the future without the burden of hatred; because you make us see the wider world which stands before us, the whole of Colombia that wishes to grow and continue its development; that Colombia which needs all of us, and which we older people owe to you.    And precisely for this reason you are facing the enormous challenge of helping us to heal our hearts; of passing on to us the youthful hope which is always ready to give others a second chance.  An atmosphere of anxiety sickens the soul; it sees no way out of problems, and ostracizes those who try; it is an atmosphere that harms the hope every community needs in order to move forwards.  May your dreams and plans give fresh life to Colombia, and fill the country with wholesome goals. Only in this way will people be motivated to discover the country hidden behind the mountains, the one that goes beyond newspaper headlines and which does not seem to be a daily concern since it is so far away.  That country which people do not see, that part of the social context which needs us: the discovery of the depths of Colombia.  Young people’s hearts are spurred into action when faced with great challenges: how much natural beauty there is to contemplate, without needing to exploit it!  How many young people, like yourselves, need your outstretched hand, need your shoulder so as to discern a better future! Today I wanted to spend this moment with you; I am certain that you have the potential needed to build the nation we have always dreamed of.  Young people are the hope of Colombia and of the Church; in your walking and in your steps we can glimpse the steps of the Messenger of Peace, the One who brings us Good News. Dear brothers and sisters of this beloved country, I now direct some words to all of you: children, young people, adults and the elderly, as someone bringing hope to you.  Do not let difficulties weigh you down; may violence not break you; may evil not overwhelm you.  We believe that Jesus, with his love and mercy that remain forever, has conquered evil, sin and death.  All we need to do is go out to meet him.  I invite you not to be just dutiful but to be committed to renewing society, so that it will be just, stable and fruitful.  From this place, I encourage you to entrust yourselves to the Lord, who is the only one who sustains us and inspires us to contribute to reconciliation and peace. I embrace every one of you, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, those in need, the elderly, those who are housebound… all of you; you are all in my heart.  And I ask God to bless you.  And, please, do not forget to pray for me. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope urges Colombia’s leaders to peace and reconciliation: Full text

