Stay in touch

Get the latest news from the Holy See Mission:

Papal preacher delivers second Advent Sermon to Pope, Curia

(Vatican Radio)  The Papal preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered his second Advent Sermon on Friday to Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia.

As preacher to the Papal Household, Capucin Father Cantalamessa gives a meditation to the Pope, Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia every Friday morning in Lent and Advent in the Apostolic Palace’s “Redemptoris Mater” Chapel. 

In the second Advent sermon, Fr. Cantalamessa continued his theme of the Holy Spirit’s action in the Church, focusing on the charism of discernment.

Please find below the full text English translation of the Sermon:

Second Advent Sermon

The Holy Spirit and the Charism of Discernment

Let us continue our reflections on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Saint Paul mentions a specific charism called “discernment of spirits” (see 1 Cor 12:10). This phrase originally had a very specific meaning: it indicated the gift that made it possible to distinguish from among the inspired or prophetic messages given during an assembly those that came from the Spirit of Christ and those that came from other spirits, such as the spirit of man, or a demonic spirit, or the spirit of the world. 

For Saint John this is its fundamental meaning as well. Discernment consists in testing “the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn 4:1). For Paul the fundamental criterion for discernment is confessing Christ as “Lord” (1 Cor 12:3); for John, it is confessing that Jesus “has come in the flesh” (1 Jn 4:2), meaning, the Incarnation. In John, discernment already begins to take on a theological function as the criterion by which to discern true doctrines from false ones, orthodoxy from heresy, which would become pivotal later.

1. Discernment in ecclesial life

There are two areas in which this gift of discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit needs to be exercised: the ecclesial and the personal. In the ecclesial area, discernment of spirits is carried out by the authority of the magisterium, which, however, must take into account, along with other criteria, the “sense of the faithful.”

But I would like to dwell on one point in particular which may be helpful in the discussionche taking place today on certain moral problems: the discernment of the signs of the time. The Second Vatican Council declared,

“In every age the church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. In language intelligible to every generation, it should be able to answer the ever-recurring questions which people ask about the meaning of this present life and of the life to come, and how one is related to the other.” [1]

It is clear that if Church has to discern the signs of the times in the light of the gospel, it does not do so by applying long-standing measures and rules  to the “times,” that is, the problems and situations that emerge in society, but rather by giving new responses, “intelligible to every generation” starting each time from the gospel. The difficulty that is encountered on this path—and which must be taken seriously—is the fear of compromising the authority of the magisterium by admitting changes in its pronouncements.

There is a consideration, I believe, that can help overcome this difficulty in the spirit of communion. The infallibility that the Church and the pope claim is certainly not of a higher level than that which is attributed to revealed Scripture. Biblical inerrancy ensures that the Scripture writer expresses truth in the way and to the degree in which it could be expressed and understood at the time he wrote it. We see that many truths are articulated slowly and gradually, like the truth about the after-life and eternal life. In the moral sphere as well, many  prior customs and laws are abandoned later to make way for laws and criteria that are more in accordance with the spirit of the Covenant. One example from among many: Exodus affirms that God will punish the children for the iniquities of the fathers (see Ex 34:7), but Jeremiah and Ezekiel say the opposite, that God will not punish the children for the sins of the fathers but that each person will be held responsible for his or her own actions (see Jer 31:29-30; Ez 18:1ff).

In the Old Testament the criterion by which people move beyond earlier proscriptions is a better understanding of the spirit of the Covenant and of the Torah. In the Church the criterion is a continuous re-reading of the Gospels in the light of new questions that are put to it. “Scriptura cum legentibus crescit,” said St. Gregory the Great: “Scripture grows with those who read it.” [2]   

We know that the constant rule for Jesus’ actions in the Gospels, in moral questions, can be summarized in seven words: “No to sin, yes to the sinner.” No one is more severe than he is in condemning unjustly acquired wealth, but he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, and simply by going there to meet him he brings a change.  He condemns adultery, even that of the heart, but he forgives the adulteress and gives hope back to her; he reaffirms the indissolubility of marriage, but he engages in conversation with the Samaritan woman who has already had five husbands, and he reveals to her the secret he had told no one else in such an explicit way: “I who speak to you am he [the Messiah]” (Jn 4:26).

If we ask ourselves how to justify theologically such a clear-cut distinction between the sinner and sin, the  answer is very simple: sinners are God’s creatures, created by him and made in his image, and they maintain their dignity despite all their aberrations; sin is not the work of God: it does not come from him but from the enemy. It is the same reason why the Son of God became everything human beings are, “except sin” (see Heb. 4:15).

One important factor in accomplishing this task is the collegiality of the bishops, which the Council itself emphasized. Collegiality allows the bishops “to reach agreement on questions of major importance, a balanced decision being made possible thanks to the number of those giving counsel.” [3] The effective exercise of collegiality brings to bear on discernment and the solution to problems the diversity of local situations, points of view, insights and different gifts, which are present in every church and with every bishop.

We have a moving example of this in the first “council” of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem. That meeting allowed ample opportunity to both of the opposing points of view, those of the Judaizers and those who favored an openness to the pagans. There was “much debate,” but in the end they all agreed to announce their decision with this extraordinary formula: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” (Acts 15: 28; see Acts 15:6ff).

We can see from this how the Spirit guides the Church in two different ways: sometimes in a direct, charismatic way through revelations and prophetic inspirations, and at other times in a collegial way, through the painstaking and difficult confrontation, and even compromise, between the different parties and points of view. Peter’s discourse on the day of Pentecost and at Cornelius’s house is very different from the one he later gave to justify his decision in front of the elders (see Acts 11:4-18; 15:14).

We need, therefore, to have confidence in the ability of the Spirit to achieve that accord in the end, even if at times it can seem as if the whole process is getting out of hand. Whenever pastors of the Christian churches gather together at the local or international level to discern or to make important decisions, each one should have a heartfelt, confident certainty of what the Veni Creator sums up in two verses: Ductore sic te praevio / vitemus omne noxium, “So shall we not, with Thee for guide, / turn from the path of life aside.”

2. Discernment in our own lives

Let us move on to discernment in our own lives. As a charism applied to individuals, the discernment of spirits underwent a significant evolution over the centuries. Originally, as we have seen, the gift functioned to discern the inspirations of others, of those who had spoken or prophesied in an assembly. Later, it functioned mainly to discern one’s own inspirations.

This was not an arbitrary evolution of the gift: it was in fact the same gift even though it was used for different purposes. A large part of what spiritual authors have written concerning the “gift of counsel” also applies to the charism of discernment. Through the gift, or charism, of counsel, the Holy Spirit helps us to evaluate situations and to orient our choices based not only on human wisdom and prudence but also in the light of the supernatural principles of faith.

The primary and fundamental discernment of spirits is the one that allows us to distinguish the “the Spirit of God” from “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor 2:12). St. Paul offers an objective criterion for discernment that is the same Jesus gave: the fruit. The “works of the flesh” demonstrate that a given desire has come from the old sinful nature, while “the fruits of the Spirit” reveal that a desire has come from the Spirit (see Gal 5:19-22). “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” (Gal 5:17)

At times, however, this objective criterion is inadequate because the choice is not between good and bad but between one good and another good, and the question is to discern what God wants in a specific circumstance. It was precisely in response to this need that Saint Ignatius of Loyola developed his teaching on discernment. He invites us to consider one thing above all: our own interior dispositions, the intentions (the “spirits”) that lie behind a choice. In so doing, he was aligning himself with an already established tradition. One medieval author had written,

“No one can test the spirits to see if they are from God unless God has given him discernment of spirits to enable him to investigate spiritual thoughts, inclinations and intentions with honest and true judgment. Discernment is the mother of all virtues; everyone needs it either to guide the lives of others or to direct and reform his own life. . . . This then is true discernment, a combination of right thinking and good intention.” [4]

St. Ignatius proposed practical ways to apply these criteria. [5] For example, when you have two possible choices before you, it is good to select one of them as though you were about to follow it, and to remain in that stance for a day or more.  You then evaluate your inner reaction to that choice to see if it brings peace, if it is in harmony with other choices you have made, if there is something within you that encourages you in that direction, or, on the contrary, if it leaves you with a cloud of uneasiness. Then you repeat that process with your other potential choice.

