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Vatican City implements health measures over coronavirus

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has implemented special health measures and canceled some events as more than 500 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Italy. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News.  While there have been no diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in Vatican City, Bruni said Feb. 24 that Vatican health staff have worked with the Italian Ministry of Health on procedures which can be brought into action, and are in close contact with the regional authorities in Lazio. “In compliance with the provisions of the Italian authorities, some events scheduled for the next few days in indoor places and with an important influx of public have been postponed," Bruni said. With Pope Francis’ Lenten retreat scheduled for March 1-6, there are no papal audiences scheduled for next week, but conferences in Rome and other indoor events have been canceled.  A conference schedule to take place March 5-6 at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the opening of Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII has been canceled, as has a March 2-7 communications workshop at the Pontifical Urbaniana University for global representatives of the Pontifical Missions Societies. An event for a book on Cardinal Celso Costantini Feb. 25, at which Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Fernando Filoni were expected to speak, was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. As of Feb. 27, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat.  Pope Francis did not cancel his Wednesday general audience Feb. 26, but he was later seen coughing during his Ash Wednesday Mass.  The pope chose not to attend a scheduled liturgy with priests in Rome Feb. 27 “due to a slight indisposition,” according to the Holy See press office. However, the pope’s other appointments, such as Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, took place as usual. Italian authorities reported 528 cases of the coronavirus Feb. 27 with 14 deaths. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred. The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning on the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations, including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1. In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three reported cases: an Italian, who has recovered, and two Chinese tourists, who are being treated in a hospital. “I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said Feb. 26.

‘Worship of initiatives’ is replacing faith, Pope Francis warns priests

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- In a message Thursday, Pope Francis criticized placing so much importance on Church programs that the essential teachings of the faith are lost. The pope also said a priest’s agreement with such initiatives should not be the measure of his ministry.   “The worship of initiatives is replacing the essential: one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all. Adherence to initiatives risks becoming the yardstick of communion,” the pope said, in a message read aloud to the priests of the Diocese of Rome Feb. 27. Pope Francis was scheduled to deliver the speech in person at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, but decided to remain close to the Vatican after feeling unwell, the Holy See spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said Thursday. Instead, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, read the speech on the pope’s behalf. In his speech, Francis outlined the different reasons why priests may become “embittered” in their ministry, noting that his observations came from many conversations with priests and are not only his opinion. Today, he said, there seems to be a “general atmosphere” of “widespread mediocrity” – and not only in the priesthood. “The fact remains that much bitterness in the life of a priest” is rooted in the omissions of his bishop, Francis said in a footnote of the speech. Priests risk losing their ministry as pastors, their role as teachers of the faith, he said, as they become “suffocated” by management problems and personnel emergencies. But, he added, “who is the catechist of that permanent disciple who is the priest? The bishop of course!” Francis said it could be argued that priests do not usually want to be educated by bishops, but even if this is true, “it is not a good reason” for bishops to give up the “munus docendi.” “The holy people of God have the right to have priests who teach them to believe; and deacons and priests have the right to have a bishop who teaches them in turn to believe and hope in the One Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who inflames their faith,” he said. The pope also said that, as a priest, he would want his bishop to help him believe, not just make him happy, and lamented that often bishops end up only attending to their priests in times of crisis, and not making the time to listen to them outside of emergencies. In his speech, Pope Francis also argued that another cause of bitterness in the priesthood is problems between priests. He pointed to the financial and sexual scandals of recent years as having caused suspicion among priests and hindered meaningful bonds. “There is more ‘community,’ but less communion,” the pope said. Francis also said that with these scandals, the devil tempts people to have a Donatist vision of the Church. Donatism is a heresy from the 4th to 6th centuries which argued that Catholic priests had to be without sin or fault for the sacraments they administer to be valid. “We have false conceptions of the militant Church, in a sort of ecclesiological puritanism,” he said. “The question we ask ourselves when we meet a new brother priest emerges silently: ‘Who do I really have before me? Can I trust him?’” Prayer is important to combat this, he said. The pope also warned priests against an “individualized conscience” – a feeling of being “more special, powerful, gifted” and therefore needing to start every new parish assignment with a “clean slate,” instead of building on the good already there from the previous pastor. Cautioning against the risk of isolation, Francis advised priests to find an old and astute priest to be a spiritual father.

