Stay in touch

Get the latest news from the Holy See Mission:

Pope in Egypt: Catholics and Copts recognise shared baptism

(Vatican Radio) In a common declaration, signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Catholics and Copts declare for the first time that they will recognise each other’s sacrament of baptism.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report:

The joint statement was made public following a meeting of the Catholic and Coptic leaders in Cairo on Friday. It comes forty-four years after Pope Paul VI first met with the previous Coptic Pope Shenouda III in May 1973. That encounter marked a milestone in relations, following centuries of separation, and it led to the setting up of a Commission for theological dialogue with the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the new common declaration, Francis and Tawadros recall the progress made since then and call for a deepening of their shared roots in faith through common prayer. In particular the statement calls for a common translation of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

Catholics and Copts, it says, can witness together to the shared values of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for creation. The declaration calls for intensified prayers for all Christians who are persecuted and killed for their faith, especially in Egypt and the Middle East.

Most significantly, the statement also resolves an issue which has been a constant source of tension in the dialogue between Copts and Catholics: that of insisting on a second baptism for Christians who convert from one Church to another. Today, the two popes declare, “we will not repeat the baptism that had been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other”. 

Please find below the full text of the Common Declaration

1.   We, Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, give thanks to God in the Holy Spirit for granting us the joyful opportunity to meet once more, to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer. We glorify the Almighty for the bonds of fraternity and friendship existing between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. The privilege of being together here in Egypt is a sign that the solidity of our relationship is increasing year by year, and that we are growing in closeness, faith and love of Christ our Lord. We give thanks to God for this beloved Egypt, the “homeland that lives inside us,” as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III used to say, the “people blessed by God” (cf. Is 19:25) with its ancient Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman heritage, the Coptic tradition and the Islamic presence. Egypt is the place where the Holy Family found refuge, a land of martyrs and saints.

2.   Our deep bond of friendship and fraternity has its origin in the full communion that existed between our Churches in the first centuries and was expressed in many different ways through the early Ecumenical Councils, dating back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the contribution of the courageous Church Father Saint Athanasius, who earned the title “Protector of the Faith”. Our communion was expressed through prayer and similar liturgical practices, the veneration of the same martyrs and saints, and in the development and spread of monasticism, following the example of the great Saint Anthony, known as the Father of all monks.

     This common experience of communion before the time of separation has a special significance in our efforts to restore full communion today. Most of the relations which existed in the early centuries between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church have continued to the present day in spite of divisions, and have recently been revitalized.  They challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3.   We recall with gratitude the historic meeting forty-four years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after many centuries when our mutual bonds of love were not able to find expression due to the distance that had arisen between us.  The Common Declaration they signed on 10 May 1973 represented a milestone on the path of ecumenism, and served as a starting point for the Commission for Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, which has borne much fruit and opened the way to a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.  In that Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic tradition, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God ... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”.  It was also acknowledged that “the divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments” and that “we venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light”, the “Theotokos”.

4.    With deep gratitude we recall our own fraternal meeting in Rome on 10 May 2013, and the establishment of 10 May as the day when each year we deepen the friendship and brotherhood between our Churches.  This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism.  For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.

5.    We are aware that we still have far to go on this pilgrimage, yet we recall how much has already been accomplished.  In particular, we call to mind the meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Saint John Paul II, who came as a pilgrim to Egypt during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.  We are determined to follow in their footsteps, moved by the love of Christ the good Shepherd, in the profound conviction that by walking together, we grow in unity.  May we draw our strength from God, the perfect source of communion and love.

6.    This love finds its deepest expression in common prayer.  When Christians pray together, they come to realize that what unites them is much greater than what divides them.  Our longing for unity receives its inspiration from the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21).  Let us deepen our shared roots in the one apostolic faith by praying together and by seeking common translations of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

7.    As we journey towards the blessed day when we will at last gather at the same Eucharistic table, we can cooperate in many areas and demonstrate in a tangible way the great richness which already unites us.  We can bear witness together to fundamental values such as the sanctity and dignity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for all of creation, entrusted to us by God.  In the face of many contemporary challenges such as secularization and the globalization of indifference, we are called to offer a shared response based on the values of the Gospel and the treasures of our respective traditions.  In this regard, we are encouraged to engage in a deeper study of the Oriental and Latin Fathers, and to promote a fruitful exchange in pastoral life, especially in catechesis, and in mutual spiritual enrichment between monastic and religious communities.

8.    Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace.  Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being.  We share a concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt.  All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country. Religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, rooted in the dignity of the person, is the cornerstone of all other freedoms.  It is a sacred and inalienable right.

9.    Let us intensify our unceasing prayer for all Christians in Egypt and throughout the whole world, and especially in the Middle East.  The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation.  For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

10.  The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity.  Once again, the martyrs are our guides.  In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians.  So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.

11.  In obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the Church, keeps her throughout the ages, and leads her to full unity – that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed:

      Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we will not repeat the baptism that had been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.  This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.

       We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.

12.   Let us, then, be guided by the teachings and the example of the Apostle Paul, who writes: “[Make] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:3-6).

Cairo, 28th April 2017

(from Vatican Radio)

Catholics and Copts must speak "the common language of charity"

(Vatican Radio) In a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Tawadros II on Friday, Pope Francis said the two communities must oppose violence and work more closely together to witness to Christ in the world.  

Listen to our report:

Recalling the first encounter of a Catholic and a Coptic pope, Paul VI and Shenouda III in May 1973, following centuries of separation, Pope Francis spoke of the theological progress, but also the realization that “it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations”.

Shared faith and baptism

Alongside the ecumenism of gestures, words and commitments, he stressed, there is an effective spiritual communion grounded in a shared faith and common baptism. Calling for Orthodox and Catholics to speak “the common language of charity”, Pope Francis urged all Christians to work more closely together to carry their faith to the world.

In particular he praised the Orthodox leader for his efforts to promote good relations through the establishment of a National Council of Christian Churches.

Ecumenism of blood

This deepening of the ecumenical journey, Pope Francis said, is mysteriously sustained by the blood of the many martyrs, from past centuries but also of the present day. Recalling the “innocent blood of defenceless Christians” killed in recent terror attacks, he said “strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity”.

Please find below the address of Pope Francis to Pope Tawadros II in Cairo

The Lord is risen, he is truly risen!  [Al Massih kam, bilhakika kam!]

