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Pope's Egypt trip a sign of solidarity with suffering Christians

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ meeting with the Coptic Orthodox leader, Pope Tawadros in Cairo on Friday will be an important sign of solidarity with Christians who suffer and die for their faith in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

That’s the view of Msgr Gabriel Quicke who heads the office for dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches at the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity.

Last week he accompanied Cardinal Kurt Koch and Pope Francis’ private secretary to Egypt with a personal message of condolences in the wake of two bomb attacks on churches in Alexandria and Tanta, north of Cairo. The twin attacks on Palm Sunday, claimed by so-called Islamic State militants, left at least 45 people dead and dozens of others injured.

Msgr Quicke says the Coptic Pope was deeply “touched by that sign of spiritual attention” and closeness to the suffering Christian communities. Speaking to Philippa Hitchen, he says Pope Francis’ encounter with Tawadros will be an important “continuation of the ecumenical path towards full and visible unity” of the Churches.

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Msgr Quicke recalls that in 2015, following the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya, the Coptic bishop in Italy, Msgr Barnaba asked if Pope Francis could send a message of solidarity with the Coptic community. On Palm Sunday, he said, following the latest attacks, the Holy Father asked him to accompany Cardinal Kurt Koch, together with his own private secretary, to Egypt with a message of condolences.

It was a very brief visit, with an overnight stay at the Apostolic nunciature in Cairo, followed by an early morning journey to Alexandria to the residence of Pope Tawadros there.

Spiritual closeness to victims

The Catholic delegation brought a message of condolences and solidarity, expressing Pope Francis “spiritual closeness in prayer, in heart and mind” to all those affected by the attacks. Msgr Quicke says the Coptic leader was “very touched emotionally, by that sign of spiritual attention” and  asked “to express his closeness as well” recalling that during their meeting in Rome in 2013, “they promised one another to pray for one another every day”.

Ecumenism of blood

During that encounter in the Vatican, shortly after both men were elected, Msgr Quicke notes that Pope Francis spoke forcefully about “the ecumenism of blood” of the Coptic martyrs. He repeated the phrase following the beheadings in 2015, stressing that “they are not persecuted because they are Orthodox” or Copts, but “because they are Christian”. Citing the early Christian author from Carthage, Tertullian, he said “as the blood of the [first] martyrs became the seed for the growing of the Christian Church, [so] the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed nowadays for the unity of Christians”.

Strengthen solidarity among Christians

During the brief visit to Cairo, Msgr Quicke says he sensed that “not only the Coptic Orthodox Church, but all Christians, the whole Muslim community and all Egypt is waiting for the visit of the pope”. Although the encounter between two popes will be an important “continuation of the ecumenical path” towards Christian unity, the papal trip will also be an opportunity for the Holy Father to meet with the small Catholic community “ to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and fraternity between all Christians”. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis sends video message ahead of Egypt visit

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has sent a video message to the people of Egypt ahead of his Apostolic Journey to the country, saying the “world needs peace, love and mercy”.

Listen to Devin Watkins’ report:

Pope Francis began his video message to the people of Egypt with the traditional greeting in Arabic: “As-salamu alaykum! (Peace be with you!)”

He said he is “coming as a friend, as a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim to the country that, over two thousand years ago, gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod.”

The Pope thanked those who invited him, including the President, Patriarch Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch, as well as all those people preparing for his arrival.

He said he would like his visit to “be a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East”.

He called his interreligious and ecumenical visit “a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world, in which Egypt holds so important a place.”

Speaking about recent “blind violence” in the country, Pope Francis said, “Our world needs peace, love and mercy. It needs peacemakers, people who are free and who set others free, men and women of courage who can learn from the past in order to build the future, free of every form of prejudice.”

He went on to say “Our world needs people who can build bridges of peace, dialogue, fraternity, justice and humanity.”

Finally, Pope Francis extended a warm embrace to the Egyptian people of all religions, age, and means.

“Shukran wa Tahiaì Misr! (Thank you and may Egypt flourish!)”

Please find below the official English translation of the Pope’s video message:

Dear People of Egypt,

As-salamu alaykum!

Peace be with you!

With a heart full of joy and gratitude I will soon visit your beloved country, the cradle of civilization, the gift of the Nile, the land of sun and hospitality, the land where Patriarchs and Prophets lived, and where God, Benevolent and Merciful, the Almighty and One God, made his voice heard.

I am truly happy to be coming as a friend, as a messenger of peace, and a pilgrim to the country that, over two thousand years ago, gave refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family as they fled the threats of King Herod (cf. Mt 2:10-16).  I am honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family!

I greet all of you warmly and I thank you for your invitation to visit Egypt, which you call ‘Umm il Dugna – Mother of the universe!

I offer heartfelt thanks to the President of the Republic, to His Holiness Patriarch Tawadros II, to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and to the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch, all of whom invited me.  I also thank each of you for opening your hearts to me, and in particular all those who worked so hard to make this journey possible.

I would like this visit to be a witness of my affection, comfort and encouragement for all the Christians of the Middle East, a message of friendship and respect for all the inhabitants of Egypt and the region, and a message of brotherhood and reconciliation with all the children of Abraham, particularly the Muslim world, in which Egypt holds so important a place.  I would also hope that my visit will make a fruitful contribution to interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerable and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.

Our world is torn by blind violence, a violence that has also struck the heart of your beloved land.  Our world needs peace, love and mercy.  It needs peacemakers, people who are free and who set others free, men and women of courage who can learn from the past in order to build the future, free of every form of prejudice.  Our world needs people who can build bridges of peace, dialogue, fraternity, justice and humanity.

Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and old, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor…  I embrace you warmly and I ask Almighty God to bless you and protect your country from every evil.

Please pray for me!  Shukran wa Tahiaì Misr! (Thank you and may Egypt flourish!). 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Gospel must be proclaimed with humility

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Tuesday for the intentions of his “brother,” Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, whom he will be meeting in three days’ time as he makes an Apostolic Voyage to Egypt.

The day’s Mass commemorates Saint Mark the Evangelist, who is recognized as the founder of the patriarchate of Alexandria. “I offer this Mass for my brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts,” Pope Francis said. He prayed for “the grace that the Lord might bless our two churches with the abundance of the Holy Spirit.

The Cardinal counsellors who make up the C-9 advisory group were among the faithful taking part in the Pope’s daily Mass.

In his homily during the liturgy, Pope Francis said the Gospel must be proclaimed with humility, overcoming the temptation of pride. The Holy Father spoke about the necessity for Christians of “going out to proclaim” the Good News. A preacher, he said, must always be on a journey, and not seek “an insurance policy,” seeking safety by remaining in one place. 

