Thu, 19 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a craftsman's workshop on the edge of Rome's Campo Verano cemetery, two designers are working to revive what they see as a dying art: burial. Unlike the masons who make the cemetery's gravestones and memorials, Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel are fashioning biodegradable burial pods. Their prototype is an egg-shaped sarcophagus that can hold a corpse in the fetal position. A young tree, chosen ahead of time by the deceased, will be planted over the pod in place of a headstone. Citelli and Bretzel imagine a future where "sacred forests" co-exist with cemeteries. The burial pods are part of a widespread movement focused on "green burial" practices, which use decomposable materials and avoid the use of embalming chemicals. A growing number of Catholic cemeteries offer "green burials," but do so emphasizing how the practices and the motivations behind such a choice must coincide with Catholic faith. "By burying the bodies of the faithful, the church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity," said an instruction on burial and cremation issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in October. The Catholic Church, it said, "cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the 'prison' of the body." The Italian pod makers, who named their firm Capsula Mundi (Latin for "earth pod") say the burial process should reflect the natural processes of the world with the dying and recycling of biological materials by other organisms. "We are earth and to earth we will return," said Bretzel, echoing the words from the Book of Genesis spoken during the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Yet Capsula Mundi was inspired not by Catholicism or New Age spirituality but a critique of modern culture. Consumerism, with the many creature comforts it affords, has led people to think of themselves as "outside of nature, of the biological cycle of life," and thus encouraged them to counteract the natural process of decay by embalming, Bretzel said. "In ancient times, monks were buried in the cloister of their convent; they were wrapped in a sheet, but laid in the ground," he said. Opus Dei Father Paul O'Callaghan, an expert on church teaching about end-of-life questions and a professor at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said burial methods often indicate underlying attitudes about the afterlife. Christians recognize, "in all humility, that the body has to go back to where it came from, it goes back to the earth," said Father O'Callaghan, noting that the words "human" and "humility" both come from the Latin word "humus," meaning earth. "The authentic Christian practice," Father O'Callaghan said, is burial "followed by natural decay." The eventual resurrection of the body promised in the Creed will be the "fruit of divine intervention," he said. The priest said he understands why Catholics might be motivated to be ecologically aware when planning for their death and burial. Burial is more ecological than cremation, Father O'Callaghan argued, because the ground can "just take from the body what it wants, rather than the body being burned and heating up the atmosphere" where "most of the organic material is actually lost and is turned into CO2." But Father O'Callaghan also cautions Catholics to understand the philosophy undergirding some green burial initiatives. "When you are promoting something" that deals with death and burial, "normally you have an anthropology, you have a view of what human beings are, and how they work, and where they're destined," he said. "There is a religious element, ...
Tue, 17 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, to be a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican announced his and other papal appointments Jan. 14. The 72-year-old archbishop of Boston is one of the eight members of the Council of Cardinals who has been assisting Pope Francis with the reform of the administration of the Roman Curia, and now he joins 26 other cardinal and bishop members, and 28 consulting theologians, in advising the doctrinal congregation. The congregation deals with doctrinal questions as well as the application of Catholic moral teaching. But it also is charged with coordinating efforts to rid the church of sexual abuse and with monitoring or conducting cases against individual abusers. While the congregation members offer their expertise on the many questions the office considers pressing, Cardinal O'Malley's experience leading three U.S. dioceses confronting the abuse of minors by clergy will be important, U.S. Msgr. Robert W. Oliver, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Catholic News Service Jan. 17. Msgr. Oliver, who once worked as the chief prosecutor of sex abuse crimes when he was promoter of justice at the doctrinal congregation, worked on the abuse crisis in his home Archdiocese of Boston with Cardinal O'Malley. The cardinal will bring "the experience of local bishops who have been there" in terms of handling abuse accusations, and will help the congregation as it deals with new cases coming in from different parts of the world, the monsignor said. The pope also named new consultors to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The 17 new advisers include Donna Orsuto, a U.S. professor of spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Australian Father Robert McCulloch, who spent decades ministering in Pakistan before becoming procurator general of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Rome. The new consultors -- 10 priests or male religious, five laymen and two laywomen -- include Jesuit artist and theologian Father Marko Rupnik, who is the director of Rome's Centro Aletti, a community of scholars and artists committed to bridging Eastern and Western traditions through theological dialogue, research, reflection and publication. The pope also named as a consultor British Msgr. Bruce Harbert, who had served as executive secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy -- the body that seeks to develop unified English translations of the prayers used at Mass, for the celebration of the sacraments and other liturgies.
