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Pope Francis: 'God loves each and every one of us'

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis says God loves each and every one of us, He is totally extraneous to the “throwaway culture” of today and like the good shepherd he does not want a single person to be lost.

Speaking on Wednesday at the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis continued his catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy reflecting on the parable of the Good Shepherd.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

He said that the Lord uses the image of the shepherd who leaves his flock to go in search of one lost sheep to express God’s closeness to sinners.  He emphasized that God does not want even a single person to be lost and that in his infinite mercy, he is always ready to meet us wherever we are.  

And reflecting on the “throwaway culture” of the contemporary world, the Pope said it is something that is totally foreign to God who would never “throw away” a single person. 

“God loves all, he reaches out to every person: one by one! He knows nothing about ‘throwing away people’ because He is all about love and mercy” he said.     The example of the Good Shepherd, Pope Francis continued, also challenges us to go out in search of those in particular need of God’s mercy, especially those who have gone astray.  

He said that Jesus teaches us that in his eyes there are no lost sheep, but only sheep needing to be found and that the joy which the Good Shepherd feels must also be the joy of the entire flock.  

Continuing to reflect on the parable the Pope pointed out that the faithful must also resist the temptation to close themselves in the pen where there may be no ‘stink of sheep’ but the stuffiness of a closed and airless room.

“Christians, he said, must never be closed. Ever! We must not be closed within ourselves, or within small communities or parishes thinking we are ‘right’.

Christians, he said, are called to embrace the missionary spirit that takes them into the world to encounter others. 

He said that for the Lord no one is definitely lost: “He looks for us up until the very last moment”.

Pope Francis concluded saying that we are all lost sheep who were found by the Lord’s mercy.

“No distance can keep the shepherd far from his sheep; no flock can afford to give up on a member” he said.

And he called us to rejoice in his merciful love, to bring that love to others and to join him in gathering all into the fold.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope greets participants in interfaith meeting

(Vatican Radio) Ahead of his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with participants of a meeting between the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies of Amman and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Fourth meeting between the two institutions had for its main topic the theme: "Shared values in social and political life: citizens and believers."

Listen to Christopher Wells' report: 

In brief, off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis recalled his visit to Jordan in 2014, saying, “It is a beautiful memory that I carry with me.

He thanked those taking part in the colloquium, and told them that the work they are doing is “a work of construction.” Although in our days “we have become used to the destruction caused by wars, the work of dialogue, of rapprochement, helps us always to build.”

The Pope emphasized the importance of “dialogue” for work of this kind:

“Dialogue is going out of ourselves, with a word, to hear the word of the other. The two words meet, two thoughts meet. It is the first step of a journey. Following this meeting of the word, hearts meet and begin a dialogue of friendship, which ends with holding hands. Word, hearts, hands. It’s simple! A little child knows how to do it…”

Reminding his listeners that “we have a common Father: we are brothers,” Pope Francis encouraged the participants in the meeting to “go forward along this street, which is beautiful!”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Many ‘mummified’ or ‘vagabond’ Christians.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis lamented on Tuesday that there are many following Christianity in a confused way, forgetting that Jesus is the only true path. He said these include the motionless or 'mummified' Christians, the vagabond and stubborn Christians and the Christians who stop half way along their journey. The Pope was speaking during his homily at morning Mass celebrated in the Santa Marta residence.

Taking his inspiration from the gospel reading where Jesus tells the Apostles that “I am the way,” Pope Francis reflected on the need for Christians to consistently follow Jesus and not get waylaid or blocked on their journey of faith.  He said there are many different types of Christians who are following Jesus in a confused manner like the mummified Christian, the vagabond Christian, the stubborn Christian and the half way Christian. 

Turning to an examination of these different types of Christians, the Pope pointed first to the Christian who doesn’t move or journey forward and who gives the idea, he said, of being like an (embalmed) mummy.

“Christians who stay still, who don't go forward, are non-Christian Christians. We don’t know exactly what they are. They are slightly ‘paganized’ Christians: who are there, who stay still and don’t go forward in their Christian lives, who don’t make the Beatitudes bloom in their lives, who don’t do Works of mercy… they are motionless. Excuse me for saying it, but they are like an (embalmed) mummy, a spiritual mummy there. There are Christians who are ‘spiritual mummies,’ motionless, there.  They don’t do evil but they don’t do good deeds.”

Moving on to a description of the stubborn Christian, the Pope said these types of Christians realize that they are taking the wrong direction but worst still they insist it’s the right path and don’t heed the voice of our Lord, telling them to turn back and take the correct path. The next category, he explained, are the vagabond Christians who travel here and there but doesn’t know where they are going.

“They are wanderers in the Christian life, vagabonds. During their life they turn here and there and thus lose the beauty of drawing close to Jesus in the Jesus’ life. They lose their way because they are constantly turning and often this turning is wrong and takes them to a dead end. Turning so many times, (the road) becomes a labyrinth and then they don’t know how to get out. They have lost that call from Jesus. They don't have a compass to get out and they keep on turning and searching. There are other Christians who whilst journeying are seduced by the beauty of an object and they stop half way, fascinated by what they see, by some idea, a proposal or a landscape. And they stop! Christian life is not a fascination: it’s the truth!  It’s Jesus Christ!”