Pope Francis names 4 new bishops for US dioceses

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has appointed four new bishops to serve in American dioceses. The appointments, announced Thursday, include three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and one new auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of San Diego, California. The appointments include a Benedictine monk who currently leads the American-Cassinese Congregation. The Vatican announced Feb. 27 that Fr. Ramon Bejarano will be consecrated as auxiliary bishop for San Diego. The three new auxiliary bishops for the Newark archdiocese are Msgr. Gregory Studerus, Fr. Michael Saporito, and Abbot Elias Lorenzo. Abbot Lorenzo, 59 is a monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey, who was previously prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Lorenzo has served as abbott president of the American-Cassinese Congregation, an association of 25 Benedictine monasteries, since 2016. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Lorenzo entered the Benedictine monastery in 1983 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Don Bosco College Seminary. He went on to earn a license in canon law from Catholic University of America, and master’s degrees in counseling psychology and in liturgical theology. After his ordination in 1989, Lorenzo served as a director of liturgy for the abbey, vice president of Delbarton School, and president of the International Commission for Benedictine Education. Msgr. Gregory Studerus, a priest of the Newark archdiocese, has served as episcopal vicar of Hudson County since 2015. Before entering seminary, Studerus worked as an elementary school art teacher and served in the National Guard. He holds a Master of Divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary. Msgr. Studerus, 71, has been pastor of St. Joseph of the Palisades Church, the largest Hispanic parish in the Newark archdiocese, for 15 years.  The other auxiliary bishop-elect for the Archdiocese of Newark is Fr. Michael Saporito, who currently serves as pastor of St. Helen Parish in Westfield, NJ. A native of Newark, Saporito, 57, has served six parishes in the archdiocese since his ordination in 1992, including St. Joseph in Maplewood and St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff. Saporito studied accounting at Rutgers University before entering Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange. Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, welcomed the appointments, and said that the pope had shown a “special concern for the life and the mission of Archdiocese of Newark.”  “In selecting Msgr. Studerus, Abbot Lorenzo, and Father Saporito for service as bishops, the Holy Father gives new impetus to this local Church as we continue to walk forward in faith.” “I am delighted to share my responsibilities with these three dedicated missionary disciples,” Tobin said. Pope Francis also appointed a new auxiliary bishop of San Diego Feb. 27, Fr. Ramon Bejarano, who currently serves as pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Modesto, CA. Born in Laredo, TX, Bejarano, 50, spent much of his childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico, before moving with his family to California, where he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Stockton in 1998. The bilingual priest earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the Diocesan Seminary of Tijuana, and a Master of Divinity from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. He previously served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, CA and as founding pastor of Holy Family Parish in Modesto.  The four new auxiliary bishop appointments come one week after all of the current U.S. bishops completed their ad limina visits to Rome to meet Pope Francis and pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

'Slight' sickness keeps Pope Francis close to home, Vatican says

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 07:36 am (CNA).- Pope Francis did not attend a scheduled meeting with Rome priests Thursday morning due to a “slight indisposition,” a Vatican spokesman said. The pope’s other appointments took place as usual Thursday; he offered his morning Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse and later met with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement. “Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director told journalists Feb. 27. Santa Marta is where Francis lives at the Vatican. Bruni added that the pope’s “other commitments proceed regularly.” The encounter with Rome’s priests was to take place as part of a penitential Lenten liturgy at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran across Rome.   In his absence at the liturgy, the pope’s prepared remarks were read to clergy by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome. Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection. The pope had a full schedule Feb. 26 with a procession and the celebration of Mass for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, as well as his weekly general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. Francis’ illness comes at the same time as the novel coronavirus afflicts several hundred people in Italy, mostly in the north. During the audience, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to those who are sick with the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, and with the healthcare workers tasked with treating them and with stopping the contagion. As of noon, on Feb. 27, cases of coronavirus in Italy had reached more than 500, with 14 deaths. In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three cases: an Italian who has recovered and two Chinese tourists who are being treated in the hospital.  