Fri, 13 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Under certain circumstances and after long prayer and a profound examination of conscience, some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may return to the sacraments, said the bishops of Malta. With "an informed and enlightened conscience," a separated or divorced person living in a new relationship who is able "to acknowledge and believe that he or she is at peace with God," the bishops said, "cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist." The Maltese "Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia,'" Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, was published Jan. 13 after being sent to all of the country's priests by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. The bishops urged their priests to recognize how "couples and families who find themselves in complex situations, especially those involving separated or divorced persons who have entered a new union" may have "'lost' their first marriage," but not their hope in Jesus. "Some of these earnestly desire to live in harmony with God and with the church, so much so, that they are asking us what they can do in order to be able to celebrate the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist," the bishops wrote. The first step, they said, always must be to affirm church teaching that marriage is indissoluble. Then, the bishops said, the couple's specific situation should be examined to determine if their first union was a valid marriage. If not, they should be encourage to seek an annulment. Without an annulment, the bishops said, couples living in a new relationship should be encouraged to abstain from sexual relations since the church does not consider their new union a marriage. Sometimes, however, the couple will find practicing the virtue of "conjugal continence" impossible. Archbishop Scicluna and Bishop Grech urged priests to devote time to such couples, guiding them in a reflection on their first union, their contributions to its failure, the impact on their children and a host of other questions. "This discernment acquires significant importance since, as the pope teaches, in some cases this help" from the church in growing in holiness "can include the help of the sacraments," the Malta document said. "While exercising our ministry, we must be careful to avoid falling into extremes: into extreme rigor on the one hand and laxity on the other," the bishops wrote to their priests.
Fri, 13 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis asked young people to tell him, their bishops and pastors about their hopes and struggles and even their criticisms. In preparation for a meeting of the Synod of Bishops focused on youth, the pope wrote a letter to young people, saying the church wants "to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith, even your doubts and your criticism." "Make your voice heard," the pope told young people. "Let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls." The pope's letter was released Jan. 13 along with the preparatory document for the synod. The document includes a series of questions to be answered by national conferences of bishops and other church bodies. The responses, along with input from young people themselves, will form the basis of the synod's working document. Pope Francis chose "Young people, faith and vocational discernment" as the theme for the synod gathering, which will be held in October 2018. Young people will have an opportunity to contribute to the working document by submitting reflections "on their expectations and their lives" through a dedicated website -- -- that will be launched March 1, said Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. In his letter, Pope Francis referred to God's call to Abraham. The Old Testament patriarch, he said, "received a compelling invitation, a challenge, to leave everything and go to a new land. What is this 'new land' for us today, if not a more just and friendly society which you, young people, deeply desire and wish to build to the very ends of the earth?" "A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity," Pope Francis told young people. "Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master." The synod preparatory document offered three chapters for reflection by bishops and youths, which it defines as people roughly between the ages of 16 and 29: young people in today's world; faith, discernment and vocation; and pastoral activity. Through the synod, the document said, "the church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today." The church, it said, needs to evaluate its pastoral approach to young people living in a rapidly changing world where globalization, technological dominance, as well as economic and social hardships pose significant challenges to discovering their vocational path. "From the vantage point of faith, the situation is seen as a sign of our times, requiring greater listening, respect and dialogue," the document said. A special focus of the synod, it said, will be "on vocational discernment, that is, the process by which a person makes fundamental choices, in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit, starting with the choice of one's state in life." Specifically for Christians, it said, the question is: "How does a person live the good news of the Gospel and respond to the call which the Lord addresses to all those he encounters, whether through marriage, the ordained ministry or the consecrated life?" One of the major challenges for young people in defining their personal identity and finding their path in life is the countless options available -- particularly when it comes to their careers -- that may impede them from making a definitive life choice. Many young people today, it said, "refuse to continue on a personal journey of life if it means giving up taking different paths in the future: 'Today I choose this, tomorrow we'll see.'" Lack of employment and social and economic hardships, it added, also contribute to "their inability to continue in one career. Generally speaking, these ...
Thu, 12 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the controversial opening of a McDonald's near the Vatican may not have all local residents singing, "I'm lovin' it," the popular fast food chain is trying to do its part in the neighborhood by helping the poor and the hungry. "Medicina Solidale" ("Solidarity Medicine") announced Jan. 12 that it is joining forces with McDonald's and the papal almoner's office, which gives the pope's charitable aid to the homeless around the Vatican, to distribute 1,000 meals to poor men and women who often find shelter in and around St. Peter's Basilica. Starting Jan. 16, volunteers from the charitable organization will distribute a specially prepared menu for the poor; it includes a double cheeseburger, fresh apple slices and a bottle of water. Lucia Ercoli, director of "Medicina Solidale," said that the organization plans to distribute 100 meals a week for 10 consecutive Mondays. The program, she added, is "the beginning of a dialogue" with McDonald's to expand in the future. "It is truly a small drop in an ocean of things being done by so many other associations, by so many people who spend their time helping others," Ercoli said Jan. 12 in an interview with Vatican Radio. In a statement announcing the deal, Ercoli noted that the fast food chain "quickly responded" to the proposal "to donate meals to those who live on the streets in the area of St. Peter's." Noting her organization's longtime collaboration with the papal almoner in providing medical care for the homeless, Ercoli said the new agreement will ensure that the poor also are provided with some much-needed nutrition. "With these meals, we'll make a significant leap in providing so many women and men who live on the street in this neighborhood the possibility of a meal that will guarantee a suitable intake of proteins and vitamins for them," she said.
