Stay in touch

Get the latest news from the Holy See Mission:

Easter brings a 'new world,' Pope Francis says in Urbi et Orbi

Vatican City, Apr 21, 2019 / 04:56 am (CNA).- Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new world – one of peace, love, and fraternity, Pope Francis said on Easter Sunday, as he prayed for the many people who are suffering throughout the world. “Christ is alive and he remains with us. Risen, he shows us the light of his face, and he does not abandon all those experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow,” Pope Francis said April 21. “Yet Easter is also the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death: the world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.” Pope Francis gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica following Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square. He forwent giving a homily at Mass this year, and instead paused for a moment of silent reflection following the Gospel. “Urbi et Orbi” means “To the City [of Rome] and to the World” and is a special apostolic blessing given by the pope every year on Easter Sunday, Christmas, and other special occasions. Christ’s resurrection is “the principle of new life for every man and every woman,” the pope said in his blessing, explaining that “true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience.” Francis prayed for the many people throughout the world living in places experiencing conflict, tension, and violence. Beginning with Syria, he said there is a risk of becoming resigned and indifferent to the ongoing conflict in that country and emphasized that now is the time for a renewed commitment to a political solution for the humanitarian crisis in the country. People there are hoping for “freedom, peace and justice,” he said, urging solutions for a safe re-entry to the country for those who have been displaced, especially in Lebanon and Jordan. The pope prayed for Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, that they would continue to “patiently persevere in their witness to the Risen Lord and to the victory of life over death.” “May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability,” he stated. He begged for an end to conflict and bloodshed in Libya, and for peace on the entire African conflict, particularly in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan. Recalling the spiritual retreat held at the Vatican earlier this month for several religious and political leaders of South Sudan, he prayed for the opening of “a new page” in the history of the country. Francis prayed for the peace of Easter to bring comfort to the people of the eastern regions of Ukraine. For the American continent, he invoked the joy of the resurrection for all those experiencing difficult political and economic situations. Underlining the situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, he asked the Lord to “grant that all those with political responsibilities may work to end social injustices, abuses and acts of violence, and take the concrete steps needed to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need.” Let there be an end to the arms race and to the “troubling spread of weaponry,” he added. “Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent. May he make us builders of bridges, not walls,” Francis stated. He added: “May the Risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity.” “Today the Church renews the proclamation made by the first disciples: ‘Jesus is risen!’ And from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, there resounds a call to praise: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia!’” he rejoiced. Quoting from Christus vivit, his recently-published apostolic exhortation on young people, the pope said “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you.” “However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for your to return to him and start over again.” At the end of the blessing, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for several bombings which took place in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka Sunday morning. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in explosions at three luxury hotels and three churches. St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Catholic parish in Negombo were targeted, as well as the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo. Francis entrusted to the Lord those who have died and been wounded, and all who are suffering because of the attack: “I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said. The pope wished all those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and all those participating via radio or television, a happy Easter, noting that it was on Easter Sunday 70 years ago that a pope spoke for the first time on television. Venerable Pope Pius XII addressed the viewers of French TV, “underlining how the eyes of the Successor of Peter and the faithful could also meet through a new means of communication,” he said. “This occasion offers me the opportunity to encourage Christian communities to use all the tools that the technique makes available to announce the good news of the risen Christ.” Francis also thanked the donors of the flowers in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, which came from the Netherlands and Slovenia. “Enlightened by the light of Easter, we carry the scent of the Risen Christ into the solitude, into the misery, into the suffering of so many of our brothers, reversing the stone of indifference,” he concluded. A plenary indulgence, or the remittance of temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, is granted to those who participate in the Urbi et Orbi blessing in person or through radio, television, or the internet. The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence must be met: the individual must be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also pray for the pope's intentions and sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

Pope Francis at Easter Vigil: Ask Christ to roll back the stone blocking your heart

