Stay in touch

Get the latest news from the Holy See Mission:

Papal press conference touches a host of issues

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke on the Armenian genocide, the relation of the Church to homosexuals, and Britain’s vote last week to leave the European Union, as well as a host of other topics in a wide-ranging press conference on his flight back to Rome following his Apostolic Voyage to Armenia.

Sunday’s in-flight press conference began with questions about the Apostolic Voyage to Armenia that Pope Francis had just concluded. Asked about his message for Armenia for the future, the Holy Father spoke about his hopes and prayers for justice and peace, and his encouragement that leaders are working to that end. In particular, he talked of the work of reconciliation with Turkey and with Azerbaijan. The Pope will be travelling to Azerbaijani later this year.

Pope Francis also spoke about his use of the word ‘genocide,’ acknowledging the legal import of the expression, but explaining that this was the term commonly in use in Argentina for the massacre of Armenians during the first World War.

During the press conference, Pope Francis also addressed a number of religious and ecumenical issues. Speaking about the controversy that arose from remarks by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who in a speech earlier this month had spoken of a shared “Petrine ministry,” Pope Francis insisted there was only one Pope, while praising the pope emeritus as a “great man of God.”

About the Pan-Orthodox Council, which concluded Sunday in Crete, the Pope said, “A step was made forward . . . I think the result was positive.” In response to a question about upcoming commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation,” Pope Francis said, “I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides, but also to recognize the gifts of the Reformation.” He also had words of praise for Martin Luther. The Pope praying and working together are important for fostering unity.

Pope Francis also answered a question about women deacons, and his decision to form a commission to study the issue. He said he was surprised and annoyed to hear that his remarks were interpreted to mean that the Church had opened the door to deaconesses. “This is not telling the truth of things,” he said. But, he continued, “women’s thought is important,” because they approach questions differently from men. “One cannot make a good decision without listening to women.

Reporters also questioned the Pope about recent events, including the recent “Brexit” vote in Britain. He said he had not had time to study the reasons for the British vote to leave the European Union, but noted that the vote showed “divisions,” which could also be seen in other countries. “Fraternity is better, and bridges are better than walls,” he said, but he acknowledged that there are “different ways of unity.” Creativity and fruitfulness are two key words for the European Union as it faces new challenges.

The secular press, meanwhile, latched onto remarks Pope Francis made concerning the Church’s relationship to homosexuals. Insisting once again that homosexuals must not be discriminated against, the Pope said that the Church should apologize to homosexuals and ask forgiveness for offending them – but he added, the Church should also ask forgiveness of any groups of persons who had been hurt by Christians who do not live up to the Gospel. There will always be good and bad Christians in the Church, he said, citing Christ’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. “All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, [and] I [am] the first.”

Finally, answering a question from Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis reflected on his visit to the Memorial at Tzitzernakaberd, and his upcoming journey to Poland, which will include a visit to Auschwitz. The Pope said that in such places, he likes to reflect silently, “alone,” praying that the Lord might grant him “the grace of crying.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Pope Francis thanked the reporters for their hard work and goodness. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Francis at the monastery of ‘Khor Virap’

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ended his three day Apostolic journey to Armenia, his 14th abroad with a visit to ‘Khor Virap’ monastery at the foot of  Mount Ararat. A significant site linked to the conversion of  this nation to Christianity.

Veronica Scarisbrick reports:

The red brick monastery of Khor Virap at the foot of Mount Ararat where tradition holds that Noah’s ark came to rest after the floods is one of Armenia’s most sacred sites. It’s here that the most memorable image of Pope Francis’s visit to Armenia played out.

That of the Pope and the Patriarch standing out against the skyline in unison in the shadow of the snow-capped Mount, as together they release two white doves which flutter into the evening light before soaring up high. A striking gesture which holds within it a symbol of unity and peace.

By contrast the name of the monastery provides a sinking feeling as it means 'deep dungeon'. And while dark and musty dungeons really exist here, some sinking deep into the ground, over six metres under one of the Chapels of the monastery complex, what really matters is that it was in one of these dungeons, often referred to as a well, that Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was held prisoner for thirteen lonng years before bringing about the conversion of the King in 301, so at the beginning of the fourth century. A conversion which led to Armenia becoming the first nation ever to adopt Christianity as a State religion.

And a conversion which was no doubt on the Pope’s mind as together with the Patriarch he made his way up two narrow flights of stairs to the room known as the ‘Well of Saint Gregory’. They were there  to light a candle before making their way to the nearby Chapel to pray: the Patriarch in Armenian and the Pope in Italian.

Before leaving this land which Pope Francis has described as ‘beloved’ he  expressed the idea that it was a grace to find himself on these heights where, beneath the gaze of Mount Ararat, the very silence seems to speak.  And where the 'khatchkar' – the stone crosses – recount a singular history bound up with rugged faith and immense suffering. A history, he went on to say, replete with magnificent testimonies to the Gospel, to which you the Armenian people are heirs.

Words pronounced a day earlier when he had symbolically watered, once again together with the Patriarch, the seedlings of a vine in a model of Noah’s Ark. New life that grows out of memory.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope and Catholicos sign joint statement on justice and peace

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church on Sunday signed a common declaration, giving thanks for the progress towards Christian unity, and appealing for peace in the Middle East and other regions torn apart by conflict, terrorism and religious persecution.

At the conclusion of a three day pastoral visit to Armenia, the first country to embrace the Christian faith, the Pope joined the Patriarch in calling for a peaceful resolution in neighbouring Nagorno-Karabakh. The declaration also recalls “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century”.

In the statement the two religious leaders pray for a change of heart in all who commit violence, as well as imploring leaders of nations to hear the cry of those people “who have urgent need of bread, not guns”.

They acknowledge all that is already being done to support victims of violence, but they insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.

Please find below the full text of the Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin, Republic of Armenia

Today in Holy Etchmiadzin, spiritual center of All Armenians, we, Pope Francis and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II raise our minds and hearts in thanksgiving to the Almighty for the continuing and growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope. We praise the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for enabling us to come together in the biblical land of Ararat, which stands as a reminder that God will ever be our protection and salvation. We are spiritually gratified to remember that in 2001, on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as the religion of Armenia, Saint John Paul II visited Armenia and was a witness to a new page in warm and fraternal relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. We are grateful that we had the grace of being together, at a solemn liturgy in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome on 12 April 2015, where we  pledged our will to oppose every form of discrimination and violence, and commemorated the victims of what the Common Declaration of His Holiness John-Paul II and His Holiness Karekin II spoke of as “the extermination of a million and a half Armenian Christians, in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century”  (27 September 2001).

We praise the Lord that today, the Christian faith is again a vibrant reality in Armenia, and that the Armenian Church carries on her mission with a spirit of fraternal collaboration between the Churches, sustaining the faithful in building a world of solidarity, justice and peace.

Sadly, though, we are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes, of countless innocent people being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world. As a result, religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment, to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality. The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an “ecumenism of blood” which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples. Together we pray, through the intercession of the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence. We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns. Sadly, we are witnessing a presentation of religion and religious values in a fundamentalist way, which is used to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence. The justification of such crimes on the basis of religious ideas is unacceptable, for “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). Moreover, respect for religious difference is the necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities. Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace. In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mindful of what Jesus taught his disciples when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25: 35-36), we ask the faithful of our Churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families. At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity, which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources. We acknowledge all that is already being done, but we insist that much more is needed on the part of political leaders and the international community in order to ensure the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.

The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries. The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman. 

We gladly confirm that despite continuing divisions among Christians, we have come to realize more clearly that what unites us is much more than what divides us. This is the solid basis upon which the unity of Christ’s Church will be made manifest, in accordance with the Lord’s words, “that they all may be one” (John 17.21). Over the past decades the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church has successfully entered a new phase, strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges. Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity.  We urge our faithful to work in harmony for the promotion in society of the Christian values which effectively contribute to building a civilization of justice, peace and human solidarity. The path of reconciliation and brotherhood lies open before us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth (cf. John 16:13), sustain every genuine effort to build bridges of love and communion between us.

From Holy Etchmiadzin we call on all our faithful to join us in prayer, in the words of Saint Nerses the Gracious: “Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of Your servants, and graciously fulfil our petitions, through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, the first martyr Saint Stephen, Saint Gregory our Illuminator, the Holy Apostles, Prophets, Divines, Martyrs, Patriarchs, Hermits, Virgins and all Your saints in Heaven and on Earth. And unto You, O indivisible Holy Trinity, be glory and worship forever and ever. Amen”.

Holy Etchmiadzin, 26 June 2016

His Holiness Francis                     His Holiness Karekin II

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Armenia: May we hasten to Christian unity

(Vatican Radio)  On the last day of his three day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis participated Sunday in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by his Oriental Orthodox host, Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II. In a discourse at the conclusion of the celebration, Pope Francis spoke of his “already unforgettable” visit and prayed that the two Churches “follow God’s call to full communion and hasten to it.” 

