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Fr. Lombardi: 'Pope with Virgin of Guadalupe gives a sense of tenderness to visit'

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis is in Mexico on his 12th Apostolic Journey, after meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba to sign a joint declaration.  The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, spoke with Veronica Scarisbrick about the Holy Father's meeting with the Patriarch and his arrival in Mexico.

Listen to their conversation:

Noting that the Pope and the Patriarch's encounter was private, Fr. Lombardi said the climate of the discussion was "very friendly, but 'friendly' is too little an expression for he says the encounter [began] with the Patriarch saying 'my brother' and ended with 'finally, finally we meet, you are my brother'. This means he was very happy and the Patriarch was also happy."

He notes this will not be a unique episode but is merely the beginning of a closer relationship. "The Pope has said that they spoke about some concrete initiatives, but he has not explained what. The talk was not theoretically but was concrete."

"The dynamic element is the personal encounter between the Pope and the Patriarch."

Mexican welcome

Turning to the arrival of Pope Francis in Mexico, Fr. Lombardi said "here in Mexico City we have these incredible crowds, over a million people. There was a very good preparation for the little arrival ceremony, with people, songs, and dances.

As per his usual, the Holy Father immediately broke protocol upon arrival, going to meet the people. "In this sense I think we have already experienced how the great Mexican people is happy to have the Pope with them and how the Pope desires to meet personally and directly many, many people. This is obviously a place where the Pope speaks his [native] language; this is an advantage. I think it will be a marvellous encounter with this land where the people has always demonstrated an enormous love for the popes."

Concluding the interview, Fr. Lombardi said, "the vitality of the youth of this people will give a sense of hope, of dynamism, and future, and also the encounter with the Virgin of Guadalupe will give a sense of tenderness and spirituality to these days."

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to pray in private before Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis is in Mexico on his 12th Apostolic Journey. He was welcomed there to an atmosphere of 'fiesta' on Friday night. On Saturday his schedule includes an encounter with civil society and the diplomatic corps, the bishops of Mexico, and Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Vatican Radio's Veronica Scarisbrick is in Mexico with Pope Francis and sent this report on Saturday's activities.

Listen to the report:

While Pope Francis comes to Mexico to walk with the people he has also begged a chance to pray on his own. You’ll have guessed where. It’s before the image of ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ which he says inspires security and tenderness. “She is our mother”, he insists, “who cares, protects and leads a people”.

His request has been granted and on Saturday on the first full day of his Apostolic journey he’ll be shown into a sort of secret room, the ‘camarin’ as they call it, located directly behind the altar of the Basilica of the Shrine which houses this image.

To get to it a sort of mini bank vault has to be unlocked. And for this fleeting occasion the image will be turned towards the Pope rather than towards the congregation gathered there for Holy Mass.

You are probably familiar with this 16th century image of Our Lady framed by a  pink almond shaped oval with the rays of the sun all around, wearing a green blue cloak decorated with stars and standing on a crescent moon. The moon being symbolic of Mexico as the word means ‘navel of the moon’. Known as the 'Morenita' she appeared as a 'mestizo', of mixed race, so symbolic of the unity of Mexican people.

Pope Francis makes requests but also courteously accepts invitations. Naturally from the nation’s President Enrique Pena Nieto at the impressive ‘Palacio Nacional’, seat of the federal executive in Mexico.

Located at the heart of Mexico City the building with its stylish colonial red façade overlooks the elegant “Plaza de la Constituciòn” known as ‘El Zòcalo’. Part of the stone used for it was stolen from the original Palace of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II, also  in the early 16th century.

It is there that on Saturday morning  Pope Francis delivers his first speech to the Mexican nation in the presence of civil authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps.   

The second speech is to the Bishops fittingly in the City’s Metropolitan Cathedral of the ‘Assumption’ with its ‘Dona Maria’ bell which pealed for two hours to welcome the Pope to town on Saturday evening. An ornate colonial building which like all of the rest of this capital city sinks into the spongey soil of what was once an azure lake. One which houses a massive gold altar. I mean really massive. That’s why perhaps the ‘guardia federal’ keeps guard inside the precints of the Cathedral.

In Mexico City, I’m Veronica Scarisbrick.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis arrives in Mexico to a 'fiesta' atmosphere

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis arrived in Mexico Friday evening after an historic meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba.  This is his 12th Apostolic Journey and is the third Pope to visit the country. Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick is with the Pope in Mexico. She sends us this report on his arrival Friday evening.

Listen to the report:

The Pope’s arrival in Mexico City was supposed to be a straightforward affair without particular protocol.  In reality it had more the feeling of a ‘fiesta’ verging on a television show.

There was a stadium crowd, mariachi, folk dancers in colourful traditional dresses and singers of all ages including children. But then as we know Mexicans love fiestas.

And perhaps Pope Francis does too. He certainly looked relaxed and happy as he always does when he’s back among his people.

On a more official note the President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto was there to greet him together with his wife, the ‘primera dama’.  

And there were children who ran all together into his arms to hug him while the crowds yelled “ Quedan que el papa nos benedica’, requesting he bless them.

