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Pope at Jubilee Audience: ‘Be reconciled to God’

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Saturday held an extraordinary Jubilee Audience in St. Peter’s Square for thousands of eager pilgrims. The Audience also celebrated the Jubilee for members of the police and armed forces.

The Holy Father focused in his catechesis on a very important point of mercy: reconciliation, taking the apostle St. Paul’s words in the second letter to the Corinthians 5:20-21 as his guide: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

Listen to Devin Watkins' report:

Pope Francis said St. Paul’s words ‘be reconciled to God’ are an invitation for all Christians, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. He said God constantly offers us his forgiveness, and our sins can never keep us from God’s mercy.

“Often we believe our sins push God away from us: in reality, by sinning we push ourselves away from Him, but He, seeing us in danger, keeps searching for us. God never accepts the possibility that someone could remain estranged from His love, as long as He finds in that person some sign of contrition for the evil committed.”

The Holy Father went on to say that, in our sinfulness, we can only return to God by freely accepting his grace.  For this, he has given us his Son Jesus, whose cross is a bridge leading us back to the Father.

“The sinner sees only himself and thus pretends to be self-sufficient; for this reason, sin distances us ever more from God, and this can become a barrier. However, Jesus comes to look for us like a good shepherd who is not content until he has not found the lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:4-6). He rebuilds the bridge which connects us to the Father and allows us to rediscover our dignity as sons and daughters. With the offer of his life, he has reconciled us to the Father and given us the gift of eternal life (cf. John 10:15). ‘Be reconciled to God!”

Reconciliation brings peace and contributes to society

He said this Holy Year of Mercy is a time for each of us to accept this offer of reconciliation and, in our communities, to bring it to the world around us.  Being reconciled with God not only brings inner healing and peace, but also impels us to work for reconciliation within society at every level, and thus contribute to the building of a global culture of peace, justice and solidarity.

“Let us accept, therefore, the invitation to be reconciled to God to become new creatures and to be able to radiate His mercy among our brothers and sisters.”

After the audience Pope Francis offered a special welcome to the members of the armed forces and police from throughout the world, especially those present at the audience from Canada, Kenya, Korea, the Philippines, and the United States of America.

(from Vatican Radio)

Vatican Regenerative Medicine conference Day 2

(Vatican Radio)   The body can work as its own “pharmacy” with its own tool kit to heal itself – that’s one of the revolutionary concepts to come out of a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine and its cultural impact on society. 

On day two of the three day conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Stem For Life Foundation, researchers from some of the world’s leading cancer institutes presented their ground-breaking technologies in immunotherapy and expressed high hopes that a cure for the all-too-often deadly disease may be just around the corner.

Need for prevention, access and affordability

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his son to cancer, addressed participants saying his son’s doctors told him that just in the last 4-5 years, cancer research has reached a turning point and that for the first time in history, many disciplines are working together to bring a cure. Echoing the call of Pope Francis, he said the tens of thousands of cases of cancer need to be prevented, and patients need access to affordable treatment.  Fewer than 5% of patients end up in clinical trials.

His voice rising with emotion, he challenged the scientists and doctors to share their research and data with each other:  “Why do you wait?  Do it now!”

Many of the researchers have begun to do just that thanks to a new approach among donors and philanthropists who are encouraging them to work in teams and share the data they gather.  Many, as we heard Friday, are already seeing success with immunotherapy - using the body’s own immune system to attack malignant cells -  as well as with stem cells and combined therapies to treat cancer.  Work is also underway to create and test personalized, patient-specific vaccines that hold the promise of preventing tumors from ever developing.

Dr. Robin Smith, President of the Stem For Life Foundation, spoke to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure about the interest in the Vatican meeting…

Listen:  

“Really it’s important for us to search for the cures and help bring solutions to people who are suffering around the world and we’re starting to see everyone really focusing on that,” says Smith.

Over the last five years, results in cancer trials have been “amazing”

“Immunotherapy, the way that you can take your immune system and educate it to kill cancer cells or to stop being over-active and killing good tissue” are just some of the exciting advances to come to the fore, Smith explains.  “We are learning more about how our body acts and we are learning more how we are able to really use what we have, what God has given us, to influence our health and cells that are damaged along the way.”

A cure for cancer is on the way, need for speedy regulatory approval

“A cure is on the way,” says Smith.  “More effective therapies – not just  treating symptoms but actually treating the underlying cause of their disease - is underway.  It’s just a matter of time and we have to band together to get the regulatory bodies focused on getting these therapies approved and into the clinic and to the patients who need them.

Some countries, like Japan, have been able to speed up the regulatory process.

“They’ve changed some legislation – if they know [the therapy] is safe and it shows a sign of efficacy – to allow patients to get the therapy while it continues along the development program for final approval.”  “So we all need to take a look at that and figure out how to make [the process] quicker.  Maybe [the answer is] it’s not as many patients because these trials are so costly.”  Development can take up to 10-15 years and costs can be upwards of US$ 500 million.  “And for people who are sick and suffering through their lifetime, that’s too long.”

Pope Francis’ words to participants, Smith says, offered a very “consistent” message.

“It’s the Year of Mercy, he’s focused on helping people, people’s needs, the focus on children, and you know, the fact that you have rare diseases that affect very few people – people aren’t focused on this.  It’s not economically feasible to come up with the therapies to treat those diseases as they take so long and cost so much. So from a corporation point of view, it’s very difficult.  And [the Pope’s] point is that we need to focus: someone needs to get out there and realize that there are many millions of people with rare diseases and we have to look for solutions and people aren’t doing that right now and he wants the world to come together and focus on those people who need advocates and who need people to really push on their behalf.”

To find out more about the conference:

#unitetocure and go to the website http://www.stemforlifefoundation.com/

Newsletter:  https://www.stemforlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/SFL_Newsletter_FALL12.pdf

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: No to Double lives: Christians are people of light

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis warned Christians against having double lives, displaying an outer facade of light but having darkness in their hearts. He urged them to walk in the light and not tread dark paths, saying God’s truth cannot be found there. The Pope’s remarks came during his homily at Mass celebrated on Friday morning in the Santa Marta residence.

Taking his cue from the reading of St John’s First Letter, Pope Francis reflected on the eternal struggle against sin, saying we must be pure like the Father but even if we sin we can count on his pardon and his tenderness. He stressed the Apostle’s warning to believers to tell the truth and not have double lives, saying one thing but doing another.    

Walk in the light

“If you say you are in communion with the Lord, then walk in the light.  But no to double lives!  Not that! That lie that we are so used to seeing and where we too sometimes fall (into temptation), don’t we?  To say one thing and do another, right?  It’s the never ending temptation.  And we know where that lie comes from: in the Bible, Jesus calls the devil ‘the father of lies’, the liar. It’s for this reason that this grandfather says with infinite tenderness and meekness to the ‘adolescent’ Church: ‘Don’t be a liar! You are in communion with God, walk in the light. Do works of light, don’t say one thing and do another. No to double lives and all that.”

Bigger than our sins

Noting how John began his Letter with the greeting, ‘children’, Pope Francis said this affectionate beginning is just like the tone of a grandfather towards his ‘young grandchildren’ and reveals the tenderness and light contained in this reading. It also recalls Jesus’ words when he promised “rest” to all those “who labour and are overburdened.” In the same way, the Pope continued, John urges his readers not to sin but if somebody does, to not be discouraged by this.

“We have a Paraclete, a word, an advocate, a defender at the Father’s side, it’s Jesus Christ, the Upright One. He makes us righteous. It is He who pardons us. A person may feel like saying to this grandfather who gives us this advice: ‘But is it such a bad thing to have sins?’ ‘No, a sin is a bad thing! But if you have sinned, look at who is waiting to pardon you.’ Always! That’s because He, our Lord, is greater than our sins.”

The Pope concluding by saying this is God’s Mercy and his greatness and it’s from Him alone that we can get our strength.   