At the root of Saint Ignatius’s teaching on discernment is his doctrine of “holy indifference.” [6] It consists in placing oneself in a state of total willingness to accept the will of God, giving up all personal preference, like a scale ready to tip to the side where the greatest weight is. The experience of interior peace thus becomes the main criterion in all discernment. After long consideration and prayer, the choice that is accompanied by the greatest peace of heart must be the one retained.

It is essentially a question of putting into practice the ancient advice that Moses’ father-in-law gave him: “present the questions to God” and wait in prayer for his response (Ex 18:19). A deep-seated habitual disposition to do God’s will in every situation puts a person in the most favorable position for good discernment. Jesus said, “My judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30).

The danger in some modern approaches to understanding and practising discernment is an emphasis on its psychological aspects to the point of forgetting the primary agent in each discernment, the Holy Spirit. Saint John sees the decisive factor in discernment in being “anointed by the Holy One” (1 Jn 2:20). Saint Ignatius also mentions that in certain cases only the anointing of the Holy Spirit allows us to discern what we should do. [7] There is a profound theological reason for this. The Holy Spirit is himself “the substantial will of God,” so when he enters into a soul, this “Will of God . . . makes himself known to the person into whom he pours himself.” [8]

Discernment, in its essence, is not an art or a technique but a charism, a gift of the Spirit! Its psychological aspects are of great importance, but they always come second. One of the ancient Fathers wrote,

“Only the Holy Spirit can purify the mind. . . . So by every means, but especially by peace of soul, we must try to provide the Holy Spirit with a resting place. Then we shall have the light of knowledge shining within us at all times, and it will show up for what they are all the dark and hateful temptations that come from demons, and not only will it show them up: exposure to this holy and glorious light will also greatly diminish their power. That is why the Apostle says: Do not stifle the Spirit. [1 Thess 5:19]”. [9]

The Holy Spirit does not normally shed his light in our soul in an extraordinary or miraculous way but very simply through the words of Scripture. The most important exemples discernment in the history of the Church have come about this way. It was in hearing the saying from the Gospel, “If you want to be perfect . . . ,” that the Desert Father Anthony understood what he needed to do, and he founded monasticism.

This was also the way that Saint Francis of Assisi received the inspiration to initiate his movement of a return to the Gospel. He writes in his Testament, “After the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel.” [10] It was revealed to him during Mass after listening to the passage from the Gospel in which Jesus tells the disciples to go into the world and “take nothing for your journey: no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Lk 9:3). [11]

I myself remember a small example of this same sort of thing. A man came to me during a mission and shared his problem with me. He had an eleven-year-old son who had not been baptized. He said, “If I baptize him, there will be trouble at home because my wife has become a Jehovah’s Witness. If I do not baptize him, my conscience will be uneasy because when we were married, we were both Catholic and promised to raise our children in the Church.” I told him to come back the next day because I needed time to pray and reflect. The next day he came to me radiant and told me, “I found the solution, Father. I was reading in the Bible about Abraham, and I saw that when he took his son Isaac to be offered in sacrifice, he didn’t mention anything to his wife!” The Word of God enlightened him better than any human advice could have. I baptized the boy myself, and it was a great joy for everyone.

Alongside listening to the Word, the most common practice for exercising discernment on a personal level is the examination of conscience. This practice should not be limited, however, only to preparation for confession but should become a continuous excercise of placing ourselves under God’s light to let him “search” our innermost being. If an examination of conscience is not done or not done well, even the grace of confession becomes problematic: either we do not know what to confess or we are too full of psychological or voluntaristic efforts, that is, we are aiming only at self-improvement. An examination of conscience limited to preparing for confession identifies some sins, but it does not lead to an authentic one-on-one relationship with Christ. It easily becomes just a list of imperfections that we confess so that we can feel better without the attitude of real repentance that makes us experience the joy of having “so  great a Redeemer” in Jesus.

3. “Led by the Spirit”

The concrete fruit of this meditation should be a renewed decision to entrust ourselves completely and for everything to the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit as a kind of “spiritual direction.” It is written that “whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward” (Ex 40:36-37). Neither should we undertake anything unless the Holy Spirit moves us (according to the Fathers, the cloud was a figure for him [12]) and unless we have consulted him before every action.

We have the most vivid example of this in Jesus’ life itself. He never undertook anything without the Holy Spirit. He went into the desert with the Holy Spirit; he returned in the power of the Spirit and began his preaching; he chose his apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2); he prayed and offered himself to the Father “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb 9:14).

We need to guard against a certain temptation, the temptation of wanting to give advice to the Holy Spirit instead of receiving it. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, / or as his counsellor has instructed him?” (Is 40:13). The Holy Spirit directs everyone and is himself directed by no one; he guides and is not guided. There is a subtle way of suggesting to the Holy Spirit what he should to do with us and how he should guide us. We even make our own decisions at times and then attribute them flippantly to the Holy Spirit.

Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks about this inner leading of the Holy Spirit as a kind of “instinct of the righteous”: “As in bodily life the body is not moved save by the soul, by which it has life, so in the spiritual life all of our movements should be through the Holy Spirit.” [13] This is how the “law of the Spirit” works; this is what the Apostle calls being “led by the Spirit” (Gal 5:18).

We need to abandon ourselves totally to the Holy Spirit, like the strings of a harp to the fingers that pluck them. Like good actors, we need to listen attentively to the voice of the hidden prompter, so that we may recite our part faithfully on the stage of life. This is easier than some might think because our prompter speaks within us, teaches us everything, and instructs us about everything. At times we need only a simple glance inward, a movement of the heart, a prayer. We read this beautiful eulogy about a saintly bishop who lived in the second century, Melito of Sardis, that we would hope could be said of each of us after we die: he “lived entirely in the Holy Spirit.” [14] 

Let us ask the Paraclete to direct our minds and our whole lives with the words from a prayer recited in the Office for Pentecost in the Syrian Rite:

“Spirit, dispenser of charisms to everyone;

Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, who so loves us all,

you fill the prophets, perfect the apostles,

strengthen the martyrs, inspire the teachers with teaching!

To you, our Paraclete God,

we send up our supplication along with this fragrant incense.

We ask you to renew us with your holy gifts,

to come down upon us as you came down on the Apostles in the upper room.

Pour out your charisms upon us,

fill us with knowledge of your teaching;

make us temples of your glory,

let us be overcome by the wine of your grace.

Grant that we may live for you, be of one mind with you, and adore you,

you the pure, you the holy, God Spirit Paraclete.” [15]

[1] Gaudium et spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World], n. 4, in The Documents of  Vatican Council II, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1995), p. 165.

[2] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel 1.7, 8 (CCC 94).

[3] Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church], n. 22, p. 29.

[4] Baldwin of Canterbury, “Treatise 6,” Second Reading for Friday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time in The Office of Readings, pp. 334-335; see also PL 204, p. 466.

[5] See The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, Fourth Week, trans. Anthony Mottola (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 101-128.

[6] Cf. G. Bottereau, “Indifference, ” in Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, vol. 7, coll. 1688 ff.

[7] Saint Ignatius Loyloa, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, 141, 414, trans. and comm. George E. Ganss (St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1969), p. 126, 204.