Eventually he did bless them and then waved in a friendly manner and on a more profane note he donned a black and gold Mexican mariachi hat for a moment.

And then he climbed into his pope mobile and covered the nineteen kilometres into town amid a tunnel of cheering crowds lighting up the night with their smart phones or torches.

Definitely a homecoming…

With Pope Francis in Mexico City, I’m Veronica Scarisbrick

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis on Patriarch Kirill meeting

(Vatican Radio) On board the papal plane following the meeting with Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis told journalists that “it was a conversation between brothers.”

Speaking en route to Mexico the Pope said that he and the Patriarch spoke about their respective Churches, the situation in the world, wars, orthodoxy and also the next pan-orthodox Synod. He added that he really felt, “an inner joy that came from the Lord”.

The Pope reaffirmed the freedom that was felt during  the meeting which included the presence of Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Metropolitan Hilarion and two interpreters.

Pope Francis also said that “possible activities in common” has been talked about, adding that “unity is a walk together.”

Commenting on the joint declaration signed after the encounter, the Holy Father stressed “it was a pastoral and not a sociological declaration.” The Pope said it was “pastoral" in the sense that it was “two bishops meeting about pastoral concerns.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia met in Havana, Cuba on Friday (12 Feb) to sign an historic joint declaration.

The official English translation of the full joint declaration is below:

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the  Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way.  The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate.  Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom.  It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.

We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20).

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!

Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!   Francis                                  Kirill Bishop of Rome                      Patriarch of Moscow  Pope of the Catholic Church    and all Russia


(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis sends airborne blessing to Mother Angelica

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2016 / 09:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While on board the plane taking him to Cuba and then Mexico, Pope Francis took a moment to send a special blessing to EWTN’s foundress Mother Angelica, and to ask her for her prayers. “To Mother Angelica with my blessing. And I ask you to pray for me, I need it. God bless you Mother Angelica!” Pope Francis, speaking in English, paused to record the brief video message while greeting journalists on his Feb. 12 flight to Havana, Cuba. His stop on the island was a last minute addition to his Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico, so that he could meet with Russia Patriarch Kirill. Set to take place at Havana’s Josè Martì International Airport, the encounter marks the first-ever meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is customary for the Pope to greet the journalists traveling with him after the first meal of the flight. After speaking to the whole group of them together, he typically makes his way around the plane to greet each one individually. This time was no different. As he made his way down the line of the 76 international journalists on board – 10 of whom are from Mexico – Pope Francis paused to record the brief, 20 second video for Mother Angelica when asked by CNA/EWTN News Rome Bureau Chief, Alan Holdren. “On behalf of Mother Angelica, I thank the Holy Father for his greeting and want him to know that Mother, her Nuns and the EWTN family will be praying for him and for the success of this historic journey,” EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw said in a statement responding to the blessing. While Pope Francis has gained a reputation for his numerous interviews as pontiff, he was known during his time as a cardinal and archbishop for his aversion to speaking to the media. He did, however, make a few exceptions. One of them was for EWTN’s Spanish channel, EWTN Español, leading into the 2012-2013 Year of Faith, called for by Benedict XVI before he resigned from the papacy and closed by Francis after his election. In the interview, the then-Cardinal Bergoglio spoke about the significance of the Year of Faith, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the importance of Latin America in the life of the Church. A nun with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, Mother Angelica founded EWTN in Irondale, Alabama in 1981. She was a leading presence at the network and hosted a call-in show called Mother Angelica Live until she suffered a disabling stroke in 2001. Now bedridden, she currently lives in Hanceville, Alabama. In October 2009, Benedict XVI awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal to Mother Angelica. The medal is the highest honor the Pope can bestow on religious and is given for service to the Church. In June 2014, Catholic News Agency and the Eternal Word Television Network merged, bringing the entire ACI Group – Catholic News Agency, as well as the Spanish language ACI Prensa, Portuguese ACI Digital, Italian ACI Stampa and German CNA Deutsch – into the EWTN family. In his greeting to the journalists on the plane, Pope Francis thanked them for the work they will do during the “busy and tight trip” – one that was very much desired “by my brother Kirill, by me and also by the Mexican (people).” He said his “most intimate wish” is to pause in silence before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “which has been studied and studied and studied and there aren't human explanations…this is a thing of God.” The image, miraculously imprinted on the tilma of St. Juan Diego 470 years ago, has made such a strong impact in Mexican culture that even those who are atheists still profess their devotion to her, Francis said. Pope Francis also announced that Vatican Chief of Protocol Dr. Alberto Gasbarri, who organizes international papal trips, will retire, and that Colombian Msgr. Maurico Rueda will take his place. In his one-on-one greetings with journalists, Pope Francis, told journalist Nestor Ponguta of Radio Caraco that he would visit Colombia in 2017 if the government and leaders of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, could reach a peace agreement. Another journalist asked whether or not the Pope was planning to visit Moscow, to which Francis responded: “Russia and China, I have them here,” and pointed to his heart. He then asked that the visit to these countries be prayed for.  

