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Homily for Mass at Ecatepec Study Centre: Full text

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass on Sunday near the Study Centre of Ecatepec, in the suburbs of Mexico City.

In his homily for the Mass, the Holy Father spoke about three temptations of Christ, which are also temptations for Christians: the temptation to wealth, to vanity, and to pride. The penitential season of Lent, he said, is an invitation to conversion, to turn ourselves to Christ, who is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down.

Below, please find the official translation of the prepared text of Pope Francis’ homily for Mass for the First Sunday of Lent:

Homily of Pope Francis

Holy Mass at the Ecatepec Study Centre

Sunday 14 February 2016

Last Wednesday we began the liturgical season of Lent, during which the Church invites us to prepare ourselves to celebrate the great feast of Easter. This is a special time for recalling the gift of our baptism, when we became children of God. The Church invites us to renew the gift she has given us, to not let this gift lie dormant as if it were something from the past or locked away in some “memory chest”. Lent is a good time to recover the joy and hope that make us feel beloved sons and daughters of the Father. The Father who waits for us in order to cast off our garments of exhaustion, of apathy, of mistrust, and so clothe us with the dignity which only a true father or mother knows how to give their children, with the garments born of tenderness and love.

Our Father, he is the Father of a great family; he is our Father. He knows that he has a unique love, but he does not know how to bear or raise an “only child”. He is the God of the home, of brotherhood, of bread broken and shared. He is the God who is “Our Father”, not “my father” or “your stepfather”.

God’s dream makes its home and lives in each one of us so that at every Easter, in every Eucharist we celebrate, we may be the children of God. It is a dream which so many of our brothers and sisters have had through history. A dream witnessed to by the blood of so many martyrs, both from long ago and from now.

Lent is a time of conversion, of daily experiencing in our lives of how this dream is continually threatened by the father of lies, by the one who tries to separate us, making a divided and fractious society. A society of the few, and for the few. How often we experience in our own lives, or in our own families, among our friends or neighbours, the pain which arises when the dignity we carry within is not recognized. How many times have we had to cry and regret on realizing that we have not acknowledged this dignity in others. How often – and it pains me to say it – have we been blind and impervious in failing to recognize our own and others’ dignity.

Lent is a time for reconsidering our feelings, for letting our eyes be opened to the frequent injustices which stand in direct opposition to the dream and the plan of God. It is a time to unmask three great temptations that wear down and fracture the image which God wanted to form in us:

There are three temptations of Christ… three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be; three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.

Wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for “my own people”. That is, taking the “bread” based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives. That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. This is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.

Vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who “are not like me”. The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the “reputation” of others. “Making firewood from a felled tree” gives way to the third temptation:

Pride: or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of “mere mortals”, and yet being one who prays every day: “I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others…”.

Three temptations of Christ… Three temptations which the Christian is faced with daily. Three temptations which seek to corrode, destroy and extinguish the joy and freshness of the Gospel. Three temptations which lock us into a cycle of destruction and sin.

And so it is worth asking ourselves:

To what degree are we aware of these temptations in our lives, in our very selves?

How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?

To what point do we feel that caring about others, our concern and work for bread, for the good name and dignity of others, are wellsprings of happiness and hope?

We have chosen Jesus, not the evil one; we want to follow in his footsteps, even though we know that this is not easy. We know what it means to be seduced by money, fame and power. For this reason, the Church gives us the gift of this Lenten season, invites us to conversion, offering but one certainty: he is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down. He is the God who has a name: Mercy. His name is our wealth, his name is what makes us famous, his name is our power and in his name we say once more with the Psalm: “You are my God and in you I trust”. Let us repeat these words together: “You are my God and in you I trust”.

In this Eucharist, may the Holy Spirit renew in us the certainty that his name is Mercy, and may he let us experience each day that “the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus...”, knowing that “with Christ and in Christ joy is constantly born anew” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 1).

(from Vatican Radio)

Fr Lombardi on Pope's private prayer to Virgin of Guadalupe

(Vatican Radio) One highlight of Pope Francis’ first full day in Mexico on Saturday was Holy Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe which is home to the Basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

It is particularly important to the first Latin American Pope who had asked to pray in private before the image of “Our Lady of Guadalupe” in the “camarin”, a sort of a secret room right behind the altar of the Basilica.

Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick had a word with Fr Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office, at the end of an eventful day.

Fr Lombardi agrees that the visit to the Shrine bore special significance for Pope Francis…

Listen to the report:

Fr Lombardi says that being at the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe represented the most intense spiritual moment of Pope Francis’ first full day in Mexico.

“It was long-awaited because the Pope had said he was coming as a pilgrim to this Shrine to see and to be seen by the Virgin of Guadalupe” he says.

He explains that when we contemplate this image we receive from her a profound spiritual message of proximity, of encouragement “like – he says – that experienced by St. Juan Diego”.       Fr Lombardi points out that we too have the hope that the Virgin is looking to us and gives the profound sense of her love and proximity, of God’s love and of the coming of Jesus.

“In this sense there is a dialogue and during those 20 minutes in the Basilica we were able to participate with profound emotion in this dialogue between the Pope and the Virgin” he says.

The Pope, Fr Lombardi concludes, was praying not only for himself but in particular for the people of Mexico and for the entire humankind.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope in Mexico: Mass in Ecatepec shanty town

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis heads to the rough, crime-ridden neighborhood of Ecatepec - part of Mexico City’s suburbs - to celebrate Mass with people “on the periphery” on Sunday.  The day will be in stark contrast to Saturday, when the Pope met Mexican government and civic authorities at the National Palace and later, bishops, at the grandiose Cathedral of the Assumption, and celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our correspondent Veronica Scarisbrick, is in Mexico with the Pope.  She takes a look at Ecatepec, where Pope Francis celebrates an outdoor Mass Sunday:

Listen to Veronica Scarisbrick’s report, "Where people fear to tread" :

At the time of the Aztec Empire, ‘Ecatepec de Morelos’ was an alternative name to ‘Quetzalcoatl’ or the God of the moon.  It comes from the Nahunta language and means "windy hill".

