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Pope Francis sends telegrams on papal flight

(Vatican Radio) As is tradition, Pope Francis has sent telegrams to the heads of state of the countries his plane flies over on Friday as he travels to Havana, and then to Mexico.

The telegrams to the European countries the Pope has flown over are presented here in their original languages

Italy

A SUA ECCELLENZA

ON. SERGIO MATTARELLA

PRESIDENTE  DELLA  REPUBBLICA ITALIANA

PALAZZO  DEL  QUIRINALE                                         00187   ROMA

 

NEL MOMENTO IN CUI LASCIO ROMA PER RECARMI IN MESSICO PER SOSTENERE LA MISSIONE DELLA CHIESA LOCALE E PORTARE UN MESSAGGIO DI SPERANZA, MI E’ CARO RIVOLGERE A LEI, SIGNOR PRESIDENTE, IL MIO DEFERENTE SALUTO, CHE ACCOMPAGNO CON FERVIDI AUSPICI PER IL BENESSERE SPIRITUALE, CIVILE E SOCIALE DEL POPOLO ITALIANO, CUI INVIO VOLENTIERI LA BENEDIZIONE APOSTOLICA

                                                                                                                             FRANCISCUS PP.  

 

France

 

HIS EXCELLENCY FRANCOIS HOLLANDE

PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC

PARIS

 

I SEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AS I FLY OVER FRANCE ON MY WAY TO MEXICO.  I ASSURE YOU AND ALL THE CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC OF A REMEMBRANCE IN MY PRAYERS, AND I INVOKE UPON EACH OF YOU GOD’S BLESSINGS OF PEACE AND JOY.

 

                                                                                                              FRANCIS PP

 

Spain

 

HIS MAJESTY FELIPE VI

KING OF SPAIN

ZARZUELA PALACE

MADRID

 

I SEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR MAJESTY AND THE ROYAL FAMILY AS I FLY OVER SPAIN ON MY WAY TO MEXICO.  I ASSURE YOU AND ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE NATION OF A REMEMBRANCE IN MY PRAYERS, AND I INVOKE UPON EACH OF YOU GOD’S BLESSINGS OF PEACE AND JOY.

 

                                                                                                              FRANCIS PP

 

Portugal

 

HIS EXCELLENCY ANIBAL CAVACO SILVA

PRESIDENT OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC

LISBON

 

I SEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AS I FLY OVER PORTUGAL ON MY WAY TO MEXICO.  I ASSURE YOU AND ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE NATION OF A REMEMBRANCE IN MY PRAYERS, AND I INVOKE UPON EACH OF YOU GOD’S BLESSINGS OF PEACE AND JOY.

 

                                                                                                              FRANCIS PP

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis greets reporters on flight from Rome to Havana

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis greeted the reporters who joined him on the plane Friday for his apostolic journey to Havana – for a brief meeting with Russian Patriarch Kirill – and Mexico.

The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, said the Holy Father had a “beautiful meeting” with the journalists, and called the journey “very important.”

Father Lombardi said the Pope noted it was the final apostolic trip of Alberto Gasbarri, the coordinator of papal journeys, and thanked him for his 47 years of service to the Vatican.

The dean of the Holy See Press Corps,  Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s “Televisa”, gave Pope Francis a sombrero to celebrate his journey to her native country. The Holy Father also revealed to the journalists she gave him some films starring the Mexican comedian Cantinflas earlier in the week to help him prepare for his trip, which Pope Francis said were a “good laugh.”

“My deepest desire is to pause before Our Lady of Guadalupe, this mystery that is studied, and studied, and studied, and there is no human explanation,” Pope Francis said on the plane, adding even scientists say the image is "a thing of God."

Wall Street Journal correspondent Francis X. Rocca sent a Facebook message from the plane describing an “unusual” and “moving” encounter, with Noel Diaz of ESNE Catholic television in Los Angeles.

“As a child in his native Tijuana, Mexico, Diaz shined shoes for money. So today he knelt down in the aisle and shined the pope's shoes, then gave him a custom-made shoeshine kit,” Rocca writes. “Diaz told the pope he intended these presents as reminders of the unheralded struggles of ordinary, honest people across Mexico and among immigrants to the U.S.”

Responding to press reports of a papal visit to Colombia, Pope Francis said he could visit the country in 2017 if peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue to go forward.

(from Vatican Radio)

Card. Parolin: Church in Mexico called to condemn all evil

(Vatican Radio) Speaking on the eve of Pope Francis’ departure for Mexico, the (Vatican) Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the Church there is called “to condemn evil and speak up against all negative phenomena such as corruption, drug trafficking, violence and crime which are hindering and delaying the spiritual and material progress of the country.” The cardinal's remarks came in an interview with the Vatican Television Centre (CTV).

Asked about the main themes of the Pope’s pastoral visit to Mexico, Cardinal Parolin said these themes are common to all his travels and his pontificate such as the themes of “mercy, justice, peace and hope.” However, he said they also include those which are particularly relevant to Mexico as a nation, such as the deep faith of its people and their extraordinary Marian devotion and the amazing culture, both of the nation and its people, including the indigenous communities. The Cardinal said the Pope will also touch on the more negative issues in Mexico such as organized crime, drug trafficking and poverty.  

Noting that Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe during his visit, the Secretary of State agreed that this papal journey will have a strong Marian component given the deep devotion of Mexicans for their country’s patron saint, who he said is “right at the centre and the heart” of their history and their lives. He said he was always very moved when he saw “how much veneration and how much trust” are placed in Our Lady of Guadalupe by the people of Mexico.

The theme of this papal visit to Mexico is “Pope Francis: Missionary of mercy and peace” and when asked how this journey can be seen within the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Cardinal Parolin said he believed that through his presence in Mexico the Pope wishes to be “a help to the nation, to the Church of that nation to rediscover and live in its daily life, the proclamation and witness of mercy.”  The Cardinal also noted that Pope Francis will meet with a wide variety of people to remind everybody about this challenge to embrace mercy in daily life, from the politicians through to the indigenous people. He said the Pope will be reminding all those he meets during his trip of this need to be merciful.

Asked about the challenges facing the Church in Mexico, Cardinal Parolin said a definite challenge is to condemn “the evil” that is present, “and speak up against all negative phenomena such as corruption, drug trafficking, violence and crime which are hindering and delaying the spiritual and material progress of the country.”  The local Church, he continued, also needs to act like” the Good Samaritan” when faced with so many people who suffer and are in need. The cardinal also mentioned the problem of migration and its often negative impact on families who get split up.  As ever, Cardinal Parolin said, the Church’s main challenge is to educate the consciences of the people and speak up against the idolatry of money and other negative phenomena. When it comes to the evils of forced migration, arms and drug trafficking, he said Pope Francis will be urging people to fight against these problems and above all to change their hearts.

Turning to Friday’s meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, Cardinal Parolin described this historic meeting as “a great sign of hope” and also an event that gives us the courage to continue to push ahead in the effort to build "an understanding, a meeting and a dialogue." The Cardinal also said he believed that this meeting in Cuba will have “a big impact” on the ecumenical journey.     

