Stay in touch

Get the latest news from the Holy See Mission:

Pope Francis: address to Consecrated Life conference

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday addressed the organizers and participants in the first-ever International Conference for the Vicars and Episcopal Delegates for Consecrated Life.

Organized by the  Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life for the purpose of the conference is to respond to the call, which the Holy Father made to Pastors of particular Churches around the world when he proclaimed the Year for Consecrated Life, “[T]o show special concern for promoting within [their] communities the different charisms, whether long-standing or recent.”

In the Letter, the Holy Father went on to ask them to do this by support and encouragement, assistance in discernment, and, “tender and loving closeness to those situations of suffering and weakness in which some consecrated men or women may find themselves.”

“Above all,” Pope Francis wrote, “do this by instructing the People of God in the value of consecrated life, so that its beauty and holiness may shine forth in the Church.”

In remarks prepared for the roughly 200 people involved in the initiative and delivered in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace on Friday, Pope Francis spoke of the bridge-building and relationship-strengthening roles of Vicars and Delegates – especially those serving newer communities and congregations. “Build mutual relations on the basis of an ecclesiology of communion, on the principle of co-essentiality, and on the autonomy that belongs rightfully to consecrated persons.”

The three-day formation congress is being hosted by the Pontifical University Antonianum, the flagship university of the Franciscan order in Rome, and closes Sunday.

(from Vatican Radio)

Vatican: Preview of World Meeting of Popular Movements

(Vatican Radio) Details of the upcoming Third World Meeting of Popular Movements taking place in Rome from 2-5 November were presented in the Vatican on Friday.

Please find below a communique in English from the Holy See’s Press Office:

This morning in the Holy See Press Office a press conference was held to present the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, to be held in Rome from 2 to 5 November 2016. The speakers were Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Holy See Permanent Observer at the United Nations and delegate secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Juan Grabois, consulter to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and co-founder of the Movement of Excluded Workers of the Conference of the Popular Economy.

Following the two meetings in Rome 2014 and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia in 2015, next week around two hundred members will meet, representing 92 popular movements from 65 countries. The themes to be considered in the third meeting will again be “las tres T: Trabajo, Techo, Tierra”; (“The three Ls: Labour, Lodgings and Land”); care for nature; and migrants and refugees.

The meeting will take place at the Pontifical International Maria Mater Ecclesiae College from 2 to 4 November. Then, on 5 November, the Holy Father Francis will receive the participants in audience in the Paul VI Hall. The attendees will include Don Luigi Ciotti, founder of the Abel group which fights against abuse by the Mafia throughout Italy; Vandana Shiva, Indian philosopher and environmentalist; and Pepe Mujica, president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015.

For further information, see:

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis gives interview ahead of trip to Sweden

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has given an interview with the Jesuit Catholic journal La Civiltà Cattolica ahead of his ecumenical Apostolic Trip to Sweden. The interview was conducted by Father Ulf Jonsson S.J., the director of the Swedish cultural journal of the Jesuits, Signum.

Pope Francis mentioned the recent interreligious meeting for peace in Assisi, which he called “very important.”

“All of us talked of peace and we asked for peace,” – the Pope said – “ We together said strong words for  peace, what the religions truly want.”

When asked about the suffering of the Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis called the region “a land of martyrs.”

“I believe that the Lord does not leave his people on their own,” – the Holy Father said – “He will not abandon them. When we read of the hard trials of the people of Israel in the Bible or remember the trials of the martyrs, we see how the Lord always comes to the aid of his people.”

The purpose of the trip to Sweden is to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and much of the discussion in the interview covered ecumenical affairs.

Speaking about the mutual enrichment possible between Christian communities, the Pope was asked what Catholics could learn from Lutherans.

“Two  words  come  to  my  mind:  ‘reform’ and  ‘Scripture’,” - Pope Francis said – “I will try to explain. The first is the word 'reform'.  At the beginning, Luther’s was a gesture of reform in a difficult time for the Church. Luther wanted to remedy a complex situation.  Then this gesture —also  because  of  the  political  situations,  we  think  also  of  the cuius  regio  eius religio (whose realm , his religion) —became a ‘state’ of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church, which is fundamental,  because the Church is semper reformanda (always  reforming).”   

“The second  word  is  ‘Scripture’,  the  Word  of  God,” – the Pope continued – “Luther took a great step by putting the Word of God into the hands of the people. Reform and Scripture are two things that we can deepen by looking at the Lutheran tradition. The General  Congregations  before  the  Conclave comes  to  mind and how the request for a reform was alive in our discussions.”

The Holy Father was later asked about how the Ecumenical movement can move forward. He responded by saying “theological dialogue must continue,” and pointing to the Joint Declaration on Justification as an important point, but added “it will not be easy to go forward because of the different ways of understanding some  theological questions.”

“Personally, I believe that enthusiasm must shift towards common prayer and the works of mercy -- work done together to help the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned,” – Pope Francis said – “To do  something  together is a high and effective form of dialogue.   I also think about education.  It is important to work together and not in a sectarian way. There is a policy we should have clear in every case: to proselytize in the ecclesial field is a sin."

The full text of the interview can be found on the website of La Civiltà Cattolica here.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: the cornerstone of our life is Jesus who is praying for us

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said the cornerstone of life for Christians is Jesus who is praying for us, pointing out that Jesus always turned to prayer at all the key moments in his life. His remarks came during his Mass celebrated on Friday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence.

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges with clips of the Pope's voice: 

Taking his cue from the Gospel reading recounting how Jesus spent the night in prayer before choosing his disciples, the Pope’s homily reflected on the fundamental importance of prayer for Christians. He said whilst Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church and there is no Church without Him, the key to this cornerstone is Jesus who is praying for us.

The cornerstone of the Church is Jesus in front of the Father who is praying for us

“‘Jesus went up to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God.’ And then the rest followed, the crowds, the choosing of his disciples, the healings, the casting out of demons… Yes, the cornerstone is Jesus but Jesus who prays. Jesus is praying. He prayed and he continues to pray for the Church. The cornerstone of the Church is our Lord in front of the Father who intercedes on our behalf, who is praying for us. We pray to Him but the key thing is that He is praying for us.”

