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Pope to bless Bethlehem icon at All Saints Anglican Church

(Vatican Radio) The blessing of a newly commissioned icon of Christ the Saviour sets the stage for Pope Francis’ historic visit to the Anglican Church of All Saints on Sunday. It’s the first time a pope has ever visited an Anglican place of worship in his diocese of Rome and it comes as the centerpiece of celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the community.

The icon, which will be blessed by the Pope, together with Anglican and Orthodox leaders attending the afternoon prayer service, is the work of English artist Ian Knowles, who heads a school for Palestinian art students in the Holy Land.

He talked to Philippa Hitchen about the aims of the Bethlehem Icon Centre and the way this type of liturgical art can help to heal our ecumenical divisions…

Listen: 

Knowles says he started the school four and half years ago as an attempt “to revive iconography as living art in the Holy Land” since research suggests that this art form began in the monasteries of Palestine during the 5th and 6th centuries.

So many Christians are leaving the region, he said, that the community is down to one or two percent of the population in Palestine, making it “very important that you nurture what roots are still left”. In this way he hopes the school can contribute to rebuilding the Christian community “giving a bit of hope and confidence to those Christians” who want to remain.

The school currently has over 30 students, many of them enrolled on a diploma programme which works in conjunction with the Prince of Wales school of traditional arts in London. It also runs courses twice a year to bring visitors to stay and pray in Bethlehem, not just to visit the Church of the Nativity but to give people the chance to “stay and live alongside local Christians”. Doing that through iconography, Knowles says, touches “the very heart of what Bethlehem is about”.

Asked about the icon at All Saints, the artist says he believes that iconography is “incarnational art so it has to relate to the community it’s being painted for”. Considering the English Christian cultural heritage of All Saints and the presence of Pope Francis,  Knowles says he recalled a famous image of Christ the Saviour from around the 5th century kept in the chapel of Rome’s Lateran palace . When Rome was under threat in those early centuries, he notes, the pope “would take the image and walk around city barefoot”.

Pope Francis’s visit, he believes, will in a similar sense, help to foster healing of the ecumenical wounds of the past. As well as the image in the Lateran, Knowles says he drew inspiration from  the medieval English illustrator Matthew Paris.

Describing icons as “a hymn in paint”. Knowles says the works are all done with natural pigments, including “rocks which I find on the way to Jericho and we grind up”. God has given us these natural colours, he says, and it’s our job to “weave them together into something which is joyful and beautiful”, or as Dostoyevsky describes it, an image of salvation.

The point of an icon, he concludes, is to be an encounter, just as the liturgy is the place where “heaven is wedded to earth” so this liturgical art is about the “opening up of earth to heaven”. It is like a door “through which the saint or Christ himself comes and is present to the worshipper, and graces and blesses them, and you find yourself caught up in heaven through these images”.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: Parish priests called to support married couples

On Saturday morning in the Vatican, Pope Francis met with parish priests participating in a training course dealing with annulment procedures and other legal issues surrounding marriage.

The course was organized by the Roman Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Church.

Listen to the report: 

Referring to the proposals of the Synod of Bishops on “Marriage and the Family”, and his subsequent Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia”, the Pope praised this study initiative saying it  is the parish priest who is in daily contact with families and is called to concretely apply the  appropriate juridical norms.

In most cases, said the Pope, the parish priest is the first to whom young people turn when they decide to marry and create a new family. And again, it is to the parish priest that couples come when their marriage is in crisis and they need to rediscover the Grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony.

No one knows better than you do, he told the priests, the complexity and variety of problems that exist in marriage: Christian unions, civil marriages, broken marriages, families and young people who are happy or unhappy.

“You are called to be a travel companion to every person in every situation, to support and to give witness”, said the Pope.

First and foremost you are called to witness to the Grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the good of the Family as the vital heart of the Church and society, by proclaiming that marriage between a man and a woman is a sign of the union between Christ and His Church. Pope Francis went on to say how God and His Love are reflected in the Sacrament of Marriage – which he described as “an icon of God”.

At the same time, the parish priest is called to support those who have come to realise that their union is not a true sacramental marriage and want to correct this situation. In this delicate and necessary moment make sure your faithful see you as a brother who listens and understands, rather than an expert in bureaucracy and juridical norms, he said.

Pope Francis invited parish priest to pay special attention to those young people who prefer to live together rather than get married. “Spiritually and morally-speaking,” he said, ”they are among the poor and little ones towards whom the Church wants to be a Mother who never abandons, but is close to them and takes care of them…So be tender and compassionate towards them”.

Finally, the Pope reminded those present of his speech to the Roman Rota on January 21st in which he called for a new teaching style in preparing couples for matrimony, one that follows each step of their sacramental journey, from the wedding itself to the first years of marriage.

“I encourage you to put this teaching into practice”, he said, “despite the difficulties you may encounter.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: A society that excludes not worthy of mankind

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday encouraged the Comunità di Capodarco in its work to help the disabled and marginalized people of society.

The community was founded in 1966 in the Capodarco neighborhood of the eastern Italian city of Fermo.

Listen to the report by Charles Collins:

Its main activity is organizing services for the rehabilitation of disabled people, with a particular aim of social and occupational integration. Over the years, its sphere of action expanded to helping young people, children, drug addicts, immigrants, the mentally ill, and other populations on the peripheries of society.

“The Comunità di Capodarco, existing in numerous local chapters, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year,” – Pope Francis told them – “With you, I thank the Lord for the good accomplished during these years … You have chosen to be on the side of people who are less protected; to offer them hospitality, support and hope, in a dynamic of sharing. In this way, you have contributed and contribute to making a better society.”

The Holy Father said the quality of life within a society is measured from the ability to include its weakest members, “effectively respecting their dignity as men and women,” adding this inclusion should be seen “not as something extraordinary, but normal.”