The silent reform of Benedict XVI's papacy

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 02:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his new book on Benedict XVI, Vatican journalist Marco Mancini argues that while the retired pontiff became known for his shocking resignation three years ago, his real legacy began far earlier. “Unfortunately, we remember Benedict for the great gesture of the renunciation, but if we go on remembering Benedict only for that act, it would not be doing a service to truth of the facts,” Mancini told CNA. Neither would it be a service to history, to his pontificate or his person, “because he really in eight years confronted the totality of the themes and the emergencies that the Catholic Church lived.” Benedict XVI's Feb. 11, 2013, announcement of his resignation from the papacy – exactly three years ago today – hit the Church “like a lightning bolt in a clear blue sky,” said one cardinal who was present in the room when the pontiff stunned the Vatican and the rest of the world with his decision. But in his book “Benedetto XVI: Un Papa Totale,” translating roughly as “Benedict XVI: a Complete Pope,” Mancini, 33, said Benedict's most memorable act was not his resignation, but everything he did to carry the Church through the many difficult and varied crises it endured during his eight-year reign. The book, which as of now is only available in Italian, was presented at the Vatican's Teutonic College Feb. 5. Speakers at the event included Mancini, Angela Ambrogetti – editor of CNA's Italian edition ACI Stampa – as well as Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household. Archbishop Gaenswein told CNA that in his opinion, Benedict XVI's greatest legacy “is yet to be discovered,” but that an important one we can see now is “the personal and theological witness of a man who is a great theologian, but who did theology in a very, very humble way.” The “silent reform” Benedict carried out is centered on the way he guided and governed the Church, “with clarity, but above all with his fine theology,” the archbishop said. Mancini, who writes for ACI Stampa, is a former sports broadcaster, but began his work as a journalist in 2003 when he started writing for the Italian agency “Area,” reporting primarily on internal politics, particularly in the Vatican. He has covered both the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI, as well as the 2013 conclave that named Pope Francis as Benedict XVI's successor. In 2013 he co-authored a book with his colleague Andrea Gagliarducci titled “La quaresima della Chiesa,” meaning “The Lent of the Church.” In his interview with CNA, Mancini said that the original plan for his book on Benedict was that it be released for the 10 year anniversary of his election to the papacy, but that the drafting took longer than expected. Despite the fact it came out just before the three-year anniversary of Benedict XVI's announcement of his decision to resign, the book “doesn’t seek to remember the renunciation, it seeks remember his pontificate in its totality.” “I tried to synthesize in 100 pages the pontificate of Benedict XVI, which is impossible. But I tried to underline the aspects that are perhaps less known to the greater public about the pontificate, from relativism, to his ecumenical commitment.” A total of 96 pages, the book offers a nutshell overview of how Benedict XVI fought against scourges in the Church and in society such as the growing presence of relativism, the economic crisis, pedophilia, increasing global hostility toward Christians and the first “Vatileaks” scandal. It also highlights Benedict XVI's many efforts in favor of ecumenical dialogue, particularly with the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, as well as his emphasis on caring for the environment and promoting sustainable development and business practices. Mancini also notes that Benedict was the one to start the current process of reform and “cleaning” within the Roman Curia, which Pope Francis has continued, particularly on financial matters, the streamlining of the marriage annulment process and dialogue with the Muslim community.   “Financial transparency and pedophilia are the two pillars of the process of reform that Benedict set up in the Church. He started,” Mancini said. “(And) fortunately his successor has carried this process of reform forward,” he added, noting that while on his way back from Africa in November, Pope Francis himself said that Benedict is the one who started the reform. On the papal plane from Bangui to Rome Nov. 30, 2015, Francis took a question from a journalist on corruption in the Vatican. In his response, the Pope noted how on Good Friday in 2005, 13 days before St. John Paul II died, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger had spoken about “the filth in the Church.” “He denounced it first,” Francis said, noting that Ratzinger spoke about the same thing again shortly before the conclave, “and we elected him for that freedom in saying things.” In his comments to CNA, Mancini noted that while Benedict did a lot in terms of beginning the current process of reform, it wasn't all smooth sailing – he also faced resistance, as Francis does today. “When there is an idea of reform, whatever it is, there is always resistance. Pope Benedict faced a lot of resistance and a lot of problems,” Mancini said. One of the toughest things Benedict had to face immediately after his election was a Curia that Mancini described as “too independent” due to John Paul II's declining health in the last years of his papacy. “The problem, according to me, is that toward the end of the pontificate of John Paul II – he was an extraordinary Pope, absolutely extraordinary – the problem is that his physical limitations allowed him to govern very little.” What resulted is that when Benedict XVI arrived, he had to put things back into order, so “the work of reform and order began right away.” In addition to Benedict's efforts in creating financial transparency and accountability in abuse cases, he was also the one who first instituted a commission to study the streamlining of the marriage annulment process. The commission finished its work and handed it in, but since Benedict resigned, he never made a move on it. Francis himself picked the project back up, forming a new commission to get an updated study of the issue, which resulted in the new process that went into place Dec. 10. In terms of the resistance Benedict faced, Mancini said he believes it is the same “lobby” that is resisting Francis' process of reform. “I think there is a lot of continuity between the two, whether it's among whoever tries to hinder the process of reform, or the way of reforming the Church,” he said, because Pope Francis “is continuing the same work that Pope Benedict started.” “So I realize in speaking with many people, there's a need to thank Benedict more for what he did for the Catholic Church.”