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis said that the Risen Christ desires to “roll back the stone” that blocks the entrance to one’s heart, so that God’s light and love can enter. “The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica April 20. “Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?” he asked. Pope Francis said the “stone of sin” blocks many hearts. “Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away,” he explained. “Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death,” he said, adding that with Christ we can pass “from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence.” “Why not prefer Jesus, the true light, to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?” Francis asked. The Vatican Easter Vigil Mass began with the blessing of the new fire in the atrium and the blessing of the paschal candle. The pope then processed into the dark church carrying the lit candle to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness. “Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word,” he said. Francis warned against having a “museum faith” instead of a living, “Easter faith.” Christ is “a person living today,” he said, not only a person from the past. “We encounter him in life.” “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Christ. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged,” he said. Pope Francis described Christ’s love as the “one non-negotiable certitude we have in this life.” “The Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it,” he said. “In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of … experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: ‘You are not alone; put your trust in me!’” he continued. During the Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist -- to eight people, from Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Albania, and Indonesia. “Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives,” Pope Francis said. “Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.”

At Colosseum Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis prays for abused minors

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ prayer at Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum included a plea for abused youth and for the Church, whom he said is continually under attack.  “Lord Jesus, help us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity,” Pope Francis said in his prayer to conclude the Way of the Cross April 19.  Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.” The meditations for this year’s Way of the Cross at the Colosseum — written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” —  included reflections on the suffering endured by victims of human trafficking today. “Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children,” the meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, stated. “Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children,” the prayer that followed stated. “Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.” Pope Francis personally selected Sister Bonetti to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross. Bonetti, 80, is a Consolata Missionary Sister from northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking. “Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today’s newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering,” Bonetti wrote in her Way of the Cross meditations. Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum – a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758. After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II’s papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross. “We have gathered in this place where thousands of people once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ,” Bonetti wrote in her introduction to her station meditations. “We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrowmindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart,” she continued. Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.” This year’s stations of the cross meditations also included prayers for children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and for migrants who died in shipwrecks. Human trafficking is an important topic to Pope Francis, who has spoken out against human exploitation throughout his pontificate. The pope has often invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, once a slave herself, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.” While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station around the Colosseum, it is now carried by individuals and families. This year cross-bearers included priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair accompanied by volunteers with the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations. In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, the pope prayed for “the cross of your children who, believing in You and trying to live according to Your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.” “Lord Jesus, revive in us the hope of the resurrection and your definitive victory against every evil and every death,” Pope Francis prayed.

Good Friday at the Vatican: Christ is among the pariahs

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- At the Vatican’s Good Friday service, the papal preacher connected Christ’s Passion with all in history who have suffered the degradation of their human dignity, highlighting in particular the experience of African-American slaves. “The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope,” papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica April 19. “We can say to the poor, the outcasts, those who are trapped in different forms of slavery still occurring in our society: Easter is your feast,” he said. Reflecting on the rejection and hatred experienced by the “suffering servant” described by the Jewish prophet Isaiah, Cantalamessa said “the Crucified One” is a “prototype and representative of all the rejected, the disinherited, and the ‘discarded’ of the earth.” “The African-American writer and theologian Howard Thurman—the man Martin Luther King considered his teacher and his inspiration for the non-violent struggle for human rights—wrote a book called ‘Jesus and the Disinherited.’ In it he shows what the figure of Jesus represented for the slaves in the south,” Cantalamessa said. “When the slaves were deprived of every right and completely abject, the words of the Gospel that the minister would repeat in their segregated worship — the only meeting they were allowed to have— would give the slaves back a sense of their dignity as children of God,” he continued. Howard Thurman, 1899-1981, was a Protestant minister and civil rights leader, who helped to found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, one of the first interracial and interdenominational churches in the United States in 1944. The papal preacher continued, “The majority of Negro Spirituals that still move the world today arose in this context. At the time of public auction, slaves experienced the anguish of seeing wives separated from their husbands and children from their parents, being sold at times to different masters. It is easy to imagine the spirit with which they sang out in the sun or inside their huts, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I have seen. Nobody knows, but Jesus.’” Fr. Cantalamessa, a Capuchin friar, has been the official papal preacher since he was appointed to the role by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980. He offers meditations to the pope and members of the Curia on Fridays during Advent and Lent, and he preaches the homily for the Good Friday veneration liturgy. Pope Francis presided over the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and prostrated himself before the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of the Good Friday service. After St. John’s Gospel was chanted in Latin, Fr. Cantelamessa said in his homily, “the Church has received the mandate from its founder to stand with the poor and the weak, to be voice for those who have no voice.” He continued, “the second historical task that religions need to take on together today, besides promoting peace, is not to remain silent in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children.” “No religion can remain indifferent to this because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this,” Cantalamessa said. The papal preacher said that Jesus on the cross “becomes a symbol” for the “part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted.” He noted that “the most profound meaning” of the passion and death of Christ “is not social but spiritual and mystical.” “‘Ecce homo!' 'Here is the man!’ exclaims Pilate … These are words which, after Christ, can be said of the endless host of men and women who are vilified, reduced to being objects, deprived of all human dignity,” Cantalamessa explained. “One would want to exclaim, ‘You who are rejected, spurned, pariahs of the whole earth: the greatest man in history was one of you! Whatever nation, race, or religion you belong to, you have the right to claim him as yours,’” he said.