[8] See William of St. Thierry, The Mirror of Faith, 61, trans. Thomas X. Davis (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1979), p. 49; see also SCh 301, p. 128.

[9] Diadochus of Photice, On Spiritual Perfection, 28, Second Reading for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, in The Office of Readings, p. 227, italics original; see also SCh 5, p. 87 ff.

[10] Francis of Assisi, “Testament of Saint Francis,” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1: The Saint, eds. Regis J. Armstrong et al. (New York: New City Press, 1999), p. 124. See also Fontes Franciscanas, p. 356.

[11] See Thomas of Celano, First Life, 22, trans. Christopher Stace (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), p. 24; see also ED, I, p. 201.

[12] See St. Ambrose On the Holy Spirit,  III, 4, 21 (N.p.: Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2014), p. 177; and  On the Sacraments, I, 6, 22, in “On the Sacraments” and “On the mysteries,” trans. Tom Thompson (London: S.P.C.K., 1950), p. 56.

[13] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, V, 5, n. 318, in Commentary on the Letters of Saint Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, eds. John Mortensen and Enrique Alarcón, trans. Fabian R. Larcher and Matthew Lamb (Lander, WY: Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, 2011), p. 150; see also V, 7, n. 340, and Commentary on the Gospel of John, VI, 5, 3.

[14] Eusebius of Caesarea, The History of the Church, V, 24, 5, ed. Andrew Louth, trans. G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin Books, 19650, p. 172.

[15] Pontificale Syrorum, in Emmanuel-Pataq Siman, L’expérience de l’Esprit par l’Église d’après la tradition syrienne d’Antioche (Paris: Beauchesne, 1971), p. 309.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: rigidity, worldliness a disaster for priests

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta on Friday morning, focusing his remarks following the readings of the day on the need for priests to serve as authentic mediators of God’s love, rather than as intermediaries – “go-betweens” or “middle-men” – concerned  only with advancing their own interests.

No to “go-between” priests, yest to priests who are mediators of God’s love

The role of the mediator is not that of the intermediary – and priests are called to be the former for their flock:

“The mediator gives himself (lit. perde se stesso) to unite the parties, he gives his life. That is the price: his life – he pays with his life, his fatigue, his work, so many things, but – in this case the pastor - to unite the flock, to unite people, to bring them to Jesus. The logic of Jesus as mediator is the logic of annihilating oneself. St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians is clear on this: ‘He annihilated himself, emptied himself, and to achieve this union, [he did so] even unto death, death on a cross. That is the logic: to empty oneself, to annihilate oneself.”

The priest who abandons the task of being a mediator and instead prefers to be an intermediary si unhappy, and soon becomes sad – and he will seek happiness in vaunting himself and making his “authority” felt.

Rigidity brings us to push away people who seek consolation

Jesus had a powerful message for the “go-betweens” of his day, who enjoyed to stroll the squares to be seen:

“But to make themselves important, intermediary priests must take the path of rigidity: often disconnected from the people, they do not know what human suffering is; they forget what they had learned at home, with dad’s work, with mom’s, grandfather’s, grandmother’s, his brothers’ ... They lose these things. They are rigid, [they are] those rigid ones that load upon the faithful so many things that they do not carry [themselves], as Jesus said to the intermediaries of his time: rigidity. [They face] the people of God with a switch in their hand: ‘This cannot be, this cannot be ...’. And so many people approaching, looking for a bit of consolation, a little understanding, are chased away with this rigidity.”

When a rigid, worldly priest becomes a functionary, he ends up making himself ridiculous

Rigidity – which wrecks one’s interior life and even psychic balance – goes hand-in-glove with worldliness:

“About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus – and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young fellow - he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest - before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest – he is wise, that monsignor, very wise - was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’. Thus, does the work that the priest does when he becomes a functionary ends in the ridiculous, always.”

You can recognize a good priest by whether he knows how to play with children

“In the examination of conscience,” Pope Francis said, “consider this: today was I a functionary or a mediator? Did I look after myself, did I look to my own comfort, my own comfort, or did I spend the day in the service of others?” The Pope went on to say, “Once, a person told me how he knew what kind of priest a man was by the attitude they had with children: if they knew how to caress a child, to smile at a child, to play with a child ... It is interesting, that, because it means that they know this means lowering oneself, getting close to the little things.” Rather, said Pope Francis, “the go-between is sad, always with that sad face or the too serious, dark face. The intermediary has the dark eyes, very dark! The mediator is open: the smile, the warmth, the understanding, the caresses.”

St. Polycarp, St. Francis Xavier, St. Paul: three icons of the mediator-priest

In the final part of the homily the Pope then brought three “icons” of “mediator-priests and not intermediaries.” The first is the great Polycarp, who “does not negotiate his vocation and is brave all the way to the pyre, and when the fire is around him, the faithful who were there, they smelled the aroma of bread.”

“This,” he said, is how a mediator makes his end: as a piece of bread for his faithful.” Another icon is St. Francis Xavier, who died young on the beach of Shangchuan, “looking toward China” where he wanted to go but could not because the Lord took him to Himself. And then, the last icon: the elderly St. Paul at the Three Fountains. “Early that morning,” Pope Francis reminded those gathered for Mass, “the soldiers went to him, they got him, and he walked bent over.” He knew that that was because of the treachery of some in the Christian community but he had struggled so much, so much in his life, that he offered himself to the Lord as a sacrifice.” “Three icons,” he concluded, “that can help us. Look there: how I want to end my life as a priest? As a functionary, as an intermediary, or as a mediator, that is, on the cross?”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: Christmas tree and crib symbols of hope and love

(Vatican Radio) This year’s Christmas tree and crib were due to be inaugurated and lit up on Friday afternoon in St Peter’s Square. Earlier in the day in the Paul VI hall, Pope Francis met with the donors of the tree and the nativity scene, telling them that these gifts “form a message of hope and love.”

Listen to Lydia O’Kane report

Welcoming the donors of this year’s Christmas Tree and crib, Pope Francis thanked them for their gifts which he said, would be admired in Saint Peter’s Square “by pilgrims from around the world during Advent and the Christmas holidays.”

The 25 metre high spruce tree was donated by the Lagorai Forests Association which is located the Trentino region of Northern Italy and the Pope remarked that, “the beauty of those views is an invitation to contemplate the Creator and to respect nature, the work of his hands.”

The Pope also had a special word of thanks to the children who decorated the tree, with the support of the "Lene Thun Foundation" that organises the ceramic therapy workshops in various Italian hospitals for children undergoing treatment for cancer and other illnesses.

He told them that, “the multicoloured ornaments you have created represent the values of life, love and peace that Christ's Christmas proposes to us anew each year.”

This year’s crib in the Square, was donated by the Bishops and the Government of Malta and is the work of artist Manwel Grech from Gozo.

The Nativity scene features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese costume as well as a replica of a traditional “Luzzu” Maltese boat.

The Holy Father said that this typical Maltese vessel, recalled “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats making their way toward Italy”, and he expressed the hope that “those who visit this nativity scene would be invited to rediscover its symbolic value", which, he said, was “a message of fraternity, of sharing, of welcome and solidarity.”

Pope Francis concluded by telling those gathered that, “the crib and the tree form a message of hope and love, and help create a Christmas spirit that can draw us closer to living with faith the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer who came to this earth in simplicity and meekness.” 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope makes traditional visit to Immaculate Conception statue in Rome

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis visited the Piazza di Spagna in Rome on Thursday for the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, where he laid a bouquet of white roses near the Column of the Immaculate Conception and prayed especially for families and for workers.

Listen to Devin Watkins' report:

The Holy Father made his way to Rome’s Spanish Square to pay homage to the Immaculate Virgin, just as the Bishop of Rome has done annually for the past 50 years.