“We must walk in the light because God is Light.  Don’t walk with one foot in the light and the other in darkness.  Do not be liars.  And one other thing: we have all sinned. Nobody can say: ‘This man is a sinner, this woman is a sinner.’  I, thanks to God, am upright.’ No, only one is Upright, He who paid for us. And if somebody sins, He is waiting for us and pardons us because He is merciful and knows very well what we are shaped from and remembers that we are but dust. May the joy that this Letter gives us, carry us forward in the simplicity and the transparency of the Christian life, above all when we turn to the Lord… with truth.”

 

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges: 

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope addresses conference on regenerative medicine

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday addressed participants of an International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact. The Conference is being sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Stem for Life Foundation, and the STOQ Foundation.

The 2016 conference focused on pediatric cancers and rare diseases, as well as diseases that occur with aging. It featured talks and discussions with leading cell therapy scientists, physicians, patient advocates, ethicists, philanthropists, leaders of faith and government officials.

In his address, Pope Francis focused on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the institutions working with it.

“It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society,” the Pope said, “and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease.” Pope Francis described this aspect of their work as “increasing sensitivity.”

The Holy Father also emphasized the importance of research, in terms of “education and genuine scientific study.” Education, he said, is necessary not only to develop students’ intellectual abilities, but also to ensure “human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree.” Research, meanwhile, “requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person.”

The third aspect highlighted by Pope Francis was “ensuring access to care.” A desire for profit should never prevail over the value of human life. This, the Pope said, “is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.” By drawing attention to and educating people about rare diseases, by increasing funds for research, and by promoting “necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift,” he continued, “the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered.”

Pope Francis concluded his address with a word of encouragement for those participating in the Conference. “During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy.”

Below, please find the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ remarks:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis

to Participants of the International Conference

on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact

Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican City

 

Friday 29 April 2016

 

Dear Friends,

            I am pleased to welcome all of you. I thank Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi for his words and, above all, for having organized this meeting on the challenging problem of rare diseases within today’s social and cultural context. During your discussions, you have offered your professionalism and high-level expertise in the area of researching new treatments. At the same time, you have not ignored ethical, anthropological, social and cultural questions, as well as the complex problem of access to care for those afflicted by rare conditions. These patients are often not given sufficient attention, because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns. In my ministry I frequently meet people affected by so called “rare” diseases. These illnesses affect millions of people throughout the world, and cause suffering and anxiety for all those who care for them, starting with family members.

            Your meeting takes on greater significance in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy; mercy is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2). Your work is a sign of hope, as it brings together people and institutions from diverse cultures, societies and religions, all united in their deep concern for the sick.

            I wish to reflect, albeit briefly, on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture and institutions working with it: the Vatican Science and Faith Foundation–STOQ, the Stem for Life Foundation, and many others who are cooperating in this cultural initiative.

The first is “increasing sensitivity”. It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society, and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease. We know that we cannot always find fast cures to complex illnesses, but we can be prompt in caring for these persons, who often feel abandoned and ignored. We should be sensitive towards all, regardless of religious belief, social standing or culture.

            The second aspect that guides your efforts is “research”, seen in two inseparable actions: education and genuine scientific study. Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree. From this pedagogical perspective, it is necessary in medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses which provide ample room for a human formation supported by ethical criteria. Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person. Formation and research, therefore, aspire to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love.

The third aspect I wish to mention is “ensuring access to care”. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I highlighted the value of human progress today, citing “areas such as health care, education and communications” (52). I also strongly emphasized, however, the need to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality” (53) that victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life. This is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy. We are called to make known throughout the world the issue of rare diseases, to invest in appropriate education, to increase funds for research, and to promote necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift. In this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered. Thanks to coordinated efforts at various levels and in different sectors, it is becoming possible not only to find solutions to the sufferings which afflict our sick brothers and sisters, but also to secure access to care for them.

            I encourage you to nurture these values which are already a part of your academic and cultural programme, begun some years ago. So too I urge you to continue to integrate more people and institutions throughout the world into your work. During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy. I accompany you and bless you on this journey; and I ask you, please, pray for me. Thank you.

(from Vatican Radio)

​‘Annuario 2016’ and ‘Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014’ are in bookstores-The living Church in a changing world

The Annuario 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014, edited by the Central Statistics Office, is has become available in book stores. Both volumes are printed by the Vatican Printing Press.

The data reveal several new aspects that emerged between 15 February and 31 December 2015 in the life of the Catholic Church in the world. During that period one eparchy was elevated to metropolitan status, three new dioceses, three eparchies and two apostolic exarchates were created, and one apostolic exarchate was elevated to eparchy.

The statistics presented in the Annuarium Statisticum, relevant to the year 2014, provide a brief analysis of the chief dynamics regarding the Catholic Church in the 2,998 ecclesiastic circumscriptions throughout the world.

Over the past nine years the number of baptized Catholics worldwide grew by 14.1%, exceeding the growth rate of the world’s population for the same period (10.8%). The presence of Catholics in the world, therefore, increased to 17.8% in 2014, from 17.3% in 2005. In absolute terms this amounts to approximately 1.272 billion Catholics in 2014 as compared to 1.115 billion in 2005. Since the statistics varied considerably in the various geographical areas, this explains the heterogeneous overall figure.

While Europe hosted nearly 23% of the world’s Catholic community in 2014, it now appears to be the least dynamic area overall, with an increase in the number of Catholics for the entire period of only slightly over 2%. The Catholic presence in the territory remained fixed at roughly 40%, with a minor correction with respect to 2005. This takes into account the fact that the demographic dynamic in the same period is several decimal points below that of the number of Catholics.

With reference to the entire 2005-2014 period, the number of baptized Catholics in Oceania increased at a slower rate than the population (15.9% and 18.2%, respectively), while the contrary was seen in the Americas (11.7% versus 9.6%) and in Asia (20% versus 9.6%). The African continent undoubtedly showed the most growth: the number of baptized (about 215 million in 2014), increased at a pace more than double that of Asian countries (nearly 41%) and is far higher than the population growth rate for the same period (23.8%).

Thus, apart from different demographic dynamics there was obvious confirmation of the increased percentage in Africa (where the number of baptized faithful rose from 13.8% to almost 17% of the worldwide population) and of the net drop of that in Europe, falling from 25.2% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2014. Although 2014 marked a minimal fall, the American continents continue to be home to almost half of baptized Catholics.

Asia, with over 60% of the global population, showed moderate growth in the incidence of Catholics, with approximately 11% of Catholics in the world. In Oceania the incidence of baptized faithful remained stable at less than 0.8% of the worldwide Catholic population.

Between 2005 and 2014 the number of bishops rose from 4,841 to 5,237, an increase of 8.2%. This increase was marked in Asia (over 14.3%) and Africa (over 12.9%), while in the Americas (over 6.9%), in Europe (over 5.4%) and in Oceania (over 4%) the figures were below the worldwide average. Regarding these varied trends, however, the distribution of bishops by continent remained substantially stable throughout the period studied, with a higher concentration of the total in the Americas and Europe. Also in Asia, where the number of bishops grew considerably, the overall demographic statistics showed limited growth, from 14.3% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2014.

There was a more homogenous and balanced distribution by continent in the number of baptized faithful per bishop, passing from 230,300 to 242,900 between 2005 and 2014; except for the singular case of Oceania (where the low population density in the fragmented territory of numerous islands and archipelagos creates completely unique situations), the trend in Africa and Asia, continents where the spread of Catholicism is more dynamic, is converging toward the global average.