Pope Francis urges inmates to be at service to one another

Rome, Italy, Apr 18, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a prison in the suburbs of Rome Thursday, urging the inmates to reflect on how they can treat each other with servants’ hearts. “It is true that in life there are problems: we quarrel among ourselves,” the pope said April 18, “but this must be a thing that passes, a passing thing, because in our hearts there must always be this love of serving the other, of being at the service of the other.” “This is the rule of Jesus and the rule of the Gospel,” he said, “the rule of service, not of dominating, of doing evil, of humiliating others. Service.” Recalling the moment when Jesus’ apostles were arguing among themselves about who was the most important, Pope Francis said: “Jesus took a child and said, ‘The child. If your heart is not a child’s heart, you will not be my disciples.’ The heart of a child – simple, humble, but a servant.” Pope Francis said the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Velletri men’s prison, located about one hour south of the Vatican on the outskirts of Rome. This was the fifth time in his pontificate Pope Francis celebrated Maundy Thursday Mass at a prison. The first was in 2013, just after becoming pope, when he visited the Casal del Marmo youth detention center. Subsequent Maundy Thursday Masses have been held at the historic Regina Coeli prison, a center for asylum seekers, Rebibbia prison, and Paliano prison. In 2014, the pope said Mass at the Don Gnocchi center for the disabled. After his brief homily, Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners: one Moroccan, one Ivorian, one Brazilian, and nine Italians. After washing the men’s feet, he kissed each one. In his homily, the pope explained that Jesus’ gesture of washing the feet of his disciples was that of a servant, because at the time, streets were not paved, and people’s feet would get covered in dust. Therefore, when they entered a house to visit or share a meal, a servant would wash the feet of the guest, he said. “And Jesus makes this gesture: he washes their feet. He makes the servant’s gesture: He, who had all the power, He, who was the Lord.” Francis emphasized what happens next in the Gospel: that Jesus turns to his disciples and advises them to do the same to each other. “In other words, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as someone who dominates the other or who tramples on the other, no, be brothers in service,” he urged. “Do you need something, a service? I’ll do it for you.” This is what real fraternity is like, he said, explaining that the Church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus in the washing of the feet every year on Holy Thursday. This is because, he said, “the bishop is not the most important, but must be the best servant.”  