“Even the person with disabilities and frailties – physical, mental or moral - must be able to participate in the life of society and be helped to implement his or her potential in different ways,” – the Pope continued – “A society that would give space only to people who are fully functional - completely autonomous and independent - would not be a society worthy of man. Discrimination based upon efficiency is no less deplorable than that based upon by race, religion, or ability to pay.”

Pope Francis praised the Comunità di Capodarco for not approaching those who are weaker with a “pietistic attitude” or as if they were welfare cases, but by promoting the “protagonism of the person.”

“In the face of economic problems and the negative consequences of globalization, your community is trying to help those who find themselves being tested not to feel excluded or marginalized; but, on the contrary, to walk at the forefront, carrying the witness of personal experience,” – the Pope said – “This promotes the dignity and respect of each individual, making the ‘losers of life’ feel the tenderness of God, loving Father of all of his creatures.”

The Holy Father also said those marked by physical or mental impediments have a special place in the Church, and their participation in the ecclesial community “opens the way to simple and fraternal relations, and their filial and spontaneous prayer invites all of us to pray to our Heavenly Father.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to French volunteers: promote a culture of mercy

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received in audience on Saturday the French voluntary service agency, “the Catholic Delegation for Cooperation”, which is marking the 50th anniversary of its foundation.

Listen to Lydia O’Kane's report:

The Catholic Delegation for Cooperation is the international voluntary service agency run by the Church in France and has volunteers on missions in over 50 countries who work in solidarity with local Churches and communities on development projects.

Culture of Mercy

To mark its 50th anniversary the delegation on Saturday was received by Pope Francis in the Vatican where he told them to promote a culture of mercy.

He said this culture needed to be one where “no one looks to the other with indifference or runs away when he sees the suffering of brothers “. Do not be afraid, the Pope told those gathered “to walk the streets of fraternity and to build bridges between peoples…”

Through your initiatives, your plans and your actions, he added, you render a poor Church visible, one that empathizes with those who are suffering, marginalized and excluded.

Solidarity

The Holy Father pointed out that the word “solidarity” is at times over used to such an extent that its meaning is lost, and is in fact more than just an act of generosity. He explained that what was required was a new mindset that thinks in terms of the community where everyone is respected. Thinking in this way, underlined Pope Francis also contributes to a genuine ecological conversion which recognizes the eminent dignity of every person, their value, their creativity and their ability to seek and promote the common good.

The Pope encouraged the delegation to be at the service of a Church which allows everyone to recognize the amazing closeness of God, his compassion, his love and to welcome the strength that he gives us in Jesus Christ.

 

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis addresses Vatican conference on human right to water

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis met on Friday with participants in a conference on the human right to water, organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Listen to the report by Philippa Hitchen:

Pope Francis said the questions concerning the right to water are not marginal, but basic and pressing.  Basic, because where there is water there is life, and pressing, because our common home needs to be protected.

Yet we must also realise, he said, that not all water is life-giving, but only water that is safe and of good quality. The right to safe drinking water, he insisted, is a basic human right which cries out for practical solutions and needs to be given the central place it deserves in the framework of public policy. 

Our right to water, the Pope continued, gives rise to an inseparable duty. Every state, he said, is called to implement, also through juridical instruments, the Resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly since 2010 concerning the human right to a secure supply of drinking water. Similarly, non-state actors are required to assume their own responsibilities with respect to this right which is so decisive for the future of humanity.  

Noting that every day a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of people consume polluted water, the Pope said we must give high priority to educating future generations about the gravity of the situation. 

We cannot be indifferent to these facts, he said, but rather we must work to develop a culture of care and encounter, in order to make our common home a more liveable and fraternal place, where none are excluded, but all are able to live and grow in dignity.

Please find below the official English translation of the Pope's address:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to Conference on the Human Right to Water

Pontifical Academy of Sciences

23 February 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good afternoon!  I greet all of you and I thank you for taking part in this meeting concerned with the human right to water and the need for suitable public policies in this regard.  It is significant that you have gathered to pool your knowledge and resources in order to respond to this urgent need of today’s men and women.

The Book of Genesis tells us that water was there in the beginning (cf. Gen 1:2); in the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, it is “useful, chaste and humble” (cf. Canticle of the Creatures).  The questions that you are discussing are not marginal, but basic and pressing.  Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance.  Pressing, because our common home needs to be protected.  Yet it must also be realized that not all water is life-giving, but only water that is safe and of good quality.

All people have a right to safe drinking water.  This is a basic human right and a central issue in today’s world (cf. Laudato Si’, 30; Caritas in Veritate, 27).  This is a problem that affects everyone and is a source of great suffering in our common home.  It also cries out for practical solutions capable of surmounting the selfish concerns that prevent everyone from exercising this fundamental right.  Water needs to be given the central place it deserves in the framework of public policy.  Our right to water is also a duty to water.  Our right to water gives rise to an inseparable duty.  We are obliged to proclaim this essential human right and to defend it – as we have done – but we also need to work concretely to bring about political and juridical commitments in this regard.  Every state is called to implement, also through juridical instruments, the Resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly since 2010 concerning the human right to a secure supply of drinking water.  Similarly, non-state actors are required to assume their own responsibilities with respect to this right.

The right to water is essential for the survival of persons (cf. Laudato Si’, 30) and decisive for the future of humanity.  High priority needs to be given to educating future generations about the gravity of the situation.  Forming consciences is a demanding task, one requiring conviction and dedication.

The statistics provided by the United Nations are troubling, nor can they leave us indifferent.  Each day a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of persons consume polluted water.  These facts are serious; we have to halt and reverse this situation.  It is not too late, but it is urgent to realize the need and essential value of water for the good of mankind.