Our security is Jesus praying for each one of us

Pope Francis went on to describe how Jesus always prayed for his followers, be it at the Last Supper or before performing a miracle such as when he prayed to the Father before raising Lazarus from the dead.

“Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, on the Cross, he ended praying: his life ended in prayer. And this is our security, this is our foundation, this is our cornerstone: Jesus who is praying for us! Jesus who is praying for me!  And each of us can say this: I am certain that Jesus is praying for me; that he is in front of the Father and naming me. This is the cornerstone of the Church: Jesus in prayer.”

Another example of Jesus praying for his followers, said the Pope, came before his Passion when Jesus told Peter he had been praying for him to withstand Satan’s temptation and for his faith to hold firm.

“And what Jesus tells Peter, he tells you and you and me, everybody: ‘I have prayed for you, I am praying for you, I am now praying for you’ and when He comes onto the altar, He comes to intercede, to pray for us. As he did on the Cross.  And this gives us a great sense of security. I belong to this community that’s solid because Jesus is its cornerstone, Jesus who is praying for me, who is praying for us. Today we’d do well to reflect on the Church, reflect on this mystery of the Church. We are all like a building but its foundation is Jesus, Jesus who is praying for us, Jesus who is praying for me.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope meets trafficking victims, encourages Santa Marta Group

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met in the Vatican on Thursday with participants at an international conference on combatting human trafficking. The Santa Marta Group, which organised the two day conference, was established in 2014 to pledge closer cooperation on anti-trafficking initiatives between the Catholic Church and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

At a concluding press conference Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, one of the founding members of the group, and two survivors of human trafficking spoke of the progress that has been made over the past couple of years.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report: 

In his words to the group of bishops and religious, police and security officials, Pope Francis described trafficking as "one of the major challenges of our time" and he praised participants for the important contribution they’re making to end this scourge of modern slavery. 

The number of victims, he noted, keeps growing year by year and it’s essential both to support victims of trafficking, but also to tackle the complex problems that lead to their exploitation.

Cardinal Nichols told journalists the group had presented the pope with the a report of positive developments in the 30 countries that are now part of the Santa Marta process...

“Above all perhaps, what this report shows is that human slavery and trafficking is not so hidden as it used to be. There is an increasing awareness that this, in the phrase of the Holy Father, is an open wound in the flesh of humanity, and that voices that were once completely hidden are now being heard”.

Those voices include that of Nigerian survivor Princess Inyang, who was trafficked into Italy in 1999 and forced into prostitution, until she was able to escape, with help from a priest working in the northern city of Asti. She shared her story at the conference and called for deportation of the traffickers, as well as more education and skills training for vulnerable girls in her home country...

“The women are vulnerable because of the poverty in Nigeria, the background of the polygamy system of the families, the non-employment, and now we know that the traffickers go into the rural areas to get these young women because of their serious problems”.

Another survivor, who also works to help others avoid the traffickers, is former Premier League player Al Bangura, originally from Sierra Leone. A keen footballer from an early age, he was tricked into going to England with promises of a dream career. He managed to escape the traffickers and now serves as ambassador for a UK based charity called Sport for Freedom.

“With everything I’ve been through, I want to be out there to share my story, to educate kids and talk to parents who’re desperate for their kids to achieve….we also work with the Premiership… to make sure the kids are going in the rights direction and make sure we stop this slavery thing.”

From Africa to Latin America, from Asia to Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East, the conference heard many encouraging stories of success in combatting the trade in people for prostitution, forced labour or sale of their body parts. But as their report also underlines, there is much frustration too, coupled with a renewed determination to work more effectively together for an end to what Pope Francis himself describes as a “crime against humanity”.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: God still weeps over today's calamities and wars waged for money

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said God weeps over today's calamities, the wars waged to worship ‘the idol of money’ and over the many innocent victims killed by the bombs. He stressed that God weeps because humanity does not understand “the peace that He offers us.” His words came during the Mass celebrated on Thursday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence.

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges that includes clips of the Pope's voice: 

Taking his inspiration from a reading from the gospel of Luke where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, the “closed” city that “kills the prophets and stones those sent” to it, Pope Francis’ homily reflected on some of the moments of weeping during Christ’s ministry. He explained that Jesus had the tenderness of His Father looking at his children when he wept over the city of Jerusalem in the gospel account saying: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling.”

“Somebody said that God became man in order to be able to weep, to weep over what His children had done. The weeping in front of the tomb of Lazarus is the weeping of a friend. This is the weeping of the Father.”

In the same way, the Pope continued, we can look at the behaviour of the father of the prodigal son and what happens when this son asks for his inheritance and leaves home. He said the father did not go to his neighbours to say “Look what has happened to me! This horrible thing he did to me! But I will curse this son…” Pope Francis said he is certain that the father did not do this although maybe he went “to weep alone in his bedroom.”

“And why do I tell you this? Because the Gospel does not talk about this, it says that when his son returned home, he saw him from afar: this means that the Father was continually going up onto the terrace to look at the road to see if his son was coming back. And a father who does this is a father who lives in tears, waiting for his son to return home. This is the weeping of God the Father. And with his weeping, the Father recreates through his Son all of creation.”

Turning next to the moment when Jesus is carrying the cross to Calvary, Pope Francis reflected on the pious women who were weeping, saying they were not weeping over Him but over their own children. He stressed that this weeping like that of a father and of a mother is one that God still continues to do in our times.