Listen: 

Jesus gave His disciples a mission: to proclaim the Gospel, “to not remain in Jerusalem, but to go out to proclaim the Good News to all. In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on passage from the Gospel of St Mark, which relates the story of the Great Commission. He said “the Gospel is always proclaimed on the journey, never seated, always on the journey.”

Going out to proclaim the Good News, never remaining stopped but always on the journey

Christians, the Pope said, need “to go out where Jesus is not known, or where Jesus is persecuted, or where Jesus is disfigured, to proclaim the true Gospel”:

“To go out in order to proclaim. And, also, in this going out there is life, the life of the preacher is played out. He is not safe; there are no life insurance policies for preachers. And if a preacher seeks a life insurance policy, he is not a true preacher of the Gospel: He doesn’t go out, he stays in place, safe. So, first of all: Go, go out. The Gospel, the proclamation of Jesus Christ, goes forth, always; on a journey, always. On a physical journey, on a spiritual journey, on a journey of suffering: we think of the proclamation of the Gospel that leads to so many wounded people – so many wounded people! – who offer their sufferings for the Church, for the Christians. But they always go out of themselves.”

But what is “the style of this proclamation?” the Pope asked. “Saint Peter, who was St Mark’s teacher, was perfectly clear in his description of this style”: “The Gospel must be announced in humility, because the Son of God humbled Himself, annihilated Himself.” This, the Pope said, “is the style of God”; there is no other. “The proclamation of the Gospel,” he said, “is not a carnival, a party.” This is “not the proclamation of the Gospel.”

The Gospel must be announced with humility, overcoming the temptation of worldliness

The Gospel, the Pope said, “cannot be announced with human power, cannot be proclaimed with human power, cannot be proclaimed with the spirit of climbing and advancement.” “This is not the Gospel.” All of us, then, are called to vest themselves with “humility, one towards another,” because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”:

“And why is this humility necessary? Precisely because we carry forward a proclamation of humiliation – of glory, but through humility. And the proclamation of the Gospel undergoes temptation: the temptation of power, the temptation of pride, the temptation of worldliness, of so many kinds of worldliness that they bring preaching or to speaking; because he does not preach a watered down Gospel, without strength, a Gospel without Christ crucified and risen. And for this reason St Peter says: ‘Be vigilant, be vigilant, be vigilant… Your enemy the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.’ The proclamation of the Gospel, if it is true, undergoes temptation."

Pope Francis said that if a Christian says he is proclaiming the Gospel “but is never tempted,” it means that “the devil is not worried,” because “we are preaching something useless.”

Let us ask the Lord that we might go out of ourselves in order to evangelize

For this reason, the Pope continued, “in true preaching there is always some temptation, and also some persecution.” He said that when we are suffering, the Lord is there “to restore us, to give us strength, because that is what Jesus promised when He sent the Apostles”:

“The Lord will be there to comfort us, to give us the strength to go forward, because He works with us if we are faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel, if we go out of ourselves to preach Christ crucified, a scandal and a folly, and if we do this with a style of humility, of true humility. May the Lord grant us this grace, as baptized people, all of us, to take the path of evangelization with humility, with confidence in Him, announcing the true Gospel: ‘The Word is come in the flesh.’ The Word of God is come in the flesh. And this is a folly, it is a scandal; but doing it with the understanding that the Lord is at our side, He works with us, and He confirms our work.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope sends letter to Cardinal Rodé for Madonna of Scutari anniversary

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has sent a letter to Cardinal Franc Rodé, CM, his special envoy at the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the Madonna of Shkodra’s arrival in the Church of Genazzano near Rome, Italy.

The celebration takes place on 26 April at the National Shrine of Shkodra in Albania.

It commemorates the arrival of the Madonna of Shkodra at the Madonna of Good Council Church in Genazzano after the Albanian sanctuary was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1467.

Cardinal Franc Rodé is the Prefect-emeritus of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Please find below the Latin text of the Pope’s letter:

Venerabili Fratri Nostro

FRANCISCO S.R.E. Cardinali RODÉ, C.M.

Praefecto olim Congregationis pro Institutis vitae consecratae

et Societatibus vitae apostolicae 

Quingentesima et quinquagesima anniversaria memoria appropinquante adventus praeclarae imaginis Dominae Scodrensis in sacram aedem Genatiani, prope Romam, Matri Boni Consilii dicatam, fideles dilectae terrae Albaniae Beatam Mariam Virginem singulari cultu prosequuntur eaque intercedente Salvatori gratias agunt pro omnibus beneficiis saeculorum decursu acceptis. In archidioecesi potissimum Scodrensi-Pulatensi varia incepta suscipiuntur in praeparanda praecipua festivitate die XXVI mensis Aprilis celebranda. Mater Dei enim, cuius memorata icona peculiari splendore eminet, christifideles Albanienses difficilibus temporibus auxiliis est prosecuta apud Filium suum et Dominum nostrum divina dona efflagitans. De hac re sanctus Ioannes Paulus II clare est locutus qui in visitatione apostolica in Albaniam die XXV mensis Aprilis anno MCMXCIII in cathedrali Scodrensi lapidem benedixit novi sanctuarii aedificandi atque totum Albaniensem populum Matri Boni Consilii concredidit.

His rerum adiunctis diligenter consideratis Venerabilis Frater Angelus Massafra, O.F.M., Archiepiscopus Metropolita Scodrensis-Pulatensis atque Conferentiae Episcopalis Albaniensis Praeses, humanissime rogavit ut eminentem virum mitteremus, qui Nostras vices memorato die gereret Nostramque erga istum populum dilectionem manifestaret. Ad Te autem, Venerabilis Frater Noster, qui, Sloveniae clarus filius, olim pergrave munus Praefecti Congregationis pro Institutis vitae consecratae et Societatibus vitae apostolicae diligenter exercuisti, mentem Nostram vertimus atque Te hisce Litteris MISSUM EXTRAORDINARIUM NOSTRUM nominamus ad celebrationem quae die XXVI huius mensis Aprilis apud Sanctuarium Nationale Scodrense agetur.  

Sollemni ibidem praesidebis Eucharistiae atque Archiepiscopum Metropolitam aliosque sacros Praesules, sacerdotes, religiosos viros mulieresque, publicas auctoritates atque universos christifideles Nostro salutabis nomine. Optamus etiam ut de pondere Marialis cultus in historia Ecclesiae quae est in Albania loquens, omnes adstantes sermone tuo ad diligentiore usque modo viam per Mariam ad Iesum prosequendam cohortaberis.