Respect for water is a condition for the exercise of the other human rights (cf. ibid., 30).  If we consider this right fundamental, we will be laying the foundations for the protection of other rights.  But if we neglect this basic right, how will we be able to protect and defend other rights?  Our commitment to give water its proper place calls for developing a culture of care (cf. ibid., 231) and encounter, joining in common cause all the necessary efforts made by scientists and business people, government leaders and politicians.  We need to unite our voices in a single cause; then it will no longer be a case of hearing individual or isolated voices, but rather the plea of our brothers and sisters echoed in our own, and the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all.  In this culture of encounter, it is essential that each state act as a guarantor of universal access to safe and clean water. 

God the Creator does not abandon us in our efforts to provide access to clean drinking water to each and to all.  It is my hope that this Conference will help strengthen your convictions and that you will leave in the certainty that your work is necessary and of paramount importance so that others can live.  With the “little” we have, we will be helping to make our common home a more liveable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity. 

Thank you.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: In God there is both justice and mercy

(Vatican Radio) In the journey of the Christian, truth is not negotiable; rather, a Christian must be just in mercy, as Jesus teaches us. That was the message of Pope Francis at the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The Holy Father warned against hypocrisy and the deception of a faith reduced to a “casuistic logic.”

Listen to Christopher Wells' report:

“Is it lawful for a husband to put away his wife?” That is the question the doctors of the law put to Jesus in the day's Gospel.

Jesus does not give in to a casuistic logic, but always explains the truth

They asked the question to once more put Jesus to the test, the Pope observed. Looking to Jesus' answer, the Pope explained what matters most in the faith:

“Jesus does not answer whether it is lawful or not lawful; He doesn’t enter into their casuistic logic. Because they thought of the faith only in terms of ‘Yes, you can,” or “No, you can’t” – to the limits of what you can do, the limits of what you can’t do. That logic of casuistry. And He asks a question: “But what did Moses command you? What is in your Law?” And they explained the permission Moses had given to put away the wife, and they themselves fall into the trap. Because Jesus qualifies them as ‘hard of heart’: ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment,’ and He speaks the truth. Without casuistry. Without permissions. The truth.”

The logic of casuistry is hypocritical, deceptive

But if this is the truth, and adultery is serious, how then, the Pope asks, does one explain that Jesus spoke “many times with an adulteress, a pagan?” That He “drank from the glass of her who was not purified?” And at the end He said to her: “I do not condemn you. Sin no more”? How does one explain that?

“And the path of Jesus – it’s quite clear – is the path from casuistry to truth and mercy. Jesus lays aside casuistry. Not here, but in other passages from the Gospel, He qualifies those who want to put Him to the test, those who think with this logic of ‘Yes, you can’ as hypocrites. Even with the fourth commandment these people refused to assist their parents with the excuse that they had given a good offering to the Church. Hypocrites. Casuistry is hypocritical. It is a hypocritical thought. ‘Yes, you can; no, you can’t’… which then becomes more subtle, more diabolical: But what is the limit for those who can? But from here to here I can’t. It is the deception of casuistry.

From casuistry to truth to mercy: this is the Christian path

The path of the Christian, then, does not give into the logic of casuistry, but responds with the truth, which is accompanied, following the example of Jesus, by mercy – “because He is the Incarnation of the Mercy of the Father, and He cannot deny Himself. He cannot deny Himself because He is the truth of the Father, and He cannot deny Himself because He is the Mercy of the Father.”

Justice and mercy: This is the path that makes us happy

“And this street that Jesus teaches us,” the Pope noted, is difficult to apply in the face of the temptations of life:

“When the temptation touches your heart, this path of going out from casuistry to truth and mercy is not easy: It takes the grace of God to help us to go forward in this way. And we should always ask for it. ‘Lord, grant that I might be just, but just with mercy.’ Not just, covered by casuistry. Just in mercy. As You are. Just in mercy. Then, someone with a casuistic mentality might ask, “But what is more important in God? Justice or mercy?’ This, too, is a sick thought, that seeks to go out… What is more important? They are not two things: it is only one, only one thing. In God, justice is mercy and mercy is justice. May the Lord help us to understand this street, which is not easy, but which will bring us happiness, and will make so many people happy.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Marriage prep should be more than just a few courses, Pope tells priests