Listen to the report by Tracey McClure:

Thanking Catholicos Karekin for his hospitality, Pope Francis said, “you have opened to me the doors of your home and we have experienced ‘how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity’.” 

“We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ.  We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” Pope Francis said.

Citing Saints Bartholomew and Thaddeus “who first proclaimed the Gospel in these lands” and “Saints Peter and Paul who gave their lives for the Lord in Rome,”  the pontiff said they “surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion.”

Francis prayed the Holy Spirit to “make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity” and, “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved” by God’s love, “above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.”

Calling for peace in the Armenian Church and “complete” communion, Pope Francis prayed for “an ardent desire for unity” among Christians.  But such unity, he stressed, must not mean “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each.”

Concluding, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith” and to young people “who seek a future free of past divisions.”

From this holy place, the Pope said, “may a radiant light shine forth once more… and to the light of faith which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory…may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.”

 

Below, please find the English translation of Pope Francis’ discourse:

Your Holiness, Dear Bishops,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

 

            At the end of this greatly-desired visit, one already unforgettable for me, I join my gratitude to the Lord with the great hymn of praise and thanksgiving that rose from this altar.  Your Holiness, in these days you have opened to me the doors of your home, and we have experienced “how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity” (Ps 133:1).  We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ.  We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one.  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).  With great joy we can make our own these words of the Apostle Paul!  Our meeting comes under the aegis of the holy Apostles whom we have encountered.  Saints Bartholomew and Thaddeus, who first proclaimed the Gospel in these lands, and Saints Peter and Paul who gave their lives for the Lord in Rome and now reign with Christ in heaven, surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion.  For all this, I thank the Lord, for you and with you: Park astutsò! (Glory to God!).

            During this Divine Liturgy, the solemn chant of the Trisagion rose to heaven, acclaiming God’s holiness.  May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place.  May “the Only Begotten who descended here” bless our journey.  May the Holy Spirit make all believers one heart and soul; may he come to re-establish us in unity.  For this I once more invoke the Holy Spirit, making my own the splendid words that are part of your Liturgy.  Come, Holy Spirit, you “who intercede with ceaseless sighs to the merciful Father, you who watch over the saints and purify sinners”, bestow on us your fire of love and unity, and “may the cause of our scandal be dissolved by this love” (Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, 33, 5), above all the lack of unity among Christ’s disciples.

            May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete.  May an ardent desire for unity rise up in our hearts, a unity that must not be “the submission of one to the other, or assimilation, but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each.  This will reveal to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit” (Greeting at the Divine Liturgy, Patriarchal Church of Saint George, Istanbul, 30 November 2014).

            Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith.  Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions.  From this holy place may a radiant light shine forth once more, and to the light of faith, which has illumined these lands from the time of Saint Gregory, your Father in the Gospel, may there be joined the light of the love that forgives and reconciles.

            Just as on Easter morning the Apostles, for all their hesitations and uncertainties, ran towards the place of the resurrection, drawn by the blessed dawn of new hope (cf. Jn 20:3-4), so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.

            Now, Your Holiness, in the name of God, I ask you to bless me, to bless me and the Catholic Church, and to bless this our path towards full unity.                               

(from Vatican Radio)

Armenian Catholicos Karekin at Divine Liturgy in Etchmiadzin

(Vatican Radio)  At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy celebrated in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, the Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II thanked Pope Francis for his “brotherly visit” to the country and prayed that the Lord “keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration” and “grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood.”

Pope Francis has been the guest of the Oriental Orthodox Catholicos during his three day pastoral visit to Armenia and participated in Sunday’s celebration.

In a reflection on the miracle of the multiplication of bread, the day’s reading of the Scripture, the Catholicos recalled that Christ performed the miracle in order to feed the hungry crowds.  “The essence of this miracle, which became one of the important missions of Christ’s Holy Church,” he said, “is the satisfaction of empty spirits” by the Gospel teachings and “the support of the needy through compassion.”

The Lord urges us to be “co-workers with God,” he added, by rejuvenating the faith through good works, prayer and “worship with compassion” and “giving alms,” he said.

“Today, faith in God is being tempted and human souls are being hardened during times of hardship and difficulties as well as during times of wealth and lavishness, when they are disengaged with the concerns of those who long for daily bread and are in pain and suffering,” added the Catholicos. And, he warned:  “Faith is put to the test by extremism and other kinds of ideologies; xenophobia, addictions, passions and self-centred profits. The processes of secularism are intensifying, spiritual and ethical values and views are distorted, and the family structure, established by God, is being shaken. The root of evil in modern life is in trying to build a world without God, to construe the laws and commandments of God which bring forward economic, political, social, environmental and other problems, that day by day deepen and threaten the natural way of life.”

But, “goodness will prevail in the world and current challenges will be overcome” through Christ’s Eucharist and reflection on Christ’s teachings he observed.  Such Christian witness, he said, “will repeat the miracle of the multiplication of the bread through supporting and consoling the needy, the sick, and the sorrowful.”

Ecumenical brotherhood and mission

During Pope Francis’ visit, Catholicos Karekin took care to stress, “we reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation. The inseparable mission of the Church of Christ is the strengthening of solidarity among nations and peoples, reinforcing of brotherhood and collaboration, and a witness to this is the participation in this Divine Liturgy today of the ethnic minorities in Armenia: the Assyrians, Belarus, Greeks, Georgians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds, Germans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians who in brotherly coexistence with our people bring their assistance towards the development of our country and the progress of social life.”

 

Below, please find the English translation of Catholicos Karekin II’s discourse:

When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd;

and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

John 13:34

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Yours Holiness, beloved brother in Christ,

Your Excellency, President of the Republic of Armenia,

Beloved spiritual brothers and faithful people,

 

Over the course of the past few days we have been experiencing an abundance of spiritual joy and joint prayer while glorifying God in Holy Etchmiadzin. Today we have gathered for the celebration of Divine Liturgy, joined in prayer by the Pontiff of Rome, our beloved brother, Pope Francis.

It is symbolic that today’s reading of the Scripture, during the celebration of Divine Liturgy, was the story of the multiplication of bread. The Evangelist tells us that when Christ secluded himself, knowing this, the multitude of people followed Him, and when the Lord saw the gathered crowd, He had compassion for them and healed the sick. In the evening the apostles asked the Lord to set the people free so that they could find food for themselves. Christ commanded them to feed the people. However, there was a shortage of food, and the Lord blessed it and the bread, which had miraculously multiplied, was enough for the apostles to feed the entire multitude.

           The essence of this miracle, which became one of the important missions of Christ’s Holy Church, is the satisfaction of empty spirits by the Lord-given teachings and the support of the needy through compassion. The Lord urges His followers to rejuvenate faith by works, to conjoin prayer and worship with compassion, and to give alms; through which, by the appeasement of hardship and tribulations, we are co-workers with God, according to the words of the apostle (1 Corinthians 3:9). Through this vision, numerous prophesying Church fathers, graceful patriarchs, brave and good shepherds, countless witnesses of faith and devout believers have for centuries depicted the pages of the history of Christ’s Church with the devout preaching of the Word of God and the great works of giving alms and fostering; so that the people may be strengthened by faith, and through the works of faith they may secure the presence of God in the lives of humanity.

            Today, faith in God is being tempted and human souls are being hardened during times of hardship and difficulties as well as during times of wealth and lavishness, when they are disengaged with the concerns of those who long for daily bread and are in pain and suffering. Faith is put to the test by extremism and other kinds of ideologies; xenophobia, addictions, passions and self-centred profits. The processes of secularism are intensifying, spiritual and ethical values and views are distorted, and the family structure, established by God, is being shaken. The root of evil in modern life is in trying to build a world without God, to construe the laws and commandments of God which bring forward economic, political, social, environmental and other problems, that day by day deepen and threaten the natural way of life.

            Nevertheless, the world does not cease from being the center of God’s love and care. The Lord continues to say, “I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The one who has tasted the delightful teachings of the Lord stoops to raise the fallen, to increase hope and faith in the hearts of men, and to repeat the miracle of the multiplication of the bread through supporting and consoling the needy, the sick, and the sorrowful. Goodness will prevail in the world and current challenges will be overcome by these commands of God, and by utilizing spiritual and moral values. All good works express God’s care towards humanity and the world, according to the words of the Lord, “behold the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), and as an affirmation of this, the churches of the world bring their service.

            Dear ones, during these days together with our spiritual brother, Pope Francis, with joint visits and prayers we reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world, in taking care of creation, standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation. The inseparable mission of the Church of Christ is the strengthening of solidarity among nations and peoples, reinforcing of brotherhood and collaboration, and a witness to this is the participation in this Divine Liturgy today of the ethnic minorities in Armenia: the Assyrians, Belarus, Greeks, Georgians, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds, Germans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians who in brotherly coexistence with our people bring their assistance towards the development of our country and the progress of social life.