After looking at these different types of Christians, Pope Francis said we’d do well to examine our own lives and question whether we too have stopped or lost our way. Are we standing in front of the things that we like such as worldliness and vanity or are we journeying forward and “putting into practice the beatitudes and Works of mercy” in our daily life? He concluded by saying that Jesus’ way “is full of consolations, glory and also the Cross. But always with peace in our souls.”

“Today let us ponder this question just for five minutes... How am I doing on this Christian journey?  Am I standing still, making mistakes, turning here and there, stopping in front of the things that I like, or (am I following) Jesus who said “I who am the Way.’?  And let us implore the Holy Spirit to teach us to journey along the right road, forever!  And when we get tired, a little refreshment and then we carry on our journey. Let us ask for this grace.” 

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges:  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis writes letter to Venezuelan President Maduro

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has written a letter to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in reference to the situation in the country. The chief of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi sj confirmed the news without giving information about the letter’s contents, on Monday.

Amid triple-digit inflation rates, Venezuela is undergoing one of the most serious economic crises of its history and basic goods and food are increasingly difficult to find. Shortages have led to smuggling and a thriving black market while power outages have led to looting.

"The Pope is following with great attention and participation the situation in Venezuela,” Lombardi said and cited the pontiff’s “most recent public remarks” and the “ample passage, very eloquent” which the Pope dedicated to Venezuela on Easter Sunday in the message before the Urbi et Orbi Blessing.

The Pope said: “With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death. His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all. May his Easter message be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all. May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.”

"The seriousness of the situation appears clearly from the recent Statement of Bishops on 27 April,” Fr. Lombardi stated.  “For his part, the Nuncio, S.E. Msgr. Giordano, has committed very clearly to encourage the dialogue desired by the Pope.”

“In this context, I can say that the Pope himself did recently have a personal letter given to President Maduro, with reference to the situation of the country," Lombardi said.

Venezuelan Bishops press government to permit Church to help

In their 27 April statement, Venezuela’s bishops urged the government of President Maduro to allow the Church to bring in much-needed supplies such as food and medicine.

They warned that never before had the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products” combined with “an  upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime, the unreliable rationing of electricity and water, and deep corruption in all levels of the government and society.”

They recalled that the government is duty-bound to “encourage all forms of assistance to its citizens” and to provide basic goods and services.

Authorization, the bishops said, “is urgently needed for private institutions in the country, such as Caritas or other programs of different religious denominations…to bring in food, medicine, and other basic needs from national and international aid groups, and to organize distribution networks in order to meet the urgent needs of the people.”  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis to receive 6 thousand homeless pilgrims

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is to receive 6 thousand homeless people from all over Europe, who will be making a pilgrimage to Rome from November 11th to 13th, at the close of the Year of Mercy.

Organized by the FRATELLO Association – an initiative born in the wake of the 2014 pilgrimage of 150 people then living on the streets in France – the 2016 pilgrimage is one in which organizations throughout Europe aiding the poorest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters in society are invited to participate.

The event program for the 2016 European Festival of Joy and Mercy, includes catechetical sessions – including several occasions to pray with and hear from Pope Francis – group activities organized by language, and breakout sessions with team leaders. 

(from Vatican Radio)

New Deacons Ordained at Pontifical Scots College

(Vatican Radio) On the Sixth Sunday of Easter at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome, three seminarians were ordained to the diaconate.

Listen: 

The three men were ordained by Bishop Joseph Toal from the Diocese of Motherwell in Scotland. Paul Denney, Bernard Mournian and Jonathan Whitworth have been in priestly formation for six years. The men are now transitional deacons, meaning that they have made promises of obedience and celibacy. They intend to be ordained to the priesthood in Scotland next year.

Whitworth, from the Diocese of Paisley and a student of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, said the entire day was a humbling experience. Reflecting on the Mass, he noted, “What comes to mind is the Litany of the Saints, when we were prostrated on the ground. When you hear the names of the saints being called out, asking them for their petitions, it is a deeply humbling experience. That’s what will stay with me forever, I’m sure.”

Bishop Toal was invited to the Eternal City to ordain the men because two of them are from his own diocese. Speaking ahead of the Ordination Mass, he said, “As some of the young men from today’s group of Scottish seminarians come to their diaconate ordination the Church in Scotland looks forward with anticipation and longing to their diaconal and priestly ministry in our dioceses – some may also be called later to the episcopal ministry, although it is unlikely I will be around to reminisce!”

Although the formation programme at the Scots College lasts seven years, Mournian believes that it is important to soak up as much of the Roman way of life as possible before returning to Scotland. “The gift of these years in Rome has been an incomparably precious privilege as I continue in my vocation. I cannot thank the Lord enough for giving me the opportunity to study and live in this wonderful place, which I will always consider as my second home.”

