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Pope Francis visits Jesuit House in Krakow

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis paid a previously unannounced visit to the Jesuit House in Krakow on Saturday and urged them to look outwards and not just be concerned with abstract ideas. The Pope spent about 40 minutes with the Jesuits in an informal encounter where they chatted and he answered a number of question but said he had no desire to make a speech. Around 30 Jesuits were present for the encounter including the Provincials.  

The visit was not included in the Pope’s official programme during his stay in Krakow.  However, Father Antonio Spadaro, Director of the Jesuit magazine Civilita Cattolica who was present for the meeting, said such visits have become almost a regular habit during the Pope’s pastoral journeys abroad.

Father Spadaro described the encounter as very cheerful, relaxed and informal.  Asked about the Jesuits’ work with the world of culture especially at universities, Pope Francis said their work in this field “must be outward looking” and not only concerned with abstract concepts and ideas. He urged them to be very close to all those "who are marginalized" and stay far away from “a libertarian ideology that puts money at the centre rather than the human person.” 

Turning to the work of priests, Pope Francis said that nowadays “there is a risk that a priest who has not received a good formation is either 'too white or too black' and acts by simply applying the rules in a mechanical fashion.”  Instead, he stressed, “discernment is important” and should be at the heart of pastoral life. The Pope said for this reason it is necessary to help priests and seminarians with their spiritual discernment and this should be “one of the main tasks of the Society of Jesus nowadays.”  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis venerates relics of martyrs in Franciscan church

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis visited the Church of St. Francis in Krakow on Saturday to venerate the relics housed there of two Polish Franciscan martyrs, Zbigniew Strzalkowski and Michal Tomaszek. They were killed by the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas in Peru in 1991 and were beatified in 2015, together with the Italian priest Don Alessandro Dordi from the diocese of Bergamo. Several relatives of the martyrs were present together with the Superior General of the Franciscans and the Superior of the Franciscan House in Peru where the two martyrs lived.

During his visit to the church, Pope Francis said the following prayer (in Italian).   

 

Please find below a translation into English of the Pope’s prayer:

 

“Prayer for peace and protection from violence and from terrorism”

O almighty and merciful God, Lord of the universe and of history. All that You have created is good and your compassion for the mistakes of mankind knows no limits.

We come to You today to ask You to keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.

O Giver of life, we pray to You also for all those who have died as victims of brutal terrorist attacks. Grant them their eternal reward. May they intercede for the world that is torn apart by conflicts and disagreements.

O Jesus, Prince of Peace, we pray to You for the ones who have been wounded in these acts of inhuman violence: children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil. Heal their bodies and hearts; console them with Your strength and, at the same time, take away any hatred and a desire for revenge.

Holy Spirit Consoler, visit the families of the victims of terrorism, families that suffer through no fault of their own. Wrap them in the mantle of Your divine mercy. Make them find again in You and in themselves the strength and courage to continue to be brothers and sisters for others, above all for immigrants, giving witness to Your love by their lives.

Touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognize the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life and for the dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty.

O God, Eternal Father, in Your mercy hear our prayer which we raise up to You amidst the deafening noise and desperation of the world. We turn to You with great hope, full of trust in Your infinite Mercy. Made strong by the examples of the blessed martyrs of Perú, Zbigniew and Michael, who have rendered courageous testimony to the Gospel, to the point of offering their blood, we entrust ourselves to the intercession of Your Most Holy Mother. We ask for the gift of peace and of the elimination from our midst of the sore of terrorism.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis has lunch with young pilgrims in Krakow

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday had lunch with a dozen young people serving as volunteers for World Youth Day in the Polish city of Krakow.

The private encounter took place in the residence of the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, following a morning Mass for priests and religious in the shrine dedicated to the Polish pope, Saint John Paul II.

The young men and women invited to join the Pope for lunch came from all the different continents and included representatives from New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Italy, Columbia, as well as the host nation, Poland. After the meal, they invited him to pose for a selfie with them as a souvenir of this very special occasion.

Each one of them was able to ask Pope Francis a question, to which he replied with the help of an interpreter. Speaking at a press conference after the meal, one of the volunteers said she asked him how he felt following his election to the pontificate in March 2013, to which he replied: ``I felt a bit of peace, and I haven't lost this peace.'' Another young woman asked Francis for some advice and his answer was: ``Don't give up hope”, adding that it’s important for young people to be themselves “in these times, these crucial moments.''

After lunch, the Pope took some time to rest at the residence, ahead of a prayer vigil with young people in the Campus Misericordiae or Field of Mercy venue on the outskirts of Krakow. The venue contains two new charitable centres, a day care for the elderly and a storage building for food parcels donated by local parishes for those most in need. Both buildings were constructed as a permanent reminder of the theme for this year’s World Youth Day, taken from St Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope urges priests, religious to open doors to God's mercy

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday visited the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow and heard confession for several young World Youth Day pilgrims, before celebrating Mass for priests, religious and seminarians in the nearby sanctuary dedicated to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Our special correspondent in Krakow, Lydia O’Kane reports on the morning activities of the Pope's penultimate day in Poland…..

Listen: 

The Sanctuary of Divine Mercy is one of the most important shrines in Poland and welcomes millions of people every year.

They come to venerate the image of Jesus, I trust in You, painted with blue and red rays emanating from his heart.

It is housed in the chapel of the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and it was here on Friday that Pope Francis came to pray.

Outside in the grounds, meanwhile, and under the heat of the sun pilgrims, young and old, sat on the grass, some with babies on their laps others with children on their shoulders, soaking up the atmosphere of this Papal visit

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”, is the theme of this World Youth Day, so it was entirely fitting that the Holy Father should be here to visit this place of pilgrimage , so synonymous with the promoters of Divine Mercy, Sr Faustina Kowalska and St John Paul II.

After hearing the confessions of a number of  young people, and passing through the Holy Door of this purpose built shrine devoted to the Merciful Jesus, the Pope travelled the short distance to the Sanctuary of St John Paul II to celebrate Mass for Priests, Religious, Consecrated Persons and Seminarians.