            On this graceful day we are appreciative for another opportunity to thank Pope Francis on the occasion of his brotherly visit. We and our people will always pray for you, beloved brother, and for your efforts made towards peace and prosperity of humanity and towards the advancement of the Church of Christ. May God give you strength, bless and keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration and may He grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood. In your daily prayers remember the Armenian people, the Armenian statehood and the Armenian Church and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

            With a prayerful spirit we ask for the protection and support of the Holy Right Hand of Almighty God to shelter those suffering from wars and terrorism, as well as those who are in starvation, poverty and other kinds of afflictions. We also beseech the Lord to pour abundant graces of heaven upon our lives and the whole world.  Amen

 

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis at Mass in Gyumri, Armenia

(Vatican Radio)   Speaking at Holy Mass Saturday in Gyumri, Armenia, Pope Francis recalled the “terrible devastation” wrought by the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people and gave thanks “for all that has been rebuilt.”

In his Homily, the Pope offered three “stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.”

The first foundation, he said, is “memory:” to “recall what the Lord has done in and for us” and that “He has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.”  “The memory of a people” like those in Armenia, also needs to be preserved the Pope added.  “Even in the face of tremendous adversity,” he stressed, God has “remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel… and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.”

Faith, the Holy Father said, is the second foundation on which to build Christian life. But, he warned, “there is always a danger that can dim the light of faith and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age…to be kept in a museum.”

The third foundation, the Pope added, “is merciful love:”  “We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.”

Below, please find the full English translation of Pope Francis’ Homily at Holy Mass in Gyumri, Armenia:

“They shall build up the ancient ruins… they shall repair the ruined cities” (Is 61:4).  In this place, dear brothers and sisters, we can say that the words of the Prophet Isaiah have come to pass.  After the terrible devastation of the earthquake, we gather today to give thanks to God for all that has been rebuilt.

Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives?  In seeking an answer to this question, I would like to suggest three stable foundations upon which we can tirelessly build and rebuild the Christian life.

The first foundation is memory.  One grace we can implore is that of being able to remember: to recall what the Lord has done in and for us, and to remind ourselves that, as today’s Gospel says, he has not forgotten us but “remembered” us (Lk 1:72).  God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us.  Great things have happened in our personal love story with him, and these must be treasured in our minds and hearts.  Yet there is another memory we need to preserve: it is the memory of a people.  Peoples, like individuals, have a memory.  Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious.  Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history.  As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence.  He has not abandoned you.  Even in the face of tremendous adversity, we can say in the words of today’s Gospel that the Lord has visited your people (cf. Lk 1:68).  He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself (cf. Ps 63:4).  It is good to recall with gratitude how the Christian faith became your people’s life breath and the heart of their historical memory.

Faith is also hope for your future and a light for life’s journey.  Faith is the second foundation I would like to mention.  There is always a danger that can dim the light of faith, and that is the temptation to reduce it to something from the past, something important but belonging to another age, as if the faith were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.  Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all.  Faith, however, is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives.  We would do well to renew this living encounter with the Lord each day.  We would do well to read the word of God and in silent prayer to open our hearts to his love.  We would do well to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts: a joy greater than sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace.  All of this renews our life, makes us free and open to surprises, ready and available for the Lord and for others. 

It can happen too that Jesus calls us to follow him more closely, to give our lives to him and to our brothers and sisters.  When he calls – and I say this especially to you young people – do not be afraid; tell him “Yes!”  He knows us, he really loves us, and he wants to free our hearts from the burden of fear and pride.  By making room for him, we become capable of radiating his love.  Thus you will be able to carry on your great history of evangelization.  This is something the Church and the world need in these troubled times, which are also a time of mercy. 

The third foundation, after memory and faith, is merciful love: on this rock, the rock of the love we receive from God and offer to our neighbour, the life of a disciple of Jesus is based.  In the exercise of charity, the Church’s face is rejuvenated and made beautiful.  Concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card; any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples (cf. Jn 13:35).  We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.  May believers always set an example, cooperating with one another in mutual respect and a spirit of dialogue, knowing that “the only rivalry possible among the Lord’s disciples is to see who can offer the greater love!” (JOHN PAUL II, Homily, 27 September 2001: Insegnamenti XXIV/2 [2001], 478).

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord is always with those who carry glad tidings to the poor, who bind up the brokenhearted and console the afflicted (cf. 61:1-2).  God dwells in the hearts of those who love him.  God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor.  How much we need this!  We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve.  We need men and women of good will, who help their brothers and sisters in need, with actions and not merely words.  We need societies of greater justice, where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.

All the same, we might ask ourselves: how can we become merciful, with all the faults and failings that we see within ourselves and all about us?  I would like to appeal to one concrete example, a great herald of divine mercy, one to whom I wished to draw greater attention by making him a Doctor of the Universal Church: Saint Gregory of Narek, word and voice of Armenia.  It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart.  Yet he always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord who is “giver of gifts, root of goodness… voice of consolation, news of comfort, joyful impulse… unparalleled compassion, inexhaustible mercy… the kiss of salvation” (Book of Lamentations, 3, 1).  He was certain that “the light of God’s mercy is never clouded by the shadow of indignation” (ibid., 16, 1).  Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy.  Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centred but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord, to “the God who is ever near, loving and good” [ibid., 17, 2), “filled with love for mankind … a fire consuming the chaff of sin (ibid., 16, 2).

In the words of Saint Gregory, I would like now to invoke God’s mercy and his gift of unfailing love: Holy Spirit, “powerful protector, intercessor and peace-maker, we lift up our prayers to you…  Grant us the grace to support one another in charity and good works…  Spirit of sweetness, compassion, loving kindness and mercy…  You who are mercy itself… Have mercy on us, Lord our God, in accordance with your great mercy” (Hymn of Pentecost).

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Full text: Pope Francis' in-flight press conference from Armenia