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Mexico: Bishop Raul Vera Lopez on the legacy of Bishop Samuel Ruiz

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis took off from Rome’s Fiumicino airport this morning on an Apostolic visit to Mexico. While there he will celebrate Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe, meet with families and young people and there will  be  a Meeting with the World of Culture. He will also make a visit to city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and celebrate Holy Mass with the indigenous community of Chiapas. Our Correspondent Veronica Scarisbrick who is awaiting Pope Francis in Mexico, found out more about the community and it’s much loved late Bishop.

Listen: 

The late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia is an iconic figure in Mexico. You may have heard of him, he lived and worked for many years  in the  southern state of Chiapas along the border with Guatemala. That's from 1959 to 1999.

Precisely at San Cristobal de Las Casas where Pope Francis will go on Monday 15th of February and where he'll celebrate Holy Mass at the City's Sports Centre with the Mayan indigenous community. 

Here in Mexico I caught up with someone who worked closely with him and eventually inherited the diocese. He's Bishop Raul Vera Lopez a Dominican who describes the time spent with his predecessor as 'a moment of grace from God'. 

Bishop Ruiz was once a familiar figure in his diocese, often perceived riding on the back of a mule along  the highland paths on the way to visit the people of one of the villages or towns of his diocese. Speaking to the people there  in their own Mayan languages by the unpronounceable names. 

But while he was very much loved by the local people who lived in extreme poverty, he was also criticised by the local government and by Rome. Because he had begun to apply  the teachings he had learnt both during the Second Vatican Council and from  the Medellin Conference of Latin American Bishops. Empowering the indigenous people to defend their cultures and traditions and founding the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas human rights centre.

Over the years Bishop Vera has drawn inspiration from his example and has promoted human rights in every possible way. Recently in a special way he assists parents and families of 'desaparecidos' through an organisation  by the name of FUNDEC.

Importantly in December he made it his mission  to travel to Rome to inform Pope Francis of the current situation in Mexico regarding human rights. To make quite sure  Francis  might  prepare his Apostolic visit in touch with the  reality in the nation today 

(from Vatican Radio)

Mass in Nazareth to mark the World Day of the Sick

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Special Envoy, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, celebrated Mass on Thursday in the town of Nazareth in the Holy Land to mark the Church’s World Day of the Sick. The Mass took place in Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation and was the centerpiece of events marking the 2016 World Day of the Sick that is celebrated each year on February 11th, the feast day of St. Bernadette of Lourdes.

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Zimowski, who is President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, reminded his listeners that the central theme of Pope’s Francis’ message for this year’s World Day of the Sick is the need for us to entrust our lives to the Merciful Jesus like Mary did.  Archbishop Zimowski said all of us are called in our different ways to help the person who is suffering and stressed we must not be intimidated by the fact that we cannot help in a satisfactory way, in the way that Jesus did. “The important thing,” he said, “is to go, to be at the side of the man who suffers.”

Please find below an English translation of Archbishop Zimowski’s homily at the Mass in Nazareth:

 

Entrusting oneself to the merciful Jesus like Mary.

‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5)

“Your Blessedness, dear brothers in the episcopate, and priests, deacons and consecrated people, representatives of the sister Churches and Christian communities, civil authorities, dearest brothers and sisters, especially dear sick people, your family relatives, volunteers and health-care workers.

The reason for our presence today in Nazareth, in this Basilica of the Annunciation, is the celebration of the twenty-fourth World Day of the Sick. We are celebrating the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, that place where 162 years ago Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette, giving to the sick and the suffering her beautiful smile. She came from heaven, reminding humanity that her Son has prepared a place for us up above and that one must never separate heaven from the earth or the earth from heaven. In commemorating the liturgical memorial of Lourdes we thank St. John Paul II who, on 13 May 1992, instituted this World Day. The Year of Mercy that we are living through constitutes a propitious opportunity to intensify the spirit of mercy that it is in each one of us.

Here I would like to recall what Pope Francis in his Message writes about this: ‘On this World Day of the Sick let us ask Jesus in his mercy, through the intercession of Mary, his Mother and ours, to grant to all of us this same readiness to be serve those in need, and, in particular, our infirm brothers and sisters. At times this service can be tiring and burdensome, yet we are certain that the Lord will surely turn our human efforts into something divine. We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden. We too, whether healthy or sick, can offer up our toil and sufferings like the water which filled the jars at the wedding feast of Cana and was turned into the finest wine. By quietly helping those who suffer, as in illness itself, we take our daily cross upon our shoulders and follow the Master (cf. Lk 9:23). Even though the experience of suffering will always remain a mystery, Jesus helps us to reveal its meaning’ (Message of Pope Francis for the Twenty-Fourth World Day of the Sick. 15 September 2015).

 

1. Called to a Vocation that is Totally Singular

 

We are in Nazareth where ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1:14) We are ‘here in the city of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we have come together to entrust ourselves to the merciful Jesus like Mary’ in order to enter the ‘school of initiation in understanding the life of Jesus, the school of the Gospel of mercy. Here one learns to observe, to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the meaning – which is so deep and mysterious – of that very simple, very humble, very beautiful apparition. Here one learns the method by which we can enter the intelligence of Christ. Here, in this school, one understands the need to have spiritual discipline, if one wants to become a pupil of the Gospel and a disciple of Christ’ (Paul VI, 5 January 1964).

We are here to celebrate the World Day of the Sick during this Holy Year of Mercy which Pope Francis wanted. In the Message that he gave to us he asks us ‘to entrust ourselves to the merciful Jesus like Mary’. ‘This year, since the Day of the Sick will be solemnly celebrated in the Holy Land, I wish to propose a meditation on the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2: 1-11), where Jesus performed his first miracle through the intervention of his Mother’.

Today, dearest brothers and sisters, in this Basilica of the Annunciation, we should think for a few moments about the response of the Virgin Mary to the call of God: her fiat, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). Mary is called ‘Handmaid of the Lord’, and thus Mary is placed next to the ‘servants of the Lord’, like Moses, David and the prophets. Mary is called to a totally singular service: that of being the mother of he who is the Son of God, of he through whom God gives to humanity fullness of life and salvation. How can we not emphasise here a link between Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord, and the servants of the wedding feast of Cana? Jesus himself always places at the centre of his behaviour ‘listening to, and putting into practice, the Word of God’  (cf. Lk 8:21; 11:25). Mary asks the same of the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5).

