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Pope Francis to Catechists: never tire of witnessing to Resurrection

(Vatican Radio) Keeping the central truth of our faith – that Jesus Christ is Our Divine Lord, that He died and is risen from the dead, never to die again – front and center in our lives, so as to witness always and everywhere to His divine Lordship and victory over death: this was the central theme and focus of Pope Francis’ homily on Sunday morning, which he delivered during the Mass he celebrated to mark the Jubilee of Catechists – on Sunday the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Jubilee of Catechists in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Click below to hear our report

“This centre around which everything revolves, this beating heart which gives life to everything is the Paschal proclamation, the first proclamation: the Lord Jesus is risen, the Lord Jesus loves you, and he has given his life for you; risen and alive, he is close to you and waits for you every day.  We must never forget this,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope went on to explain how the Readings of the Day, especially the Sunday Gospel, which contained the parable of the pauper, Lazarus, and the rich man, teaches us how the Lord looks at and cares – through us – for those who are neglected and discarded by the world – and how he gives us the opportunity, the mission and the duty to bring the Good News to those most in need of it.

The Holy Father went on to say, “On this Jubilee for Catechists, we are being asked not to tire of keeping the key message of the faith front and centre: the Lord is risen. Nothing is more important;  nothing is clearer or more relevant than this. Everything in the faith becomes beautiful when linked to this centrepiece, if it is saturated by the Paschal proclamation. If it remains in isolation, however, it loses its sense and force.”

“And so, dear catechists, dear brothers and sisters,” concluded Pope Francis, “may the Lord give us the grace to be renewed every day by the joy of the first proclamation to us: Jesus died and is risen, Jesus loves us personally! May he give us the strength to live and proclaim the commandment of love, overcoming blindness of appearances, and worldly sadness. May he make us sensitive to the poor, who are not an afterthought in the Gospel but an important page, always open before all.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis to deaf people: together for more welcoming Church, society

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered prayers and encouragement to deaf people everywhere on Sunday – the World Day of the Deaf, which marks the close of the International Week of the Deaf.

“I want to salute all deaf persons – some of whom are here [at the Angelus] – and encourage them to give their part for a Church and for a society that are both ever more ready and willing to welcome everyone.”

First launched in 1958 in Rome, the International Week of the Deaf takes place annually in the last full week of September, and is the only week in a year that sees highly concerted global action to raise awareness about the needs of deaf people and the contributions of the deaf community to broader society.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Bl. Engelmar Unzeitig CMM a model of charity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, following a Mass to mark the Jubilee of Catechists celebrated as part of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In remarks to the faithful ahead of the mid-day prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father recalled the beatification – which took place in the German city of Würzburg on Saturday – of the Servant of God, Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig CMM, a Czech-born priest who ministered in Austria and was martyred in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

“[Saturday], in Würzburg,” said Pope Francis, “Engelmar Unzeitig, priest of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, was proclaimed Blessed.”

The Holy Father went on to say, “Killed in hatred of the faith in the extermination camp of Dachau, he opposed hatred with love, and answered ferocity answered with meekness: may his example help us to be witnesses of charity and hope even in the midst of trials.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis at Angelus: prayers for Mexican Church, nation

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered prayers for slain Mexican priests on Sunday, and put his support behind the ongoing pro-family and pro-life efforts of the Mexican Bishops.

Speaking with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, following Mass to mark the Jubilee of Catechists celebrated as part of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and ahead of the traditional noonday Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said, “I am very happy to associate myself with the Bishops of Mexico, in supporting the commitment of the Church and of civil society in favor of the family and of life, which in this time require special pastoral and cultural attention in all the world.”

The Holy Father went on to say, “I assure my prayer for the dear Mexican people, that the violence, which has in recent days reached even several priests, might cease.”

Two priests were abducted and murdered in Poza Rica, Veracruz state.

Their abductions and murders took place at a time in which Church leaders have been calling for increased protection for clergy, as the Church in Mexico advocates in defence of traditional marrigage while the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto pushes for a change in the law to allow legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages.

14 priests have been killed since Peña Nieto took office in 2012, along with scores of thousands of kidnappings and homicides since that same year, most of which are related to the ongoing violence between rival drug cartels in the country.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope offers comfort to friends and relatives of Nice attack victims

Pope Francis on Saturday sought to comfort relatives and close friends of the more than 80 victims of the attack in Nice in July, who were run down by a man driving a truck as they celebrated France's national day. The pope began his solemn address by apologising for not speaking French because he said his was not "bon". Then, shifting to Italian, he urged those who were "attacked by the demon" to respond with "forgiveness, love and respect for your neighbour" rather than giving in to the temptation to react with hate and violence. Among the some 1,000 people who attended the ceremony were members of Nice's Jewish community and a local Muslim imam. "It makes me happy to see that inter-religious relations are very vibrant among you, and this cannot but soothe the wounds left by this dramatic event," Francis said. Islamic State (IS) militants claimed responsibility for the July 14 Nice attack. Less than two weeks later, IS militants killed an elderly French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, in his church, prompting the pope to declare the "the world is at war". But the pope also insisted the war was not a religious one, and that it was wrong to "identify Islam with violence", suggesting instead that the lack of economic opportunities for young people in Europe was one of the causes of terrorism. After speaking briefly, the pope descended from the pulpit and spent more than 45 minutes meeting those who attended the ceremony, many of whom were in tears.