“Even nowadays in front of the calamities, the wars waged in order to worship the god of money, the many innocent people killed by the bombs launched by those who worship the idol of money, God still weeps and He also says: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, my children, what are you doing?’ And he also says this to the poor victims, to the arms traffickers and to all those who sell the life of people. We’d do well to think both about how God our Father became man in order to be able to weep and how God our Father weeps nowadays: he weeps over humanity that ends up not understanding the peace that He offers us, the peace of love.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis talks Sweden, Catholic-Lutheran dialogue in new interview

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2016 / 08:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of his upcoming trip to Sweden for the joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Pope Francis granted a lengthy, wide-ranging interview to a Jesuit magazine in which he talks about his expectations, and Catholic-Lutheran unity. When asked about his hopes for his upcoming trip to Sweden, Pope Francis said “I can think of only one word to say: to come close.” “My hope and expectation is that of coming closer to my brothers and sisters,” he said, explaining that being close “does all of us good. Distance, on the other hand, makes us bitter.” When we are distant from one another, “we close within ourselves and we become individual entities, incapable of encountering each other. We are held back by fears.” He stressed that we need to learn “to transcend ourselves to encounter others,” noting that if this doesn’t happen, even Christians “become sick because of our divisions.” “My expectation is that of being able to take a step of closeness, of being closer to my brothers and sisters in Sweden.” The interview was conducted by Fr. Ulf Jonsson S.J., director of the Swedish Jesuit magazine “Signum,” at the Vatican's Saint Martha Guesthouse Sept. 24, in the late afternoon, and lasted about an hour and a half. Published Oct. 28, it came out just three days before Pope Francis’ Oct. 31-Nov. 1 visit to Sweden. It will be the first time a Pope has traveled to Scandinavia since St. John Paul II’s 1989 visit. Though only two days, the trip will include an ecumenical moment of prayer at Lund’s Lutheran cathedral, which will be followed by the larger, primary ecumenical event at the Malmö Arena in Malmö. The two ecumenical events will be followed by an outdoor papal Mass the next day at the Swedbank Stadium in Malmö marking All Saints Day, which was not originally in the schedule, but was added later upon the request of Sweden’s small Catholic community. Francis, who has faced criticism for his initial decision to not hold Mass, explained in the interview that he originally decided not to because he wanted to promote unity, and avoid sectarian divisions. “You cannot be Catholic and sectarian. We must strive to be together with others,” he said, explaining that “‘Catholic’ and ‘sectarian’ are two words in contradiction,” which is why he wasn’t planning to have Mass during the trip.   “I wanted to insist on an ecumenical witness. Then I reflected well on my role as pastor of a flock of Catholics who will also come from other countries, like Norway and Denmark. So, responding to the fervent request of the Catholic community, I decided to celebrate a Mass, lengthening the trip by a day.” The Pope said he intentionally scheduled the Mass so it didn’t take place on the same day as the ecumenical encounter in order to “avoid confusing plans.” “The ecumenical encounter is preserved in its profound significance according to a spirit of unity, that is my desire.” Pope Francis also spoke at length about his relationship with Lutherans while still in Buenos Aires, which were overwhelmingly positive. When asked what Catholics can learn from Lutherans, he responded with two words: “reform and Scripture.” Referring to the first word, Francis noted how at the beginning of the Reformation Martin Luther’s intention was to reform in a “in a difficult time for the Church.” “Luther wanted to remedy a complex situation,” he said, explaining that the gesture “also because of the political situations... became a ‘state’ of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church, which is fundamental, because the Church is semper reformanda (always reforming).” When it comes to Scripture, the Pope said Luther did an important thing by putting the Word of God into peoples’ hands, adding that “reform and Scripture are two things that we can deepen by looking at the Lutheran tradition.” Although the fervor for unity that arose during John Paul II’s visit to Sweden in 1989 has somewhat died down, Pope Francis said that in his opinion, the best way to promote unity now is, in addition to continuing theological discussions, a shared enthusiasm for “common prayer and the works of mercy.” “It is important to work together and not in a sectarian way,” he said, stressing that “to proselytize in the ecclesial field is a sin.” “Proselytism is a sinful attitude,” he continued. “It would be like transforming the Church into an organization. Speaking, praying, working together: this is the path that we must take.” He also spoke of the ecumenism of blood and the recent prayer encounter in Assisi, insisting that you can never use God to justify violence. “You cannot make war in the name of religion, in the name of God. It is blasphemy, it is satanic,” and referring to the truck attack that took place earlier this year in Nice, France, said the “madman” who committed the massacre did so believe he was justified by God. “Poor man, he was deranged,” Francis said, explaining that “charitably we can say that he was a deranged man who sought to use a justification in the name of God.” He was also asked about critics who point to religous conflicts and say the world would be better off without religions. In response, Francis sand that “idolatries that are at the base of a religion, not the religion itself!” “There are idolatries connected to religion: the idolatry of money, of enmities, of space greater than time, the greed of the territoriality of space. There is an idolatry of the conquest of space, of dominion, that attacks religions like a malignant virus.” Idolatry, he said, is “a false religion" and "wrong religiosity.” On the other hand, true religions “are the development of the capacity that humanity has to transcend itself towards the absolute," he said, adding that the religious phenomenon is transcendent and it has to do with truth, beauty, goodness and unity.” When asked for a final word on his upcoming trip, Pope Francis said that what came to him spontaneously to say “is simply: go, walk together! Don’t remain closed in rigid perspectives, because in these there is no possibility of reform.”