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 23:34
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis urged Colombia’s leaders on Thursday to set aside “hatred and vengeance” and “listen to the poor, to those who suffer”, in order to create a culture of encounter, for peace and reconciliation in a nation that is emerging from Latin America's longest-running conflict. The Pope, who is on an Apostolic visit to Colombia , Sept. 6-11, to encourage the peace and reconciliation process in the nation, delivered his first discourse at the presidential palace and seat of government in the capital, Bogota. Among those listening to him were members of the government and the diplomatic corps, religious authorities, business leaders and representatives of civil society and of culture. Pope Francis urged them to address the “structural causes of poverty that lead to exclusion and violence”, reminding them that “inequality is the root of social ills.” Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech: Address: Meeting with Authorities, the Diplomatic Corps and Representatives of Civil Society Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 I offer my cordial greetings to Your Excellency Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Columbia, and I thank you for your kind invitation to visit this nation at a particularly important moment in its history; I greet the members of the Government of the Republic and of the Diplomatic Corps. And through you, the Representatives of civil society, I extend my warm wishes to all the people of Colombia, as I begin my Apostolic Visit.  I come to Columbia following in the footsteps of my predecessors, Blessed Paul VI and Saint John Paul II.  Like them, I am moved by the desire to share with my Colombian brothers and sisters the gift of faith, which put down its roots so strongly in these lands, and the hope which beats in the hearts of everyone.  Only in this way, by means of faith and hope, can we overcome the numerous difficulties encountered along the way, to build a country that is a motherland and a home to all Colombians. Colombia is a nation blessed in so many ways; its bountiful nature not only inspires admiration for its beauty, but also requires careful respect for its biodiversity.  Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of biodiversity; travelling through this land one can taste and see how good the Lord has been (cf. Ps 33:9) in bestowing such immense variety of flora and fauna in the rainforests, the Páramos, the Chocó region, the farallones of Cali and mountain ranges like the Macarena, and in so many other places.  Equally vibrant is the culture of this nation.  But above all, Colombia is rich in the human value of its people, men and women with a welcoming and generous heart, courageous and determined in the face of obstacles.   This meeting allows me to express my appreciation for all the efforts undertaken over the last decades to end armed violence and to seek out paths of reconciliation.  Over the past year significant progress has been made; the steps taken give rise to hope, in the conviction that seeking peace is an open-ended endeavour, a task which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone.  It is an endeavour challenging us not to weaken our efforts to build the unity of the nation.  Despite obstacles, differences and varying perspectives on the way to achieve peaceful coexistence, this task summons us to persevere in the struggle to promote a “culture of encounter”.  This requires us to place at the centre of all political, social and economic activity the human person, who enjoys the highest dignity, and respect for the common good.  May this determination help us flee from the temptation to vengeance and the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests.  The more demanding the path that leads to peace and understanding, the greater must be our efforts to acknowledge each another, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and support one another (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 67). The motto of this country is: “Freedom and Order”.  These two words contain a complete lesson.  Citizens must be valued according to their freedom and be protected by a stable order.  It is not the law of the most powerful, but rather the power of the law, approved by all, that regulates a peaceful coexistence.  Just laws are needed, which can ensure harmony and which can help overcome the conflicts that have torn apart this nation for decades; laws are required which are not born from the pragmatic need to order society but rather arise from the desire to resolve the structural causes of poverty that lead to exclusion and violence.  Only in this way can there be healing of the sickness that brings fragility and lack of dignity to society, leaving it always vulnerable to new crises.  Let us not forget that inequality is the root of social ills (cf. ibid. 202).  In this perspective, I encourage you to look to all those who today are excluded and marginalised by society, those who have no value in the eyes of the majority, who are held back, cast aside.  Everyone is needed in the work of creating and shaping society.  This is not achieved simply with those of “pure blood”, but by all.  And here lies the greatness and beauty of a country, where all fit in and where all are important.  Real wealth is diversity.  I think of the first voyage of Saint Peter Claver from Cartagena to Bogotá, going up the Magdalena: his amazement is ours too.  Then and now, we observe the variety of ethnic groups and the inhabitants of the remotest regions, the campesinos.  Our gaze fixes upon the weakest, the oppressed and maltreated, those who have no voice, either because it has been taken from them, or was never given to them, or because they are ignored.  Let us stop to recognize women, their contribution, their talent, their being “mothers” in their great number of tasks.  Colombia needs the participation of all so as to face the future with hope. The Church, faithful to her mission, is committed to peace, justice and the good of all. She is conscious that the principles of the Gospel are a significant dimension of the social fabric of Colombia, and thus can contribute greatly to the growth of the country; particularly, sacrosanct respect for human life, above all for the weakest and most defenceless, is a cornerstone in the formation of a society free from violence.  We cannot fail, moreover, to emphasize the social importance of the family, envisioned by God to be the fruit of spousal love, that place “where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another” (ibid. 66).  I ask you, please, to listen to the poor, to those who suffer.  Look them in the eye and let yourselves be continually questioned by their faces racked with pain and by their pleading hands.  From them we learn true lessons about life, humanity and dignity.  For they, who cry out from their shackles, really understand the words of the one who died on the cross, as expressed by the words of your national anthem. Ladies and Gentlemen, you have before you a fine and noble mission, which is also a difficult task.  May the aspiration of the great Colombian patriot, Gabriel García Márquez, resound in the heart of each citizen: “In spite of this, before oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life.  Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the unending wars down the centuries, have been able to subdue the tenacious advantage of life over death.  An advantage which is both increasing and accelerating”.  What is thus made possible, continues the author, is “a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness made possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will, at last and forever, have a second opportunity on earth” (Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1982).     There has been too much hatred and vengeance…  The solitude of always being at loggerheads has been familiar for decades, and its smell has lingered for a hundred years; we do not want any type of violence whatsoever to restrict or destroy one more life.  I have wanted to come here to tell you that you are not alone, that there are many of us who accompany you in taking this step; this visit intends to offer you an incentive, a contribution that in some way paves the path to reconciliation and peace. You are in my prayers.  I pray for you, for Columbia’s present and future. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis in Colombia: Key points from speech to President Santos