Your Holiness, Dear Brother,

Only a short time has passed since the great Solemnity of Easter, the heart of the Christian life, which we were blessed this year to celebrate on the same day.  We thus joined in proclaiming the Easter message and, in a sense, relived the experience of the first disciples who together “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” that day (Jn 20:20).  This paschal joy is today made all the more precious by the gift of our joining to worship the Risen One in prayer and by our renewed exchange, in his name, of the holy kiss and embrace of peace.  For this, I am deeply grateful: in coming here as a pilgrim, I was sure of receiving the blessing of a brother who awaited me.  I have eagerly looked forward to this new meeting, for I vividly recall the visit Your Holiness made to Rome shortly after my election, on 10 May 2013.  That date has happily become the occasion for celebrating an annual Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics.

            As we joyfully progress on our ecumenical journey, I wish particularly to recall that milestone in relations between the Sees of Peter and Mark which is the Common Declaration signed by our predecessors more than forty years ago, on 10 May 1973.  After “centuries of difficult history” marked by increasing “theological differences, nourished and widened by non-theological factors”, and growing mistrust, we were able that day, with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is “perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity” (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 10 May 1973).  Yet equally important and timely are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as “our Lord and God and Saviour and King”.  With these words, the See of Mark and the See of Peter proclaimed the lordship of Jesus: together we confessed that we belong to Jesus and that he is our all. 

            What is more, we realized that, because we belong to him, we can no longer think that each can go his own way, for that would betray his will that his disciples “all be one… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).  In the sight of God, who wishes us to be “perfectly one” (v. 23), it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations, much less of those centuries of history and traditions that estranged us one from the other.  In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, “there is no time to lose in this regard!  Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality” (Address at the Ecumenical Meeting, 25 February 2000).  Consequently, not only is there an ecumenism of gestures, words and commitment, but an already effective communion that grows daily in living relation with the Lord Jesus, is rooted in the faith we profess and is truly grounded on our baptism and our being made a “new creation” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) in him.  In a word, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Hence, we constantly set out anew, in order to hasten that eagerly awaited day when we will be in full and visible communion around the altar of the Lord.

            In this exciting journey, which – like life itself – is not always easy and straightforward, but on which the Lord exhorts us to persevere, we are not alone.  We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26).  Among them, surely Peter and Mark in particular rejoice in our encounter today.  Great is the bond uniting them.  We need only think of the fact that Saint Mark put at the heart of his Gospel Peter’s profession of faith: “You are the Christ”.  It was the answer to Jesus ever urgent question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29).  Today too, many people cannot answer this question; there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.

            Together, then, we are called to bear witness to him, to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.  As Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, we can always join in speaking this common language of charity: before undertaking a charitable work, we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus. Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity.

            It is with this constructive apostolic spirit that Your Holiness continues to show a genuine and fraternal attention for the Coptic Catholic Church.  I am most grateful for this closeness, which has found praiseworthy expression in the National Council of Christian Churches, which you have established so that believers in Jesus can work together more closely for the benefit of Egyptian society as a whole.  I also greatly appreciated the generous hospitality offered to the thirteenth Meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which took place here last year at your invitation.  It is a promising sign that the following meeting took place this year in Rome, as if to bespeak a particular continuity between the Sees of Mark and Peter.

            In the sacred Scriptures, Peter seems in some way to reciprocate the affection of Mark by calling him “my son” (1 Pet 5:13).  But the Evangelist and his apostolic activity are also fraternally associated with Saint Paul, who, before dying a martyr in Rome, mentions Mark’s great usefulness in his ministry (cf. 2 Tim 4:11) and speaks of him frequently (cf. Philem 24; Col 4:10).  Fraternal charity and communion in mission: these are the messages that the word of God and our own origins have bequeathed to us.  They are the evangelical seeds that we rejoice to water together and, with God’s help, to make grow (cf. 1 Cor 3:6-7).

            The deepening progress of our ecumenical journey is also sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.  Saint John tells us that Jesus came “with water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6); whoever believes in him thus “overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5).  With water and blood: by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.  How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!  The venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church bears eloquent witness to this.  Even in recent days, tragically, the innocent blood of defenceless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us. Most dear brother, just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.  Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.

            The impressive history of holiness of this land is distinguished not only by the sacrifice of the martyrs.  No sooner had the ancient persecutions ended, than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.  Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea (cf. Ps 106:21-22) were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity.  With veneration for this shared patrimony, I have come as a pilgrim to this land that the Lord himself loves to visit.  For here, in his glory he came down upon Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:16), and here, in his humility, he found refuge as a child (cf. Mt 2:14).

            Your Holiness, dearest brother, may the same Lord today grant us to set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace.  On this journey, may the Virgin Mary take us by the hand, she who brought Jesus here, and whom the great Egyptian theological tradition has from of old acclaimed as Theotokos, the Mother of God.  In this title, humanity and divinity are joined, for in his Mother, God became forever man.  May the Blessed Virgin, who constantly leads us to Jesus, the perfect symphony of divine and human, bring yet once more a bit of heaven to our earth.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis addresses Egypt's civil authorities: Full text

(Vatican Radio) Full text of Pope Francis address to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps. 

Click here to see our report.

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Heliopolis, Egypt

28 April 2017

Mr President,

Honourable Members of Government and Parliament, Distinguished Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

I thank you, Mr President, for your cordial words of greeting and for your kind invitation to visit your beloved country.  I have vivid memories of your visit to Rome in November 2014, my fraternal meeting with his Holiness Pope Tawadros II in 2013, and my meeting last year with the Grand Imam of the University of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyib.

I am happy to be here in Egypt, a land of ancient and noble civilization, whose vestiges we can admire even today; in their majestic splendour they appear to withstand the passing of time.  This land is significant for the history of humanity and for the Church’s tradition, not only because of its prestigious past – that of Pharaohs, Copts and Muslims – but also because so many of the Patriarchs lived in Egypt or passed through it.  Indeed, Egypt is often mentioned in the sacred Scriptures.  In this land, God spoke and “revealed his name to Moses” (JOHN PAUL II, Welcome Ceremony, 24 February 2000: Insegnamenti XXIII, 1 [2000], 248), and on Mount Sinai he entrusted to his people and to all humanity the divine Commandments.  On Egyptian soil the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph found refuge and hospitality.

The generous hospitality shown more than two thousand years ago remains in the collective memory of humanity and is a source of abundant blessings that continue to expand.  As a result, Egypt is a land that in some sense we all feel to be our own!  As you say, “Misr um al-dunya” – “Egypt is the mother of the world”.  Today too, this land welcomes millions of refugees from different countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq, refugees whom you make praiseworthy efforts to integrate into Egyptian society.

Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence.  I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.

This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice.  Certainly this aim will become a reality if all are willing, together, to turn words into actions, authentic aspirations into commitments, written laws into enforced laws, by drawing on the innate genius of the Egyptian people.

Egypt thus has a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.  Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters.