Nos autem Te, Venerabilis Frater Noster, in tua missione implenda precibus comitabimur intercessionem ipsius Dominae Scodrensis invocantes atque beatorum martyrum Albaniensium Vincentii Prennushi et XXXVII Sociorum. Denique Benedictionem Nostram Apostolicam libentes Tibi impertimur, signum Nostrae erga Te benevolentiae et caelestium donorum pignus, quam omnibus celebrationis participibus rite transmittes.

Ex Aedibus Vaticanis, die XXII mensis Aprilis, anno MMXVII, Pontificatus Nostri quinto.

FRANCISCUS

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis to visit Italian cities of Bozzolo, Barbiana in June

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will make a private visit to the northern Italian towns of Bozzolo and Barbiana on 20 June 2017 to pray at the tombs of Don Primo Mazzolari and Don Lorenzo Milani.

Bozzolo is in the Diocese of Cremona and Barbiana is in the Diocese of Florence.

A communique from the Holy See Press Office says the visit "will take place in a private rather than an official form".

The Holy Father recently dedicated a video message to Don Lorenzo Milani

Please find below the full programme of the Pope's visit:

Tuesday, 20 June

7.30   Departure by helicopter from the Vatican heliport

9.00   Arrival at the sports field of Bozzolo, Mantua

The Holy Father is welcomed by:

His Excellency Msgr. Antonio Napolioni, bishop of Cremona and the Mayor of Bozzolo

Parish of San Pietro: prayer at the tomb of Don Primo Mazzolari (1890-1959)

The Holy Father will give a commemorative address to the faithful present in the Church

10.30   Departure from the sports field of Bozzolo

11.15   Arrival at the forecourt in front of the Church of Barbiana

The Holy Father is welcomed by:

His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, archbishop of Florence and the Mayor of Vicchio, Florence

Private visit to the cemetery, and prayer at the tomb of Don Lorenzo Milani (1923-1967), on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his death

In the Church: encounter with the living disciples of Don Milani and brief visit to the vicarage in the adjacent garden: the Holy Father gives a commemorative address, in the presence of the disciples, to a group of priests from the diocese and some young people housed in family residences (a total of around 200 people)

12.30   Departure from Barbiana

13.15   Return to the Vatican

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: The Spirit makes us free, without compromise, rigidity

(Vatican Radio) Never forget that our faith is concrete, and rejects compromises and idealizations. That was the message of Pope Francis at the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.

Among those present at the Mass were the Cardinal counselors of the C-9, who are meeting with the Holy Father on Monday. The Pope reflected on the liberty the Holy Spirit gives us, which brings about the proclamation of the Gospel without compromises or rigidity.

Listen to our report: 

Following the Easter break, Pope Francis on Monday resumed his regular morning Masses, focusing his homily on the Gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus. The Holy Father said that Jesus, with love and patience, explained to Nicodemus that he must be “born from above… born of the Holy Spirit.”

To understand this better, the Pope said, one can consider the first Reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John have healed a crippled man, and the doctors of the Law don’t know what to do, how “to hide” what happened, “because the event was public.” When they were questioned, Peter and John “answered with simplicity”; and when they were ordered not to speak about what happened, Peter responded, “No! We cannot remain silent about what we have seen and heard. And we will continue to do as we have been doing.”

The Word became flesh; our faith is concrete

See, then, the Pope said, “the concreteness of a fact, the concreteness of the faith” in contrast to the position of the doctors of the law who “wanted to enter into negotiations, to come to a compromise”: Peter and John “have courage, they have frankness, the frankness of the Spirit,” “which means speaking the truth openly, with courage, without compromises.” This is “the point,” “the concreteness of the faith”:

“At times we forget that our faith is concrete: the Word was made flesh; it is not made an idea. And when we recite the Creed, everything we say is concrete: ‘I believe in God the Father, Who made heaven and earth; I believe in Jesus Christ Who was born, Who died…’ These are all concrete things. Our Creed does not say, ‘I have to do this, I have to do that, I have to do something else, or that some things are for these ends.’ No! They are concrete things. [This is] the concreteness of the faith that leads to frankness, to bearing witness even to the point of martyrdom, which is against compromises or the idealization of the faith.”

At times, even the Church has fallen into “a theology of ‘yes you can,’ ‘no you can’t”

For these doctors of the law, he continued, the Word “was not made flesh: it was made law: and you must do this up to this point, and no further”; “you must do this, and nothing else”:

“And so they were imprisoned in this rationalistic mentality, which did not end with them. Because in the history of the Church – although often the Church Herself has condemned rationalism, illuminism – later it often happened that it fell into a theology of ‘yes, you can, no you can’t; up to this point, thus far.’ And it forgot the strength, the liberty of the Spirit, this rebirth of the Spirit that gives you liberty, the frankness of preaching, the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The Lord gives us the Spirit in order to proclaim the Gospel without rigidity

“Let us ask the Lord,” the Pope said, for “this experience of the Spirit Who comes and goes and bears us onward; of the Spirit Who gives us the anointing of the faith, the anointing of the concreteness of the faith”:

“The wind blows where it will and you hear the voice, but you don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. So it is for anyone who is born of the Spirit: He hears the voice, he follows the voice, he follows the voice of the Spirit without knowing where it will end. Because he has made an option for the concreteness of the faith and the rebirth of the Spirit. May the Lord grand to all of us this paschal Spirit, of going forward along the path of the Spirit without compromises, without rigidity, with the liberty of proclaiming Jesus Christ as He Who has come: in the flesh.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis refuses bullet-proof vehicle for Egypt trip

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2017 / 10:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will not use a bulletproof vehicle during his trip to Egypt this weekend, despite recent terror attacks against Christians in the country, according to Reuters.   "The Pope will use a closed car to move around, but not an armoured one," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed yesterday. "That's how he wanted it." This is not the first time Pope Francis has done so - he typically prefers to travel in more open vehicles, or ones that are not bulletproof, because he feels that allows him to better interact with the people on the streets. Pope Francis will be traveling to Cairo, Egypt, April 28-29 for his first international trip of the year. Interfaith dialogue with Muslims and showing solidarity with persecuted Christians will be main priorities of the trip. His trip comes after several recent attacks on Christian in the country. In December, a bombing at Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens of others, most of them women and children. On Palm Sunday, the bombing of two Coptic churches killed 43 and injured more than 100 others. Last week, gunmen attacked security forces near the famous St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert, killing a police officer and injuring three others. This attack and the church bombings were all claimed by ISIS. Egypt’s president has declared a three-month state of emergency in the country following the Palm Sunday attacks. Despite the risk, the Vatican announced earlier this month that the Pope’s trip to Egypt would continue as planned. Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their visit at the Vatican Feb. 6. The Pope had also received an invitation to visit Egypt from the country’s president and from the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, after his visit to the Vatican in the spring of 2016, marking a thaw in Vatican-Muslim relations in Egypt.   During his trip, Pope Francis will meet with the Grand Imama state officials, leaders of Egypt’s Catholic Coptic and Orthodox Coptic churches, and Catholic priests and religious of the country.