Vatican: No, bishops are not being told to cover up abuse

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 12:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Media reports are wrong to claim that the Vatican is telling new bishops that they don’t have to report sexual abuse, Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. A reported comment from a Vatican consultant is “not in any way – as someone has mistakenly interpreted – a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new 'guidelines' for bishops,” Fr. Lombardi said Feb. 11. The news reports concerned a statement from French Monsignor Tony Anatrella, who contributed to a 2015 formation course for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops. Msgr. Anatrella, a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, wrote a document with a section reflecting on countries’ civil laws that mandate abuse reporting. The document said “it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.” Msgr. Anatrella said that decision is up to victims and their families. Some media reports depicted the monsignor’s statements as an encouragement to cover up sexual abuse or as a claim that it is “not necessarily” a bishop’s duty to report sexual abuse in cases where laws require it. However, Fr. Lombardi rejected this idea, saying that “Anatrella does not say anything new or different than what has been said by the competent ecclesiastical institutions.” He directed reporters to a May 3, 2011 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. There, the congregation told episcopal conferences that it is important to cooperate with civil authorities in responding to sexual abuse crimes. Without compromising the sacraments, it said, “the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed.” Fr. Lombardi also noted that the comment is part of a single report of a collected volume from an expert conference on the formation of new bishops. That report was “published together with several others on different topics.”  

Four reasons why Pope Francis will meet with Patriarch Kirill

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The first, historic meeting between a Pope and a Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church does not come from nowhere. Both the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Holy See have been working on such an event for decades. In at least three cases under recent Popes, such a meeting seemed about to take place. Once under St. John Paul II and twice under Benedict XVI. But then nothing happened. Why, then, did the Feb. 11 meeting suddenly become possible? There are at least four different reasons.   The need to counter anti-Christian persecution   Both the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church have spoken out clearly to stop the “genocide” of Christians that is taking place in parts of the world. It is now time to join their voices.   Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, clearly spelled out the situation in a Feb. 5 press conference. He said that “the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches.” Metropolitan Hilarion added that “in the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.”   Metropolitan Hilarion’s reference to “internal disagreements” alludes to that part of Russian Orthodoxy that always rejected the possibility of a meeting with the Pope.   For Metropolitan Hilarion, the problems with the Catholic Church still hold. He said the “principle problem” in relations between the two Churches and the “principal obstacle” for a meeting between the two primates has lied in the “Uniate” controversy. The term refers to the Eastern Catholic Churches who were previously Eastern Orthodox Churches. The question was exacerbated during the conflict in the Ukraine. So much so that the same Metropolitan Hilarion took the floor at the Catholic Church’s 2014 synod of bishops to complain about the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. He objected that the Church was active in dioceses of the Moscow patriarchate. The metropolitan’s actions seemed to freeze relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the desire for a meeting between the Patriarch and the Pope was great, according to Father Giovanni Guaita, who worked for the Russian Orthodox Church Department for External Affairs. “Despite any possible division, in the face of religious fundamentalism and of terrorism…it is clear that Christians must be more united,” he stressed.   The priest told CNA Feb. 7 that the upcoming meeting will show “that Christians must be more united in responding to religious fundamentalism and in denouncing the persecution of Christians.” Likely, the joint declaration will mostly deal with an appeal against the persecution of Christians.   The need to counter global immorality   Fr. Guaita cited a second reason why the meeting needed to take place now. “While the world is experiencing a sort of moral liberalism, the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are a rampart for traditional values, and for this reason they are more united together. Together, they can launch a message of morality to the world.”   In this sense, he said, the choice of Cuba is meaningful. “There are still not the right conditions for this meeting to take place in Russia or in Italy. But America is the new world. While Europe is the continent of divisions, America provides the image of a much younger continent. The choice of Cuba can represent a message of hope, the signal that we can start again from new relationships.”   Will these new relationships overcome the Ukrainian issue? It is hard to know. While everything appeared to be set for the announcement of the meeting with the Pope, the Russian Orthodox Synod issued Jan. 28 a strongly worded declarations that reiterated the attacks on the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine.   For this reason, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, said Feb. 5 that he does not expect that the meeting will bring any particular changes.   Archbishop Shevchuk then underscored that “the meeting cannot be an end in itself, but must rather be an instrument, a necessary means for honest and open dialogue.” He added that he is “pleased that we are no longer considered an obstacle and aren’t being used to justify one’s unwillingness to engage in such dialogue.”   The Russian government needs a foreign affairs boost   During the Ukrainian conflict, the issue of the Ukrainian Church became a political issue, given that the Russian Orthodox Church has always sided with the Russian administration. According to a source close to the Patriarchate of Moscow, “the Russian Orthodox Church has often acted as a sort of shadow ministry for the Foreign Affairs of the Russian administration.”   At the moment, Russia’s diplomatic situation is isolated. Relations with Turkey are very poor after a Russian warplane was shot down the last November. Many in the international community oppose Russia’s strong support for Syrian president Bashar Assad.   Facing this diplomatic isolation, Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis in Rome two times in three years: in November 2013 and in June 2015. In both cases, they spoke about the Middle East situation, with a special view to Syria, and about persecuted Christians.   “Putin is presenting himself as the champion of the protection of persecuted Christians, and the Russian Orthodox Church helps him keep this image vivid,” a source close to the Patriarchate told CNA Feb. 9. In the end, “the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis shows that Russia is open, and that the Pope is close and sensitive to Russia.”   The Russian Orthodox Church looks ahead to the Pan-Orthodox Synod   The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate also finally agreed to meet with the Pope for reasons of ecclesiastical politics. As the June gathering of the Pan-Orthodox Council approaches, Patriarch Kirill must show himself to be as close to Rome as Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who promoted and organized the Pan-Orthodox Council.   Patriarch Bartholomew proved to be closer than ever to the Catholic Church during the Pope Francis pontificate. He was the first Orthodox Patriarch ever to take part to a Papal installation Mass. He was present at the global prayer for peace with Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens in June 2014. He hosted the Pope at his headquarters in Istanbul during the papal visit to Turkey in November 2014.   This way, Patriarch Bartholomew gained authority among the Orthodox Churches and was able to organize the Pan-Orthodox Council. This is a long-standing dream for the Constantinople Patriarchate that until now was unachievable.   After meeting Pope Francis, Patriarch Kirill can go to the Pan-Orthodox Synod on a par with Patriarch Bartholomew. Both the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Patriarchate of Constantinople can claim a privileged and special relationship with the Catholic Church.   Is a Moscow visit still a dream for the Pope?   In the end, Moscow and Rome are generally improving their relations. Rather than hold an ecumenical meeting, they are going to renew their relations with a common commitment to help persecuted Christians. A further step would be an advancement in ecumenical dialogue. The last theological document was issued in Ravenna, Italy by a Catholic-Orthodox mixed commission. Both parties agreed that the Pope of Rome has a sort of primacy, and presides in charity for the other Christian churches. But still, there is not any agreement about how this primacy must be exercised.   In the end, a papal trip to Moscow still seems to be a dream. At least, it is not on the agenda yet.   Photo credit: Nickolay Vinokurov via