I think in a particular way of all those individuals who in recent years have given their lives to protect your country: young people, members of the armed forces and police, Coptic citizens and all those nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.  I think also of the murders and the threats that have led to an exodus of Christians from northern Sinai.  I express my gratitude to the civil and religious authorities and to all those who have offered welcome and assistance to these persons who have suffered so greatly.  I also think of the victims of the attacks on Coptic churches, both last December and more recently in Tanta and Alexandria.  To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured.

Mr President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can only encourage the bold efforts being made to complete a number of national projects and the many initiatives of peace-making, both within the country and beyond its borders, aimed at that development in prosperity and peace which its people desire and deserve.

Development, prosperity and peace are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.  They are also goals that demand hard work, conviction and commitment, adequate planning and, above all, unconditional respect for inalienable human rights such as equality among all citizens, religious freedom and freedom of expression, without any distinction (cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Chapter 3) .  Goals, too, that require special consideration for the role of women, young people, the poor and the sick.  Ultimately, true development is measured by concern for human beings, who are the heart of all development: concern for their education, health and dignity.  The greatness of any nation is revealed in its effective care of society’s most vulnerable members – women, children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and minorities – lest any person or social group be excluded or marginalized.

In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.  Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.

All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them.  He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.  He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5).  The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.

It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.  History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.  It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.  It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.

History instead honours men and women of peace, who courageously and non-violently strive to build a better world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).

Egypt, in the days of Joseph, saved other peoples from famine (cf. Gen 47:57); today it is called to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity.  It is called to condemn and vanquish all violence and terrorism.  It is called to pour out the grain of peace upon all hearts that hunger for peaceful coexistence, dignified employment and humane education.  Egypt, in building peace and at the same time combatting terrorism, is called to give proof that “al-din lillah wal watan liljami” – religion belongs to God and the nation to all”, as the motto of the Revolution of 23 July 1952 states.  Egypt is called to demonstrate that it is possible to believe and live in harmony with others, sharing with them fundamental human values and respecting the freedom and the faith of all (cf. Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Article 5).  Egypt has a special role to play in this regard, so that this region, the cradle of the three great religions, can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace (cf. Message for the 2014 World Day of Peace, 4).  From great nations, one can expect no less!

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Arab Republic of Egypt, which was one of the first Arab countries to establish such relations.  Those relations have always been characterized by friendship, esteem and reciprocal cooperation.  It is my hope that my Visit may help to consolidate and strengthen them.

Peace is a gift of God, but also the work of man.  It is a good that must be built up and protected, respecting the principle that upholds the force of law and not the law of force (cf. Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, 1).  Peace for this beloved country!  Peace for this whole region, and particularly for Palestine and Israel, for Syria, for Libya, Yemen, for Iraq, for South Sudan.  Peace to all people of good will!

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to greet with affection and a paternal embrace all the Egyptian people, who are symbolically present in this hall.  I also greet my Christian sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, who live in this country: Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics.  May Saint Mark, the evangelizer of this land, watch over you and help all of us to build and achieve the unity so greatly desired by our Lord (cf. Jn 17:20-23).  Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt.  You are an integral part of this country, and over the course of the centuries you have developed a sort of unique rapport, a particular symbiosis, which can serve as an example to other nations.  You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict (cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 24 and 25).

Thank you for your warm welcome.  I ask the Almighty and One God to fill all the Egyptian people with his divine blessings.  May he grant peace and prosperity, progress and justice to Egypt, and bless all her children!

“Blessed be Egypt my people”, says the Lord in the Book of Isaiah (19:25).

Shukran wa tahya misr!  Thank you and long live Egypt!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Egypt's unique role in the Middle East

(Vatican Radio) In his address to leaders of government and civil institutions in Egypt, Pope Francis focused on the country’s role in seeking solutions to the complex issues that face the Middle East.

Listen to Christopher Wells' report:

Egypt, he said, “has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence” – violence he attributed to diverse factors such as the desire for power, the arms trade, social problems, and religious extremism. He recalled in particular the victims of attacks on Coptic churches in December, and more recently in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

Pope Francis said “this destiny and role of Egypt” is also the reason for the call for an Egypt where “no one lacks bread, freedom, and social justice.” This aim, he said, can be achieved if all are willing to work together to turn words and aspirations into reality. “Development, prosperity, and peace are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.” He reminded those present, however, that “true development is measured by concern for human beings, who are the heart of all development.”

The Holy Father also spoke out against violence, especially violence carried out in the name of God. He said, “The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among His children, believers and non-believers alike.”

“History honours men and women of peace,” he continued. Although “peace is a gift of God,” Pope Francis said, it is also “the work of man.”

Pope Francis closed his speech with affectionate greetings for all of the Egyptian people, especially, as he said, “my Christian sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters” – not only Catholics, but Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestants. The presence of Christians in Egypt, he said, is not “new or accidental, but ancient, and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope at Al-Azhar; religious leaders must 'unmask' violence and hatred

(Vatican Radio) Religious leaders must denounce violations of human rights and expose attempts to justify violence and hatred in the name of God. That was Pope Francis’ message on Friday at the International Peace Conference taking place at the Al-Azhar conference centre in Cairo. The Pope’s words came at the start of his two day trip to Egypt, following a courtesy visit to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Listen to our report:

After listening to an opening address by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the Pope spoke of Egypt’s “inestimable cultural heritage”, saying such wisdom and open-mindedness is urgently needed today to ensure peace for present and future generations.

Calling for respectful interreligious dialogue, Pope Francis said the only alternative to a culture of civilized encounter is “the incivility of conflict”. Recalling the visit of St Francis to the Sultan in Egypt eight centuries ago, he called for dialogue based on sincerity and the courage to accept differences.

Speaking of the covenant which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Pope said that religion cannot simply be relegated to the private sphere but, at the same time, religion must not be confused with the political sphere or tempted by worldly powers that seek to exploit it.

Faith and violence are incompatible

At the heart of the law given to Moses, the Pope continued, is the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Violence, he stressed, “is the negation of every authentic religious expression” and religious leaders are called to “unmask” violence and selfishness masquerading as sanctity. Together, he insisted, “Let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred”, upholding instead “the sacredness of every human life”.

Weapons 'feed the cancer of war'

Echoing the words of Sheik Al-Tayeb, Pope Francis also reiterated his appeal for an end to the arms trade, saying that if weapons are produced and sold, “soon or later they will be used”. Only by bringing to light “the murky manoeuvrings  that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented”, he said.

Peacemakers, not populism

Finally the Pope stressed the importance of working to eliminate poverty and to combat the current rise of populism that does not promote stability and peace. Every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared solutions, he warned, is “a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence”. What our world needs, he said, is peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation, not instigators of destruction”.