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2017 / 05:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis told a group of parish priests training on the new marriage annulment process to place strong emphasis on good preparation that isn’t limited to just a few courses, but extends even to the first few years after marriage. “I ask myself how many of these youth who come to marriage preparation courses understand what ‘marriage,’ the sign of the union of Christ and the Church, means,” the Pope said Feb. 25. “They say yes, but do they understand this? Do they have faith in this?” he asked, and voiced his conviction that “a true catechumenate is needed for the sacrament of marriage.” Part of this formation process he said, means being thorough, not “to make preparation with two or three meetings and then go forward.” During marriage prep, couples must be helped to understand “the profound meaning of the step that they are about to take.” This support must also continue through the celebration of marriage itself and even through the first years after, he said. Marriage, he said, “is the icon of God, created for us by him, who is the perfect communion of the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The love of the Trinity and Christ’s love for his bride, the Church, must therefore be “the center of marriage catechesis and evangelization.” Whether it’s through personal or communitarian encounters, and whether they are planned or spontaneous, “never tire of showing to all, especially to spouses, (the) great mystery” of God’s love, he said. The Pope spoke to priests participating a formation course for the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Holy’s See’s main court, dedicated to the new marriage annulment process, which went into effect Dec. 10, 2016. Held in Rome, the course ran from Feb. 22-25, and was closed by an audience with the Pope. The course follows a similar one held in March 2016, but which was directed specifically toward bishops. In his speech, Francis said priests have a twofold responsibility when it comes to marital ministry: to always bear witness to the beauty of marriage, and to be a consistent support to couples, regardless of their marital status. He noted that priests are often “the first interlocutors” of young couples who want to get married, and are also the first ones these couples go to when problems or crisis come up, including the request for an annulment of their marriage. Faced with so many “complex situations” affecting families today, “no one knows better than you and is in contact with the reality of the social fabric in the area,” experiencing firsthand the complexity of various situations they encounter, including valid sacramental marriages; domestic partnerships; civil unions; failed marriages and families and youth, both happy and unhappy. “For each person and each situation,” he said, “you are called to be travel companions in order to bear witness and to support.” The Pope stressed that a priest’s first concern is that of “bearing witness to the grace of the sacrament of marriage and the primordial good of the family” by proclaiming that “marriage between a man and a woman is a sign of the spousal union between Christ and the Church.” This witness is also shown when accompanying young couples on their journey “with care,” showing them how to live in times of “light and darkness, in moments of joy and those in fatigue,” always showing the beauty of marriage. Francis told the priests that while bearing witness to the beauty of marriage, they must also care for and support “those who realize the fact that their marriage is not a true sacramental marriage and want to leave this situation.” Because of the “delicate” nature of this type work, the Pope said priests must do it “in such a way that your faithful recognize you not so much as experts in bureaucratic actions or judicial norms, but as brothers who place themselves in an attitude of listening and understanding.” He told them to imitate “the style” of the Gospel by meeting with and listening not only to engaged or married couples, but also youth who prefer to cohabitate rather than getting married. People in these situations “are among the poor and little ones toward whom the Church, in the footsteps of her master and Lord, wants to be a mother who never abandons but who draws near and cares for them,” Francis said. “Even these people are loved by the heart of Christ,” he said, telling priests to “have a gaze of tenderness and compassion toward them.” This type of care and attention “is an essential part of your work in promoting and defending the sacrament of marriage,” the Pope said, adding that the parish is the place “par excellence” for the “salus animarum (salvation of souls).” Pope Francis then pointed to a recent speech he gave to the Rota in which he told them to implement “a true catechumenate” of future spouses which covers all stages of the sacramental path, from the time of marriage preparation, the celebration of the sacrament and the first years immediately after. “To you pastors, indispensable collaborators of the bishops, is primarily entrusted this catechumenate,” he said, and encouraged them to implement it “regardless of the difficulties you could encounter.” Francis closed his speech by thanking the priests for their commitment to announcing “the Gospel of the family.” He prayed that the Holy Spirit would help them “to be ministers of peace and consolation in the midst of the holy faithful people of God, especially the most fragile and those in need of your pastoral support.”

Access to water is a basic human right, concerns 'the common good'

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2017 / 11:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Vatican seminar on water held this week highlighted the complex challenges faced around the world in making the basic human right to water a reality for all people. Reliable access to safe and clean water for everyone is an issue close to the heart of the Church, Cardinal Peter Turkson told CNA Feb. 23, because it has to do with the fundamental dignity possessed by every human person. Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Turkson wasn’t a formal participant himself, but sat in on a few of the sessions. He said that “on the level of the Church” the point of departure for the issue of water access is “certainly dignity.” “Because we affirm the dignity of people, we also affirm anything that is needed to make this dignity realized,” he said. Hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Argentine organization Catedra del dialogo y la cultura encuentro, the workshop brought together scientists, scholars, business and non-profit leaders, clergy, and educators for an “interdisciplinary discussion.” During the seminar, participants agreed that there is a fundamental human right to water, but differed on the exact approach to take to combat the issue. Overall, the major problem isn’t the resource, several noted, but its distribution. Participants highlighted the issue's interconnectedness to other worldwide problems, such as poverty and gender equality. Difficult or limited access to water, especially clean water, contributes strongly to poverty and increased susceptibility to disease. It also becomes an issue of gender equality in some countries, when women are forced to give up education because of the many hours a day they spend retrieving clean water for their families. In older cities, the problem is often a lack of infrastructure, which old roads and buildings make difficult to rectify. Because each country and even each community has its own challenges regarding the distribution of safe water, many proposals at the seminar focused on working with people and organizations in the communities themselves to solve problems on as local a level as possible. Fr. Peter Hughes, a priest of the missionary society of St. Columban, who has worked in inner-city slums in South America, said the seminar “has to do with the crisis of the world today, and the increasing possibility of conflict.” “We're talking about something that is very much an issue, and a deep concern for the world, for the future, and particularly for the poor.” This is why, Fr. Hughes said, he was quite pleased by the exchange in the morning session the first day, because it focused on the “relationship between theology and religion” as the basis for a discussion on the crisis of water. “The right to water that's now in crisis, the basic human right, has to do with the common good. So therefore, the ethical question is absolutely central,” he emphasized. “The ethical common good approach precludes any attempt to privatize water,” which would be, he said, “to the detriment of people” and their need for water to stay alive. In his opinion, water is not just a social and ecological problem, but also an economic one. “And now, as Pope Francis says, we have to understand that the economic crisis and the victims, which are the poor, is also very much linked to the ecological crisis. We can no longer speak of two separate crises,” he said. “That is where we can better understand how water has become a mercantile object, subject to market forces, to the detriment of people and to the detriment of the environment.” The seminar consisted of different panels as well as discussion time. The panels covered the issue from the perspectives of science, education, ecology, sustainable development, and policy, as well as the ethical and theological views of water. A resource often taken for granted, Fr. Hughes pointed out that in many religious traditions, but especially the Jewish and Christian traditions, water as a symbol is synonymous with life itself. From a theological perspective, “when we're talking about water, we're talking about life,” he said. This is why the ethical responsibility humanity has toward water comes “from the heart of the Christian message.” “We have been entrusted by the God of life,” he explained, “to care for water, which means to care for life, to care for people, to care for all of creation, not just for human beings, but human beings as part of creation.” “The Church has a moral responsibility to care for water and to ensure that people have water,” he said, and “this particularly has to do with the Church’s responsibility to the poor.” Pope Francis addressed participants in the seminar Feb. 24, reaffirming that water is indeed a basic human right. “Our right to water is also a duty to water,” he said. “Our right to water gives rise to an inseparable duty. We are obliged to proclaim this essential human right and to defend it – as we have done – but we also need to work concretely to bring about political and juridical commitments in this regard.” “The questions that you are discussing are not marginal, but basic and pressing,” he told participants. “Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Pressing, because our common home needs to be protected.” “God the Creator does not abandon us in our efforts to provide access to clean drinking water to each and to all,” he continued. “With the ‘little’ we have, we will be helping to make our common home a more livable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity.”