As the Pope entered this sanctuary dedicated to his illustrious predecessor, the golden mosaics created by Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik glistened and the faces of the nuns in their distinctive habits beamed.

One of the key messages of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been the Mercy of God and in his homily he told those present that each of them held in his or her heart “a very personal page of the book of God’s mercy.  It is the story of our own calling, he said, “the voice of the love that attracted us and transformed our life, leading us to leave everything at his word and to follow him.”

The Pope  stressed that the Gospel of God’s Mercy remained “an open book that we are called to write in the same style, by the works of mercy we practice.” Jesus, he added, “wants hearts that are open and tender towards the weak, never hearts that are hardened.”

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis urged those called to the religious life not to remain closed in, but to “open the doors”  and live out the Mercy of God. And in a final gesture at the end of this celebration, Pope Francis bowed his head at the relic of this other messenger of Mercy, Saint John Paul II.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: Cruelty and suffering but Jesus is near

(Vatican Radio) From the window of the Archbishop’s residence on Friday evening, Pope Francis recalled this day as one of pain. “Friday, he said, is the day when we remember the death of Jesus and with the young people we prayed the Way of the Cross: the suffering and death of Jesus for all of us.”

So many people, the Pope noted, “so many people are suffering: the sick; those who are at war; the homeless; the hungry; those who are doubtful in life, who do not feel happiness,”…  

In the afternoon, he continued, “I went to the children’s hospital. There too, Jesus suffers in so many sick children: I always ask myself that question, "Why do children suffer?". It's a mystery. There are no answers to these questions ...”

Recalling his morning at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he said, “how much pain, how much cruelty! Is it possible that we men, created in the likeness of God, we are able to do these things?

Then he added, “cruelty did not end in Auschwitz, Birkenau: even today. Today! Today we torture people; many prisoners are tortured immediately, to get them to talk ... It 's terrible!”  “Today there is this cruelty. We say, "Yes, there we saw the cruelty more than 70 years ago. How they died shot or hanged or with gas .. ". But today in many places of the world where there is war, it's the same! In this reality, the Holy Father said, “Jesus came to take us on his shoulders. He asks us to pray. We pray for all the Jesus’ who today are in the world: the hungry; the thirsty; the doubters; the sick, who are on their own; those who feel the weight of so many doubts and guilt. Who suffer so much ... Let us pray for all the sick children, innocent, who carry the Cross for children. And we pray for so many men and women who today are tortured in many countries of the world; for prisoners who are all piled up there, as if they were animals.”

“Everyone here is a sinner”, the Pope concluded, “we all have the weight of our sins.” “But He loves us: He loves us!” Let's all pray together for these people who are suffering in the world today so many bad things, many bad things. And when there are tears, the child seeks its mother. Even us sinners we are children, we look for our mother and pray to Our Lady all together, each in his own language.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope in Krakow: The Way of the Cross defeats sin, evil and death

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday evening joined youth from around the world for an artistic rendition of the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross. Lydia O'Kane is in Poland with the Holy Father, and sends us this report. 

Listen:

The theme of this Way of the Cross for World Youth Day was the path of mercy and this solemn event opened in Blonia Park in Krakow to the anthem of the Jubilee Year performed by a talented youth orchestra and choir with Pope Francis looking on.

In a prelude to the mediations for this evening, a girl in Marian like clothes took to the stage creating a design drawn in sand which revealed the face of Christ.

All through the Via Crucis the World Youth Day cross was brought to each station by a different group of young people which included a group of refugees from Syria, a former homeless couple from Poland and nuns from the missionaries of charity; all symbolising the works of mercy.

Many of the stops on the way to Calvary were artistically re-enacted through the medium of dance and at the 10th station an acrobat took to the sky where the cloth wound around him fell away to symbolise Jesus being stripped of his garments.

At the 12th station and to the strains of Samuel Barber’s, “Adagio for Strings”, Jesus on the Cross at Blonia Park took his last breath and the world's youth here fell silent

In his words, following this intense and moving event, the Holy Father posed the question; where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees?  Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war? “We can only look to Jesus and ask him”, the Pope said, “and Jesus’ answer is this: “God is in them”.  Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them.” 

The Pope also had words for the group of Syrian refugees present here on Friday evening, saying, “tonight Jesus, and we with him, embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war.  We greet them and we welcome them with fraternal affection and friendship.”

As Pope Francis departed from Blonia Park, he left the hundreds of thousands of young people present with this message of hope.

“The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life.”  

With Pope Francis in Krakow, I'm Lydia O'Kane

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope asks young people to be of service to humanity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis told young people that the world needs those who do not live their lives “halfway” and who like Christ are ready to spend their lives serving the poorest and most vulnerable. He said the Way of the Cross is Jesus’ style and is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude. The Pope was speaking at the conclusion of a Way of the Cross event attended by young people taking part in the World Youth Day gathering in the Polish city of Krakow.

During his address to the young people, the Pope had affectionate words of greeting for “our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war.” The Syrian refugees were among a group of about 20 young people helping to carry the Cross during the first station. The others included a Polish couple who until recently lived on the streets and young people from Italy, Argentina, Ukraine and Pakistan. 

Please find below a translation into English of the Pope’s prepared remarks at the Way of the Cross event:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Mt 25:35-36).

                These words of Jesus answer the question that arises so often in our minds and hearts:  “Where is God?”  Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees?  Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?  Where is God, when cruel diseases break the bonds of life and affection?   Or when children are exploited and demeaned, and they too suffer from grave illness?  Where is God, amid the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit?  These are questions that humanly speaking have no answer.  We can only look to Jesus and ask him.   And Jesus’ answer is this: “God is in them”.  Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them.  He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, “one body”.

                Jesus himself chose to identify with these our brothers and sisters enduring pain and anguish by agreeing to tread the “way of sorrows” that led to Calvary.  By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into to the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity.  By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times.  Tonight Jesus, and we with him, embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war.  We greet them and we welcome them with fraternal affection and friendship.