Pope Francis to visit graves of two 20th century Italian priests

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2017 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will make a pilgrimage June 20 to visit the graves of two 20th century Italian priests in the towns of Bozzolo and Bariana, the Vatican announced Monday. Fr. Lorenzo Milani and Fr. Primo Mazzolari both have reputations for being anti-establishment, though they were obedient to the Church throughout their lives. The Pope's visit to their graves will take place in a “private and unofficial manner,” the April 24 communique stated. The pilgrimage takes place in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Milani, who lived from 1923-1967. Pope Francis spoke about Fr. Milani in a video message to the participants of a presentation on the priest's complete works in Milan Sunday. “I would love to remember him especially as a believer, in love with the Church even though he was wounded,” the Pope said in the message April 23, “and as a passionate educator with a vision of the school that seems to me to respond to the need of the hearts and the intelligence of our children and youth.” Pope Francis' brief visit – only half a day – will begin with an early morning helicopter flight to Bozzolo June 20, landing at 9:00 a.m. He will be welcomed by the Mayor of Bozzolo and the Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni. From there the Pope will proceed to the parish of St. Peter to pray at the tomb of Fr. Primo Mazzolari, after which he will give a commemorative speech to the faithful present at the church. At 10:30 a.m. he will leave for Barbiana, arriving at the Barbiana church at 11:15 a.m. He will be welcomed there by Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence and the Mayor of Vicchio, a municipality of Florence. He will then visit privately the cemetery of the church to pray at the grave of Fr. Lorenzo Milani. Afterwards, Pope Francis will meet in the church with still-living disciples of Fr. Milani. After a short visit to the rectory in the adjacent garden he will give a speech in the presence of around 200 people, including the disciples, priests of the diocese and some children living in family homes in the area. The Pope will return to the Vatican by about 1:15 p.m. Fr. Milani came from a wealthy but secular family, the son of an atheist father and a Jewish mother. He studied art, which had a profound influence on his conversion to Catholicism and eventual entrance into the priesthood in 1947. His “frankness that sometimes seemed too rough when not marked by rebellion” carried over even into his priesthood, Pope Francis noted in his video message. This led to some friction and misunderstandings with ecclesiastical and civil structures “because of his educational proposal, his preference for the poor, and defense of conscientious objection.” Despite this, however, he was always deeply obedient to the Church and to her directives. He once wrote: “I will never oppose the Church because I need (her) several times a week for the forgiveness of my sins, and I would not know to whom else to go to look for it if I had left the Church.” Fr. Primo Mazzolari lived from 1890-1959. He grew up in a small neighborhood of the town of Cremona, Italy, entering the seminary in 1902. Some have called him a “priest of the embankment,” because he grew up on the banks of the Po River and also at the “embankment” of the Church. Very politically active, he intervened in the First World War and after, and was so anti-fascist he refused to sing the “Te Deum” after a failed attack on Mussolini by Tito Zaniboni in 1925. His greatness already recognized, he was invited to the Vatican by both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI before his death. In 2015 permission was formally granted to open the diocesan phase of Fr. Mazzolari's cause for beatification.   Andrea Gagliarducci contributed to this report.

Pope Francis comforts sister of French priest slain last year

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2017 / 10:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Saturday comforted the sister of Father Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest who was killed by ISIS sympathizers while celebrating Mass in Normandy, France last summer. According to the Associated Press, the Pope gripped the hands of Roselyne Hamel and spoke quietly to her during an April 22 liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries in the Basilica of St Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island. Fr. Hamel was killed July 26, 2016 while celebrating Mass after two armed gunmen stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police. The attackers were identified as Islamist extremists. Pope Francis issued a statement at the time decrying the “absurd violence.” He later said during a Mass in September at the Vatican in honor of Fr. Hamel that the slain priest “is blessed now,” according to Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen who was there. The Pope referred to the priest as “an example of courage” because “he emptied himself to serve others, to build brotherhood among men.” Last October, the French diocese of Rouen officially began an inquiry into the beatification of Fr. Hamel after the Pope waived the traditional five-year waiting period. At the service Saturday, Roselyne shared with the congregation how her brother was “strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.” She said that his death was a witness for the whole world, and continued the ‘yes’ with which he had given his life in service to Christ at the moment of his ordination. ..... You may also like:

Pope Francis green-lights opening of Fr. Jacques Hamel beatification process httpss://t.co/2vk9URDioB #France

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) October 2, 2016  

Mercy is key to the life of faith, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2017 / 04:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Divine Mercy Sunday Pope Francis said mercy is essential in living the Christian life, because it not only allows us to understand ourselves and God better, but it also prompts us to recognize and help those in need.  “Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone of the life of faith, and concrete way with which we give visibility to the Resurrection of Jesus,” the Pope said April 23. Mercy, he said, is understood as a true awareness of “the mystery” that the Church is living, particularly during the Easter season. Not only is mercy understood in various ways such as through the senses, intuition and reason, but we can also become aware of it through an act of mercy that we personally experience, he said, adding that “this opens the door of the mind to better understand the mystery of God and of our personal existence.” “It makes us understand that violence, resentment and revenge have no meaning, and the first victim is whoever lives these sentiments, because it deprives them of their own dignity,” he said. Additionally, mercy also allows us to open the door of our hearts and draw close to those who are “alone and marginalized,” recognizing those in need and finding the right words to say to comfort them. “Mercy warms the heart and makes it sensitive to the needs of our brothers with sharing and participation,” Francis said, explaining that in the end, mercy “commits everyone to being instruments of justice, reconciliation and peace.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims during his Sunday Regina Coeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. The Regina Coeli is traditionally prayed instead of the Angelus throughout the liturgical Easter season. In his brief speech, the Pope noted now the Sunday after Easter in the past was referred to as “in albis,” meaning “in white,” as a reminder of the white garments worn by those who had come into the Church on Easter Sunday. In the time after Easter, he said, Sunday takes on “an even more illuminating” aspect, especially considering the previous traditional custom in which the garment would be worn by the person for the entire week after their baptism until the following Sunday, when they began their new life in Christ and the Church. Francis then pointed to how the Sunday after Easter was later designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope Saint John Paul II during the Jubilee year 2000. “It was a beautiful institution!” he said, noting that his own Extraordinary Jubilee for Mercy concluded just a few months ago, on the Nov. 20, 2016, Solemnity of Christ the King. In wake of the Jubilee, Divine Mercy Sunday “invites us to take up with strength the grace that comes from the mercy of God,” he said, noting that in the day’s Gospel from John, Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, and gives them the message: “As the Father has sent me, so I also send you.” After saying this, Jesus then entrusts them with a special task, telling them “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” “This is the meaning of the mercy that is presented to us on the day of the Resurrection of Jesus as forgiveness of sins,” Pope Francis said, explaining that the Risen Christ gave his Church as a first task “his same mission of bringing to all the concrete announcement of forgiveness.” Francis said this commission is a visible sign of Christ’s mercy, which brings both peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord. He closed his address praying that Mary, the Mother of Mercy, would “help us to believe and live all of this with joy,” and led pilgrims in praying the Regina Coeli. The Pope then greeted pilgrims from various countries around the world, giving a special shout-out to Spain, where yesterday the priest Fr. Luis Antonio Rosa Ormières was proclaimed a Blessed, and to all youth who had been confirmed or are currently candidates for Confirmation. He then thanked everyone who sent him messages wishing him a happy Easter before asking for prayers and giving his blessing.