Flanked by Rome’s mayor, Pope Francis placed a bouquet of white roses at the base of the Column of the Immaculate Conception and led those present in a prayer for her feast day.

He prayed especially for abandoned children, for families struggling to make ends meet, and for men and women in search of work.

He said, “We have need of your immaculate heart, to love freely, without secondary aims but seeking the good of the other, with simplicity and sincerity, renouncing masks and tricks.”

Above all, the Holy Father prayed Our Lady to “Let us not give in to discouragement, but that, trusting in your constant help, we may engage ourselves fully in renewal of self, of this city and of the entire world.”

After the prayer, the Pope greeted many of those gathered in the square and blessed the sick and elderly.

He then made a short stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major’s, before returning to the Vatican, to pray silently before the Maria Salus Populi Romani image, the protectress of the people of Rome.

A Vatican Radio English translation of the Pope's prayer is below:

O Mary, our Immaculate Mother,

On your feast day I come to You,

And I come not alone:

I bring with me all those with whom your Son entrusted me,

In this city of Rome and in the entire world,

That You may bless them and preserve them from harm.

I bring to you, Mother, children,

Especially those who are alone, abandoned,

And for this reason are tricked and exploited.

I bring to you, Mother, families,

Who carry forward life and society

With their daily and hidden efforts;

In a special way the families who struggle the most

For their many internal and external problems.

I bring you, Mother, all workers, men and women,

And I entrust to you especially those who, out of need,

Are forced to work in an unworthy profession

And those who have lost work or are unable to find it.

We have need of your immaculate gaze,

To rediscover the ability to look upon persons and things

With respect and awareness,

Without egotistical or hypocritical interests.

We have need of your immaculate heart,

To love freely,

Without secondary aims but seeking the good of the other,

With simplicity and sincerity, renouncing masks and tricks.

We have need of your immaculate hands,

To caress with tenderness,

To touch the flesh of Jesus

In our poor, sick, or despised brethren,

To raise up those who have fallen and support those who waver.

We have need of your immaculate feet,

To go toward those who know not how to make the first step,

To walk on the paths of those who are lost,

To find those who feel alone.

We thank you, O Mother, because in showing yourself to us

You free us of all stain of sin,

You remind us that what comes first is the grace of God,

The love of Jesus Christ who gave his life for us,

The strength of the Holy Spirit which renews all things.

Let us not give in to discouragement,

But that, trusting in your constant help,

We engage ourselves fully in renewal of self,

Of this city and of the entire world.

Pray for us, Holy Mother of God!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis on Immaculate Conception: God awaits our 'yes'

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday encouraged Christians to give their “Yes” to God, which allows the Lord to create for us a “new story,” as opposed to sin, which makes us “old inside.”

The Holy Father was speaking to a crowd of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square before the Angelus on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Listen to our report: 

Pope Francis reflected on two of the readings from the feast’s liturgy: The Fall of Adam and Eve [Gn 3:9-15, 20], and the Annunciation [Lk 1:26-38].

“The readings of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are two crucial passages in the history of the relationship between man and God:  We might say they lead us to the origins of good and evil,” Pope Francis said.

The Holy Father said the Book of Genesis shows us the origins of sin, the first 'no' to God, when “man preferred to look at himself, not his Creator…and in doing so comes out of communion with God.”

“This makes sin,” – Pope Francis said – “But the Lord does not leave man at the mercy of his evil; He immediately seeks him out and asks a question full of apprehension: 'Where are you?' It is the question of a father or a mother searching for a lost child…and this God does with much patience, in order to bridge the distance which arose at the beginning.”

The Holy Father then turned his attention to the Gospel reading, when “God comes to dwell among us, [and] he becomes man like us.”

“And this was made possible by ‘a great yes,’ that of Mary at the Annunciation,” – the Pope continued – “Through this ‘yes’ Jesus began his way along the road of humanity; it began in Mary, spending the first months of his life within mother’s womb; not appearing already an adult and strong, but by following the entirety of the path of what it means to be human.”

Pope Francis drew attention to the fact Mary is described as “full of grace,” meaning there is “no room for sin…without a shadow of evil.”

He explained Mary’s ‘yes’ is complete and unconditional, without any reservations.

“Also for each of us, there is a story of salvation made of yes and no to God,” – Pope Francis said – “Sometimes, though, we are experts on the half-yes: We are good at pretending not to understand what God wants, and what our conscience prompts us to do. We are also smart, and never give a true no to God, and say: ‘I am not able’, ‘not today, but tomorrow’, ‘Tomorrow I will be better, tomorrow I will pray, tomorrow I will do good.’ Thus we close the door to the good, and evil takes advantage of this ‘yes’ which is lacking.”

“Whereas every full yes to God gives rise to a new story: Saying yes to God is truly ‘original,’ not sin, which makes you old inside,” – the Pope said – “Every yes to God creates stories of salvation for us and for others.”

Pope Francis concluded by saying that in this time of Advent, “God desires to see us and awaits our 'yes'.'"

(from Vatican Radio)

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal granted pontifical recognition

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2016 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has officially recognized the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal as a religious institute of pontifical right, the order has announced. Institutions of pontifical right depend immediately and exclusively on the Vatican in the matters of internal governance and discipline. It is the highest form of recognition for a religious community, and is granted to institutes that show steady growth over a period of approximately 20-25 years. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, sometimes referred to as the CFRs, were founded in 1987 in the Archdiocese of New York by a group of eight American Capuchins who desired a form of Franciscan life dedicated specifically to service of the poor and evangelization. The group was established as a diocesan institute by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1999. Today, the order has about 100 perpetually professed members in 10 dioceses and archdiocese in six countries throughout the world. Besides the United States, the friars are located in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Nicaragua and Honduras. Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel was one of the founding members of the CFRs. During his life as a friar, he founded the St. Francis House for the homeless and Good Counsel Homes for pregnant women in crisis in New York. He also directed Trinity Retreat House in Larchmont, New York, and taught at the Dunwoodie seminary.   In addition, he became known as an author and preacher. For more than 25 years, he appeared on EWTN, hosting “Sunday Night: Live with Father Benedict Groeschel,” among other programs. He passed away in October 2014 at the age of 81. The friars are dedicated to their mission of serving the poor and most vulnerable, and preaching the Gospel as part of the New Evangelization. “After the manner of St. Francis of Assisi, the friars seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as a prophetic witness that life is a pilgrimage to the Father, of faith, hope, and love of God and neighbor, made possible by the Holy Spirit,” the Holy See said when describing the friars’ charism. “They participate in Christ’s renewal of all things through their prayer, fraternal life, service of the poor, and evangelization, as a complement to the work of those whose mission is to serve parochially.” The decree of recognition was signed by his Eminence, João Cardinal Bráz de Aviz, Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and his Archbishop Secretary, José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM, on 13 June 2016, Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. It was formally announced by the order in a statement on Dec. 8, 2016, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the statement, the General Servant (superior) of the order, expressed his gratitude to the Archdiocese of New York and to Cardinal Timothy Dolan for having been “nurtured so faithfully…throughout these years.” “(W)e now commit ourselves ever more urgently and zealously to the living out of our consecrated life, in faithful prayer, devoted fraternity, and service to the most poor and needy among us,” he said. “Please pray with us in praise and gratitude to God, on this special occasion, for his continued blessings on our Community and His Church.”