Situated northeast of Mexico City, it’s still on a windy hill but it no longer bears the majesty it held at the time of the Aztecs.

It’s now an ugly sprawl of a shanty town littered with rubbish in one of Mexico’s ‘barrio bravo’.  An expression meaning a lawless neighbourhood where organized crime, pollution and poverty reign and where most people fear to tread.

But not Pope Francis. This is exactly the kind of place he loves to visit, in a special way during this Year of Mercy. Part of the ‘centuriòn de la pobreza’, a poverty belt surrounding Mexico City,the neighborhood lies in stark contrast to the glamour of downtown Mexico City where those ‘Ecapatans’ who have a job commute to.

Pope Francis has done his homework;  he has priests on the ground and knows what goes on here. He knows how the once clear canal that flows through the area, the ‘Rio de los Remedios’ has a fetid aura and has become a dumping place for corpses. In 2014 alone drainage work uncovered hundreds of human bones and the remains of five men and sixteen young women. For women are targeted in a special way, raped or forced into prostitution. And when they don’t consent, they’re disfigured with acid or become part of the army of ‘desaparecidas’ amid the indifference of the police.

But it has to be said: with the support of their mothers who make it their mission in life to find out the truth about their daughters. The only institution people can rely on here is the family .

As for the boys, they’re recruited by the drug lords at a young age and by the time they turn eighteen become ‘pozoleros:’ those who hide away the corpses, or ‘ sicarios:’ assassins.

Ecatapec is not a place for the soft-hearted but it’s the site Pope Francis has chosen to celebrate Holy Mass on the second day of his apostolic journey to Mexico.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis crowns the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe

(Vatican Radio) At the conclusion of Holy Mass Saturday at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Pope Francis led the faithful in the Rite of Coronation of the image of the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe.  Veronica Scarisbrick is our correspondent traveling with Pope Francis in Mexico. She takes a look at the importance of this Marian image and the history behind it:

Listen to Veronica Scarisbrick's report, "The Crowning of the Morenita":

 “You are not an orphaned people, as you are proud to have a ‘Mother” Pope Francis once said speaking to Mexicans about Our Lady of Guadalupe.

 I asked a number of people here Mexico City what the 'Morenita' meant to them and they all replied: 'She  is our ‘Mother’. Except for one person, a security guard who replied: 'She is our 'jefa', our boss. 

 I don’t know what Pope Francis would have said to that but what’s certain is that his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe runs deep.

 Earlier in the day in his address to the Mexican bishops, he had said:  “Could the Successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Morenita”

 No surprise then that on the first full day of his visit he celebrated Holy Mass with the 'Guadalupe' faithful at the Shrine on the ‘Tepeyac’ hill above Mexico City where Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego all those centuries ago. 

 With a stretch of imagination the story began in 1519. It was Good Friday and Spaniard Hernan Cortés disembarked on the shores of the American continent to the dismay of the native Indians.Two days later the Franciscans who had sailed with him planted a wooden cross in the sand.Soon Cortés and his army had subjugated the mighty Aztec empire with its terrifying sacrificial practices.

But despite this military success the Franciscans had a hard time converting this people. They tried hard enough. They even learnt the Aztec languages going so far as to file down their incisors so as to better pronounce the unfamiliar sibilants.

But to no avail, few Aztecs converted.Then in 1531 something extraordinary happened to one of the few they had baptized. His name was Juan Diego, the place the Tepeyac hill by the azure lake that surrounded the city of Tenochtitlàn, now Mexico City.

Something the Aztec people who believed in signs from the skies understood: an ‘Apparition’. That of Our Lady, soon to be named by the Spaniards of 'Guadalupe'.

It was to be a Marian apparition which brought together the culture of the Spaniards and the Aztecs. Perhaps too because 'Our Lady' appeared as a 'mestizo', of mixed race. As we can see in the image that she left during her fourth apparition to Juan Diego on his simple sack-cloth garment tied at the shoulder, known as 'tilma'.

This artefact together with a text dating back to the 16th century are all that tangibly remains to explain this apparition after which eight million Amerindians converted to the Catholic faith.

In the twentieth century Pope Pius XI declared our Lady of Guadalupe Queen of Mexico and Patroness and Protectress of Latin America and the Philippines. His successor to the See of Peter Pius XII stepped this up to both Americas.

And now in the 21st century the first Latin America Pope has celebrated Holy Mass with the Guadalupe faithful. Adding his very own touch to the devotion by crowning her with a gold and silver tiara.

Veronica Scarisbrick, Mexico City

 

More about Our Lady of Guadalupe:

The miraculous image dates back to 1531, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. Since that time, the Virgin, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, has been proclaimed Patroness of Mexico, Patroness and Empress of the Americas, and Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines. She is also known as the Protectress of Unborn Children.The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most visited pilgrimmage places in the world, with millions of pilgrims coming each year to venerate the sacred image. 

Below, please find the prayer for the Coronation of the Image of the Most Holy Virgin of Guadalupe:

Blessed are you, O Lord, God of heaven and earth, who, in your mercy and justice, cast down the proud, and exalt the humble.