Gratitude is central, Pope Francis tells Spanish footballers

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Meeting with the members of the Spanish football team Villarreal CF on Thursday, Pope Francis stressed the importance of gratitude in the life of an athlete. “One of the characteristics of the good sportsman is gratitude. If we think of our own life, we can call to memory the many people who have helped us, and without whom we would not be here,” the Pope said Feb. 23 in the Vatican's Clementine Hall. He spoke to the club's players, managers, and coaches Villarreal is in Rome for a Europa League match against A.S. Roma. After their meeting with the Pope Villarreal won the match 1-0, but bowed out of the tournament nevertheless. “Football, like other sports, is an image of life and society,” Francis reflected. “In the field, you need each other. Each player brings his professionalism and skill for the benefit of a common ideal, which is to play well in order to win. To achieve this affinity, much training is needed; but it is also important to invest time and effort in strengthening team spirit, to create that connection of movements: a simple look, a small gesture, or an expression communicate so many things on the field.” This can be done “if you play in the spirit of fellowship, setting aside individualism or personal aspirations. If you play for the good of the group, then it is easier to win. Instead, when one thinks of himself and forgets others, in Argentina we say that he likes to ‘eat the ball’ by himself.” Francis added that “On the other hand, when you play football you are at the same time educating and transmitting values. Many people, especially the young, admire and observe you. They want to be like you.” “Through your professionalism, you are communicating a way of being to those who follow you, especially the new generations,” he said. “This is a responsibility, and should motivate you to give the best of yourselves, so as to exercise those values that in football must be palpable: companionship, personal commitment, the beauty of the game, team spirit.” “We can recall those we played with as children, our first teammates, coaches, helpers, and even the supporters whose presence encouraged us in every game,” Pope Francis said. “This memory is good for us, so that we do not feel superior but instead become aware of being part of a large team that has been forming for some time.” He said this “helps us grow as people, because our ‘game’ is not merely our own, but also that of others, who in some way form part of our lives. And this also strengthens the spirit of amateur sport, and must never be lost; it must be recovered every day, so that you can maintain this freshness, with this greatness of soul.” The Pope encouraged the Villarreal members “to continue to play, giving the best of yourselves so that others can benefit from these pleasant moments, which make the day different. I join with you, I pray with you, and I raise my prayers to God, imploring the protection of Our Lady of Grace and the intercession of St. Pascual Baylón, patron of the city of Villarreal, so that you may be sustained in your lives and be instruments to bear God’s joy and peace to those who follow and support you.” Being himself a football fan, Pope Francis said that “It helps me a lot to think about football because I like it, and it helps me. But when I do so, I usually think of the goalkeeper. Why? Because he has to catch the ball from wherever they kick it, and he does not know where it will come from. And life is like that. You have to take things from where they come, and how they come.” “When I find myself facing situations I did not expect, which need to be resolved, that come from one place when I expected them from another, I think of the goalkeeper, and keep him in mind. Thank you.”

Vatican 'goes shopping' in Italy earthquake zones to help local economy

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2017 / 04:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a bid to help local economies in the zones ravaged by several major earthquakes in 2016 recover, the Vatican this week purchased produce from several small farmers in the area, using it to feed the poor and homeless in Rome. A Feb. 24 communique from the Papal Almoner’s office said that “at the express wish” of the Pope, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the man in charge of managing the papal charities, visited the earthquake zones in Central Italy this week “to purchase from small farmers, in great difficulty due to the earthquake, food typical of the affected areas.” The produce was then “immediately distributed” in different soup kitchens around Rome to be used in preparing the daily meals offered to homeless and persons in need. According to the communique, Annona, the supermarket inside Vatican City, has already for some time been selling products “typical of the earthquake zones” as a way of “supporting and helping to restart the economy in that part of Central Italy still in difficulty.” Krajewski traveled to several of the small towns in the area, filling large trucks with products from farmers whose stores or markets struggling to continue after the damages they endured after the earthquakes. The first 6.2 magnitude quake hit in the early hours of Aug. 24, 2016, killing some 250 people throughout Central Italy and leveling buildings and houses in several small towns, leaving many without homes or livelihoods. A few months later a second 6.6 quake hit near the same area in central Italy Oct. 30, causing extensive damage. In the communique, the papal almoner said the decision to shop from small farmers is an act consistent “with the magisterium of Pope Francis, who in his meetings has often recalled that ‘when one doesn’t earn their bread, dignity is lost.’” During his “shopping trips” Archbishop Krajewski was accompanied by the bishops of each of the cities he visited, including Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti; Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole F.D.P. of Ascoli Piceno; Bishop Francesco Giovanni Brugnaro of Camerino-San Severino Marche and Bishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia. In each city the bishops identified groups of farmers or producers “whose stores were at risk of closing due to damages caused by the earthquake,” the communique read, explaining that the purchases were intended by the Pope to be a sign of help and encouragement “to continue in their activities.”