                By following Jesus along the Way of the Cross, we have once again realized the importance of imitating him through the fourteen works of mercy.  These help us to be open to God’s mercy, to implore the grace to appreciate that without mercy we can do nothing; without mercy, neither I nor you nor any of us can do a thing.  Let us first consider the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison, and burying the dead.  Freely we have received, so freely let us give.  We are called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized, to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants.  There we find our God; there we touch the Lord.  Jesus himself told us this when he explained the criterion on which we will be judged: whenever we do these things to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do them to him (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

                After the corporal works of mercy come the spiritual works: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, consoling the afflicted, pardoning offences, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for the living and the dead.  In welcoming the outcasts who suffer physically and welcoming sinners who suffer spiritually, our credibility as Christians is at stake.

                Humanity today needs men and women, and especially young people like yourselves, who do not wish to live their lives “halfway”, young people ready to spend their lives freely in service to those of their brothers and sisters who are poorest and most vulnerable, in imitation of Christ who gave himself completely for our salvation.  In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service.  Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose.  By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ.

                This evening, dear friends, the Lord once more asks you to be in the forefront of serving others.  He wants to make of you a concrete response to the needs and sufferings of humanity.  He wants you to be signs of his merciful love for our time!  To enable you to carry out this mission, he shows you the way of personal commitment and self-sacrifice.  It is the Way of the Cross.  The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life.  It is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude, because it fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus.  The Way of the Cross is the way of God’s own life, his “style”, which Jesus brings even to the pathways of a society at times divided, unjust and corrupt.

                The Way of the Cross alone defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life.  It is the way of hope, the way of the future.  Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity.

                Dear young people, on that Good Friday many disciples went back crestfallen to their homes.  Others chose to go out to the country to forget the cross.  I ask you: How do you want to go back this evening to your own homes, to the places where you are staying?  How do you want to go back this evening to be alone with your thoughts?  Each of you has to answer the challenge that this question sets before you.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis visits Children’s Hospital near Krakow

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis visited on Friday the Pediatric Hospital of Prokocim near Krakow and in an address to patients and staff said he wished that “We Christians could be as close to the sick as Jesus was, in silence, with a caress, with prayer.”  Sadly, the Pope continued, “our society is tainted by the culture of waste” and the victims of this “are the weakest and frailest and this is indeed cruel." He thanked all those working at the hospital for the love and compassion shown towards the young patients, describing this as “the sign of true civility, human and Christian: to make those who are most disadvantaged the centre of social and political concern.” 

 

Please find below an English translation of the Pope’s greeting to patients and staff at the Children’s Hospital:

 

Dear brothers and sisters,

                A special part of my visit to Kraków is this meeting with the little patients of this hospital.  I greet all of you and I thank the Prime Minister for his kind words.  I would like to draw near to all children who are sick, to stand at their bedside, and embrace them.  I would like to listen to everyone here, even if for only a moment, and to be still before questions that have no easy answers.  And to pray.

                The Gospel often shows us the Lord Jesus meeting the sick, embracing them and seeking them out.  Jesus is always attentive to them.  He looks at them in the same way that a mother looks at her sick child, and he is moved by compassion for them.

                How I would wish that we Christians could be as close to the sick as Jesus was, in silence, with a caress, with prayer.  Sadly, our society is tainted by the culture of waste, which is the opposite of the culture of acceptance.  And the victims of the culture of waste are those who are weakest and most frail; and this is indeed cruel.  How beautiful it is instead to see that in this hospital the smallest and most needy are welcomed and cared for.  Thank you for this sign of love that you offer us!  This is the sign of true civility, human and Christian: to make those who are most disadvantaged the centre of social and political concern.

Sometimes families feel alone in providing this care.  What can be done?  From this place, so full of concrete signs of love, I would like to say: Let us multiply the works of the culture of acceptance, works inspired by Christian love, love for Jesus crucified, for the flesh of Christ.  To serve with love and tenderness persons who need our help makes all of us grow in humanity.  It opens before us the way to eternal life.  Those who engage in works of mercy have no fear of death.

                I encourage all those who have made the Gospel call to “visit the sick” a personal life decision: physicians, nurses, healthcare workers, chaplains and volunteers.  May the Lord help you to do your work well, here as in every other hospital in the world. May he reward you by giving you inner peace and a heart always capable of tenderness.

Thank you for this encounter!  I carry you with me in affection and prayer.  And please, do not forget to pray for me.

(from Vatican Radio)

En route to Krakow, Pope says world is at war, but it's not a war of religions

Vatican City, Jul 27, 2016 / 09:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the flight to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis on Wednesday responded to recent violence across the globe by saying that the world is at war. “When I speak of war, I talk about it seriously, but it’s not a war of religion. It’s a war for money, for resources, for nature, for dominion. This is the war,” Pope Francis told journalists on his July 27 flight from Rome to Krakow. “Could one think of a religious war? No. All religions want peace. Others want war,” he said. “Is that clear?” Francis addressed the 70 journalists on board the papal plane when, as usual, he came to the back to greet them each individually and thank them for their work. However, before going down the rows of eager writers and photographers on board, Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, who will retire as Vatican spokesman after the trip, asked the Pope to offer some words on the “emotional days” at hand considering recent tragedies, including yesterday’s attack in at a church in Rouen that left an 84-year-old priest dead. In his comments, Francis noted that “for some time we have said that the world is in a piecemeal war. This is war.” Frequently what’s happening is called “insecurity, but the true word is war. There was that of 14 (First World War), with its methods, then that of 39 to 45 (Second World War), and now there’s another great war. This is what we are experiencing now.” This war is real, he said, noting that while it might not necessarily be “organic,” it is organized. He pointed to yesterday’s attack in the French diocese of Rouen in which Fr. Jacques Hamel, 84, was killed by two Islamic State supporters while celebrating Mass. “This holy priest who died precisely in the moment in which he offered prayers for the entire Church is one, but there are many Christians, many innocent people, many children,” who suffer the same type of violence and hatred, he noted, pointing to Nigeria as an example. “It’s war: we’re not afraid to tell this truth,” Francis said, explaining that the world is at war because “it has lost peace.” The Pope then thanked the journalists for their work during World Youth Day, adding that youth “always speaks to us of hope.” “Now we hope that the youth tell us something and give us hope at this time,” he said, and offered his thanks to those who “harbor condolences” for yesterday’s attack, as well as French president Francois Holland, who “called me like a brother” after the incident, “and I thank him.” After offering these brief words to those on board, Pope Francis went down the rows of journalists to greet each of the 70 on board individually.  