Thu, 12 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Last year, more than 13 million people around the world watched Pope Francis explain one of his specific prayer intentions each month. The 90-second, personal explanations in "The Pope Video," first launched in January 2016, encouraged people to join an estimated 50 million Catholics who already had a more formal relationship with The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network -- better known by its former title, the Apostleship of Prayer. The prayer network, which is more than 170 years old, continues to evolve. After the debut in 2016 of the monthly video on , the new year began with Pope Francis adding a second monthly intention -- an urgent prayer appeal. For January the appeal was for the homeless struggling with cold temperatures and indifference. For decades the Apostleship of Prayer distributed two intentions for each month: one focused on needs in mission territories and the other on a matter considered more universal. The lists were published a full year in advance after going through a long process of collecting suggestions, getting input from Vatican offices and being translated. Pope Francis has decided now that the prepared list of prayer intentions will alternate each month between a missionary concern and a universal one. The second prayer for the month will be announced at the beginning of the month by the pope during his Sunday Angelus address. The urgent intention will then be shared with members of the prayer network through its websites, social media and email. Jesuit Father James Kubicki, U.S. director of the network, said the international director believes the urgent prayer request is a way for Pope Francis "to confront 'the culture of indifference' by focusing our prayerful attention on situations that are 'more concrete, precise, current, related to actual circumstances.'" Jesuit Father Luis Ramirez, assistant international director of the prayer network, told Catholic News Service Jan. 11 that the urgent prayer request does two things. First, it strengthens the spiritual experience of those who are joining in prayer, letting them know they do not pray alone. And, more importantly, it lets those suffering know that the pope sees their pain and is trying to rally assistance. Of course, Father Ramirez said, the pope hopes people are "not just watching the video and receiving the appeal, but taking action and offering help." Justiniano Vila, a manager at La Machi, the Barcelona-based company that produces "The Pope Video," told CNS more than 13 million people clicked on and watched at least one of the videos in 2016. Those that garnered the most views were January's on interreligious dialogue, February's on care for creation and June's on solidarity in cities. The most popular platform for viewing the video is Facebook, he said. The Pope Video Facebook page has a reach of 25 million people. The video also can be watched on the official website -- -- and on YouTube. In the videos, which last less than 90 seconds, Pope Francis speaks in Spanish. Subtitles are then added for English, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Arabic. Of the more than 13 million views in 2016, Vila said, 45 percent were in the original Spanish, 29 percent were with the Portuguese subtitles and 13 percent were with English subtitles.
Wed, 11 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Watch out for the tempting promises and easy rewards of false gods and idols because they always lead to confusion, disappointment and even death, Pope Francis said. "We are tempted to seek even fleeting comfort, which seems to fill the emptiness of solitude and ease the exertion of believing" in God, especially in times of trouble, he said Jan. 11 during his weekly general audience. But the hope and security that come from God "never ever disappoint," he said. "Idols always let you down" since they are figments of the imagination and not "alive and real" like God. The pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by reflecting on Psalm 115, which warns of the false hopes and securities offered by man-made idols. While the psalmist speaks of statues made of "silver and gold," the pope said idols also include anything people hold up as the ultimate answer to their happiness and security like money, power, success and false ideologies -- all of which carry "illusions of eternity and omnipotence." Even things like physical beauty and health become idols when a person is willing "to sacrifice everything" in order to obtain or maintain them, he said. "They are all things that confuse the heart and mind and instead of promoting life, they lead to death," he said. As an example of this, he said he once heard a woman speak very nonchalantly about procuring an abortion because the pregnancy would have ruined her figure. "These are idols and they take you down the wrong path. They do not give you happiness," he said. The pope marveled at the huge number of fortunetellers he used to see sitting in a city park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the lines of people waiting their turn to consult them. The shtick "is always the same, 'There is a woman in your life,' 'Something dark is coming,'" he said ominously. But the people would pay to hear such things, and this was supposed to make them feel better even though they were putting their trust in a bunch of nonsense, he said. "We buy false hope," which shows how much people cling to it, he said. True hope, the kind Jesus brought freely by "giving his life for us, that kind we don't trust in so much sometimes." Faith in God takes strength and perseverance, and when bad things happen in life, he said, sometimes that faith wavers and people feel they need a different kind of certainty, something easier or more "tangible and concrete." "Sometimes we seek a god that can bend to our wishes and magically intervene to change reality and make it be the way we want," he said. This is what people love and seek -- a god "that looks like us, understandable, predictable," even though "it can do nothing -- impotent and deceitful." The psalmist says that those who worship or trust in things that cannot speak, see, feel, move or hear, will become like them with nothing to say, "incapable of helping, changing things, smiling, giving oneself and incapable of loving." "Even we, people of the church, run this risk" of becoming worldly, he said. "We need to be in the world, but defend ourselves from the illusions" and idols of the world. But those who persevere and courageously trust and hope in the Lord, they become more and more like him, sharing in his life and blessings, "transforming us into his children." "In this God, we have hope. This is the God that is not an idol, that never disappoints," and always remembers his people even during their most difficult trials, he said. At the end of the audience in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall, the pope told people to make sure they never pay for a ticket to see the pope because entry to papal events is always free since "this is a home for everyone." "I found out that there are pretty crafty (people) who charge for tickets," which should have written on them in different languages that they are completely free of charge. "Whoever makes you pay to get you into an audience commits a crime," he said. Tickets for papal Masses also ...