In the wondrous designs of your providence, you have offered a perfect model in the Incarnate Word and in the Virgin Mother: Your Son, who voluntarily humbled Himself, even to death on the Cross, shines in eternal glory and sits at your right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords.

And the Virgin, who desired to call herself your handmaid, who was chosen as Mother of the Redeemer and true Mother of the living, and now, lifted up above the choirs of angels, gloriously reigns beside her Son, interceding for all men, the advocate of grace and queen of mercy.

Look with kindness, O Lord, on these your servants who, in placing a royal diadem upon the image of the Mother of your Son, recognize in your Son the King of the universe, and invoke, as Queen, the Virgin.

Grant that, in following their example, we too might consecrate ourselves to your service, and make ourselves available to others, fulfilling the law of charity, thus triumphing over selfishness, and in generously giving we might lead our brothers and sisters to you.

Grant that, seeking humility on earth, we might one day be lifted to the heights of heaven, where you yourself will place on the heads of your faithful the crown of life.

Through Christ our Lord. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope at Mass in Mexico city: Mary tells us that those who suffer do not weep in vain

(Vatican Radio) On the first full day of his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world and one that is particularly important to the first Latin American pope. 

During his homily, drawing inspiration from the episode of the visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, the Holy Father stressed on the “yes” of Mary’s surrender to God which prompted her to give the best of herself, going forth to meet the others.

He said the Madonna of Guadalupe “wished to come to the inhabitants of these American lands in the person of the Indian Saint Juan Diego”, and that “she has and continues to accompany the development of this blessed Mexican land.”

With reference to the first Miracle in 1531, the Pope said that “God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands.”

Juan who considered himself lowly and unworthy, experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is.  He was called to build a shrine and the Pope emphasized that the shrines that they were called to build are for the poor and the oppressed.

“God’s Shrine”, he said “is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight.  The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress.  The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day…”

Assuring solace of the presence of Our Lady in the lives of the Poor and suffering, the Pope said “Mary tells us that she has ‘the honour’ of being our mother, assuring us that those who suffer do not weep in vain. 

Reiterating the call of Mary to be her ambassadors, the Pope said, “we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us.”  

Below please find the full text of the official English translation of the Holy Father's Homily. 

APOSTOLIC VISIT OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS

TO MEXICO

Homily of Pope Francis

Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Saturday 13 February 2016

            We have just heard how Mary went to meet her cousin Elizabeth.  She sets out without delay, without doubts, without lessening her pace, to be with her relative who was in the last months of her pregnancy.

            Mary’s encounter with the angel did not hold her back since she did not consider herself privileged, or make her hesitate in leaving those around her.  On the contrary, it renewed and inspired an attitude for which Mary is, and always, will be known: she is the woman who says “yes”, a “yes” of surrender to God and, at the same time, a “yes” of surrender to her brothers and sisters.  This is the “yes” which prompted her to give the best of herself, going forth to meet the others.

            Listening to this Gospel passage in this place has a special significance.  Mary, the woman who gave her “yes”, wished also to come to the inhabitants of these American lands in the person of the Indian Saint Juan Diego.  Just as she went along the paths of Judea and Galilee, in the same way she walked through Tepeyac, wearing the indigenous garb and using their language so as to serve this great nation.  Just as she accompanied Elizabeth in her pregnancy, so too she has and continues to accompany the development of this blessed Mexican land.  Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him, “worthless” (cf. Nican Mopohua, 55).  This specific choice, we might call it preferential, was not against anyone but rather in favour of everyone.  The little Indian Juan who called himself a “leather strap, a back frame, a tail, a wing, oppressed by another’s burden” (Ibid.), became “the ambassador, most worthy of trust”.

            On that morning in December 1531, the first miracle occurred which would then be the living memory of all this Shrine protects.  On that morning, at that meeting, God awakened the hope of his son Juan, and the hope of his People.  On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands.  On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals.

            On that morning, Juan experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is.  He was chosen to oversee, care for, protect and promote the building of this Shrine.  On many occasions he said to Our Lady that he was not the right person; on the contrary, if she wished the work to progress, she should choose others, since he was not learned or literate and did not belong to the group who could make it a reality.  Mary, who was persistent – with that persistence born from the Father’s merciful heart – said to him: he would be her ambassador.

            In this way, she managed to awaken something he did not know how to express, a veritable banner of love and justice: no one could be left out in the building of that other shrine, the shrine of life, the shrine of our communities, our societies and our cultures.  We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not “up to the task” or “they do not have the necessary funds” to build all these things.  God’s Shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in whatever condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight.  The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress.  The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day…

            Visiting this Shrine, the same things that happened to Juan Diego can also happen to us.  Look at the Blessed Mother from within our own sufferings, our own fear, hopelessness, sadness, and say to her, “What can I offer since I am not learned?”.  We look to our Mother with eyes that express out thoughts: there are so many situations which leave us powerless, which make us feel that there is no room for hope, for change, for transformation.

            And so, some silence does us good as we pause to look upon her and repeat to her the words of that other loving son:

Simply looking at you, O Mother,

to have eyes only for you,

looking upon you without saying anything,

telling you everything, wordlessly and reverently.

Do not perturb the air before you;

only cradle my stolen solitude

with your loving Motherly eyes,

in the nest of your pure ground.

Hours tumble by, and with much commotion,

the wastage of life and death sinks its teeth into foolish men.

Having eyes for you, O Mother, simply contemplating you

with a heart quietened by your tenderness

that silence of yours, chaste as the lilies.

And in looking at her, we will hear anew what she says to us once more, “What, my most precious little one, saddens your heart?” (Nican Mopohua, 107). “Yet am I not here with you, who have the honour of being your mother?” (Ibid., 119).