Who conquers the devil's hatred? God's new martyrs, Pope says

Rome, Italy, Apr 22, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The devil’s hatred for Christ and for our redemption is the root cause of all persecution since the beginnings of the Church, Pope Francis said at a special liturgy that focused on modern martyrs. “The memory of these heroic witnesses, old and new, confirms us in the knowledge that the Church is a Church of martyrs… they have received the grace of confessing Jesus until the end, until death,” the Pope said April 22. He said that if we look well into history, the root cause of every persecution is “the hatred the prince of this world has toward those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus with his death and with his Resurrection.” Pointing to Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid! The world will hate you, but know that before you, it hated me,” from the Gospel passage read at the liturgy, Francis said the use of the word “hatred” is both strong and frightening. “He, who is the master of love, who liked so much to speak of love, speaks of hatred,” he said, noting that Jesus “always wanted to call things by their name.” Jesus has chosen and redeemed us as “a free gift of his love,” he said, adding that through this love, we have been saved from “the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world.” “And the origin of hatred is this: that we are saved by Jesus, and the prince of this world doesn’t want it, he hates us and provokes persecution, which since the time of Jesus and the early Church continues until our days.” Pope Francis offered his reflections during a special April 22 liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries in the Basilica of St Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island. Overseen by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the basilica was founded at the end of the 10th century and contains a vast number of relics belonging to 20th century martyrs. The collection was initially gathered after the Jubilee of 2000. A year ahead of the jubilee, Pope John Paul II established the “New Martyrs” commission to study and investigate modern cases of martyrdom in preparation for the event. As a result, the commission gathered some 12,000 dossiers of martyrs and witnesses of the faith from around the world. To commemorate the heroic witness of those who had given their lives for Christ, John Paul II in 2002 had a large icon made and placed in the basilica of St. Bartholomew, which sits on the main altar to this day. In addition to the icon, various relics and items belonging to the martyrs have been placed in each of the basilica’s side chapels, and are divided by either specific points in history, such as the “new martyrs of Nazism,” or geographical locations, including Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Europe.   Benedict XVI visited the basilica in April 2008, making Pope Francis the third pontiff to set foot in the basilica, and to keep the papal tradition of honoring new martyrs. In his homily, Pope Francis lamented the fact that “many Christian communities are objects of persecution!” However, he noted that often in difficult moments, people call for “heroes.” The Church today also needs the heroic witness of martyrs and saints, he said, explaining that this includes “the saints of everyday life,” who move forward with coherency, but also those who “have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses until the end, until death.” “All of them are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses who carry the Church forward,” he said. By demonstrating with their lives that Jesus is alive and risen, they also “attest with the coherency of their lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit that they have received this gift.” Pope Francis then paused for a moment and deviated from his prepared text. He recalled an encounter he had with a Muslim man he met during his 2016 trip to Lesbos who, along with his three children, had fled his village after his wife, who was a Christian, was killed by extremists. When the militants came to their home and asked what their religion was, the woman said she was Christian, and, when she refused to throw down a crucifix she that was hanging on the wall, she was killed in front of her family. This woman, Francis said, is “another crown” that can be added to the rest of the martyrs honored in St. Bartholomew, because “she is looking at us from heaven.” Pope Francis closed his homily saying the ability to remember the many modern-day martyrs inside a basilica filled with their relics is “a great gift,” because “the living heritage of the martyrs today gives us peace and unity.” “These ones teach us that, with the strength of love, with meekness, one can fight against tyranny, violence and war and can realize peace with patience,” he said, and prayed, asking that each person present might be a worthy witness of the Gospel and the love of God. Before giving his homily, Pope Francis heard the testimonies of three people who were relatives or friends of modern-day martyrs. First was Karl Schneider, son of Paul Schneider, a pastor of the Reformed Church who was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 because he defied Nazism as “irreconcilable with the words of the Bible.” In his brief reflection, Schneider said his father had been “strongly opposed every temptation to politically influence the Church.” “All of us, even today, make too many compromises,” he said, “but my father stayed faithful only to the Lord and to the faith. He was a pastor and a spiritual guide. Even in the concentration camp!” Despite the torture and suffering his he endured, Schneider’s father shouted out from his cell, offering words of comfort and hope from the Bible to the other prisoners. Recalling words spoken by his elderly mother before her death, Schneider said his mother said her husband “was chosen to announce the Gospel and this is my consolation.” As his son, Schneider said he “I feel this consolation until today.” Next was Roselyne, sister of Fr. Jacques Hamal, the 85-year-old priest who was murdered by two young ISIS sympathizers in Rouen, France in July 2016. Speaking to the congregation, Roselyne said that in his old age Fr. Hamal had been fragile, but “he was also strong. Strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people, whoever it was, and – I am certain – also for his killers.” His death, she said, “is in line with the life of a priest, which was one of a life given: a life offered to the Lord, when he said ‘yes’ at the moment of his ordination, a life of service to the Gospel, a life given for the church and her people, above all the poorest. She pointed to the “paradox” that while alive her brother never wanted to be “at the center,” but that after his death, “has given a testimony for the entire world, the greatness of which we cannot measure.” After her brother died, Roselyne said the reaction of the community was strong. Rather than wanting revenge, there was a desire for “love and forgiveness,” she said, explaining that even Muslims who wanted to show solidarity with Christians came to visit the parish for Sunday Masses in a show of support. Despite her loss, Roselyne said “it’s a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity, how much love have been generated by the witness of Jacques,” and prayed that his sacrifice would “bring fruits, so that the men and women of our time can find the path to living together in peace.” Finally, a man named Francisco Hernandez gave a brief reflection on his friend William Quijano, killed in El Salvador in 2009 because of his work with youth that sought to promote peace and draw them away from the violence of criminal gangs. In his reflection, Hernandez said the only crime of his friend was that of “dreaming of a world of peace.” “William never ceased teaching peace, but rather, his commitment has broken the chain of violence,” he said, recalling how Quijano had always insisted that ending violence begins with the youth, and so dedicated himself to working with children. Hernandez said his friend “never spoke of repression or revenge against the gangs, but insisted on the need for a change in mentality.” “In every existential periphery, William bore witness to his hope in a different world, founding himself on the Gospel and the most human virtues, on the centrality of closeness,” he said, adding: “this is the greatest gift of that the small life of William Alfredo Quijano Zetino, my friend.”