Pope Francis to pray at John Paul II's tomb with kids who have cancer

Vatican City, Jul 26, 2016 / 02:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Before taking off for WYD in Krakow, Pope Francis will pray at the tomb of St. John Paul II alongside children who have cancer, and will bring their prayers to Poland in order to ask the nation's saint for healing. According to a July 26 statement from Italian nonprofit Peter Pan, which works with children who have cancer and their families, members of the association will “share a moment of prayer” with Pope Francis July 27 before he flies to Krakow for World Youth Day. Scheduled to depart from Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 2 p.m., Francis will come to St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:45 a.m., where he will meet members of the Peter Pan association at the tomb of St. John Paul II (in the basilica's St. Sebastian Chapel) to join them in a moment of prayer. The group will have a prayer celebration including Mass and the rosary at the saint's tomb, led by Fr. Jarek Cielecki. While Francis won’t stay for the entire event, he’ll join the group for part of their prayer. According to the statement, they “will ask the Holy Father to bring with him to WYD the prayers of the families of children and adolescents who are ill, and to unite them to those of the youth, who come from all over the world, and to his own, so that with the intercession of St. John Paul II, these children can be restored to health.” Founded in Rome in 2000, Peter Pan is a volunteer association and was born from the desire of a group of parents with children suffering from cancer who wanted to offer other families concrete support in facing the difficult experience of illness. The association provides houses and welcome for families who don’t live in Rome, but who come to treat their children in the city's hospitals, particularly the Bambino Gesu and the Policlinico Umberto I. The association continues their work with the help of their nearly 200 volunteers, as well as through the donations of individuals and agencies. During the celebration of Wednesday’s Mass, Fr. Cielecki, a Pole, will light two candles, one of which contains the image of the Merciful Jesus and was blessed by him in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, while the other shows the face of St. John Paul II and was blessed in the saint’s hometown of Wadowice.      In addition to Wednesday’s Mass and prayer with Pope Francis, intercessory prayer will take place at St. John Paul II’s tomb every day from July 28-31 so as to be “in communion with the Holy Father, who will be praying in Krakow with the youth of WYD,” as well as for all who are sick, including the families and children involved in Peter Pan.  

Pope condemns 'absurd violence' after priest is killed in French church

Vatican City, Jul 26, 2016 / 07:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has decried the “absurd violence” which has left an elderly priest dead after his church in northern France was taken hostage during Mass. In a statement released Tuesday by the Vatican, the Pope, having been informed of the situation, “participates in the pain and horror of this absurd violence,” while radically condemning “every form of hatred.” The statement said the pontiff is praying for those affected by the tragedy, which took place in the Normandy region, adding that the Vatican is following the situation. Fr. Jacques Hamel, 84, was killed Tuesday after two armed gunmen stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during Mass, the BBC reports. The assailants entered the church and took the celebrating priest and four others hostage. The BBC further cites police sources which say the priest’s throat was slit in the attack. Reuters reports that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police. Authorities say one of the hostages has been critically wounded, the BBC reports. According to the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency, the assailants were "two soldiers of the Islamic State," the BBC reports. “We are especially moved because this horrible violence took place in a Church -- a sacred place in which God’s love is announced -- with the barbaric murder of a priest and the involvement of the faithful,” the Vatican’s statement read. “We are close to the French Church, the Rouen archdiocese, to the affected community, and the French people.” Pope Francis has also sent a telegram to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, assuring him of his “spiritual closeness,” and his prayers for the suffering of the families, the parish community, and the diocese. In the telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope prayed that God “welcomes Fr. Jacques Hamel in peace,” and brings comfort to the injured person. Affected that the “act of violence” took place during Mass, the pontiff “implores God’s peace for the world,” the telegram read. He prayed that God might inspire “thoughts of reconciliation and fraternity.” Archbishop Lebrun, who is currently in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day, responded to the news of the killing, calling on believers and non-believers to “cry out to God with all men of good will.” The archbishop said he had prayed in Warsaw with the youth attending WYD at the tomb of Fr. Popiulusko, a priest who was assassinated in 1984 during the communist regime. “The Catholic Church cannot take weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among men,” the Rouen archbishop said, explaining that he would be returning to his diocese where the people are “very much in shock.” “I leave here hundreds of young people who are the future of humanity, the true ones,” he said. “I ask them not to give in to the violence,” but instead “become apostles of the civilization of love.” French prime minister Manuel Valls decried the ”horror” of the "barbaric attack,” writing on Twitter: "The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together." Tuesday’s killing comes little over a week after a teenage Afghan Islamist went on an axe rampage in Würzburg, Germany, which left several passengers severely wounded. More recently, just last Saturday, around 80 people were killed and 230 people wounded after two explosions struck the Afghan city of Kabul. The Vatican’s July 26 statement came in response to the “terrible new news” of the deadly hostage situation in a church in Rouen, the latest in “a series of violence which, in recent days has shocked us,” and caused “immense suffering and worry.” In less than two years, France has witnessed several deadly attacks attributed to Islamic state militants, with the most recent -- and second deadliest -- taking place earlier this month. On July 14, 84 people were killed in Nice, France when a Tunisian man intentionally drove a large truck through a crowded beach street at high speed during a Bastille Day celebration. On Nov. 13, 2015, nearly 130 people were killed in a series of attacks throughout Paris. In January of that same year, a total of 12 people were killed in the French capital after terrorists stormed the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine. During an address at WYD for the launch of DoCat, a new Catholic social doctrine app for young people, the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, responded to the attacks. “We want to express also our unity, our communion of prayer, even of sorrow, with the people of France,” he said. Although little is yet known about the incident, he said we are nonetheless “shocked, we are saddened, and we pray for the people of France.”