Lent is a time of pruning and reconciliation, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2016 / 10:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis said that Lent is the perfect time to let go of selfish and indifferent attitudes, returning to God with the help of prayer, penance and acts of charity. “Lent is a beneficial time of pruning from falsity, from worldliness, from indifference: to not think that everything is ok if I am ok; to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consensus, but purity of heart and life,” the Pope said Feb. 10. It’s a time to rediscover one’s Christian identity, “which is love that serves, not selfishness that uses,” he said. Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica alongside the Missionaries of Mercy, who concelebrated with the Pope and received their official mandate from him during the ceremony. A novelty of the Pope's Jubilee of Mercy, the priests will be sent out to dioceses around the world as special ambassadors of mercy during the Holy Year. Although there are more than 1,000 missionaries from all five continents, only 700 made it to Rome for the official mandate. In addition to their increased availability for hearing confessions, they have also been given faculties to forgive sins otherwise reserved to the Holy See. Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four. Namely, they are: profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. In his homily, Pope Francis focused on two “invitations” extended in the day’s scripture passages. The first, he said, comes from Saint Paul in the second reading. When Paul tells his readers to “be reconciled to God” in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he’s not just giving a piece of good, fatherly advice or making a suggestion, but is offering “a true and genuine petition in the name of Christ,” the Pope said. The reason for such a “solemn and heartfelt appeal” is because Christ knows how fragile we are as sinners, Francis observed. “(Christ) knows the weakness of our heart; he sees the wound of evil we have committed and suffered; he knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that we need to feel loved in order to do good.” Francis stressed that we are not capable of doing good on our own, which is why St. Paul doesn’t tell us to do just anything, “but to be reconciled by God, (because) he overcomes sin and raises us from our miseries, if we entrust them to him.” However, he warned that certain obstacles frequently get in the way, such as the temptation to lock the doors of our heart, to give into feelings of shame, and to distance ourselves from the door by wallowing in our own misery. Francis then addressed the Missionaries of Mercy directly, telling them that their mandate is to be a sign and instrument of God’s forgiveness. He prayed that they would help people to open the doors of their hearts, to overcome shame and encourage them not to run from the light offered by God. “May your hands bless and lift brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father will rest on his children and heal their wounds!” he prayed. A second “invitation” the Pope highlighted was the Prophet Joel’s instruction to “Return to me with all your heart” in the day’s first reading. The reason we need to return, he said, is “because we have distanced ourselves. It’s the mystery of sin: we have distanced ourselves from God, from others, from ourselves.” It’s easy to see this if we stop to think about how we struggle to really trust in God without fear, how hard is for us to love others without thinking badly about them, and how easily we are “seduced” by material things that leave us poor in the end, Pope Francis said. However, he noted that alongside this story of sin, “Jesus opened a history of salvation.” Turning to the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, the Pope said it invites us to become “protagonists” in our own conversion by embracing the “three remedies, three medicines,” of prayer, charity and fasting and penance, “which heal from sin.” Pope Francis concluded his homily by emphasizing that returning to God with one’s entire heart is not something external, but instead comes “from the depth of ourselves.” “Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and authenticity, overcoming hypocrisy,” he said, and prayed that the entire Church would walk together on the Lenten path, receiving the ashes and keeping their gazed “fixed on the Crucified.” “He, loving us, invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to him, in order to return to ourselves,” Francis said.