Pope Francis prays for Iraqis as Vatican confirms no papal visit in 2020

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he is praying for the people of Iraq, and repeated his desire to visit the country. Speaking to pilgrims from the Middle East during his general audience address, the pope gave a special welcome to people from Iraq, who he said were present in a “nice group.” “Citizens of Iraq, I tell you I am very close to you. You are in a battlefield, you suffer a war, from one side and the other,” Francis said Feb. 26. The pope said he is praying for peace in Iraq and referred to his hope to visit the country in 2020. “I pray for you and I pray for peace in your country, which it was planned that I visit this year,” Francis said. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni subsequently confirmed to CNA that a papal visit to Iraq will not take place this year. Pope Francis said in June he would like to visit Iraq in 2020 and two Catholic bishops from the country had also referred to the possibility of a papal trip there. Francis has wanted to visit Iraq throughout his pontificate, but it has not yet been possible due to the Iraqi Civil War, Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, and continued security concerns in different parts of the country. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited Iraq during the Christmas season in 2018, and concluded at the time that the country was still unsafe for a papal visit. If Francis does eventually travel to Iraq, he would become the first pope to visit the nation. Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting government corruption, a lack of economic growth, and proper public services. They have also objected to foreign influence over their country’s internal affairs. Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters in what are the largest demonstration Iraq has seen since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.  As of Jan. 13, more than 660 people had been killed in the demonstrations, according to the Iraqi War Crime Documentation Centre. On Feb. 1, Iraq appointed a new prime minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, after the previous prime minister resigned in November in response to the protests. Allawi praised the protests soon after his appointment. The prime minister-designate is now forming a government, which is scheduled for a parliamentary vote of approval Feb. 27.

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday: Confession purifies hearts

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis called on Catholics to go to Confession during Lent to experience God’s healing love.  “We can receive God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance because there the fire of God's love consumes the ashes of our sin. The embrace of the Father in confession renews us inside and purifies our heart,” Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily Feb. 26.  “Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it. Lent is a time of healing,” he said in the Basilica of Santa Sabina. Before going to confession, Pope Francis recommended, people should stand in front of the Crucifix and contemplate Christ on the cross. While looking at the crucifix, the pope said one can repeat the following prayer: “Jesus, you love me, transform me.” After welcoming God’s love and crying in front of the cross, receive God’s forgiveness in Confession, he said. “Let's look inside, into our hearts: how many times do we extinguish the fire of God with the ashes of hypocrisy,” Pope Francis said. “How often do we do things only to be recognized, to look good, to satisfy our ego? How often do we profess to be Christians, yet in our hearts readily yield to passions that enslave us? How often do we preach one thing and practice another? How many times do we make ourselves look good on the outside while nursing grudges within?” he asked. “We need to be cleansed of all the dust that has sullied our hearts.” Pope Francis said Lent is not a time “for useless sermons,” but instead it is “a time of grace” to welcome God’s loving gaze and then to change one’s life. To mark the start of the Lenten season, Pope Francis prayed silently at St. Anselm Church on the Aventine Hill in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the offering of the Mass and the imposition of ashes. As the procession of cardinals, bishops, priests, Benedictine monks, Dominican friars, and lay people made their way between the two churches, they sang the Litany of the Saints. The tradition of a Lenten pilgrimage by the Bishop of Rome and Catholics in the city to the tombs of the martyrs dates back to the early fourth century.  “The ashes we receive on our foreheads should affect the thoughts passing through our minds,” Pope Francis said in his homily. “If I live only to earn money, to have a good time, to gain a bit of prestige or a promotion in my work, I am living for dust,” he added. “That is not why we have been put in this world. We are worth so much more. We live for so much more, for we are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love.” The pope said that the earthly goods we possess will fade away, but the love we give to our families, to our work, in the Church, and in the world will remain forever. “Ashes are sprinkled on our heads so that the fire of love can be kindled in our hearts,” he said. “May we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in order to live as beloved children, as forgiven and healed sinners, as wayfarers with him at our side. Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis' Lent advice: Put down phone, pick up Bible

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:55 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Catholics Wednesday to use the season of Lent to spend less time immersed in the chatter and noise of the world through television and their phones, and to spend more time in silence and in conversation with God. “Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel,” the pope said Feb. 26. This penitential period, he continued, is also the time to work on giving up gossip, rumors, and useless chatter, focusing instead on giving yourself to the Lord, who spent 40 days in the desert in fasting and prayer. During Lent, Jesus is “calling us into the desert,” Francis explained. Jesus “invites us to listen to what matters. To the devil who tempted him, he replied: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” “Like bread, more than bread we need the Word of God, we need to speak with God: we need to pray,” he urged. In his weekly general audience, which fell on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on the “desert” of Lent and how countercultural it is to spend time in silence, away from the noisiness of modern life. “We live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and harmful words, which the internet amplifies,” he explained. “We are inundated with empty words, with advertisements, with subtle messages. We have become used to hearing everything about everyone and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts.” In this noise, “we struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord who speaks to us, the voice of conscience, of good,” the pope said. According to Francis, the ‘desert’ of Lent, where we can be in conversation with the Lord, becomes a life-giving place. He acknowledged that it is not easy to make space for silence in one’s heart, but invited everyone to imagine themselves in the desert, surrounded by a great silence, with “no noises, apart from the wind and our breath.” “It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God,” he said. Pointing again to the image of the desert, Pope Francis said it recalls what is essential, and how often in life people become surrounded by many useless things. “We chase a thousand things that seem necessary and in reality are not. How good it would be for us to get rid of so many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to find the faces of those around us!” he urged. “Prayer, fasting, works of mercy: here is the road into the Lenten desert.” The solitude of the desert also reminds us of the people around us who are lonely and abandoned, he said, saying the “path in the Lenten desert is a path of charity towards the weaker.” He also said fasting is a way of seeking a simpler life by giving up superfluous, vain things. But, he warned, it is not about “slimming down.” “In the desert one finds intimacy with God, the love of the Lord,” he stated. “The road that leads us from death to life opens up in the desert. We enter the desert with Jesus, we will go out savoring Easter…” “Have courage.”