Pope prays for pilgrims en route to Krakow for WYD

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2016 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has asked for prayers as he, and all the pilgrims attending this year's World Youth Day, prepare to make their way to Krakow, Poland for the international event. The Pope, who leaves Wednesday, said Sunday that he is traveling to Krakow in order “to encounter these boys and girls,” as well as “to celebrate with them and for them the Jubilee of Mercy, through the intercession of St. John Paul II.” “I ask you to accompany us with prayer,” the pontiff said to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square during his weekly Angelus address. Francis also expressed his gratitude towards all those working to welcome the pilgrims coming to Poland for the international event, along with the many bishops, priests, religious, and laity. He then turned his thoughts to the many people who cannot attend WYD in person, but who will follow the event through means of communication. “We will all be united in prayer.” The 31st World Youth Day is being hosted in Krakow, Poland – the birthplace of its founder, St. John Paul II – from July 25-31. Pope Francis himself will take part in the international gathering starting July 28. Before leading the crowds in the Angelus prayer, the Pope delivered a reflection on the day's Gospel reading, in which Jesus teaches his followers how to pray to the Father. The word “father” is the “secret” of Jesus' prayer, the pontiff said. “It is the key which he himself gives is in order that even we can enter into that relationship of confidential dialogue with the Father.” The “Our Father” allows God to “manifest his holiness in us,” and advance “his reign,” making it possible for him to exercise his “loving lordship in our lives,” he explained. The prayer taught by Jesus addresses three basic human needs – “bread, forgiveness, and help in temptations” – none of which we can live without, the pontiff said. Beginning with the “bread,” Francis explained how it is “the bread of pilgrims,” adding that “it is neither horded up nor wasted.” Forgiveness, meanwhile, is above all else “that which we receive from God,” he said.  It is the “awareness of being sinners, forgiven by infinite divine mercy,” which allows us to make  “concrete gestures of fraternal reconciliation.” Without this awareness of being a forgiven sinner, a person “can never make a gesture of forgiveness or reconciliation,” the Pope said. Such an act “begins from the heart,” and the feeling of being a forgiven sinner. Finally, the expression “lead us not into temptation,” he said, “expresses the awareness of our condition, always exposed to the dangers of evil and corruption.” “We all know what a temptation is,” the pontiff remarked, off-the-cuff. Francis went on to reference the two parables also given in the Gospel reading. The first parable is about one friend asking another for a loaf of bread; even though he may refuse at first, he will eventually respond if his friend is persistent. The second points to the analogy between a father, who knows what is good to give his children, and God the father. Both of these parables “want to teach us to have complete faith in God, who is Father,” the Pope said. “He knows our needs better than we do, but wants us to present them with audacity and insistence, since this is our way of participating in his work of salvation.” Finally, the pontiff stressed the importance of the Holy Spirit in living well,” and in doing “the will of God.” He encouraged the crowds to pray over the coming week: “Father, give me the Holy Spirit.” For her part, Mary proves with her very existence that “everything is enlivened by the Holy Spirit,” Francis said. She helps us “pray to the Father, united to Jesus, to live not in a worldly way, but according to the Gospel, guided by the Holy Spirit.”

Pope responds to violence in Munich and Kabul with call for more prayer

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2016 / 06:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday, Pope Francis responded to recent acts of violence in Germany and Afghanistan, expressing his closeness to the families of the victims, and stressing the importance of prayer in the face of threats against “safety and peace.” “At this time, our spirit is once more shaken by the sad news relating to the deplorable acts of terrorism and violence which have caused suffering and death,” the Pope said in an appeal after the weekly Angelus at the Vatican. In his July 24 address, the Pontiff spoke in reference to “the dramatic events in Munich, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan, where the lives of numerous innocent people have been lost.” “I am near to the families of the victims and the wounded,” he said. “I invite you to join in my prayer, in order that the Lord may inspire all good and fraternal resolutions.” In the face of seemingly “insurmountable” difficulties, and dark “prospects of safety and peace,” the Pope said, our prayer should be “all the more persistent.” At least 80 people were killed and 230 people wounded after two explosions struck the Afghan city of Kabul on Saturday, Reuters reports. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, which hit the capital city's Shi'ite Hazara minority. The July 23 attack on Kabul is the latest in a string of attacks worldwide attributed to ISIS. Among the most recent attacks include an axe attack on a train in Würzburg, Germany last Monday, in which several passengers were critically wounded. The previous week, 84 people were killed in Nice, France when a Tunisian man intentionally drove a large truck through a crowded beach street at high speed during a Bastille Day celebration. Pope Francis further responded to the attack in Munich, expressing his condolences to the local archbishop in a telegram early Sunday morning. At least nine people were killed and more than 30 injured on Friday evening after an 18-year-old gunman – who reports have named Ali David Sonboly – opened fire at the Olympia shopping mall in Munich. Police believe the teenager had no known ties to the Islamic State, but he was reportedly inspired by Anders Behring Breivik, the mass murderer who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, according to the BBC. The Pope learned “with dismay” of the attack in Munich, which included the killing of young people, according to the telegram addressed to the archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx and signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. “His Holiness shares in the suffering of the survivors, and he expresses his closeness to them,” and he “prayerfully entrusts the departed to God's mercy,” the telegram reads. In the message, the pontiff expressed his sympathy to all those affected by the incident, and his gratitude towards rescue workers for their “generous and caring commitment.” “Pope Francis prays that Christ, the Lord of life, may give everyone comfort and consolation,” the telegram reads, “and he imparts to the his Apostolic blessing as a pledge of hope.”