During her life Mary remained a ‘handmaid’ of the Lord. Just as she herself is united to Jesus, so does she lead all men to him. This means that we must turn all our attention to Jesus because from him we receive the right instructions: ‘do whatever he tells you’. Mary has complete trust in Jesus and allows him to decide how to act. She has confidence in the fact that in every circumstance he will do good things. For this reason, the Holy Father in his Message writes: ‘The wedding feast of Cana is an image of the Church: at the centre there is Jesus who in his mercy performs a sign; around him are the disciples, the first fruits of the new community; and beside Jesus and the disciples is Mary, the provident and prayerful Mother. Mary partakes of the joy of ordinary people and helps it to increase; she intercedes with her Son on behalf of the spouses and all the invited guests. Nor does Jesus refuse the request of his Mother. How much hope there is in that event for all of us! We have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son; a heart that is maternal and full of mercy, like him; hands that want to help, like the hands of Jesus who broke bread for those who were hungry, touched the sick and healed them. All this fills us with trust and opens our hearts to the grace and mercy of Christ’.

 

2. The Role of Servants in the Culture of Encounter and Peace

 

The words of the Virgin Mary to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’, indeed, echo those addressed by Moses to the whole of the people of Israel in the revelation of Sinai, which was to appear again as a significant background to the wedding feast of Cana. In Sinai, Moses, after listening to the word of the Lord, called together the elders of the people and told them what the Lord had ordered him: ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’ (Ex 19:7-8). At Cana, Mary of Nazareth exhorts the servants to do the same, to do everything that Jesus tells them. In this way, she performs the task of ‘mediation’ between Jesus and the servants who have been called to listen to her voice, a role similar to that of Moses at the foot of the Sinai where he was between the Lord and the assembly of his brethren, the servants of the Lord.

The action of the Mother of Jesus, therefore, has the task of preparing the servants of the wedding feast to listen to the voice of Jesus, to obey what he tells them. Rightly, the Blessed Pope Paul IV, in his Marialis cultus (n. 57), wrote that the words of Mary to the servants of Cana are ‘a further reason in favour of the pastoral value of devotion to the Blessed Virgin as a means of leading men to Christ…And they are words which harmonise wonderfully with those spoken by the Father at the theophany of Mount Tobor: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5)’. Mary of Nazareth is for us a clear indication that leads to the centre of the Christian experience.

I would like to remember the event that took place here, near to Nazareth, in Capernaum. The centurion addresses Jesus with simple words: ‘Lord, my servant is being paralysed at home, in terrible distress’. Jesus answered immediately: ‘I will come and heal him’ (Mt 8:6-7). This is an example, one of very many, indeed the whole of the Gospel is full of similar events. Christ, trustingly called to go to sick people. Christ, called by the sick. Christ, at the service of men who suffer. St. Mark in his Gospel, in particular, reminds us of the miracles of healing that were performed by Jesus.

Dearest brothers and sisters, we are also constantly called. All of us, in a certain sense, are called, even though each one of us is called in a different way. The call – the invitation – that the centurion of the Gospel addressed to Jesus is repeated unceasingly. Man suffers in various places; at times he ‘suffers terribly’ and calls another man. He needs his help. He needs his presence. At times we are intimidated by the fact that we cannot help in a satisfactory way, in the way that Jesus did. We try to overcome this embarrassment. The important thing is to go, to be at the side of the man who suffers. Perhaps, more than healing, he needs the presence of a man, of a human heart full of mercy, of human solidarity.

 We are dealing here with medical doctors, with nurses, with all the different categories of health-care workers. We are dealing here with institutions that serve human health: medical and dental surgeries, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, therapeutic resorts, sanatoria, and nursing homes; the welcoming walls of our homes, our family relatives, and the disinterested solidarity of numerous volunteers who work in the socio/health-care field. In particular, one must, therefore, at any cost, support a fine tradition: the work of a medical doctor and of a nurse must always be seen not only as a profession but also, and perhaps first of all, as a service, a ‘vocation’. Care for the physically disabled, care for the mentally ill – these sectors constitute, more than any other setting of social life, the yardstick of the culture of a society and a state, as we have seen and experienced when visiting various nursing homes in recent days.

We must be the true servants of those who suffer in various ways, because of violence, persecution, exile and discrimination as well.

Here I cannot neglect to refer to the recommendations made by Pope Francis: ‘If we can learn to obey the words of Mary, who says: “Do whatever he tells you”, Jesus will always turn the waters of our lives into precious wine’.

Thus this World Day of the Sick, celebrated solemnly in the Holy Land, will help to meet the wish that Pope Francis expressed in his Bull for the indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: that it ‘will foster an encounter with [Judaism and Islam] and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination’ (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). ‘Every hospital and nursing home can be a visible sign and setting in which to promote the culture of encounter and peace, where the experience of illness and suffering, along with professional and fraternal assistance, helps to overcome every limitation and division’ (Message for the Twenty-fourth World Day of the Sick, 2016).

 

3. Mercy for those who are God-fearing

 

     Let us now try to allow ourselves to be impregnated by the scent of the Word of the Lord which has just been proclaimed. The narrative account of the Gospel that we have now listened to on the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes has a special moment – the beatitude of Mary: ‘Blessed is she who believed in the fulfilment of the words of the Lord’. In the Annunciation, Mary abandons herself to God completely. She replied, therefore, with all of her ‘I’. ‘And Mary’s “yes” is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the way and means of one’s own sanctification’ (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, n. 22).

 

 

a. The Faith and the Beatitude of Mary and Joseph

 

Mary’s completion in the eyes of God is characterised by the words: ‘Blessed is she who believed’. One characteristic of Mary is her faith – which parallels that of Abraham – by which she recognises that the word of God is trustworthy and fully valid.

But we must also remember the faith of St. Joseph. As soon as he learnt and understood God’s plan from the Angel, without uttering a word he took Mary to his home. The ‘fiat’ of Mary and the action of Joseph express the same faith. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife’ (Mt 1:24). He took her in all the mystery of her motherhood; he took her together with the Son who would come into the world by work of the Holy Spirit: in this way he demonstrated a readiness to act, similar to that of Mary, in line with what God had asked him to do through His messenger.

Thus Mary is called ‘blessed’. She is recognised as having all the reasons to be blessed and have overflowing joy. The beatitude that Elizabeth addresses to her cousin pre-supposes that the words of God had been addressed to Mary. The beatitude that was expressed by a woman of the people: ‘“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked”, was explained and broadened by Jesus: ‘“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ (Lk 11:27-28). Jesus does not dispute that Mary has this beatitude but he makes this depend on a relationship with God and His words. Mary in an exemplary way entrusted herself to these words. After Elizabeth explained what she had been able to understand about Mary, the Virgin spoke and spoke exclusively about God, and her words reveal deep knowledge about the Lord.

b. Fear of God is a Gift of the Holy Spirit

Mary of Nazareth states first and foremost: ‘And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation’. These words refer not to men who are afraid of God but, rather, to those who treat Him with respect.  Fear of God is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. I will now address families: ‘dear parents, bring up your children in this God-fearing spirit. St. Augustine said: “If God holds pride of place in our lives, everything will be in place”’.

Let us pray therefore: ‘O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by the word, and by thy wisdom has formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made…give me the wisdom…who understands what is pleasing in thy sight and what is right according to thy commandments. (Canticle Wis 9:1-10).