Please find below the full address of Pope Francis at the International Conference for Peace in Cairo's Al-Azhar Conference Centre

As-salamu alaykum!    Peace be with you!

I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this International Peace Conference.  I thank the Grand Imam for having planned and organized this Conference, and for kindly inviting me to take part.  I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.

A land of civilizations 

From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was synonymous with civilization.  Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage, made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of architecture and figurative art.  The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future.  Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations.  Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.

Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed.  Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics.  Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves.  Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone.  Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator. 

Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures.  In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example.  Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.

The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others.  The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all.  Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.

An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility.  For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict.  To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness.  In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.

In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: “We live under the sun of the one merciful God…  Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun”.   May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter.  May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.

A land of covenants 

In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the religions shone in this land.  Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted “a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community”.   Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good.  Such “covenants” are urgently needed today.  Here I would take as a symbol the “Mount of the Covenant” which rises up in this land.  Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).

This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment.  On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society.  At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished.  Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it.  Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain.  As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life.  These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling.  We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal.  For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone.   At the centre of this “decalogue”, there resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13).  God, the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly “covenant”.  Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any “absolutizing” that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.

As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute.  We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam.   Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.

            Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear “No!” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.  Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred.  Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological.  Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him.  Let us say together: the more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in the love of our neighbour. 

            Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever.   Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism,  our task is that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship.  For our part, as Christians, “we cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God’s image”.   Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer “a place of genuine fraternity”, God assures all those who trust in his love that “the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain”.   Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.

            It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise.  These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.

            In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence.  Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used.  Only by bringing into the light of day the murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented.  National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task.  So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states.  It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.

    As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope’s closeness to Egypt’s suffering Christians is crucial during Cairo visit

(Vatican Radio) Father Christopher Clohessy, a professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies said it’s crucial that Egypt’s suffering Christian minority feel the pastoral closeness of Pope Francis during his 24 hour visit to Cairo. The priest, who spent years living and working in the Egyptian capital, also said that the Pope’s “tireless” work for good interfaith relations and his meetings with other religious leaders represent another important aspect of the papal visit. He was interviewed by Linda Bordoni.

Listen to the interview with Father Christopher Clohessy:  

Speaking ahead of Pope Francis’ departure for Cairo, Father Clohessy outlined what he saw as the key issues shaping the ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Islamic world and what he hopes this papal visit to Egypt will achieve.

The priest stressed the importance of the Vatican maintaining a theological relationship with the Al-Azhar institution in Cairo that is widely seen as the leading centre of learning of Sunni Islam, saying he he hoped this relationship “will be strengthened by the Pope’s visit.”

Father Clohessy spoke of how Egypt’s Christian minority have been suffering from discrimination and often actual persecution for many decades. They need, said he, to hear the Pope speak to them and offer “words of hope and comfort……. and speak what has to be said.”

In conclusion, Father Clohessy said he hoped that the Pope’s words during his apostolic visit to Egypt will “resonate in all hearts, not just in Christian ones but in Muslim ones as well.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope thanks charity organization for generous service to the Church

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 07:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis met with members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, telling them that in a world full of desperation, their charitable assistance helps the Church spread a message of hope to those most in need. “Today’s world, so often torn by violence, greed and indifference, greatly needs our witness to the Gospel message of hope in the redemptive and reconciling power of God’s love,” he said April 27. He voiced his gratitude to the organization “for your desire to assist the Church’s efforts to proclaim that message of hope to the ends of the earth and to work for the spiritual and material advancement of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in developing countries.” Pope Francis met with members of the Philadelphia-based charitable organization Thursday morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. They are gathered in Rome April 26-29 for their annual pilgrimage, during which they present the Pope with their annual contribution to his charities. The Papal Foundation was established by U.S. Catholics in 1988 under St. John Paul II, to whom it offered its first donation of financial support in April 1990. Since then, the organization, according to their website, has provided more than $111 million in grants and scholarships, the funds of which go toward building up the Church, educating and preparing leaders, and caring for vulnerable people, both young and old, throughout the world. The primary purpose of the organization is to provide financial support for the Pope’s charities, with the commitment “to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church as we bring the love of Christ to a world in need.” In 2015, the Papal Foundation awarded almost $15 million in grants and scholarships to various projects around the world, including to churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals, convents and monasteries, and in the areas of humanitarian aid, communications, and education. Last year the foundation donated a whopping $10 million to support the Pope’s numerous global charitable initiatives. In his speech, Pope Francis said he was happy to greet the group on their visit, particularly in the joy of the Easter season, when the Church “celebrates the Lord’s victory over death and his gift of new life in the Holy Spirit.” “It is my hope that your pilgrimage to the Eternal City will strengthen you in faith and hope, and in your commitment to promote the Church’s mission by supporting so many religious and charitable causes close to the heart of the Pope,” he said. “Each of us, as a living member of Christ’s body, is called to foster the unity and peace that is the Father’s will, in Christ, for our human family and all its members,” he continued. Francis then said a “vital” part of their commitment to the work of the foundation is to pray for “the needs of the poor, the conversion of hearts, the spread of the Gospel, and the Church’s growth in holiness and missionary zeal.” He also asked them to not forget to pray for him. “Dear friends, with these words of encouragement, and with great affection, I commend you and your families to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church,” he concluded. “To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abiding joy and peace in the Lord.”

Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has donated the rent for a private Italian beach that allows disabled people to enjoy the shore, the charity that manages the project announced this week. The group Work of Love, a Catholic non-profit, has rented part of the Little Madonna beach located near Rome since 2012 in an effort to give disabled people better access to the beach. It is equipped with ramps, walkways and specialized beach chairs and water-friendly wheelchairs, and includes amenities such as a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers. The beach is run by a group of volunteers and specialized FINP (Italian Swimming Federation Paralympic) staff and is open every day of the week during peak summer swimming season. Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told CNN Pope Francis gave the group an undisclosed sum to "support the project that helps disabled youth and in particular to cover the cost of the annual rent for the beach known as the Little Madonna." The beach is the only one of its kind in the region, and was created to allow all people to enjoy the beach “without architectural and mental barriers,” the group states on their site. In a statement, the charity said they received the donation with "enthusiasm and astonishment." It is not the first time Pope Francis has sponsored trips to the beach. Last summer, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Insider that the Holy Father had been treating Rome’s homeless to beach trips followed by pizza parties, sometimes with the Pope himself serving up a slice. He said the van would take about 10 people each day to go swimming on the Italian coast, nearly 20 miles from Rome. The archbishop drove the van, while passengers sang and listened to the radio. At the beach, each guest was offered a swimsuit and towel and afterwards was treated to pizza. “We certainly are not saving the world with some of these initiatives, we are not solving the problems of the homeless in Rome, but at least we are restoring to them a little dignity,” Archbishop Krajewski said at the time. Other initiatives carried out by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of the Pope include a dormitory, barber services and showers for those in need. In 2015, the Pope invited a group of homeless people in Rome to the Sistine Chapel. In 2016, he invited 2,000 homeless people and migrants to the circus. Pope Francis also sent an electronic scooter to an elderly couple with disabilities, who had difficulty getting around. He has also given Christmas gifts to poor migrants and umbrellas to the homeless.  