Pope shakes up cloisters with new norms focused on prayer, centralization

Vatican City, Jul 22, 2016 / 06:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid modern challenges emerging from a culture which provides increasingly easier access to outside distractions, Pope Francis has issued new norms for women’s cloistered communities, which place a special emphasis on prayer and the centralization of communities.   “Dear contemplative sisters, without you what would the Church be like, or those living on the fringes of humanity and ministering in the outposts of evangelization?” the Pope said in a new Apostolic Constitution, published July 22.   The Church, he said, “greatly esteems your life of complete self-giving. The Church counts on your prayers and on your self-sacrifice to bring today’s men and women to the good news of the Gospel. The Church needs you!”   However, he also cautioned that the “silent and recollected peace of mind and heart” lived in contemplative live “can meet with subtle temptations.”   The most serious of these, he said, is what the Desert Fathers called “the midday devil,” referring to “the temptation to listlessness, mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and paralyzing lethargy.”   He also cautioned against the temptations presented by the current digital culture, which “has a decisive influence in shaping our thoughts and the way we relate to the world and, in particular, to other people.”   “Contemplative communities are not immune from this cultural climate,” he said, and while recognizing the benefits of media and communications, particularly in the process of formation, urged a “prudent discernment” aimed at ensuring these means are truly put at the service of the community, “and do not become occasions for wasting time or escaping from the demands of fraternal life in community.”   The new norms also encourage communities of the same spirituality, such as Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, etc., to centralize into one federation, however, the specifics of these federations haven’t yet been defined.   Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution “Vultum Dei Quaerere,” or “Seek the Face of God” on cloistered women religious was signed June 29, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and was released July 22, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.   An apostolic constitution is the highest level of decree to be issued by a Pope, and is addressed to the public. They typically focus on solemn matters of the Church such as the promulgation of laws or definitive teachings.   In Vultum Dei Quaerere, the Pope said that contemplative monastic life, which is mainly composed of women, is a “signpost” and reminder of life’s ultimate meaning. Contemplative life, he said, is “a priceless and indispensable gift which the Holy Spirit continues to raise up in the Church.”   However, as a means of assisting contemplative women to “attain the goal of their specific vocation” amid the rapid changes in modern society and the temptations that come with them, he issued new norms on 12 areas of discernment and renewal for consecrated life, particularly the monastic tradition.   These areas are: formation, prayer, the Word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal life in community, autonomy, federations, the cloister, work, silence, communications media and asceticism.   In the 21-page document, consisting of 37 articles, Pope Francis offered a reflection on each of the points, explaining the nature of each and why they are essential for the life and vocation of contemplative women religious.   In light of these reflections, Pope Francis established that, in reference to canon 20 of the Code of Canon Law and with the publication and promulgation of the constitution, any canons in the Code of Canon law which directly contradict the articles of the new constitution “are derogated,” meaning canceled.   More specifically, he said the articles containing norms and dispositions found in Pius XII’s 1950 Apostolic Constitution “Sponsa Christi,” the Statuta Generalia Monialium, the Congregation for Religious’ 1950 “Instruction Inter Praeclara,”  the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life’s 1999 Instruction “Verbi Sponsa” on the contemplative life and enclosure of nuns, are also derogated.   The new norms will be drafted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which will eventually result in amendments made to Canon Law which reflect the wishes the Pope voiced in the constitution.   In order to help in the drafting of the norms, Francis provided a series of points based on his reflections on each of the 12 themes, which serve as a guideline for what the new norms will consist of.   In these guidelines, he established that individual monasteries “are to give special attention to ongoing formation,” which he said “is the foundation for every stage of formation, beginning with initial formation.”   He said that to ensure this ongoing formation, federations of religious communities will promote a greater cooperation between monasteries “through the exchange of formational materials and the use of digital means of communication,” though he urged the “due discretion” in using these means.   Monasteries, he said, “are to pay special attention to vocational and spiritual discernment, ensuring that candidates receive personalized guidance,” and must ensure that “ample time” is set aside for the initial formation process.   While establishing international and multicultural communities is good and a sign of the universality of the community’s charism, Francis stressed that “the recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery is to be absolutely avoided.”   In order to ensure this doesn’t happen, “certain criteria are to be determined,” he said. He also stipulated that to ensure “a high quality of formation,” monasteries should promote common houses for initial formation.   Since prayer “is the heart of contemplative life,” Pope Francis also established that “each monastery is to review its daily horarium (schedule) to see if it is centered on the Lord.”   Community celebrations, he said, should also be reviewed “to see if they constitute an authentic and vital encounter with the Lord.”   He placed special emphasis on the use of “lectio divina,” traditional form of Benedictine prayer that focuses on the prayerful and contemplative reading of scripture.   Each community, he said, “is to establish fitting times and means for respecting this requirement of reading and listening, ruminatio (pondering), prayer, contemplation and sharing of the sacred Scriptures.”   Francis also stressed the importance of sharing the “transforming experience” of God’s Word with priests, deacons, other consecrated and laity, and insisted that each monastery determine how this “spiritual outreach” can be achieved.   The guidelines offered by the Pope also stressed that in addition to “carefully preparing its Eucharistic celebrations,” each monastery must “set aside appropriate times for Eucharistic adoration, also inviting the faithful of the local Church to take part.”   He noted that particular attention must also be given to the selection of chaplains, confessors and spiritual directors.   The daily schedule for each community must also include “suitable moments of silence, in order to foster a climate of prayer and contemplation.”   In terms of autonomy, Francis stressed that juridical autonomy must be matched with “a genuine autonomy of life” entailing a certain number of sisters with “the vitality needed to practice and spread the charism, a real capacity to provide for formation and governance, dignity and quality of liturgical, fraternal and spiritual life, sign value and participation in life of the local Church, self-sufficiency and a suitably appointed monastery building.”   Pope Francis also stipulated that at least initially, “all monasteries are to be part of a federation.” These federation, he said, can be established not only on a geographical basis, but also on “an affinity of spirit and traditions.” If “for some special reason” a monastery can’t join a federation, permission to remain outside of it will be sought from the Holy See.   The specifics, he added, will be in the norms drafted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who will determine the responsibilities of the federation’s president and council.   Francis also specified that even if some monasteries receive a small income, it doesn’t mean they are “exempted from the obligation of labor.”   He also required that each monastery, in its plan for community life, find a “fitting means” of expressing the ascetic discipline of monastic life in order to make it “more prophetic and credible.”   Once each individual institute has adapted the articles of their constitutions or rules to the new regulations laid out in Vultum Dei Quaerere, they must be submitted to the Holy See for approval.   During the July 22 presentation of the constitution, Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo O.F.M., secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, told journalists that the constitution was “a gift” from Pope Francis to the Church.   The process started two years ago with a questionnaire the congregation sent to cloistered communities around the world, he said, explaining that the answers they got back were “rich” and useful, so a synthesis was compiled and given to the competent authorities so that the constitution could eventually be written.   He said there are no plans to issue a similar constitution for cloistered male religious, given the fact that the majority of contemplative communities are composed of women.   Although there is a vocational crisis throughout across the globe, the archbishop noted that there are 4,000 contemplative communities in the world, with the highest numbers being “in Italy and Spain.”    Carmelites “singularly possess…the most numerous” contemplative community in the Church, he said, noting that others such as Benedictines, Dominicans, and Augustinians are also high in number.