Aboard the papal plane, Jun 26, 2016 / 04:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During his flight from Armenia to Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis gave a press conference to the assembled journalists aboard the papal plane. He reflected on his three-day trip to Armenia, his upcoming trips to Azerbaijan and Poland, the role of the Pope emeritus, Christian unity, and the reformation. He also addressed Brexit, the idea of deaconesses, and how the Church might apologize for unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons. Please find below the full text of the press conference, translated by Catholic News Agency: Fr. Lombardi: Holy Father, thanks so much for being here at the end of this quite brief, but very intense trip. We have been content to accompany you and now we wish to pose you some questions, taking advantage of your kindness. We have a list of people who are signed up to speak and we can begin, as is usual, with the colleagues from Armenia, as we give them the priority. The first is Artur Grygorian, of Armenian Public Television. Pope Francis: I thank you so much for your help on this trip, all of your work that does good to people… communicating well the things. They are good news… and good news always does good. Thanks so much! Thanks. Artur Grygorian (Armenian Public Television): Your Holiness, it is known you have Armenian friends, you had contacts with the Armenian community earlier in Argentina. During the last three days you touched the Armenian spirit. What are your feelings, impressions? And what will be your message for the future, your prayers for Armenia? Thanks. Pope Francis: Well, let’s think to the future and then let’s go to the past. I hope for justice and peace for this people and I pray for this, because it is a courageous people. And I pray that they find justice and peace. I know that so many are working for this; and also I was very happy last week when I saw a photograph of President Putin with the two Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents… at least they’re speaking! And also with Turkey and the president of the republic in his welcoming speech spoke clearly, he had the courage to say: let’s come to an agreement, forgive each other, and look to the future. And this is a great courage for a people who has suffered so much, no? It’s the icon of the Armenian people. This came to me today while I was praying a bit. It’s a life of stone and a tenderness of a mother. It has carried crosses, but stone crosses - and you see them, eh! - but it has not lost its tenderness, art, music, those “suspended chords”, so difficult to understand and with great geniality. A people who has suffered so much in its history and only the faith has kept it on its feet, because the fact is that it was the first Christian nation, this isn’t sufficient! It was the frist Christian nation because the Lord blessed it, because it had the saints, it had bishop saints, martyrs, and for this in resisting Armenia has made itself a “stony skin”, let’s call it that, but it has not lost the tenderness of a maternal heart. Armenia is also a mother! And this is the second question, let’s go to the first now. If I had so many contacts with the Armenians… I went often with them to Masses, I have many Armenian friends… One thing that I usually don’t like to do for rest, but I would go to dinner with them and you have heavy dinners, eh! But, very good friends, no? A very good friend is Archbishop Kissag Mouradian and Boghossian, a Catholic… but among you, more important than belonging to the Apostolic Church or the Catholic Church, is the “Armenism”, and I understood this in those times. Today, an Argentinian from an Armenian family that when I went to the Masses, the archbishop always made him sit next to me so he could explain some ceremonies or some words that I didn’t know greeted me. One, two and three, but I start with three. Fr. Lombardi: Now we give the word to another Armenian representative, Jeannine Paloulian. Jeannine Paloulian (Nouvelles d’Armenie): Yesterday evening at the ecumenical encounter of prayer you asked about carrying out reconciliation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. I would like to ask you simply, given that you are about to go to Azerbaijan in some weeks, what will you do, a concrete sign like you’ve given to Armenia, what is the sign you’d like to give to Azerbaijan tomorrow? Pope Francis: I will speak to the Azerbaijanis of the truth of what I have seen, of what I have felt and I will also encourage them. I met the Azerbaijani president and I spoke with him… I’ll tell you also that not making peace for a little piece of land, because it’s not a big deal, means something dark, no? But I say this to all the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis… Possibly, they can’t agree on the ways of making peace, and on this they need to work. But I don’t know what else to say… I will say that at the moment it comes to my heart, but always positively trying to find solutions that are viable, that move ahead. Fr. Lombardi: Thanks a lot. And now we give the floor to Jean Louis de La Vassiere of France Presse, for whom I believe it may be the last trip that he makes with us, so we are happy to give him a voice. Jean Luis de La Vassiere (AFP): Holy Father, first I wanted to thank you on my behalf and for Sebastien Maillard of La Croix… we are leaving Rome and we wanted to thank you from our hearts for this spring breeze that you’re blowing on the Church… then I have a question: why did you decide to add openly the word genocide to your speech at the presidential palace? On a painful theme like this, do you think it’s useful for peace in this complicated region? Pope Francis: In Argentina, when you spoke of the Armenian extermination, they always used the word “genocide.” I didn’t know another. At the cathedral in Buenos Aires, we put a stone cross in the third altar on the left, remembering the Armenian genocide. The archbishop came, two Armenian archbishops, the Catholic and the Apostolic, they inaugurated it… also the Apostolic Archbishop in the Catholic Church of St. Bartholomew made an altar in memory of St. Bartholomew… but always… I didn’t know another word. I come from this word. When I arrived in Rome, I heard another word: “The Great Evil” or the “terrible tragedy,” but in Armenian, I don’t know how to say it… and they tell me that no, that that is offensive, that of “genocide,” and that you must say this. I’ve always spoke of three genocides in the last century… always three! The first was the Armenian, then that of Hitler, and the last is that of Stalin… there are small ones, there is another in Africa, but as in the orbit of the two great wars there are these three… I’ve asked why… “but some feel like it’s not true, that there wasn’t a genocide”... another said to me… a lawyer told me this that really interested me: the word “genocide” is a technical word. It’s a word that has a technicity that it is not a synonym of “extermination.” You can say extermination, but declaring a “genocide” brings with it actions of reparation… this is what the lawyer said to me. Last year, when I was preparing the speech, I saw that St John Paul II had used the word, that he used both: Great Evil and genocide. And I cited that one in quotation marks… and it wasn’t received well. A statement was made by the Turkish government. Turkey, in a few days called its ambassador to Ankara, who is a great man, Turkey sent us a top ambassador, who returned three months ago... “an ambassadorial fast.” But, he has the right.. The right to protest, we all have it. In this speech at the start there wasn’t a word, that is true. I respond because I added it. But after having heard the tone of the speech of the president and also with my past with this word, and having said this word last year in St. Peter’s publicly, it would have sounded strange not to say at least the same thing. But there, I wanted to underscore something else, and I don’t think I err that I also said: in this genocide, as in the other two, the great international powers looked in the other direction. And this was the thing. In the Second World War some powers, which had photographed the train lines that led to Auschwitz had the possibility to bomb and didn’t do it. An example. In the context of the First War, where was the problem of the Armenians? And in the context of the Second War where was the problem of Hitler and Stalin and after Yalta of the area… and all that no one speak about. One has to underscore this. And make the historical question: why didn’t you do this, you powers? I don’t accuse, I ask a question. It’s curious. They looked at the war, at so many things… but not the people… and I don’t know if it’s true, but I would like to know if it’s true that when Hitler persecuted the Jews, one of the words, of the thing that he may have said was “Well, who remembers today the Armenians, let’s do the same with the Jews.” I don’t know if it’s true, maybe it’s hearsay, but I’ve heard this said. Historians, search and see if it’s true. I think I answered. But I never said this word with an offensive intention, if not objectively. Elisbetta Piqué, La Nacion: Congratulations for the trip, first of all. We wanted to ask you: we know that you are the Pope and Pope Benedict, the Pope Emeritus, is also there, but lately some statements from the prefect of the pontifical household, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, have come down, who suggested that there is a shared Petrine ministry, if I’m not mistaken, with one active Pope and one contemplative Pope. Are there two Popes? Pope Francis: There was a time in the Church when there were three! (laughs) I didn’t read those declarations because I didn’t have time to see those things. Benedict is a Pope Emeritus, he said it clearly that February 11th when he was giving his resignation as of February 28th when he would retire and help the Church with prayer. And, Benedict is in the monastery praying. I went to see him so many times... or by telephone. The other day he wrote me a little little letter. He still signs with his signature, wishing me well for this trip, and once, not once but many times, I’ve said that it’s a grace to have a wise grandfather at home. I’ve also told him to his face and he laughs, but for me he is the Pope Emeritus. He is the wise grandfather. He is the man that protects my shoulders and back with his prayer. I never forget that speech he made to us cardinals on February 28th, “among you I’m sure that there is my successor. I promise obedience.” And he’s done it. But, then I’ve heard, but I don’t know if it’s true, this, eh - I underscore, I heard this, maybe they’re just rumors but they fit with his character - that some have gone there (to him) to complain because of this new Pope… and he chased them away, eh, with the best Bavarian style, educated, but he chased them away. I don’t know if it’s true. It’s welcome because this man is like that. He’s a man of his word, an upstanding, upstanding, upstanding man. He is the Pope Emeritus. Then, I don’t know if you remember that I thanked him publicly. I don’t know when but I think it was on a flight, Benedict, for having opened the door to Popes emeriti. But, 70 years ago bishops emeriti didn’t exist. Today, we have them… but with this lengthening of life, but can you run a Church at this age, with aches and pains or not? And he, courageously, and with prayer and with science, with theology decided to open this door and I believe that this is good for the Church. But there is one single Pope, and the other… maybe they will be like the bishops emeriti, I’m not saying many but possibly there could be two or three. They will be emeriti... They are emeriti. The day after tomorrow, the 65th anniversary of his episcopal (Fr. Lombardi says something to the Pope), sorry, priestly ordination will be celebrated. His brother Georg will be there because they were both ordained together. There will be a little event with the dicastery heads and few people because he prefers a … he accepted, but very modestly, and also I will be there and I will say something to this great man of prayer, of courage that is the Pope Emeritus, not the second Pope, who is faithful to his word and a great man of God, is very intelligent, and for me he is the wise grandfather at home. Fr. Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness. And now we give the word to Alexej Bukalov, one of our deans, who as you know represents Italtass, and so the Russian culture is with us. Pope Francis: Did you speak Russian in Armenia? Bukalov (Italtass): Thank you Holiness, thanks for this trip which is your first trip on ex-Soviet territory and for me it was very important to follow it. My question goes a bit outside of this issue: I know that you have greatly encouraged this Pan-Orthodox Council, when even at the encounter with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba it was mentioned as a wish. Now what judgement do you make of this, let’s say, “forum.” Pope Francis: A positive judgement. A step was made forward, not with 100 percent, but a step forward. The things that have “justified,” in quotation marks, and I’m sincere about them, are the things that with time can be resolved. Also themselves, these four who didn’t go, who wanted to do it a little bit later. But I think the first step is made as you can, as children, they make their first step but they do as they can. First they do like cats and then they take their first steps. I am happy. They’ve spoken of so many things. I think the result is positive. The single fact that these autocephalous Churches have gathered in the name of Orthodoxy to look upon each others' faces, to pray together and speak and maybe tell some jokes… but that is extremely positive! I thank the Lord! At the next there will be more. Blessed be the Lord. Fr. Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness.. Now we pass the microphone to Edward Pentin who represents the English language this time. Edward Pentin (National Catholic Register): As John Paul II, you seem to be a supporter of the European Union and you praised the European project when you recently won the Charlemagne prize. Are you worried that Brexit could bring about the disintegration of Europe and eventually war? Pope Francis: There is already a war in Europe. Moreover, there is a climate of division, not only in Europe, but in its own countries. If you remember Catalonia, last year Scotland. These divisions… I don’t say that they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before take a step forward for a division, to speak well amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions… I honestly don’t know. I have not studied the reasons why the United Kingdom wanted to make this decision, but there are divisions. I believe I said this once, I don’t know where, but I said it: That independence will make for emancipation. For instance, all our Latin American countries, even the countries of Africa, have emancipated from the crown, from Madrid. Even in Africa from Paris, London, Amsterdam . . . And this is an emancipation, and is more understandable because behind it there is a culture, there is a way of thinking . . . . rather, the seccession of a country -- I’m still not speaking of Brexit; we think of Scotland, all these... It is a thing that has been given a name, and this I say without offending, it is a word which politicians use: Balkanization, without speaking ill of the Balkans. It is somewhat of a seccession, it is not emancipation. And behind (it) there are histories, cultures, misunderstandings, even good will . . . this is clear. For me, unity is always better than conflict, but there are different ways of unity . . . and even fraternity, and here comes the European Union; fraternity is better than animosity and distance. Fraternity is better and bridges are better than walls. One must reflect on all of this. It is true: a country . . . I am in Europe, but . . . I want to have certain things that are mine from my culture and the step that . . . and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize, which is given by the European Union to discover the strength that it had from its roots. It is a step of creativity, and also of “healthy disunity,” to give more independence, more liberty to countries of the Union, to think of another form of Union, to be creative. And creative in places of work, in the economy. There is a liquid economy in Europe. For instance, in Italy 40 percent of young people aged 25 and younger do not have work. There is something that is not good in this massive Union, but we do not throw the baby in the bath water out the window, no? We look to redeem the things and recreate, because recreation of human things, also our personality, is a journey, which one must always take. A teenager is not like an adult, or an elderly person. It is the same and it is not the same. One recreates continuously. It is this that gives life, the desire to live, and gives fruitfulness. And this I underline: today, the word, the two key words for the European Union, are creativity and fruitfulness. This is the challenge. I don’t know, it’s what I think. Fr. Lombardi: Thank you Holiness, and so now we give the word to Tilmann Kleinjung, who is from the ARD, from the national German radio and also I think this might be his last trip so we are happy to give him this possibility. Kleinjung (ARD): Yes, also I am about to depart for Bavaria. Thanks for this question. Pope Francis: Too much beer! Kleinjung: Too much beer … Holy Father, I wanted to ask you a question. Today you spoke of the gifts of the shared Churches, of the gifts shared by the Churches together. Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you. Pope Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together. Cecile Chambraud (Le Monde): Asks a question about deaconesses. Pope Francis: There is a president in Argentina who advised presidents of other countries: “When you want something not to be resolved, make a commission.” But, the first to be surprised by this news was me… The dialogue with religious was recorded and published on L'Osservatore Romano and something else... And we had heard that in the first centuries there were deaconesses. One could study this and one could make a commission. Nothing more has been requested. They were educated, not just educated, beloved of the Church. And I recounted that I knew a Syrian, a Syrian theologian who had died, the one who wrote a critical edition of Saint Ephrem, in Italian, and once speaking of deaconesses, when I came and was staying at Via della Scrofa, he lived there, at breakfast speaking…  but he did not know well if they had ordination. Certainly there were these women who helped the bishop, and helped in three things: In the baptism of women, because there was the baptism of immersion; second, in the pre-baptismal unction for women, third – this makes me laugh – when there was a woman who went to complain to the bishop because her husband beat her, the bishop called one of these deaconesses, who looked at the woman's body to find bruises... this is why it was done for this. But, one can study, if it is the doctrine of the Church and if one might create this commission. They said: “The Church opens the door to deaconesses.” Really? I was a bit annoyed because this is not telling the truth of things. I spoke with the prefect of the [Congregation for the] Doctrine of the Faith, and he told me, “look, there is a study which the international theological commission had made in 1980.” And I asked the president to please make a list. Give me a list of who I can take to create this commission. He sent me the list to create this commission, but I believe that the theme has been studied a lot, and I don't think it will be difficult to shed light on this argument. But, there is another thing, a year and a half ago I made a commission of women theologians who had worked with Cardinal Rylko, who had written a lovely book, because woman's thought is important. The women think differently from us, and one cannot make a good decision without listening to women. Sometimes in Buenos Aires, I consulted with my advisers, and then I asked women to come and they saw things in another light, which departed greatly . . . But, then, the solutions (were) very fruitful, very lovely. I must meet these women who have done a good job, but because the dicastery of the laity is changing now, and I am waiting for what it does. But, to continue this second work which is another thing, the theological women . . . But this, I would like to emphasize, is more important: the way of understanding, of thinking, of seeing of women and the capabilities of women. The Church is a woman. It is 'la Chiesa', who is not a spinster; she is a woman married to the son of God, she is the spouse of Jesus Christ. Cindy Wooden, CNS: Holiness, within the past few days Cardinal Marx, the German, speaking at a large conference in Dublin which is very important on the Church in the modern world, said that the Catholic Church must ask forgiveness to the gay community for having marginalized these people. In the days following the shooting in Orlando, many have said that the Christian community had something to do with this hate toward these people. What do you think? Pope Francis: I will repeat what I said on my first trip. I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior...Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? ... But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well...this is what the catechism says, a clear catechism. Then there are traditions in some countries, in some cultures that have a different mentality on this problem. I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! – Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families...I remember from my childhood the culture in Buenos Aires, the closed Catholic culture. I go over there, eh! A divorced family couldn’t enter the house, and I’m speaking of 80 years ago. The culture has changed, thanks be to God. Christians must ask forgiveness for many things, not just these. Forgiveness, not just apologies. Forgive, Lord. It’s a word that many times we forget. Now I’m a pastor and I’m giving a sermon. No, this is true, many times. Many times … but the priest who is a master and not a father, the priest who beats and not the priest who embraces, forgives and consoles. But there are many. There are many hospital chaplains, prison chaplains, many saints. But these ones aren’t seen. Because holiness is modest, it’s hidden. Instead it’s a little bit of blatant shamelessness, it’s blatant and you see so many organizations of good people and people who aren’t as good and people who … because you give a purse that’s a little big and look at you from the other side like the international powers with three genocides. We Christians – priests, bishops – we have done this. But also we Christians have Teresa of Calcutta and many Teresa of Calcuttas. We have many servants in Africa, many laity, many holy marriages. The wheat and the weeds. And so Jesus says that the Kingdom … we must not be scandalized for being like this. We must pray so that the Lord makes these weeds end and there is more grain. But this is the life of the Church. We can’t put limits. All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, me first of all! Alright. I don’t know if I have replied. Fr. Lombardi: Holy Father, I’m allowing myself to pose you a final question and then we’ll leave you in peace. Pope Francis: Don’t put me in difficulty! Fr. Lombardi: No, it’s about the coming trip to Poland which we are already starting to prepare for, and you will dedicate this month of July to preparing for. If you could tell us something of the feelings with which you’re going to this World Youth Day in this Jubilee of Mercy… and another more specific point is this: we visited the Memorial of Tzitzernakaberd with you during the visit to Armenia… and you will also visit Auschwitz and Birkenau during the trip to Poland… so, now I felt saying that you desire to live this moment with more silence than with words as you have done here, also at Birkenau [sic] and I wanted to ask if you preferred to make a moment of silent prayer with a specific motive. Pope Francis: Two years ago at Redipuglia I did the same to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, at Redipuglia. I went in silence… then there was a Mass, at Mass I preached, but there was something else. The silence. Today, we saw this morning the silence… it was today, right? Fr. Lombardi: Yesterday. Pope Francis: Yesterday… the silence… I would like to go to that place of horror, without speeches, without people, just the little necessities… but there will certainly be journalists… but without greeting this and this… no, no… alone, entering, praying and may the Lord give me the grace of crying. It’s this. Fr. Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness… now, we will accompany you also in the preparation of this next trip and we thank you so much for the time you’ve dedicated us… and now, rest a bit, eat also, and rest also in the month of July, then … Pope Francis: Again, thanks, also for your work and your benevolence. Thank you!