Pope meets with Hospital Sisters of Mercy

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday held an audience with the “Hospital Sisters of Mercy,” and encouraged them in their mission despite challenges posed by secular culture.

Listen to Ann Schneible’s report:

Delivering his address in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the sisters, and said they are “a concrete sign of how to express the Father’s mercy”.

He recalled how Servant of God Teresa Orsini Doria Pamphili Landi, a noble lay woman who was supported by two priests, established the congregation in accord with Jesus’ call to care for the sick.

In the face of the weakness brought about by illness, “distinctions of social status, race, language, and culture cannot exist,” the Pope said. “All of us become weak, and we must entrust ourselves to others.”

Pope Francis stressed the Church’s commitment and responsibility towards those who suffer, and reflected on the particular charism of the sisters, which is to care for those in hospitals.

He urged the sisters to persevere in their work, despite the difficulties they may face.

“At times, in our days, a secularist culture aims to remove even from hospitals every religious reference,” including the sisters themselves, he said.

Despite this, the Holy Father encouraged the sisters to never tire of “being friends, sisters, and mothers to the sick,” and reminded them that “prayer is the life-blood which sustains [their] evangelizing mission.”

Finally, the Holy Father reminded the sisters of how Jesus is always present in the person who lies suffering in the hospital bed.

“The closeness to Jesus, and to the weakest, is your strength.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to journalists: truth and respect for human dignity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with the Italian National Council of the Order of Journalists, telling them that truth, professionalism and respect for human dignity were essential elements in their work.

Listen to Lydia O'Kane's report

Meeting with the assembled Italian journalists in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall on Thursday, Pope Francis told them that there were few professions that have “so much influence on society like that of journalism.” He noted that they are usually the ones who are there to record what he called,  the "first draft of history”, “the building of the news agenda and introducing people to the interpretation of events.”

He also noted that the journalistic profession was one that was continually adapting to changes in the way people digest news through new forms of media.

In his discourse the Pope stressed three essential elements in the work of a journalist, that he said, could serve to “improve the society in which we live”: To love the truth, to embody professionalism and to respect human dignity.


He said that loving the truth meant not only stating it, but living it  and bearing witness to it in their work, adding, even in journalism we must be able to discern between shades of grey surrounding the events that we are called to tell.”

Speaking about the second element, professionalism, Pope Francis underlined that when there was professionalism, journalists remained “a cornerstone, a fundamental element for the vitality of a free and pluralistic society.”

Respecting human dignity

On the subject of human dignity, the Pope stressed the importance of responsible journalism and he reiterated earlier comments he made about rumours being a form of "terrorism", and  how you can kill a person with language. The Holy Father went on to say that “journalism cannot become a '' weapon of destruction "of people and even nations.” Criticism, is legitimate, he added, “as well as the denunciation of evil, but this must always be done respecting the other, his life, his affections”.

Holy See communications

Pope Francis during his discourse also commented on the changing communication’s environment of the Holy See. He said that it was experiencing a renewal process from which journalists should benefit, adding “the Secretariat for Communication will be the natural point of reference for your valuable work.”






(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: The truth can't be forced on people