Smaller changes expected from Council of Cardinals' latest meeting

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 03:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis and his Council of Cardinals met this week to continue discussion on reforming the Roman Curia, focusing on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council Promoting the New Evangelization. According to an April 26 communique, during their 19th session the cardinals studied texts to propose to Pope Francis regarding the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the three courts. No big changes are expected out of this latest round of meetings – those changes were the new dicasteries formed last fall, Greg Burke, director of the Holy See Press Office, told journalists at a briefing Wednesday. This time, Burke said, the cardinals and Pope focused on regulation within the departments, hoping to arrive at something like a “new Pastor bonus,” the 1988 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II that regulates the competencies and work of the Roman Curia. In the meetings they inspected texts for the three courts of the Roman Curia: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota. The Apostolic Penitentiary is the tribunal in charge of cases involving excommunication and serious sins, including those whose absolution is reserved to the Holy See, while the Signatura functions as a sort of Supreme Court. The Rota, for its part, is akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance,” and is also where marriage nullity cases are judged. They also spent a significant amount of time discussing the selection and training of staff of the Holy See, both laity and clerics. In addition to the nine members of the council and Pope Francis, officials of the State Secretariat, the Council of the Economy, and the Office of Work of the Apostolic See (ULSA) also took part. Cardinal George Pell gave an update on the Secretariat for the Economy, particularly on the monitoring of budgets and “the formation of personnel and human resources.” The cardinals, in addition to speaking about the tribunals and bishop selection, continued to discuss points brought up during the last round of meetings, including the possible restructuring of the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and Oriental Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave an update on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads, speaking about their plenary meeting in March and their visits to various ministries. Carrying over from previous meetings, the council of cardinals also discussed decentralization, the relationship between bishops’ conferences and the Roman Curia, and how to be more in service to local bishops. Established by Pope Francis shortly after his pontificate began in 2013, the council serves as an advisory body on Church governance and reform, with special emphasis on the reform of Pastor bonus. Keywords that have come out of the cardinals’ meetings so far and which have emerged as guiding principles for the ongoing Curial reform are harmonization, simplification, synodality, and the Church’s “missionary drive.” The council of cardinals is set to meet again June 12-14 to continue discussion on moving forward in reforming curial structures.

Jim Harbaugh: My priorities are 'faith, then family, then football'

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 12:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, now head coach for the University of Michigan football team, is also a Roman Catholic – and he said Wednesday that faith plays a major role in his life. “The role that (faith) plays in my life is in the priorities that I have,” he said April 26, “faith, then family, then football.” Coach Harbaugh spoke to CNA following a general audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square April 26. He and his wife, Sarah, greeted Francis following the audience and presented him with a gift from the team – a University of Michigan helmet and pair of cleats. The helmet included both the Italian and American flags and a little cross by the chinstrap. The Pope gave Harbaugh “some marching orders,” the coach said, “he told me to pray for him.” Following the encounter, Harbaugh and his family and the University of Michigan football team were hosted for lunch on the terrace of the EWTN Rome bureau offices. After lunch they held a brief press conference. Harbaugh, 53, has been head football coach for the University of Michigan since 2015. He played college football at Michigan from 1983-1986 and played in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 seasons from 1987-2000. He has seven children. Speaking to CNA about his experience meeting Pope Francis, Harbaugh quoted his father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, who told him, “To live in a state of grace, put your trust in the Lord, and be not afraid.” “When I met Pope Francis today, I was riding on a state of grace,” he said, “that feeling was beyond description. And I know that there's something that I'm supposed to do with that opportunity, with that encounter, of meeting the Holy Father. I'm going to pray about it.” Harbaugh is in Rome April 22-30. He brought along his family as well as almost his entire team and staff – some 150 people. He said he wanted to give his players an experience they might not otherwise have. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, he brought the team and staff to Rome for a week of team-building, cultural and historical experiences, and of course, spring practices. The aim of this trip was to “have an educational experience like none other,” he told CNA. “Not all learning is done in a classroom or on a football field, you know? It's out connecting to people, and having a chance for our players and staff to see things they've never seen before, eat things they’ve never tasted, to hear a language they've never heard.” One goal for the trip was to connect his team with people they otherwise might not have met, he said. Their first day in Rome, the group met and picnicked with a group of refugees, including several from Syria. Later on Wednesday, Harbaugh and some members of the team and his family visited the SOS Children’s Village, a community made up of homes for children who are in positions of family or social hardship. Harbaugh said that attending the general audience and meeting Pope Francis was an emotional experience, not just for him but for his team as well. Asked what he hopes his team will take away from the experience, he said just that “the relationship with God is a personal one.” He said his suggestion for each of his players would be to spend time in silence and think and pray “about what it means, and what they should take away from it.” “Because we don't always know what to do with it,” he continued. “I don't know what to do with the encounter I had meeting Pope Francis today. What exactly did it mean? What opportunity was given and what am I supposed to do with that?” Immediately afterward, Harbaugh said he was able to speak with a priest from Detroit, Msgr. Robert McClory, about the experience: “And that was the advice that he gave me: to be silent, to pray, to be with God and listen, and you'll get it, you'll figure it out.” Two players had the opportunity to get a little bit closer to the Pope during the audience, which Harbaugh chose through an essay competition. The winners, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and defensive tackle Salim Makki, both said they are inspired by Francis. Attending the audience “was just an incredible experience,” Newsome said. “Not only as a Christian, but as a person in general, just to listen to someone who is so internationally renowned as Pope Francis and to hear him and have him bless us was just an incredible experience for me and I know for a lot of the other guys on the team.” Makki, a Muslim, said he looks up to Pope Francis as a hero. “He's always shown that Muslims and Christians and Catholics can combine – we're all brothers and sisters, we can co-exist together.” Jack Wangler, a senior wide receiver told CNA, “I can speak for everybody, I think: this has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip.” “It's been great to come here with the team and use it as a bonding experience and a cultural experience, to expand what we've learned in the classroom,” said Catholic fullback Joe Beneducci. He told CNA that he remembers reading about the Church and the Vatican at school and watching St. John Paul II’s funeral on TV. “Coming here to see it in person, it put it all in perspective and made me appreciate it just that much more.” “I think it's brought me closer to my faith as well, which is very nice.” About the qualities of a good sportsman, Harbaugh said, “It talks about it in the Bible: strive hard to win the prize. To have that motivation, to have that quality of perseverance and discipline and drive is what really makes a good athlete.” Sunday, before they leave to return to Michigan, Harbaugh’s infant son, John Paul, will be baptized at St. Peter’s Basilica. His daughter, Addison, will also make her first Holy Communion. In the press conference, Harbaugh told journalists that if he accomplished nothing else in his life, to have met the Pope, and see his son be baptized and his daughter receive First Communion at the Vatican, would make him feel like “a blessed man.” “This has been the experience of a lifetime.”