Pope Francis: the Torah is a manifestation of God’s love for man

Vatican City, Feb 23, 2017 / 07:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis welcomed longtime friend and Rabbi Abraham Skorka to the Vatican for the presentation of a new version of the Torah, which he said is a sign of the love God shows to man in both words and gestures. The Torah “manifests the paternal and visceral love of God, a love shown in words and concrete gestures, a love that becomes covenant,” the Pope said during the Feb. 23 audience, adding that the word covenant in itself “is resonant with associations that bring us together.” He noted how St. John Paul II in his speech for the 25th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,” which marked a milestone in improving Catholic-Jewish relations, called the Torah “the living teaching of the living God.” “God is the greatest and most faithful covenantal partner,” he said, noting that not only did God call Abraham to form a people that would become “a blessing for all peoples of the earth,” but he still desires world in which men and women “are bound to him and as a result live in harmony among themselves and with creation.” At a time when things people say often “lead to tragic division and rivalry, these divine words of covenant open before all of us paths of goodness to walk together,” he said. The publication of the new edition of the Torah, he said, “is itself the fruit of a ‘covenant’ between persons of different nationalities, ages and religious confessions, who joined in this common effort.” Pope Francis spoke to Skorka – a longtime friend from his time in Buenos Aires – and the delegation of Jewish leaders that came with him to present a new, annotated edition of the Torah complete with colorful illustrations. The Torah refers to Jewish Written Law and traditionally consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. Calling Skorka both a “brother and friend,” Francis voiced his gratitude to the delegation for the “thoughtful gesture” of coming to the Vatican to present the Torah, which is “the Lord’s gift, his revelation, his word.” He noted that the “fraternal and institutional dialogue” between Christians and Jews is now “well-established and effective,” and continues to be strengthened and carried forward through various encounters and collaborations. Turning to the text of the new Torah itself, he said the editor’s note inside emphasizes the “dialogical approach” that Catholics and Jews have regarding their relations, and communicates “a cultural vision of openness, mutual respect and peace that accords with the spiritual message of the Torah.” Those who designed the new edition, he said, paid special attention to both the important literary aspects of the text, as well as the colorful illustrations that now accompany it, adding “further value” to what was already there. “Every edition of sacred Scripture, however, possesses a spiritual value that infinitely surpasses its material value,” he said, and prayed that God would bless all those who contributed to the new edition, as well as those present for the encounter. The presentation of the Torah was the latest sign of collaboration between Jews and Catholics, falling just days after a new joint-exhibit of the Menorah was presented by the Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum of Rome. The exhibit, titled “Menorah: Worship, History, Legend,” will be shown simultaneously at both the Jewish Museum as well as the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum in the Vatican, located under the left colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. It will run May 15-July 23 and marks the first time such a joint-exhibit has been done. Pieces featured will include roughly 130 artifacts, including Menorah from different periods and depictions of them in paintings, sarcophagi, sculptures and medieval and Renaissance drawings and manuscripts.

Banker under scrutiny after alleged misuse of Vatican financial system

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2017 / 04:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A banker who allegedly used the Vatican Bank and other aspects of Holy See finances to manipulate the market for his bank stock price continues to be under investigation, as Italian authorities froze millions of euros in his personal assets on Tuesday. Giampietro Nattino, the head of Banca Finnat Euramerica SpA, allegedly used Vatican financial institutions as cover for “a complex stock operation which resulted in criminal behavior regarding market manipulation.” Police said he used “misleading and false” methods to “substantially alter” the price of shares in his bank, Reuters reports. The alleged manipulation used the Institute for Religious Works, known informally as the Vatican Bank, and APSA, which oversees Vatican real estate and investments. Vatican investigators suspect that during a stock placement handled by Nattino’s bank, shares were bought through the accounts at APSA before the shares were allocated to other investors. Nattino is also accused of providing false information to Italy’s stock regulator, Consob.     Italian magistrates are investigating two people who were managers at APSA in 2011, suspecting they were collaborators with Nattino’s bank. In a statement, Nattino said that his work had “always been characterized by maximum transparency and correctness.” He said the frozen assets belong to him, not his bank, and he pledged cooperation with investigators. Efforts to reform Vatican finances have been ongoing. Vatican officials have closed many outside accounts in an effort to block corruption. In June 2013, a longtime accountant at APSA, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, was arrested and faced charges of conspiracy to smuggle 20 million euros from Switzerland to help friends avoid taxes. Though he was acquitted on those charges, and denies all charges of wrongdoing, he will face a separate trial for alleged money laundering.

Pope meets families of victims from deadly Bangladesh attack

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met Wednesday morning with the families of nine of the victims of a terrorist attack which took place in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, last summer. The attack was carried out July 1, 2016 during a hostage scenario in the Hotel Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka. Twenty-eight people died in the attack – including six gunmen and two police officers.  Most of the 20 hostages killed in the attack were foreigners from Italy and Japan, with one from India and one from the U.S. Although the attack was staged by radical Islamist militants, authorities said the gunmen had no ties to the Islamic State, the BBC reports.   Pope Francis met Feb. 22 with 36 family members of the nine Italian victims of the attack. During the visit he embraced and comforted the families, Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reports. “It's easy to take the road from love that leads to hatred, while it is difficult to do the opposite: from bitterness and hatred to go towards love,” he said. “You are left in anger, bitterness and desire for revenge, but you have embarked, with the pain inside, on the path of love to build and help the people of Bangladesh, especially young people so that they can study: this is to sow peace and I thank you, for me it is an example.” The bishop of Alife-Caiazzo, Valentino Di Cerbo, was also present at the meeting and presented profiles on the lives of the nine victims to the Pope. During the visit, Francis was also presented with nine olive tree seedlings with the names of the victims written on pictures of doves attached. Those present also shared about special projects they are working on following the tragedy as a way to honor their loved ones: one brother of a victim is leaving soon to volunteer in Dhaka with Aid to the Church in Need and another family has helped to build a church in a small town in the south of Bangladesh. Another project provides study grants for young people in Bangladesh. One day after the attack, the Pope sent a letter expressing his heartfelt condolence and condemning the “barbarous” act as an offence “against God and humanity.” Signed on behalf of the Pope by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter said that in commending the dead to God’s mercy, “His Holiness gives the assurance of his prayers for the grieving families and the wounded.” As he often does following violent attacks or deadly natural disasters, Pope Francis also remembered the victims during his Sunday Angelus July 3, praying for the conversion of persons “blinded by hate” who commit such acts of violence. “I express my closeness to the families of the victims and the wounded in yesterday's attack in Dhaka,” he said after the Angelus, also leading the crowds in praying the Hail Mary. It is believed that Pope Francis may make a trip to Bangladesh sometime in 2017, although no dates have been announced. Newly installed Cardinal and Archbishop of Dhaka, Patrick D’Rozario, the first prelate from Bangladesh to receive a red hat, told journalists in November that if the Pope comes, it will likely be near the end of 2017, after the country’s monsoon season. Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh will be “a great event for the whole Church in the country, especially for interreligious harmony, the rights of government workers and for climate change,” Cardinal D'Rozario said.  “He’s a kind of ‘spiritual guru,’ the Holy Father,” the cardinal said, predicting the visit will “boost-up the spirituality, the communion of all the people.” It is possible the Pope’s visit with the families of victims Feb. 22 means he will not be visiting the country after all. However, if he does go, it is a strong sign of Francis’ connection to the reality the country faces. Islam is the major religion in Bangladesh by far. As of 2013, some 89 percent of the population was Muslim, with only around 10 percent Hindu, and Christians and Buddhists making up less than 1 percent of the population. 