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2016 / 07:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God is shared with the world through love and authentic relationships, not by forcing the truth on people, Pope Francis said Sunday. “God is proclaimed through the encounter between persons, with care for their history and their journey. Because the Lord is not an idea, but a living person,” the Pope said in his homily at the Mass for the Jubilee of Catechists Sept. 25. “His message is passed on through simple and authentic testimony, by listening and welcoming, with joy which radiates outward.” Referencing St. Paul's first letter to Timothy, Pope Francis called the Resurrection the “beating heart which gives life to everything.” “The Lord Jesus is risen, the Lord Jesus loves you, and he has given his life for you; risen and alive, he is close to you and waits for you every day. We must never forget this.” Nothing is more important than the fact that the Lord is risen, the centerpiece of our faith, he explained. But we cannot keep it to ourselves. “We are called always to live out and proclaim the newness of the Lord’s love: 'Jesus truly loves you, just as you are. Give him space: in spite of the disappointments and wounds in your life, give him the chance to love you. He will not disappoint you,'” Francis said. “It is by loving that the God-who-is-Love is proclaimed to the world: not by the power of convincing, never by imposing the truth, no less by growing fixated on some religious or moral obligation,” he continued. In the day's Gospel, a rich man doesn't notice the poor Lazarus outside the door to his house, his spiritual blindness and worldliness are like a black hole that “swallows up what is good, which extinguishes love, because it consumes everything in its very self.” “Today’s callousness causes chasms to be dug that can never be crossed,” Francis said. “And we have fallen, at this time, into the sickness of indifference, selfishness and worldliness.” The Lord asks us, today, to meet and help all of the Lazaruses we encounter. We cannot delegate to others, “saying: 'I will help you tomorrow; I have no time today, I’ll help you tomorrow.' This is a sin,” he said. “The time taken to help others is time given to Jesus; it is love that remains: it is our treasure in heaven, which we earn here on earth.” After Mass, the Pope led pilgrims in the Angelus, and expressed his solidarity with the bishops of Mexico in supporting the efforts of the Church in favor of family and life. On Saturday an estimated 215,000 people marched through the streets of Mexico City to oppose President Enrique Pena Nieto's push to legalize same-sex marriage. Pope Francis also offered his prayers for the Mexican people in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of two priests whose bodies were found Sept. 19 – the same day a third priest was kidnapped. The Pope also spoke of the beatification of Engelmar Unzeitig, a German priest killed in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, and greeted all of the deaf people present on the “World Day of the Deaf,” encouraging them to do their part to make the world better.  

Love can be only response to evil, Pope tells attack survivors

Vatican City, Sep 24, 2016 / 09:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the face of the devil's assaults, we must respond as God would, promoting respect for others and extending love and forgiveness to those who have harmed us, Pope Francis said in a Saturday audience with survivors of the terror attack in Nice, France in July. “When the temptation to turn in on themselves, or to answer hatred with hatred and violence with violence is great, authentic conversion of heart is necessary,” he said Sept. 24. “This is the message that the Gospel of Jesus addressed to all of us.” Pope Francis received the nearly 1,000 survivors of the July 14 attack in Nice in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican. After his speech he greeted them each one by one. Eighty-six people were killed and over 400 were wounded in the Nice terror attack in July after a Tunisian man, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, intentionally drove a large truck through the crowded seafront Promenade des Anglais. The crowds had been celebrating Bastille Day, which marks the day of France’s independence and is traditionally the country’s biggest public holiday. “I wish to share your pain, a pain that becomes even stronger when I think of the children, even entire families, whose lives have been torn suddenly and dramatically. To each of you I assure my compassion, my closeness and my prayer,” the Pope told those gathered. “The Church remains near and accompanies you with great mercies,” he said. “With its presence next to you in these moments so heavy to deal with, she asks the Lord to come to your aid and to put in your hearts feelings of peace and brotherhood.” In his speech, Pope Francis praised all those who went to the aid of the wounded, the victims, and their families, after the attack, both Catholic and organizations of other religions. “I am glad to see that among you interreligious relations are very much alive, and this can only help to alleviate the hurt of these dramatic events,” he said. “In fact, establish a sincere dialogue and fraternal relations among all, particularly among those who confess one and merciful God, it is an urgent priority that those responsible, both political and religious, should seek to encourage and which everyone is called to implement around him.” Pope Francis also met with the Hospital Sisters of Mercy Sept. 24, praising them for their dedication to serving the sick and dying, regardless of race or religion. “In front of the weakness of the disease can be no distinctions of social status, race, language and culture; Everybody grows weak and we must trust the other,” he said. “You dedicated your life above all to the service of brothers and sisters who are in hospitals, who thanks to your presence and professionalism will feel better supported in the disease,” the Pope said. “And to do this there is no need for long speeches: a caress, a kiss, stand by in silence, a smile.” “On that hospital bed always lies Jesus, present in the person who is suffering, and it is he who asks for help from each of you.”