            Mary tells us that she has “the honour” of being our mother, assuring us that those who suffer do not weep in vain.  These ones are a silent prayer rising to heaven, always finding a place in Mary’s mantle.  In her and with her, God has made himself our brother and companion along the journey; he carries our crosses with us so as not to leave us overwhelmed by our sufferings.

            Am I not your mother?  Am I not here?  Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you, she tells us.  Today, she sends us out anew; today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears.  Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighbourhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us.  Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick.  Come to the aid of your neighbour, forgive whoever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God.

            Am I not your mother?  Am I not here with you?  Mary says this to us again.  Go and build my shrine, help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Mexico: discourse to bishops

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis addressed the Catholic Bishops of Mexico on Saturday, the first full day of his Apostolic visit to the country.

He had strong words for the Bishops, telling them: "Do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests.  Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander.  Introduce your priests into a right understanding of sacred ministry."

Turning to the cancer of the drug trade, Pope Francis said, "I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church. The magnitude of this phenomenon, the complexity of its causes, its immensity and its scope which devours like a metastasis, and the gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind aondyne denunciations."

He also reminded them of their primary function as pastors of the Church.  "We do not need 'princes', but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses.  Christ is the only light; he is the well-spring of living water; from his breath comes forth the Spirit, who fills the sails of the ecclesial barque.  In the glorified Christ, whom the people of this country love to honour as King, may you together kindle the light and be filled by his presence which is never extinguished; breathe deeply the wholesome air of his Spirit."

Below, please find the full text of the Holy Father's prepared remarks, in their official English translation.

I am pleased to have this opportunity of meeting you the day after my arrival here in this beloved country, which, following in the footsteps of my predecessors, I also have come to visit.

How could I not come!  Could the Successor of Peter, called from the far south of Latin America, deprive himself of seeing la Virgen Morenita?

I thank you for receiving me in this Cathedral, a larger casita (“little house”) and yet always sagrada (“sacred”), as the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe had requested.  I also thank you for your kind words of welcome. 

I know that here is found the secret heart of each Mexican, and I enter with soft footsteps as is fitting for one who enters the home and soul of this people; and I am deeply grateful for you having opened your doors to me.  I know that by looking into the eyes of the Blessed Virgin I am able to follow the gaze of her sons and daughters who, in her, have learned to express themselves.  I know that no other voice can speak so powerfully to me of the Mexican heart as the Blessed Mother can; she guards its highest aspirations and most hidden hopes; she gathers its joys and its tears.  She understands its various languages and she responds with a Mother’s tenderness because these men and women are her own children.

I am happy to be with you here, near Cerro del Tepeyac, in a way close to the dawn of evangelization in this continent.  Please allow la Guadalupana to be the starting point of everything I will say to you.  How I wish She herself would convey to you all that is dear to the Pope’s heart, reaching the depths of your own pastoral hearts, and through you, to each of the particular Churches present in this vast country of Mexico. 

The Pope for some time has nourished a desire to see la Guadalupana  just as Saint Juan Diego did, and successive generations of children after him.  And I have desired, even more, to be captured by her maternal gaze.  I have reflected greatly on the mystery of this gaze and I ask you to receive in these moments what pours forth from my heart, the heart of a Pastor.

A gaze of tenderness

Above all, la Virgen Morenita teaches us that the only power capable of conquering the hearts of men and women is the tenderness of God.  That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unleashes, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy.

A rather inquisitive and famous literary figure of yours, Octavio Paz, said that in Guadalupe great harvests and fertile lands are no longer prayed for, but instead a place of rest where people, still orphaned and disinherited, may seek a place of refuge, a home.

With centuries having gone by since the founding event of this country and the evangelization of the continent, it may be asked: has the need been diluted or even forgotten for that place of rest so ardently desired by the hearts of Mexicans entrusted to your care?

I know the long and painful history which you have gone through has not been without much bloodshed, impetuous and heartbreaking upheavals, and violence and incomprehension.  With good reason my venerable and saintly predecessor, who felt at home here in Mexico, wished to remind us: “Like rivers that are sometimes hidden and plentiful, converge at times and at others reveal their complementary differences, without ever merging completely: the ancient and rich sensitivity of the indigenous peoples loved by Juan de Zumárraga and Vasco de Quiroga, whom many of these peoples continue to call fathers; Christianity, rooted in the Mexican soul; and modern rationality of the European kind, which wanted so much to exalt independence and freedom” (John Paul II, Address, Welcoming Ceremony, 22 January 1999).

And in this history, the maternal place of rest which continually brought life to Mexico, although sometimes seeming like “a net of a hundred and fifty-three fish” (cf. Jn 21:11), was never without fruit, was always able to heal the divisions which threatened.

For this reason I invite you to begin anew from that need for a place of rest which wells up from the spirit of your people.  The restful place of the Christian faith is capable of reconciling a past, often marked by loneliness, isolation and rejection, with a future, continually relegated to a tomorrow which just slips away. Only in that place of faith can we, without renouncing our own identity, “discover the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God” (John Paul II, Homily, Canonization of Juan Diego).

Bow down then, quietly and respectfully, towards the profound spirit of your people, go down with care and decipher its mysterious face.  The present, so often mixed with dispersion and festivity, is it not for God a preparatory stage, for him who alone is fully present?  Familiarity with pain and death, are they not forms of courage and pathways to hope?  And the view that the world is always and uniquely in need of redemption, is this not an antidote to the proud self-sufficiency of those who think they can do without God? 