At the end of our reflections let us see Mary as our example for our trusting response to the Lord. ‘Mary, therefore, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of Mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and the whole of humanity, that mercy of which “from generation to generation” people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity’ (John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, n.9).

The canticle of the Magnificat was the response of Mary of Nazareth to the mercy of the Father: ‘he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation…he has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy’. With Mary, our Mother of Mercy, the Virgin of the Visitation, we also raise to the Lord our ‘magnificat’ which is the song of the trust and the hope of all poor people, sick people, the suffering people of the world, who exult with joy because they know that God is at their sides as the Saviour. To him we entrust our lives, following the example of Mary, making ours the wish that Pope Francis expresses in his Message; may his words find room and joyous practical expression in our daily lives: ‘To all those who assist the sick and the suffering I express my confident hope that they will draw inspiration from Mary, the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness, allow it to dwell in our hearts and express it in our actions!’ Amen.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Mexico awaits Pope Francis

(Vatican Radio) Here in Mexico city the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas  is everywhere. It’s plastered on taxis, in shops, in homes and in the most unlikely places.

No surprise as in the past even Mexican revolutionaries carried her image into battle. She’s ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’, Patroness of the Americas. She represents the spiritual heart of the nation. Her image is that of a ‘mestizo’, symbolic of that blend of Spanish Catholicism and native American religious traditions.

Click below to hear the report from Vatican Radio's special envoy in Mexico, Veronica Scarisbrick

The same cannot be said for images of Pope Francis around town, they are far and few between. Most of those I saw were related to publicity. But two bumper billboards were significant. They related to two of the three areas of Mexico Pope Francis will be visiting. They are Chiapas along the border with Guatemala home to a large indigenous, population and  Michoacàn hotspot of the drug cartels. Chiapas and Michoacàn clearly want to welcome Pope Francis in the capital city as well.

I haven’t seen any relating to the third and last stop on the Pope’s itinerary, Ciudad Juarez on that economic divide represented by the border with the United States. Once dubbed the murder capital of the world it’s where the dreams of a better future for many migrants, those who make it that far, are most often dashed.

But this is the  city most featured in the Mexican press right now for a very specific reason.  It seems that the families of the forty- three young ‘desaparecidos’ seeking answers to the dramatic outcome of their young sons, are going to be sitting in the front rows during Holy Mass. And speculation is rife as to whether there will be a private encounter with Pope Francis.

This lack of images around town  doesn’t mean that people don’t know the first Latin American Pope is coming to town on Friday 12th of February.

Everyone, really everyone I speak to here in the streets, knows their first Latin American pope is going to be riding his pope mobile through the streets here. No surprise as it’s their only chance to catch a glimpse of him close to.

One TV show I came across even featured a toy pope mobile running through a ‘maquette’ of Mexico City and newspapers feature cartoons showing aggressive politicians all wanting to jump on to the pope mobile at once.

There’s definitely a warmth surrounding the arrival of Pope Francis here as he comes as ‘missionary of peace’. And I think he’d agree with Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz who once wrote that Our Lady of Guadalupe’s "inspirational story is impressed on the heart of Mexico". Adding how "she is the solace of the poor, the shield of the weak and oppressed".  After all Pope Francis has said he is coming here as a pilgrim to spend time with the people of Mexico, to walk with them, especially with those in the ‘peripheries’. To walk with these people who do not forget their Mother, the Mother who forged her people in hope”.

In Mexico City awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis, I’m Veronica Scarisbrick

(from Vatican Radio)

The silent reform of Benedict XVI's papacy

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 02:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his new book on Benedict XVI, Vatican journalist Marco Mancini argues that while the retired pontiff became known for his shocking resignation three years ago, his real legacy began far earlier. “Unfortunately, we remember Benedict for the great gesture of the renunciation, but if we go on remembering Benedict only for that act, it would not be doing a service to truth of the facts,” Mancini told CNA. Neither would it be a service to history, to his pontificate or his person, “because he really in eight years confronted the totality of the themes and the emergencies that the Catholic Church lived.” Benedict XVI's Feb. 11, 2013, announcement of his resignation from the papacy – exactly three years ago today – hit the Church “like a lightning bolt in a clear blue sky,” said one cardinal who was present in the room when the pontiff stunned the Vatican and the rest of the world with his decision. But in his book “Benedict XVI: Un Papa Totale,” translating roughly as “Benedict XVI: a Complete Pope,” Mancini, 33, said Benedict's most memorable act was not his resignation, but everything he did to carry the Church through the many difficult and varied crises it endured during his eight-year reign. The book, which as of now is only available in Italian, was presented at the Vatican's Teutonic College Feb. 5. Speakers at the event included Mancini, Angela Ambrogetti – editor of CNA's Italian edition ACI Stampa – as well as Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household. Archbishop Gaenswein told CNA that in his opinion, Benedict XVI's greatest legacy “is yet to be discovered,” but that an important one we can see now “the personal and theological witness of a man who is a great theologian, but who did theology in a very, very humble way.” The “silent reform” Benedict carried out is centered on the way he guided and governed the Church, “above all with clarity, but above all with his fine theology,” the archbishop said. Mancini, who writes for ACI Stampa, is a former sports broadcaster, but began his work as a journalist in 2003 when he started writing for the Italian agency “Area,” reporting primarily on internal politics, particularly in the Vatican. He has covered both the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI, as well as the 2013 conclave that named Pope Francis as Benedict XVI's successor. In 2013 he co-authored a book with his colleague Andrea Gagliarducci titled “La quaresima della Chiesa,” meaning “The Lent of the Church.” In his interview with CNA, Mancini said that the original plan for his book on Benedict was that it be released for the 10 year anniversary of his election to the papacy, but that the drafting took longer than expected. Despite the fact it came out just before the three-year anniversary of Benedict XVI's announcement of his decision to resign, the book “doesn’t seek to remember the renunciation, it seeks remember his pontificate in its totality.” “I tried to synthesize in 100 pages the pontificate of Benedict XVI, which is impossible. But I tried to underline the aspects that are perhaps less known to the greater public about the pontificate, from relativism, to his ecumenical commitment.” A total of 96 pages, the book offers a nutshell overview of how Benedict XVI fought against scourges in the Church and in society such as the growing presence of relativism, the economic crisis, pedophilia, increasing global hostility toward Christians and the first “Vatileaks” scandal. It also highlights Benedict XVI's many efforts in favor of ecumenical dialogue, particularly with the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, as well as his emphasis on caring for the environment and promoting sustainable development and business practices. Mancini also notes that Benedict was the one to start the current process of reform and “cleaning” within the Roman Curia, which Pope Francis has continued, particularly on financial matters, the streamlining of the marriage annulment process and dialogue with the Muslim community.   “Financial transparency and pedophilia are the two pillars of the process of reform that Benedict set up in the Church. He started,” Mancini said. “(And) fortunately his successor has carried this process of reform forward,” he added, noting that while on his way back from Africa in November, Pope Francis himself said that Benedict is the one who started the reform. On the papal plane from Bangui to Rome Nov. 30, 2015, Francis took a question from a journalist on corruption in the Vatican. In his response, the Pope noted how on Good Friday in 2005, 13 days before St. John Paul II died, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken about “the filth in the Church.” “He denounced it first,” Francis said, noting that Ratzinger spoke about the same thing again shortly before the conclave, “and we elected him for that freedom in saying things.” In his comments to CNA, Mancini noted that while Benedict did a lot in terms of beginning the current process of reform, it wasn't all smooth sailing – he also faced resistance, as Francis does today. “When there is an idea of reform, whatever it is, there is always resistance. Pope Benedict faced a lot of resistance and a lot of problems,” Mancini said. One of the toughest things Benedict had to face immediately after his election was a Curia that Mancini described as “too independent” due to John Paul II's declining health in the last years of his papacy. “The problem, according to me, is that toward the end of the pontificate of John Paul II – he was an extraordinary Pope, absolutely extraordinary – the problem is that his physical limitations allowed him to govern very little.” What resulted is that when Benedict XVI arrived, he had to put things back into order, so “the work of reform and order began right away.” In addition to Benedict's efforts in creating financial transparency and accountability in abuse cases, he was also the one who first instituted a commission to study the streamlining of the marriage annulment process. The commission finished its work and handed it in, but since Benedict resigned, he never made a move on it. Francis himself picked the project back up, forming a new commission to get an updated study of the issue, which resulted in the new process that went into place Dec. 10. In terms of the resistance Benedict faced, Mancini said he believes it is the same “lobby” that is resisting Francis' process of reform. “I think there is a lot of continuity between the two, whether it's among whoever tries to hinder the process of reform, or the way of reforming the Church,” he said, because Pope Francis “is continuing the same work that Pope Benedict started.” “So I realize in speaking with many people, there's a need to thank Benedict more for what he did for the Catholic Church.”