Pope Francis sends regrets to Brazil for not visiting this year

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent a letter to the president of Brazil, apologizing for his inability to visit in 2017 and encouraging the leader's attention to the country's social issues. “Since in his letter President Temer made reference to his efforts to confront the social problems of the country, the Pope underlined that aspect and encouraged him to work for the promotion of the country's poorest people,” the Vatican press office said April 4, confirming a letter the Pope sent a few days before. President Michael Temer invited Pope Francis to visit Brazil for the 300th anniversary of a Marian apparition known as Our Lady of Aparecida. The story behind the apparition involves a clay statue of Mary Immaculate that was caught by three fishermen in October 1717 in preparation for a feast dedicated to royalty passing through the town. Guarantinqueta, a small city along the Paraiba River, was expecting to receive the Count of Assumar on his travels to a gold mining site in Vila Rica. The feast required a vast amount of fish, but it was not the season for it and weather conditions proved to be a challenge. After a night of fishing, the men caught nothing. Having prayed to our Lady of Immaculate Conception, the fishermen first brought up the body of the statue and then the head. After the statue was brought up, the men decided to pray with faith to “Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida” – which means Our Lady of the Appeared Conception. Their nets suddenly became very full, and the catch has been considered a miracle. During an inauguration of a statue of Aparecida at the Vatican Gardens in 2016, Pope Francis said he did not know when he would be able to visit Aparecida in Brazil again “but at least I will have her very close, here.” The new statue was designed by a Brazilian artist and depicted Our Lady of Aparecida next to the three men with full nets of fish. The Pope said Our Lady of Aparecida is close to the heart of the working class, “especially those who need work, education, those who are deprived of dignity.” He encouraged President Temer's for the efforts made to resolve the county's social issues, reiterating Aparecida's closeness to the poor. President Michael Temer was brought into office last August when his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached from office for an alleged abuse of power. Brazil's economy has been in its worst recession since the 1980s; inflation increased by 10.7 percent and unemployment increased to 9 percent in 2015. Prices for Brazilian oil, iron ore, and soya also dropped. Since his induction into office, Temer has aimed to reduce the country's spending and the level of public debt.

Pope Francis among Time Magazine's 100 most influential people

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 / 10:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Time Magazine has released its 2017 list of the world’s 100 most influential people, and Pope Francis is among the leaders highlighted by the publication. The nomination included a brief reflection on Pope Francis, written by Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who reflected on the Pope’s humility, saying that his powerful witness is what attracts so many people to his message. Cardinal Cupich recalled that in his first interview after being elected to the pontificate, Pope Francis acknowledged himself as a sinner, and that when he hears confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica, he also goes to confession himself, “because one cannot accompany a suffering world without acknowledging one’s own faults.” “The same goes for the church Francis leads,” the cardinal reflected. “Before being elected Pope, Francis gave a speech to his fellow Cardinals warning against becoming a ‘self-referential’ church, rather than one that goes out of itself to the margins of society to be with those who suffer.” “That is where God is working in the world and where he calls us to be. This has rung especially true this year, as Francis has spoken out on the need to welcome refugees amid a global crisis,” he continued. Other people on the Time Magazine list include U.S. President Donald Trump, actress Viola Davis, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, NBA star LeBron James, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Niece of Fatima visionaries reflects on her remarkable family