The Vatican is changing how it verifies miracles

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2016 / 11:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Changes to the regulations for confirming alleged miracles during the causes of saints aim to preserve the scientific rigor of the examination and maintain its distinction from matters of theology, it was announced Friday. The changes, which were approved by Pope Francis Aug. 24, were announced by the Vatican Sept. 23. They concern the professional secrecy of the proceedings regarding presumed miracles and hold that a supermajority of two-thirds (five out of seven, or four out of six) of the votes from members of the Medical Board must be positive for the cause to continue to the next step. Previously, only a simple majority of medical experts acknowleding a supernatural healing was required. The changes also stipulate that the medical experts will receive their remuneration only through bank transfer – not cash. “The purpose of the Regulation can be none other than the good of the Causes, which can never neglect the historical and scientific truth of the alleged miracles,” Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, Secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, wrote regarding the changes. “Just as it is necessary for the legal checks to be complete, convergent and reliable, it is also necessary that their study be performed with serenity, objectivity and sure competence by highly specialised medical experts.” “This Regulation obviously concerns only the good functioning of the Medical Board, whose task appears increasingly delicate, demanding and, thanks be to God, appreciated both inside and outside the Church.” Archbishop Bartolucci added, “Always the Church is convinced that miracles of the saints is the 'finger of God,' which ratifies, so to say, the human judgement of their holiness of life.” “This vision is part of the mind of the Church and has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the ordinary magisterium to the pronouncements of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. It is historically certain that miracles are always a decisive argument for the canonization of Servants of God,” he stated. The new wording is based on the regulations approved by Blessed Paul VI in 1976. The drafting of the new regulations was done by a special commission which began its work in September 2015. Besides the new requirements of a qualified majority and professional secrecy on the part of those involved, the president of the Medical Board is limited to one term and one reappointment (a total of 10 years in the position). Nor can a case be re-examined more than three times, and when a re-examination is made, there must be a nine persons on the Medical Board. Also, it is now the Under-Secretary of the Council who will undertake the functions previously under the rapporteur, who had been responsible for reporting on the proceedings of the meetings. In addition to the changes introduced, there were also adjustments made to procedural language. Since the 12th and 13th centuries the Church has continually revised the regulations under which a miracle is confirmed in cases of causes for beatification or canonization. The 1917 Code of Canon Law established access of the miracle to theologians only after the alleged miracle had been studied and verified by two expert doctors, aside from issues of philosophical and religious consideration. “And even today it is so: the scientific aspect remains distinct from the theological,” Archbishop Bartolucci affirmed. “Miracles are not marginal events of the Gospel or the causes of saints. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God in word and with 'messianic signs,' that he worked to make clear his identity and credibility to its mission and also to anticipate the final news of the redeemed world,” Archbishop Bartolucci said. “The same is true for saints,” he said. “Miracles, that they receive through their intercession, are a sign of God's presence in history and, at the same time, are the confirmation of their former high holiness, expressed first of all in the exercise of heroic Christian virtues or martyrdom.”

Journalism can't be a 'weapon of destruction', Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2016 / 05:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Emphasizing the importance of respect for human dignity, Pope Francis told journalists Thursday that their profession can never be used as a destructive weapon, nor should it be used to nourish fear. “Certainly criticism is legitimate, and, I would add, necessary, just as is the denunciation of evil, but this must always be done respecting the other, his life, and his affect. Journalism cannot become a 'weapon of destruction' of persons or even nations,” the Pope said Sept. 22 at the Vatican's Clementine Hall. “Neither must it nourish fear in front of changes or phenomena such as migration forced by war or by hunger.” He was meeting with Italy's National Council of the Order of Journalists, and he commented that “there are few professions which have such influence on society as does journalism. The journalist has a role of great importance, and at the same time a great responsibility. In a certain sense you write the ‘first draft of history' … introducing persons to the meaning of events.” While acknowledging the increased role of digital media, which has come at the expense of print journalism and television, the Pope said that “journalists, when they are professional, remain a key pillar, a crucial element for the vitality of a free and pluralistic society.” Pope Francis reflected on how journalism “can serve for the betterment of the society in which we live,” noting that it is indispensable for everyone “to stop and reflect on what we are doing and how we are doing it … even in the professional life there is a need for this, a bit of time to pause and reflect. Certainly, this is not easy in the realm of journalism, a profession which lives on continuous deadlines and 'expiration dates'. But, at least for a brief moment, let us reflect a bit on the reality of journalism.” He highlighted loving the truth, living with professionalism, and respecting human dignity as the three key elements in practicing a journalism which serves society. “To love the truth means not only to affirm, but to live the truth, to bear witness to it in one’s work. To live and work, then, with coherence in respect to the words that are used for an article in the paper or a television service. The question here is not one of being or not being a believer. The question here is being or not being honest with oneself and with others,” he said. Francis called relationship “the heart of every communication,” noting that “no relationship can stand and endure over time if it is based on dishonesty. I realize that in journalism today – an uninterrupted flow of events recounted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – it’s not always easy to arrive to the truth, or at least get close to it. Not everything in life is black or white. Even in journalism, one needs to know how to discern between the shades of gray in the events you are called to cover.” “Political debates, and even many conflicts, are rarely the result of a distinct, clear dynamic in which it is possible to recognise precisely and unequivocally who is wrong and who is right.” He said that “comparison and conflict are, indeed, born precisely from this difficulty of synthesis between different positions. This is the difficult and at the same time necessary work – we could also say mission – of a journalist: to arrive as close as possible to the truth of the facts and never to say or write what one knows, in their conscience, is not true.” Turning to his second point, living with professionalism, Pope Francis said this means, “beyond what we can find written in the codes of ethics, to understand, to internalize the profound sense of one’s work.” “From this arises the necessity of not submitting one’s profession to the logic of partisan interests, be they economic or political.” The Pope said that “the task of journalism – dare I say, its vocation – is therefore to nurture the social dimension of man, favouring the building of true citizenship.” Working with professionalism “means not only responding to the preoccupations, while legitimate, of one class, but keeping at heart one of the pillars in the structure of a democratic society,” he said. “We should always reflect that, throughout history, dictatorships – of every orientation and type – have always sought not only to take control of means of communication, but even to impose new rules on the profession of journalism.” Finally, Pope Francis noted that respect for human dignity is of particular importance in journalism because “even behind the simple account of an event there are feelings, emotions, and, ultimately, the lives of persons.” He recalled how he often speaks of gossip as a “terrorism” which kills with the tongue. “If this applies to individuals, with family or at work, it applies all the more to journalists, because their voice reaches everyone, and this is a very powerful weapon.” “Journalism must always respect the dignity of the person. An article is published today and tomorrow it is replaced with another, but the life of a person unjustly defamed can be destroyed forever.” He added that criticism and the denunciation of evil can be legitimate and, indeed, necessary, but always within a framework of respect for the person. Neither may journalism “nourish fear in front of changes or phenomena like migration forced by the war or by hunger,” Pope Francis exhorted. The Pope concluded, saying, “I hope that more and more journalism everywhere is a tool of construction, a factor for the common good, an accelerator of processes of reconciliation; that it may know how to reject the temptation of stirring up confrontation, with language that fans the flames of division, instead favoring the culture of encounter.”