Naturally, for this reason it is necessary to have an outlook capable of reflecting the tenderness of God.  I ask you, therefore, to be bishops who have a pure vision, a transparent soul, and a joyful face.   Do not fear transparency.  The Church does not need darkness to carry out her work.  Be vigilant so that your vision will not be darkened by the gloomy mist of worldliness; do not allow yourselves to be corrupted by trivial materialism or by the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements; do not place your faith in the “chariots and horses” of today’s Pharaohs, for our strength is in “the pillar of fire” which divides the sea in two, without much fanfare (cf. Ex 14:24-25).

The world in which the Lord calls us to carry out our mission has become extremely complicated.  And even the proud notion of cogito, which at least did not deny that there was a rock on the sand of being, is today dominated by a view of life which more than ever many consider to be hesitant, itinerant and lawless because it lacks a firm foundation.  Frontiers so passionately invoked and upheld are now open to the irony of a world in which the power of some can no longer survive without the vulnerability of others.  The irreversible hybridization of technology brings closer what is distant; sadly, however, it also distances what should be close. 

It is in this very world that God asks you to have a view capable of grasping that plea which cries out from the heart of your people, a plea which has its own calendar day, the Feast of crying out.  This cry needs a response: God exists and is close in Jesus Christ.  Only God is the reality upon which we can build, because, “God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face” (Benedict VI, Address to CELAM, 13 May 2007).

Observing your faces, the Mexican people have the right to witness the signs of those “who have seen the Lord” (cf. Jn 20:25), of those who have been with God.  This is essential.  Therefore, do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests.  Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander.  Introduce your priests into a right understanding of sacred ministry.  For us ministers of God it is enough to have the grace to “drink the cup of the Lord”, the gift of protecting that portion of the heritage which has been entrusted to us, though we may be unskilled administrators.  Let us allow the Father to assign the place he has prepared for us (Mt 20:20-28).  Can we really be concerned with affairs that are not the Father’s?  Away from the “Father’s affairs” (Lk 2:48-49) we lose our identity and, through our own fault, empty his grace of meaning.

If our vision does not witness to having seen Jesus, then the words with which we recall him will be rhetorical and empty figures of speech.  They may perhaps express the nostalgia of those who cannot forget the Lord, but who have become, at any rate, mere babbling orphans beside a tomb.  Finally, they may be words that are incapable of preventing this world of ours from being abandoned and reduced to its own desperate power.

I think of the need to offer a maternal place of rest to young people.  May your vision be capable of meeting theirs, loving them and understanding what they search for with that energy that inspired many like them to leave behind their boats and nets on the other side of the sea (Mk 1:17-18), to leave the abuses of the banking sector so as to follow the Lord on the path of true wealth (cf. Mt 9:9).

I am particularly concerned about those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death in exchange for money which, in the end, “moth and rust consume” and “thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19).  I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church.

The magnitude of this phenomenon, the complexity of its causes, its immensity and its scope which devours like a metastasis, and the gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind aondyne denunciations.  Rather they demand of us a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat.  Only by starting with families, by drawing close and embracing the fringes of human existence in the ravaged areas of our cities and by seeking the involvement of parish communities, schools, community institutions, political communities and institutions responsible for security, will people finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened.

A vision that can build

In the mantle of the Mexican spirit, God, with the thread of mestizo characteristics, has woven and revealed in la Morenita the face of the Mexican people.  God does not need subdued colours to design this face, for his designs are not conditioned by colours or threads but rather by the permanence of his love which constantly desires to imprint itself upon us.

Therefore, be bishops who are capable of imitating this freedom of God who chooses the humble in order to reveal the majesty of his countenance; capable of reproducing this divine patience by weaving the new man which your country awaits with the fine thread made of the men and women you encounter.  Do not be led by empty efforts to change people as if the love of God is not powerful enough to bring about change. 

Rediscover the wise and humble constancy that the Fathers of faith of this country passed onto successive generations with the language of divine mystery.  They did this by first learning and then teaching the grammar needed to dialogue with God; a God concealed within centuries of searching and then brought close in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, who is our future and who is recognized as such by so many men and women when they behold his bloody and humiliated face.  Imitate his gracious humility and his bowing down to help us.  We will never comprehend sufficiently how, with the mestizo threads of our people, God has woven the face by which he is to be known.  We can never be thankful enough.

I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures.  Mexico needs its American-Indian roots so as not to remain an unresolved enigma.  The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence.  In this way they can inherit that identity which transforms them into a single nation and not only an identity among other identities.

On many occasions, much has been said about a supposedly failed future of this nation, about a labyrinth of loneliness in which it is imprisoned by its geography as well as by a fate which ensnares it.  For some, all of this is an obstacle to the plan for a unified face, an adult identity, a unique position among the concert of nations and a shared mission.  

For others, the Church in Mexico is also regarded as being either condemned to suffer the inferior position to which it was relegated in some periods of its past, as for example when its voice was silenced and efforts were made to eradicate it; or condemned to venture into expressions of fundamentalism thus holding onto provisional certainties while forgetting to nest its heart in the Absolute and be called in Christ to unite everyone and not just a portion (cf. Lumen Gentium 1:1).

On the other hand, never cease to remind your people of how powerful their ancient roots are, roots which have allowed a vibrant Christian synthesis of human, cultural and spiritual unity which was forged here.  Remember that the wings of your people have spread on various occasions to rise above changing situations.  Protect the memory of the long journey undertaken so far and know how to inspire the hope of attaining new heights because the future will bear a land “rich in fruit” even if it involves considerable challenges (Num 13:27-28).