Fatima, Portugal, Apr 20, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The niece of Blessed Franciso and Jacinta Marto has voiced excitement for the coming canonization of her relatives, sharing stories of the time of the Fatima apparitions and personal memories of what it was like growing up in a family that had saints among its members. “My family, my grandparents, my parents, all of us always accepted it as a gift from God,” Jacinta Pereiro Marto told CNA in an interview. “God chose my uncle and aunt because this is what he wanted, so much that my grandfather used to say that the Virgin wanted to come to Fatima and she chose his children, but that we didn't deserve anything,” she said. Because of this attitude instilled in the family by her grandfather – father to Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto – “we always lived very simply because God chose, and he chooses who he wants. We don't deserve anything.” Marto, 74, is the daughter of Joao Marto, the brother of Fatima visionaries Bl. Francisco and Jacinta, and she shares the exact same name as her saintly aunt. Just two years older than Francisco, Joao was the closest in age to the two out of the many Marto siblings. Bl. Francisco and Jacinta this year will become the youngest non-martyrs in the history of the Church to be canonized after witnessing apparitions of Mary, now commonly known as the Our Lady of Fatima, alongside their elder cousin Lucia dos Santos in 1917. In her interview with CNA, Marto said that she had “the joy” of being born in the same family home as Francisco and Jacinta, and to grow up there, since her father Joao continued to live in the house with his elderly parents. “They always instilled in me a great love for God and for the Virgin, a life of simplicity, of belief and of religiosity,” she said, speaking of her grandparents. Their home remains the property of the family, but is now open for visitors and pilgrims to see where the visionaries grew up. Across the street, Marto runs a souvenir shop and a small museum-of-sorts containing original photos and artifacts belonging to the family, including shawls used by Jacinta, the rosary Francisco prayed with before dying, and the bed he passed away in. Marto said that it is thanks to her grandmother Olimpia Marto, mother of Franciso and Jacinta, that she received the same name as her aunt. Olimpia had wanted a grandchild that shared the exact same name as her saintly daughter, and was told by Joao's wife that the next girl they had would get the name. So when Marto was born, her grandmother, who was also asked to be her godmother, chose to call her Jacinta. “I feel very happy to be Jacinta,” Marto said, explaining that “I feel a very strong presence and a great protection from my uncle and aunt. I think that Jacinta and my uncle are protecting me.” “I am no one, I sin like the whole world,” she said, “but I believe they are protecting me, I feel that they and Our Lady protect me.” Recalling memories shared by her father, Marto said Joao had been present with Francisco and Jacinta at the apparition of Mary in Valinhos, which took place in August, “but he didn't see anything.” “It was only Francisco, Jacinta, Lucia and my father, but he said that even though he opened his eyes and looked, he saw nothing,” she said. Around the time Mary was to appear, Jacinta wasn't there at first, she said, explaining that when Lucia asked him to go find her, Joao “didn’t want to, because he wanted to see.” He eventually went to find Jacinta, and when she arrived Mary appeared, but even though he waited with them, Joao couldn't see anything. Two months later when the “miracle of the sun” took place Oct. 13, 1917, Marto said her father, who was only 11 at the time, stayed behind that day because rumors were spreading, likely from other children, that “if the miracle of the sun didn't happen the whole family would die.” In order to help the people believe in the authenticity of the apparitions, Lucia had asked Our Lady during the apparition of July 13, 1917, to perform a miracle so people would see that they were true. However, on that occasion Mary responded by saying that should the children continue to come each month until October, the miracle would occur. So on Oct. 13, the last apparition of Mary to the children, 30-100,000 people gathered to witness the miracle. News reports and witnesses from the time said the miracle took place when the formerly cloudy sky parted and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disk in the sky. Multicolored lights flashed across the landscape and those present before the sun then spun toward earth and then zig-zagged back to its normal position in the sky. Additionally, clothes and mud previously wet from the rain had dried. But while many members of their family were present for the miracle, Marto said her father “stayed at home (because) he was afraid to die” if the miracle didn't happen, as the rumors had stated. At just 11 years old, Marto said her father didn't understand everything that was going on, but that after Francisco and Jacinta died, “my father said that he cried a lot, a lot. Because he saw that everything they said was happening.” Speaking of her grandparents, Marto said her grandfather Manuel, father of Francisco and Jacinta, didn’t initially understand some of what was happening either, but had always believed his children were telling the truth. Jacinta was the first one to tell her parents about seeing Mary after coming home from the first apparition, Marto said, explaining that when people began to say the children had made everything up, her grandfather would respond saying: “My children are not liars. I taught them, so if they say they saw, I think they saw.” After the first appearance Manuel accompanied his children to the following apparitions, and although he didn’t see anything, “he said that he heard a sound, like a bee inside a jar.” He was also present for the miracle of the sun, Marto said, explaining that “if he believed before, he continued to believe” after. Marto said that for her, this belief was extraordinary, because “my grandparents weren't at the beatification, none of it. When their children died they were known, but not with the fame of sanctity.” “So they thought their children were a little different from the others, but they didn't know how it was going to be. It was a question every day,” she said, but noted that her grandfather in particular “always believed.” Referring to news of the acceptance of a second miracle allowing for the canonization of her uncle and aunt, Marto said she feels “a big joy” knowing they will be proclaimed saints. The two will be canonized May 13, during Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Portugal. However, she stressed that the news “is not only for the family, it’s for Portugal and the whole world. Because Our Lady came for the world, and they were a message for the world.” “I sometimes ask myself how two children that were seven and nine years old managed to capture and respond to the message of God. They had a message and assumed this message,” she said, noting that Francisco was all about “praising God, adoring God, worshiping God.” Jacinta, however, was primarily concerned with conversion, and wanted that “everyone return to God, that everyone convert, that everyone went to heaven.” “She lived this in anguish,” Marto said, explaining that she often asked herself: “we who have all these means of communication, we know what is happening in the world, all the suffering in the world, we see it on television…and what do we do?” At just 7-years-old Jacinta had visions of wars, famines and persecutions, and as a result she “assumed the responsibility” of offering and making sacrifices so that everyone could be saved. “And us? What are we doing?” she said, stressing that with television and social media it's not necessary to have a vision of the suffering and tragedy in the world, but “we are part of this humanity and we are a bit responsible for everyone. Sometimes we don’t think well about this.” Marto said that for her, she believes the core of the Our Lady of Fatima's message is that she came “that we might return to God. That we don’t forget that God loves us, but that we have to praise him and must give thanks to him.” In addition to this, “we must pray for each other,” she said, explaining that in her instructions to the children, Mary “didn’t ask many things that we can’t do.” Pointing to the rosary, she said that according to Lucia, Mary asked that people pray it because “it's an easy prayer,” and can be recited at church, in the car or while walking. If someone isn't able to pray the rosary, Marto suggested at least trying to pray one Hail Mary and Our Father a day, to honor Mary and give thanks to God “for being our friend.” “God loves us very much and at times sends us his mother to refresh us a bit in order continue,” she said, explaining that “God wants us to be a bit better every day. Because we are always sinners, we are not perfect, but try to be a bit better every day.” Marto said that she hopes to be present for Pope Francis' visit to Fatima for the centenary of the apparitions in May. Having attended the beatification of her uncle and aunt in 2000, she said she also hopes to be present for the May 13 canonization of the visionaries. She received communion from Bl. Pope Paul VI when he became the first Pope to visit Fatima in 1967, and was also present for the visit of St. John Paul II in 1982, but was farther away. Although she wasn't able to attend Mass when Benedict XVI came in 2010, she hopes to have a good seat at Mass with Francis, and “to be close to him.”