Theology and pastoral care 'go hand in hand', Pope tells JPII Institute

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2016 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Doctrine and theological reflection are to be formed by its evangelizing purpose and by pastoral concerns, Pope Francis told the faculty and students of the John Paul II Institute on Thursday. “Theology and pastoral care go hand in hand,” the Pope said Oct. 27 at the Vatican's Clementine Hall. “Theological doctrine that doesn’t let itself be directed and formed by its evangelizing purpose and by the Church’s pastoral concerns is no less unthinkable than pastoral activity that doesn’t know how to use revelation and tradition to better understand the Faith and preach it as Jesus commands.” Francis' address marked the opening of the new academic year for the institute, which will be celebrating its 35th anniversary. The address to open the academic year had been scheduled to be delivered by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, but he was replaced by the Pope earlier this month. Pope Francis began, saying that the “fruitfulness and value of the far-sighted intuition” of St. John Paul II “can be recognized and appreciated ever more clearly today. His wise discernment of the 'signs of the times' has enabled us to refocus, in the Church, and in society as a whole, our attention on the depth and sensitivity of the relationship that springs from the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.” He lamented the forces that strain the marriage bond and families ties, citing “a culture that glorifies narcissistic individualism, the idea that freedom can be unhinged from our responsibility for one another, growing indifference to the common good, the imposition of ideologies that directly attack the traditional family, together with poverty that threatens the future of so many families.” Mentioning the complexity of “newly developed technologies that make possible courses of action that are in conflict with authentic human dignity,” the Pope advised “a much closer relationship between the Saint John Paul II Institute and the Pontifical Academy for Life.” The proximity of that relationship is facilitated by Pope Francis' recent appointment of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as grand chancellor of the St. John Paul II Institute and as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The institute's previous grand chancellor had been, ex officio, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, currently Cardinal Agostino Vallini. The Pope said that culture's individualism, “leading 'me' to prevail over 'us' and the individual over society … goes against God’s plan, the plan that has entrusted the world and history to the covenant between man and woman. By its very nature, this covenant calls for cooperation and respect, generous commitment and shared responsibility, and the ability to recognize difference as being richness and promise, not a justification for subjugation and abuse.” To understand the dignity of both man and woman “requires a proper appreciation of the relationship between the two. How can we know fully our own concrete humanity other than through an appreciation of the complementary difference between ourselves, man or woman, and the other sex?” This knowledge is reached, he said, “as man and woman speak to each other, question each other and act together, with mutual respect and good will. It is impossible to deny the contribution that modern culture has made to the rediscovery of the difference between the sexes.” “For this reason, it is very troubling that this same culture appears unable to get beyond a tendency to eliminate difference rather than addressing the problems that threaten it,” he added. Francis reflected that it is “only in the cradle of the family” that the covenant of marriage between man and woman can first be nourished, and that “when all is well between man and woman, all is also well in the world and in history. If not, the world becomes unwelcoming and history grinds to a halt.” The Pope said that the “witness of the thoroughgoing humanity and pure beauty of the Christian ideal of the family should inspire us to our very core … The love that is in the Church commits itself to the development, in doctrine and in pastoral practice, of its own ability to make understandable, to people of our own time, the truth and beauty of God’s creative plan.” To make this plan effective today “requires a special and loving understanding, as well as a complete commitment to evangelization that is animated by great compassion and mercy toward the vulnerability and weakness of human love.” “The dynamism of the relationship among God, man and woman is a golden key that unlocks the meaning of the world and of history and of all that is in them, as well as, after all, something of the depth of the love that is God Himself. Can we embrace the greatness of such a revelation?” he asked. “Do we know how to keep the new generations from giving up and bring them back to the boldness of this plan?” In the face of this, Pope Francis recalled the reality of sin, saying that “we have to learn not to resign ourselves to human failure but rather to support the fulfillment of God’s plan by every means possible.” He quoted from his apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia, saying it is right to admit that at times “we have presented a theological ideal of matrimony that is too abstract, almost artificial, far from the concrete situation of families and from what they are capable of in their day-to-day lives. This excessive idealization, particularly when we haven’t reawakened any trust in grace, hasn’t made matrimony more desirable and attractive, it has made it less so.” The justice of God “shines forth in His faithfulness to his promise, and the splendor of that faithfulness …  is the mercy He bestows,” Francis commented. He stated that the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family “were in agreement about the need to broaden the Church’s understanding of and love for the mystery of human love that reveals God’s love for everyone,” and that Amoris laetitia “emphasizes this wider understanding of love and calls on the whole People of God to make the family dimension of the Church more visible and more effective.” Christian families should become proud of putting grace “at the service of all those who, poor and abandoned, despair of ever finding it, or getting it back. Pastoral discourse today isn’t just about how far many Christians are from the ideal and the practice of the Christian truth about matrimony and the family,” he said. “Much more important is the idea of the Church’s 'closeness' – closeness to new generations of married couples in making the Church’s blessing of the matrimonial and family ever more central to their lives, and in helping them confront human weakness so that grace can deliver, give new life and heal.” The Pope called the “unbreakable bond between the Church and its sons and daughters” the “clearest witness we have of God’s faithful and merciful love.” The John Paul II Institute is tasked with supporting “the necessary openness of intelligence formed by faith in the service of the pastoral mission of Peter’s Successor,” he told them, recalling the importance of pastors – and theologians – of “smelling like the sheep”. “Theology and pastoral care go hand in hand,” he said. “Theological doctrine that doesn’t let itself be directed and formed by its evangelizing purpose and by the Church’s pastoral concerns is no less unthinkable than pastoral activity that doesn’t know how to use revelation and tradition to better understand the Faith and preach it as Jesus commands.” Pope Francis concluded his address, saying the Church's mission “must be rooted in the happiness that faith brings and in the humility that marks joyful service to the Church. The Church that is, not imaginary churches that we think should be.” “The living Church in which we live, the beautiful Church to which we belong, the Church of the one Lord and one Spirit to which we commit ourselves as servants who are 'worthless' but who offer their best to the Lord, the Church that we love so that all can love it, the Church in which we feel ourselves loved more than we deserve, and for which we are ready to sacrifice with perfect happiness!”