Mary Magdalene – 'Apostle to the Apostles' – gets upgraded feast day

Vatican City, Jul 22, 2016 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Faithful to the wish of Pope Francis, a new decree has bumped the liturgical celebration honoring St. Mary Magdalene from a memorial to a feast, putting her on par with the apostles. The reason, according to Archbishop Arthur Roche, is that she “has the honor to be the first witness of the Lord’s resurrection.” “She is the witness to the risen Christ and announces the message of the Lord’s resurrection just like the rest of the Apostles,” he said, explaining that for this reason “it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar.” Archbishop Roche is secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He issued a letter on the decision June 10, the same day as the decree officiating the decision was published. Calling Mary Magdalene “an example and model for all women in the Church,” the archbishop said she had a special mission, to which the new rank of feast does justice. The decree, dated June 3 and published in Latin, was signed by both Archbishop Roche and the congregation’s president, Cardinal Robert Sarah. It says Mary Magdalene can be seen as “the paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.” On the Church’s liturgical calendar, saints are honored with either a “memorial” a “feast,” or a “solemnity.” Solemnities rank the highest, with feasts coming in second and memorials in third. While there are 15 other memorials on Mary Magdalene’s July 22 feast, hers was the only obligatory one to celebrate. Now, after being elevated to the level of a feast, the celebration bears a more significant weight. For example, when Mass is celebrated on her feast day, rather than using the normal formula for a daily Mass, as is done with memorials, the Gloria will be sung and special prayers dedicated specifically to Mary Magdalene will be offered, which only happens on feasts and solemnities. In his letter, Archbishop Roche said that given the current ecclesial context, the decision to honor Mary Magdalene with a feast “seeks to reflect more deeply upon the dignity of women, on the new evangelization and on the greatness of the mystery of God’s Mercy.” As the first person to see the empty tomb, to hear the truth about the Lord’s resurrection from Jesus himself, and as the first person to announce this message to the apostles, Mary “is an example of a true and authentic evangelizer.” While some have imagined Mary Magdalene as either a prostitute or the wife of Jesus, Western Christianity since the time of St. Gregory the Great has traditionally identified her with three women in the New Testament: the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with fragrant oils and washes them with her tears; Mary of Magdala; and Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany. While opinions vary on just exactly who she was, Archbishop Roche said that “what is certain is that Mary Magdalene was part of the group of Jesus’ disciples, she accompanied him to the foot of the Cross and, in the garden where she met him at the tomb, was the first witness of Divine Mercy.” Pope Francis’ decision to elevate her memorial to a feast during the Jubilee of Mercy, he said, was done in order to emphasize the importance of this woman, “who so loved Christ and was so greatly loved by Christ.” Noting how Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness to the Risen Christ and the first to announce his resurrection to the apostles, Archbishop Roche hailed her as “the Apostle to the Apostles” – a phrase coined by St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Mary Magdalene, the archbishop said, “announces to the apostles what in turn they will announce to the whole world.” This article was originally published on CNA June 10, 2016.

Pope Francis to meet Holocaust survivors during Auschwitz visit

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 01:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Though rumors have been floating for some time, the Vatican confirmed that the Pope will meet with 10 Holocaust survivors during his upcoming visit to Auschwitz while in Poland for World Youth Day. After arriving to Auschwitz and passing under the arch of the main entrance on foot, Francis will be taken by car to Block 11, where he will be welcomed by Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, as well as the 10 survivors. The Pope “will individually meet” with each of the survivors, “the last of whom will be given a candle,” Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists July 20. One of the survivors, he noted, is 101 years old and is hosting a group of pilgrims who are traveling to Krakow to participate in WYD. In addition to the survivors, Francis will also meet with 25 “Righteous among the Nations” from all over the world. The phrase is an honorific title bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews during the Nazi extermination. An example of one of these people is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, spy, Nazi party member and protagonist of the award-winning film “Schindler’s List” who is estimated to have saved the lives of some 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Fr. Lombardi spoke to journalists during a July 20 news briefing on the Pope’s July 27-31 trip to Poland, during which he is scheduled to visit Poland’s historic shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and Krakow’s Shrine of Divine Mercy in addition to his visit to Auschwitz and the WYD events. In his comments to journalists, Fr. Lombardi confirmed that Pope Francis will not give a speech at Auschwitz, nor will he celebrate a public Mass. Instead, he will say Mass in private, and will sit in silence in the death camp where an estimated 1 million people lost their lives. “At Auschwitz the Pope won’t say anything, but will have a moment of silent pain, of compassion, of tears.” He noted how two martyr Saints were among those who died in the camp: St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was killed after offering to take the place of another man condemned to death, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein. “It’s interesting,” the spokesman said, that July 29 marks the day of the Pope’s visit to Auschwitz, but is also the day of “the condemnation to death of Kolbe; it’s the 75th anniversary of the day in which he was condemned to death.” After praying in silence at Block 11, Pope Francis will then sign the Book of Honor at the camp, “and these will be the only words that we’ll have from the Pope at Auschwitz,” Fr. Lombardi said, explaining that the visit is expected to last “a few hours.” Fr. Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, president of the Polish bishop's conference, told CNA that Francis' decision to remain in silence at Auschwitz is deeply meaningful. “In the world there are two very parallel places. The first is the Wailing Wall and the second is the wailing place. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the wailing place in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the German Nazi concentration camp,” he said. The Pope’s decision to toss his speech, then, “shows that the Pope has this in his heart: wailing in the place where so many victims perished.” To do this “is very important for the Jewish people,” as well as for Poles, many of whom lost family members in the camp, he said, noting that his own grandfather was a prisoner who escaped, and that Poland’s Prime Minister lost some of her family there. “So personally I feel very linked and I am very grateful personally that the Holy Father is going to visit the death camp.” Again referring to the Pope’s silence, Fr. Rytel-Andrianik noted that Poland’s chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, “said that this is a very good thing because after the death of his sons, Aaron (from the Bible) was in silence.” “There is an expression in the Bible “vayidom Aharon” (the silence of Aaron) so he was in silence. And the Holy Father will do the same thing in Auschwitz.” According to Fr. Lombardi, Pope Francis is expected to give “a demanding speech” to youth during the WYD Via Crucis, which he will attend the evening of July 29 after having visited Auschwitz that morning.   He will stay in the archbishop’s residence of Krakow throughout the trip, appearing each night from the balcony to greet pilgrims gathered below. The act is an imitation of St. John Paul II, who did the same each time he visited as Pope.