Almost two hundred people were present at the Mass. Special guests of honor included the newly ordained deacons’ families and a second Scottish Bishop, Stephen Robson, who was formerly a Spiritual Director at the College. The Rector, Fr Daniel Fitzpatrick, was delighted with how smoothly everything went, giving special thanks to the College community for their support and prayers in the period before the ordination.

(from Vatican Radio)

Jesus' closeness to sinners isn’t a scandal – it's an example, Pope says

Vatican City, May 4, 2016 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said the parable of the Good Shepherd is a key example of God’s mercy, because it represents the depth of the Lord's concern in ensuring that no one is lost. The parable “represents Jesus’ solicitude toward sinners and the mercy of God which is not resigned to losing anyone,” the Pope said May 4. Jesus tells the parable in order to make the people understand that his closeness to sinners “shouldn’t scandalize, but on the contrary provoke in all a serious reflection on how we live our faith,” he said. Francis stressed that God’s mercy toward sinners is the personal style with which he acts, and “he is absolutely faithful to that mercy: nothing and no one can dissuade him from his will for salvation.” The shepherd, he said, can always be found “where the lost sheep is…the Lord is therefore to be sought there, where he wants to meet us, not where we pretend to find him!” Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience. He focused his speech for the event on the parable of the Good Shepherd, in which the shepherd leaves the 99 in his flock and goes out in search of the one who is lost. The Pope noted that there are two perspectives in the parable, the first being that of the sinners who draw near to Jesus and listen to him, while the second is that of “the suspicious doctors of the law and scribes” who distance themselves from the Lord and his behavior. As the story unfolds, it does so around three main characters, he said, naming them as “the shepherd, the lost sheep and the rest of the flock.” The only one who to act, however, “is the shepherd, not the sheep,” the Pope said, noting that the shepherd “is the only true protagonist and everything depends on him.” However, Francis observed that “a paradox” in the parable that could cause one to doubt the shepherd’s actions is found with the question “is it wise to abandon the 99 for only one sheep? And most importantly not in the safety of the sheepfold, but in the desert?” In the bible the desert is typically a place symbolic of death in which food, water and shelter are hard to find, he said, asking “what can the 99 do to defend themselves?” The paradox continues, Pope Francis said, when, after having found the sheep, the shepherd “carries it on his shoulders, goes home, calls his friends and neighbors and says to them: ‘rejoice with me.’” Straining oneself to reach just one sheep might seem like the shepherd has forgotten the other 99, he said, but noted that “in reality it’s not like this.” What Jesus wants to teach through the parable is that that “no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot accept the fact that even one single person can be lost,” the Pope said, adding that this is “a burning desire.” “Neither can the 99 sheep stop the shepherd and keep him closed in the flock,” he said, and spoke about the importance of “going outside of ourselves.” While looking for the lost sheep, the shepherd “provokes the 99 so that they participate in the reunification of the flock,” Francis said, adding that there is no way to reassemble the flock other than following the path outlined by the mercy of the shepherd. He encouraged pilgrims to think about the parable often, since in the Christian community there is always someone “missing who left, leaving an empty space.” Although this reality can at times be discouraging and lead us to believe that the departure of a brother or sister from the community is an inevitable, “incurable disease,” the Pope said this is not the case. Francis cautioned against running from this danger and “locking ourselves inside of the flock, where there is not the smell of the sheep, but the stench of the closed!” When this happens, he said, it is because we have lost “the missionary impulse” that leads us to encounter others. Pope Francis closed his audience by emphasizing that “no distance can keep the shepherd away, and no flock can renounce a brother.” To find one that is lost, he said, “is the joy of the shepherd and of God, but also the joy of the entire flock! We are all sheep who have been found and gathered by the mercy of the Lord, and together with him are called to gather the entire flock!”

A pilgrimage for the poor to close out the Year of Mercy with Pope Francis

Vatican City, May 3, 2016 / 04:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of poor and excluded men and women from across Europe will be given a once in a lifetime opportunity this November: a chance to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy in Rome with Pope Francis. Around 6,000 people will be sponsored for the Nov. 11-13 pilgrimage to Rome, according to a statement released Monday by the Fratello organization, a French group co-ordinating the event. “This time of pilgrimage and opportunity to meet Pope Francis will give people from the most vulnerable sections of society, who are often treated as outcasts, a chance to discover that their place is in the heart of God and in the heart of the Church,” the statement reads. The Fratello organization is dedicated to organizing and hosting events with and for “people in situations of exclusion,” according its website. For this event, it is collaborating with other accredited associations to help make the pilgrimage possible for these vulnerable persons. Beginning Friday morning, Nov. 11, the three-day event will include a catechesis by Pope Francis, tours of the city, a “Vigil of Mercy,” and finally Mass with the Pope on Sunday, Nov. 13. The needs of society's poor and excluded has been a continuous theme for Pope Francis throughout his pontificate. For instance, in March 2015, the Pope invited 150 homeless people to the Sistine Chapel for dinner and a tour of the Vatican museums. “This is everyone's house, and your house. The doors are always open for all,” he told them. More recently, in January 2016, the Roman Pontiff invited some 2,000 poor, homeless, refugees and a group of prisoners to the circus, which was organized specially for them. In addition, the last three years have seen numerous initiatives for the poor established in the Vatican, including a dormitory for the homeless, and facilities where they can take showers and receive medical treatment. November's pilgrimage to Rome for the homeless will be one of the final events of the Jubilee of Mercy, which began Dec. 8, 2015. The Holy Year will close Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Pope Francis' May prayer intention: honor the dignity of women