If mercy doesn’t reach your pockets, it’s not real, Pope says

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2016 / 06:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Pope Francis, mercy isn’t just spiritual, but is something that ought to be expressed in concrete acts of service and in sharing one’s goods with the poor, which was a key tradition during Jubilee years throughout Scripture. Referring to the current Holy Year of Mercy, the Pope explained that the Jubilee is a time “for conversion, so that our heart can become bigger, more generous, more like a child of God, with more love.” “But I tell you that if the Jubilee doesn't arrive to the pockets, it's not a true Jubilee,” he said, adding that “this is in the Bible, it's not the Pope who invented this.” Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten season. In his continued catechesis on mercy as seen in Scripture, the Pope noted how the Jubilee year is an “ancient institution.” He took his cue from the biblical passage in the book of Leviticus in which the Jubilee was instituted among the Jews. According to the rules of the Jubilee, the year served as a “kind of general amnesty” in which a person who had been forced to sell their goods or property could regain possession of them, he noted. In that time, “requirements such as the Jubilee were used to combat poverty and inequality, guaranteeing a life of dignity for all and an equal distribution of the land on which to live and from which to draw sustenance,” the Pope observed. Because the land originally belonged to God, who then entrusted it to man, no one could claim exclusive possession of it or use ownership to create situations of inequality, he said. “With the Jubilee whoever had become poor returned to have what was necessary in order to live, and whoever had become rich restored to the poor what they had taken from them.” The result “was a society based on equality and solidarity where freedom, land and money would become again a good for everyone,” Francis explained. In off-the-cuff remarks, he noted that roughly 80 percent of the world’s wealth rests in the hands of about 20 percent of the people, and encouraged the faithful to be generous with what they have both during Lent, and the Jubilee. “Each person can think in their hearts: if I have too many things, why not leave 10 percent, 50 percent, to those who have nothing?” he asked, assuring those present that if they take the matter to prayer, the Holy Spirit would inspire them about what is reasonable for them to do. Francis then turned to the biblical law that required the payment of tithes, which would be used to assist the poor, people without land, orphans and widows. He said that tithes such as this arrive daily to the Office of the Papal Almoner, which oversees the Pope’s charity funds. When the letters come in, they frequently contain “a little bit of money: something small or not so small, which is part of a person's salary to help others,” the Pope said, explaining that “it’s beautiful” to help others, whether it be people, charitable institutions, hospitals, retirement homes or foreigners. Pope Francis then issued a sharp condemnation of the practice of usury, and lamented how many families have been forced to live on the streets due to the corruption of those who want to line their own pockets. “Usury is a grave sin before God,” he said, and noted that many times, people in desperation “end up committing suicide because they can't do it and they don't have hope.” These people “don't have an outstretched hand to help them, only the hand that makes them pay for personal interests,” he said, and prayed that the Lord would use the Jubilee of Mercy as a time to remove the desire of usury from all hearts, making them bigger and more generous instead. Francis pointed to God’s promise to bring blessings to those who lend a hand and who give generously, adding that when we are generous, the Lord “will give you double...maybe not in money, but the Lord always gives double.” He closed his address by encouraging those present to have the courage to share what they have with others. This, he said, “is called mercy, and if we want the mercy of God, let's begin to do it ourselves.”