Catholic-Lutheran hurdles still exist, but surprising progress has been made

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2016 / 12:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of Pope Francis’ coming trip to Sweden to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Catholic and Lutheran leaders have said that while there is still a long way to go toward unity, seemingly impossible steps have already been made. Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told journalists Oct. 26 that the coming joint commemoration of the Reformation marks “the first time in the history between Catholic and Lutherans that they do this type of common commemoration.” “In the past we’ve had confessional centenaries with a tone that was a bit triumphalist and polemic on both sides,” he said, explaining that the goal now is to not only to join together for the anniversary, but also to recognize 50 years of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. The dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics “was the first bilateral dialogue that the Catholic Church launched right after the Council in 1967, and this is also a sign of gratitude that we could discover all there is in common between Lutherans and Catholics,” the cardinal said. He said the joint commemoration of the Reformation is “a beautiful sign of this path to unity, from conflict to unity. In the past we had conflicts. We want to arrive at communion, and today we are on the path to unity.” Echoing his sentiments was Martin Junge, Secretary General of the Lutheran World Foundation (LWF), who noted that despite the turbulent past of Lutherans and Catholics, “we have been able to remove some of the obstacles of doctrinal differences among us.” The joint commemoration is a sign of the progress made, he said, adding that “this is for what we will be praying: for God to be with us, this is where we want to encourage our communities to live out that communion.” According to the LWF website, the federation is a worldwide communion of 145 churches from the Lutheran tradition which represents more than 74 million Christians in 98 countries. The largest Lutheran communion, in the United States it does include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but neither the Missouri nor the Wisconsin Synods. Cardinal Koch and Junge spoke to journalists at a news briefing ahead of Pope Francis’ Oct. 31-Nov. 1 visit to Sweden. It will be the first time a Pope has traveled to Scandinavia since St. John Paul II’s 1989 visit. Though only two days, the trip will include an ecumenical moment of prayer at Lund’s Lutheran cathedral, which will be followed by the larger, primary ecumenical event at the Malmö Arena in Malmö. The two ecumenical events will be followed by an outdoor papal Mass the next day at the Swedbank Stadium in Malmö marking All Saints Day. A lengthy document titled “From Conflict to Communion” was drawn up by the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity and was published to coincide with the commemoration, serving as the ecumenical basis for the meeting. The unprecedented event takes place fewer than 20 years after the LWF's and the Catholic Church's 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which was historically one of the main points of division between Catholics and Lutherans. Justification is God's cleansing human beings of sin and communicating to them his own righteousness through faith in Christ and through baptism. It is also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts by which man becomes just. The understanding of justification – what it is and how it is granted and maintained – was a source of conflict during the Reformation. In their 1999 joint declaration on justification, the Catholic Church and the LWF said that that a more shared understanding of justification signals “a consensus in the basic truths” and that “the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.” Point three of the declaration stresses that in “faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God … the foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ.” “Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father,” they said, confessing together that “by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.” The declaration also expressed the shared conviction that “as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.” “Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine,” but stands “in an essential relation to all truths of faith. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ.” “When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification,” the document continued. Lutherans and Catholics, then, “share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts.” Critics of the upcoming joint commemoration have voiced concern that the event will gloss-over significant points of Catholic-Lutheran difference, and that it will be used to as an opportunity to push for intercommunion between the Catholic Church and the ecclesial community. In his comments to journalists, Cardinal Koch, who will be part of Pope Francis’ delegation, recognized that the issue of mixed marriages are a “very big pastoral concern for Catholics and Lutherans” alike, but said we have yet to see what the Pope will say about it. However, when asked about the issue directly, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke referred to Pope Francis’ Nov. 15, 2015, visit to Rome's Lutheran community. During the encounter Francis was asked by Anke de Bernardinis, a Lutheran woman married to a Roman Catholic man, how she and her husband can be united in communion. In his response, the Pope said that the answer is “not easy,” but that that going to each other’s services is a way to participate in the Lord’s Supper together. He said he would “never dare to give permission” on anything regarding Communion because “it's not my competence,” but pointed to the common baptism shared between Catholic and Lutherans, explaining that praying together helps keep this common baptism alive. Burke said that when it comes to Sweden, the Pope likely won’t get much more explicit on the issue than that, but added, “you never know in the moment.” Other concerns about the joint commemoration surround points of division not only between Lutherans and Catholics, but also within the global Lutheran community on various social and ethical issues such as homosexuality and abortion.   However, despite the unresolved issues at stake, Junge stressed that in the history of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue “we have seen many things that we thought would be impossible.” “I believe in the '80s nobody thought we would find agreement on the doctrine of justification and we did,” he said, adding that “only a few years ago if you would have said there would be a joint-commemoration of the Reformation and that would be done together, many would have said 'impossible'.” Junge pointed to the context of the modern world, saying that while he doesn’t mean to sound negative or “apocalyptic,” we live in times “of fragmentation, in times of a world that is wounded by conflict.” “For Catholics and Lutherans to come together around the world … is a powerful witness to faith and to Christ who we see walking among us together,” he said, voicing his belief that the event is “going to become a great contribution, not only to address the sufferings of the world, but also to draw closer together in mutual understanding and trust.” He said the presence of Pope Francis at the commemorative event is significant and brings “high value” to what is taking place. However, he also noted that by attending, Francis “is giving continuity to an ecumenical path of his predecessors.” “In 1999, when we signed the join-declaration on justification, the Pope was John Paul II. In 2003 when we signed the document on the conflict of communion, the Pope was Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis the one who is doing this fruit of this ecumenical path, but undoubtedly giving it a new profile and potential that we hope to work toward in the future.” Despite the significant steps already taken in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Cardinal Koch and Junge expressed that there are still many more to go. After finally reaching an agreement on the doctrine of justification, the next issues to tackle are about “ministry, the Church and the Eucharist,” Junge said. Similarly, Cardinal Koch noted how the 1999 common declaration on justification itself said that “the ecclesial consequences of this common declaration are not resolved,” so we have a duty to move forward.  “I agree with Rev. Jungle, there are three items: Church, Eucharist and ministry,” he said, voicing his hope that Catholics and Lutherans can continue paving the way to a new joint declaration on those three issues. “I think we are really on a good path to resolve all these problems,” the cardinal said, explaining that he is “very hopeful, grateful and happy that some original dialogues” are taking place on these points. Speaking of the Pope’s Mass Nov. 1, which was not initially part of the Pope’s itinerary but was added later upon the request of Catholics in Sweden, Junge said the LWF is fully aware of the need for the Pope and the Catholic community to be together. However, “while we have that understanding, of course it is also going to reveal that we are not yet united, it is going to reveal a wound that remains there, and in that way it is going to be a strong encouragement to continue working toward communion,” he said, explaining that a delegation from the LWF will be present at the Mass. Junge voiced his hope that joint commemoration would provide “a strong encouragement to be faster, to be bolder, to be even more creative in order to address these three items and with a very strong focus on where people feel the lack of unity the heaviest, around the table.”