Vatican City, May 3, 2016 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his May prayer video Pope Francis issued a global petition that women in all countries would be respected and valued, asking rhetorically if the mere recognition of their role is enough, or if more can be done. “The contribution of women in all areas of human activity is undeniable, beginning with the family. But only to recognize it – is that enough?” the Pope asked in the video, published May 3. “We have done little for women who are in very difficult situations: despised, marginalized, and even reduced to slavery,” he said, stressing that “we must condemn sexual violence against women and remove the barriers that prevent their full integration into social, political and economic life.” The Pope speaks in Spanish as images of women working in various fields, including science, teaching, and medicine flash across the screen. However, women in desperate, marginalized circumstances also appear next to phrases such as “I do my job as well as a man,” “I will never be a slave,” “no gender violence,” and “enough of discrimination at work.” A final image of a woman writing on a chalkboard appears next to the phrase “men and women are children of God,” as Francis asks viewers to join in his heartfelt petition “that in all countries of the world women may be honored and respected and valued for their essential contribution to society.” Pope Francis’ prayer video was the latest in a new series of short clips dedicated to his monthly prayer intentions, called “The Pope Video.” An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video. Since the late 1800s the organization has also received a monthly, universal intention from the Pope. In 1929 an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular. While there are two intentions, the prayer videos are centered on the first, universal intention. The universal intention is that “in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.” The Pope’s missionary intention for May, which is dedicated to Mary, is that “families, communities, and groups may pray the Holy Rosary for evangelization and peace.” The Pope’s May video was released the same day as a new version of a Vatican publication on women, called “Women, Church, World,” which is linked to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Established in 2012, the publication has been expanded to a 40 page, color magazine published every two months and designed to give voice to women from around the world on a variety of topics related to the role of women in the world. In addition to covering the traditional topics of major questions linked to the role of women in the Church, the new version of the magazine will now include two new meditations on the topic of each specific edition. The first is a meditation on scripture, while the second will be dedicated to art. The May edition has already been released and is dedicated to the same topic as the first edition of the publication in 2012:  the Visitation. Future editions will reflect on different aspects of feminine identity such as: Maternity as caring for the world; Maternity as reconciliation, taking into account various testimonies of reconciliation from around the world; Women and Canon Law; Forgotten women and Women of prayer. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who spoke at the May 3 presentation of the new version of the magazine, said in comments to journalists that the publication is “a very important initiative” in terms of understanding and reflecting on the role of women in the Church. He noted how women have made contributions of “exceptional value” to the Church throughout history, and named St. Catherine of Siena as one of the Church’s most influential female giants. “If one thinks about the role St. Catherine of Siena had, in the spiritual life but also in the life of the Church, she was a great politician (and) she was a diplomat, so she had a large role. She truly influenced the life of the Church,” he said. The cardinal condemned the idea that there ought to be a “gender quota” in the Vatican, and stressed that in his experience, what women really want is “to advance with their merits (and) their abilities, without reserved institutional spaces.” Women, he said, “must have their contribution for what they are, for what they do,” and not so much for what is set aside for them. This, he said, is why he sense a certain “reluctance to accept this concept of the gender quota.” In terms of top positions or management roles in the Church, Cardinal Parolin stressed that the Church has positions “that are already definitive,” such as when it comes to the priesthood, for example. In order to overcome an attitude of machismo within the Church, the cardinal encouraged the promotion of initiatives, such as the magazine, which create space for women to have a voice and give their own contributions, and which “nourish what can also be a heritage” for the Church and for the world.