Cover sinners with the blanket of mercy, Pope Francis tells priests

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 03:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with 650 of the 1,000 priests who've been chosen as Missionaries of Mercy, telling them to show the tenderness of God’s love to those who confess to them during the Jubilee. “Let us not forget: before us there is not sin, but the repentant sinner. A person who feels the desire of being welcomed and forgiven,” and who no longer desires to be far from God, the Pope said Feb. 9. He called to mind the biblical passage in which Noah, after the flood, got drunk from the wine he made in his vineyard, and was found lying naked inside his tent. While his son Ham laughed at him, Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him with a blanket. When speaking with those who come to the confessional, as priests and as missionaries “we are not called to judge with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune to sin,” Francis said, but are instead asked to take on the attitude of Shem and Japheth, protected their father from shame. “To be a confessor according to the heart of Christ means to cover the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so that they are no longer ashamed and can recover the joy of their filial dignity.” Pope Francis met with the Missionaries of Mercy in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to offer his reflections on their special role during the Jubilee. He will give them their official mandate during his Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s basilica Feb. 10. Though more than 1,000 priests have been selected as Missionaries of Mercy, only 650 have made it to Rome for their official commission. Selected from every continent, the missionaries, among other things, will be given the faculties to pardon sins in cases otherwise reserved to the Holy See. Though there are several such sins, the Holy See has clarified that the faculties of the Missionaries of Mercy are “limited exclusively” to just four. Namely, they are: Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (“thou shall not commit adultery”) and a direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. In his speech, the Pope said that to be a Missionary of Mercy is a responsibility that has been entrusted to them “because it asks you to be in first person witnesses of God's closeness and of his way of loving.” He clarified that this does not mean our way of loving, “which is always limited and at times contradictory,” but consists of God’s own style of loving and forgiving, “which is precisely mercy.” Francis then brought up several points which for him are key themes for the missionaries to keep in mind while carrying out their role throughout the Holy Year. The first thing he asked them to remember is that “you are called to express the maternity of the Church.” “The Church is Mother” not only because she continuously generates new children in the faith, but also because she nurtures that faith and offers the forgiveness of God and new life, “(which is) the fruit of conversion,” he said. If this perception of the Church as Mother fails “due to our rigidity, it would be a serious damage first of all for faith itself, because it would prevent the penitent from being inserted into the Body of Christ,” the Pope said, adding that it would also limit the penitent’s ability to feel like a part of the community. What the missionaries are called to express instead, is a Church who, as a mother, “welcomes anyone who approaches her, knowing that through her they are inserted into Christ.” No matter what the sin is that's been confessed, “every missionary is called to remember their own sinful existence and humbly place themselves as a channel of God's mercy,” he said. Pope Francis then underlined the importance of the desire of forgiveness in the heart of those who come to confession. This desire is the fruit of both grace and its action in peoples' lives, he said, reminding the missionaries that “this desire is the beginning of conversion.” Conversion, he noted, begins when the heart recognizes the evil it has done, but turns to God with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. A person’s desire for forgiveness is strengthened when they decide “in their own heart to change their life and they don't want to sin anymore,” Francis explained, and told the missionaries to “give a lot of space for this desire for God and for his forgiveness.” In his final point, the Pope pointed to “a component which is not spoken of much, but which is rather crucial: shame.” It’s not easy to come before another man, a representative of God, and confess one’s sins, he noted, explaining that shame “is an intimate feeling that affects one's personal life and requires an attitude of respect and encouragement on the part of the confessor.” Pointing to the image of Noah naked in the tent, Pope Francis said the passage, to him, emphasizes the importance of the role of a confessor. “Before us there is a nude person, with their weaknesses and their limits, with the shame of being a sinner,” he said, and urged the missionaries to always remember that it’s not sin that sits in front of them in the confessional, but a repentant sinner. Francis then noted that it’s not “the club of judgment” that brings lost sheep back to the flock, but rather, personal holiness, which he said is the true the source of renewal and reform within the Church. “Holiness is nurtured by love and knows how to bring upon itself the weight of those who are most weak,” he said, explaining that the role of a missionary of mercy is to carry the sinner “on their own back,” and console them with “the strength of compassion.” The Pope told the missionaries, when burdened by the weight of the sins confessed to them as well as their own personal limitations and lack of words, to put their trust “in the strength of mercy, which goes out to everyone as a love which knows no bounds.” He closed his address by assuring the missionaries of his prayers and asking that Mary would assist and intercede for them in their service during the Jubilee.

Cardinal council wraps up prep work on new Vatican departments

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 02:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Pope Francis' ongoing process of reform continues to move forward, his council of advisers have finished their proposals for two new Vatican departments, which would merge several others together. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists Feb. 9 that in their most recent meeting, the Pope’s Council of Cardinals gave a “final reading” of the proposals for two new Vatican departments, which are also referred to as “dicasteries.” While proposals for the new dicasteries, which would be dedicated to “Laity, family and life,” and “Justice, peace and migration,” has been on the table for some time, in this round of meetings “the proposals were finalized and given to the Pope for his decision,” Fr. Lombardi said. The cardinals met in Rome for just a day and half Feb. 8-9 – a shorter period than their usual, three-day round of meetings. All of the nine members were present except for Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, who is currently recovering from a planned procedural operation in December. Originally pitched in late 2014, the idea for the new dicasteries has been under development for some time. As of September 2015, the idea was that the department for Laity, Family, and Life would absorb the Pontifical Councils for the Laity and Family, and the Pontifical Academy of Life, while the department for Justice, Peace and Migration would take on the tasks of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, Migrants, Cor Unum and Health Care. However, with the final proposals turned into the Pope, it's up to Francis to decide how to move forward in implementing the council's recommendations. Another point addressed during the brief session was a deepening of the Pope’s speech for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, which he gave to the bishops and cardinals participating in the Synod on the Family Oct. 17, 2015. The speech, in which the Pope spoke extensively about the theme of “synodality” and emphasized the need for a “healthy de-centralization,” will be “important for the work of the reform of the Curia,” Fr. Lombardi said. In addition to the Pope’s speech and the reading of the proposals for the new dicasteries, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston also spoke about the activities of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he heads. Specifically mentioned were the legal and disciplinary matters that involve the competence of the dicasteries of the Curia. These, the spokesman explained, “must be further explored.” Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, also gave an update to the council on the state of reform in economic field, including new initiatives and introductions on procedures being carried out by the secretariat. The cardinals also received a document prepared by the Tribunal of the Rota on the implementation of the new canonical process on the validity of marriage. Fr. Lombardi explained that the document is intended for dioceses, and is “on its way from the Rota to the dioceses.” The eventual reform of Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline was also touched on briefly, though the Vatican spokesman stressed that as of now there is nothing concrete, but that the reform is “a work in progress.” In addition to the meeting of the council, Pope Francis also appointed new heads to two of the three departments forming the new Secretariat for Communications. The three departments of the Secretariat of Communication will include the Theological-Pastoral, the Technical Management and the department for editorial staff, which is expected to lead to a “radio-television” Vatican, uniting both Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center. Heading the Theological-Pastoral department, which will likely take on the functions of the former Pontifical Council for Social communications, is Natasa Govekar, who teaches the theology workshop “Cardinal T. Spidlik” at the Aletti Center in Rome. Additionally, the department for Technical Management, which will be charged with centralizing in a single technological platform, will be overseen by Francesco Masci, who until now has served in the Technical Area of the Vatican Internet Service. The announcement of Govekar and Masci’s appointments came in a Feb. 9 communique from the Vatican, and constitutes part of Francis’ ongoing reform of Vatican communications.