From the statistics regarding diocesan and religious priests, the first striking figure is that the overall consistency in the number of priests increased by 9,381 between 2005 and 2014, from 406,411 to 415,792, and seems to have been consistent in recent years. This applies globally, since the figures vary widely among individual continents. In contrast with the notable increases in Africa (more than 32.6%) and Asia (more than 27.1%), Europe showed a fall of over 8%, and Oceania less than 1.7%. Different growth rates were recorded worldwide over time in the number of priests: the increase was stronger in the first six years of the period under study, but practically null in the last three years. In particular, the growth in the figures shows that, following the steady rise up to 2011 in the number of ordinations to the priesthood, there has been a steady, gradual decrease to date. The negative aspects of the trend show that defections have progressively decreased in number, while the death of priests, after a period of annual fluctuation, has risen in recent years. In particular, the trends of diocesan priests show overall growth in comparison to priests of the religious orders; moreover, while the initial data showed a growing trend in Africa, in the South and Central America, in Asia and Oceania, they reveal, by contrast, a declining trend in the remaining areas, Europe in particular. Religious priests, on the contrary, registered a downward trend in the Americas as well as in Europe and in Oceania.

The data regarding diocesan and religious priests demonstrate favourable trends overall in the areas previously studied, while the remaining areas show a downward trend. Thus, when viewed in relative terms, trends in the overall number of priests showed changes in the following geographical areas: from 2005 to 2014, an increase was seen in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America; numbers in the Middle East and Oceania remained virtually unchanged; lastly, downward trends were recorded in North America and Europe — the latter, in particular, showed a drop from 48.8% in 2005 to 43.7% in 2014.

The pastoral work of bishops and priests is supported by other pastoral figures: permanent deacons, professed men and women religious. The composition of these three groups of pastoral workers is quite diverse. At the end of 2014, there were, worldwide, 44,566 permanent deacons, 54,559 professed men religious who are not priests, and roughly 683,000 professed women religious. The evolutionary trends also presented different characteristics.

Permanent deacons constitute the most rapidly changing group over the course of the period: they grew from approximately 33,000 in 2005 to almost 45,000 in 2014, with a relative variation of over 33.5%. Although the increase is manifest everywhere, its pace varied among the continents: in Europe the number of permanent deacons increased significantly over nine years, rising from less than 11,000 to 15,000. The American continents also showed an increase: in 2014 the number rose to nearly 29,000 from approximately 22,000 in 2005. There are no significant changes to report in the territorial distribution of permanent deacons during the period examined: only a slight decrease was shown in the relative number of deacons in America and a growth in Asia. It is of interest to note that permanent deacons are well represented in the Americas (North America in particular) with 64.9% of all deacons in the world, and also in Europe (32.6%). This category, however, is scarce in Africa and Asia: these continents hold barely 1.7% of the worldwide figure.

The practical ability of permanent deacons to assist priests in performing pastoral work effectively in the territory, however, is still limited. In the world, the distribution of deacons per 100 resident priests, in fact, was just 10.7 in 2014, with a minimum of 0.48 in Asia and a maximum of 23.5 in America. In Europe the quotient is about 8%, while in Africa, 1.1 deacons serve alongside 100 priests. Therefore, the dimension of the phenomenon is still rather modest for their work to have a significant effect on the balance between the demand and offer of ministry to the baptized faithful residing in the area. In terms of development, however, it should be noted that there tend to be a greater number in the territory precisely where the ratio between baptized faithful and priests is reduced.

Instead, a slight decrease was reported in the number of professed men religious who are not priests. In 2005 there were 54,708 worldwide, decreasing thereafter to 54,559 in 2014. It is also noteworthy that the drop was concentrated in the Americas (less than 5%), in Europe (less than 14.2%) and in Oceania (less than 6.8%). On the contrary there was an increase in Africa (over 10.2%) and in Asia (more than 30.1%). Overall, in 2014, Africa and Asia represented almost 38% of the total (up from 31% in 2005). Conversely, the group comprised of Europe, the Americas and Oceania decreased to almost 10% over the period under examination.

Professed women religious in 2014 represented a population of 682,729, with almost 38% in Europe, followed by the American continents with over 177,000 consecrated women and Asia with 170,000. In comparison to 2005, this group showed a decrease of 10.2% which likewise involved the Americas, Europe and Oceania, with significant negative variations (around 18-20%). On the contrary, there was a decidedly steady increase of approximately 20% in Africa and of approximately 11% in Asia. In light of these greatly varied trends, the portion of the worldwide total of women religious grew in Africa and Asia from 27.8% to 35.3%, as compared to Europe and America, where the combined figure dropped from 70.8% to 63.5%.

The temporal development observed in the world between 2005 and 2014 for the number of major seminarians (diocesan and religious) showed an initial growth that continued until 2011, when the total recorded was equal to 105.4% of the 2005 total. This was followed by a slow but steady decline, which brought the 2014 figure down to 102.2%. With regard to consistency, the number of candidates to the priesthood worldwide rose from 114,429 in 2005 to 120,616 in 2011, and then dropped to 116,939 in 2014. The decrease observed in the overall number of major seminarians between 2001 and 2014 involved all the continents except Africa, where the number of seminarians increased by 3.8% (from 27,483 to 28,528). However, when the entire period from 2005 to 2014 is considered, the differences between the territorial areas appear more evident. While Africa, Asia and Oceania show dynamic upward trends (with growth rates of 21%, 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively), Europe registered a 17.5% reduction over the same period, and the Americas (particularly due to the negative trend in the southern hemisphere) showed a drop of 7.9% compared to the start of the period. As a result, a general re-evaluation of the role of the European and American continents in the potential growth and renewal of priestly figures is observed, with Europe’s share falling from 20.2% to 16.2%, and the Americas’ from 32.2% to 29.1%, in contrast with the expansion in Africa and Asia which represents an overall percentage of 53.9 of the worldwide total for 2014 (24.4% and 29.5%, respectively).

Also in relative terms with respect to the number of Catholics, the greatest movement was shown in Africa and Asia, with 133 candidates to the priesthood per one million Catholics in Africa in 2014, and about 247 in Asia. European and American figures (66 and 55, respectively, which are far less significant and in decline in comparison with 2005, would suggest a reduced offering of pastoral services. Lastly, from the number of major seminarians per 100 priests, one can form an idea of the generational replacement in the effective exercise of pastoral ministry. Thus, also in this context, Africa and Asia retain their primacy with 66 and 54 candidates per 100 priests respectively, while in Europe the figure is 10, confirming an ongoing stagnation in priestly vocations. The Americas and Oceania maintain an intermediate position with 28 and 22 candidates to the priesthood per 100 priests in 2014. Overall, however, thanks to the upturn in Africa and Asia, the total has gone from 28.16 to 28.12 major seminarians per 100 priests.

At the end of the quantitative survey conducted overall and for large geographical areas both in terms of consistency and of variations, one can draw approximate conclusions regarding the most obvious phenomena regarding current trends.

Firstly one can note from most of the phenomena analyzed, a certain dichotomy between the dynamics of the emerging continents, Africa and Asia, and those of Europe, which is progressively losing its centrality as the model of reference. This is not surprising. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the development of the Church in the world cannot ignore the major trends underlying worldwide development, especially for demographics. Thus, Europe has become the most static continent, hindered by the net aging of its population and by its low birth rate. The Americas as a whole are in an intermediate position, but were the analysis to distinguish between North and Latin America, divergences would likely arise, enabling at least a partial comparison, first to Europe and second to Africa and Asia. Oceania constitutes a reality unto itself, also due to its far more limited demographics.

In the 2005-2014 period, the number of priests increased overall, even if the significant increase of diocesan priests and the marked decrease of religious priests should be noted.

Europe registered a heavy loss, which was largely compensated by the lively trend shown by Africa and Asia regarding diocesan priests. The Americas presented, for the same period, a 1.6% growth: they have addressed the loss of 4,000 religious with just over 6,000 diocesan priests.

The average pastoral figure worldwide, expressed by the number of Catholics per priest, grew noticeably and is higher in Africa and the Americas, while in Europe it has been far more limited. The situation may plausibly be modified in the coming years, since the European clergy is older and weakened by lower renewal rates, while in Africa and Asia the number of candidates to the priesthood is clearly growing.