Vatican: No, bishops are not being told to cover up abuse

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 12:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Media reports are wrong to claim that the Vatican is telling new bishops that they don’t have to report sexual abuse, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. A reported comment from a Vatican consultant is “not in any way – as someone has mistakenly interpreted – a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new 'guidelines' for bishops,” Fr. Lombardi said Feb. 11. The news reports concerned a statement from French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, who contributed to a 2015 formation course for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops. Msgr. Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, wrote a document with a section reflecting on countries’ civil laws that mandate abuse reporting. The document said “it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.” Msgr. Anatrella said that decision is up to victims and their families. Some media reports depicted the monsignor’s statements as an encouragement to cover up sexual abuse or as a claim that it is “not necessarily” a bishop’s duty to report sexual abuse in cases where laws require it. However, Fr. Lombardi rejected this idea, saying that “Anatrella does not say anything new or different than what has been said by the competent ecclesiastical institutions.” He directed reporters to a May 3, 2011 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There, the congregation told episcopal conferences that it is important to cooperate with civil authorities in responding to sexual abuse crimes. Without compromising the sacraments, it said, “the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.” Fr. Lombardi also noted that the comment is part of a single report of a collected volume from an expert conference on the formation of new bishops. That report was “published together with several others on different topics.”  

Four reasons why Pope Francis will meet with Patriarch Kirill

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The first, historic meeting between a Pope and a Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church does not come from nowhere. Both the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Holy See have been working on such an event for decades. In at least three cases under recent Popes, such a meeting seemed about to take place. Once under St. John Paul II and twice under Benedict XVI. But then nothing happened. Why, then, did the Feb. 11 meeting suddenly become possible? There are at least four different reasons.   The need to counter anti-Christian persecution   Both the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church have spoken out clearly to stop the “genocide” of Christians that is taking place in parts of the world. It is now time to join their voices.   Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, clearly spelled out the situation in a Feb. 5 press conference. He said that “the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches.” Metropolitan Hilarion added that “in the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.”   Metropolitan Hilarion’s reference to “internal disagreements” alludes to that part of Russian Orthodoxy that always rejected the possibility of a meeting with the Pope.   For Metropolitan Hilarion, the problems with the Catholic Church still hold. He said the “principle problem” in relations between the two Churches and the “principal obstacle” for a meeting between the two primates has lied in the “Uniate” controversy. The term refers to the Eastern Catholic Churches who were previously Eastern Orthodox Churches. The question was exacerbated during the conflict in the Ukraine. So much so that the same Metropolitan Hilarion took the floor at the Catholic Church’s 2014 synod of bishops to complain about the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. He objected that the Church was active in dioceses of the Moscow patriarchate. The metropolitan’s actions seemed to freeze relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the desire for a meeting between the Patriarch and the Pope was great, according to Father Giovanni Guaita, who worked for the Russian Orthodox Church Department for External Affairs. “Despite any possible division, in the face of religious fundamentalism and of terrorism…it is clear that Christians must be more united,” he stressed.   The priest told CNA Feb. 7 that the upcoming meeting will show “that Christians must be more united in responding to religious fundamentalism and in denouncing the persecution of Christians.” Likely, the joint declaration will mostly deal with an appeal against the persecution of Christians.   The need to counter global immorality   Fr. Guaita cited a second reason why the meeting needed to take place now. “While the world is experiencing a sort of moral liberalism, the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are a rampart for traditional values, and for this reason they are more united together. Together, they can launch a message of morality to the world.”   In this sense, he said, the choice of Cuba is meaningful. “There are still not the right conditions for this meeting to take place in Russia or in Italy. But America is the new world. While Europe is the continent of divisions, America provides the image of a much younger continent. The choice of Cuba can represent a message of hope, the signal that we can start again from new relationships.”   Will these new relationships overcome the Ukrainian issue? It is hard to know. While everything appeared to be set for the announcement of the meeting with the Pope, the Russian Orthodox Synod issued Jan. 28 a strongly worded declarations that reiterated the attacks on the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine.   For this reason, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, said Feb. 5 that he does not expect that the meeting will bring any particular changes.   Archbishop Shevchuk then underscored that “the meeting cannot be an end in itself, but must rather be an instrument, a necessary means for honest and open dialogue.” He added that he is “pleased that we are no longer considered an obstacle and aren’t being used to justify one’s unwillingness to engage in such dialogue.”   The Russian government needs a foreign affairs boost   During the Ukrainian conflict, the issue of the Ukrainian Church became a political issue, given that the Russian Orthodox Church has always sided with the Russian administration. According to a source close to the Patriarchate of Moscow, “the Russian Orthodox Church has often acted as a sort of shadow ministry for the Foreign Affairs of the Russian administration.”   At the moment, Russia’s diplomatic situation is isolated. Relations with Turkey are very poor after a Russian warplane was shot down the last November. Many in the international community oppose Russia’s strong support for Syrian president Bashar Assad.   Facing this diplomatic isolation, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis in Rome two times in three years: in November 2013 and in June 2015. In both cases, they spoke about the Middle East situation, with a special view to Syria, and about persecuted Christians.   “Putin is presenting himself as the champion of the protection of persecuted Christians, and the Russian Orthodox Church helps him keep this image vivid,” a source close to the Patriarchate told CNA Feb. 9. In the end, “the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis shows that Russia is open, and that the Pope is close and sensitive to Russia.”   The Russian Orthodox Church looks ahead to the Pan-Orthodox Synod   The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate also finally agreed to meet with the Pope for reasons of ecclesiastical politics. As the June gathering of the Pan-Orthodox Council approaches, Patriarch Kirill must show himself to be as close to Rome as Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who promoted and organized the Pan-Orthodox Council.   Patriarch Bartholomew proved to be closer than ever to the Catholic Church during the Pope Francis pontificate. He was the first Orthodox Patriarch ever to take part to a Papal installation Mass. He was present at the global prayer for peace with Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens in June 2014. He hosted the Pope at his headquarters in Istanbul during the papal visit to Turkey in November 2014.   This way, Patriarch Bartholomew gained authority among the Orthodox Churches and was able to organize the Pan-Orthodox Council. This is a long-standing dream for the Constantinople Patriarchate that until now was unachievable.   After meeting Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill can go to the Pan-Orthodox Synod on a par with Patriarch Bartholomew. Both the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Patriarchate of Constantinople can claim a privileged and special relationship with the Catholic Church.   Is a Moscow visit still a dream for the Pope?   In the end, Moscow and Rome are generally improving their relations. Rather than hold an ecumenical meeting, they are going to renew their relations with a common commitment to help persecuted Christians. A further step would be an advancement in ecumenical dialogue. The last theological document was issued in Ravenna, Italy by a Catholic-Orthodox mixed commission. Both parties agreed that the Pope of Rome has a sort of primacy, and presides in charity for the other Christian churches. But still, there is not any agreement about how this primacy must be exercised.   In the end, a papal trip to Moscow still seems to be a dream. At least, it is not on the agenda yet.   Photo credit: Nickolay Vinokurov via www.shutterstock.com