Wed, 11 Jan 2017
A controversy among Catholics that has the potential of becoming the most serious crisis in the Church in nearly half a century now surrounds Pope Francis’s document on marriage, Amoris Laetitia . Critics, including some cardinals and bishops, have said the papal document, whose Latin title means “The Joy of Love,” may come close to doctrinal error. They have urged the pope to clarify its meaning at key points. Supporters, also including cardinals and bishops, say the critics are perilously close to illicit defiance of papal authority. There’s been nothing quite like this since 1968, when organized theological dissent greeted Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae , which reaffirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control. Even some bishops and bishops’ conferences waffled then. But there is at least one big difference between then and now. In 1968, Pope Paul’s critics assailed him for repeating Church teaching. Today Pope Francis’ document is being questioned for perhaps departing from it. Papal loyalists of earlier times have become papal critics, while people who once took a minimalist view of papal authority are now vocal defenders. Issue of divorce The immediate focal point of the current argument — though not, some say, its most important issue — is whether divorced and remarried Catholics who haven’t received an annulment (a formal decision by an ecclesiastical court that the first union wasn’t a real marriage) can be given holy Communion. Up to now, the answer has been no — receiving Communion is not possible for these people unless they and their new partners agree to live in a brother-sister relationship without marital intimacy. That is the position expressed, for example, in Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio , published in 1981 following an assembly of the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family the previous year. In section 84, Pope John Paul writes: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried…. Reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who ... ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’” (The quote is from John Paul’s homily at the closing of the 1980 Synod.) The Synod process Pope Francis, it seems, takes a different view. In October 2013, he announced that he would convoke not just one but two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family life — the first, in October 2014, to identify problems and their possible solutions, the second, in October 2015, to formulate recommendations. Instituted in 1965, following the Second Vatican Council, the Synod of Bishops is an assembly of bishops that advises the pope on questions he identifies. As part of the preparations, Francis convened a two-day meeting of the College of Cardinals in February 2014, at which he invited Cardinal Walter Kasper to make the case for Communion for the divorced and remarried. Applying the Moral Law For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and super ciality dif cult cases and wounded families”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”. — Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia , No. 305 Cardinal Kasper, a German theologian who formerly headed the Pontifical Council for Promoting ...