Rome's poor to be guests of honor at Vatican concert

Vatican City, Oct 26, 2016 / 10:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican will host a concert for the poor and homeless of Rome next month, not only using the concert to raise money for Pope Francis’ charities, but also inviting the poor to attend as the guests of honor. Called “With the Poor and for the Poor,” free-will donations taken at the end of the concert will benefit Pope Francis’ charitable projects: this year, the building of a new cathedral in Moroto, Uganda, and an agrarian school in Burkina Faso. The concert will take place Nov. 12 in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. Following the concert, volunteers of the Jubilee of Mercy and members of the choir of the Diocese of Rome will distribute a meal and a small gift to the invited guests as a reminder of the evening. Performances at the concert will be by the Roman Symphonic Orchestra and the National Choir of Saint Cecilia, directed by Academy Award-winner Ennio Morricone. They will be performing excerpts from some of Morricone’s most famous works. Alongside them, Msgr. Marco Frisina will direct the choir of the Diocese of Rome in performing several sacred songs and will lead those present in reflections on the theme of charity in honor of the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. The event, organized by the Opera Nova Onlus and the choir of the Diocese of Rome, is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and by the St. Matthew Foundation in memory of Cardinal Van Thuan, a Vietnamese cleric who was imprisoned by his nation's communist government for 13 years. Guests of an earlier edition of the concert which took place at the Vatican May 14, 2015 included detainees from Rome’s Rebbibia prison, in addition to elderly, the sick, families and young persons from Roman parishes, particularly in poorer areas. In his speech for the announcement of the 2015 concert, Msgr. Diego Giovanni Ravelli drew attention to the emphasis on poverty, and quoted Pope Francis, saying it is something which “calls us to plant hope!” In reference to the event’s title, he explained that the concert will be “with” the poor because the protagonists will be those most in need. All donations made by the sponsors of the concert as well as those who wish to make an offering will be given to Pope Francis’ charitable projects, which in 2014 boasted over one and a half million in charitable giving. Distribution of the funds is a responsibility of the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.

To welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Oct 26, 2016 / 05:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When we perform the corporal works of mercy – specifically welcoming the stranger in the form migrants and refugees – we are welcoming Christ in them, and helping to restore their full dignity as humans, Pope Francis said Wednesday. “These works, in fact, make evident that Christians are not tired and lazy in waiting for the final encounter with the Lord, but every day go out, recognizing his face in the many people asking for help.” Continuing his reflection on the corporal works of mercy, the Pope’s catechesis during his Oct. 26 general audience centered on Matthew 25:35-36: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.” The works of mercy related to strangers are “timelier than ever,” he said, adding that “the economic crisis, armed conflict and climate change drive many people to emigrate.” “However, migration is not a new phenomenon,” but one that belongs to the “history of humanity,” he noted, adding that to think that migration is only a contemporary problem shows a “lack of historical memory.” “The history of mankind is the history of migrations in all latitudes, there is no people that has not known the phenomenon of migration.” The solution, then, is solidarity in performing the works of mercy, the Pope said. “Today, the context of economic crisis unfortunately favors the emergence of attitudes of closure and not welcome. In some parts of the world walls and barriers arise,” he said. “Closure is not a solution, in fact, it ultimately benefits criminal trafficking. The only solution is that of solidarity.” Pope Francis explained that clothing the naked – while it certainly means giving clothes to those who have none – can also include helping victims of trafficking and anyone who has fallen victim to the use of the human body as a “commodity.” Also, those who “do not have a job, a house, a just wage,” or those who are discriminated against because of their race or faith, “are all forms of ‘nudity’ before which we as Christians are called to be attentive, vigilant and ready to act.” The Pope referenced St. Frances Cabrini as an example of someone who dedicated her life to migrants in the U.S., pointing out that the Christian commitment in the area of migration is as urgent today as it was in the past. “Even today we need such testimony because mercy can reach many in need,” he said. “It is a commitment that involves everyone, without exception. Dioceses, parishes, institutes of consecrated life, associations and movements, as individual Christians, we are called to welcome the brothers and sisters fleeing war, famine, violence and inhumane living conditions.” Francis also talked about the many examples of refugees and migrants in the Bible, including Abraham, called to leave his country by God; the people of Israel, who were in the desert for 40 years after being freed from slavery in Egypt; and the Holy Family, who had to flee Herod. “Dear brothers and sisters,” he urged, “do not fall into the trap of closing in on ourselves, indifferent to the needs of brothers and worried only about our own interests.” All together, we can be a “great strength of support for those who have lost home, family, work and dignity,” he said. “And to clothe the naked, what is it but to restore dignity to those who have lost it? It is precisely to the extent that we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace and people recover their full dignity.”

For Pope Francis, God's kingdom doesn't grow through organization charts

Vatican City, Oct 25, 2016 / 02:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The kingdom of heaven is able to grow when its members are docile to the Holy Spirit – rather than when they focus on structures and organization charts, the Pope said during his homily at Mass on Tuesday. “What is the Kingdom of God?  Well, perhaps the Kingdom of God is a very well-made structure, everything tidy, organization charts all done, everything and the person who does not enter (into this structure) is not in the Kingdom of God,” Francis rhetorically suggest while saying Mass Oct. 25 at the chapel of the Santa Marta house in the Vatican. “No, the same thing can happen to the Kingdom of God as happens to the Law: unchanging, rigidity … the Law is about moving forward, the Kingdom of God is moving forward, it is not standing still. What’s more: the Kingdom of God is re-creating itself every day.” Divine law, the Pope said, is meant to help us as we are “journeying towards fullness” and “towards hope.” He recalled the parable of the yeast, which is mixed in with flour and makes bread, but dies in the process. “What is the attitude that the Lord asks from us in order that the Kingdom of God can grow and be bread for everyone, and is a house too for everyone? Docility: the Kingdom of God grows through docility to the strength of the Holy Spirit.” He said that flour “ceases to be flour and becomes bread because it is docile to the strength of the yeast, and the yeast allows itself to be mixed in with the flour… I don’t know, flour has no feelings but allowing itself to be mixed in one could think that there is some suffering here, right? But the Kingdom too, the Kingdom grows in this way and then in the end it is bread for everyone.” Docility to the Holy Spirit keeps one from becoming a “rigid person” who “has only masters and no father,” he said. “The Kingdom of God is like a mother that grows and is fertile, gives of herself so that her children have food and lodging, according to the example of the Lord. Today is a day to ask for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit. Many times we are not docile to our moods, our judgements. ‘But I do what I want….'  The Kingdom does not grow in this way and neither do we grow.” “It is docility to the Holy Spirit that makes us grow and be transformed like the yeast and the seed,” he concluded. “May the Lord give us all the grace of this docility.” 