The relatively recent phenomenon of the considerable increase in the number of permanent deacons is of great importance. The dynamic trend shown by these workers is certainly not attributable to temporary or contingent motivations, but seems to express new and different choices in performing the work of spreading the faith. Indeed, the increase of deacons is seen generally in Europe and the Americas, less positive continents in terms of development in other categories of pastoral workers.

Candidates to the priesthood present a positive trend overall, however in this case as well, there are several reasons for concern in Europe and the Americas, where a decline has been clearly shown in recent years. Conversely, Africa and Asia show great vitality.

Vatican cell conference opens with focus on kids, rare disease

(Vatican Radio)  For a child to be born sick is a “scandalous” problem for humanity.  That was one of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s reflections Thursday as he opened in the Vatican day one of the Third International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact.  The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture partnered with the Stem For Life Foundation to organize what has been described as a “historic” three day event 28-30 April to look at the complex cultural and social framework of illnesses and at cutting edge research into cellular therapies.

In her opening remarks, the President of Stem For Life, Dr. Robin Smith, pointed to the growing range of therapies currently under study for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune disorders and rare diseases.  The first in the series of conferences was launched five years ago, she noted, to foster a dialogue about the importance of stem cell therapy.  Since then, the sector has progressed exponentially as scientists became increasingly aware of their ability to be “taught” to transform into a wide variety of tissue, cells and even organs.

Saving lives or playing God?

“Cellular cures are the light in front of us,” she said, but they need to be made more rapidly available to patients.  Super computers and ever-more powerful diagnostic tools are making it easier to identify the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.  The advances in cellular therapy are happening so quickly, she suggested, it will not be long before people begin to ask: can we design our own child?  Choose its hair and eye colour, its height and intelligence?  Can we turn back time and reverse aging?  Are we playing God?  The philosophical and ethical questions abound.

Smith invited us to have tissues at the ready for the heart-wrenching stories we were about to hear.  Stories like Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’ exhausting battle with breast cancer which evolved into any doctor’s worst nightmare: Mylodisplastic  Syndrome (MDS) or pre-Leukemia. She was told she had less than two years to live. But thanks to her sister, Sally, Robin received a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant that saved her life.

Transplants and “Reengineering” can transform lives

We heard that more than 70 disorders can be treated with bone marrow transplants.  Nearly half of the 50,000 such transplants performed around the world each year require a donor.

Though national registries have made matching up donors to patients easier in recent years, finding the right fit can take months. That, even though there are more than 20 million voluntary bone marrow donors worldwide.  Scientists are finding ways to train bone marrow cells to adapt to new hosts so they won’t be rejected by the body’s immune system.  They’re also finding promising new techniques by taking a patient’s own cells and re-programming them to fight off “bad” cells.  One such technique is called “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy,” a revolutionary but experimental treatment which reengineers the patient’s cells to kill off all cancerous cells.

17 year old Nicholas Wilkins was diagnosed with the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at age 4.  After repeated relapses, he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. But even that didn’t work. In 2013, his desperate parents enrolled Nicholas in a trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where doctors reinfused reengineered T-cells back into his body to attack the cancer.  Three years later, he is cancer free and doctors are hopeful he will stay that way because the “good” T-cells are continuing to fight the cancer.

Researchers are hopeful this technique can be just as promising in the treatment of other diseases, such as rare and autoimmune disorders.

90% of kids with cancer die in developing nations

Georgetown University Health Care Ethics Professor Fr. Kevin Fitzgerald, sj told us that some 80-90% of children with cancer in industrialized countries are cured while 90% die in poor countries.  The moral imperative, then, is to ensure adequate medical care in developing countries: an invitation to policy makers, businesses, the pharmaceutical sector and medical and research communities to collaborate to make this a reality.  And, he reminded us that as the largest health care provider in the world, the Catholic Church is ready to partner with them.

Eugene Gasana Jr was 13 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011 and after intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy in New York, he has been in remission. But Eugene wasn’t satisfied with just getting better himself.  He wanted kids in his home country of Rwanda to have access to similar, high quality medical care.  Thanks to a Foundation set up in his name and donors, his paediatric oncologist, Dr. Tanya Trippett of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is heading up a program to provide a hospital and cancer care for children in Kigali for the east African region.

According to Trippett, serving cancer patients in Rwanda and other parts of Africa is a challenge because of the lack of quality diagnostic equipment and in some cases, the absence of chemotherapy and cancer drugs.  The infrastructure is poor and oncologists are few.  Patients go hungry in hospitals which also struggle to provide follow-up care for families who live far away.  She wants to see more cooperation between Western hospitals and clinical professionals to provide training to Rwandan and other African doctors, nurses and hospital staff and greater access to funding.

Dr. Raphael Rousseau, Medical director of Genentech, a member of the Roche pharmaceutical group, would like to see more clinical trials in developing countries, using the same rigorous standards as Western trials.  He says he’s frustrated that drugs are not getting soon enough to children with cancer and appealed to drug companies to develop new therapies for cancer, especially in developing countries “where cancer is lethal.” This not an area of competition, he said, “we’re all in it for a good cause.”

Cord blood’s life-saving stem cells

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University Medical Center works with cord blood stem cells to find cures for brain diseases like cerebral palsy, or autism, and in some cases, with remarkable results.  Not long ago, after a woman gave birth, the placenta used to be thrown out in the trash, she said.  But now, the stem cell-rich material can be frozen and stored, perhaps for decades, in the some 700,000 public cord blood banks around the world until it is needed for therapy. Some four million banks preserve cord blood for private use. Cord blood can be an alternative source, she said, for patients who can’t find a matching donor.

Dr. Yong Zhao of Hackensack University Medical Center is finding encouraging results using cord blood cells for multiple autoimmune and inflammation-related diseases.

The rare disease challenge

The new treatments evolving are many: “nano technology,” “nano chips,” “gene therapy” and “gene editing” were some of the terms thrown out by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s Dr. Stephen Groft who said 4-8% of the population suffers from a rare disorder. Some 8,000 rare diseases have been identified, and most have a genetic origin, but more diseases are occurring and mutating. Multiply that by family and friends, he said, “and you have a big population affected by rare diseases.”  A lack of information on such disorders, misdiagnosis and lack of treatments are the real challenges facing patients with rare diseases.

But Dr. Groft is among a number of health experts worldwide who are compiling data bases of patients, doctors, symptoms, and treatment protocols so that the global health community can study these rare diseases and communicate with each other about them.  Social media plays a big part here, he said, as patients exchange their stories and search for clinical trials in which to participate and doctors looking for colleagues who have come across similar patient cases.

We heard about 14 year old Johnathan who suffers from a disorder known as “Butterfly disease,” a frightfully painful condition that makes his skin as fragile as powdery butterfly wings but has nothing to do with the beauty of the delicate creature.  Johnathan and his mom spend hours each day dressing him, bathing and changing the bandages covering the sores on much of his frail body. Here was one of the many times  I reached for a tissue on Thursday.   Johnathan knows he probably won’t survive past his mid- 20’s.

Then, there were the children with Batten disease, which one father described as a “thief” which comes in the night to steal away your small child’s vision, his brain, his ability to walk and talk.  And, the kids suffering childhood blindness who are receiving encouraging help with gene therapy.

Dr. Neil Warma of Opexa Therapeutics, is working with personalized T-cell vaccines to fit each individual’s patient’s profile to treat an array of autoimmune disorders including Multiple Schlerosis and NMO so the body can repair itself. New therapies are also evolving in the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes or juvenile diabetes giving fresh hope to patients suffering from this debilitating disorder too.