Lent is a time of pruning and reconciliation, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2016 / 10:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis said that Lent is the perfect time to let go of selfish and indifferent attitudes, returning to God with the help of prayer, penance and acts of charity. “Lent is a beneficial time of pruning from falsity, from worldliness, from indifference: to not think that everything is ok if I am ok; to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consensus, but purity of heart and life,” the Pope said Feb. 10. It’s a time to rediscover one’s Christian identity, “which is love that serves, not selfishness that uses,” he said. Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica alongside the Missionaries of Mercy, who concelebrated with the Pope and received their official mandate from him during the ceremony. A novelty of the Pope's Jubilee of Mercy, the priests will be sent out to dioceses around the world as special ambassadors of mercy during the Holy Year. Although there are more than 1,000 missionaries from all five continents, only 700 made it to Rome for the official mandate. In addition to their increased availability for hearing confessions, they have also been given faculties to forgive sins otherwise reserved to the Holy See. Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four. Namely, they are: profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. In his homily, Pope Francis focused on two “invitations” extended in the day’s scripture passages. The first, he said, comes from Saint Paul in the second reading. When Paul tells his readers to “be reconciled to God” in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he’s not just giving a piece of good, fatherly advice or making a suggestion, but is offering “a true and genuine petition in the name of Christ,” the Pope said. The reason for such a “solemn and heartfelt appeal” is because Christ knows how fragile we are as sinners, Francis observed. “(Christ) knows the weakness of our heart; he sees the wound of evil we have committed and suffered; he knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that we need to feel loved in order to do good.” Francis stressed that we are not capable of doing good on our own, which is why St. Paul doesn’t tell us to do just anything, “but to be reconciled by God, (because) he overcomes sin and raises us from our miseries, if we entrust them to him.” However, he warned that certain obstacles frequently get in the way, such as the temptation to lock the doors of our heart, to give into feelings of shame, and to distance ourselves from the door by wallowing in our own misery. Francis then addressed the Missionaries of Mercy directly, telling them that their mandate is to be a sign and instrument of God’s forgiveness. He prayed that they would help people to open the doors of their hearts, to overcome shame and encourage them not to run from the light offered by God. “May your hands bless and lift brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father will rest on his children and heal their wounds!” he prayed. A second “invitation” the Pope highlighted was the Prophet Joel’s instruction to “Return to me with all your heart” in the day’s first reading. The reason we need to return, he said, is “because we have distanced ourselves. It’s the mystery of sin: we have distanced ourselves from God, from others, from ourselves.” It’s easy to see this if we stop to think about how we struggle to really trust in God without fear, how hard is for us to love others without thinking badly about them, and how easily we are “seduced” by material things that leave us poor in the end, Pope Francis said. However, he noted that alongside this story of sin, “Jesus opened a history of salvation.” Turning to the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, the Pope said it invites us to become “protagonists” in our own conversion by embracing the “three remedies, three medicines,” of prayer, charity and fasting and penance, “which heal from sin.” Pope Francis concluded his homily by emphasizing that returning to God with one’s entire heart is not something external, but instead comes “from the depth of ourselves.” “Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and authenticity, overcoming hypocrisy,” he said, and prayed that the entire Church would walk together on the Lenten path, receiving the ashes and keeping their gazed “fixed on the Crucified.” “He, loving us, invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to him, in order to return to ourselves,” Francis said.

If mercy doesn’t reach your pockets, it’s not real, Pope says

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2016 / 06:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Pope Francis, mercy isn’t just spiritual, but is something that ought to be expressed in concrete acts of service and in sharing one’s goods with the poor, which was a key tradition during Jubilee years throughout Scripture. Referring to the current Holy Year of Mercy, the Pope explained that the Jubilee is a time “for conversion, so that our heart can become bigger, more generous, more like a child of God, with more love.” “But I tell you that if the Jubilee doesn't arrive to the pockets, it's not a true Jubilee,” he said, adding that “this is in the Bible, it's not the Pope who invented this.” Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten season. In his continued catechesis on mercy as seen in Scripture, the Pope noted how the Jubilee year is an “ancient institution.” He took his cue from the biblical passage in the book of Leviticus in which the Jubilee was instituted among the Jews. According to the rules of the Jubilee, the year served as a “kind of general amnesty” in which a person who had been forced to sell their goods or property could regain possession of them, he noted. In that time, “requirements such as the Jubilee were used to combat poverty and inequality, guaranteeing a life of dignity for all and an equal distribution of the land on which to live and from which to draw sustenance,” the Pope observed. Because the land originally belonged to God, who then entrusted it to man, no one could claim exclusive possession of it or use ownership to create situations of inequality, he said. “With the Jubilee whoever had become poor returned to have what was necessary in order to live, and whoever had become rich restored to the poor what they had taken from them.” The result “was a society based on equality and solidarity where freedom, land and money would become again a good for everyone,” Francis explained. In off-the-cuff remarks, he noted that roughly 80 percent of the world’s wealth rests in the hands of about 20 percent of the people, and encouraged the faithful to be generous with what they have both during Lent, and the Jubilee. “Each person can think in their hearts: if I have too many things, why not leave 10 percent, 50 percent, to those who have nothing?” he asked, assuring those present that if they take the matter to prayer, the Holy Spirit would inspire them about what is reasonable for them to do. Francis then turned to the biblical law that required the payment of tithes, which would be used to assist the poor, people without land, orphans and widows. He said that tithes such as this arrive daily to the Office of the Papal Almoner, which oversees the Pope’s charity funds. When the letters come in, they frequently contain “a little bit of money: something small or not so small, which is part of a person's salary to help others,” the Pope said, explaining that “it’s beautiful” to help others, whether it be people, charitable institutions, hospitals, retirement homes or foreigners. Pope Francis then issued a sharp condemnation of the practice of usury, and lamented how many families have been forced to live on the streets due to the corruption of those who want to line their own pockets. “Usury is a grave sin before God,” he said, and noted that many times, people in desperation “end up committing suicide because they can't do it and they don't have hope.” These people “don't have an outstretched hand to help them, only the hand that makes them pay for personal interests,” he said, and prayed that the Lord would use the Jubilee of Mercy as a time to remove the desire of usury from all hearts, making them bigger and more generous instead. Francis pointed to God’s promise to bring blessings to those who lend a hand and who give generously, adding that when we are generous, the Lord “will give you double...maybe not in money, but the Lord always gives double.” He closed his address by encouraging those present to have the courage to share what they have with others. This, he said, “is called mercy, and if we want the mercy of God, let's begin to do it ourselves.”

