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Vatican City, Dec 17, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The death penalty is always a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, and therefore must be rejected by all countries, Pope Francis told the Delegation of the International Commission against the Death Penalty on Monday. In his meeting with the delegation at the Vatican, the Pope set aside his prepared remarks and gave an impromptu address. In his prepared text, which was then handed out to the delegation, Francis said he has prioritized the abolition of the death penalty throughout his ministry because of the great harm it does to human dignity. “The certainty that every life is sacred and that human dignity must be safeguarded without exception has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to work at different levels for the universal abolition of the death penalty,” he said. The Pope in August ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, calling the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination. The Pope called for the changes in May, the final draft of the new paragraph was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Catechism previously taught that the state had the authority to use the death penalty in cases of “absolute necessity,” though with the qualification that the Church considered such situations to be extremely rare. The previous version of paragraph 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church had stated: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” In his address on Monday, Pope Francis said the change in the Catechism expressed a “progress of the doctrine of the most recent Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of the Christian people, which rejects a penalty that seriously harms human dignity.” The death penalty was a lingering value of bygone centuries, Pope Francis said, during which “the instruments available to us for the protection of society were lacking and the current level of development of human rights had not yet been achieved.” It hearkens to a time when legal values were extolled over Christian ones and justice prevailed over mercy, he added. “The Church cannot remain in a neutral position in the face of the current demands for the reaffirmation of personal dignity,” he said. Today, the Church rejects the death penalty in all cases because it “counters the inviolability and the dignity of the person” and denies guilty people the “hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community,” he said. Pope Francis encouraged members of the United Nations to continue to observe the group’s moratorium on the use of the death penalty, first issued in 2007, which asks member countries to suspend the application of the death penalty and to work toward its total abolition. He also invited non-UN-member countries to take steps toward eliminating the death penalty. “The suspension of executions and the reduction of crimes punishable by capital punishment, as well as the prohibition of this form of punishment for minors, pregnant women or people with mental or intellectual disabilities, are minimum objectives with which leaders around the world must engage,” the pope said. Francis urged those who work in the field of criminal justice to work to understand the root causes of violence and crime, in order “to address the ethical and moral problems that arise from conflict and social injustice, to understand the suffering of the specific people involved and to reach other types of solutions that do not deepen those sufferings.” He also condemned the “regrettably recurrent phenomenon” of “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” carried out by state authorities in many countries. “As a consequence, any use of lethal force that is not strictly necessary for (self-defense and preservation of life) can only be considered an illegal execution, a state crime.” The Pope thanked then the delegation for their work and assured them of the Church’s support. “The Church is committed to (the abolition of the death penalty) and I hope that the Holy See will collaborate with the International Commission against the Death Penalty in the construction of the necessary consensus for the eradication of capital punishment and all forms of cruel punishment.”
Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Though it sits just steps from St. Peter’s Basilica, it goes unseen by the thousands of people that pass by every day. In a city of churches, it’s a church that can’t be found by accident, but must be sought out. And many do. It is St. Lawrence in Piscibus, a tiny and simple church from the 12th century, tucked behind buildings which make it undetectable from the main thoroughfare to St. Peter’s Basilica. The church has gone through many evolutions over the centuries. Eventually, it was deconsecrated and used as a study hall and sculptor’s studio, until in the 1980s Pope St. John Paul II asked that it be transformed into an international youth center. Today it has become the thriving Centro San Lorenzo, affectionately called the “Centro,” where young Romans, and those passing through on pilgrimage, can stop by for prayer, Mass, and other spiritual and social activities. As the events start up again after the summer break, now under the apostolate of the Shalom Catholic Community, the center has begun offering daily adoration and prayer for the successful work of the Synod of Bishops, taking place just minutes down the street inside the Vatican. The Center’s chaplain, Fr. Cristiano Pinheiro, said people of all kinds pass through the center and take part in a “chain of intercession,” that includes Shalom missionaries, young people, priests, and even bishops attending the synod. During the entire month of October 2018, the church held adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, followed by Mass at 6:00 pm; open to anyone who wanted to stop by. Two Saturdays of the month they also hosted a special program of prayer and fraternity. Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, who was in Rome to take part in the youth synod as a bishop delegate, said he found the church through his connection with the Shalom community. “It’s a particularly beautiful church in my mind for an Italian church,” he told CNA. “It’s very plain and simple and the focus is directly on the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary area; it’s lovely.” “It’s wonderful that there are people just praying, just praying for what’s happening in the synod and the work that’s going on here. It’s a great gift,” he said. The San Lorenzo Center was founded by Pope St. John Paul II, who discovered the church of St. Lawrence in Piscibus – owned by the Vatican since 1941 – and thought it could be put to the service of youth. He reconsecrated the church with a special Mass in March 1983. A few years later, it also became the home of the original wooden cross of World Youth Day (begun in 1985) and an icon of Salus Populi Romani, a copy of the ancient painting which hangs in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary in her title as patroness of Rome. The small church also bears a San Damiano cross, a replica of the one hanging in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy, which is believed to be the cross St. Francis prayed before when he received the request from God to rebuild the Church. One manager of Centro San Lorenzo, Jhoanna Climacosa, 27, said she finds it a “true joy,” to serve in that place, which is “at the heart of the Church, at the heart of Rome, and through which pass many pilgrims from every part of the world.” Prior to its new life as a place of evangelization and welcome for pilgrims, especially youth, the church spent a few decades as a study center and the studio of artist Pericle Fazzini, who completed his large bronze sculpture of “the Resurrection” in 1977, and which stands at the back of the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI hall. The façade of St. Lawrence in Piscibus was hidden from sight when part of the area surrounding the Vatican, Rome’s Borgo neighborhood, was destroyed in the late 1930s to 1940s to construct the grand thoroughfare of Via della Conciliazione, which leads up to the main square and entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. The church was preserved from demolition, but a large palazzo was built around it, marking the start of the Pio XII Square in the style of an ancient Greek “propylaea,” an architectural term which means a gateway building. After different renovations over the centuries, one which gave it an ornate Baroque design, for structural and financial reasons it was eventually returned to what is believed to be its original, bare-stone Romanesque appearance. Around the same years that John Paul II founded the Center, the Shalom Community was beginning in Brazil, though this is the first time their movement has been given the care of the youth center. Cristiano knew the place from years earlier, as a seminarian studying in Rome. “Somehow I always felt connected with the church,” he told CNA. “I never imagined I would come to work here and to evangelize here.” His first Mass in Rome, after being ordained in Brazil, was at the Center in 2015. “Now it’s a new time, a Kairos of the youth of the Church,” he said, referencing a Greek word which means “opportunity,” or “a propitious moment for decision or action.” “We feel honored and we feel called by God to be at the service of the Church exactly at this time,” he said, explaining that he believes there is “a very difficult spiritual war taking place right now.” “With the scandals and difficulties, God’s Enemy doesn’t want to see this Kairos happening in the Church. So, we need to fight against it, which we do by praying,” he stated. This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 11, 2018.
Vatican City, Dec 16, 2018 / 03:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of his 82nd birthday, Pope Francis held a party and ate birthday cake with children under the care of a free health clinic inside the Vatican. The celebration took place inside the Paul VI hall before the Sunday Angelus. It included a surprise birthday cake for Pope Francis, whose Dec. 17 birthday falls on Monday. Joined by the children’s families, the Pope spent about an hour with children receiving care at the “Santa Marta” Pediatric Dispensary. In addition to dessert, there was singing and music at the papal audience. “I’m happy to be with you. I wish you a Merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas to all, and I thank you very much for what you do, really,” the Pope said. “And, also, I hope that there is no indigestion with that cake so big!” A sign hung on the table holding the Pope’s cake read: “We cannot get used to the situations of degradation and misery that surround us. A Christian must react.” Francis said he thought that if the Holy Family had been living in Rome and the Baby Jesus had a cold, Mary would have surely brought him to the dispensary to be treated. The Pope thanked all of the doctors, nurses, and volunteers of the clinic, as well as the “collaboration of the kids, and of the dads and the moms of the children.” The clinic is “a body,” he continued, “and there is life in the body. It is seen in the spontaneity of the children.” It is not easy to work with children, he noted, but he stressed that to do so helps people to understand the reality of life and that “we must lower ourselves, as we lower ourselves to kiss a child. They teach us this.” “The proud, the proud cannot understand life, because they cannot lower themselves,” he continued. And all those who help the children at the dispensary “give so much to the children; but they give us this message, this teaching: get down. Get down, be humble, and you will learn to understand life and understand people.” The “Santa Marta” Dispensary, which became a foundation in 2008, is supported by the Pope, the Secretariat of State, the Vatican City State Governorate, and benefactors and friends. This was the third time the Pope has celebrated his birthday with the families of the “Santa Marta” Dispensary.