Mon, 09 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church is "very far" from a situation in which the pope is in need of "fraternal correction" because he has not put the faith and church teaching in danger, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Interviewed Jan. 9 on the Italian all-news channel, TGCom24, Cardinal Muller said Pope Francis' document on the family, "Amoris Laetitia," was "very clear" in its teaching. In the document, the cardinal said, Pope Francis asks priests "to discern the situation of these persons living in an irregular union -- that is, not in accordance with the doctrine of the church on marriage -- and asks for help for these people to find a path for a new integration into the church according to the condition of the sacraments (and) the Christian message on matrimony." In the papal document, he said, "I do not see any opposition: On one side we have the clear doctrine on matrimony, and on the other the obligation of the church to care for these people in difficulty." The cardinal was interviewed about a formal request to Pope Francis for clarification about "Amoris Laetitia" and particularly its call for the pastoral accompaniment of people who are divorced and civilly remarried or who are living together without marriage. The request, called a "dubia," was written in September by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, patron of the Knights of Malta, and three other cardinals. They published the letter in November after Pope Francis did not respond. In an interview later, Cardinal Burke said the pope must respond to the "dubia" because they directly impact the faith and the teaching of the church. If there is no response, he said, a formal "correction of the pope" would be in order. Cardinal Muller told the Italian television that "a possible fraternal correction of the pope seems very remote at this time because it does not concern a danger for the faith," which is the situation St. Thomas Aquinas described for fraternal correction. "It harms the church" for cardinals to so publicly challenge the pope, he said. In his letter on the family, Pope Francis affirmed church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but he also urged pastors to provide spiritual guidance and assistance with discernment to Catholics who have married civilly without an annulment of their church marriage. A process of discernment, he has said, might eventually lead to a determination that access to the sacraments is possible. The possibility reflects a change in church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the sinfulness of sexual relations outside a valid marriage, in the view of the document written by Cardinals Burke; Walter Brandmuller, a German and former president of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences; Carlo Caffarra, retired archbishop of Bologna, Italy; and Joachim Meisner, retired archbishop of Cologne, Germany. In the TGCom24 interview, Cardinal Muller said, "everyone, especially cardinals of the Roman church, have the right to write a letter to the pope. However, I was astonished that this became public, almost forcing the pope to say 'yes' or 'no'" to the cardinals' questions about what exactly the pope meant in "Amoris Laetitia." "This, I don't like," Cardinal Muller said.
Mon, 09 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the start of a new year, Pope Francis laid out a laundry list of suggested resolutions for religious and political leaders for making a joint commitment toward building peace. No conflict exists that is "a habit impossible to break," the pope said, but he underlined that kicking such a habit requires greater efforts to rectify social injustice, protect religious freedom, jump-start peace talks, end the arms trade and cooperate in responding to climate change and the immigration and refugee crises. In a 45-minute speech Jan. 9 to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pope underlined what he saw as the real "enemies of peace" and the best responses that could be made by today's religious and political leaders. "One enemy of peace," he said, is seeing the human person as a means to an end, which "opens the way to the spread of injustice, social inequality and corruption." The waste, "greedy exploitation" and inequitable distribution of the world's resources provoke conflict, he said, and human trafficking, especially the abuse and exploitation of children, cannot be overlooked. Another enemy of peace, the pope said, are ideologies that exploit "social unrest in order to foment contempt and hate" and target others as enemies to be eliminated. "Under the guise of promising great benefits, (such ideologies) instead leave a trail of poverty, division, social tensions, suffering and, not infrequently, death," he said. What peace requires, he said, is "a vision of human beings capable of promoting an integral development respectful of their transcendent dignity" as well as the courage and commitment to seek to build peace together every day. Religions are "called to promote peace," he said, appealing to "all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God's name." "The fundamentalist-inspired terrorism" that has been killing so many innocent people the past year is "a homicidal madness which misuses God's name in order to disseminate death in a play for domination and power." Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of deep "spiritual poverty" that does not connect a pious fear of God with the mandate to love one's neighbor. Often it also is linked to deep social poverty, which demands action including on the part of government leaders. Political leaders must guarantee "in the public forum the right to religious freedom" and recognize the positive contribution religious values make in society, he said. They must promote social policies aimed at fighting poverty and promoting the family as well as invest heavily in education and culture so as to eliminate the sort of "terrain" that spreads fundamentalism. Christians, whose divisions "have endured too long," also must heal past wounds and journey forward together with common goals since many of those conflicts have threatened social harmony and peace, the pope said. Peace, he said, entails greater justice and mercy in the world, especially toward foreigners, migrants and refugees. "A common commitment is needed, one focused on offering them a dignified welcome," he said. It means recognizing people have a right to emigrate and take up a new residence without feeling their security and cultural identity are being threatened. Immigrants, however, also must respect local laws and cultures, he added. Handling today's waves of migration demands global responsibility and cooperation so that the "burden of humanitarian assistance" is not left to just a few nations at enormous cost and hardship. Peace also demands an end to the "deplorable arms trade" and a ban on nuclear weapons, he said. Easy access to firearms "not only aggravates various conflicts, but also generates a widespread sense of insecurity and fear." He called on the world community to do everything to encourage "serious negotiations" for an end to the war in Syria, the protection of civilians and delivery of the aid needed to address the "genuine human ...