U2's lead guitarist rocks Sistine Chapel in concert for a cure

Vatican City, May 3, 2016 / 03:31 am (CNA).- Lead guitarist The Edge from Irish rock band sensation U2 played “the most beautiful parish hall in the world” this weekend – the Sistine Chapel. The performance, the first-ever rock concert in the historic chapel, was given for about 200 doctors and researchers who attended a conference at the Vatican last week on regenerative medicine. The conference discussed the use of adult stem cells to cure difficult and rare diseases such as cancer. The Edge, whose real name is David Evans, wore his signature black beanie while he played and sang a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If it be your will,” and renditions of U2 songs “Yahweh,” “Ordinary love” and “Walk on.” The rock star, who has experienced the effects of cancer in his own life – his father died from cancer last month and his daughter once had leukemia – peppered his performance with references to some technical cancer terms. “I can tell this is a really cool audience because normally when I say ‘angiogenesis,’ eyes glaze over,” he said, according to Reuters. Angiogenesis is the process through which new blood vessels are formed that feed the growth of tumors. Researchers and scientists are looking for ways to prevent angiogenesis. The Edge, who was accompanied by a choir of seven Irish teenagers during his performance, also joked that he was a bit shocked when he was asked to play and sing at the Vatican.   “When they asked me if I wanted to become the first contemporary artist to play in the Sistine Chapel, I didn’t know what to say because usually there’s this other guy who sings,” he said, referring to U2’s lead singer Bono. He also thanked Pope Francis and Vatican officials for allowing him to play in “the most beautiful parish hall in the world.” “Being Irish you learn very early that if you want to be asked to come back it’s very important to thank the local parish priest for the loan of the hall,” he said. The singer dedicated his performance of the 2000 song “Walk On” to Pope Francis, who he called “the people’s pope.” “He’s doing an amazing job and long may he continue,” he said. The Cellular Horizons conference was hosted at the Vatican by the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation. Speakers at the conference included Pope Francis and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is advocating for a global push to end cancer.  

Cling to divine mercy, Pope Francis urges Mercedarian Order

Vatican City, May 2, 2016 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Monday met with representatives of a centuries-old Marian order of priests and brothers dedicated to mercy, encouraging them to persevere in their service to the marginalized by clinging to the “strength and joy” of the Gospel. “We do not rely on our own strength, but instead we always entrust ourselves to divine mercy,” the Holy Father told members of the Mercedarian Order during a May 2 audience in the Vatican's Consistory Hall. “If God is present in your lives, the joy of bringing his Gospel will be your strength and your joy. God has also called us to serve within the Church and in the Community. Let us keep to this common path,” he said. The Mercedarians are in Rome ahead of their 800 year anniversary in 2018 for their General Chapter where they will elect new governing body and decide on projects for the next six years. The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or the Mercedarians, was founded in 1218 in Spain by St. Peter Nolasco as a community dedicated to a life of prayer based on the Rule of St. Augustine in service to Christians imprisoned by Muslims. Along with the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Mercedarians take a fourth vow to give up their lives to those in captivity and in danger of losing their faith. Today, they work in 17 countries including the United States, India, Brazil, Italy, and Spain. The Mercedarians work to serve the most marginalized members of society: prisoners, the hospitalized, addicts, and those living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. They also have a special emphasis on safeguarding the faith in families through parish work and education. Pope Francis praised the order’s work over the centuries, noting that the priests and brothers became “like hostages” to the marginalized, dedicating their lives to “bring them consolation, to suffer with them, completing in their own flesh what was lacking from the passion of Christ.” Although “there is much to remember” of the Order’s long history, “this memory must not be limited to an exposition of the past,” the Holy Father said, but should instead “be a serene and conscious act that enables us to assess our achievements, without forgetting our limits and, above all, to face the challenges that humanity presents to us.” “The true life of the order must be sought in the constant effort to adapt and renew, so as to be able to respond generously to the real needs of the world and the Church, while remaining faithful to the perennial heritage of which (the Mercedarian Order) is a depository,” he said. The Mercedarians, through their religious vows, have been made prophets who have received a “gift of the Holy Spirit for the service of the Holy People of God,” the Pope said. “You have also received a gift, and have been consecrated for a mission that is a work of mercy: following Christ, bringing the good news of the Gospel to the poor, and the liberation of captives,” he said. By following the Holy Spirit in service of the marginalized, “we must make ourselves small, unite ourselves with the prisoners” and in doing so will “encounter true freedom” of recognizing the Redeemer in the form of the “poor and captive.” Pope Francis exhorted the Mercedarians not to neglect to “proclaim the year of grace of the Lord to all those who are sent to you,” namely, those facing persecution for their faith, victims of human trafficking, and school children. “I offer my blessing to each one of you and for the entire Mercedarian family, and I beg you not to forget to pray for me,” the Roman Pontiff said in closing.  

The Holy Spirit gives strength amid persecution – Pope Francis

Vatican City, May 2, 2016 / 09:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It is the Holy Spirit who gives Christians the ability to be witnesses of the Gospel in their daily lives, Pope Francis said Monday during Mass at the Santa Marta residence's chapel. However, with that witness comes persecution. “The Christian,  with the strength of the Spirit,” the Roman Pontiff said, “gives witness to the living Lord, to the Risen Lord, to the Lord’s presence in our midst, that the Lord celebrates with us His death, His Resurrection, each time we come to the altar.” “The Christian too gives witness, aided by the Spirit, in his daily life, through the way in which he acts. It is the continuous witness of the Christian.  But many times this witness provokes attacks, provokes persecution.” During his May 2 homily, Pope Francis spoke of the witness Christ shares through his Spirit, and the witness of the faithful – especially in periods of persecution. Such persecution, he said may take the form of “little persecutions,” such as gossip and criticism, or more serious forms, such as those which “place Christians or make them even give up their lives.” Citing Christ, the Pope said this is price of the Christian's witness: “They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Pope Francis reflected on the day's first reading from Acts, which recounts God opening the heart of a purple-cloth dealer named Lydia, who had come to listen to St. Paul's preaching. “This woman felt something inside her which made her say ‘this is true! And I agree with what this man says, this man who gives witness to Jesus Christ,’” the Pope said. He asked who it was that “touched the heart of this woman,” and told her to listen to the truth?   “It was the Holy Spirit who made this woman feel that Jesus was the Lord,” he said. “It made her know that salvation was in Paul’s words; it made this woman hear witness.  The Spirit gives witness to Jesus.” The Roman Pontiff said every time our heart is moved to draw “closer to Jesus, it’s the Spirit which is working inside us.” “The Holy Spirit which introduced us to Jesus,” continued Pope Francis, “is the same one who urges us to make Him known to others, not so much through words, but through living witness.” “It is good to ask the Holy Spirit to come into our heart, to give witness to Jesus; tell Him: Lord, may I not stray from Jesus.  Teach me what Jesus taught.  Help me remember what Jesus said and did and also, help me to give witness to these things. So that worldliness, the easy things, the things that really come from the father of lies, from the prince of this world, sin, do not lead me away from giving witness.”