Vatican City, Dec 16, 2018 / 06:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God’s loving care for his children – listening to their cares, answering their prayers and petitions – is a cause for rejoicing, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday. “The awareness that in difficulties we can always turn to the Lord, and that he never rejects our invocations, is a great reason for joy,” the pope said Dec. 16. “Shout with joy, rejoice, rejoice: this is the invitation of this Sunday.” “No worries, no fear, will ever take away the serenity that does not come from human things, from human consolations, no, the serenity that comes from God, from knowing that God lovingly guides our life, and always does.” Speaking on the third Sunday of Advent, known as “Gaudete Sunday,” Pope Francis reflected on the peace, hope, and joy Christ brought into the world at his birth. It is at the Annunciation, he said, that “in a remote village in Galilee, in the heart of a young woman unknown to the world, God ignites the spark of happiness for the whole world.” The same message the Angel Gabriel gave to Mary on that day is also addressed to the entire Church, he stated: “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The message to the Church is, he said, to “rejoice, small Christian community, poor and humble but beautiful in my eyes because you crave my Kingdom, you are hungry and thirsty for justice, you patiently weave a fabric of peace,” you do not chase after the powerful in office, “but faithfully remain close to the poor.” “And so, you are not afraid of anything, but your heart is joyful. If we live like this, in the presence of the Lord, our heart will always be joyful,” he said, explaining that joyfulness is not always a strong feeling; it can also be the humble everyday joy that is peace. He said: “Peace is the smallest joy, but it is joy.” So, Pope Francis asked, how does one welcome the Lord’s invitation to joy? By asking, like the people who listened to the preaching of John the Baptist: “what must we do?” “This question is the first step in the conversion that we are invited to take in this Advent time,” he said. “Each of us asks ourselves: what should I do? A small thing, but ‘what should I do?’” As St. Paul says, make your prayers and petitions known to God, he said. “May the Virgin Mary,” he prayed, “help us to open our hearts to the God who is coming, because he floods our whole life with joy.” At the end of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis addressed the Roman children gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the annual blessing of the “bambinelli” – the baby Jesus statues and figurines that will be placed in nativity scenes on Christmas. “Dear children, when, in your homes, you will gather in prayer in front of the nativity scene, fixing your gaze on the Child Jesus, you will feel wonder,” the pope said. In an aside, he explained that the feeling of “wonder,” is “more than a common emotion.” “It is to see God: wonder for the great mystery of God made man; and the Holy Spirit will place in your heart the humility, the tenderness and the goodness of Jesus,” he said. Francis also praised the recent approval of the “Global Compact for Safe, Ordinary and Regular Migration,” which took place in Marrakech, Morocco. The pope said he hopes that with this compact, the international community will work “with responsibility, solidarity and compassion towards those who, for various reasons, have left their country, and I entrust this intention to your prayers.”