Fri, 06 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Magi had the courage to set out on a journey in the hope of finding something new, unlike Herod who was full of himself and unwilling to change his ways, Pope Francis said. The Wise Men who set out from the East in search of Jesus personify all those who long for God and reflect "all those who in their lives have let their hearts be anesthetized," the pope said Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany. "The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuity," he said. Thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter's Basilica as the pope entered to the sounds of the choir singing "Angels we have heard on high" in Latin. Before taking his place in front of the altar, the pope stood in front of a statue of baby Jesus, spending several minutes in veneration before kissing it. The pope said that the Magi adoring the newborn king highlight two specific actions: seeing and worshipping. Seeing the star of Bethlehem did not prompt them to embark on their journey but rather, "they saw the star because they had already set out," he said. "Their hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new," the pope said. This restlessness, he continued, awakens a longing for God that exists in the hearts of all believers who know "that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present." It is holy longing for God "that helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom," the pope said. Recalling the biblical figures of Simeon, the prodigal son, and Mary Magdalene, the pope said this longing for God "draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change," and helps us seek Christ. However, the figure of King Herod presents a different attitude of bewilderment and fear that, when confronted with something new, "closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes." The quest of the Magi led them first to Herod's palace that, although it befits the birth of king, is only a sign of "power, outward appearances and superiority. Idols that promise only sorrow and enslavement," he said. "There, in the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us," the pope said. Unlike the Magi, the pope added, Herod is unable to worship the newborn king because he was unwilling to change his way of thinking and "did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him." Christians are called to imitate the wise men who, "weary of the Herods of their own day," set out in search of the promise of something new. "The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable infant, the unexpected and unknown child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God," the pope said. After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. A colorful parade led by the sounds of trumpets and drums, people dressed in traditional and festive clothing contributed to the cheerful atmosphere despite the chilly weather. Explaining the significance of the Wise Men who presented their gifts to Christ after adoring him, the pope gave the crowds a gift: a small booklet of reflections on mercy. The book, entitled "Icons of Mercy," presents "six Gospel episodes that recall the experience of people transformed by Jesus' love: the sinful woman, ...
Tue, 03 Jan 2017
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Stand up and protect children from exploitation, slaughter and abuse, which includes committing to a policy of "zero tolerance" of sexual abuse by clergy, Pope Francis told the world's bishops. Wake up to what is happening to so many of today's innocents and be moved by their plight and the cries of their mothers to do everything to protect life, helping it "be born and grow," he said in a letter sent to bishops commemorating the feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28. The Vatican press office published the letter and translations from the original Italian Jan. 2. Just as King Herod's men slaughtered young children of Bethlehem in his "unbridled thirst for power," there are plenty of new Herods today -- gang members, criminal networks and "merchants of death" -- "who devour the innocence of our children" through slave labor, prostitution and exploitation, he said. Wars and forced immigration also strip children of their innocence, joy and dignity, he added. The prophet Jeremiah was aware of this "sobbing and loud lamentation" and knew that Rachel was "weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled since they were no more." "Today too, we hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to ignore or to silence," Pope Francis said. "Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears," and the Gospel writers "did not disguise reality to make it more credible or attractive." Christmas and the birth of the son of God aren't about escaping reality, but are a way to help "contemplate this cry of pain, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbors, especially where children are involved. It also means realizing that that sad chapter in history is still being written today." Given such challenges, Pope Francis told the world's bishops to look to St. Joseph as a role model. This obedient and loyal man was capable of recognizing and listening to God's voice, which meant St. Joseph could let himself be guided by his will and be moved by "what was going on around him and was able to interpret these events realistically." "The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to be men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us," he said. Like St. Joseph, "we are asked not to let ourselves be robbed of joy. We are asked to protect this joy from the Herods of our own time. Like Joseph, we need the courage to respond to this reality, to arise and take it firmly in hand." The church weeps not only for children suffering the pain of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, forced displacement, slavery and sexual exploitation, the pope said, she weeps "because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests." "It is a sin that shames us," he said, that people who were responsible for caring for children, "destroyed their dignity." Deploring "the sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power," the church also begs for forgiveness, he said. "Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to 'zero tolerance,'" he said. The pope urged the bishops to remember that Christian joy doesn't ignore or sugarcoat reality, but "is born from a call" to embrace and protect life, "especially that of the holy innocents." He asked they renew their commitment to be shepherds with the courage to acknowledge what so many children are experiencing today and to ...