Pope and Armenian Church leader: Crisis in the family caused by secularism

Yerevan, Armenia, Jun 26, 2016 / 05:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a joint declaration signed Sunday, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II expressed their shared belief that, when the family is no longer seen as sacred, it falls into crisis. “The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family,” the June 26 declaration said. “In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries.” “The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.” The joint declaration was signed by the Pope and Catholicos Karekin II on Jun 26, the final day of Pope Francis' three day visit to Armenia. Addressed issues such as persecution and discrimination, while acknowledging the positive steps toward unity between the Church of Rome and the Armenian Apostolic Church. In the declaration, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II expressed thanksgiving to God for the ongoing and “growing closeness in faith and love between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church in their common witness to the Gospel message of salvation in a world torn by strife and yearning for comfort and hope.” The letter recalled the various steps taken towards unity, including St. John Paul II's 2001 visit to mark the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia, as well as the solemn liturgy in April, 2015, commemorating the 1915 Armenian genocide. “We praise the Lord that today, the Christian faith is again a vibrant reality in Armenia, and that the Armenian Church carries on her mission with a spirit of fraternal collaboration between the Churches, sustaining the faithful in building a world of solidarity, justice and peace.” The declaration addressed the “immense tragedy” seen in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world of killings, displacement, and exile, which have resulted in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, “to the point that suffering for one’s religious belief has become a daily reality. “The martyrs belong to all the Churches and their suffering is an 'ecumenism of blood' which transcends the historical divisions between Christians, calling us all to promote the visible unity of Christ’s disciples.” The Pope and the Catholicos prayed for a “for a change of heart in all those who commit such crimes and those who are in a position to stop the violence.” They called on world leaders to promote peace and justice for those “who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns.” The declaration decried the unjustifiable acts of hatred, discrimination, and violence in the name of fundamentalist religious values. Citing the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the letter said: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” Francis and Karekin II stressed the importance of respecting religious differences as a “necessary condition for the peaceful cohabitation of different ethnic and religious communities.” “Precisely because we are Christians, we are called to seek and implement paths towards reconciliation and peace.” “In this regard we also express our hope for a peaceful resolution of the issues surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh,” a landlocked region in nearby Azerbaijan which has seen ongoing conflict over the past century. The letter went on to call on the faithful of both Churches to follow Christ's teaching, and “to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families.” “At issue is the very sense of our humanity, our solidarity, compassion and generosity, which can only be properly expressed in an immediate practical commitment of resources,” the declaration reads. The letter calls on political leaders and the international community to do more in ensuring “the right of all to live in peace and security, to uphold the rule of law, to protect religious and ethnic minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling.” Amid the divisions seen among Christians, “what unites us is much more than what divides us,” and “this is the solid basis upon which the unity of Christ’s Church will be made manifest,” the declaration said. The joint declaration addressed the role of secularism in feeding the crisis in the family as witnessed worldwide. “The secularization of large sectors of society, its alienation from the spiritual and divine, leads inevitably to a desacralized and materialistic vision of man and the human family. In this respect we are concerned about the crisis of the family in many countries,” the letter reads. “The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman.” The letter acknowledged the successful “new phase” in relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church, “strengthened by our mutual prayers and joint efforts in overcoming contemporary challenges.” “Today we are convinced of the crucial importance of furthering this relationship, engaging in deeper and more decisive collaboration not only in the area of theology, but also in prayer and active cooperation on the level of the local communities, with a view to sharing full communion and concrete expressions of unity.” “The path of reconciliation and brotherhood lies open before us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides us into all truth, sustain every genuine effort to build bridges of love and communion between us." Pope Francis' June 24-26 to Armenia was organized following the invitation of Karekin II, the nation's civil authorities, and the Catholic Church. The visit also comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced. Armenia has an ancient Christian legacy, being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301.

Pope to Catholicos Karekin II: 'We have embraced as brothers'

Yerevan, Armenia, Jun 26, 2016 / 01:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis reiterated his desire for full communion with the Armenian Apostolic Church during its divine liturgy on Sunday, the final major event of his three-day visit to the Caucasus nation. Delivering his address after the homily of Catholicos Karekin II, who presided over the liturgy, the Pope also asked the supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church to bless him, the Catholic Church, and “this our path towards full unity.” “We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ,” the pontiff said. “We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one.” “May the Armenian Church walk in peace and may the communion between us be complete.”   Pope Francis attended the June 26 divine liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, after privately celebrating Mass in the morning. The liturgy was held out of doors in the Saint Tiridates square of the Etchmiadzin Apostolic Palace. The meeting between the Pope and Karekin, Francis said, was under the auspices of the apostles – Bartholomew and Thaddeus, “who first proclaimed the Gospel” in Armenia, and “Saints Peter and Paul who gave their lives for the Lord in Rome and now reign with Christ in heaven, surely rejoice to see our affection and our tangible longing for full communion.” “For all this, I thank the Lord, for you and with you: Park astutsò! (Glory to God!).” The Pope referenced the prayers of the day's liturgy, such as the solemn Trisagion chant, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. “May abundant blessings of the Most High fill the earth through the intercession of the Mother of God, the great saints and doctors, the martyrs, especially the many whom you canonized last year in this place,” he said. Citing the words of St. Gregory of Narek, he went on to pray to the Holy Spirit for unity, especially “among Christ’s disciples.” Francis added that this unity should not be one of submission or assimilation, “but rather the acceptance of all the gifts that God has given to each.” “Let us respond to the appeal of the saints, let us listen to the voices of the humble and poor, of the many victims of hatred who suffered and gave their lives for the faith,” Pope Francis said. “Let us pay heed to the younger generation, who seek a future free of past divisions.” Just as the Apostles rushed toward the place of Jesus' resurrection on Easter, despite their “hesitations and uncertainties,” the Pope said, “so too on this holy Sunday may we follow God’s call to full communion and hasten towards it.” Pope Francis concluded by asking Karekin to bless him, to bless the Catholic Church, and “to bless this our path towards full unity.” Earlier, in his homily for the divine liturgy, Catholicos Karekin II expressed his gratitude for Pope Francis' “brotherly visit” to Armenia. The three-day visit with “our spiritual brother, Pope Francis,” he said, “reconfirmed that the Holy Church of Christ is one in the spreading of the gospel of Christ in the world.” This includes caring for creation, “standing against common problems, and in the vital mission of the salvation of man who is the crown and glory of God’s creation.” Karekin II also spoke on the challenges faced today against the faith, such as secularism, the distortion of spiritual and ethical values, and the shaking of the family structure. Temptations against faith in God occur both amid hardships and amid “times of wealth and lavishness, when they are disengaged with the concerns of those who long for daily bread and are in pain and suffering,” he said. “Faith is put to the test by extremism and other kinds of ideologies; xenophobia, addictions, passions and self-centred profits.” “The root of evil in modern life is in trying to build a world without God, to construe the laws and commandments of God which bring forward economic, political, social, environmental and other problems, that day by day deepen and threaten the natural way of life.” Catholicos Karekin concluded his homily reiterating his appreciation for Pope Francis' visit. “We and our people will always pray for you, beloved brother, and for your efforts made towards peace and prosperity of humanity and towards the advancement of the Church of Christ,” he said. “May God give you strength, bless and keep firm our Churches in love and collaboration and may He grant us new opportunities for witness of brotherhood.” Pope Francis' June 24-26 to Armenia was organized following the invitation of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, the nation's civil authorities, and the Catholic Church.

Faith is not a museum piece, Pope says

Gyumri, Armenia, Jun 25, 2016 / 03:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During the first major Mass of his three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis said faith is not a thing of the past, like an artifact in a museum. Rather, it is kept alive through continuous encounters with Christ. Faith “is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives,” the Pope said during his June 25 homily in the northwestern city of Gyurmi. The pontiff warned against the temptation to reduce faith to something that belongs in the past, as if it “were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.” “Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all,” he said. The Pope acknowledged the faith of the people of Armenia, the first country to embrace Christianity, and the site of a bloody persecution against Christians 100 years ago. “He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself,” he said. Pope Francis delivered his homily during Mass at Vartanants Square in Gyumri, the main event of his second day in the country. The city had recently been largely rebuilt after a 1988 earthquake devastated the region, and killed tens of thousands of people. Pope Francis made reference to the earthquake in his homily, in which he spoke on the theme of rebuilding. “Yet we might also wonder: what is the Lord asking us to build today in our lives, and even more importantly, upon what is he calling us to build our lives?” Drawing on this theme of rebuilding, the Pope challenged the faithful to consider not only what God wants them to build in their lives, but the foundation upon which they should build. The pontiff suggested three ways of building a solid foundation: memory, faith, and merciful love. Memory is recalling “what the Lord has done in and for us,” that “God has chosen us, loved us, called us and forgiven us,” Pope Francis said. “Great things have happened in our personal love story with him, and these must be treasured in our minds and hearts.” The Pope also spoke about the importance of preserving the “memory of a people.” “Your own people’s memory is ancient and precious. Your voices echo those of past sages and saints; your words evoke those who created your alphabet in order to proclaim God’s word; your songs blend the afflictions and the joys of your history.” “As you ponder these things, you can clearly recognize God’s presence. He has not abandoned you. Even in the face of tremendous adversity, we can say in the words of today’s Gospel that the Lord has visited your people.” “He has remembered your faithfulness to the Gospel, the first-fruits of your faith, and all those who testified, even at the price of their blood, that God’s love is more precious than life itself.” The second way of building a foundation is with faith, Pope Francis said. He addressed the danger of reducing faith to something that belongs in the past, as if it “were a beautiful illuminated book to be kept in a museum.” “Once it is locked up in the archives of history, faith loses its power to transform, its living beauty, its positive openness to all,” he warned. Rather, faith “is born and reborn from a life-giving encounter with Jesus, from experiencing how his mercy illumines every situation in our lives,” the Pope said, which should be renewed daily by reading God's word and praying silently “to open our hearts to his love.” “We would do well to let our encounter with the Lord’s tenderness enkindle joy in our hearts: a joy greater than sadness, a joy that even withstands pain and in turn becomes peace.” Francis challenged the faithful, especially young people, to respond when “Jesus calls us to follow him more closely, to give our lives to him and to our brothers and sisters.” “Do not be afraid; tell him 'Yes!' He knows us, he really loves us, and he wants to free our hearts from the burden of fear and pride,” the Pope said. “By making room for him, we become capable of radiating his love.” “Thus you will be able to carry on your great history of evangelization. This is something the Church and the world need in these troubled times, which are also a time of mercy.” The third and final way of building a foundation is to foster “merciful love” towards neighbor, the Pope said. “Concrete love is the Christian’s visiting card,” the pontiff said; “any other way of presenting ourselves could be misleading and even unhelpful, for it is by our love for one another that everyone will know that we are his disciples.” “We are called above all to build and rebuild paths of communion, tirelessly creating bridges of unity and working to overcome our divisions.” Pope Francis cited the first reading from Isaiah during the day's Mass, which reminds the faithful how “the Spirit of the Lord is always with those who carry glad tidings to the poor, who bind up the brokenhearted and console the afflicted.” “God dwells in the hearts of those who love him. God dwells wherever there is love, shown especially by courageous and compassionate care for the weak and the poor.” “How much we need this! We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve.” He called on people of good will to help others with not only words but also actions, and stressed the need for more just societies “where each individual can lead a dignified life and, above all, be fairly remunerated for his or her work.” St. Gregory of Narek, who was declared doctor of the Church in 2015 by Pope Francis, is an example of learning how to be merciful despite our faults, the pontiff said. “It is hard to find his equal in the ability to plumb the depths of misery lodged in the human heart,” Francis said. “Yet (Gregory of Narek) always balanced human weakness with God’s mercy, lifting up a heartfelt and tearful prayer of trust in the Lord.” “Gregory of Narek is a master of life, for he teaches us that the most important thing is to recognize that we are in need of mercy,” the Pope said.   “Despite our own failings and the injuries done to us, we must not become self-centred but open our hearts in sincerity and trust to the Lord.” In his remarks at the conclusion of Mass, the Pope extended a special greeting to “all those who with such generosity and practical charity are helping our brothers and sisters in need.” The pontiff particularly recalled the hospital in Ashotsk, known as the “Pope's Hospital,” which was established 25 years ago. This hospital, he said, “was born of the heart of Saint John Paul II, and it continues to be an important presence close to those who are suffering.” Pope Francis' June 24-26 to Armenia was organized following the invitation of Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, the nation's civil authorities, and the Catholic Church. The visit also comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced. Armenia has an ancient Christian legacy, being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301.