Pope laments recent violence in Syria, renews call for dialogue

Vatican City, May 1, 2016 / 07:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Sunday decried the resurgence of violence in Syria in recent days, especially in Aleppo, and renewed the call to bring about peace through dialogue. “I receive with deep sorrow the tragic news coming from Syria, about the spiral of violence that continues to aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation of the country,” the pontiff said May 1 after reciting the Regina Caeli address in St. Peter's Square. Citing in particular the nation's largest city Aleppo, which has borne the brunt of the most recent violence, the Pope remembered the “innocent victims,” namely the children, the sick, and “those who with great sacrifice have pledged to help others.” “I urge all parties to the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities and to strengthen the ongoing dialogue, the only path that leads to peace,” he said. Since the breaking of a ceasefire nine days ago, President Bashar Al-Assad's forces have launched against Aleppo hundreds of air and artillery strikes, as well as bombs and missals, according to The Guardian. Reuters reports that around 30 airstrikes struck Aleppo on Saturday alone. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, says around 250 civilians have been killed in the Aleppo region since the most recent bought of fighting began on April 22 between government and rebel forces, The Guardian reports. Over the course of the civil war between Syrian and government forces, which has just entered its fifth year, estimates say that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced. Later during his post-Regina Caeli address, Pope Francis commended an Italian initiative for its work in fighting against the abuse of minors in all its forms. Child abuse “is a tragedy!” the Pope said. “We must not tolerate child abuse!” He expressed his gratitude for the “Meter Onlus” Association, an organization founded in 1989 to work for the rights of children and combating abuse.   “We must defend the children and we must severely punish the abusers,” the pontiff said. “Thank you for your commitment, and continue courageously in this work!” Turning to the themes of the environment and employment, Pope Francis acknowledged an upcoming international conference in Rome entitled: "Sustainable development and the most vulnerable forms of employment." He expressed his hope that Monday's conference may “alert the authorities, political and economic institutions and civil society,” in order to “promote a model of development that takes into account human dignity, in full respect of labor standards and the environment.” Before leading the crowds in the Regina Caeli prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading which recounts Jesus, at the Last Supper, foretelling the coming of the Holy Spirit. The pontiff notes that the Holy Spirit's mission to deepen the disciples' understanding of the Gospel as they spread proclaim it throughout the world, and to “awaken the memory” of Jesus' words. While Jesus “already communicated everything he wanted to entrust to the Apostles with Him, the Word incarnate,” the Pope said, the Holy Spirit reminds them how to put these teachings into practice in “concrete circumstances of life.” “It is precisely what is happening today in the Church,” the Pope continued. The Church is “guided by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, in order that it may bring to everyone the gift of salvation: that is, the love and mercy of God.” “We are not alone: Jesus is near us, among us, within us!” Pope Francis said. It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we “can establish a living relationship with Him, the Crucified and Risen One.” “The Spirit, poured out in us through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, it acts in our lives. He guides us in the way we think, act,” how to know the difference between write and wrong. “It helps us to practice charity of Jesus, his gift of self to others, especially those most in need.”