Tue, 27 Dec 2016
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- At a Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington expressed thanks to God for his vocation, and he encouraged Catholics to open their hearts to hearing and responding to God's call in their lives. At the Dec. 18 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Cardinal Wuerl said that just as the angel told Joseph in a dream not to be afraid, people today need to take that promise from God to heart. "When you respond to whatever call God has given you," remember God's promise, "I am with you," said the cardinal. God's grace helps people be open to his call, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for people to follow that call, Cardinal Wuerl said. On Dec. 17, 1966, the future cardinal was ordained to the priesthood at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Fifty years to the day of his ordination, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated Mass for the seminarians and priests at St. John Paul II Seminary, which he founded for the Archdiocese of Washington five years ago. To publicly commemorate his 50th anniversary as a priest, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated a regular Sunday Mass the next day at St. Matthew's Cathedral. In an earlier interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper. the cardinal said he thought the best way to mark his anniversary would be to do what priests do -– celebrate Mass with their people, and he decided to do that at the cathedral because as the archbishop of Washington, that is his parish church. In his homily at the Dec. 18 anniversary Mass, Cardinal Wuerl noted that all people are called to a vocation. For some, that might involve a call to married life or religious life. The cardinal said the call might be to a profession of service, such as in the fields of teaching, medicine, government work or the military. And some are called to the priesthood, to follow Jesus the high priest and share in the redemptive work of Christ in today's world, the cardinal said. He noted that as he installs new pastors at parishes, he emphasizes the work of priests in building up church unity, celebrating the Eucharist, passing on the Gospel through the church's teaching, and trying to unite oneself to Christ. "This is the lifelong challenge of every priest. It is the challenge of every believer as well –- to try to draw as close to Christ as possible," the cardinal said, adding, "But it all begins with the call." Remembering his ordination 50 years earlier, Cardinal Wuerl said that everyone has a special moment of grace, involving the opportunity to hear and respond to God's call. For the Mass at the cathedral, Cardinal Wuerl wore the same purple vestments that he had worn at his first Mass as a priest 50 years earlier, and he used the chalice from his first Mass that his parents had given him. After Communion, he noted how the church's two recent Synods on the Family showed how family life is a central focus of its ministry, and he said that chalice from his parents offered a personal reminder of his family's love for him. On behalf of the Church of Washington, Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout presented the cardinal with a special gift -– a pectoral cross similar to the one worn by Pope Francis. "Through these years of priestly ministry, Your Eminence has shared abundantly that perfect gift of Jesus Christ that you received –- which is the gift of love –- in your pastoral service, charity, teachings, celebration of the sacred mysteries and in your service to the new evangelization," said Bishop Knestout. The bishop noted that "a pectoral cross, as the name suggests, is worn close to the heart, just as the love of Jesus is in our hearts." Then he added, "Your Eminence, from our heart to yours, we give you this gift." After receiving that gift, Cardinal Wuerl said Pope Francis has continued to use the same pectoral cross as a pope that he had as a bishop, one depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, tending to his flock. ...
Wed, 21 Dec 2016
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The birth of Christ is a reminder for Christians to take a moment and reflect on the hope of salvation given by God to the world, Pope Francis said. Those who are humble and poor like the shepherds come to realize the promise of hope that comes from trusting God and not from "their own securities, especially material goods," the pope said Dec. 21 during his weekly general audience. "Remember this: Our own securities will not save us. The only security that saves us is the hope in God which saves us, which is strong. It makes us walk through life with joy, with a desire to do good, with a desire to become happy for all eternity," the pope said. Upon entering the Paul VI audience hall, the pope greeted people and received gifts and letters from well-wishers. Approaching a crying child, the pope wiped her tears and did his best to calm her. After succeeding in consoling her, he then pointed to his cheek, which the toddler leaned toward and kissed. Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on the birth of Jesus as the "source of hope" for the world. God, he said, "does not abandon his people, he is near to them to the point of stripping himself of his divinity." "(God) entered into the world and gives us the strength to walk with him. God walks with us through Jesus and walking with him toward the fullness of life gives us the strength to be in the present in a new way," the pope said. Hope, the pope continued, is never stagnant and the simplicity of the Nativity creche found in Christian households "transmits hope. Each character is immersed in this atmosphere of hope." The pope explained that each image found in the Nativity scene represents an aspect of this hope, such as the city of Bethlehem which, despite it not being a capital city, was the place chosen by divine providence, which "loves to act through the small and the humble." The figures of Joseph and Mary, who both believed in the words of the angel, can be seen gazing at the child they were told by God to name Jesus, the pope said. "In that name there is hope for every man and woman because through that son of a woman, God will save humanity from sin and death," he said. The image of the shepherds, he continued, represents the humble and the poor who witness the long-awaited promise of hope and salvation while the angels singing at the birth of Christ represent the "praise and thanksgiving to God" expressed in Christian life. "In these days, by contemplating the creche, we prepare ourselves for the Nativity of the Lord. It will truly be a feast if we receive Jesus, the seed of hope that God sows within the furrows of our personal history," Pope Francis said.