How Catholics brought women's equality to a Cameroon clan

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2016 / 03:03 pm (CNA).- A region of Cameroon that traditionally believed women to have no value now sees them as equal to men, thanks to a lay Catholic apostolate in the area. “Before the coming of the Focolare Movement, the women had no say, but the movement has taught us a lot of things,” said Nicasius Nguazong, who is the Fon – similar to a king – of the Cameroonian chiefdom of Nwangong. Fon Nicasius and about 40 other pilgrims, including other heads of northwest Cameroonian clans, travelled to Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of the Focolare Movement first coming to the Bangwa people. They attended the Pope’s Wednesday General Audience, and several met with Pope Francis Sept. 21. Mafue Christina Fontem – whose role is similar to a queen – testified at a press conference afterward that her father, after meeting the founder of the Focolare Movement, a woman named Chiara Lubich, carried out a campaign for the higher education of women. “And because of that,” she said, “you will find that those of us who are here, his daughters, went to school, and you also have among us a granddaughter who is here from Germany.” “We had something in our tradition that we always said: ‘a woman is worth nothing’,” Mafue Christina reflected. “But with the coming of Chiara, women got emancipated.” The Focolare Movement, a Catholic lay apostolate, was originally founded by Chiara Lubich in 1943. It was begun during World War II as a path of spiritual and social renewal. Using the inspiration of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21, “May they all be one,” the movement now exists all over the world; it aims to create unity through the use of dialogue and relationships among individuals, peoples and cultures. Although it has Catholic roots, people of every age, vocation, religion and culture belong to the movement. “Before the coming of the Focolare Movement, they didn’t encourage education for girls because they thought that a woman’s place was in the kitchen,” Fon Nicasius said. But now, men and women share in the housework, instead of women doing everything, which used to include bending over to chop firewood while carrying babies on their backs, said Mafue Christina. “This comes from the teaching of the Focolare Movement of loving one another as Jesus has loved us,” she said. Mafue Christina told a story about a time when a woman left the house to go to the farm. When she returned, her husband had drawn a warm bath for her and invited her to take a bath and rest. She was very surprised, Mafue Christina said, “because it was not part of their culture. This was the culture of the disciple of love.” Speaking from a man’s perspective, Fon Nicasius said that now, even in their traditional councils, it is acknowledged that women have a say and they have been given positions of responsibility. He praised the efforts of Catholics in his country, saying, “The good works of the Focolare Movement and the Catholic Church cannot end in our own reign.”  