Pope Francis: Everything passes – except God's love for us

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 04:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said Christian hope, rather than coming from the empty promises of other human beings, is rooted in Christ’s promise to never leave us, and to stay by our side until the end of time. “How long, by comparison, will God's care for mankind last?” the Pope asked April 26. “The Gospel's answer leaves no doubt: until the end of the world!” “The heavens will pass away, the earth will pass away, human hope will be erased, but the Word of God is greater than everything and will not pass away.” “There will be no day of our life where we will cease to be a concern for the heart of God,” he said, adding that “God will certainly provide for all our needs, he will not abandon us in times of trial and darkness.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his weekly general audience, continuing his catechesis on the theme of hope. In his speech, he stressed that for Christians, hope is not a vague feeling, or the same thing as the “changing sentiment” of those who want to change the world using only their own willpower. “Christian hope, in fact, finds its root not in the attraction of the future, but in the security of what God has promised us and made in Jesus Christ,” he said. Because of this promise, we can follow the Lord without fear, he said, explaining that “if the beginning of every vocation is a ‘follow me’ by which he assures us he will always remain before us, then why fear? With this promise, Christians can walk everywhere.” Even in those places of the world filled with wounds or bad circumstances, we can be assured of Christ’s presence, he said. As Psalm 23:4 says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” “It is exactly where the darkness spreads that we need to keep lighting a light,” he said. Francis noted how in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist recalls the prophetic announcement which is also found in the Book of Isaiah: “To him will be given the name of Emmanuel, which means God with us.” This verse, along with the promise at the end of the Gospel, “I am with you every day until the end of the world,” together communicate the mystery of God’s identity – that he is “God with us,” the Pope said. “Our existence is a pilgrimage, a journey,” but on this journey, we are never alone, he said. “Above all, the Christian does not ever feel abandoned, because Jesus promises to not wait until the end of our long journey, but to accompany us in each of our days.” However, Francis warned that if we rely on our own strength in this journey, we will be discouraged and disappointed, “because the world often proves resistant to the laws of love.” This, he said, is why “the holy faithful people of God are people standing and walking in hope. And wherever they go, they know that God's love has preceded him: there is no part of the world that escapes the victory of the Risen Christ, the victory of love.”

In TED talk, Pope says sowing solidarity will reap hope for the future

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 02:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Early Wednesday morning Pope Francis addressed the TED 2017 conference, telling participants that to have a hopeful outlook for the future, we must plant seeds of humility, solidarity and tenderness today. Referencing his 80 years of life, the Pope opened his talk saying that “quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.” “We all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other,” he said. “We can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” the Pope continued, adding that that while we might not think about it often, “everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state.” “Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me.” This “flare” embedded deep within our hearts “needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.” Pope Francis gave his TED Talk April 26 at 3:30a.m. local time in Rome for TED 2017, which is taking place April 24-28 in Vancouver, Canada. TED is an international media organization that posts brief talks online that are for free distribution and run under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” The organization was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990. The talks are typically run between 10-20 minutes, and are given by influential speakers who are experts in various fields such as business, science and technology, among others. Subtitles are available in more than 100 languages. Pope Francis is the first pontiff to give a TED Talk, however, just days before announcing his resignation in 2013 Benedict XVI was given the “Charter of Compassion” by the organization’s European director, Bruno Giussani. This year’s TED conference holds the theme “The Future You,” and is dedicated to addressing the pressing questions of our time. In his talk, which lasted 18 minutes and was filmed inside Vatican City, Pope Francis offered a response to today’s challenges, focusing on how to maintain an attitude of hope through solidarity with one another. He noted that for many people a happy future is something that seems distant and at times impossible to achieve. However, while these concerns must be taken seriously, they are not “invincible,” he said, explaining that happiness can be discovered when looking to the harmony that exists between the whole and each individual part. Francis then moved to his second point, saying it would be ideal if scientific and technological growth were coupled with greater equality and social inclusion. “How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries,” he said. Only a thorough education in solidarity can overcome the “culture of waste” prevalent in today’s society, turning people’s attention not so much toward goods and food, but toward people. “Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary,” he said, but noted that solidarity “is not an automatic mechanism.” “It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone,” he said, explaining that to truly do good to another person, courage, memory and creativity are needed. “I know that TED gathers many creative minds,” the Pope observed, but stressed that when it comes to developing projects and ideas, “good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.” Rather, a concrete and “ingenious” attitude is needed, he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The ‘you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.” Pope Francis then pointed to the parable of the Good Samaritan, explaining, as he often does, that while the two powerful men of the day ignored the man on the side of the road, it was the Samaritan, a “despised ethnicity” at the time, who had compassion and paid for the man’s healing out of his own pocket. The story of the Good Samaritan can easily sum up the state of humanity today, Francis said, explaining that many people’s paths are “riddled with suffering,” as if everything centered around money and things, rather than people. “And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves ‘respectable,’ of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.” Pointing to Mother Teresa, whom he canonized in September 2016, Francis said she is an example of the people who are “creating a new world” based on care for others. “We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day?” he asked. While not everyone can achieve the scale of Mother Teresa or the Good Samaritan, the Pope stressed that we are all precious and irreplaceable in the eyes of God, and that amid today’s conflicts, each of us “can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.” “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is hope,” he said, explaining that hope doesn’t mean being “optimistically naïve,” ignoring suffering or dwelling on the past, but is a virtue that is able “to see a tomorrow.” “Hope is the door that opens onto the future,” he said, noting that it is like the hidden yeast that makes bread grow, and as such “can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness.” “A single individual is enough for hope to exist,” telling conference participants: “that individual can be you.” “And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us,’” he said, explaining that hope begins with a “you,” and when an “us” develops, “there begins a revolution.” The Pope then repeated his frequent call for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” “Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need,” he said, noting that God himself descended to our level, which is the same thing the Good Samaritan did. To have tenderness, he said, “the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.” Pointing to a common phrase in Argentina, Francis said “power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach. You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.” Pope Francis closed his speech saying the future of humanity isn’t just in the hands of politicians or great leaders or big companies, but is primarily in the hands “of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’” “We all need each other, he said. “So, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.”