Cover sinners with the blanket of mercy, Pope Francis tells priests

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 03:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with 650 of the 1,000 priests who've been chosen as Missionaries of Mercy, telling them to show the tenderness of God’s love to those who confess to them during the Jubilee. “Let us not forget: before us there is not sin, but the repentant sinner. A person who feels the desire of being welcomed and forgiven,” and who no longer desires to be far from God, the Pope said Feb. 9. He called to mind the biblical passage in which Noah, after the flood, got drunk from the wine he made in his vineyard, and was found lying naked inside his tent. While his son Ham laughed at him, Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him with a blanket. When speaking with those who come to the confessional, as priests and as missionaries “we are not called to judge with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune to sin,” Francis said, but are instead asked to take on the attitude of Shem and Japheth, protected their father from shame. “To be a confessor according to the heart of Christ means to cover the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so that they are no longer ashamed and can recover the joy of their filial dignity.” Pope Francis met with the Missionaries of Mercy in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to offer his reflections on their special role during the Jubilee. He will give them their official mandate during his Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s basilica Feb. 10. Though more than 1,000 priests have been selected as Missionaries of Mercy, only 650 have made it to Rome for their official commission. Selected from every continent, the missionaries, among other things, will be given the faculties to pardon sins in cases otherwise reserved to the Holy See. Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four. Namely, they are: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. In his speech, the Pope said that to be a Missionary of Mercy is a responsibility that has been entrusted to them “because it asks you to be in first person witnesses of God's closeness and of his way of loving.” He clarified that this does not mean our way of loving, “which is always limited and at times contradictory,” but consists of God’s own style of loving and forgiving, “which is precisely mercy.” Francis then brought up several points which for him are key themes for the missionaries to keep in mind while carrying out their role throughout the Holy Year. The first thing he asked them to remember is that “you are called to express the maternity of the Church.” “The Church is Mother” not only because she continuously generates new children in the faith, but also because she nurtures that faith and offers the forgiveness of God and new life, “(which is) the fruit of conversion,” he said. If this perception of the Church as Mother fails “due to our rigidity, it would be a serious damage first of all for faith itself, because it would prevent the penitent from being inserted into the Body of Christ,” the Pope said, adding that it would also limit the penitent’s ability to feel like a part of the community. What the missionaries are called to express instead, is a Church who, as a mother, “welcomes anyone who approaches her, knowing that through her they are inserted into Christ.” No matter what the sin is that's been confessed, “every missionary is called to remember their own sinful existence and humbly place themselves as a channel of God's mercy,” he said. Pope Francis then underlined the importance of the desire of forgiveness in the heart of those who come to confession. This desire is the fruit of both grace and its action in peoples' lives, he said, reminding the missionaries that “this desire is the beginning of conversion.” Conversion, he noted, begins when the heart recognizes the evil it has done, but turns to God with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. A person’s desire for forgiveness is strengthened when they decide “in their own heart to change their life and they don't want to sin anymore,” Francis explained, and told the missionaries to “give a lot of space for this desire for God and for his forgiveness.” In his final point, the Pope pointed to “a component which is not spoken of much, but which is rather crucial: shame.” It’s not easy to come before another man, a representative of God, and confess one’s sins, he noted, explaining that shame “is an intimate feeling that affects one's personal life and requires an attitude of respect and encouragement on the part of the confessor.” Pointing to the image of Noah naked in the tent, Pope Francis said the passage, to him, emphasizes the importance of the role of a confessor. “Before us there is a nude person, with their weaknesses and their limits, with the shame of being a sinner,” he said, and urged the missionaries to always remember that it’s not sin that sits in front of them in the confessional, but a repentant sinner. Francis then noted that it’s not “the club of judgment” that brings lost sheep back to the flock, but rather, personal holiness, which he said is the true the source of renewal and reform within the Church. “Holiness is nurtured by love and knows how to bring upon itself the weight of those who are most weak,” he said, explaining that the role of a missionary of mercy is to carry the sinner “on their own back,” and console them with “the strength of compassion.” The Pope told the missionaries, when burdened by the weight of the sins confessed to them as well as their own personal limitations and lack of words, to put their trust “in the strength of mercy, which goes out to everyone as a love which knows no bounds.” He closed his address by assuring the missionaries of his prayers and asking that Mary would assist and intercede for them in their service during the Jubilee.