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 23:21
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ first meeting in Colombia on Thursday was with President Manuel Santos, as well as other government and civil authorities gathered outside the presidential palace. Below are three key points from that speech, which you can read here . Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:   Hands up, who knew that Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of biodiversity? From its Andean mountain ranges to its Amazon rainforests, its Caribbean coast line and its vast tropical plains, it’s a nation blessed with a vast variety of flora and fauna. Pope: Careful respect for Colombia’s biodiversity But as the pope told the country’s leaders, such natural beauty brings with it a responsibility to respect that biodiversity and preserve it for future generations. That’s not exactly the policy the Colombian government is currently pursuing, with an economic model based on mining, energy and the exploitation of natural resources, without worrying about the impact it will have on local communities. Pope: Vibrant culture of this nation But, as anyone who’s studied Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ well knows, environmental protection makes most sense in the context of caring for human life, especially the poorest and most marginalized. They’re the ones who suffer most from the destruction of land and the devastation of natural habitats, disrupting ancient ways of life that have existed among Colombia’s indigenous communities for centuries. Pope: Marginalised must be included in Colombia’s future Speaking to President Santos, scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, the pope stressed that poverty leads to violence and inequality is at the root of social ills. Noting the rich variety of ethnic groups and their vibrant cultural traditions, he insisted that the “excluded and marginalized” – the women, the campesinos and the majority of mixed race people - must be listened to, as the nation seeks to move on from half a century of civil war.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis takes his first steps in Colombia

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 07:53
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in  Colombia . The papal plane touched down in the military area of Bogotà’s airport just after 4pm local time, where a large delegation of Church and State authorities – including President Santos - welcomed him as he stepped onto the tarmac. Our correspondent Linda Bordoni is in Bogotà and sent this report: A crowd of eager Colombian faithful was also there waving flags, cheering and clapping to the rhythm of traditional music and dance while a little boy who was born in captivity – the son of former FARC hostage Clara Rojas – hugged him and handed him a handcrafted ceramic dove, symbol of peace. It is Pope Francis’s 20 th apostolic journey abroad and during his five-day visit he will take his message of reconciliation and hope to all Colombians as he visits the cities of Bogotà, Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena from where he will depart on Sunday 10 th September. It’s been 31 years since the Bishop of Rome set foot in this ravaged nation. There were no official discourses scheduled for the occasion and none were needed as Pope Francis immediately set the tone for the visit with a powerful gesture of attention and care for those closest to his heart. Making his way down the red carpet to the pope-mobile, he stopped at length to touch and caress disabled and sick children, and – especially poignant and significant in the Colombian context -  he took time to engage with and bless, one at a time, a group of mutilated and disabled military veterans representing one of the too many groups of victims of a conflict the nation is struggling to put behind. Then, the streets were packed with people – ordinary Colombians – for the whole fifteen kilometre drive to the nunciature where a tired Pope Francis can rest and gather strength for a gruelling pastoral visit charged with expectations as he “Takes the First Step” with all the people of the divided and suffering nation as they seek the best route to navigate the treacherous path to peace. But before tucking up for the night Francis again gave voice to the voiceless and spelt out his priorities by sharing his joy and his faith with a group of poor orphaned children and vulnerable adolescents. “Never lose joy, never lose hope” he told them – and – “don’t forget to pray for me!” In Bogotà with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni for Vatican Radio               (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis sends telegrams to countries flown over on flight to Colombia