How to pray the Rosary more deeply

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2017 / 12:29 am (CNA).- It is interesting that in her appearances at Lourdes, Fatima and other locations, the Mother of God repeatedly recommends praying the Rosary. She does not invite us to pray the Divine Office, or to do spiritual reading, or Eucharistic Adoration, or practice interior prayer or mental prayer. All the mentioned forms of prayer are good, recognized by the Church and practiced by many saints. Why does Mary “only” place the Rosary in our hearts? We can find a possible answer by looking at the visionaries of Lourdes and Fatima. Mary revealed herself to children of little instruction, who could not even read or write correctly. The Rosary was for them the appropriate school to learn how to pray well, since bead after bead, it leads us from vocal prayer, to meditation, and eventually to contemplation. With the Rosary, everyone who allows himself to be led by Mary can arrive at interior prayer without any kind of special technique or complicated practices. This does not mean – and I want to emphasize this point – that praying the Rosary is for “dummies” or for simple minded people. Even great intellectuals must come before God as children, who in their prayers are always simple and sincere, always full of confidence, praying from within. All Christians are called to the kind of interior prayer that allows an experience of closeness with God and recognition of his action in our lives. We can compare the Rosary to playing the guitar. The vocal prayers – the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be – are the central prayers of Christianity, rooted in Scripture. These are like the rhythm in a song.   But simply strumming a guitar is not a song. And mindless repetition of words is not interior prayer. In addition to rhythm, keys are needed. The Mysteries of the Rosary are like the chords on the guitar. The vocal prayers form the framework for meditation on the Mysteries. There are always these five chords to the rhythm of the repetition of the prayers, which make the lives of Jesus and Mary pass before our eyes. With meditation, we go on reflecting on what happens in each Mystery and what it means for our lives: At Nazareth, the Son of God is incarnated in Mary. In Holy Communion, He also comes to me. In Gethsemane, Jesus sweats blood. He suffers, is in anguish, and yet his friends remain asleep. Can I keep vigil with Him or do my eyes close with tiredness? On Easter morning, Jesus rises and breaks forth from the tomb. The first day of creation brought light. The first day of the week conquered death and gave us life. Christ can change the darkness in my life into light. And so, our prayer begins to change into music. That is to say, it is no longer monotonous and boring, but now it is full of images and thoughts. And when the grace of God permits, it is also filled with supernatural illuminations and inspirations. There is one more thing needed to have really great music, or to have a prayer that is even more profound and intimate: the melody that the heart sings. When playing the guitar, a voice is needed to interpret the song. When praying the Rosary, it is the song of our heart, as we place our own life before God, to the tempo of the prayers and meditations.   It is this song of the heart that allows us to enter into the mysteries of the Rosary: For my sake you were scourged, and it was I who struck you. Forgive me! You have ascended into Heaven, Lord. I long for You, I for your kingdom, my true homeland. In contemplation, the person praying sees the mysteries pass before his eyes, and at the same time he abides in particular affections or movements of the heart before God. The one who prays sings the song of his own life, in which naturally there can arise specific desires: You wanted to be the son of a human Mother; help my sick mother! You were crowned with thorns; help me in this financial difficulty which I can't get out of my head. You sent the Holy Spirit; without You I don't have the courage or the strength to make a good decision. With this understanding, the following tips can help those who pray the Rosary move from vocal prayer to meditation to inner contemplation: 1) Schedule the time Our schedule is full of appointments. More or less consciously, we also plan out the time we're going to need for each task or appointment. Sometimes it is good to set aside 20 or 30 minutes to pray the Rosary, and write it down in the schedule. This “appointment” with Jesus and Mary is then just as important as all the other ones planned. For all of us, it is possible to set aside a time to pray the Rosary, at first, once, twice or three times a week.  Over time – and this is the goal – it will be easier to find a time to pray the Rosary daily. 2) Don’t rush We can learn a lesson about prayer by observing people in love. During a romantic candlelit dinner, no one would be constantly looking at the clock, or choking down their food, or leaving the dessert to one side to finish as quickly as possible. Rather, a romantic meal is stretched out, maybe lingering for an hour to sip a cocktail, and enjoying every moment spent together. So it is with praying the Rosary. It shouldn't be treated as sets of Hail Mary’s to be performed as if one were lifting weights. I can spend time lingering on a thought. I can also break away from it. I can, principally at the beginning, simply be peaceful. If I keep this peaceful attitude and an awareness of how important this 20-minute “appointment” is, then I will have prayed well. It will have been a good prayer, because my will is focused on pleasing the Beloved and not myself. 3) Savor the experience Saint Ignatius recommends what's called the “third form of prayer,” which consists in adjusting the words to the rhythm of one's own breathing. Often it is sufficient in praying the Rosary to briefly pause between the mysteries, and to remember that Jesus and Mary are looking at me full of joy and love, recognizing with gratitude that I am like a little child babbling words every so often to in some way affirm that I love God. To do this, it can be useful to pause and take a few breaths before resuming vocal prayer. 4) A gaze of love The vocal prayers of the Rosary only provide the rhythm of the prayer. With my thoughts, I can and should go out from the rhythm to encounter the Mystery which is being contemplated. This is more clear in German, where the mystery is announced not only at the beginning of each decade, but before each Hail Mary. It’s a time to look your Beloved in the eyes and let Him look back, with eyes full of love.  5) Allow yourself to be amazed One of the first and most important steps for inner prayer is to go from thinking and speculation to looking upon and being amazed. Think of lovers who meet, not to plan out what they're going to give each other or what they might do on the next vacation, but to enjoy the time together and to rejoice in each other. Looking at a family photo album is very different from looking at a history book. In the photo album, we see people who are important to us, whom we love – and even more – who love us! That's how our gaze at Jesus and Mary ought to be in the Rosary. 6) Allow your “inner cameraman” to notice details Some people close their eyes while praying in order to concentrate. Others find it useful to focus their eyes on a certain point (such as a crucifix). Either way, what is important is for the eyes of the heart to be open. Praying the Rosary is like going to the movies. It's about seeing images. It's useful to ask yourself: Who, What, Where am I looking at when I contemplate the birth of Jesus, or his crucifixion, or his ascension into Heaven? And on some occasions, like a good cameraman does, come in for a close-up image of some detail: contemplate the warm breath of the ox that's warming the Child, the pierced hand of Jesus that spread so much love, the tears in John's eyes as he gazes at Jesus rising up to Heaven. 7) Pray in words, mind, and heart The words accompany, the mind opens, but it is the heart that has the leading role in prayer. All the great spiritual authors agree that inner prayer is about dwelling in the affections, that is, the inner sentiments and movements. Teresa of Avila says very simply: “Don't think a lot, love a lot!” An elderly lady was ruefully complaining to me that she could not reflect while praying her daily Rosary, and that in that situation she could barely say “Jesus, Mary, I love you!” I congratulated the lady. That is exactly what praying the Rosary ought to lead us to.  