Blood-red Trevi fountain a wake-up call on Christian persecution

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2016 / 02:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Illuminated by the red light that spilled across Rome’s Trevi fountain, voices from persecuted Christian communities across the world shared the stories of friends and loved ones killed for the faith, and urged the world to take greater action in putting the violence to an end. “Let us remember, tonight, the blood of the Christian martyrs, spilled by the violence of men and the sin of the world,” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza said April 29. Quoting Pope Francis, he stressed that when confronted with the situation, “silence and secrecy are also sins.”  He expressed his belief that the Christian martyrs of today are exercising “a real and vicarious atonement, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in favor of all men.” “This is why, while we shake around them, crying with their families for their violent death, we raise to God a hymn of praise for these brothers who have entered into the glory of Paradise, with the palm of martyrdom in their hands and girded with a crown of glory.” Cardinal Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary and international president of Aid the Church in Need, spoke against the backdrop of Rome’s famous Trevi fountain – which was colored red in recognition of all the Christians around the world who daily continue to give their lives for the faith. Organized by Aid to the Church in need, the event drew an international presence of Church leaders including Bishop Antonie Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, and Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, from Baghdad.  Iraq and Syria are among the countries where Christians are severely persecuted, with the Islamic State killing, enslaving and driving people out of their homes. Christians in Nigeria are also at risk from attacks by the militant group Boko Haram, while Christianity is illegal in countries including North Korea and Somalia.  Family and friends of Christians recently killed for their faith also gathered to share testimonies and the stories of their loved ones. Among the speakers at the event were Professor Shahid Mobeen from Pakistan, founder of the Association for Pakistani Christians in Italy and a friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, who served as the federal minister for the minorities in Pakistan and was assassinated in 2011. The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has begun collecting testimonies about Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity. Other speakers present were Maddalena Santoro, the sister of Italian Fr. Andrea Santoro, who was killed in Turkey in 2006 as he was praying inside his church, and Luka Loteng, 25, from Kenya, who had several friends killed in the Garissa University massacre of Christian students in 2015. A Missionaries of Charity sister who had been in formation with one of the sisters recently killed in Yemen was also present.  In comments to CNA, the sister, who preferred to remain anonymous, recalled meeting fellow Missionary of Charity Sr. Judith in formation in Rome. Sr. Judith was one of four Missionaries of Charity killed in a brutal attack on their convent in Yemen March 4.  She and three other sisters – Sr. Anslem, Sr. Marguerite and Sr. Reginette – were murdered along with 16 other victims, including volunteers from Ethiopia and Yemen, when gunmen stormed their convent claiming to have relatives living there. Each victim was found handcuffed and shot in the head. The sister who spoke with CNA recalled how she had spent one year with Sr. Judith at the formation house in Rome, and that she was “very joyous, like all from Africa, and always willing to help.” “She was very kind and full of life. We also organized apostolates together. She was a very beautiful sister, very joyful,” she said. Although she was nervous to give her testimony since she is not used to public speaking, the sister said the event at the Trevi fountain is “a beautiful testimony” of Pope Francis’ constant references to “the martyrs of today.” “The world is not so much in contact with the recent news, and maybe they don’t want to be, so he’s putting it into the light.” Bishop Audo also voiced his hope that the event would help draw attention to the growing persecution of Christians worldwide. In an interview with CNA, he said that lighting up such a well-known monument in Rome is “something very new and very courageous. It gives us strength in a context of difficulty and departure.” “To have such meetings and such declarations in one of the most important places in Rome is a local and international message. It really moves me.”  The bishop expressed his admiration for those who both organized and spoke at the event, and said that “small things” such as this that will “help to change the world.” Bishop Audo’s diocese of Aleppo has been the site of increased hostility amid Syria’s ongoing civil war, already in its fifth year.  Violence in the city reached a fever-pitch on Thursday when an airstrike on a pediatric hospital killed 50 people, including several children and doctors. According to CNN, the Al Quds field hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, was hit by a missile from a fighter jet Wednesday night, claiming the lives of at least three children and three doctors, one of whom was the last pediatrician in the city. Bishop Audo called the attack “a drama,” and questioned the reasoning behind it, asking “why a hospital? Why children? I don’t understand this.” However, he stressed that just because it made international news doesn’t mean it’s an isolated event. These type of attacks happen “every day, every hour, everywhere in Syria.” The world has to become aware of this, he said, instead of using the media “to make some propaganda for a serious event. This issue is bigger than a hospital.” In his personal opinion, the bishop said a political solution to the conflict is both possible and important, but voiced his belief that “there are those who don’t want a political solution.” Certain powers “want the destruction of Syria to divide the country and each one takes a piece for themselves. This is the problem, this is the deeper motive,” he said, but stressed that this is just his personal opinion. What Christians there really want is peace, “so that there won’t be any more bombs, when there will no longer be people leaving their homes, their countries, to go across the sea and across the border,” he said, explaining that “small events” like the coloring of the Trevi fountain “help to have and to give consciousness, to inspire action.” “Christian persecution is a risk of persecution of everyone. We defend the Christians to defend the dignity of every man, everywhere,” the bishop said, and urged prayers for peace. “We must pray, and also an international level perhaps to put their efforts to understand the stability of Syria and the stability of the Middle East for the entire world,” he said, adding that these problems are solved “with dialogue and not with weapons.”  