Pope Francis: Like holy oil, priests must pour themselves out for others

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2019 / 02:57 am (CNA).- The holy oil blessed at the Chrism Mass is a reminder of the priest’s call to be close to the People of God, pouring himself out in service to them, Pope Francis said Thursday. “I would say this: We [priests] are not distributors of bottled oil,” the pope said April 18. “We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart.” Priests not only anoint with sacramental oil, they “anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people. We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving,” he said. Francis spoke to priests living in Rome about the “grace of closeness” during the Chrism Mass of Holy Week, the Mass at which the pope, as the bishop of Rome, blesses the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and the Chrism Oil, which will be used throughout the diocese over the coming year. “When we anoint others” with this holy oil, he said, “we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people.” Pope Francis recalled the many times the Gospel speaks of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. “The Lord never lost that direct contact with people,” he said. “Amid those crowds, he always kept the grace of closeness with the people as a whole, and with each individual.” This is what the Lord’s priests are called to do, he said. “By setting us with Jesus in the midst of our people, may the Father renew deep within us the Spirit of holiness,” he prayed. “May he grant that we be one in imploring his mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for all the world.” “In this way, the multitude of the peoples, gathered in Christ, may become the one faithful people of God, which will attain its fullness in the Kingdom,” he continued. The pope explained that priests can find in the crowds of people an “evangelical model” for their ministry. The people of their parish “are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint,” he said, reminding priests that they themselves came from the crowd of “ordinary people.” The Catholic people “are an image of our soul and an image of the Church,” he stated. The people in the Gospels demonstrated their affection for Jesus by following him, but this attitude is contrasted, he said, with the attitude of the disciples, who in their “small-mindedness” suggest that Jesus send them away in order to get something to eat. “Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism,” the pope explained. There is a temptation to clericalism “in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people. The Lord cut short that temptation: ‘You, give them something to eat!’ was Jesus’ response. ‘Take care of the people!’” Francis urged priests to counteract this temptation by remembering that “we priests are the poor man and we would like to have the heart of the poor widow whenever we give alms.” “We priests are [the blind man] Bartimaeus, and each morning we get up and pray: ‘Lord, that I may see.’ We priests are, in some point of our sinfulness, the man beaten by the robbers. And we want first to be in the compassionate hands of the good Samaritan, in order then to be able to show compassion to others with our own hands,” he said.

Pope Francis: Christ's glory is found in suffering for love

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2019 / 04:06 am (CNA).- Jesus’ glory is not found in the acclaim or applause of the world, but in the act of suffering and dying out of love – the same love demanded of everyone, Pope Francis said Wednesday. “True glory is the glory of love, because it is the only one that gives life to the world,” the pope said at the general audience April 17. “Certainly, this glory is the opposite of worldly glory, which comes when one is admired, praised, acclaimed,” he continued. “The glory of God, on the other hand, is paradoxical: no applause, no audience. At the center there is not the ego, but the other.” On the eve of the Easter Triduum, Pope Francis spoke about the glory found in Jesus’ Passion and death, done out of love for the Father and asked people to reflect on the source of their own “glory.” “What is the glory I live for? Mine or God’s?” the pope asked. “Do I just want to receive from others or also to give to others?” The way to give God glory is to “live all that we do with love,” Francis said, “do everything with the heart, as for Him.” He explained that Jesus is the perfect example of how to live all things with love for God the Father, pointing to his prayer at the Last Supper. As recounted in the Gospel of John, Jesus, “raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.’” Francis noted that “Jesus asks for glory... while the Passion is at the door,” a request that seems paradoxical. “What glory is [the Passion]?” The glory of God “is the distinctive sign of his saving presence among men.” Jesus, through his Passion and death, “shows God’s presence and salvation in a definitive way.” “And he does it at Easter: raised up on the cross, he is glorified. There God finally reveals his glory: he takes away the last veil and astonishes us as never before. In fact, we discover that the glory of God is all love: pure love, crazy and unthinkable, beyond all limits and measure.” Let us pray that during these days leading to Easter, meditating on the Crucifix, “we can accept that God is love,” Francis said. He went on to note that sometimes it is difficult to see God as a loving Father, falling into seeing him as a severe judge instead of a merciful Savior. “But God at Easter clears the distance, showing himself in the humility of a love that demands our love,” he stated. He urged people experiencing suffering, like their own Garden of Gethsemane, to remember to pray like Jesus, saying, “Father.” “In fatigue, prayer is relief, trust, comfort,” he said. Even in his own interior desolation in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is not alone because he is with the Father. The pope pointed out that in periods of suffering or desolation, people often choose isolation, instead of praying, “Father,” and entrusting themselves to God and his will, “which is our true good.” “But when we are closed in on ourselves in the test, we dig a tunnel inside, a painful introverted path that has a single direction: more and more deeply into ourselves,” he said. “The biggest problem is not pain, but how it is dealt with.” But prayer, he said, is the way out. “Praying in these days the ‘Our Father,’ we can ask for one of these graces: to live our days for the glory of God, that is, with love.”  