As Vatican lights Christmas tree, Pope reflects on Nativity scene

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2016 / 11:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Christmas approaches, the Nativity scenes found in churches and homes around the world bid us to make room for Jesus both in our lives and in society, Pope Francis said shortly before the lighting of the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square Friday. On Dec. 9, a massive 82-foot tree from the Dolomites was lit in St. Peter’s Square, next to the nearly life-size Nativity scene, donated to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Malta and designed by local artists. An artist from the island of Gozo named Manwel Gretch created the sketch chosen for the Nativity, which depicts the Maltese countryside. The 17 characters in the Nativity, animals excluded, are dressed in typical Maltese clothing and holding tools and instruments. The Nativity scenes found “in churches, in homes and in many public places are an invitation to make room in our lives and society for God, hidden in the face of so many people who are in conditions of hardship, poverty and tribulation,” the Pope said during a meeting with the artist of the scene and a delegation from Malta and Trentino. In his speech, the Pope referred to the presence in the scene of the traditional “Cross of Malta” and typical Maltese archipelago boat, representing not only the island’s tradition, fishing and life, but also the reality faced by thousands of migrants when risking their lives to sail in makeshift boats to Italy. Their experiences can be compared to that of the child Jesus, Francis noted, who didn’t have a place to sleep at his birth, and soon after had to flee to Egypt with his parents to escape the threat of Herod. How many people “will visit this Nativity scene,” he said, “will be invited to rediscover the symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, of sharing, of welcome and solidarity.” “The Nativity scene and the tree thus form a message of hope and love, and help to create a favorable Christmas spirit to live with faith the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer,” the Pope said. God “came to earth in simplicity and meekness. Let us be drawn, with the intention of children, in front of the manger, because that is where we understand the goodness of God and contemplate his mercy, which was made human flesh in order to soften our gaze.”  

New Rockville Centre bishop was baptized by Fulton Sheen

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2016 / 05:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday, the Vatican announced that Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown – who was baptized by the famed Archbishop Fulton Sheen – will be taking the helm in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. “I must…thank the priests and the entire people of God of the Diocese of Allentown, where I have had the great blessing of serving as bishop for the last seven-and-a-half years,” Bishop Barres said in a Dec. 9 press release announcing his appointment. “You will all always be in my heart, my memories, my prayers and my Masses as I remember our days of ‘holiness and mission’ together.” A native of Larchmont, N.Y., Bishop Barres, 56, has led the Diocese of Allentown since July 2009, and will take over in Rockville Centre for retiring Bishop William Murphy, who has reached the age limit of 75. His transfer will make him the first bishop of Allentown in their 55-year history to ever be transferred to another diocese. The Rockville Centre diocese, which includes the Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, was established in 1957 and is the sixth largest diocese according to Catholic population in the U.S., serving 1.5 million Catholics with 291 active priests in 133 parishes. According to the press release, Bishop Barres will be introduced to his new diocese by concelebrating with Bishop Murphy in Rockville Centre’s Cathedral of St. Agnes. He will be officially installed in the cathedral Jan. 31, 2017. Until then, Bishop Barres will serve as diocesan administrator for Allentown. Once he makes the official transfer to Rockville Centre, Allentown’s College of Consultors, which consists of 10 senior priests in the diocese, will select a new administrator, who will serve until another bishop is appointed. Born in 1960, Bishop Barres is the fifth of six children born to two Protestant ministers who met at Yale Divinity School and eventually converted to Catholicism in 1955, according to the bishop’s biography on the Allentown Diocese’s website. Bishop Barres himself was baptized by then-Bishop Fulton Sheen in 1960. His father had been working for Sheen at the Propagation of the Faith in New York City. The media-savvy archbishop – who served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living” – headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and served as an auxiliary bishop of New York and as bishop of Rochester before his death in 1979 at the age of 84. Pope Benedict XVI authorized a decree that recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop in 2012, allowing his cause for canonization to move forward. The process has been stalled for the past two years due to a diocesan dispute over his remains, however, it is expected to move forward again soon. After completing secondary school, Bishop Barres graduated from Princeton University with a BA in English Literature before moving on to obtain a MBA in Management from the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wilmington Oct. 21, 1989, by Bishop Robert Mulvee after studying in seminary at the Theological College of The Catholic University of America. He began his priestly ministry by serving as an associate pastor at different parishes throughout Newark and Wilmington. Eventually Barres went to Rome for further study before returning to Wilmington, where he then served as Vice Chancellor and then Chancellor of the diocese. The bishop’s theological background includes an STB and STL in Systematic Theology, which he got from The Catholic University of America, and a JCL in Canon Law and an STD in Spiritual Theology from Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. In 2000 St. John Paul II gave him the title “Monsignor,” and he was named bishop of Allentown by Benedict XVI in 2009 by Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was Archbishop of Philadelphia at the time. As shepherd of the Allentown diocese, Bishop Barres launched a diocesan-wide society for lawyers, called the St. Thomas More Society, in an order to promote religious liberty. He also established a special program aspirant for young men considering the priesthood. He was also instrumental in expanding the diocese’s Hispanic ministry, given the fact that the Hispanic population is one of the fastest growing in the diocese. He is also known for his strong social media presence, particularly on Twitter and a video blog he launched for the diocese. Beyond his diocese, Bishop Barres has also served on the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, and since 2013 has held the role of Episcopal Liaison to the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Be like Mary – say yes to God, but not halfway, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2016 / 04:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The contrast between the “no” of man in the Garden of Eden and the “yes” of Mary at the Annunciation was the heart of Pope Francis’ message for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which he said is an opportunity for each person to renew their own commitment to God. When Mary says “I am the handmaid of the Lord” in response to the news that she will become the Mother of God, she doesn’t say: “this time I will do the will of God, I am available, then I’ll see,” the Pope said Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. “Hers is a full yes, without conditions,” he said, noting that at times, instead of imitating this attitude, “we are experts in the ‘half-yes:’ we are good at pretending not to understand what God wants and consciousness suggests.” We can also be “cunning” and avoid saying “a true and firm ‘no’ to God” by making excuses, such as “I can’t,” or “‘not today, but tomorrow...tomorrow I will be better, tomorrow I will pray, I will do good, tomorrow.” However, by doing this “we close the door to good and evil profits from these missing ‘yeses,’” Francis said, noting that each one of us has “a collection” of these missing yeses inside. Each full and unreserved “yes” we say to God is the beginning of a new story, he said. Saying yes to God “is truly original, not sin, which makes us old inside.” “Have you thought about this? That sin makes you age inside? It makes you age right away!” he said, adding that “every yes to God begins a story of salvation for us and for others.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address marking the feast in which the Church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary, honoring the Catholic dogma that she was conceived without sin. After reciting the Angelus, the Pope will as usual make his way to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, where he will lay flowers at the feet of the large statue of Mary Immaculate sitting in the center of the square, and recite a prayer of devotion to Mary. He also announced that like last year, following his prayer in Piazza di Spagna he will go the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the ancient “Salus Popoli Romani” icon, traditionally believed to have been painted by St. Luke. The Pope travels to the basilica before and after every international trip he takes in order to entrust the voyage to the care and intercession of Our Lady, typically with flowers in hand. In his Angelus address, the Pope said the day’s readings from Genesis and the Gospel of Luke point to two “critical passages” in salvation history which point to “the origins of good and evil.” Man’s “no” to God at the very beginning is recounted in the passage from the Book of Genesis, which shows how “man preferred to look at himself rather than his Creator, he wanted to do his own thing, he chose to suffice with himself.” By doing this, man left his communion with God behind, “lost himself and began to fear, to hide himself and to accuse those around him,” the Pope observed, explaining that once someone begins to accuse others like this, it means “you are distancing yourself from God” and “this makes sin.” However, instead of leaving man at the mercy of the evil done, he steps in and immediately looks for him, asking “where are you?” This question, Francis said, is “the question of a father or mother who looks for their lost child...and this God does it with so much patience, up to the point of bridging the gap that has arisen at the beginning.” Pointing to the day’s Gospel reading from Luke, which recounted the story of the Annunciation, the Pope said that Mary’s “great yes” is what made it possible for God to come and live among us. “Thanks to this ‘yes,’ Jesus began his journey on the path of humanity; he started it in Mary, spending the first months of life in the womb of his mother.” Jesus didn’t come as an adult, already strong and full grown, but decided to follow the exact same path of the human being, doing everything in exactly the same way “except for one thing: sin.” Because of this, “he chose Mary, the only creature without sin, immaculate,” he said, noting that when the angel refers to Mary with the title “Full of Grace,” it means that from the beginning there was “no space for sin” inside of her. “Also we, when we turn to her, we recognize this beauty: we invoke her as ‘full of grace,’ without the shadow of evil.” While the “no” of man at the beginning closed the passage from man to God, Mary’s “yes” opened the path for God to be among us, Pope Francis said, explaining that Mary’s response “is “the most important ‘yes’ in history.” “It’s the faithful ‘yes’ that heals disobedience, the available ‘yes’ that flips the selfishness of sin,” he said, encouraging attendees to use Advent as an opportunity to renew their own “yeses” to God, telling him “I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you; accomplish in me your good will.” “With generosity and confidence, like Mary, let us say today, each one of us, this personal yes to God,” he said, and led pilgrims in praying the traditional Marian prayer. After the Angelus, he offered prayers for Indonesian island of Sumatra, which was hit by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake Dec. 7 that has so far left nearly 100 people dead. “I wish to assure my prayers for the victims and for their families, for the wounded and for the many who have lost their homes. May the Lord give strength to the people and sustain the relief work.”