Vatican to crack down on illegal sale of papal symbols, coat of arms

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2017 / 07:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday the Vatican announced plans to monitor with a more careful eye those who print official images of the Pope or the Holy See and sell them for profit, intervening with “appropriate action” when necessary. A Feb. 22 communique issued by the Secretariat of State said pointed out that among its various tasks, it also has “that of protecting the image of the Holy Father, so that his message can reach the faithful intact and that his person not be exploited.” Because of this, part of the department is dedicated to protecting “the symbols and coats of arms of the Holy See” through appropriate channels on an international level. In order to make this “protective action” more effective and to “halt situations of illegality that arise,” the department said they will begin carrying out “systematic surveillance activities apt to monitor the ways in which the image of the Holy Father and the coats of arms of the Holy See are used,” intervening with “appropriate action” if and when needed. The announcement came just weeks after posters critical of Pope Francis appeared on the walls and buildings of the city center of Rome, depicting a sour-faced pontiff with a list of grievances regarding his recent reform efforts. A few days after the posters appeared and quickly went down, a spoof version of the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano was sent to members of the Curia claiming the Pope had answered the five “dubia” on Amoris Laetitia sent to him by four cardinals in September, which were subsequently published. However, the Vatican was quick to clarify that there was no link between the anti-Francis propaganda and the Secretariat of State’s decision. In a Feb. 22 communique, the Holy See Press Office clarified that Secretariat of State’s decision to crack down on the illegal sale of papal symbols and images “does not originate from any recent news report,” but is rather aimed at protecting the image of the Holy Father and his official coat of arms “against cases of illicit use and exploitation for unauthorized profit.” Paloma Garcia Ovejero, vice-spokesman for the Holy See, told journalists that the decision “deals with all things of value which are sold or used to earn money.” “We’re talking about the product and the use of the image of the Pope or the Holy Father’s coat of arms or that of the Holy See which are exploited” for economic purposes, she said. “So no posters, no Osservatore...It has nothing to do with the posters or the fake Osservatore Romano,” she said, “because they weren’t sold.” The Secretariat of State’s crackdown is a follow-up of their 2009 decision to issue a strict copyright of the Pope’s name, image and symbols. In the Dec. 19, 2009, statement announcing the copyright deal, the Vatican stressed that “it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.” “Consequently, the use of anything referring directly to the person or office of the Supreme Pontiff... and/or the use of the title 'Pontifical,' must receive previous and express authorization from the Holy See,” the statement read.

Pope Francis: Creation is a sign of hope – we have to take care of it

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2017 / 04:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said creation has often suffered because of humanity’s sins and failings, stressing that we must take care of it because as Christians, we see signs of hope in Christ’s Resurrection in nature every day. “We are still struggling with the consequences of our sin and everything around us still bears the mark of our efforts, of our shortcomings, our closures,” he said Feb. 22. “At the same time, however, we know that they are saved by the Lord and already we are given to contemplate and anticipate in ourselves and in the world around us signs of the Resurrection, Easter, which operates a new creation.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his general audience, held in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since winter, continuing his catechesis on the theme of hope. He reminded pilgrims that God has entrusted creation to us as a gift that can draw us closer to him, even if our selfishness and sin has contributed to its destruction. “Creation is a wonderful gift that God has placed in our hands that we may enter into a relationship with him and we can recognize the imprint of his loving plan, the achievement of which we are all called to work toward together, day after day,” he said. But when we get caught up in our selfishness, we ruin even the most beautiful things entrusted to us, he continued, “and so it happened for creation.” “With the tragic experience of sin, broken fellowship with God, we have broken the original communion with everything around us and we ended up corrupting creation, thus making it a slave, submissive to our frailty.” We see the consequence of this before us every day, he said, pointing to water as an example. “Water is beautiful, water is important, water is life,” yet we have helped to destroy creation by contaminating water, the Pope observed. His reference comes a day ahead of the start of a two-day seminar on water and sustainable development hosted by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences. “But the Lord does not leave us alone,” he said, and turned to a passage from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans which says that “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” If we pay attention to creation and to ourselves, Francis said, we will see that we are all groaning, just like a woman experiencing labor pains, and this is because the Holy Spirit is working within us. These groans are the cries of those who suffer, who are waiting for the recreation of the world, the Pope said, adding that “this is the content of our hope: (that we are living in) the time of waiting, the time of longing that goes beyond the present, the time of fulfillment.” Because we live in the world, we see “signs of evil, selfishness and sin” both in ourselves and in what surrounds us, he said. But at the same time, as Christians we also have learned to see the world “through the eyes of Easter, with the eyes of the Risen Christ.” That’s why this is a time of waiting, a time of longing: we have hope in our knowledge that the Lord wants to permanently heal our wounded hearts with his mercy, and in this way, regenerate “a new world and a new humanity, finally reconciled in his love.” We can often be tempted by pessimism, by disappointment, Pope Francis said. However, “we find solace the Holy Spirit, breath of our hope, which keeps alive the groaning and the expectation of our hearts.” At the end of the audience, the Pope and those gathered in the square received a surprise performance by an Italian circus group, Rony Roller Circus. Francis said afterwards that “they make beauty, and beauty is the road that leads to God. Continue to make beauty!” He also made an appeal for “the martyred South Sudan,” where millions of people are dying of hunger due to a food crisis brought on by the country’s drawn-out internal conflict. Right now “a fratricidal conflict joins a severe food crisis that condemns to death by hunger millions of people, including many children,” the Pope observed, and called for action. Just within the past few days a famine was declared in some areas of South Sudan as some 100,000 people face starvation and another 1 million are described as being on the brink of famine, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). According to both WFP and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) sources, the number of people facing hunger is expected to raise to 5.5 million by July if nothing is done to curb the food crisis. However, the agencies report that if adequate food assistance is urgently delivered to the suffering areas, the situation can be improved and further crisis averted. In his appeal, Pope Francis said that right now “it is more needed than ever” for everyone to commit to not stopping with declarations, “but to give real food aid and to allow that it reach the suffering populations.” “May the Lord sustain these brothers of ours and those who work to help them,” he said, and gave his blessing before closing the audience.