Dispute over Papal Foundation’s $25 million grant approval continues

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2019 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- Scrutiny continues for the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, amid questions of whether some of its grant activity was motivated by a desire to secure leniency for disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The ongoing controversy surrounds the foundation’s decision to make an unprecedented grant to a leading Italian hospital whose former leadership had faced accusations of massive embezzlement and financial misconduct. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the outgoing Archbishop of Washington, made “false and misleading” statements about the grantee to the foundation board, said Matthew B. O’Brien, a Philadelphia-based writer, in an April 12 essay for First Things. O’Brien cited several people involved with the Papal Foundation who spoke on background and provided copies of foundation meeting minutes and legal reviews. “He painted a picture of a hospital that was experiencing momentary cash-flow problems, but was otherwise sound,” O’Brien charged. “Wuerl’s actions are especially questionable in light of what he knew at the time about then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s interest in securing the grant.” “Wuerl was aware that McCarrick stood to win leniency in his sex abuse case if the Papal Foundation secured $25 million for the Vatican’s Secretary of State,” said O’Brien. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Papal Foundation, challenged this interpretation. His statement, quoted in O’Brien’s essay, said there were “a variety of interpretations” of the financial condition of the grantee and its sponsoring entities. “Clearly there were different readings of available information, but it is not correct to characterize the presentation of Cardinal Wuerl or other participants at the Board meeting as false or misleading,” Corallo said. Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million to support projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. American cardinals are ex officio leaders of the foundation, though it has a significant number of lay board members. Grants are made for needs that are particularly significant to the pope, and often go to institutions and organizations in developing nations. The grants typically do not exceed $200,000 each. The foundation’s approval of a $25 million grant to a financially and legally troubled Italian hospital became a major controversy among board members who argued the grant was approved without due diligence. This controversy drew media coverage in early 2018. After the June 2018 exposure of sex abuse allegations against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a past Washington archbishop, further questions were raised about the possibility of further corruption, the use of funds for undue influence, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s knowledge of McCarrick’s abuse. In December 2017, the foundation approved a $25 million grant to the Rome hospital Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI). According to O’Brien, this approval came in response to a request from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, made on behalf of Pope Francis. The hospital, which had been under the direct ownership of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, remains one of the leading dermatological hospitals in Italy. In 2013, Italian authorities arrested a priest who was its chief executive through 2011 and two others for allegations dating back as far as 2005. They were convicted on charges relating to the embezzlement of 6 million euros in public money from the hospital and diversion of another 82 million euros. The hospital allegedly evaded taxes on 450 million euros. Its debt of over 800 million euros led to bankruptcy. Financial reorganization led to the purchase of the hospital and its affiliates through a partnership between the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception and the Vatican Secretariat of State. This partnership owns and operates the IDI hospital and its affiliates through the non-profit Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti and a limited liability subsidiary, Luigi Maria Monti, S.r.l. At the Papal Foundation’s December 2017 meeting that approved the grant, O’Brien charged, Wuerl made two false statements recorded in the meeting minutes: he wrongly claimed that the religious congregation involved in the hospital during the time of fraud, embezzlement and insolvency was no longer involved; and he understated the debt of the hospital and its affiliates after April 2015 insolvency proceedings. Corallo, a Papal Foundation spokesman, said there were “a variety of interpretations” of the financial condition of the IDI and its sponsoring entities. The relationship of the religious congregation and the IDI was “still unclear,” he said, and all discussion was made difficult by “conflicting interpretations.” Wuerl’s December 2017 presentation used both publicly available information and information “provided by the Holy See.” “Other interpretations were also offered,” said Corallo. O’Brien countered that much information, including the $60 million debt and the continued involvement of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, were available publicly. He argued that Wuerl “does not appear to have taken any steps to clarify the crucial information about the supposed beneficiary of the $25 million grant.” Wuerl told the board that the IDI group owed $26 million in payables but did not mention a $60 million mortgage debt, O’Brien said. He added that Wuerl resisted lay board members’ requests for financial statements from the hospital. McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor as Archbishop of Washington, at the time was an ex officio member of the foundation board. O’Brien said Wuerl knew that McCarrick could win leniency in the Vatican’s treatment of his sex abuse case if he were able to secure the grant for the hospital, at the request of the Vatican Secretary of State. Wuerl also failed to disclose that a Vatican dicastery for which he is a board member, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), is apparently a creditor of the troubled IDI, O’Brien said. The APSA lent 50 million euros to the IDI as part of its reorganization. O’Brien said it is still unknown whether the first part of the grant, worth $13 million, was delivered to the Fondazione Luigi Maria Monti. According to O’Brien, the Papal Foundation has not said whether it has sent the final part of the grant. Cardinal Wuerl in a Jan. 19, 2018 letter asked the Holy See to decline about half the grant. In February 2018, a Papal Foundation spokesman told the National Catholic Register it is not the foundation’s practice to comment on individual grant requests. The Papal Foundation was launched in 1988 by Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and then-Archbishop of Newark Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick would go on to become a cardinal and Archbishop of Washington and also president of the foundation. The revelations that McCarrick had sexually abused minors and seminarians would lead to his resignation from the College of Cardinals and removal from the clerical state. The revelations would lead to many questions about his influence as a global diplomat and fundraiser and whether his abuse was known and covered up by prominent churchmen. In a September 28, 2018 essay at First Things, O’Brien had criticized McCarrick’s “manifest and gross conflict of interest” because he stood to benefit personally if, by securing the grant, “he could win leniency in how [the Vatican] handled his sex abuse case.” O’Brien argued that under Pennsylvania law which governs the Papal Foundation, directors of non-profits are obliged to disclose material conflicts of interest to the organization’s directors and officers, and recuse themselves from relevant board decisions. O’Brien said foundation board members had told him that foundation grants had been audited in 2015 or 2016, finding a lack of records for many grants and other records indicating poor oversight on the part of the grant recipients or middlemen, who were sometimes papal nuncios. A spokesman for the papal foundation, cited in O’Brien’s September 2018 essay, said it is making “every effort” to ensure grants are acknowledged and reported. He said the foundation is audited annually and it has been confirmed that the foundation’s procedures and operations are consistent with its bylaws and mission. At the same time, O’Brien cited a December 2017 letter from the foundation’s attorneys noting an apparent failure to confirm that grant recipients operated in a way analogous to U.S. charities and an apparent failure to obtain meaningful audits or accountings of how the grants were spent. In March 2018 the foundation said its executive committee and board made an inadequate effort to address and correct what it said was “anonymous, inaccurate and misleading information related to the grant request” as well as “unsubstantiated claims that called into question the integrity of the request by the Holy See and of members of the board.” The foundation said it would review its mission, its grant-making approach and its relationship with the Holy See. This review comes after its “intensive, six-month review and approval of a special request by the Vatican for assistance with a three-year financial reform plan” for the IDI hospital. In October 2018, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was elected chairman of the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees. O’Malley had been a member of the board for 12 years previously. He succeeded Cardinal Wuerl, who had been chairman for eight years. “The Papal Foundation remains committed to assisting our Holy Father in meeting needs that face the Church,” the Papal Foundation told CNA April 16, in a statement sent by its vice president for advancement James Coffey. “To do this, we look to the future with an expanded Board of Trustees that will give an opportunity for greater collaboration for the laity and the clergy to work together for the benefit of the Church and many who face great needs.”