Tracey McClure

(from Vatican Radio)

Blood-red Trevi fountain a wake-up call on Christian persecution

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2016 / 02:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Illuminated by the red light that spilled across Rome’s Trevi fountain, voices from persecuted Christian communities across the world shared the stories of friends and loved ones killed for the faith, and urged the world to take greater action in putting the violence to an end. “Let us remember, tonight, the blood of the Christian martyrs, spilled by the violence of men and the sin of the world,” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza said April 29. Quoting Pope Francis, he stressed that when confronted with the situation, “silence and secrecy are also sins.”  He expressed his belief that the Christian martyrs of today are exercising “a real and vicarious atonement, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in favor of all men.” “This is why, while we shake around them, crying with their families for their violent death, we raise to God a hymn of praise for these brothers who have entered into the glory of Paradise, with the palm of martyrdom in their hands and girded with a crown of glory.” Cardinal Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary and international president of Aid the Church in Need, spoke against the backdrop of Rome’s famous Trevi fountain – which was colored red in recognition of all the Christians around the world who daily continue to give their lives for the faith. Organized by Aid to the Church in need, the event drew an international presence of Church leaders including Bishop Antonie Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, and Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, from Baghdad.  Iraq and Syria are among the countries where Christians are severely persecuted, with the Islamic State killing, enslaving and driving people out of their homes. Christians in Nigeria are also at risk from attacks by the militant group Boko Haram, while Christianity is illegal in countries including North Korea and Somalia.  Family and friends of Christians recently killed for their faith also gathered to share testimonies and the stories of their loved ones. Among the speakers at the event were Professor Shahid Mobeen from Pakistan, founder of the Association for Pakistani Christians in Italy and a friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, who served as the federal minister for the minorities in Pakistan and was assassinated in 2011. The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has begun collecting testimonies about Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity. Other speakers present were Maddalena Santoro, the sister of Italian Fr. Andrea Santoro, who was killed in Turkey in 2006 as he was praying inside his church, and Luka Loteng, 25, from Kenya, who had several friends killed in the Garissa University massacre of Christian students in 2015. A Missionaries of Charity sister who had been in formation with one of the sisters recently killed in Yemen was also present.  In comments to CNA, the sister, who preferred to remain anonymous, recalled meeting fellow Missionary of Charity Sr. Judith in formation in Rome. Sr. Judith was one of four Missionaries of Charity killed in a brutal attack on their convent in Yemen March 4.  She and three other sisters – Sr. Anslem, Sr. Marguerite and Sr. Reginette – were murdered along with 16 other victims, including volunteers from Ethiopia and Yemen, when gunmen stormed their convent claiming to have relatives living there. Each victim was found handcuffed and shot in the head. The sister who spoke with CNA recalled how she had spent one year with Sr. Judith at the formation house in Rome, and that she was “very joyous, like all from Africa, and always willing to help.” “She was very kind and full of life. We also organized apostolates together. She was a very beautiful sister, very joyful,” she said. Although she was nervous to give her testimony since she is not used to public speaking, the sister said the event at the Trevi fountain is “a beautiful testimony” of Pope Francis’ constant references to “the martyrs of today.” “The world is not so much in contact with the recent news, and maybe they don’t want to be, so he’s putting it into the light.” Bishop Audo also voiced his hope that the event would help draw attention to the growing persecution of Christians worldwide. In an interview with CNA, he said that lighting up such a well-known monument in Rome is “something very new and very courageous. It gives us strength in a context of difficulty and departure.” “To have such meetings and such declarations in one of the most important places in Rome is a local and international message. It really moves me.”  The bishop expressed his admiration for those who both organized and spoke at the event, and said that “small things” such as this that will “help to change the world.” Bishop Audo’s diocese of Aleppo has been the site of increased hostility amid Syria’s ongoing civil war, already in its fifth year.  Violence in the city reached a fever-pitch on Thursday when an airstrike on a pediatric hospital killed 50 people, including several children and doctors. According to CNN, the Al Quds field hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, was hit by a missile from a fighter jet Wednesday night, claiming the lives of at least three children and three doctors, one of whom was the last pediatrician in the city. Bishop Audo called the attack “a drama,” and questioned the reasoning behind it, asking “why a hospital? Why children? I don’t understand this.” However, he stressed that just because it made international news doesn’t mean it’s an isolated event. These type of attacks happen “every day, every hour, everywhere in Syria.” The world has to become aware of this, he said, instead of using the media “to make some propaganda for a serious event. This issue is bigger than a hospital.” In his personal opinion, the bishop said a political solution to the conflict is both possible and important, but voiced his belief that “there are those who don’t want a political solution.” Certain powers “want the destruction of Syria to divide the country and each one takes a piece for themselves. This is the problem, this is the deeper motive,” he said, but stressed that this is just his personal opinion. What Christians there really want is peace, “so that there won’t be any more bombs, when there will no longer be people leaving their homes, their countries, to go across the sea and across the border,” he said, explaining that “small events” like the coloring of the Trevi fountain “help to have and to give consciousness, to inspire action.” “Christian persecution is a risk of persecution of everyone. We defend the Christians to defend the dignity of every man, everywhere,” the bishop said, and urged prayers for peace. “We must pray, and also an international level perhaps to put their efforts to understand the stability of Syria and the stability of the Middle East for the entire world,” he said, adding that these problems are solved “with dialogue and not with weapons.”  

Let yourselves be reconciled with God, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 30, 2016 / 04:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Reconciliation is an essential aspect of God’s mercy, Pope Francis said Saturday, explaining that when we distance ourselves from the Lord through sin, it takes much more than our own effort to get back to him. Referencing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, Pope Francis urged all members of the Church April 30 to “let yourselves be reconciled with God.” “The cry of the apostle Paul addressed to the first Christians of Corinth is valid for us today, with the same strength and conviction,” he said, explaining that the ongoing Jubilee of Mercy is a time of reconciliation for everyone. "God never considers the possibility that a person remains estranged from his love, provided, however, that he finds in them some sign of repentance for the harm done," he said, adding that "we can't reconcile with God with our own efforts." Many people would like to reconcile with God, but either don’t know how, don’t feel worthy or “don’t want to admit it even to themselves,” he said, but affirmed that the Christian community “can and must support the sincere return to God of those who feel his nostalgia.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his Jubilee general audience, which he decided to hold once a month on a Saturday for the duration of the Jubilee. The audience also marked a special day jubilee for military, police and firefighters, who were present in the square alongside their families.   Today #PopeFrancis celebrated special #jubilee for members of the military, armed forces & firefighters #Vatican pic.twitter.com/dnu0CJwAQj — Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) April 30, 2016   At Francis’ invitation, roughly 8,000 members of the international humanitarian organization Rotary were also present. A delegation of members, including Rotary President K.R. Ravindran and General secretary John Hewko, greeted the Pope after the audience had finished. The Pope continued is catechesis on mercy as understood in scripture, focusing his speech on the topic of reconciliation, which he said is “an important aspect of mercy.” “Often times we believe that our sins distance the Lord from us: in reality, in sinning, we distance ourselves from him,” Francis said, explaining that it is out of God’s mercy that he comes in search of us when he sees that we are in danger. He stressed that reconciling with God is impossible with our efforts alone, since sin “is truly an expression of rejecting his love, with the consequence of closing in on ourselves, deceiving ourselves in the search of greater freedom and autonomy.” “In being far from God we no longer have a goal, and from pilgrims in this world we become wanderers,” he said, explaining that to sin is like turning one’s back on God. “The sinner sees only themselves and pretends in this way to be self-sufficient. Because of this, sin always widens the distance between us and God, and this can become an abyss,” Francis said. However, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus always comes in search of his lost sheep. He rebuilds the bridge that reunites us to the Father and allows us rediscover the dignity of being his children, the Pope added. Pope Francis then spoke about the importance of confession and the need to reconcile with God through the sacrament, stressing that “a confessor must be a father” and help penitents to walk along the path of reconciliation. He also prayed that no one would remain distant from God due to obstacles put in their way by others, and asked that “please, don’t put obstacles in the way of people who want to reconcile with God.” To experience reconciliation with God also allows a person to rediscover the need for reconciliation in other relationships, such as within our families, in interpersonal relationships, in ecclesial communities, and in social and international relationships, he said. “Reconciliation in fact is also a service for peace, for the recognition of the fundamental rights of people, of solidarity and of welcome for all.” Pope Francis closed his address by urging attendees to accept St. Paul’s invitation “to be reconciled with God, to become new creations and to be able to radiate his mercy in the midst of our brothers, in the midst of the people.” After the audience, he offered special comments to members of the military, the police force and firefighters present, saying they are “instruments of reconciliation and builders of peace.” He told that that in their roles, “you are responsible for preventing, managing and ending conflicts, but also to contributing to the building of an order founded on freedom, justice, love and liberty.”