Pope Francis is ready for World Youth Day – are you?

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 09:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Even though World Youth Day doesn't start until next week, thousands of pilgrims from throughout the world are already descending on Krakow ahead of the official event. In a July 19 video message Pope Francis sent his greetings to the youth of Poland and the world who will attend the largest recurring gathering of youth in the Catholic Church. “I look forward to meeting the young people from throughout the world gathered in Kraków and having the opportunity to meet the beloved Polish nation,” he said. “My entire visit will be inspired by Mercy during this Jubilee Year, and by the grateful and blessed memory of Saint John Paul II, who instituted the World Youth Days and was the guide of the Polish people in its recent historic journey towards freedom.” St. John Paul II, who was from Poland, established World Youth Day in 1985; the first event was held in Rome in 1986. Since then it has occurred in various cities throughout the world, typically every three years. Krakow and the rest of Poland are important places of pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was in a convent chapel in Krakow where St. Faustina of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy received visions and messages from Jesus about his divine mercy, which she would compile in a diary that would become the book “Diary of St. Faustina: Divine Mercy in my Soul.” Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow July 30. In his video message, Pope Francis thanked the pilgrims for their preparation for the trip and for their prayers, and said he is looking forward to seeing pilgrims from throughout the world. “I am very anxious to meet you and to offer the world a new sign of harmony, a mosaic of different faces, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy.” He also had a particular greeting for the Polish youth upon his first visit as Pope to their country. “For me, it is a great gift of the Lord to visit you. You are a nation that throughout its history has experienced so many trials, some particularly difficult, and has persevered through the power of faith, upheld by the maternal hands of the Virgin Mary. I am certain that my pilgrimage to the shrine of Czestochowa will immerse me in this proven faith and do me so much good,” he said. During his visit, the Pope will also symbolically present families at the event with copies of Amoris laetitia, his apostolic exhortation on love in the family. “The moral and spiritual ‘health’ of a nation is seen in its families. That is why Saint John Paul II showed such great concern for engaged couples, young married couples and families. Continue along this road!” the Pope said. World Youth Day officially kicks off July 25 and lasts through July 31, with Pope Francis arriving July 27. It will be Pope Francis’ second World Youth Day during his pontificate. The Pope closed his video by asking pilgrims to continue to pray for the event. “Dear brothers and sisters, I send you this message as a pledge of my affection. Let us keep close to one another in prayer. I look forward to seeing you in Poland!”

Doubts arise after alleged photo of Fr. Tom surfaces

Vatican City, Jul 20, 2016 / 06:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a photo supposedly showing Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen in March, emerged on social media, sources close to the priest say there are strong reasons to doubt the image's authenticity. “I have checked with a confrere with (the) Yemen experience and very close to Fr. Tom who shares my doubts about the authenticity of the photo,” a credible source close to the situation but who preferred to remain anonymous told CNA July 20. “We simply do not have any verified news about (it), although I am convinced that Fr. Tom is alive.” The comments come after a photo portraying an unshaven, tired-looking Indian man was published to Facebook, claiming that it was Fr. Tom and that an “entreaty,” or “plea” would be uploaded soon, according to Indian news agency The News Minute. The agency reports that while this is the first such photo has been published and while it isn't clear who posted it, a relative of Fr Tom’s, Augustine, said many within the family have studied the photo, and believe it to be authentic. However, CNA’s source said that since Fr Tom’s disappearance his Facebook account “has been hacked, most probably by the kidnappers.” “It is now used to send such messages in order to make pressure,” the source said, voicing their belief that while the photo might not be authentic, they are confident Fr. Tom is alive. Fr. Uzhunnalil, an Indian national, was abducted March 4 when four gunmen attacked a Missionaries of Charity-run retirement home in Aden, Yemen, killing 16 people, including four Missionary of Charity sisters. During Holy Week, unsubstantiated rumors spread on social media that ISIS had captured Fr. Tom and were planning his torture and crucifixion on Good Friday, however, they were largely based on inaccurate information. On March 28, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) wrote a letter to Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, urging the Indian government to take greater efforts in locating the priest and for further information to clarify his whereabouts and to quell the rumors of crucifixion. The minister then met with the CBCI and announced that the rumors of crucifixion were “baseless,” that Fr. Tom was still alive and that the government was “adopting all possible means” for the quick and safe release of Fr. Tom. In May she again voiced her confidence that Fr. Tom is “safe and that the "last efforts (are being made to) ensure his release.” According to The News Minute, Augustine said the Indian government has found it difficult to hold talks, and is unsure who to speak with since Yemen has no stable government. He said that he didn't think Fr Tom was taken by the Islamic State, but likely a smaller group. The details, however, remain unclear.