Being 'merciful like the Father' isn't a slogan – it's a way of life, Pope says

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2016 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on the theme of the Jubilee of Mercy, “Merciful like the Father,” telling pilgrims that while imitating God’s love can seem impossible, it’s genuine effort, rather than quantity, that matters. To be “merciful like the Father” is not just “a slogan for effect, but a life commitment,” the Pope said Sept. 21. However, he also questioned whether Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel of Luke are actually realistic, asking “is it really possible to love like God loves and to be merciful like him?” When looking back at the story of salvation history, Francis noted that God’s entire revelation to man consists of his tireless love for humanity which culminates with Jesus’ death on the Cross. “So great a love can be expressed only by God,” he said, explaining that Jesus’ call for humanity to be merciful like the Father “is not a question of quantity. Instead it is a summons to be signs, channels and witnesses to his mercy.” “And the Church can’t but be the sacrament of God’s mercy in the world, in every time and across all humanity,” he said, adding that “every Christian is called to be a witness of mercy, and this takes place on the path to holiness.” Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience. He has dedicated his catechesis to the topic of mercy in honor of the ongoing Holy Year of Mercy, which takes its theme from the day’s Gospel reading from Luke. In his address, the Pope said that while “of course God is perfect,” if he is seen only in this way, it becomes impossible for humanity to strive toward that model of “absolute perfection.” Instead, having God “before our eyes as merciful allows us to better understand what his perfection consists of and spurs us to be like him; full of love, compassion and mercy.” Francis then asked what it means for the disciples to be merciful. The answer, he said, was given by Jesus in two verbs: “to forgive” and “to give.” Mercy is expressed “above all in forgiveness,” he said, adding that “forgiveness in fact is the pillar that holds up the life of the Christian community, because in this is shown the gratuitousness of the love with which God has first loved us.” “All Christians must forgive! Why? Because they have been forgiven. All of us, each one of us here in the Square, have been forgiven,” the Pope said, explaining that “if God has forgiven me, why shouldn't I forgive others? Am I greater than God?” When it comes to giving, Francis noted that God always “gives well beyond our merits,” but will be even more generous with those who were generous on earth. Jesus, he said, “doesn’t say what will happen to those who did not give,” but sends a warning when he uses the image of “the measure: with the measure of love that we give, it is we ourselves who decide how we will be judged, how we will be loved.” Because of this, “merciful love is the only path to take,” Francis said, stressing the need for everyone to be a little more merciful and a little less hasty to speak poorly of others, to be judgmental and to “pluck” at others with criticism, envy and jealousy.   “We must forgive, be merciful and live our lives in love,” he said, explaining that by doing so, the heart enlarges with love rather than selfishness and anger, which makes the heart small and hardens it “like stone.” “What do you prefer? A heart of stone or a heart of love? If you prefer a heart full of love, be merciful.”

Pope Francis condemns 'inexcusable violence' in murder of Mexican priests

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2016 / 06:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After hearing of the murder of two priests in Mexico, Pope Francis sent a telegram to the country’s bishops condemning the violent act, offering his prayers as a sign of closeness to the community and families affected. “Deeply distressed upon receiving the sad news of the assassination of Reverends Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Suarez de la Cruz…the Holy Father expresses his sincerest condolences,” read the telegram, sent Sept. 20. Signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the telegram voiced the Pope’s closeness to Bishop Trinidad Zapata of Papantla, where the priests served, as well as to all clergy, religious communities and faithful of the diocese. He offered his prayers “for the eternal repose of these priests of Christ, victims of an inexcusable violence.” On Monday, the bodies of Mexican priests Alejo Nabor Jiménez Juárez and José Alfredo Suárez de la Cruz were found murdered in a field after having been kidnapped from their parish. They were kidnapped the previous day from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in the city of Poza Rica, a town located in the north of the Mexican Gulf state of Veracruz. The bodies of the two priests were found the following day in a field in the nearby city of Papantla. A third man, identified by Veracruz authorities, was kidnapped alongside the two priests, but escaped and was found alive. Veracruz officials said that he had been placed under protection. Poza Rica and surrounding areas in Veracruz have been the locus of drug and associated cartel violence for years, but it is yet unclear why the priests were targeted. Priests have also been the target of violence elsewhere in Mexico. Pope Francis recently condemned the escalation of drug activity and violence in Mexico during his visit to the country earlier this year, telling a group of laborers Feb. 17 to work toward finding adequate means to end “the cycle of drugs and violence.” He said the lack of decent work and opportunity leads to situations of poverty, which then becomes “the best breeding ground for the young to fall into the cycle of drug trafficking and violence.” This, the Pope said, “is a luxury which no one can afford; we cannot allow the present and future of Mexico to be alone and abandoned.” In his telegram to Bishop Zapata, the Pope voiced his “firm condemnation of all that attacks life and the dignity of people,” and urged the clergy and pastoral agents of the diocese to continue their mission with enthusiasm by imitating Christ, “despite the obstacles.”