Arrests made in alleged terror plot against Vatican, Israeli embassy

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2016 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian police arrested four people and issued arrest warrants for two more on Thursday on suspicion of conspiring with the Islamic State terrorist group. One of the arrested suspects was reportedly plotting an attack on the Vatican and the Israeli embassy in Rome. Authorities said suspect Abderrahim Moutahrrick reportedly received a WhatsApp message from ISIS-held territory that read: “Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you…the bomb poem…listen to the sheik and strike,” possibly referencing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Moutahrrick was identified by authorities as Moroccan-born but residing in Italy at the time. Moutahrrick also reportedly told 23-year-old Moroccan-born suspect Abderrahmane Khachia: “I want to hit Israel in Rome.” According to Reuters, transcripts of a wire-tapped phone conversation between three of the suspects and included in the arrest warrant also mentioned a Vatican attack. “I swear I will be the first to attack them in this Italy of crusaders, I swear I’ll attack it, in the Vatican God willing,” an arrested suspect is reported as saying to one of the suspects still at large in the transcript.   Other arrests made in the recent investigation include an Italian-Moroccan couple who travelled to Syria to join ISIS last year. Mohamed Koraichi, one of the couple, is allegedly one of the men from whom Moutahrrick was receiving orders. Authorities told journalists that Moutahrrick also attempted to purchase weapons from an Albanian fixer in Italy, to whom he stated his intention of a Vatican attack, as well as his plan to take his wife and his two young children to ISIS territory in Syria. The prosecutor in the case, Maurizio Romanelli of Milan, told Italian news agency ANSA that the recent investigation was different in that it revealed not just generic threats but specific plots involving specific indivituals on Italian and Vatican soil. However, he said that the threats were not imminent and that authorities acted quickly to carry out the arrests. "Rome attracts attention because it is a destination for Christian pilgrims," he said. Thus far, Italy has been spared the large-scale terrorist attacks such as those seen in France and Belgium earlier this year. However, authorities have continually made arrests on suspicions of plots to attack Italy.   Last month, Italian authorities detained a 22-year-old Somali asylum seeker and Imam on suspicion of planning an attack in Rome. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his thanks on Twitter to the authorities for acting quickly and preventing the attacks.

At Vatican, Joe Biden calls for worldwide effort to fight cancer

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2016 / 09:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he offered praise to Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer. Biden opened his speech by recalling how while visiting the U.S. last September, Pope Francis had comforted him for the loss of his eldest son Beau, who passed away last summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer. “I wish every grieving parent, brother, sister, mother, father, would have the benefit of his words, his prayers, his presence. He provided us with more comfort that even he, I think, will understand,” Biden said, and voiced his gratitude to the Pope for his time and generosity. What his family experienced through their tragedy is how faith “can turn loss into hope, and hope into action,” the Vice President said, noting that Pope Francis “has given hope to so many people in every part of the world with his strong words and humble ways.” He thanked the participants for their “tenacity” in seeking to find cures and better treatments for rare diseases and cancer, and voiced his confidence that “we stand on the cusp of unprecedented scientific and technological change” in the field. Vice President Biden delivered a 25 minute keynote speech on the second day of an April 28-30 conference at the Vatican entitled “Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication Will Impact Society.” The event gathered together scientists, physicians, patients, religious leaders, philanthropists and government officials to discuss healing options involving of different forms of stem cell therapy, specifically using adult stem cells. The conference is being co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation, a non-profit organization based in New York that was initially created to promote healing treatments with the use of adult stem cells. It is third conference that has been organized in the Vatican on regenerative medicine, the first being in 2011, and the second in 2013. VP Joe Biden jokes with Pope Francis and Ambassador Ken Hackett at the Vatican. Images of CTV - Vatican Tel... https://t.co/rPJelQnqkX— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) April 29, 2016 Biden’s presence as a VIP guest of the conference is part of his “Moonshot” campaign to cure cancer, which he announced last October at the same time he said that he would not be running for president. The Vice President’s speech in the Vatican marks the most recent stop on his tour, which has also taken him to Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University. In an April 26 news conference on the Vatican summit, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stressed that Biden’s presence “has no political meaning in the strict sense, but it has a political meaning in a noble sense.” Biden, who identifies himself as a Roman Catholic despite offering political support for issues contrary to Church teaching such as abortion and gay “marriage,” met with Pope Francis briefly after speaking. The Pope himself delivered his own address after Biden, stressing the need to develop a greater sense of empathy when pursuing treatments for cancer and rare diseases, as well as the need to ensure that all people, including those in developing countries, have access to quality and advanced care. In his address, Vice President Biden noted how there have been “unimaginable breakthroughs” in the fight to cure cancer, even compared to just five years ago. He pointed to former U.S. president Richard Nixon’s “war on cancer,” which has since boosted investment in scientific research, medical centers and doctors who work tirelessly to slow the spread of cancer. Different genres of science and medicine are beginning to work together where previously they never have, he said, but noted that there is still more progress to be made. “Our goal in the U.S. is to do in the next five years what would otherwise take a decade, but that’s the work of all of us,” he said, and called for “an international commitment” to eliminating cancer and deaths related to the disease. Top-of-the-line treatments “can’t belong to just the privileged and the powerful, it has to belong to everyone,” he said, and encouraged both governments and philanthropists to invest in research, data sharing and treatments that improve patient outcome. Cancer, he said, “is not a national problem, it’s an international problem, it’s a human problem,” and urged participants to use their intelligence to make things “a little bit better,” and to comfort and heal those who are “frightened and in need.”

Pope advocates for 'globalization of empathy' in curing rare diseases

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2016 / 07:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis told participants in a Vatican stem cell summit that a renewed sense of empathy ought to fuel their work and research, ensuring that no person goes without access to proper care. “It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society, and not remain indifferent to our neighbor’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease,” the Pope said April 29. While it’s not always possible to find a fast cure to complex diseases, it is possible to be prompt in caring for the people that suffer from them, who often feel “abandoned and ignored,” Francis said. He stressed the need to attentive to all, regardless of their culture, social standing or religious beliefs, and expressed his hope that individuals in developing countries would also have access to the care they need. Pointing to his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Pope noted how in it he emphasized the value of human progress made in fields such as health care, education and communications, while at the same time stressing the need to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” This mentality “victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life,” he said, adding that “this is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.” Pope Francis spoke to participants in an April 28-30 conference at the Vatican entitled “Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication Will Impact Society.” Co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the U.S.-based Stem for Life Foundation, a non-profit based in New York that promotes healing treatments with the use of adult stem cells, the event is the third conference that has been organized in the Vatican on regenerative medicine. The first was held in 2011, and the second in 2013. A large part of this year's discussion is focused on rare diseases that affect children, as well as how to make top-of-the-line treatments available to people in developing countries. The conference gathers scientists, physicians, patients, religious leaders, philanthropists and government officials to discuss healing options that involve different forms of stem cell therapy, specifically with the use adult stem cells. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Beau passed away from brain cancer last year, was also present as a VIP guest and speaker as part of his “Moonshot” campaign tour to promote a cure for cancer. Pope Francis spoke to participants after Biden’s keynote speech on the second day of the conference, recognizing how in in their discussions, the participants have been sure to take ethical, anthropological, social and cultural questions into consideration, as well as “the complex problem of access to care for those afflicted by rare conditions.” Many patients “are often not given sufficient attention, because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns,” he said, noting that he frequently meets people suffering from these diseases in his ministry. “These illnesses affect millions of people throughout the world, and cause suffering and anxiety for all those who care for them, starting with family members.” Francis said that in addition to the sense of empathy for those who suffer from rare diseases and ensuring that each person has access to the care they need, another aspect of treatment involves research, which is carried out through both “education and genuine scientific study.” “Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree,” the Pope said. He said that coming from this “pedagogical perspective,” it is necessary in both medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses which provide the needed space “for a human formation supported by ethical criteria.” “Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person,” he said. Pope Francis stressed that each person throughout the world is called to draw attention to the issue of rare diseases, to invest in education and to increase funding for research on causes and cures. It’s also important to promote necessary legislation “an economic paradigm shift,” he said, because “in this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered.” The Pope concluded his speech by encouraging the participants to continue to integrate more people and institutions throughout the world into their work, and prayed that during the Jubilee they would be “capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy.”