Vatican City, Dec 15, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- What is it like to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Pope Francis during the celebration of the Mass? Fr. Michael Baggot told CNA that for him, “it was an opportunity to live this common priesthood, to share in the one priesthood of Christ with the Vicar of Christ and with so many of my brother priests from around the world.” Baggot, who will mark his first anniversary as a priest Dec. 16, first concelebrated at a papal Mass last year on Holy Thursday – it was the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. He told CNA it was “a very beautiful experience, especially since it came just a few months after my own priestly ordination.” “It was a very powerful experience of this priestly fraternity that perhaps I’ve read about and I’ve reflected on, and prayed about, but there it was a very tangible, visual, lived experience,” he said, noting how he saw priests “from around the world who had come together for this event and to live this moment of prayer.” Baggot has also concelebrated at October’s Mass of canonization for St. Oscar Romero, St. Pope Paul VI and five others, and at a Spanish-language Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12. In 2017, before his priestly ordination, Baggot was also one of several deacons and altar servers who assisted at Pope Francis’ Mass and Eucharistic procession outside the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran for the Feast of Corpus Christi. During the Mass, he was called upon to incense Pope Francis and the crowds and to pass him the paten and chalice during the consecration, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the pope as he elevated the Body and Blood of Christ. The whole experience, he said, was “powerful.” A priest with the Legionaries of Christ, Baggot has been in Rome studying and teaching since 2012. He is now a professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, and teaches for Christendom College’s Rome program, of which he is an alumnus. Baggot is also a convert from agnosticism, having joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2003 as a senior in high school. Priests who are concelebrating at a papal Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica begin by showing up about one and a half to two hours before the Mass. After a brief security check, they enter a large hallway inside the apostolic palace that is near a statue of Emperor Constantine. Here the priests prepare for Mass, putting on their own albs, cinctures and stoles. The Vatican provides a chasuble – the outermost garment – for each of the priests. “Which is pretty impressive when you think about it,” remarked Baggot, because the number of chasubles the Vatican owns must be in the hundreds. The priests are then given some brief instructions, which Baggot said have lately included the insistence that priests do not take any photos during the Mass – a request from Pope Francis himself. He said that while he understands the desire to record the moment with a photo or video, he thinks it is more respectful of the Mass to keep cellphones put away. “I think it’s a very wise decision [of Pope Francis],” he noted, explaining that “it helps all of the priests, and I think all of the lay people as well, to live the Mass as a prayerful experience.” Shortly before the Eucharistic prayer, the concelebrating priests – usually around 100 – are called to approach the altar and are given gold ciboria holding the hosts to be consecrated. The distribution of Holy Communion, Baggot explained, “is a tremendously powerful experience. Because I have never met or seen these pilgrims in my entire life, but I’m given this unique privilege of distributing the Body and Blood of Christ and giving them the most important gift I could possibly give.” He said it is also edifying “to see people from around the world who are gathered together in this common faith.” “While I had many beautiful experiences [at Mass] as a seminarian and as a religious in formation, even the experience of distributing communion… There’s nothing quite like being a priest and saying these words of consecration and knowing that God is acting through you in a very particular way,” he said. According to Baggot, it is not difficult to concelebrate at a papal liturgy. A priest who would like to do so should just contact the Vatican’s Prefecture of the Papal Household to ask for a special concelebrating ticket for priests. To concelebrate at a papal Mass is “highly recommended,” he said laughingly. “If you’re a priest and have the opportunity, then by all means, take advantage of the opportunity. It’s well worth arriving an hour and a half or two hours early to prepare.” “It’s an incredibly beautiful experience. I can think of few better ways to live the universality of our Catholic Church.”