'Spirit of Ecumenism' helps promote Christian witness, Pope says

Yerevan, Jun 24, 2016 / 07:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Praying at the main cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the start of his three-day visit to the Caucasus nation, Pope Francis praised the “spirit of ecumenism,” and its role in promoting human dignity against “grave forms of material and spiritual poverty.” “We offer to the world – which so urgently needs it – a convincing witness that Christ is alive and at work, capable of opening new paths of reconciliation among the nations, civilizations and religions,” the Pope said Friday. “We offer a credible witness that God is love and mercy.” The Pope made these remarks during his visit to the St. Etchmiadzin cathedral at the invitation of Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is believed to be the oldest cathedral in the world. The Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenia's national church, is an Oriental Orthodox Church to which 93 percent of the population belongs. “When our actions are prompted by the power of Christ’s love, understanding and reciprocal esteem grow,” Francis said, “a fruitful ecumenical journey becomes possible, and all people of goodwill, and society as a whole, are shown a concrete way to harmonize the conflicts that rend civil life and create divisions that prove hard to heal.” The “spirit of ecumenism,” he explained, “prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith.” This is because it “requires us to rediscover faith’s authentic roots, and to communicate, defend and spread truth with respect for the dignity of every human being and in ways that reveal the presence of the love and salvation we wish to spread.” The visit to Saint Etchmiadzin cathedral, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is the first major stop on Pope Francis' June 24-26 visit to the Caucasus nation. Following a greeting by Catholicos Karekin II, Pope Francis Francis expressed his gratitude for the invitation to visit Saint Etchmiadzin, along with the bishops and archbishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Pope reflected on the nation's Christian legacy, saying he thanked God “for the light of faith kindled” in Armenia, which has given it a “particular identity and made it a herald of Christ among the nations.” “Christ is your glory and your light. He is the sun who has illuminated and enlivened you, accompanied and sustained you, especially in times of trial.” In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to establish Christianity as its state religion, “at a time when persecutions still raged throughout the Roman Empire,” the pontiff recalled. “For Armenia, faith in Christ has not been like a garment to be donned or doffed as circumstances or convenience dictate,” he said. Rather, it is “an essential part of its identity, a gift of immense significance, to be accepted with joy, preserved with great effort and strength, even at the cost of life itself.” This “luminous testimony of faith,” the Pope said, “is a shining example of the great efficacy and fruitfulness of the baptism received over seventeen hundred years ago, together with the eloquent and holy sign of martyrdom, which has constantly accompanied the history of your people.” Francis turned to the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, and acknowledged the steps that have been taken over the years under the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Included among these are the consignment of the relic of Saint Gregory the Illuminator for the new Cathedral of Yerevan, and the joint declaration between St. John Paul II and Karekin II. “May the Holy Spirit help us to attain the unity for which our Lord prayed, so that his disciples may be one and the world may believe,” he said. The pontiff decried the divisions and conflicts in the world, along with “grave forms of material and spiritual poverty, including the exploitation of persons, not least children and the elderly.” “It expects from Christians a witness of mutual esteem and fraternal cooperation capable of revealing to every conscience the power and truth of Christ’s resurrection,” he said. Joint initiatives and cooperation in the context of a commitment to unity, therefore, serve the common good, the Pope said. “All these are like a radiant light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding.” He closed his address by invoking the intercession of Mary, St. Gregory the Illuminator, and doctor of the Church St. Gregory of Narek to “bless all of you and the entire Armenian nation.” The Francis' visit to Armenia comes a little over 100 years after the 1915 Armenian genocide, during which some 1.5 million Christians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, and millions more displaced. He is also the second pontiff to visit the Caucasus nation, after St. John Paul II's in 2001.

Pope Francis: Europe must ensure peaceful coexistence after Brexit

Yerevan, Jun 24, 2016 / 07:12 am (National Catholic Register).- Pope Francis has said the result of the U.K.’s referendum to leave the European Union reflects the “will of the people” and that there is now a “great responsibility” to ensure the well being of people in the U.K. and peaceful coexistence on continental Europe. Addressing reporters on the papal plane to Armenia, the Holy Father said he had only read basic information about the result of the vote just before leaving Rome, but said he felt it was “the will of the people”. “It demands great responsibility on our part,” he said, “to ensure the well being of the people in the United Kingdom, and the coexistence of the people on the European continent. As I expect.” The U.K. voted yesterday in a referendum to leave the European Union after 43 years as a member of the economic-political bloc. Before addressing the “Brexit” vote, the Pope also shared his reaction to the news yesterday that Colombia’s long internal conflict had come to an end. “I am happy about this news that came to me yesterday, after more than 50 years of war, of conflict, and much bloodshed,” he said. “I hope that the countries that work for peace keep it.” He wished the country well on its “next step.” The Pope arrived at 2:50 p.m. local time at Yerevan’s international airport after a four-hour flight from Rome. Immediately after arrival, the Holy Father was driven to the Apostolic Cathedral in Etchmiadzin where he is due to deliver the first discourse of his 14th visit outside Italy. Edward Pentin is the Rome Correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He is joining Pope Francis on the papal flight to Armenia.

There's no excuse for it: Pope Francis on the death penalty

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 04:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a video message sent Wednesday to a gathering of advocates for abolition of the death penalty, Pope Francis welcomed their efforts as a way to promote the right to life of all persons. “Nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person,” the Pope said in his June 22 message to the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty, which is being held in Oslo this week. More than 1,000 people are in attendance from governments, international organizations, and society. Capital punishment “is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” Pope Francis continued. “It likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.” He expressed his “personal appreciation” to the participants for their “commitment to a world free of the death penalty.” That “public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defence,” he called a “sign of hope.” In addition to being offensive to the inviolability of human life, Pope Francis said that the death penalty is not “consonant with any just purpose of punishment.” “It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.” Recalling the Jubilee of Mercy being celebrated currently, the Roman Pontiff said the year is “an auspicious occasion for promoting worldwide ever more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person.” “It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal,” he exhorted. In addition to calling for an end to capital punishment, Pope Francis called on the participants to work for the improvement of prison conditions “so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated.” He reiterated that rendering justice “does not mean seeking punishment for its own sake, but ensuring that the basic purpose of all punishment is the rehabilitation of the offender.” The question of justice should be answered “within the larger framework of a system of penal justice open to the possibility of the guilty party’s reinsertion in society,” he said. “There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment.” Pope Francis' video message echoed earlier calls he has made for an end to the use of the death penalty. His immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, also spoke out against its use in modern society. In a March 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, Francis went so far as to say that “life imprisonment, as well as those sentences which, due to their duration, render it impossible for the condemned to plan a future in freedom, may be considered hidden death sentences, because with them the guilty party is not only deprived of his/her freedom, but insidiously deprived of hope." The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