Be open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis advises

Vatican City, Apr 28, 2016 / 10:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his homily Thursday Pope Francis stressed the need to be open to the novelty of the Holy Spirit, by discerning new movements and directions without being immediately closed off from them. Francis asked Mass-goers at the Santa Marta chapel April 28 how the Church responds when faced with something new, and perhaps never done before, clarifying that this is “not worldly newness, like fashions and clothes, but the newness and surprises of the Spirit, because the Spirit always surprises us.” The answer, he said, is “by meeting, listening, discussing and praying before the final decision.” This is the same method the Church has used since the beginning, and is how she answers resistance based on assertions such as “it was never done this way,” or “you must do it like this.” This process of gathering to speak and pray about an issue is “the so-called synodality of the Church, in which the communion of the Church is expressed,” Francis observed, noting that it is the Holy Spirit who creates this communion. “What does the Lord ask of us? Docility to the Spirit. What does the Lord ask us? Not to be afraid, when we see that it’s the Spirit who calls us,” he said. He focused his homily on the passage from the day’s first reading in Acts 15, which recounts the Council of Jerusalem. It was the first meeting in which the disciples discussed whether or not the Church ought to impose Mosaic Law, including circumcision, on pagan converts. In his homily, the Pope said that it was the Holy Spirit who was “the protagonist” from the beginning. “It’s the Spirit who does everything, who carries the Church forward, (even) with her problems” and when persecution breaks out, he added. The Holy Spirit is also the one who gives believers strength to remain in the faith, even in times “of resistance and fury from the doctors of the law.” Francis noted that in the case of the Council of Jerusalem, there was a double resistance to the Spirit’s work: that of those who believed that “Jesus came only for the chosen people” and that of those who wanted to impose the Mosaic Law on pagan converts. “There was a great confusion over this,” he said, explaining that the Holy Spirit put their hearts “on a new path: they were surprised by the Spirit.” Suddenly the apostles “found themselves in situations that they would have never believed … the Spirit brought a certain novelty, certain things that were never done. Never. Neither were they imagined. That the pagans would receive the Holy Spirit, for example.” “(They) had a hot potato in their hands and they didn’t know what to do,” Francis continued, noting how the apostles were able to resolve the issue by gathering to discuss it. He pointed to how at one point the entire assembly fell silent in order to listen to the testimony of Paul and Barnabas, who recounted the signs and works God had done in and among the nations. Francis stressed the importance of listening, explaining that when a person is afraid to listen, “they do not have the Spirit in their heart.” It’s also important to listen “with humility,” the Pope added, noting how it was only after they listened to Paul and Barnabas that the Church decided the pagan converts weren’t obliged to undergo circumcision. This decision was communicated though a letter, but “the protagonist is the Holy Spirit,” he said. Just as he did for St. Paul and Barnabas, the Spirit stops us and redirects our path, giving us the patience and courage to walk along the path of Jesus and to be strong in the face of martyrdom, he said. Pope Francis concluded his homily by for the grace to understand how the Church moves forward, to be open to “the surprises of the Spirit,” and for each person “to have the grace of docility to the Spirit, to go along the path that the Lord Jesus wants for each one of us and for the entire Church.”

How Swiss Guards are bringing the Vatican to your kitchen

Vatican City, Apr 28, 2016 / 03:36 am (CNA).- A native of Zurich, Switzerland, David Geisser was a chef prodigy. He compiled his first best-selling cookbook at age 18, produced his second cookbook before he was 23, and was working under masters such as Antonio Colaianni of the Gault Millau restaurant in Switzerland. Amidst his rising stardom in the culinary world, he decided to join the Pontifical Swiss Guard – a historically elite body of Swiss soldiers who have served as guardians to the pope in Vatican City since the 1500s. “I volunteered for the Pontifical Swiss Guard because that was my dream – to be like my father and serve in the Swiss Guard. It is a great honor for young Swiss men,” Geisser told CNA. Credit: Katarzyna Artymiak. He was officially sworn in as a Swiss Guard in May 2013. Once he was serving a higher cause, Geisser would hang up his apron and lay his acclaimed chef days to rest. But during the same time, the Swiss Guard was working on a promotional pamphlet encouraging Swiss Guard prospectives to apply for the position of papal guardian. Geisser jumped on the opportunity to turn the recruit document into a high-quality cookbook, filled with pictures, recipes, and stories. “The Commander [Daniel Anrig] decided the Swiss Guard should do a cookbook and assigned me to lead the project,” Geisser explained, saying Anrig had always been interested in Geisser’s culinary background. Geisser collaborated with Commander Anrig and fellow Swiss Guard Erwin Niederberger, a former pastry chef who produced most of the cookbook’s text. Together, they transformed the recruit brochure into Buon Appetito – a culinary masterpiece, carefully crafted with 76 hand-picked recipes, including papal favorites. Buon Appetito was released in Switzerland in 2014 and critics hailed it as “an instant classic.” In 2015, international publishing rights were acquired through the Archangel Company in Cleveland, Ohio and Buon Appetito was transformed into The Vatican Cookbook, released by Sophia Institute Press in April 2016. The Vatican Cookbook includes additional photos and updated information, as well as an appeal to raise awareness of the Pope Francis-approved campaign, “One Human Family, Food For All.” Caritas International is sponsoring the endeavor in an effort to eradicate worldwide hunger, promote improved food production, and reduce food waste across the globe. The recipes found in The Vatican Cookbook reflect the diverse heritage of both the popes and the guards, ranging from Polish, German, French, Bavarian, Italian and Argentine cuisine. According to Geisser, The Vatican Cookbook was ultimately a collaborative effort of the Swiss Guard with contributions from many ranking officers. “We searched for the best of the truly classic recipes - the ones that had endured and were served at Vatican tables for centuries,” Geisser stated.   “Most importantly, we asked the Guardsmen about the Popes they had served...they know what each Pope likes to eat better than anyone else. So, we were able to include the favorite dishes of the modern Popes – Francis, Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II,” he continued. Although Geisser was reluctant to pick a favorite recipe, he did say that “every meal has its place. There are recipes for all occasions and simple fare for every day – so, I favor them all.” Credit: Katarzyna Artymiak. Geisser pointed out that a week after its release, The Vatican Cookbook was ranked #1 on major Amazon Bestseller Lists, including cookbooks, Christian books, Catholic books, and new releases. It has also earned a shining 5-star rating from consumers. “We were fortunate to get help from good writers, the best photographers, a fine publisher at Sophia Institute Press and support from the Swiss Guard and the Vatican,” Geisser reflected, saying “we hope everyone will enjoy it.” Based on its overwhelming success, Geisser hinted that they have talked about producing another Vatican cookbook. “We do not know yet what should be inside, but we think we have a good title: Vatican II,” Geisser stated, adding that “we are working hard to keep the momentum going.” “We tried to make a useful and joyful book. So far, the reaction in America tells us maybe we made a good book, and we are happy for that.” Credit: Katarzyna Artymiak.