Pope Francis: Through beauty, artists make the world better

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2016 / 02:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Beauty, under the care of artists, has the ability to transform even the everyday lives of men and women, Pope Francis said in a message for the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academies on Tuesday. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin delivered the Pope's message during the 21st public session Dec. 6, before presenting the winning artists of this year's Pontifical Academies Award, who are chosen by the Pope. “Architects and painters, sculptors and musicians, filmmakers and writers, photographers and poets, artists of every discipline, are called to shine beauty especially where darkness or gray dominates everyday life,” the Pope wrote. They “are the custodians of beauty, heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity.” “I invite you, therefore,” he emphasized, “to cherish beauty, and beauty will heal the many wounds that mark the hearts and souls of the men and women of our day.” Quoting Italian writer Italo Calvino, who said that “cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” the Pope pointed out the bleakness that often exists in both cities and suburbs, saying the lack of beauty leaves more room “for fear” than for the “beautiful dreams” of young people. The role of beauty, therefore, he said, is to help draw us out of this “utilitarian pragmatism” we so often fall into. He quoted Laudato Si, saying, when we “do not learn to stop and admire and appreciate the beautiful, it is not strange” that we begin to turn everything into an object for use. This is why beautiful buildings, especially beautiful churches, are so needed, he noted. Especially when beautiful churches are located in underprivileged, or perhaps degraded, areas they offer, “even in their simplicity and essentiality, an oasis of beauty, peace, acceptance.” By favoring “an encounter with God and communion with our brothers and sisters” they become a “reference point for the integral growth of all people, for harmonious development and supportive communities,” he said. But it isn’t just grand works of architecture or other art which can bring beauty into the world, Francis stressed. Even “simple actions, small sparks of beauty and love” shown to the environment in which people live can bring healing and provide an alternative to indifference and cynicism. This year’s winners of the Pontifical Academy Award were the young woman Chiara Bertoglio, for her research in musicology and literature, and for her many concert performances; and the young man Claudio Cianfaglioni, for his research on poetry, and for his study of significant contemporary literary figures, such as Fr. David Maria Turoldo, an Italian poet. The award’s prize of 20,000 euros is divided between the winners, who are chosen based on their work’s exceptional contribution “to the development of Christian humanism and its artistic expressions.” Reflecting on the theme of the session, which was about bringing a human aspect to cities through beauty, reminded Pope Francis of some of the words of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, he said. “The present moment” he quoted Benedict XVI, “is sadly marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic level, but also by a weakening of hope, by a lack of confidence in human relationships, so they grow signs of resignation, aggression and despair.” Continuing to quote the recent pope’s Nov. 2009 speech to artists, he asked, “What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes on the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation if not beauty?” The “experience of beauty” is an important and even primary factor “in our search for meaning and happiness” and the experience liberates and transfigures our lives. From this emerges the “important and necessary task of artists,” Francis explained, “particularly those who are believers and allow themselves be enlightened by the beauty of the gospel of Christ.” “To create works of art that bring us, in the language of beauty, a sign, a spark of hope and trust where people seem to give in to indifference and ugliness.”

Women at the Vatican form association for solidarity

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2016 / 02:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new association for women working in the Vatican announced Wednesday provides a personal and professional network for women to offer support to each other and to the community. Called simply “Donne in Vaticano,” or “Women in the Vatican,” a Dec. 7 communique said the association “intends to create a network of friendship, exchange and solidarity among all for personal and professional growth.” President of the association and Vatican journalist Tracey McClure said members of the association believe women “are a valuable resource” and should be “valued in the workplace and in all areas of life and activity within the Vatican.” “Putting (Women in the Vatican) together over the past 4 years or so has introduced me to some highly intelligent, competent and creative women.” You can’t help but admire their “love for their jobs, their dedication to the Pope and their determination to help others – all the while balancing family and social commitments,” she said. Citing research by Gudrun Sailer, a fellow employee of Vatican Radio and author of three books on women in the Vatican, McClure said there are about 750 women who currently work at the Vatican, or 19 percent of the total Vatican workforce. It’s “an upward trend,” she said. According to Sailer, most of the women working in the Vatican are academics and the percentage of women currently working in the curia is particularly high, historically considered. The association is open to all women who do or have worked for the Vatican City State, the Holy See, and related institutions – whether secular or religious. The idea for the association developed among a group of colleagues, and since its Nov. 23 launch has expanded from the 12 founding members to include more than 53 women from 16 different Vatican offices. The constitution was signed Sept. 1. Besides helping to connect women working in different areas of the Vatican, the association also hopes to initiate volunteer opportunities in order “to give back to their communities,” McClure said, in the spirit of what Pope Francis calls a “revolution of tenderness.” They would also like to specifically help provide assistance to women in need and “to give more visibility to the initiatives and contributions of other Christian women.” “In our intent we feel encouraged by the papal Magisterium. The last Popes have expressed on many occasions appreciation and esteem in the regard of women,” the communique stated. Quoting Pope Francis: “the Church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