It's official: Pope Francis to canonize Fatima visionaries during May visit

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 / 03:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his trip to Portugal for the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions next month, Pope Francis will canonize visionaries Francisco and Jacinta Marto, making them the youngest non-martyrs to ever be declared saints. The children will be canonized during Pope Francis' May 13 Mass in Fatima. The decision for the date was made during a April 20 consistory of cardinals, which also voted on the dates of four other canonizations, in addition to that of Francisco and Jacinta, that will take place this year. Some martyrs who will soon be saints are diocesan priests Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, and layman Matteo Moreira, killed in hatred of the faith in Brazil in 1645; and three teenagers – Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan – killed in hatred of the faith in Mexico in 1529, who will be canonized October 15. Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, and Faustino Míguez, a Piarist priest who founded the Calasanziano Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherd, will also be canonized October 15. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, is the man who was largely responsible for advancing the visionaries’ cause, paving the way for them to become the first canonized children who were not martyred. Previously, the Portuguese cardinal told CNA, children were not beatified, due to the belief “that children didn’t yet have the ability to practice Christian heroic virtue like adults.” But that all changed when the cause for Francisco and Jacinta Marto arrived on his desk. Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, became the youngest non-martyr children in the history of the Church to be beatified when on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Pope John Paul II proclaimed them "Blessed," officially showing that young children can become Saints. The brother and sister, who tended to their family’s sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima. During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. The children did this and were known to pray often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their sacrifices and even refrained from drinking water on hot days. When Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu in October 1918, Mary appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon. Bed-ridden, Francisco requested and received his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 4, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness and was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital, where she underwent an operation for an abscess in her chest. However, her health did not improve and she died Feb. 20, 1920. Francisco and Jacinta “practiced Christian virtue in a heroic way,” Cardinal Martins said, explaining that among other things, one of the most obvious moments in which this virtue was apparent for him was when the three shepherd children were arrested and intimidated by their mayor on August 13, 1917. Government stability in Portugal was rocky following the revolution and coup d’état that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910. A new liberal constitution separating Church and state was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to omit the faith – which for many was the backbone of Portuguese culture and society – from public life. It was in this context that, after catching wind of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, district Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos had the children arrested on the day Mary was to appear to them, and threatened to boil them in hot oil unless they would confess to inventing the apparitions.   At one point in the conversation at the jailhouse, Jacinta was taken out of the room, leaving Francisco and Lucia alone. The two were told that Jacinta had been burned with hot oil, and that if they didn’t lie, the same would happen to them. However, instead of caving to the pressure, the children said: “you can do whatever you want, but we cannot tell a lie. Do whatever you want to us, burn us with oil, but we cannot tell a lie.” “This was the virtue of these children,” Cardinal Martins said, noting that to accept death rather than tell a lie is “more heroic than many adults.” “There’s a lot to say on the heroicness of children,” he said, adding that “because of this I brought their cause forward.” Cardinal Martins was also the one to bring Lucia’s cause to the Vatican following her death in 2005. The visionary had spent the remainder of her life after the apparitions as a Carmelite nun. Typically the must be a five-year waiting period after a person dies before their cause can be brought forward. However, after only three years Martins ask that the remaining two be dismissed, and his request was granted. Although the diocesan phase of the cause has already been finished, Cardinal Martins – who knew the visionary personally – said Lucia’s process will take much longer than that of Francisco and Jacinta not only due to her long life, but also because of the vast number of letters and other material from her writings and correspondence that needs to be examined. The cardinal, who will be present in Fatima with the Pope during his May 12-13 visit for the centenary of the apparitions, said he views the occasion as the conclusion of a process that began with him changing a norm regarding the view of children "and their heroic virtue.” This process is important, he said, because it means there could be other children who practiced heroic virtue that can now be canonized, so “it’s certainly something important.” “It needs to be seen that (children) are truly capable of practicing heroic virtue,” not only in Fatima, but “in the Christian life,” he said. Although canonizations, apart from a few exceptions, are typically held in Rome, it was only recently that beatifications began to be held outside of Rome, in the local Church which promoted the new Blessed's cause. This change was made by Cardinal Martins in September 2005, after receiving the approval of Benedict XVI. In the past, a beatification Mass in Rome would be presided over by the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during the morning, with the Pope coming down to the basilica to pray to the new Blessed in the afternoon. Cardinal Martins said he decided to change this because the beatification and the canonization “are two different realities.” “While the canonizations had a more universal dimension of the Church, the beatifications have a more local dimension, where they (the Blessed) came from,” he said, noting that this is reflected even in the words spoken during the rites for each Mass. “Because of this, I made a distinction: the beatification in their (the Blessed’s) own church, in their diocese, and the canonizations in Rome.” The result was “a fantastic revolution,” he said, explaining that while maybe 2-3,000 people would participate in the beatification ceremonies in Rome, hundreds of thousands started to come for the local beatification Masses of new Blessed in their home dioceses. The cardinal said that “it’s beautiful” to see people – many times including friends and family members of new Blessed – join in honoring their countryman, asking for their intercession, and seeking to follow their example. He believes the custom will remain like this, adding that it is beautiful particularly from the standpoint of evangelization. “The new Blessed says to their brothers, many of whom they knew, ‘I am one of you, one like you, so you must follow my path and live the Gospel in depth’,” the cardinal said, explaining that this is “a formidable act of evangelization, and with everyone happy about the new Blessed, they’ll immediately do what they say!” Cardinal Martins said the decision was also prompted by the emphasis placed on local Churches during the Second Vatican Council. “I thought, one of the most effective ways to highlight the importance of local Churches is to conduct in the local diocese the beatification of one of their sons,” he said.

Pope: Easter is about the gift of Christianity – not us

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2017 / 06:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Church jumps into the Easter season, Pope Francis on Wednesday offered a reflection on Christ’s Resurrection and the start of Christianity, saying it’s not about us and what we do, but what the Lord has done for us. “(Christianity) is not so much our search for God, but rather God's search for us. How beautiful to think that Christianity, essentially, is this!” Jesus, the Pope said April 19, “has taken us, has seized us, has conquered us in order to not leave us anymore.” In his catechesis for his first general audience of the Easter season, Francis spoke about the “grace” and “surprise” found in our Christian faith, saying we need hearts able to wonder, because hearts that are closed-off cannot understand the truth of what Christianity is. Even though we are sinners and might look at our lives realizing how many times we have failed to live out our good intentions, we can follow the example of the men and women in the Gospel on Easter morning, he said. “We can do as those people spoken of in the Gospel: go to the tomb of Christ, see the large upturned stone and reflect that God is building for me, for all of us, an unforeseen future.” And more, we can all go into the tomb of our hearts, he said, and see how God is able to transform death into life. “Here is happiness, here is joy and life where everyone thought there was only sadness, defeat and darkness,” Francis said, adding that “God raises his most beautiful flowers in the midst of the most arid stones.” Pope Francis then reflected on the start of Christianity following Christ’s death and resurrection, emphasizing that these events aren’t just an “ideology” or a “philosophical” belief, but real events witnessed by Jesus’ disciples. These, he said, are the facts: “he died, was buried, is risen and has appeared. That is, Jesus is alive! This is the core of the Christian message.” If facts had been different and Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, but only died for us, we would perhaps have an example of heroism or supreme dedication, but it could not be the source of our faith, he said. Instead, our faith is born out of Christ’s resurrection, the Pope said, noting that this is true even for the faith of St. Paul, who was no “altar boy,” but actually persecuted Christians and the Church. “And the persecutor becomes an apostle because?” he asked, explaining that the reason is because he saw the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. “This is the foundation of Paul's faith, like the faith of the other Apostles, like the faith of the Church, of our faith,” he said. “Because I have seen Jesus alive! I have seen the risen Jesus Christ!” Francis closed his audience saying that Christianity comes not from death, but from God’s love for us in defeating our “bitter enemy.” “God is bigger than anything, and you only need one lit candle to overcome the darkest of nights,” he said. “Paul cries, echoing the prophets: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” “In these days of Easter, let us carry this cry in our hearts, and if they ask us for the reason for our smile and our patient sharing, then we can respond that Jesus is still here, he continues to live in the midst of us. Jesus is alive!”