Personal conversion needed to confront Satan's lies, pope says in Lent message

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2020 / 03:34 am (CNA).- There is an urgent need for personal conversion, without which the temptations of Satan, and the presence of evil, create a “hell here on earth,” Pope Francis said Monday in his 2020 Lenten message. “Christian joy flows from listening to, and accepting, the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said. “Whoever believes this message rejects the lie that our life is ours to do with as we will.” Rather, the pope said, life is born of the love of God our Father. “If we listen instead to the tempting voice of the ‘father of lies,’ we risk sinking into the abyss of absurdity, and experiencing hell here on earth, as all too many tragic events in the personal and collective human experience sadly bear witness,” he stated. Pope Francis’ Lenten message was published Feb. 24. It was signed Oct. 7, 2019, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.   With the season of Lent, the Lord gives Catholics again a time of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, “the cornerstone of our personal and communal Christian life,” he said, urging Catholics to not take this time of conversion for granted. “This new opportunity ought to awaken in us a sense of gratitude and stir us from our sloth,” he argued. “Despite the sometimes tragic presence of evil in our lives, and in the life of the Church and the world, this opportunity to change our course expresses God’s unwavering will not to interrupt his dialogue of salvation with us.” In his message for Lent 2020, which will begin Feb. 26, Francis spoke about the “urgency of conversion,” and quoted his 2019 apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit. “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt.  Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew.” During Lent, a penitential period preceding the Church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ, Catholics are called to a renewed practice of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. Pope Francis recalled that prayer is “more than a duty,” but that it is “an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us.” Christians pray with the knowledge they are unworthy, but still loved by God, he said. Francis also spoke about the paschal mystery and putting it at the center of one’s life, which he said means to have compassion for Christ crucified as represented in “the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence.” Christ’s wounds are also represented in “environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry,” he stated. About almsgiving, the pope said sharing one’s worldly goods helps to make the world a better place. “Charitable giving makes us more human, whereas hoarding risks making us less human, imprisoned by our own selfishness,” he said. Francis said apart from giving alms, Christians must also consider the structure of economic life, which is why he has convened in March a meeting with young men and women from around the world to bring about “a more just and inclusive economy.” “The Economy of Francesco,” which will be attended by around 2,000 economists and entrepreneurs under the age of 35, will be held in Assisi March 26-28. Pope Francis pointed to the crucified Jesus, who was sinless yet took on “the weight of our sins.” “May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him,” he urged. “I ask Mary Most Holy to pray that our Lenten celebration will open our hearts to hear God’s call to be reconciled to himself, to fix our gaze on the paschal mystery, and to be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with him.”