New seminary doc talks clericalism, homosexuality, abuse prevention

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2016 / 12:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The updated version of the Vatican's document on priestly formation, released Wednesday, deals with issues of clericalism, homosexuality, and the protection of minors, among other things. “To be a good priest, in addition to having passed all the exams, a demonstrated human, spiritual and pastoral maturation is necessary,” Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, told L'Osservatore Romano Dec. 7. He was commenting on The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, his department's new edition of its “fundamentals of priestly formation.” “I think it is superfluous to add that other minor innovations could be gathered from the text, from the standpoint of approaches to the question, vocabulary used, the formative methodology proposed, and the impulse given by the current Pontifical Magisterium,” Cardinal Stella added. Media coverage of the document has emphasized that it reaffirms the existing Vatican instruction that homosexuals may not be admitted to seminaries. The Gift of the Priestly Vocation quotes from the Congregation for Catholic Education's 2005 instruction on the matter in saying that “the Church … cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'.” It distinguishes such cases from those in which homosexual tendencies “were only the expression of a transitory problem,” and itself states that “it must be remembered that, in a relationship of sincere dialogue and mutual trust, the seminarian is obliged to reveal to his formators … doubts or difficulties he should have in this regard.” The document then goes on to discuss protection of minors and the accompaniment of victims, saying this must be given “the greatest attention” and that the Church must be vigilant that seminarians “have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behaviour in this area” and that “formators must ensure that those who have had painful experience in this area receive special and suitable accompaniment.” It adds that lessons on the protection of minors are to be included in formation, including how to deal with exploitation and violence such as trafficking of minors, child labor, and sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The document also recommends that bishops responsible for seminaries be in dialogue with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, established by Pope Francis in 2013. Clericalism is discussed within the context of priestly identity as the basis and purpose of formation. The Gift of the Priestly Vocation says that seminarians “should be educated so that they do not become prey to 'clericalism', nor yield to the temptation of modelling their lives on the search for popular consensus. This would inevitably lead them to fall short in exercising their ministry as leaders of the community, leading them to think about the Church as a merely human institution.” It reiterates that priestly ordination, while making its recipient “a leader of the people”, “should not lead him to 'lord it over' the flock.” Cardinal Stella noted to L'Osservatore Romano that the new version of “the fundamentals” was necessary because “the historical, socio-cultural and ecclesiastical contexts have changed” since the document was last updated in 1985. Significant changes have happened regarding “the image or vision of the priest, the spiritual needs of the People of God, the challenges of the new evangelization, the language of communication, and many more,” he said. “It seemed that the formation of Priests needed to be revamped, renewed, and restored to the centre.” He added that the congregation had “been encouraged and illuminated by the Teaching of Pope Francis.” The cardinal recalled the four pillars of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Regarding the human pillar, he said there is a particular stress on the fact that “one cannot be a priest without balance of mind and heart and without affective maturity, and every unresolved lacuna or problem in this area risks becoming gravely harmful, both for the person as well as for the People of God.” To this end, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation emphasizes the necessity of a “propaedeutic period” in seminaries, known in some places as a “spirituality year” prior to full-time academic work. Cardinal Stella also said that vocational discernment is insisted upon, in an effort “to overcome a conveyor belt mentality which developed in the past.” He said bishops and formators “are called to exercise a shrewd vigilance regarding the suitability of each candidate, without haste or superficiality.” An effort at “integral formation” is central to the document, and so, the cardinal said, beside the traditional division of formation into the stages of philosophical and theological studies, there has been added a threefold division of discipleship, configuration, and pastoral stages. To each of these new stages there “corresponds an itinerary and a formative content, orientated toward an assimilation with the image of the Good Shepherd,” he said. Cardinal Stella sees humanity, spirituality, and discernment as the “keywords” which form the foundation of the document's vision. “I cannot sufficiently insist upon the need that seminarians be accompanied through a growth process which will … help them become persons who are humanly balanced, serene and stable,” he said. “Only in this way will it be possible to have Priests with friendly traits, who are authentic, loyal, interiorly free, affectively stable, capable of weaving together peaceful interpersonal relationships and living the evangelical counsels without rigidity, hypocrisy or loopholes.” Regarding spirituality, Cardinal Stella said that priestly identity is founded on the priest as “a disciple passionately in love with the Lord.” “Only in this way – cultivating his spiritual life with discipline and expressly dedicated time – can old sacral and bureaucratic views of ministry be surpassed, so that we may have Priests passionately motivated by the Gospel, capable of 'feeling with the Church' and being, like Jesus, compassionate and merciful 'Samaritans.'” On discernment, the prefect said that “who follows the Gospel way and who immerses himself in life in the Spirit, overcomes both an ideological as well as a rigorist approach, discovering that the processes and situations of life cannot be classified through inflexible schemata or abstract norms, but instead need listening, dialogue, and interpretations of the heart’s movements.” He emphasized the importance of spiritual direction in enabling seminarians to grow in discernment. Concluding, Cardinal Stella encouraged priests, saying: “The Lord never offers less than his promises, and if you have called upon him, he will make his light shine upon you, whether you live in darkness, aridity, fatigue or a moment of pastoral failure.” “I would like to recommend to priests that they not let the healthy disquiet, which maintains their progress on the right path, be extinguished! Do not neglect prayer, take great care with your spiritual life, remain disposed daily to form yourselves and let yourselves be sustained and taught by pastoral life and by the People of God. We must remain vigilant, as this time of Advent suggests, not to let habit or mediocrity deaden the gift which the Lord has given to us.”

In new interview, Pope skewers journalists who focus on scandal

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2016 / 09:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis gave an interview to a Belgian magazine in which he cautioned media to avoid several major temptations, including the desire to always focus on scandal – which he compared to “coprophilia,” a mental illness in which a person has an abnormal interest in feces. “Media I think have to be very clean, very clean and very transparent. And not fall – without offending, please – into the sickness of coprophilia,” the Pope said in his new interview, published Dec. 7. Coprophilia, or coprophagy, is technically defined as a condition in which a person has an abnormal interest and pleasure in feces or excrement.   However, for Pope Francis, his use of the word referred to an attitude in journalism that always tries to communicate scandal.   Since people looking to the media frequently have “a tendency toward coprophilia” – meaning they take pleasure in and seek out scandalous news – this attitude “can do a lot of damage.” Pope Francis made his comments to Belgian weekly magazine “Tertio” for the occasion of the close of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The editor of the publication, Geert de Kerpel, conducted the interview, which focused on a wide range of topics from the media and the Synod of Bishops, to religion in the public sphere and war. In his comments about media, the Pope said they have “a very big responsibility,” since given their reach, they have the ability “to form opinion.” “Media are the builders of a society” and as such are meant to foster a fraternal exchange of ideas, to educate and to make one think. Media is not inherently evil, he said, but cautioned that we are all sinners, and even media “have their temptations.” First of all, they can be tempted to slander or defile people, above all in politics, he said, and also warned against defamation, since “every person has the right to a good name.” To bring to light a problem from a person’s distant past and to hold them responsible, even if they have already rectified the situation, “is serious, it does damage, it nullifies a person,” Francis said. “There is not right to this. This is a sin and it does harm,” he said, pointing to another particularly harmful attitude in the media: “misinformation.” Described by the Pope as telling only one part of the truth but not the other, Francis said that to do this: “This is to misinform. Because you, the viewer, you give them half of the truth. And therefore they cannot make a serious judgement on the complete truth.” Misinforming people “is probably the greatest harm that media can do. Because it directs opinion in one direction, taking away the other half of the truth,” he said, adding that if media stay away from these problematic attitudes, “they are builders of opinion and they can edify, and do an immense, immense good.” In the interview, Pope Francis also asked about his vision of reform following the Second Vatican Council, specifically regarding the issue of “synodality” – a term Francis has often used when describing his vision for how the Church ought to be structured and function. Describing the term “synodality,” Francis noted that the Church itself is ultimately born from baptism and from communities that gather around a bishop, who guides and supports them. “The bishop is the successor of the apostles. This is the Church. But in the entire world there are many bishops, many organized churches, and there is Peter,” he said, noting that there can either be a “pyramidal” Church where “what Peter says is done,” or a “synodal” Church where Peter still holds his authority, but “accompanies the Church and makes her grow, listens to her.” “Moreover, he learns from this, and harmonizes, discerning what comes from the (local) churches, and returns to it,” he said, pointing to the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the family as a prime example of what this synodal Church looks like. Bishops from all over the world gathered together in representation of their own dioceses to voice their thoughts and concerns, the result of which was the Pope’s post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” Pope Francis then pointed to the richness of the different “nuances” that came out during the discussion, explaining that “it’s unity in difference. This is synodality. Not to go down from top to bottom, but to listen to the churches, harmonize them, discern.” Turning to Amoris Laetitia, the Pope noted how everything inside the document was approved by a two-thirds majority of the synod fathers, which is a “guarantee.” “A synodal Church means that if from this movement is given from top to bottom, bottom to top. The same for the dioceses,” he said, but added that synodality is something the Church must still work to understand and embrace. He pointed to the Latin phrase “cum petro et sub petro,” meaning “with Peter and under Peter,” as an example of how the local churches ought to function in the “synodal” model of the Church.   When asked about the centenary of the First World War, Francis said the post-war insistence of “war never again” failed, and that money is currently being made off the various conflicts around the world. “Making war is an easy way to make wealth,” he said, but cautioned that “of course, the price is very high: blood.” He pointed to current, ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, the Middle East and Africa as examples. As he has done several times in the past, Francis insisted that war can never be justified in the name of God. “Terrorism, war, are not related to religion. Religious deformations are used to justify” war, he said, but insisted they have nothing to do with “the essence” of religions, which “is love, unity, respect, dialogue.” Pope Francis also some had advice for priests. When asked what he thought was most important in the life of a priest, the Pope said what came to his mind was “remember that you have a mother who loves you. Do not stop loving your mother the Virgin.” A second point was to allow themselves to “look toward Jesus,” and to try to find “the suffering flesh of Jesus” in their brothers and sisters. “This is where you will find Jesus. This as a foundation. Everything comes our form here,” he said, explaining that if a priest gets “unhooked” from the one who called him, which is Jesus, he will “never be able to live the Gospel.” Francis, as he has also done in the past, said the path to follow is that of “ not be ashamed of the cures of tenderness.” “Caress the suffering blood of Jesus,” he said. “Today we need a revolution of tenderness in this world, which suffers from the disease of cardio-sclerosis.”  