May your vision, always and solely resting upon Christ, be capable of contributing to the unity of the people in your care; of favouring the reconciliation of its differences and the integration of its diversities; of promoting a solution to its endogenous problems; of remembering the high standards which Mexico can attain when it learns to belong to itself rather than to others; of helping to find shared and sustainable solutions to its misfortunes; of motivating the entire nation to not be content with less than what is expected of a Mexican way of living in the world. 

A vision that is close and attentive, not dormant

I urge you to not fall into that paralyzation of standard responses to new questions.  Your past is a source of riches to be mined and which can inspire the present and illumine the future.  How unfortunate you are if you sit on your laurels!  It is important not to squander the inheritance you have received by protecting it through constant work.  You stand on the shoulders of giants: bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful “unto the end”, who have offered their lives so that the Church can fulfil her own mission.  From those heights you are called to turn your gaze to the Lord’s vineyard to plan the sowing and wait for the harvest.

I invite you to give yourselves tirelessly and fearlessly to the task of evangelizing and deepening the faith by means of a mystagogical catechesis that treasures the popular religiosity of the people.  Our times require pastoral attention to persons and groups who hope to encounter the living Jesus.  Only the courageous personal conversion of our communities can seek, generate and nourish todays disciples of the Lord (cf. Aparecida, 226, 368, 370).

Hence it is necessary for us Pastors to overcome the temptation of aloofness and clericalism, of coldness and indifference, of triumphalism and self-centredness.  Guadalupe teaches us that God is known by his countenance, and that closeness and humble bowing down are more powerful than force.

As the wonderful Guadalupana tradition teaches us, la Morenita gathers together those who contemplate her, and reflects the faces of those who find her.  It is essential to learn that there is something unique in every person who looks to us in their search for God.  We must guard against becoming impervious to such gazes but rather gather them to our hearts and guard them.

Only a Church able to shelter the faces of men and women who knock on her doors will be able to speak to them of God.  If we do not know how to decipher their sufferings, if we do not come to understand their needs, then we can offer them nothing.  The richness we have flows only when we encounter the smallness of those who beg and this encounter occurs precisely in our hearts, the hearts of Pastors.

The first face I ask you to guard in your hearts is that of your priests.  Do not leave them exposed to loneliness and abandonment, easy prey to a worldliness that devours the heart.  Be attentive and learn how to read their expressions so as to rejoice with them when they feel the joy of recounting all that they have “done and taught” (Mk 6:30).  Also, do not step back when they feel humiliated and can only cry because they “have denied the Lord” (cf. Lk 22:61-62), and offer your support, in communion with Christ, when one of them, disheartened, goes out with Judas into “the night” (cf. Jn 13:30).  As bishops in these situations, your paternal care for your priests must never be found wanting.  Encourage communion among them; seek the perfection of their gifts; involve them in great ventures, for the heart of an apostle was not made for small things.

The need for familiarity abides in the heart of God.  Our Lady of Guadalupe therefore asks for a casita sagrada, a “small holy home”.  Our Latin American populations know well the diminutive forms of expression and use them willingly.  Perhaps they need to use the diminutive forms because they would feel lost otherwise.  They have adapted themselves to feeling small and have grown accustomed to living modestly.

When the Church congregates in a majestic Cathedral, she should not fail to see herself as a “small home” in which her children can feel comfortable.  We remain in God’s presence only when we are little ones, orphans and beggars.

A “small home”, casita, is familiar and at the same time “holy”, sagrada, for it is filled by God’s omnipotent greatness.  We are guardians of this mystery.  Perhaps we have lost the sense of the humble ways of the divine and are tired of offering our own men and women the casita in which they feel close to God.   On occasion, a disregard for the sense of omnipotent greatness has led to a partial loss of reverential fear towards such great love.  Where God lives, man cannot enter without being invited in and he can only enter “taking off his shoes” (cf. Ex 3:5), so as to confess his unworthiness.

Our having forgotten this “taking off our shoes” in order to enter, is this perhaps not the root cause of that lost sense of the sacredness of human life, of the person, of fundamental values, of the wisdom accumulated along the centuries, and of respect for the environment?  Without rescuing within the consciences of men and women and of society these profound roots and the generous efforts to promote legitimate human rights, the vital sap will be lacking; and it is a sap that comes only from a source which  humanity itself cannot procure.

A holistic and unified vision

Only by looking at la Morenita can Mexico be understood in its entirety.  And so I invite you to appreciate that the mission which the Church entrusts to you demands a vision embracing the whole.  This cannot be realized in an isolated manner, but only in communion.

La Guadalupana has a ribbon around her waist which proclaims her fecundity. She is the Blessed Virgin who already has in her womb the Son awaited by men and women. She is the Mother who already carries the humanity of a newborn world.  She is the Bride who prefigures the maternal fruitfulness of Christ’s Church.  You have been entrusted with the mission of enrobing the Mexican nation with God’s fruitfulness.  No part of this ribbon can be despised.

The Mexican episcopate has made significant strides in these years since the Council; it has increased its members; it has promoted permanent formation which is consistent and professional; there has been a fraternal atmosphere; the spirit of collegiality has matured; the pastoral efforts have had an influence on your local Churches and on the conscience of the nation; the shared pastoral initiatives have been fruitful in vital areas of the Church’s mission, such as the family, vocations, and the Church’s presence in society.

While we are encouraged by the path taken during these years, I would ask you not to lose heart in the face of difficulties and not to spare any effort in promoting, among yourselves and in your dioceses, a missionary zeal, especially towards the most needy areas of the one body of the Mexican Church.  To rediscover that the Church is mission is fundamental for her future, because only the “enthusiasm and confident admiration” of evangelizers has the power to attract.  I ask you, therefore, to take great care in forming and preparing the lay-faithful, overcoming all forms of clericalism and involving them actively in the mission of the Church, above all making the Gospel of Christ present in the world by personal witness.