Pope opens the door for beatification of Albanian martyrs

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2016 / 11:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Tuesday gave the green light for the beatification of 38 Albanian martyrs, all of whom were killed by the country’s atheistic, communist regime between 1945 and 1974. In an April 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis officially acknowledged the martyrdom of Archbishop Nikollë Vinçenc Prennushi of Durrës and his 37 companions. Archbishop Prennushi, who was a member of the Order of Friars Minor, was jailed by the communist regime in the 1940s, and died in prison as a result of torture in 1949. The rest of his companions shared a similar fate, and were murdered by the regime from 1945 to 1974. The martyrs were a key focus of Pope Francis’ Sept. 21, 2015 trip to Albania, in which he urged the country to learn from their dark past, but look toward the future with hope. Albania came under the control of a communist government beginning in 1944, and persecution of religious leader soon followed. Almost 2,100 people, including Catholic priests and adherents of other religions, were brutally killed because of their religious beliefs. In 1967, the country declared itself an atheist state. The activities of the Church were hindered, school and seminaries closed, and bishops and priests were killed or arrested. Out of seven bishops and 200 priest and nuns in active ministry in Albania in 1945, just one bishop and 30 priests and nuns were alive when the communist regime collapsed in 1991. In addition to the Albanian martyrs, Pope Francis also advanced 11 other saints’ causes, including another group of martyrs and that of an 18-year-old girl. The Pope acknowledged the martyrdom of Servant of God José Antón Gómez and his three companions, allowing for their beatification. All were priests of the Order of St Benedict and were killed for the faith in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. A miracle was recognized for Bl. Alfonso Maria Fusco, allowing for his canonization. A diocesan priest and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, Fr. Fusco was born in 1839 and died Feb. 6, 1910. Francis also recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Servant of God John Sullivan, S.J, paving the way for his beatification. Born in Ireland in 1861, the priest was a convert to Catholicism and became famous for his holiness and devotion before dying Feb. 19, 1933. In addition, the Pope acknowledged the heroic virtue of eight individuals, including Servant of God María Montserrat Grases García. A laywoman, García was a member of the Personal Prelature of the Holy Cross and of Opus Dei. Born July 10, 1941, she was known for her fidelity and closeness to God, even when she was diagnosed with cancer as a teen. After enduring excruciating pains due to her illness, García died March 26, 1959, at just 18 years old. Pope Francis also approved the heroic virtue of Servant of God Fr. Thomas Choe Yang-Eop, who was Korea’s second priest and the son of two of the country’s 124 martyrs, who were canonized by St. John Paul II in 1984. Born March 1, 1821, Fr. Choe is frequently referred to as the “Martyr of Sweat” due to the roughly 1,740 miles he would walk each year in order to evangelize Korea’s remote villages. He died June 15, 1861. Others whose heroic virtue was approved of are: Servant of God Sosio Del Prete, a Franciscan priest and Founder of the Congregation of Little Handmaids of Christ the King; Servant of God Venantius Katarzyniec a priest with the Conventional Franciscan Order; Servant of God Maria Consiglio dello Spirito Santo, foundress of the Congregation of Sister Servants of the Sorrowful Mother; Servant of God María de la Encarnación, foundress of the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis of the Rebaño de María; Servant of God Maria Laura Baraggia, foundress of the Sisters of the Family of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and Servant of God Ilia Corsaro, foundress of the Little Missionaries of the Eucharist.

Knowledge is empty unless it leads to love, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2016 / 05:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that just because someone is an expert in God’s law and a strict adherent to the rules doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to love and serve others. “It’s not automatic that whoever frequents the House of God and knows his mercy knows how to love their neighbor. It’s not automatic,” the Pope said April 27. “You can know the bible, you can know all the liturgical norms, you can know theology, but ‘to know’ is not automatically ‘to love,’” he said, explaining that “to love has another path, with intelligence, but it has something more.” While knowledge and worship are good, they are false unless they are “translated into service of others,” Francis stressed. “Let us never forget: in front of the suffering of so many people exhausted by hunger, violence, injustice, we cannot remain spectators. To ignore the suffering of man means to ignore God!” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience, which he has dedicated to the topic of mercy as seen in scripture for the Jubilee of mercy. In his speech, the Pope focused on the Gospel passage in Luke in which Jesus recounts the parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the crowd that they must “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and will all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus is questioned by a doctor of the law, who presses him on who qualifies as a neighbor. What this doctor of the law is looking for, Francis said, is “a clear rule that permits him to classify the others into ‘neighbor’ and ‘non-neighbors.’ Those who can become neighbors and those who cannot become neighbors.” Jesus then responds with a parable including a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. The first two are linked to their worship at the temple, while the third, the Samaritan, is “a schismatic Jew, considered as a stranger, a pagan and impure.” Francis noted that the Law of the Lord obliged the priest and the Levite to help the suffering, injured man, yet they both pass without stopping. The despised Samaritan, on the other hand, doesn’t walk by the wounded man like the other two, but instead had compassion. “That is the difference,” Pope Francis said. “The other two saw, but their hearts remained closed, cold. Instead the heart of the Samaritan was in tune with the heart of God.” Compassion is “an essential characteristic of God’s mercy,” the Pope continued, explaining that the compassion shown by the Good Samaritan is the same that God shows to each one of us. The Lord, he said, “doesn’t ignore us, he knows our pains, he knows how much we need help and consolation. He comes close to us and never abandons us.” In taking the wounded man to a hotel, caring for him and paying the bill, the Samaritan teaches us that love and compassion “are not a vague feeling,” but mean taking care of one another even to the point of paying the expense in person. “It means to compromise oneself taking all the steps needed in order to draw close to the other, to the point of immersing yourself with them,” he added. Pope Francis then turned to Jesus' question at the end of the passage, when he asks the doctors of the law which figure in the parable was a neighbor to the wounded man. The unanimous answer, he noted was “the one who had compassion.” Francis noted that this answer differed from what they initially said at the beginning. Namely that for the priest and the Levite, their neighbor was the dying man. However, at the end, the neighbor became the Samaritan, “who drew near.” “Jesus reverses the prospective,” he said, explaining that rather than sitting by and classifying who is a neighbor and who isn’t, “you can become the neighbor of anyone you meet in need, and you will be if in your heart you have compassion.” The Pope closed his speech saying the parable is “a stupendous gift” and a commitment for all to take into consideration. “We are all called to follow the same path of the Good Samaritan, who is the figure of Christ,” he said, adding that “Jesus bent down over us, became our servant, and in doing so saved us, so that also we can love one another as Jesus loved us. In the same way.”

Pope blasts clericalism in Latin American Church

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2016 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis issued strong words to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, calling clericalism “one of the greatest distortions” facing the local Church. “(W)e’d do well to recall that the Church is not an elite priests, of consecrated people, of bishops but all of us make up the faithful and Holy People of God,” he said in an April 26 letter, recalling that everyone starts out their life as laity, Vatican Radio reported. His letter was addressed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America as a follow-up to commission’s recent Plenary Assembly focused on the role of the laity. The Holy Father said that clericalism seems to be the result of “a mistaken way of living out the ecclesiology proposed by the Second Vatican Council,” calling it, “one of the greatest distortions of the Church in Latin America.” Clericalism, he said has proved to have a wide-ranging impact on the Church and seems to disregard the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed on each Christian at baptism. It “forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belong to all the people of God and not just to an illuminated and elected few.” He discouraged clergy from relying on trite phrases concerning their people such as “it’s time for the laity.” While well-intentioned, the phrase has little meaning when stacked against actions. The clergy should focus on encouraging the laity, especially those who work in public square, but emphasized that, “it is not the job of the pastor to tell the lay people what they must do and say.” “It is illogical and even impossible for us as pastors to believe that we have the monopoly on solutions for the numerous challenges thrown up by contemporary life.” However, he praised the Church in Latin America for its openness to ministry and public devotions driven mainly by the laity. However, he said that even this “has it’s limits” and should be “steered properly” to cultivate values such as sacrifice and openness to others. He closed by saying that the role of the clergy is in service to the laity, not the other way around. “(W)e are called to serve them, not to make use of them,” Pope Francis said. Clericalism and "careerism" among clergy are themes that the Pope has consistently spoken out against during his three year pontificate.