Vatican: Cremated bodies may not be scattered

Vatican City, Oct 25, 2016 / 09:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released an instruction Tuesday regarding burial and cremation, reiterating the Church's teaching that cremation, while strongly discouraged, can be permissible under certain restrictions – and that scattering the ashes is forbidden. Ad resurgendum cum Christo, or “To rise with Christ”, published Oct. 25, states that while cremation “is not prohibited” the Church “continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.” The document explains that after “legitimate motives” for cremation have been ascertained, the “ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place,” such as in a cemetery or church. It goes on to state that is not permitted to keep the ashes in a home or to scatter them “in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.” “The burial, the last liturgy for us, is an expression of our hope for the resurrection,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation wrote, “and therefore the Church continues to teach that the normal burial of the body is the normal form.” As the document explains, “by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.” “She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe.” Rather, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place “adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which ‘as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works.’” The Vatican originally answered the question of whether or not cremation was allowed in 1963, but with the increase in both its popularity and in practices such as scattering the ashes or keeping them in the home, it found it necessary to provide a new set of norms as guidance for bishops. The instruction emphasized that “following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried.” A proper respect for the dignity of the body, according to Fr. Thomas Bonino, an official at the CDF,  promotes the hylomorphic understanding of the human person as being composed of both body and soul. “One must perhaps start from the idea of ecology,” Fr. Bonino told CNA, “meaning respect for nature. But the body is part of our nature, so a true ecology is also an ecology which takes into account the corporality of man.” Fr. Bonino explained that because “the body forms part of our identity” together with the soul, this teaching “must be reaffirmed” in preaching and in catechesis. Practices such as scattering the ashes in nature can be a form of “pantheistic confessions, as if nature were a god,” Fr. Bonino said. Or it can express the false ideology “that after death nothing of the person remains, that the body just returns to the earth and there is nothing more.” The new norms address these issues, he said, while also reacting against the idea that death is only about the individual or the immediate family. “Death also deals with the community to which the deceased belonged,” he pointed out. The Vatican document highlighted several other reasons for the importance of the burial of the dead, including that the Church considers burying the dead to be one of the corporal works of mercy. “From the earliest times, Christians have desired that the faithful departed become the objects of the Christian community’s prayers and remembrance. Their tombs have become places of prayer, remembrance and reflection,” it stated. By reserving the ashes of the deceased in a sacred place, we can be assured that they are not excluded from the prayers of their family and the Christian community, it continued, as well as provide a more permanent marker for posterity, especially after the immediately subsequent generation has passed away. “We are Catholics … and we must try to understand all elements of our life in the sense of the Christian faith,” Cardinal Müller said. “We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and also we have the hope for our resurrection of our body… And therefore the big tradition as Christians has always been burial.” Mary Shovlain contributed to this piece.

Pope Francis talks nationwide crisis in meeting with Venezuela's Maduro

Vatican City, Oct 25, 2016 / 05:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday Pope Francis met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, head of the country’s socialist regime, at the Vatican to discuss the dire political, social and economic situation of Venezuela and its citizens. “The meeting took place within the framework of the worrisome political, social and economic situation that the country is going through – a situation that is having serious repercussions in the daily lives of the entire population,” an Oct. 24 communique from the Vatican read. Francis, who didn’t have any public commitments earlier in the day, met with Maduro privately Oct. 24 in the evening. According to the Vatican communique, the Pope, “who has at heart the welfare of all Venezuelans,” wanted to affirm his continued contribution to Venezuela’s “institutionality and everything that will help to resolve the outstanding issues and build trust between the various parties.” Nicolas Maduro took over for former Venezuelan socialist president Hugo Chavez when the latter died from cancer in 2013. In the stormy aftermath of the takeover, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social and economic upheaval. Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines. Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates. The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office. Demonstrations broke out in the country in January 2014 after Monica Spear, a former Miss Venezuela, was murdered along with her ex-husband on a highway near Caracas when their car broke down. Protests intensified after the attempted rape of a student shortly after Spear’s death, and since then Maduro’s government has jailed many peaceful protestors and political opponents. The regime is known to have committed gross abuses, including violence, against those who don’t share their political ideologies. Maduro was scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican last year, but canceled his June 7, 2015, visit at the last minute due to a doctor’s note from the president saying he was forbidden to board a plane due to a cold and severe ear infection. The situation in Venezuela has been steadily deteriorated, even since last year. The Pope’s meeting with Maduro took place in the backdrop of a Sept. 1 demonstration, called the “Taking of Caracas,” in the Venezuelan capital, bringing together as many as 1 million citizens who support a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro. Both opponents and sympathizers of Maduro’s government took to the streets. However, the government’s critics vastly outnumbered government supporters, according to organizers. Archbishop Diego Padrón Sánchez of Cumaná, president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, said in a statement that the country’s government is suffering from a “chronic” hearing disorder in face of the suffering of the people. “What the people have done, both the opposition and government supporters, was a free, democratic, constitutional and peaceful expression of the awareness of their civil rights,” he said, charging that the government “carried out violence with the various persecutions conducted against different opposition leaders.” “The government's hearing disorder has become chronic in the face of the people’s suffering, shortages, food shortages, the high cost of living and lack of public safety,” he complained. According to the communique on the Pope’s meeting with Maduro, Francis invited the president “to undertake with courage the path of sincere and constructive dialogue.” He also invited the Venezuelan dictator to make it a priority “to alleviate the suffering of the people – first of all, those who are poor – and to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion which would offer a vision forward with hope for the future of the nation.”