Of great benefit to the Mexican people will be the unifying witness of the Christian synthesis and the shared vision of the identity and future of its people.  In this sense, it is important for the Pontifical University of Mexico to be increasingly involved in the efforts of the Church to ensure a universal perspective; for without this, reason, which tends to compartmentalize, will renounce its highest ideal of seeking the truth. 

The mission is vast, and to carry it forward requires multiple paths.  I strongly reiterate my appeal to you to preserve the communion and unity that exist among you.  Communion is the essential form of the Church, and the unity of her Pastors offers proof of its truth.  Mexico and its vast, multifaceted Church, stand in need of bishops who are servants and custodians of that unity built on the word of God, nourished by his Body and guided by his Spirit who is the life-giving breath of the Church.

We do not need “princes”, but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses.  Christ is the only light; he is the well-spring of living water; from his breath comes forth the Spirit, who fills the sails of the ecclesial barque.  In the glorified Christ, whom the people of this country love to honour as King, may you together kindle the light and be filled by his presence which is never extinguished; breathe deeply the wholesome air of his Spirit.  It falls to you to sow Christ in this land, to keep alive his humble light which enlightens without causing confusion, to ensure that in his living waters the thirst of your people is quenched; to set the sails so that the Spirit’s breeze may fill them, never allowing the barque of the Church in Mexico to run aground.

Remember: the Bride knows that the beloved Pastor (cf. Song 1:7) will be found only where there are verdant pastures and crystal clear streams.  She does not trust those companions of the Bridegroom who, sometimes out of laziness or inability, lead the sheep through arid lands and areas strewn with rocks.  Woe to us pastors, companions of the Supreme Pastor, if we allow his Bride to wander because we have set up tents where the Bridegroom cannot be found! 

Allow me a final word to convey the appreciation of the Pope for everything you are doing to confront the challenge of our age: migration. There are millions of sons and daughters of the Church who today live in the diaspora or who are in transit, journeying to the north in search of new opportunities.  Many of them have left behind their roots in order to brave the future, even in clandestine conditions which involve so many risks; they do this to seek the “green light” which they regard as hope.  So many families are separated; and integration into a supposedly “promised land” is not always as easy as some believe.                               

Brothers, may your hearts be capable of following these men and women and reaching them beyond the borders.  Strengthen the communion with your brothers of the North American episcopate, so that the maternal presence of the Church can keep alive the roots of the faith of these men and women, as well as the motivation for their hope and the power of their charity.  May it never happen, that, hanging up their lyres, their joys become dampened, they forget Jerusalem and are exiled from themselves (cf. Ps 136).  I ask you to witness together that the Church is the custodian of a unifying vision of humanity and that she cannot consent to being reduced to a mere human “resource”.  

Your efforts will not be in vain when your dioceses show care by pouring balm on the injured feet of those who walk through your territories, sharing with them the resources collected through the sacrifices of many; the divine Samaritan in the end will enrich the person who is not indifferent to him as he lies on the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25-37).

Dear brothers, the Pope is sure that Mexico and its Church will make it in time to that rendezvous with themselves, with history and with God.  Perhaps some stone on the way may slow their pace and the struggle of the journey may call for rest, but nothing will make them lose sight of the destination.  For how can someone arrive late when it is their mother who is waiting?  Who is unable to hear within themselves that voice, ‘am I not here, I who am your Mother’?

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: in Mexico as missionary of mercy and peace

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered the first major address of his visit to Mexico on Saturday, to the nation’s civil authorities and the corps of diplomats present for the occasion. In his remarks, the Holy Father described himself once again as “a missionary of mercy and of peace,” and also as, “a son who wishes to pay homage to his mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, and place himself under her watchful care.”

Listen to Chris Altieri's report: 

Praising Mexico’s unique cultural richness and stressing the central importance of Mexico in American life, the Holy Father had especial words of encouragement for the young people of the nation. “Mexico’s principal richness today has a young face,” said Pope Francis. “This makes it possible to contemplate and plan for a future, for a tomorrow,” and “offers hope and future prospects.” The Pope went on to say, “A people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now.”

Renewing his calls for concerted effort to build a just and inclusive society that cares for all its citizens without respect for age, race, or condition, and for responsible participation in and stewardship over the order of creation, Pope Francis said, “This is not just a question of laws which need to be updated and improved – something always necessary – but rather a need for urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation.”

Pope Francis assured Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, that the Government of his nation  can rely on the cooperation of the Catholic Church, “Which,” he said, “has accompanied the life of this nation and which renews its commitment and willingness to serve the great causes of mankind: the building of the civilization of love.” 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: speech to civil authorities and diplomats

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered an address to Mexican civil authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in Mexico on Saturday, the first full day of his Apostolic visit to the country. Below, please find the full text of the Holy Father's prepared remarks, in their official English translation

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I thank you, Mr President, for your words of welcome. I am happy to set foot on Mexican soil which holds a special place in the heart of the Americas.  Today I come as a missionary of mercy and of peace but also as a son who wishes to pay homage to his mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, and place himself under her watchful care.

Endeavouring to be a good son, following in our mother’s footsteps, I wish in turn to pay my respects to this people and to this land which is so rich in culture, history, and diversity. Through you, Mr President, I would like to greet and embrace the Mexican people in its numerous expressions and in the most diverse of situations it experiences. Thank you for welcoming me to your land.