Cardinal council wraps up prep work on new Vatican departments

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Pope Francis' ongoing process of reform continues to move forward, his council of advisers have finished their proposals for two new Vatican departments, which would merge several others together. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists Feb. 9 that in their most recent meeting, the Pope’s Council of Cardinals gave a “final reading” of the proposals for two new Vatican departments, which are also referred to as “dicasteries.” While proposals for the new dicasteries, which would be dedicated to “Laity, family and life,” and “Justice, peace and migration,” has been on the table for some time, in this round of meetings “the proposals were finalized and given to the Pope for his decision,” Fr. Lombardi said. The cardinals met in Rome for just a day and half Feb. 8-9 – a shorter period than their usual, three-day round of meetings. All of the nine members were present except for Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, who is currently recovering from a planned procedural operation in December. Originally pitched in late 2014, the idea for the new dicasteries has been under development for some time. As of September 2015, the idea was that the department for Laity, Family, and Life would absorb the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and Family, and the Pontifical Academy of Life, while the department for Justice, Peace and Migration would take on the tasks of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, Migrants, Cor Unum and Health Care. However, with the final proposals turned into the Pope, it's up to Francis to decide how to move forward in implementing the council's recommendations. Another point addressed during the brief session was a deepening of the Pope’s speech for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, which he gave to the bishops and cardinals participating in the Synod on the Family Oct. 17, 2015. The speech, in which the Pope spoke extensively about the theme of “synodality” and emphasized the need for a “healthy de-centralization,” will be “important for the work of the reform of the Curia,” Fr. Lombardi said. In addition to the Pope’s speech and the reading of the proposals for the new dicasteries, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also spoke about the activities of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads. Specifically mentioned were the legal and disciplinary matters that involve the competence of the dicasteries of the Curia. These, the spokesman explained, “must be further explored.” Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, also gave an update to the council on the state of reform in economic field, including new initiatives and introductions on procedures being carried out by the secretariat. The cardinals also received a document prepared by the Tribunal of the Rota on the implementation of the new canonical process on the validity of marriage. Fr. Lombardi explained that the document is intended for dioceses, and is “on its way from the Rota to the dioceses.” The eventual reform of Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline was also touched on briefly, though the Vatican spokesman stressed that as of now there is nothing concrete, but that the reform is “a work in progress.” In addition to the meeting of the council, Pope Francis also appointed new heads to two of the three departments forming the new Secretariat for Communications. The three departments of the Secretariat of Communication will include the Theological-Pastoral, the Technical Management and the department for editorial staff, which is expected to lead to a “radio-television” Vatican, uniting both Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center. Heading the Theological-Pastoral department, which will likely take on the functions of the former Pontifical Council for Social communications, is Natasa Govekar, who teaches the theology workshop “Cardinal T. Spidlik” at the Aletti Center in Rome. Additionally, the department for Technical Management, which will be charged with centralizing in a single technological platform, will be overseen by Francesco Masci, who until now has served in the Technical Area of the Vatican Internet Service. The announcement of Govekar and Masci’s appointments came in a Feb. 9 communique from the Vatican, and constitutes part of Francis’ ongoing reform of Vatican communications.

How to be a great confessor – Pope Francis' advice for priests

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 12:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Priests who are good confessors must recognize their own sins in order to forgive and comfort penitents, Pope Francis said one day before the start of the Lenten season. “I speak to you as a brother, and through you I would like to speak to all confessors, especially in this Year of Mercy: the confessional is for forgiveness,” the Pope said in his homily Feb. 9 in St. Peter’s Basilica. He celebrated the Mass with Capuchin Franciscan friars from around the world. Even if priests cannot give absolution in some cases, the Pope told them, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.” Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul.” “Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does,” the Pope said. Reflecting on the Capuchin Franciscan tradition as one of giving forgiveness, he cited the many well-known Capuchin confessors like St. Leopold of Mandic and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio. Relics of both saints, including the body of Padre Pio, have been brought to Rome as a special initiative for the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. The Pope’s Tuesday morning Mass marked these special events. He said these saints are good confessors “because they feel like sinners” – they are forgiven when they know how to ask for it in prayer. When someone forgets the necessity of being forgiven, they slowly forget God, the Pope explained. They forget to ask for forgiveness and they don't know how to forgive. The humble priest, the one who feels like a sinner, is a great forgiver in the sacrament of Confession. Others who wrongly feel themselves pure “only know how to condemn.” “I ask you: don’t get tired of forgiving!” the Pope exhorted. “Be men of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace.” Pope Francis suggested that a penitent’s coming to the confessional is a telling gesture. “If a person comes to me in the confessional, it’s because they feel burdened by something heavy, and they want to remove it,” he said. “Maybe they don't know how to say it, but the gesture is there.” “If this person comes it's because they want to change, not to do it again, to be another person,” he continued. He noted that many times penitents cannot change because of their psychological conditions, their lives or their situation. He encouraged confessors to be “great forgivers,” not condemners. He noted that the Bible depicts Satan as “the great accuser.” “Forgiveness is a seed, a caress of God. Trust in the forgiveness of God,” the Pope told priests.  

High-ranking American in Vatican 'humbled' by appointment as nuncio

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 02:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed Msgr. Peter Bryan Wells, the highest ranking American in the Vatican Secretariat of State, as his new ambassador to South Africa and Botswana. “I am extremely humbled and honored by the faith which has been placed in me by the Church and our Holy Father, especially in this Year of Mercy,” Msgr. Wells said about his nomination. He asked for prayers as he prepares to embark on his new mission “to the extraordinary people of southern Africa.” The Vatican announced Wells’ appointment as nuncio in a Feb. 9 communique, which noted that the Pope has also elevated him to the rank of archbishop. Since July 16, 2009, Msgr. Wells, 52, has served as the Assessor for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, which handles the majority of Church affairs aside from relations with other states. His role as assessor made Msgr. Wells the fifth ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretary of State, which he carried out first under Archbishop Fernando Filoni – now a cardinal – and Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the current ‘Substitute’ to the Secretariat of State. Born in Tulsa, Okla., May 12, 1963, Msgr. Wells studied at St. Meinrad Seminary College in Indiana obtaining a degree in Letters, before being sent to the Pontifical North American College in Rome to study theology. While in Rome, he obtained a baccalaureate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1990, and later, in 1992, a licentiate from the John Paul II Institute for studies on Marriage and the Family at the Pontifical Lateran University. After his ordination to the priesthood July 12, 1991, Msgr. Wells served in various roles in his home diocese of Tulsa, including parochial vicar at Holy Family cathedral, private secretary to the bishop and vicar for Religious Education in the diocese. He began his diplomatic work with the Holy See July 1, 1999, after obtaining a licentiate and doctoral degree in Canon Law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The priest’s first diplomatic assignment was to the nunciature in Nigeria, where he served until 2002 when he was summoned back to Rome to work in the Vatican. Under his new role, Msgr. Wells will now move to Pretoria, where the nunciature of South Africa is located, while serving at the same time as nuncio to Botswana. In addition to his native English, Wells is also fluent in Italian, French, German and Spanish.

Pope Francis grieves over victims of Taiwan earthquake

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2016 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent his condolences to those affected by a deadly earthquake which struck the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan on Saturday, causing a building collapse that has killed dozens of people. “The Holy Father was saddened to learn of the suffering caused by the deadly earthquake which struck in Tainan, leaving many people dead or seriously injured,” reads Sunday's telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Nearly 40 people are confirmed dead after the quake which toppled an apartment block in Taiwan, although officials say the death toll could reach more than 100, Reuters reports. Victims continue to be pulled out of the wreckage of a 17 story building which collapsed from the 6.4 magnitude earthquake, which struck 4 a.m. on Feb. 6, according to Reuters. Pope Francis extended his “prayerful condolences to the families of the deceased and injured,” and the “rescue personnel and the civil authorities,” the telegram reads. “His Holiness, commending the souls of the departed to the tender mercy of God, invokes abundant divine blessings of consolation and strength upon those who mourn and upon all who have been affected by this tragedy.”