How to be a great confessor – Pope Francis' advice for priests

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 12:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Priests who are good confessors must recognize their own sins in order to forgive and comfort penitents, Pope Francis said one day before the start of the Lenten season. “I speak to you as a brother, and through you I would like to speak to all confessors, especially in this Year of Mercy: the confessional is for forgiveness,” the Pope said in his homily Feb. 9 in St. Peter’s Basilica. He celebrated the Mass with Capuchin Franciscan friars from around the world. Even if priests cannot give absolution in some cases, the Pope told them, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.” Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul.” “Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does,” the Pope said. Reflecting on the Capuchin Franciscan tradition as one of giving forgiveness, he cited the many well-known Capuchin confessors like St. Leopold of Mandic and St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio. Relics of both saints, including the body of Padre Pio, have been brought to Rome as a special initiative for the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. The Pope’s Tuesday morning Mass marked these special events. He said these saints are good confessors “because they feel like sinners” – they are forgiven when they know how to ask for it in prayer. When someone forgets the necessity of being forgiven, they slowly forget God, the Pope explained. They forget to ask for forgiveness and they don't know how to forgive. The humble priest, the one who feels like a sinner, is a great forgiver in the sacrament of Confession. Others who wrongly feel themselves pure “only know how to condemn.” “I ask you: don’t get tired of forgiving!” the Pope exhorted. “Be men of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace.” Pope Francis suggested that a penitent’s coming to the confessional is a telling gesture. “If a person comes to me in the confessional, it’s because they feel burdened by something heavy, and they want to remove it,” he said. “Maybe they don't know how to say it, but the gesture is there.” “If this person comes it's because they want to change, not to do it again, to be another person,” he continued. He noted that many times penitents cannot change because of their psychological conditions, their lives or their situation. He encouraged confessors to be “great forgivers,” not condemners. He noted that the Bible depicts Satan as “the great accuser.” “Forgiveness is a seed, a caress of God. Trust in the forgiveness of God,” the Pope told priests.  

High-ranking American in Vatican 'humbled' by appointment as nuncio

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2016 / 02:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed Msgr. Peter Bryan Wells, the highest ranking American in the Vatican Secretariat of State, as his new ambassador to South Africa and Botswana. “I am extremely humbled and honored by the faith which has been placed in me by the Church and our Holy Father, especially in this Year of Mercy,” Msgr. Wells said about his nomination. He asked for prayers as he prepares to embark on his new mission “to the extraordinary people of southern Africa.” The Vatican announced Wells’ appointment as nuncio in a Feb. 9 communique, which noted that the Pope has also elevated him to the rank of archbishop. Since July 16, 2009, Msgr. Wells, 52, has served as the Assessor for the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, which handles the majority of Church affairs aside from relations with other states. His role as assessor made Msgr. Wells the fifth ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretary of State, which he carried out first under Archbishop Fernando Filoni – now a cardinal – and Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the current ‘Substitute’ to the Secretariat of State. Born in Tulsa, Okla., May 12, 1963, Msgr. Wells studied at St. Meinrad Seminary College in Indiana obtaining a degree in Letters, before being sent to the Pontifical North American College in Rome to study theology. While in Rome, he obtained a baccalaureate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1990, and later, in 1992, a licentiate from the John Paul II Institute for studies on Marriage and the Family at the Pontifical Lateran University. After his ordination to the priesthood July 12, 1991, Msgr. Wells served in various roles in his home diocese of Tulsa, including parochial vicar at Holy Family cathedral, private secretary to the bishop and vicar for Religious Education in the diocese. He began his diplomatic work with the Holy See July 1, 1999, after obtaining a licentiate and doctoral degree in Canon Law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, in 1998 and 1999, respectively. The priest’s first diplomatic assignment was to the nunciature in Nigeria, where he served until 2002 when he was summoned back to Rome to work in the Vatican. Under his new role, Msgr. Wells will now move to Pretoria, where the nunciature of South Africa is located, while serving at the same time as nuncio to Botswana. In addition to his native English, Wells is also fluent in Italian, French, German and Spanish.