Mexico is a great country. It is blessed with abundant natural resources and with an enormous biodiversity that extends across its vast territory.  Its privileged geographical position makes it a reference point for America; and its indigenous, mestizo and criollo cultures endow it with its own identity that facilitates a cultural richness not always easy to find and, particularly, to value. The ancestral wisdom shown by your multiculturalism is, by far, one of your greatest biographical resources. It is an identity that learned gradually how to shape itself amid diversity and that now constitutes, without any doubt, a rich patrimony to be valued, encouraged and protected. 

I believe and I dare to say that Mexico’s principal richness today has a young face; yes, this richness is your young people. Just over half of the population is made up of youth. This makes it possible to contemplate and plan for a future, for a tomorrow. This offers hope and future prospects.  A people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now. This reality inevitably leads us to think about one’s own responsibilities when it comes to constructing the kind of Mexico we want, the Mexico that we want to pass on to coming generations. It also leads us to the realization that a hope-filled future is forged in a present made up of men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for the common good, the “common good” which in this twenty-first century is not in such great demand. Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development.

The Mexican people anchors its hope in an identity which has been shaped in the trying and difficult moments of its history. It was forged by the wonderful witness of citizens who understood that, in order to overcome situations born of the obstinacy of individualism, it was necessary to have agreement between the political, social and financial institutions, and of all men and women committed to the common good and the promotion of the dignity of the human person.

An ancestral culture together with encouraging human resources such as yours, should be a stimulus to find new forms of dialogue, negotiation, and bridges that can lead us on the way of committed solidarity. Starting with those who call themselves Christians, it is a commitment to which all of us must give of ourselves, for the construction of a “political life on a truly human basis” (Gaudium et Spes, 73), and a society in which no one feels a victim of the culture of waste.   

Leaders of social, cultural and political life have the particular duty to offer all citizens the opportunity to be worthy contributors of their own future, within their families and in all areas where human social interaction takes place. In this way they help citizens to have real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment.   

This is not just a question of laws which need to be updated and improved – something always necessary – but rather a need for urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation. It is a task which involves all Mexicans in different spheres, public or private, collective or individual. 

I assure you, Mr President, that in this effort, the Government of Mexico can count on the cooperation of the Catholic Church, which has accompanied the life of this nation and which renews its commitment and willingness to serve the great causes of mankind: the building of the civilization of love.

I am ready to travel around this beautiful and wide country as a missionary and as a pilgrim who wishes to renew with all of you the experience of mercy as a new horizon of opportunity which inevitably brings justice and peace. I also entrust myself to the gaze of Mary, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe,  so that by her intercession, the merciful Father may grant that these days and the future of this land be an opportunity for encounter, unity and peace. Thank you.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis has a new book for kids

Vatican City, Feb 13, 2016 / 07:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Already in his brief, three-year pontificate Pope Francis has a track record of papal firsts, but in March he will add yet another to his list: authoring a children's book. “This book could be useful to the entire family. The questions are deep, fresh, sharp – involving desires of understanding, but also tough feelings and experiences to be faced and lived,” Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ told CNA Feb. 9. “Ultimately I hope people see that the Pope’s message is universal. Whether his responses are read by children or adults, I hope that his focus on peace, joy, and mercy is understood and felt by all.” On March 1 Jesuit-run Loyola Press will release the book “Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World,” alongside Jesuit publishing houses in 11 other countries. A collection of 30 letters and drawings from children around the world aged 6-13, the book contains both head-scratching questions from the youth, as well as Pope Francis' answers. “This book is the very first book by a Pope for children ever,” Fr. Spadaro said, explaining that it’s not just a collection of things he said before in other settings, but is “something original, thought (of) as a book with answers to questions, but also drawings.” Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, has worked on the book alongside Loyola Press in Chicago, who conceived the idea. Pope Francis gave the project the official thumbs-up last May, when executives from Loyola Press traveled to Rome to pop the question on whether he would ever consider writing a children’s book. “What really struck me is that when I asked Pope Francis about this project he immediately said yes,” Fr. Spadaro said. Once the Pope agreed to participate, things got going, he said. Loyola Press immediately reached out to both priests and lay people around the world in order to put the publisher in contact with children who would write the letters. The 259 letters that arrived to the Vatican came from across the globe, including countries such as Albania, China, Nigeria, the Philippines and a school for displaced children in Syria. Fr. Spadaro affirmed that the responses given “are the Pope's words,” and noted that at one point, before his trip to the United States last September, Francis was reading the children’s’ questions, and admitted that “these are tough.” He recalled that afterward, during the prayer vigil for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the Pope had said: “A young person once asked me – you know how young people ask hard questions! – ‘Father, what did God do before he created the world?’ Believe me, I had a hard time answering that one.” When Pope Francis told the story, “he was referring to the experience of this book,” Fr. Spadaro explained. “This is true. He realized that he wanted to give the kids a deeper answer than something right off the top of his head.” Due to the Pope’s time constraints, he didn’t have time to respond to all 259 letters, but was advised on which ones to select with the help of a special group of parents, grandparents, teachers, Jesuits, writers and children. As the Pope read the letters, Fr. Spadaro said that Francis paid special attention to the drawings the children had made. “He commented to me (on the) details, colors (and) shapes,” the priest said, adding that “sometimes Francis captured, with finesse, the meaning of a question more from images than from words.” When the book is published March 1, it will be released in 14 languages, including English, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Hungarian and French, though Fr. Spadaro said he expects the number to grow. On Feb. 22, eight children whose letters appear in the book, plus a few siblings, will meet with Pope Francis in a private audience at the Vatican. They will present him with the finished book, as well as all 259 letters collected for the project.

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 www.shutterstock.com

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.