Peace requires us to do more than 'change the channel,' Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2016 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While in Assisi for an interreligious prayer gathering, Pope Francis cautioned against an indifference that ignores the suffering of others as easily as flipping through TV channels, stressing that peace only comes through action and solidarity. In the words “I thirst,” whispered by Jesus as he hangs on the Cross, “the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied, the sorrowful plea of the poor and those most in need of peace” is audible, Pope Francis said Sept. 20. Victims of war, “which sullies people with hate and the earth with arms,” cry out for peace, he said, noting how many live under the daily threat of bombs and are forced to leave their homelands in search of safety. These people “thirst. But they are frequently given, like Jesus, the bitter vinegar of rejection,” he said. “Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them?” Francis asked, lamenting that “far too often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed.” These people, he said, are not merely a nameless face, but are all “brothers and sisters of the Crucified One…the wounded and parched members of his body.” Pope Francis traveled to Assisi to mark the 30th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace that St. John Paul II convoked in the city in 1986. St. John Paul II went back to Assisi for successive events 1993 and 2002. The last day of prayer led by a Pope was convoked by Benedict XVI in 2011, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first historic meeting in Assisi. However, the Sant'Egidio community has organized an interreligious meeting every year since 1986, held at different locations. This year, the meeting is held again in Assisi, from Sept. 18-20 and is titled “Thirst for Peace.” The gatherings attended by Popes have traditionally taken place in years marked by major conflict or threats of violence, such as the 1986 gathering, which was framed by Cold War tensions and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, in 1991, St. John Paul II attended the event in the backdrop of the war in the Balkans, while in 2002 he led the world’s interreligious leaders in praying for peace just months after the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Now, Francis himself attends with the looming threat of ISIS spread throughout the Middle East and, increasingly so, in Europe. His presence at the prayer summit is his third time in Assisi, the first having taken place Oct. 4, 2013, for the feast day of his namesake, and the second being just a few weeks ago on Aug. 4, to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the “perdono” indulgence. This year the prayer event gathered 476 official representatives from different religions, along with more than 1,500 volunteers and thousands of other participants. There were 9 different major religions and 26 different religious confessions represented. For the occasion, the diocese of Assisi gave Pope Francis a 112-page book covering the 30-year “Story of Assisi” with commentary from the key speakers of each major encounter since the launch of the event in 1986. It also includes the testimonies of two victims of war who share their personal experience. After spending nearly an hour greeting participants from different religions after his arrival, Pope Francis met individually with leaders of several major religions, including Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople; His Holiness Ignatius Ephraim II, Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch; His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Church of England and Great Rabbi of Israel David Rosen. The Pope then had lunch with 12 refugees who fled war in various countries around the world before leading Christians in a moment of ecumenical prayer in the lower part of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, during which all countries at war were named, and a candle lit for each one. Pope Francis spoke after hearing brief addresses from both Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Welby, who made a distinction between the human economy of profit and the economy of God. “In God’s economy, we are the poorest of the poor…because we think ourselves rich, because we have money,” the archbishop said, but stressed that our human wealth is like “a children’s game,” and that “we are only truly rich when we receive mercy from God.” “Our imaginary economy not only deceives us…it drains our energies in the pursuit of illusions,” he said, noting that God, on the other hand, “offers us wealth that is real” through his mercy, which replaces the illusion of our wealth with “the reality of peace and love, because when we receive mercy and peace we become the bearers of love and peace.” In his brief speech, Bartholomew said that today Christians are called to give “a testimony of communion.” The patriarch stressed that communion among Christians today is commonly lived out as “communion which is martyrdom.” “We are therefore thirsty, we must be thirsty…for thirst is the symbol of our need and yearning,” he said, and encouraged participants to turn to the other and let “a listening silence…permeate us,” because “there can be no conversion without listening.” In his own reflection, Francis himself turned to the gathering’s theme, explaining that while Jesus certainly thirsts for water while hanging on the Cross, above all he thirsts “for love, that element no less essential for living.” “He thirsts to give us the living waters of his love, but also to receive our love,” Francis said, and pointed to the reality that “Love is not loved,” which, according to some, is what most upset the Pope’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis “was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly” for love of the suffering Lord, the Pope said, adding that this same reality must perpetually be in the hearts of all as we contemplate Christ Crucified, “who thirsts for love.” He noted how St. Teresa of Calcutta, whom he canonized Sept. 4, sought to quench this thirst through service to the poorest of the poor. The Lord’s thirst is quenched by our compassionate love, Francis said, adding that Christ “is consoled when, in his name, we bend down to another’s suffering.” Pointing to Jesus' words in the Gospel “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,” Pope Francis said they challenge us, seeking “a place in our heart and a response that involves our whole life.” As Christians, we are called to reflect on the mystery of “Love not loved,” and to pour out mercy onto the world. “On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good,” Francis said, explaining that as disciples of the Crucified Lord, we too “are called to be ‘trees of life’ that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.” After his reflection, Pope Francis and other major leaders of different forms of Christianity gathered alongside him closed their liturgy before heading to the concluding ceremony, during which representatives from all the major religions present issued a joint appeal for peace.  