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 02:57
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent telegrams to the countries over which he flew on his flight to Colombia for his Apostolic Journey to the country. Those countries include: France, Spain, Portugal, United States, The Netherlands, and Venezuela. Please find below the telegrams: France HIS EXCELLENCY EMMANUEL MACRON PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC PARIS AS MY APOSTOLIC VOYAGE TO COLOMBIA TAKES ME OVER FRANCE, I SEND WARM GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS, WITH THE ASSURANCE OF MY PRAYERS THAT ALL IN THE NATION MAY BE ABUNDANTLY BLESSED BY ALMIGHTY GOD. FRANCISCUS PP. Spain HIS MAJESTY KING FELIPE VI KING OF SPAIN MADRID I EXTEND WARM GREETINGS TO YOUR MAJESTY, THE MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL FAMILY, AND ALL THE SPANISH PEOPLE AS MY JOURNEY TO COLOMBIA TAKES ME OVER SPAIN.  ENTRUSTING THE NATION TO THE PROVIDENCE OF ALMIGHTY GOD, I WILLINGLY INVOKE UPON ALL OF YOU GOD’S BLESSINGS OF CONCORD AND PEACE. FRANCISCUS PP. Portugal HIS EXCELLENCY MARCELO REBELO DE SOUSA PRESIDENT OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC LISBON AS MY JOURNEY TO COLOMBIA TAKES ME THROUGH PORTUGUESE AIRSPACE,  I SEND WARM GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS.  ASSURING YOU OF MY PRAYERS THAT ALL MAY ENJOY PEACE AND PROSPERITY, I WILLINGLY INVOKE UPON THE NATION GOD’S ABUNDANT BLESSINGS. FRANCISCUS PP. United States (Ocean and Puerto Rico) THE HONORABLE DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WASHINGTON AS I TRAVEL THROUGH UNITED STATES AIRSPACE ON MY APOSTOLIC VISIT TO COLOMBIA, I EXTEND WARM GREETINGS TO YOU AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS, INVOKING UPON ALL OF YOU ALMIGHTY GOD’S ABUNDANT BLESSINGS. FRANCISCUS PP. The Netherlands Sorvolo  Antille Olandesi –  6 settembre 2017 HIS MAJESTY WILLEM-ALEXANDER KING OF NETHERLANDS AS I FLY THROUGH YOUR AIRSPACE ON MY VISIT TO COLOMBIA, I EXTEND WARM GREETINGS TO ALL THE CITIZENS OF THE CARIBBEAN PARTS OF THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS, PRAYING THAT ALMIGHTY GOD MAY BLESS YOU ALL. FRANCISCUS PP. Venezuela HIS EXCELLENCY NICOLÁS MADURO PRESIDENT OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA CARACAS AS MY APOSTOLIC VISIT TO COLOMBIA TAKES ME OVER VENEZUELA, I SEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AND ALL THE PEOPLE OF VENEZUELA.  PRAYING THAT ALL IN THE NATION MAY PROMOTE PATHS OF SOLIDARITY, JUSTICE AND CONCORD, I WILLINGLY INVOKE UPON ALL OF YOU GOD’S BLESSINGS OF PEACE. FRANCISCUS PP. (from Vatican Radio)...

Colombian Cardinal Salazar on hopes for Pope Francis' visit

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 23:12
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis arrives in Bogotà, the Colombian capital, on Wednesday at the start of his five day pastoral visit to the South American nation. The Holy Father will be welcomed by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, together with other political and religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Bogotà, Cardinal Ruben Salazar . The theme of the visit is ‘taking the first step ’ towards peace and reconciliation in the country which has endured half a century of civil war between the government and leftwing guerilla groups. While a peace accord was signed in Cuba last year, violence continues in rural areas and the nation remains deeply divided. Ahead of the pope’s arrival, Cardinal Salazar spoke about his expectations with our correspondent in Bogotà, Linda Bordoni: Listen to Linda’s conversation with Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar : The cardinal says this visit is “really very important” as the nation is living through a “very decisive moment in our history”. At this moment, he says, “we are leaving behind years of conflict, of war” and hoping “we can go towards peace, fraternity and solidarity”. In this sense, he adds, Pope Francis will have “very important” words for the Colombian people. Pope's concern for "voiceless" victims Asked about the many victims of Colombia’s civil war, the cardinal notes that in the city of Villavicencio on Friday, the pope will meet with some of those victims, as well as representatives of local indigenous communities. On Sunday, in Cartgena, the pope will meet members of the Afro-Colombian community and these meetings, the cardinal says, show that the Holy Father is “very concerned about the voiceless in Colombia”. Minorities are key for peace These minorities, Cardinal Salazar says, are now “the key for real peace” and in this sense, he insists, these meetings are “a moment of hope for all of us”. Stewardship of creation Finally the cardinal speaks about the important issue of ecology and the stewardship of creation, saying that the country has “important national resources” but it is vital to learn to use them without damaging the environment. At the moment, he says, “we are not so able to do that”.  (from Vatican Radio)...

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