Pope Francis: Never forget to smile, even when life is hard

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2016 / 04:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Pope Francis, one of most needed virtues of modern time is hope, which is something he said must never be abandoned no matter how hard life gets, and which is often expressed in the simple act of a smile. Referring to the “dramatic moment” of Israel’s exile in the desert, Pope Francis said Dec. 7 that this time was especially hard for the people because they had lost everything, and felt “abandoned and without hope.” The desert is a difficult place to live, he said, but noted that it is precisely inside the desert that the people of Israel are able to walk in order to return “not only to their homeland, but to return to God, and to hope and smile again.” “When we are in darkness and difficulty the smile doesn’t come, but there is the hope that teaches us to smile on that path to find God,” Francis said, noting that one of the trademarks of those who break away from God is “the absence of the smile, the smile of the hope of finding God.” Perhaps these people know how to “have a good laugh” or make jokes, but they are missing the smile that only God knows how to give, the Pope continued. Life, he said, “is often a desert, it’s hard to walk in it, but if we entrust ourselves to God it can become beautiful and wide like a highway.” “It’s enough to never lose hope, it’s enough to continue to believe, always, despite everything,” he said, noting that often when we find ourselves in front of a child, “there is a spontaneous smile because a child is hope.” “Let us also smile even if it was a difficult day, because we see the hope.” Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present for his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. After concluding his yearlong catechesis on mercy during the Jubilee, Francis began a new series on Christian hope, which he noted was timely given the fact that he started it during the Advent season. Hope, he said, is needed “so much in these times that appear so dark, in which at times we feel lost in front of the evil and violence that surrounds us, in front of the pain of our brothers and sisters.” Noting how many can feel lost, discouraged and even “powerless” in front of a darkness that seems like it will never end, the Pope stressed that “we mustn’t let hope abandon us, because God with his love walks with us, he doesn’t leave us alone,” but has instead “conquered evil and opened to us the path of life.” Francis pointed to the words spoken by Isaiah in the days’ reading, taken from Chapter 40 of the Book of Isaiah when he prophet offers words of comfort and urges the people to prepare the way of Lord in the wilderness. Pope Francis said that as a Father, God consoles his children by “raising up comforters” who are tasked with encouraging the people by announcing that their tribulation and pain is over, and that their sin has been forgiven. “This is what heals the afflicted and frightened heart,” he said, adding that for the people, consolation begins with the possibility of walking along the path God carves out for them in the desert, which is a “new path, rectified and viable” which allows them to return to their homeland. The people to whom Isaiah speaks were living “the tragedy of exile,” but now hear that they will be able to return to their homeland on a wide and level road, without the obstacles that often make the journey “arduous,” he said. Preparing this path, Francis said, “means to prepare a path of salvation and liberation from every obstacle and stumbling block.” When Isaiah says that he is the voice “of one crying out in the desert: prepare the way of the Lord,” the Pope noted that it’s a voice that seems to be crying out in a place where “no one is listening” and which mourns “the loss owed to the crisis of faith.” However, he stressed that the true story is not the one made by the powerful who are seen by the world, “but rather the one made by God together with his little ones.” Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly and “marked by infertility,” and Mary was a young virgin betrothed to Joseph, while the shepherds who met the infant Jesus “were despised and didn’t count for anything,” the Pope observed. “It is the small ones, made great by their faith, the little ones who know how to continue to hope,” he said, adding that it is they who are able to transform “the desert of exile, of desperate loneliness, of suffering, into a level road on which to walk to meet the glory of the Lord.” “Let us therefore teach hope, let us look forward faithfully to the coming of the Lord and whatever the desert of our lives, it will become a flowery garden.”

Guantanamo bishop moving to a new archdiocese

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2016 / 07:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Bishop Wilfredo Pino Estévez, who has led the Cuban diocese of Guantánamo-Baracoa for the past 10 years, will now be taking over as the new Archbishop of Camaguey. Announced Dec. 6, the appointment comes after the prelate’s lengthy time in the diocese of Guantanamo-Baracoa. Born in Camaguey Oct. 12, 1950, the bishop studied philosophy and theology at the Major Seminary of San Carlos y San Ambrosio in San Cristóbal de La Habana. He was ordained a priest Aug. 1, 1975, for the Archdiocese of Camaguey, where he then served in various capacities, including as Parochial Vicar of Nuevitas; treasurer of the parish in Florida, Cuba; National Director of the Pontifical Missionary Works and as pastor of Sant Cruz del Sur. Bishop Pino was also on the diocesan committee that organized St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998. In addition, he later served as pastor of Merced, Rector of the Diocesan House, Episcopal Vicar for the city of Camaguey and director of the diocese’s newsletter. He was appointed as Bishop of Guantanamo-Baracoa by Benedict XVI Dec. 13, 2006, officially taking the reins in January 2017. During his time as bishop of Guantanamo, Pino has had to oversee the diocese throughout many years of conflict regarding the disputed U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. The detention facility in Guantanamo Bay was opened in 2002 as a supposedly secure way to detain terror suspects who were captured from the War in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, and who were deemed too much of a national security threat to keep on American soil. Detainees were treated as “enemy combatants,” and since they belonged to a terrorist group rather than a country, the U.S. considered as complying with the Geneva Convention to hold them on non-U.S. soil and try them in a military court. Almost 800 detainees reportedly passed through Guantanamo from 2001-2008. Human rights experts commissioned by the United Nations expressed concern about interrogation techniques used at the prison in a 2006 U.N. report based on information from the U.S., former detainees and their lawyers. According to the report, the techniques were considered “degrading treatment.” In recent years, the U.N.’s human rights head repeatedly asked the United States to close the prison, speaking out against the prolonged detention of prisoners without trial. Many bishops in the U.S. and at the Vatican have in the past disapproved of the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo and the conditions at the prison, however, the Cuban bishops themselves have typically refrained from making major statements, given the sensitivity of the political situation in the country. In December 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Vatican officials to seek their help in re-settling remaining detainees. In February of this year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a proposal that Catholic bishops have long supported. According to the Guardian, the Pentagon said the release of Yemeni prisoner Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, announced Sunday, has lowered the number of prisoners held at the base to 59, with 20 of the remaining prisoners having also been approved for release. However, as the Obama administration prepares to step down following the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president, doubt has arisen as to whether the plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center will in fact move forward.