Denver archbishop discusses February Pope Francis meeting

Denver, Colo., Feb 24, 2020 / 12:06 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Denver offered his impressions of a Feb. 10 meeting between some U.S. bishops and Pope Francis, at which the bishops’ discussion with the pope included some questions about the ministry of Fr. James Martin, and about a 2019 meeting between the pontiff and the priest. Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver told CNA it was a “privilege” to meet with the pope and his fellow bishops of the U.S. bishops’ conference Region XIII, adding that “the meeting was a grace.” “The Holy Father spoke very openly and freely with us regarding many topics,” Aquila said, acknowledging that the meeting “has now become a source of some controversy.” Last week CNA reported that during the Feb. 10 meeting, Pope Francis discussed his Sept. 30 Vatican visit with Fr. James Martin, an American Jesuit who is well-known for speaking and writing about the Church’s ministry to people who identify themselves as LGBT. Bishops who met with the pope this month told CNA that Pope Francis expressed frustration with the way his meeting with Martin was interpreted and framed by some journalists. Since it was reported by CNA, those facts have been confirmed by additional bishops who were in the meeting: Archbishop John Wester and Bishop Steven Biegler. In a Feb. 21 column published by the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop John Wester added that the bishops’ discussion with the pope also addressed other aspects of Martin’s ministry, including questions about a recent speech Martin delivered to presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.” Regarding the Sept. 30 meeting, some bishops told CNA that the pope’s frustration about the media’s framing of the event was evident in “both his words and his face,” while Wester wrote that, from his view, he did not think the pope had been “angry, upset or annoyed.” For his part, Aquila told CNA that Pope Francis expressed his personal frustration with the way his meeting with Martin was interpreted and framed by some journalists in a way that was clear, Aquila said, especially for “those who understand Italian.” Pope Francis spoke in Italian during the meeting with U.S. bishops, and a translator offered English translations for bishops who required it. Among accounts of the meeting from bishops who attended it, a difference of understanding has emerged regarding another point in the discussion of Martin’s ministry. Some bishops told CNA last week that the pope had said to their group that Martin had received some correction about the way the Sept. 30 visit was framed. But according to Wester, the pope did not say that Martin was given a correction. “I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry,” the archbishop wrote, while adding that he thought that reference had to do with another issue. Reflecting on the meeting, which spanned more than two hours and, for some bishops, relied on a translator, Aquila told CNA that “I think it is reasonable that some remarks from the Holy Father would have been interpreted in different ways by different bishops.” Wester, one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed “Building a Bridge,” Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality, commented last week on the length of the meeting, and said it would be “difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said” during the conversation. From his perspective, Aquilla added that “all of us present at the meeting were making an effort to receive the pope in good faith,” even while bishops understood the pope on some points in differing ways. Aquila emphasized to CNA the fruitful and open discussions with Pope Francis and the bishops. “The most important part of the meeting was, of course, our unity with Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ on Earth,” the archbishop said.  

Pope Francis: Ask God for the strength to love your enemies

Bari, Italy, Feb 23, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Ask God for the grace to love your enemies, Pope Francis said Sunday in a homily in the Italian city of Bari. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is the Christian innovation. It is the Christian difference,” Pope Francis said Feb. 23. “Ask God for the strength to love. Say to Him: ‘Lord, help me to love, teach me to forgive. I cannot do it alone, I need you.’ … We need to pray more frequently for the grace to live the essence of the Gospel, to be truly Christian,” the pope said. Pope Francis offered Mass in Bari for the conclusion of the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace" meeting of bishops from 19 Mediterranean countries, which took place Feb. 19-23. An estimated 40,000 people attended the pope’s Sunday Mass in Bari’s Piazza Libertà. In his homily, the pope said that Christ on the cross perfectly lived out God’s command to Moses in the Book of Leviticus chapter 19: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” “He did not point a finger at those who wrongfully condemned him and put him to a cruel death, but opened his arms to them on the cross. And he forgave those who drove the nails into his wrists,” Francis said. “If we want to be disciples of Christ, if we want to call ourselves Christians, this is the only way.” “Having been loved by God, we are called to love in return; having been forgiven, we are called to forgive; having been touched by love, we are called to love without waiting for others to love first; having been saved graciously, we are called to seek no benefit from the good we do,” he said. Pope Francis said that “the worship of God” contradicts the “culture of hatred.” He said one can fight this culture of hatred by not giving into the “cult of complaint.” “How many times do we complain about the things that we lack, about the things that go wrong! Jesus knows about all the things that don’t work. He knows that there is always going to be someone who dislikes us. Or someone who makes our life miserable. All he asks us to do is pray and love,” he said. “This is the revolution of Jesus, the greatest revolution in history: from hating our enemy to loving our enemy; from the cult of complaint to the culture of gift. If we belong to Jesus, this is the road we are called to take,” Pope Francis said. The only kind of “Christian extremism” is “the extremism of love,” he said. Pope Francis said that there is no getting around the Lord’s command to “love your enemies” because Jesus is “direct and clear … His words are deliberate and precise.” The pope said that some people may think that they cannot “survive in this world” if they love and forgive in a world where “the logic of power prevails and people seem to be concerned only with themselves.” “As Saint Paul told us in the second reading: ‘Let no one deceive himself... For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.’ God sees what we cannot see. He knows how to win. He knows that evil can only be conquered by goodness,” he said. He added: “Jesus, with his limitless love, raises the bar of our humanity.” “Today let us choose love, whatever the cost, even if it means going against the tide. Let us not yield to the thinking of this world, or content ourselves with half measures,” Pope Francis said. “Then we will be true Christians and our world will be more human.”