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2018 / 10:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- This Christmas it is particularly important to support refugees and migrants, Pope Francis said Friday, ahead of the Vatican Christmas Concert fundraiser in support of young refugee education. “Christmas is always new because it invites us to be reborn in faith, to open ourselves to hope, to rekindle charity,” Pope Francis said in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace Dec. 14. “This year, in particular, calls us to reflect on the situation of many men, women and children of our time - migrants, displaced persons, and refugees - marching to escape wars, miseries caused by social injustice and climate change,” the pope continued. Pope Francis stressed his particular concern for the “little ones” among migrants, who face dangerous situations and “long marches on foot” when they should be “sitting among the school desks, like their peers.” “They too need training to be able to work tomorrow and participate as citizens, aware of the common good,” he commented. The Holy Father expressed gratitude for the work of two papal charities that support young refugees in Iraq and Uganda. “Missioni Don Bosco” in Uganda and “Scholas Occurrentes” in Iraq will both receive proceeds from the Vatican Christmas Concert taking place in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall Dec.14. “Missioni Don Bosco” is an Italian Catholic charity supporting the education of disadvantaged youth in developing countries. Their Salesian missionaries in Uganda aid refugee families from South Sudan. One of their educational projects in the Palabek refugee camp provides vocational training to 1,500 students, who also receive one meal a day. The Pontifical Foundation’s “Scholas Occurrentes” was founded by Bergoglio while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires as an initiative to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter through technology, arts and sports. On Friday, Pope Francis met with young Iraqi refugees supported by “Scholas Occurrentes,” and the artists performing in the Christmas concert, and shared his message on the importance of education and solidarity. The pope drew a direct link between the Christmas story and the needs of child refugees today. “When the violent anger of Herod struck the territory of Bethlehem, the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced the anguish of persecution, and guided by God, took refuge in Egypt,” he said. “The little Jesus reminds us that half of the refugees of today, in the world, are children, innocent victims of human injustices,” he continued.
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 09:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a Catholic media group Thursday to be avenues of God’s peace, sharing the stories of the poor, the least, and the voiceless. “In your profession you can be ‘living channels’ of spirituality before God and before all your listeners and viewers,” the pope told collaborators of the Italy-based Catholic broadcasting network Telepace. “I renew, then, the invitation to ‘promote a journalism of peace,”” he said, quoting his 2018 message for World Communications Day. “A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they the majority in our world – who have no voice.” Francis addressed the group Dec. 13, for their 40th anniversary, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall. Since 1990, at the request of St. John Paul II, the network has broadcast Vatican events such as the general audience, the Angelus, and papal Masses. Praising the network, the pope said he wanted to urge three commitments in journalism – the first, to be “antennas of spirituality.” The TV antenna has a beautiful symbolism, he said, because of its “dual function of emitting and receiving a signal.” Broadcast journalism should be a voice for the voiceless, he stressed; above all for the poor, the least, and the excluded. “Never forget them, the poor next door!” he said, praising the network’s program about inmates on death row in Texas. This “is the spirituality of charity!” he said. Urging journalists to consider how they can teach the Gospel to the young, he stated that he would like the media to “pay more attention to young people, not only by telling their failures but also their dreams and their hopes!” Doing this, he said, is a matter of being witnesses of God’s Word. He also warned the media against letting their storytelling ever devolve into gossip, which undermines human community and sows “envy, jealousy, and lust for power.” “It is important, therefore, to communicate responsibly, also thinking about how much bad you can do with language, with chatter, with rumors,” he said.
Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 05:39 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis will travel to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7, 2019, with a stop in Mother Teresa’s hometown of Skopje. The pope will spend the bulk of the trip in the Bulgarian cities of Sofia and Rakovski before visiting Skopje, Macedonia, the birthplace of Mother Teresa, on May 7. While Mother Teresa is commonly associated with Calcutta, India -- the city included in her heavenly title of Saint Teresa of Calcutta -- she spent the first 17 years of her life as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia before receiving her call to a vocation as a missionary sister in 1928. The Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje, the saint’s former home-turned-museum, has welcomed visitors who desired to learn about St. Teresa and venerate one of her relics since 2009. Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit Bulgaria after St. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2002. The motto for Pope Francis’ Bulgarian trip is “Pacem in Terris,” recalling St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical of the same name. Before becoming pope, St. John XXIII was the first apostolic visitor and then apostolic delegate to Bulgaria from 1925 to 1931. Church leaders in both Bulgaria and Macedonia invited Pope Francis to visit their respective countries, the Dec. 13 Vatican message stated. According to the U.S. State Department, Bulgaria’s Catholics make up only 0.8 percent of its population. Seventy-six percent of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, mostly in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The second largest religious group in the country are Muslims at 10 percent of the population. In Macedonia, an estimated 65 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian and 33 percent is Muslim. The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will also visit Panama, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco in 2019 before his trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe Wednesday, reflecting on how Mary continues to evangelize Latin America through her ubiquitous image. As Our Lady of Guadalupe accompanied Saint Juan Diego on Tepeyac, she continues to encounter people through “an image or stamp, a candle or a medal, a rosary or a Hail Mary,” Pope Francis said in his homily Dec. 12 in St. Peter's Basilica. Through her image, Mary “enters in a home, in a prison cell, in the ward of a hospital, in a nursing home, in a school, in a rehabilitation clinic to say: ‘Am I not here, that I am your mother?’” he continued in Spanish. The pope’s homily centered on Mary as a “teacher of the Gospel” through her Magnificat. “Mary teaches us that, in the art of mission and hope, so many words and programs are not necessary. Her method is very simple: she walked and sang,” Francis said. In the school of Mary, he said, we “nourish our hearts” with the “multicultural wealth of Latin America, where we can “listen to that humble heart that beats in our villages” with “the sacredness of life.” Here, the “sense of God and his transcendence,” as well as “respect for creation, the bonds of solidarity, and the joy of the art of living well” are preserved, he continued. As her image traveled the continent, Our Lady of Guadalupe is “not only remembered as indigenous, Spanish, Hispanic or African-American. She is simply Latin American,” Francis said. Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, appeared to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples. Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in a native language, Nahuatl. She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, stating she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her son. Initially turned away by the bishop, Diego returned to site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message. She instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish bishop. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the bishop, he found that an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma. Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and visited by millions of pilgrims each year. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “mother of a fertile and generous land in which all, in one way or another, can find ourselves playing a leading role in the construction of the Holy Temple of the family of God,” Francis said.
Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 08:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican said Wednesday that while there are no immediate plans to add new members to the C9, Pope Francis has released the three eldest cardinals from the duties of the advisory group. Papal spokesman Greg Burke told journalists in a briefing Dec. 12 that the pope sent letters to Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo at the end of October to thank them for their service to the Council of Cardinals over the last five years. Francis sent the letters following a request in October from the council – which advises the pope on matters of Church governance and reform – for a review of the work, structure, and composition of the advisory group, especially in light of the advanced age of some members. However, the Vatican stated that, “considering the phase of the Council’s work, the appointment of new members is not expected at the moment.” Over the course of the meetings, Bishop Marco Mellino, who last October was made adjunct secretary of the Council of Cardinals, presented the most recent draft of the new apostolic constitution of the Roman Curia. Burke said that canon lawyers are still examining the constitution, which is provisionally titled Predicate evangelium. The other main topics of discussion during the Dec. 10-12 meetings were the February 2019 meeting of bishops on child protection and how to reduce the Holy See’s operating costs. Asked if, for transparency, the Holy See would be releasing any budgetary information and numbers, Burke said, “yes,” though he does not know when that will take place. Toward lowering costs, the Vatican will take several actions, including more strongly enforcing a hiring freeze that has been in place since 2014. There are currently no plans to reduce personnel, though a reshuffle and re-outlining of job responsibilities is expected, as well as the possibility of offering early retirement. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, coordinator of the Council for the Economy, addressed the importance of making long-term plans for the reduction of costs, and proposed the development of multi-year budgets for the Council of the Economy to use in five- and 10-year projections. Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, presented the progress of the reforms of the communications department, and the next steps for implementing Pope Francis’ 2015 motu proprio, which established the then-Secretariat, now Dicastery for Communication. Ruffini emphasized the importance of the different media outlets (TV, radio, web, and social media) of Vatican Media and their cooperation. He also explained the value of Vatican Media being present in many different languages. The cardinals also heard from Professor Vincenzo Bonomo, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and an advisor to Vatican City State, on the new laws governing Vatican City, which were published Dec. 6. Present at the latest round of meetings were council members Cardinals Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Reinhard Marx, Sean O’Malley, Giuseppe Bertello, and Oswald Gracias. Only Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, was not in attendance, since he was in Morocco, representing the Holy See at the UN Global Compact for Migration. As usual, Pope Francis was present for all sessions apart from Wednesday morning, when he held the weekly general audience. Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the Council of Cardinals – also known as the “C9” – serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus, the apostolic constitution which governs the Roman Curia. The next gathering of the council will take place Feb. 18-20, 2019.