A message from Rome on the power of liturgical music

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2016 / 03:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Liturgical music has the ability to communicate the love of God – and it's this message that gives it the power to help bring others to Christ, said the choir director of the Diocese of Rome. “I believe music is a powerful tool to evangelize because evangelization is to impart in the heart of man the joy of Christ, the love of Christ,” Msgr. Marco Frisina told CNA Oct. 21. Music is like planting “this seed of joy in the heart, it is a great power.” Msgr. Frisina, also a renowned composer, in 1984 founded the Choir of the Diocese of Rome for singing at the most important diocesan liturgies, many of which are presided over by the pope. It now comprises over 250 members. One of the speakers at a Jubilee of Choirs which took place at the Vatican Oct. 21-23, among those who participated were laity, priests, directors of liturgical offices, choir conductors, musicians, organists and diocesan and parish choirs. Held in liturgical memory of Saint John Paul II, the goal of the event, according to the Jubilee of Choirs website, was “to focus on music as a tool of extraordinary communication and how to live the Liturgy as the highest moment of the expression of our faith and Christian culture.” On Saturday, all of the participating choirs joined with the Choir of the Diocese of Rome to perform a concert in the Paul VI Hall dedicated to St. John Paul II and Divine Mercy. Friday the schedule included a training on the topic “Sing Mercy.” Speakers included Msgr. Frisina, Msgr. Vincenzo De Gregorio, president of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and Msgr. Massimo Palombella, Director of the Choir of the Sistine Chapel. Msgr. Palombella agreed that music can be a tool for evangelization, particularly by providing an element of unity between the different Christian religions. “Researching about the common source of the music we can find a lot of things that allow unity between Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran,” he told CNA. “So every year on the Solemnity of Peter and Paul there is a project which started with Pope Benedict, every year we sing together, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and the music is the element of unity.” Msgr. Palombella said that the Choir of the Sistine Chapel, considered to be the oldest choir in the world, doesn’t go on tour in Europe and throughout the world to only “sing good music.” Instead, it is approached as a means of evangelization. This is possible because liturgical music, one of the sources of Western music, is able to attract and interest many people who love and care about music, not just those with a religious interest, offering a “cultural” approach to evangelization as well, he said. The three day Jubilee of Choirs concluded on Sunday with a pilgrimage to the Holy Door, Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and the Angelus with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. Msgr. Frisina emphasized that what makes music so attractive to people is the love of God contained in it. “The power of music, for liturgical music, is the power of love,” he said. To sing about the love of God is “to pray with our whole self.” Mary Shovlain contributed to this story.

As battle for Mosul rages, Pope appeals for an end to violence in Iraq

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2016 / 06:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the Iraqi Army currently embroiled in an effort to liberate Mosul and the Plains of Nineveh from the Islamic State, Pope Francis Sunday offered prayers for an end to violence in the country so it can move forward on the path of hope and reconciliation. “In these dramatic hours, I am close to the people of Iraq, in particular those from the city of Mosul,” the Pope said Oct. 23. “Our hearts are shocked by the heinous acts of violence that for too long are being committed against innocent citizens, whether they are Muslims, Christians or whether they belong to other ethnic groups and religions,” he said, and voiced his sadness that many have been killed “in cold blood,” including children. This cruelty “makes us cry, leaving us without words,” he said, assuring of his prayers that despite it’s suffering, Iraq “may be strong and firm in the hope of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and of peace.” “For this I ask all of you to unite yourselves to my prayer,” he said, and led pilgrims in a moment of silent prayer. Pope Francis spoke to some 50,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address. His appeal coincided with an ongoing operation by Iraqi and Kurdish military forces to retake the city of Mosul from the hands of the Islamic State. On Oct. 17 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a ground offensive to retake Mosul, which has been months in the making. Mosul has been under the control of the Islamic State since June 2014. In addition to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, U.S. troops, British and French Special Forces, and a number of Turkish soldiers are supporting the Iraqi army in the battle, which was initially expected to take between several weeks to several months to complete, however, the process has been going quicker than expected. Mosul is the last major stronghold the Islamic State has in Iraq. They have been steadily retreating since the end of last year in battles against Iraqi and Peshmerga forces, as well as airstrikes from the U.S-led coalition. The United Nations has warned ISIS is using civilians as human shields in the fight for Mosul, estimating that the militants have so far taken roughly 550 families from smaller towns close to Mosul in an effort to prevent them from leaving the area. According to CNN, just withing the past few days 285 men and boys have already been used by ISIS as human shields, and their bodies dumped in a mass grave. In his address, the Pope pointed to the Apostle Paul as a model for evangelizing in today’s world, reminding us that we must engage in missionary and pastoral activities with a spirit of sacrifice “as if the result depends on our efforts,” without, however, forgetting that our true success “is a gift of grace.” “It’s the Holy Spirit who renders the mission of the Church in the world effective,” he said, stressing that “today is a time of mission and a time of courage!” Courage, he said, “to strengthen faltering steps, to resume the flavor of spending oneself for the Gospel, to regain confidence in the strength that the mission brings with it. It’s a time of courage, even if having courage doesn’t mean having the guarantee of success.” The Pope said we are being asked to have the courage “to fight, not necessarily to win; to announce, not necessarily to convert.” We are being asked for the courage “to be an alternative to the world, but without ever becoming polemic or aggressive,” and to be courageous in opening ourselves to everyone, “without ever belittling the absoluteness and uniqueness of Christ, the one Savior of all.” Francis emphasized the need to be courageous in resisting incredulity “without being arrogant,” and to mimic the attitude of the publican in the Gospel, “who in humility does not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast, saying ‘Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’” “Today is a time of courage! Today courage is needed!” he said, and closed his address by praying that Mary would intercede for all in becoming “missionary disciples who bring the message of salvation to the entire human family.”