Pope Francis joins Paris in sorrow after Notre-Dame fire

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2019 / 05:28 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Tuesday expressed his unity with the people of France following a major blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, encouraging the rebuilding of the “architectural jewel” and “witness of the faith.” “Following the fire that devastated a large part of Notre-Dame Cathedral, I join you in your sadness, as well as that of the faithful of your diocese, the inhabitants of Paris and all the other French,” the pope said April 16. In a message to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, he wrote: “Notre-Dame is the architectural jewel of a collective memory, the gathering place for many major events, the witness of the faith and prayer of the Catholics in the city.” “On these Holy Days when we remember the passion of Jesus, his death and his resurrection, I assure you of my spiritual closeness and my prayer,” he said, extending his apostolic blessing on the French bishops, Catholics, and all the inhabitants of Paris and France. Pope Francis sent his condolences in the wake of a major fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral, which started shortly before 7pm local time April 15. The fire was brought under control shortly after midnight April 16, and totally extinguished several hours later. The roof of the French cathedral collapsed along with its spire, but the main bell towers and historic edifice of the building were saved. Reports also indicate that the major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.   Paris’ prosecutor has said it is inquiring into “accidental destruction by fire.” A French official said April 16 the fire was not intentionally started. Pope Francis wrote that he is aware that the fire has caused serious damage not only to what is a historic site, but “a national symbol dear to the hearts of Parisians and French people in the diversity of their convictions.” He hopes the Paris cathedral will be reconstructed to become once again “this beautiful setting in the heart of the city, a sign of the faith of those who built it, mother church of your diocese, architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity.” Pope Francis also praised the firefighters for their work and their courage. Papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti wrote on Twitter early April 16 that the pope is praying for French Catholics and for the people of Paris and that “he assures his prayers for all those who strive to cope with this tragic situation.”