Church unity with a global focus: lessons from 'bishop school'

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2016 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican holds a special seminar series each year for new bishops to help them learn their new role. Among these new bishops was Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, the vicar apostolic of Istanbul. For him, the seminar had a singular focus. It “teaches all of us bishops to look at the Church in its entirety,” he told CNA.   “The seminar mostly focuses on one, reiterated issue: we must understand that the Church is simply one,” Bishop Tierrablanca recounted. “We, the bishops of local Churches, are not called to merely focus only on our local Churches, while not taking care of other situations. We are called to look at the entire Church.” A Franciscan originally hailing from Mexico, Bishop Tierrablanca has lived in Istanbul since 2003. He was appointed apostolic vicar for Istanbul in April. He came to Rome for the annual seminar for new bishops Sept. 10-18. The annual gathering of newly appointed bishops in Rome is “a meeting to reconfirm our union with Rome, and to understand that the Church is always the Church, no matter where local communities are,” the bishop explained.   The schedule of the seminar was quite tight: three meetings per day, plus an audience with Pope Francis Sept. 16.   The seminar series for new bishops first began in 2001. It aims to provide all the new bishops guidelines and tools to better fulfill the requirements of their new position.   “We were informed about the current situation of the Church, we were given indications about how to work. We are provided guidelines in theology and liturgy and we are taught about how to live and administer a diocese and how to be in relation with the clergy and the people of God,” Bishop Tierrablanca said.   He then added that because the Roman Curia is undergoing reform and renewal, bishops must be aware of how things are changing. “It is not just a matter of how much we are renewing the structure (of the Church). Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, celebrated a Mass for us and said in his homily that the real reform is a spiritual one.”   Concerning the Curia reform, the new bishops were informed about the services of the dicasteries and how they are being re-shaped. “As bishops, we often merely refer to the Congregation of Bishops, or to the Congregation for the Eastern Church, or to the Evangelization of People, that are the dicasteries to which we are subject. But we don’t think about other dicasteries, though they are very important.”   For example, he found an important resource in the new Secretariat for Communications. “When we want to communicate something, we often use the channel of the parish bulletin, but we do not reach a great audience.” He explained bishops can use the secretariat “to give more visibility to our work, which is the work of the Church in the world.”   Among the pastoral training includes help for bishops on how to spread the gospel with joy.   Bishop Tierrablanca cited the joyous themes of the titles of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortations Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia. “Emphasis is put on the fact that the message must give joy,” he said. “That means that every bishop or shepherd is called to express how joyful the Gospel is, and in this way we get closer to people.”   He said that this is particular important in Turkey, where Christians are a minority and where churches are not allowed to be visible on the streets.   “It is important to get in touch with another person in a friendly and open way, and live a transparent life. Thanks to this testimony of life, you can get closer to those who are not Christians,” Bishop Tierrablanca said.   In the end, the gathering of bishops reinforced the bond between local bishops and the Pope.   “Sometimes we think that being with Rome is a straitjacket that you cannot get rid of. But Rome presides over all the Churches with charity. We are always the Church, and we always recognize ourselves as a unique Church,” Bishop Tierrablanca concluded.

Papal ambassadors issue global appeal to step-up peace efforts

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2016 / 10:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After spending three days in Rome to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis’ diplomatic representatives throughout the world have called on government leaders to make greater efforts in ending conflict and promoting peace. According to a Sept. 19 communique from the Vatican, the papal ambassadors – called apostolic nuncios – issued “a pressing appeal” to the international community and to those with governing responsibilities to “strive ever more effectively to stop violence.” The nuncios urged leaders to “peacefully resolve the conflicts in various parts of the world,” and expressed their solidarity with all innocent victims of the world’s many violent conflicts. They also offered their support to those who face religious persecution, praying to “the Father of every mercy” for those suffering and for their intentions.   Out of his 108 ambassadors around the world, 106 gathered with Pope Francis in Rome Sept. 15-17 for the celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The appeal of the apostolic nuncios came as a shaky ceasefire between rebels and government forces in Syria continues to crumble. Initially going into effect Sept. 12, the seven-day ceasefire was meant to allow humanitarian aid to reach crisis areas, and signal a step in ending years of violent conflict. However, as of Sept. 19, the Russia-U.S. brokered deal was barely hanging in the balance, with numerous violations reported on each side. The Syrian civil war has raged since March 2011. More than 280,000 people have been killed, while over 12 million are displaced or have become refugees. Some of the combatants have conducted atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities. In a Sept. 17 speech to his ambassadors, Pope Francis urged the nuncios to always be aware of the threats that attack their flocks, even seeking to “disperse and even destroy it.” He pointed specifically to the many conflicts raging throughout the Middle East, noting that “the violent siege seems to aim, with the complicit silence of many, toward their eradication.” He highlighted the importance of going to the root of the underlying problem, and to then discern “the possible paths to counter their causes and tackle their pitfalls.” The world, he said, “is afraid and is spreading fear. Often this is the key it adopts in its reading of reality and chooses – as its strategy – to build a world founded on walls and trenches.” However, while the reasons for this fear are understandable, “we must not embrace it, 'for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control',” he said, and urged the nuncios to “open doors, build bridges, create ties, make friendships, promote unity.”