Let yourselves be reconciled with God, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2016 / 04:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Reconciliation is an essential aspect of God’s mercy, Pope Francis said Saturday, explaining that when we distance ourselves from the Lord through sin, it takes much more than our own effort to get back to him. Referencing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Pope Francis urged all members of the Church April 30 to “let yourselves be reconciled with God.” “The cry of the apostle Paul addressed to the first Christians of Corinth is valid for us today, with the same strength and conviction,” he said, explaining that the ongoing Jubilee of Mercy is a time of reconciliation for everyone. "God never considers the possibility that a person remains estranged from his love, provided, however, that he finds in them some sign of repentance for the harm done," he said, adding that "we can't reconcile with God with our own efforts." Many people would like to reconcile with God, but either don’t know how, don’t feel worthy or “don’t want to admit it even to themselves,” he said, but affirmed that the Christian community “can and must support the sincere return to God of those who feel his nostalgia.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his Jubilee general audience, which he decided to hold once a month on a Saturday for the duration of the Jubilee. The audience also marked a special day jubilee for military, police and firefighters, who were present in the square alongside their families.   Today #PopeFrancis celebrated special #jubilee for members of the military, armed forces & firefighters #Vatican pic.twitter.com/dnu0CJwAQj — Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) April 30, 2016   At Francis’ invitation, roughly 8,000 members of the international humanitarian organization Rotary were also present. A delegation of members, including Rotary President K.R. Ravindran and General secretary John Hewko, greeted the Pope after the audience had finished. The Pope continued is catechesis on mercy as understood in scripture, focusing his speech on the topic of reconciliation, which he said is “an important aspect of mercy.” “Often times we believe that our sins distance the Lord from us: in reality, in sinning, we distance ourselves from him,” Francis said, explaining that it is out of God’s mercy that he comes in search of us when he sees that we are in danger. He stressed that reconciling with God is impossible with our efforts alone, since sin “is truly an expression of rejecting his love, with the consequence of closing in on ourselves, deceiving ourselves in the search of greater freedom and autonomy.” “In being far from God we no longer have a goal, and from pilgrims in this world we become wanderers,” he said, explaining that to sin is like turning one’s back on God. “The sinner sees only themselves and pretends in this way to be self-sufficient. Because of this, sin always widens the distance between us and God, and this can become an abyss,” Francis said. However, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus always comes in search of his lost sheep. He rebuilds the bridge that reunites us to the Father and allows us rediscover the dignity of being his children, the Pope added. Pope Francis then spoke about the importance of confession and the need to reconcile with God through the sacrament, stressing that “a confessor must be a father” and help penitents to walk along the path of reconciliation. He also prayed that no one would remain distant from God due to obstacles put in their way by others, and asked that “please, don’t put obstacles in the way of people who want to reconcile with God.” To experience reconciliation with God also allows a person to rediscover the need for reconciliation in other relationships, such as within our families, in interpersonal relationships, in ecclesial communities, and in social and international relationships, he said. “Reconciliation in fact is also a service for peace, for the recognition of the fundamental rights of people, of solidarity and of welcome for all.” Pope Francis closed his address by urging attendees to accept St. Paul’s invitation “to be reconciled with God, to become new creations and to be able to radiate his mercy in the midst of our brothers, in the midst of the people.” After the audience, he offered special comments to members of the military, the police force and firefighters present, saying they are “instruments of reconciliation and builders of peace.” He told that that in their roles, “you are responsible for preventing, managing and ending conflicts, but also to contributing to the building of an order founded on freedom, justice, love and liberty.”

Arrests made in alleged terror plot against Vatican, Israeli embassy

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2016 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian police arrested four people and issued arrest warrants for two more on Thursday on suspicion of conspiring with the Islamic State terrorist group. One of the arrested suspects was reportedly plotting an attack on the Vatican and the Israeli embassy in Rome. Authorities said suspect Abderrahim Moutahrrick reportedly received a WhatsApp message from ISIS-held territory that read: “Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you…the bomb poem…listen to the sheik and strike,” possibly referencing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Moutahrrick was identified by authorities as Moroccan-born but residing in Italy at the time. Moutahrrick also reportedly told 23-year-old Moroccan-born suspect Abderrahmane Khachia: “I want to hit Israel in Rome.” According to Reuters, transcripts of a wire-tapped phone conversation between three of the suspects and included in the arrest warrant also mentioned a Vatican attack. “I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, in the Vatican God willing,” an arrested suspect is reported as saying to one of the suspects still at large in the transcript.   Other arrests made in the recent investigation include an Italian-Moroccan couple who travelled to Syria to join ISIS last year. Mohamed Koraichi, one of the couple, is allegedly one of the men from whom Moutahrrick was receiving orders. Authorities told journalists that Moutahrrick also attempted to purchase weapons from an Albanian fixer in Italy, to whom he stated his intention of a Vatican attack, as well as his plan to take his wife and his two young children to ISIS territory in Syria. The prosecutor in the case, Maurizio Romanelli of Milan, told Italian news agency ANSA that the recent investigation was different in that it revealed not just generic threats but specific plots involving specific indivituals on Italian and Vatican soil. However, he said that the threats were not imminent and that authorities acted quickly to carry out the arrests. "Rome attracts attention because it is a destination for Christian pilgrims," he said. Thus far, Italy has been spared the large-scale terrorist attacks such as those seen in France and Belgium earlier this year. However, authorities have continually made arrests on suspicions of plots to attack Italy.   Last month, Italian authorities detained a 22-year-old Somali asylum seeker and Imam on suspicion of planning an attack in Rome. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his thanks on Twitter to the authorities for acting quickly and preventing the attacks.