Vatican, Jewish museum launch first joint-exhibit on the Menorah

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican and the Jewish community in Rome are marking a new step in relations between the two religions by rolling out the first-ever joint exhibition focused entirely on the Menorah – an ancient symbol representing their shared roots. “The relation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community is not extrinsic, but is intrinsic,” Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told CNA at the Feb. 20 presentation of the exhibit, quoting St. John Paul II. “That means we must know the Jewish roots of Christianity and we cannot be Christian without knowledge of the religion of the Jews because the Jews are the mother of Christianity,” he said, adding that in this sense, “it’s very important to know the roots, the family roots, of Christianity.” Since the Menorah such an important symbol for the Jewish people, to have a joint-exhibit on it “is a very important thing and I think it will be a beautiful opportunity to deepen knowledge about the other religion; about the Jewish tradition, but also the Jewish roots in the Christian world.” A Menorah is a seven-lamp candelabra made from pure gold and was used by Moses in the desert. According to the Book of Exodus, God asked Moses to create the candelabra and put into the temple in Jerusalem to mark it as a sacred space. The Menorah is still depicted in modern Jewish temples, and a nine-lamp version is lit during the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The Menorah is often used in Christian artwork, particularly paintings depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, such as his preaching in the temple Jerusalem. Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, told CNA Feb. 20 that the exhibit is “a small but important example” of how Catholics and Jews can “work together for a better world.” Calling the exhibit “a cultural enterprise, a link between two worlds,” Di Segni said the fact that it’s a joint-exhibition between Catholics and Jews is “a way of teaching the world about common roots and different interpretations” between the two religions. “The Menorah is a Jewish symbol. It’s not a Christian symbol, but the Christians use this symbol and work with it in many ways,” he said, calling it “a symbol of the connection between the new religion of Christianity and (it’s) Jewish roots.” Part of what is represented in the exhibit “is the connection between what they call ‘old’ and what they call ‘new.’ So the problem is how to relate to this old symbol,” he said, adding that “to discover this story and to put it in an exhibition is very interesting because by itself it is a history of the relation between Christianity and the Jews.” Alongside Di Segni and Koch at the presentation of joint-exhibition were Barbara Jatta, the new Director of the Vatican Museums, and Alessandra Di Castro, head of Rome’s Jewish Museum. The exhibit, titled “Menorah: Worship, History, Legend,” will be shown simultaneously at both the Jewish Museum as well as the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum in the Vatican, located under the left colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. It will run May 15-July 23 and will include roughly 130 pieces, including Menorah from different periods and depictions of them in paintings, sarcophagi, sculptures and medieval and Renaissance drawings and manuscripts. The works displayed will include pieces from the first century up to the modern times century, including the use of the Menorah as part of the crest of the State of Israel. Divided into three key stages, the exhibit walks visitors through different ages and genres, with the first stage divided into three different sections: Visualizing the Menorah; The Menorah in the temple and in Jewish art: iconography and symbology; and The Menorah in ancient art from Jerusalem to Rome. The second stage is divided into four sections, and focuses on the Menorah From late antiquity to the 14th century; The Renaissance; The pictorial fortune from the 600s to the 19th century; and Jewish Menorah in applied arts from the late Middle Ages to the beginnings of the 20th century. While the first stage focuses on the story of the Menorah, its presence in the temple of Jerusalem and its dispersal throughout Rome in both ancient and modern times, the second stage provides an analysis on the Menorah in Christianity, particularly liturgical candelabras, as well as the Menorah’s consistent presence as a strong unifying symbol for Jewish identity throughout history. In the third stage, the exhibit focuses on the theme “From the First World War to the 21st century,” and offers a panorama of the various representations of the Menorah throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. More than 20 museums throughout the world have lent pieces to the exhibit, including the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery of London and the Albertina Museum of Vienna. During the presentation attention also turned to speculation as to the current whereabouts of the solid gold Menorah taken from the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans during their siege in 70AD, but which has gone missing for the past 1,500 years. The Menorah was originally taken from Jerusalem when its temple was destroyed by the Roman general Titus, who became emperor nine years after that victory. Rumors throughout history have said the Menorah was lost during the Vandal’s Sack of Rome in 455, while others say it was buried in a cave, hidden in the Vatican or thrown into the Tiber, where it still rests. However, despite the various theories, Di Segni said “nobody knows what had happened” since it disappeared from Jerusalem. Present at the exhibit instead will be the ancient the Magdala Stone, which was found in 2009 during an archaeological excavation that uncovered an ancient synagogue on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. But regardless of the legends, Di Segni said “it will be very interesting to see how people will visit, what they would say and how they will be impressed.” “The reaction of the public” is also important, he said, “so we are waiting for this moment.”