Ahead of trip, Pope Francis sends message of joy to Egypt

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2017 / 05:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis expressed his joy for his upcoming trip to Cairo in a video message, saying he hopes to bring peace and friendship to all Egyptian citizens. “I am truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the Country that gave, more than two thousand years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod,” the Pope said an April 25 video message. The video shows Pope Francis expressing his excitement to visit the land “where Patriarchs and Prophets lived,” and wishes to bring strength and comfort to the Christian community. “I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region.” On April 10, the Director of the Holy See Press Office confirmed the Pope's trip to Egypt despite the recent violence from the Islamic State taking place within the country.   Coptic Christians make up the majority of Egypt's Christian community, but suicide bombings, kidnappings, and other violent attacks from the Islamic State have affected both Christians and Muslims. General Minister of the Franciscan Community acknowledged the present dangers and said the Pope is “very informed” of the issues occurring in Egypt. “Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land – needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices,” Pope Francis said. He added, “It needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity.” The Pope hopes he may bring “a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position.” Pope Francis will begin his trip by giving an address for an international conference of peace at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, an esteemed Muslim institute. He will be speaking with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, who is considered by some to be head of the Sunni Muslim branch of thought. Afterwards, the Pope will meet with the state officials and Patriarch Tawadros II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.   Patriarch Tawadros II was nearly injured during one of the two attacks which killed 44 people and injured over 100 more. During Palm Sunday liturgy, one suicide bomber detonated at the entrance of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. The Pope will then celebrate mass on Saturday, and have a meeting with the Coptic Catholic Bishops over lunch. Pope Francis was invited by the Coptic Catholic Patriarchy during their ad limina visit to the Vatican on Feb. 6.

Pope Francis refuses bullet-proof vehicle for Egypt trip

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2017 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will not use a bulletproof vehicle during his trip to Egypt this weekend, despite recent terror attacks against Christians in the country, according to Reuters.   "The Pope will use a closed car to move around, but not an armoured one," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed yesterday. "That's how he wanted it." This is not the first time Pope Francis has done so - he typically prefers to travel in more open vehicles, or ones that are not bulletproof, because he feels that allows him to better interact with the people on the streets. Pope Francis will be traveling to Cairo, Egypt, April 28-29 for his first international trip of the year. Interfaith dialogue with Muslims and showing solidarity with persecuted Christians will be main priorities of the trip. His trip comes after several recent attacks on Christian in the country. In December, a bombing at Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens of others, most of them women and children. On Palm Sunday, the bombing of two Coptic churches killed 43 and injured more than 100 others. Last week, gunmen attacked security forces near the famous St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert, killing a police officer and injuring three others. This attack and the church bombings were all claimed by ISIS. Egypt’s president has declared a three-month state of emergency in the country following the Palm Sunday attacks. Despite the risk, the Vatican announced earlier this month that the Pope’s trip to Egypt would continue as planned. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their visit at the Vatican Feb. 6. The Pope had also received an invitation to visit Egypt from the country’s president and from the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, after his visit to the Vatican in the spring of 2016, marking a thaw in Vatican-Muslim relations in Egypt.   During his trip, Pope Francis will meet with the Grand Imama state officials, leaders of Egypt’s Catholic Coptic and Orthodox Coptic churches, and Catholic priests and religious of the country.

Pope Francis to visit graves of two 20th century Italian priests

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2017 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will make a pilgrimage June 20 to visit the graves of two 20th century Italian priests in the towns of Bozzolo and Bariana, the Vatican announced Monday. Fr. Lorenzo Milani and Fr. Primo Mazzolari both have reputations for being anti-establishment, though they were obedient to the Church throughout their lives. The Pope's visit to their graves will take place in a “private and unofficial manner,” the April 24 communique stated. The pilgrimage takes place in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Milani, who lived from 1923-1967. Pope Francis spoke about Fr. Milani in a video message to the participants of a presentation on the priest's complete works in Milan Sunday. “I would love to remember him especially as a believer, in love with the Church even though he was wounded,” the Pope said in the message April 23, “and as a passionate educator with a vision of the school that seems to me to respond to the need of the hearts and the intelligence of our children and youth.” Pope Francis' brief visit – only half a day – will begin with an early morning helicopter flight to Bozzolo June 20, landing at 9:00 a.m. He will be welcomed by the Mayor of Bozzolo and the Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni. From there the Pope will proceed to the parish of St. Peter to pray at the tomb of Fr. Primo Mazzolari, after which he will give a commemorative speech to the faithful present at the church. At 10:30 a.m. he will leave for Barbiana, arriving at the Barbiana church at 11:15 a.m. He will be welcomed there by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence and the Mayor of Vicchio, a municipality of Florence. He will then visit privately the cemetery of the church to pray at the grave of Fr. Lorenzo Milani. Afterwards, Pope Francis will meet in the church with still-living disciples of Fr. Milani. After a short visit to the rectory in the adjacent garden he will give a speech in the presence of around 200 people, including the disciples, priests of the diocese and some children living in family homes in the area. The Pope will return to the Vatican by about 1:15 p.m. Fr. Milani came from a wealthy but secular family, the son of an atheist father and a Jewish mother. He studied art, which had a profound influence on his conversion to Catholicism and eventual entrance into the priesthood in 1947. His “frankness that sometimes seemed too rough when not marked by rebellion” carried over even into his priesthood, Pope Francis noted in his video message. This led to some friction and misunderstandings with ecclesiastical and civil structures “because of his educational proposal, his preference for the poor, and defense of conscientious objection.” Despite this, however, he was always deeply obedient to the Church and to her directives. He once wrote: “I will never oppose the Church because I need (her) several times a week for the forgiveness of my sins, and I would not know to whom else to go to look for it if I had left the Church.” Fr. Primo Mazzolari lived from 1890-1959. He grew up in a small neighborhood of the town of Cremona, Italy, entering the seminary in 1902. Some have called him a “priest of the embankment,” because he grew up on the banks of the Po River and also at the “embankment” of the Church. Very politically active, he intervened in the First World War and after, and was so anti-fascist he refused to sing the “Te Deum” after a failed attack on Mussolini by Tito Zaniboni in 1925. His greatness already recognized, he was invited to the Vatican by both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI before his death. In 2015 permission was formally granted to open the diocesan phase of Fr. Mazzolari's cause for beatification.   Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this report.