Don’t let your cell phone become an addiction, pope warns high schoolers

Vatican City, Apr 15, 2019 / 05:28 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met with a group of high school students this weekend, encouraging them to monitor their cell phone use, so as not to create obstacles to a culture of encounter. Students from Visconti High School visited with the pope at Paul VI Hall on April 13. The meeting comes a month after the 450th anniversary of the birth of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. The saint was known for his charitable work with the poor, which resulted in him contracting the plague and dying at the age of 23. The school’s building in Rome houses the remains of Gonzaga, who is the patron saint of the youth. Gonzaga himself attended the school. Pope Francis praised the saint for his willingness to encounter those around him, particularly those in need. In modern times, the pope warned, we must be cautious of anything that tears us away from encounter and authentic relationships. While cell phones can be a valuable tool for communication, they can also reduce our freedom and present an obstacle to true dialogue, he said. “Free yourself from dependence on your mobile phone, please!” Francis said. “You have certainly heard of the drama of addiction…This one is very subtle.” “Be careful, as there is the danger that, when the telephone is a drug, communication is reduced to simple ‘contacts’. But life is not for ‘contacting’, it is for communicating!” The pope emphasized the importance of the school system as a place of communication, especially between cultures. The Church promotes fraternity, he said, noting that this requires a foundation of freedom, truth, solidarity, and justice. “The dialogue between different cultures and different people enriches a country, enriches the homeland and enables us to move ahead in mutual respect, enables us to go ahead looking at one earth for all, not just for some,” he said. Pope Francis also commented on the important role modesty and fidelity have within friendships. He stressed that love is not solely an emotional reality but a responsibility. “The sense of modesty refers to a vigilant conscience that defends the dignity of the person and authentic love, precisely so as not to trivialize the language of the body. Faithfulness, then, along with respect for the other, is an indispensable dimension of every true relationship of love, since one cannot play with feelings.” Pope Francis’ concerns about cell phone addictions echo those of technology experts in recent years, as computer and phone use have become more prevalent among children and teens, raising concerns about academic performance, social wellbeing and overall quality of life. Psychologist Jean Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” spoke to CNA last September about trends in technology. The average daily screen time for teenagers is high above the recommended two hours, Twenge noted. “Beyond that, the risks increase, topping out at the highest levels of use,” she said. She pointed to a 2015 study from the research group Common Sense Media. It stated that over half of teens in the U.S. spent at least four hours in front of a screen and 25% were reported to have been in front of a screen for more than eight hours a day, with detrimental effects. “For example, teens who use electronic devices 5 or more hours a day are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those using devices less than an hour a day,” Twenge said. “They are also 51% more likely to not sleep enough. Teens who are online 5 or more hours a day are twice as likely to be unhappy as those online less than an hour a day.” Pope Francis has spoken on the moderation of technology in the past. During a 2016 homily, he highlighted the damages television and cell phones can have on family encounters. “In our families, at the dinner table, how many times while eating, do people watch the TV or write messages on their cell phones? Each one is indifferent to that encounter. Even within the heart of society, which is the family, there is no encounter.” He said it is the responsibility of the family to seek out dialogue in which the person is truly seen and heard rather than treated as an object of indifference. “We are accustomed to a culture of indifference and we must strive and ask for the grace to create a culture of encounter, of a fruitful encounter, of an encounter that restores to each person his or her own dignity as a child of God, the dignity of a living person,” he said.