A martyr of the French revolution is almost a saint

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In just two days in early September of 1792, approximately 1,200 people were slaughtered by revolutionaries in France. Of the dead, approximately 200 were Roman Catholic priests and religious, most of whom were killed on Sept. 2 in the garden of a Carmelite monastery which had been captured and turned into a prison. On October 16, Pope Francis will canonize one of them – Blessed Solomon Leclercq. Blessed Solomon Leclercq was born Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis in Boulogne, France in 1745, the son of a wealthy wine merchant. In 1767, at 21 years old, he entered the novitiate of the Lasallian Brothers of the Christian Schools, a teaching order founded by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, and took the religious name Solomon. During his time in the community, he served as a teacher, as a director of novices, as a bursar for a school, and eventually as secretary to Brother Agathon, the Superior General of the order. He was known for his great love of people and his hard work. In 1790, with the French Revolution underway, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy gave the state complete control over the Church in France. The government began selling Church property and requiring all clergy and religious to make an oath to the government in order for their institutions to maintain their legal, operating status. Like many clergy at the time, most of the brothers of Blessed Solomon’s order refused to make the oath, forcing them to eventually abandon their schools and communities. For this reason, Blessed Solomon was forced to live alone in secrecy in Paris for a time, though he kept in touch with his family through letters, despite being monitored by the government. In August of 1792, the Legislative Assembly had closed all Catholic schools in Paris and outlawed the wearing of religious habits or vestments in public. Priests who had refused to take the oath required by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were told to leave the country – and about 25,000 did. Blessed Solomon, still in Paris, wrote his last letter to his family on Aug. 15, 1792, and that same day he was arrested and imprisoned at the Hôtel des Carmes Carmelite monastery in Paris for refusing the oath. On Sept. 2, revolutionaries mobbed a transport of approximately 30 priests on their way to prison and killed them all. The mob continued on, and, armed with swords, stormed the Carmelite monastery and slaughtered Blessed Solomon and approximately 150 other priests and religious. The next day, Sept. 3, the revolutionaries continued on to a Lazarist seminary, where they killed most of the priests and students. The death tolls for what became known as the September Massacres range from 1,247 to 1,368 people. On Oct. 17, 1926, Pope Pius XI beatified Blessed Solomon as well as 188 Catholic martyrs who died during the September massacre. Solomon was the first martyr of his order, though he was soon joined by three others called the Brother martyrs of the hulks of Rochefort, who were also killed for their faith during the French Revolution. The feast day of all four of these martyred brothers is celebrated on Sept. 2. Normally in the process of canonization, two miracles attributed to the saint are needed – one for beatification, and one for canonization. However, the miracle necessary for beatification in the case of martyrs can be waived, since martyrdom itself is considered a miracle of grace. The miracle being attributed to the intercession of Blessed Solomon Leclercq, declared by the medical consultant of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints and approved by Pope Francis, is the inexplicable cure of a Venezuelan girl who had been bitten by a venomous snake. On Oct. 16 of this year, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Solomon Leclercq along with five other saints, including Manuel González García, a Bishop of Spain, Lodovico Pavoni, an Italian priest, Alfonso Maria Fusco, priest and founder of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, and Elizabeth of the Trinity, a French carmelite nun considered a “spiritual sister” of St. Therese of Lisieux. Photo credit: www.shutterstock.com.

Pope delivers weekly catechesis alongside his 'brother' refugees

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2016 / 05:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Joined closely by just over a dozen refugees at his weekly public audience, Pope Francis said that in following Jesus’ example, the Christian excludes no one. “Jesus teaches us not to be afraid of touching the poor and the excluded, because he is in them,” said the Pope during his Wednesday audience catechesis in St. Peter’s Square. Just minutes prior to the pontiff’s arrival, after making the rounds in the Popemobile to bless and greet those present, he spontaneously invited 13 young refugees to join him on the stage before the public. They caught his attention with a banner that read “Refugees for a future together.”   As they sat cross-legged in a row, divided into groups on either side of him for the duration of the hour-long audience, Pope Francis referred to them as family. “They are our refugees, but so many consider them as excluded. Please, they are our brothers,” Pope Francis said to applause. “The Christian doesn’t exclude anyone, he gives a place to all, lets all come,” he continued. During the address, the pontiff said that in meeting a poor person, the reaction can be one of generosity and compassion, also offering a coin. “But, we avoid touching the hand. We throw it there. And we forget that it is the body of Christ!” “Touching the poor person can purify us from hypocrisy and make us concerned for their condition,” he added. Taking up again the theme of mercy during this week’s audience, Francis cited the evangelist St. Luke’s account of Jesus healing a faith-filled leper guided his catechesis. The Gospel passage tells the story of a man excluded by society and even prohibited from entering the city who enters anyway to seek out Jesus. He reaches out to Christ, saying: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” In the Gospel account, the leper is healed when Jesus answers, “I do will it. Be made clean,” the Pope said, acclaiming the man’s great faith. “This faith is the strength that allowed him to break every convention and seek the meeting with Jesus,” Francis said. He explained that the leper’s plea shows that when reaching out to Christ, few words are necessary “when they are accompanied by full confidence in his omnipotence and goodness.” “Entrusting ourselves to the will of God means in fact putting ourselves back in his infinite mercy,” he said. The Pope let the audience in on a little secret, saying that he makes the leper’s prayer of “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean” his own every night. “I pray five ‘Our Fathers’, one for each of the wounds of Christ because Jesus cleansed us with his wounds,” he said, inviting all to do the same before going to bed.   “Jesus always listens to us,” he added. Christ’s disposition in healing the leper and asking him to go quietly to a priest and bear witness to the facts shows us three things, said the Pope. First off, he explained, God’s grace doesn’t seek sensationalism but rather discretion, “patiently modeling our heart to the heart of the Lord.” Secondly, in asking the leper to register his healing with a priest, he is readmitting the leper to society, added Pope Francis. And finally, Jesus asks the man to bear witness to the miracle to the priest and thus the leper becomes a missionary. Concluding the audience, Pope Francis greeted the refugees who had joined him on the stage one by one, offering them a rosary. A representative of the group told CNA that the refugees are being assisted currently by the Catholic charity organization Caritas in Florence, Italy.

Who was Elizabeth of the Trinity? The story behind a new saint

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2016 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has announced the canonization date of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of the 20th century who will be formally recognzied as a saint October 16. In March, the Pope had acknowledged a miracle worked through the intercession of Blessed Elizabeth, paving the way for her canonization. “The Lord has chosen to answer her prayers for us…before she died, when she was suffering with Addison's disease, she wrote that it would increase her joy in heaven if people ask for her help,” said Dr. Anthony Lilles, academic dean of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. Lilles earned his doctorate in spiritual theology at Rome's Angelicum writing a dissertation on Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity. “If her friends ask for her help it would increase her joy in heaven: so it increases Elizabeth's joy when you ask her to pray for your needs,” he told CNA. "That's the first reason (to have devotion to her): the Church has recognized the power of her intercession." Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city's Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, 'I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.' That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.” ...it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart. “Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.” Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn't enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.” She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison's disease. Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make. Cardinal Albert Decourtray, who was Bishop of Dijon from 1974 to 1981, was cured of cancer through Bl. Elizabeth's intercession – a miracle that allowed her beatification in 1984. The healing acknowledged by Pope Francis March 4 was that of Marie-Paul Stevens, a Belgian woman who had Sjögren's syndrome, a glandular disease. In 2002 Stevens “had asked Bl. Elizabeth to help her manage the extreme discomforts of the pathology she had, and in thanksgiving, because she felt like she had received graces … she travelled to the Carmelite monastery just outside Dijon,” Lilles said. “And when she got to the monastery, she was completely healed.” Lilles added that a second reason to have devotion to Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity is because she died “believing that she had a spiritual mission to help lead souls to a deeper encounter with Christ Jesus.” “You could call it contemplative prayer, or even mystical prayer. She said her mission was to lead souls out of themselves and into a great silence, where God could imprint himself in them, on their souls, so that they became more God-like.” In prayer, he said, “we make space for (God) to transform us more fully into the image and likeness he intended us to become, but which sin has marred. Contemplative prayer is a means towards this transformation, and Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity believed before she died that her spiritual mission would be to help souls enter into that kind of transformative, contemplative prayer, where they could become saints.” She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord. During her time in the Carmel of Dijon, Bl. Elizabeth found encouragement from the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, particularly her “Offering to Merciful Love,” a prayer found in Story of a Soul, Lilles said: “You find references to the Offering to Merciful Love throughout the writings of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, it was probably something she herself prayed often.” “The second way that Elizabeth of the Trinity was influenced by Therese of Lisieux was a poem that St. Therese wrote called 'Living by Love'; in this poem Therese celebrates how the love of Jesus is the heartbeat, the deepest reality of her life, and because he lived to lay down his life for her, she wants to live to lay down her life for human love, which as the poem goes on, means loving all whom he sends her way, without reserve and all the way, giving people the generous love that we have received from Christ, sharing it with others.” “That idea deeply, deeply influenced Elizabeth of the Trinity and in fact inspired her own way of life and her own spiritual mission to help lead souls into mystical prayer,” Lilles reflected. “She understood that the way she loved souls all the way was to help them find and encounter the Lord.” “So, the spiritual missions of Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity coincide: great theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar recognized that. And these spiritual missions have both greatly influenced the Church in the 20th and early 21st centuries in very powerful ways.” “I'm so glad that Elizabeth has been recognized for her part in building up the Church in the 20th century.” An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA March 8, 2016.