Mon, 19 Dec 2016
Pope Francis has a well-earned reputation as a pope of surprises. That makes it difficult to say with anything approaching certainty just what he will be doing in 2017. Some things are set, of course; other things are thought to be likely. But it’s the things that no one anticipates — at this stage probably not even Francis himself — that may well generate the most interest. With that caveat, it is possible to offer a more or less tentative overview of how the year ahead currently shapes up for the pope. One thing is for sure: For Francis, these 12 months are going to be crowded both with attention-grabbing events and with tough decisions. Francis on the road Some time during the year — perhaps in the next three months — Pope Francis is likely to fly to Colombia for a visit lasting several days. If he goes, he undoubtedly will cover several bases while he’s there, but high up on his list will be to give his blessing to a settlement putting an end to a yearslong conflict between the Colombian government and a leftist guerrilla group. The uncertainty about his plans concerns whether the peace agreement holds or not. This will be the third visit to Colombia by a pope and the first since Pope St. John Paul II went there more than 30 years ago. In May, Pope Francis will travel to Fatima, Portugal, for ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin’s apparitions there. Starting May 13, 1917, and continuing monthly for the next six months, Mary appeared to three peasant children near the remote village of Fatima. Her message in these appearances, which occurred at the height of World War I, was a call to prayer for peace, including prayer for the conversion of Russia. The Church has declared the Fatima revelations “worthy of belief,” and the place where they happened is now a major attraction for pilgrims. Francis has declared it “almost sure” that he will go to India and Bangladesh in 2017, and an African trip is said to be under serious consideration. Close to home, he will make quick visits to two major Italian archdioceses: Milan, headed by Cardinal Angelo Scola, on March 25, and Genoa, headed by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, on May 27. Francis was scheduled to visit both places in 2016, but those trips were postponed because of his schedule during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Meetings Not on the Docket Argentina’s flag is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square last August. CNS photo In a video message to the people of Argentina recorded last September, Pope Francis lamented that he would not be able to travel home in 2017. Pope Francis has a great love for and attachment to his home country, so much so that he continues to travel with an Argentine passport, he said. According to a report by Vatican Radio, Pope Francis encouraged his fellow countrymen and women to continue to promote “a culture of encounter” where people can live “with dignity and express themselves peacefully without being insulted, condemned, attacked or cast to one side.” Throughout the year, of course, the pope will continue his regular practice of meeting various groups in Rome. One of the largest of these encounters is expected at Pentecost, when Francis will greet thousands of members of the Charismatic Renewal movement who’ve come from the United States and other countries to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The Catholic charismatic movement had its beginning in 1967 during a retreat by students and staff at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Catholic charismatics worldwide are now said to number as many as 150 million. Besides holding audiences for groups, Pope Francis will meet with hundreds of individuals. It’s likely the Vatican press corps already is salivating at the prospect of a possible meeting between President Donald Trump and the head of the Catholic Church — two world leaders with what appear to be strongly conflicting views on issues like climate change and ...
Mon, 19 Dec 2016
Pope Francis issued his message for the Jan. 1 50th World Day of Peace on Dec. 8. The following is an excerpt from his message, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.” Read the rest at . Pope Francis Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace — just get together, love one another ... And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.” For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times” [homily at Domus Sanctae Martae, Nov. 19, 2015]. Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone “through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded … She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes — the crimes! — of poverty they created.” In response, her mission — and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons — was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life. The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of St. John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus , my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice.” This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth.” Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones.” The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace. Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life” [Nov. 3 address]. I emphatically reaffirm that “no religion is terrorist” [Nov. 5 address]. Violence profanes the name of God [Oct. 2 address]. Let us never tire of repeating: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”
Fri, 16 Dec 2016
1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, [1] and make active nonviolence our way of life. This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order”. He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.” Instead, citing the encyclical Pacem in Terris of his predecessor Saint John XXIII, he extolled “the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love”. [2] In the intervening fifty years, these words have lost none of their significance or urgency. On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms. Read the entire World Day of Peace message here.
Wed, 14 Dec 2016
In honor of Pope Francis’ 80th birthday Dec. 17, Our Sunday Visitor reached out to four individuals who have known him since before his election to the papacy in 2013. Their insights provide a glimpse into the character and heart of a man who, in his nearly four years as pope, has captivated Catholics and the world alike with his call to care for the poor and marginalized. We heard from: Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick — Archbishop of Washington from 2000-06, Cardinal McCarrick met Cardinal Bergoglio when they were both elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2001. Cardinal McCarrick would go on to visit Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina on occasion and was always impressed by his humility and active concern for the poor. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. — The future archbishop of Newark would cross paths with the future pope in 2005 as participants in the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Then-Father Tobin was superior general of the Redemptorist order, and he told Cardinal Bergoglio a story that made a lasting impression. Elisabetta Piqué —Vatican correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Piqué first landed an interview with newly minted Cardinal Bergoglio in 2001 and was surprised to find herself interviewing a simple Jesuit priest, who later called to thank her for the story! She is author of the book “Pope Francis: Life and Revolution” (Loyola Press, $16.95). Yayo Grassi — As one of Father Bergoglio’s former students, Grassi has a friendship with Pope Francis that dates back to the 1970s and has continued into his papacy. Grassi is a Washington, D.C.-based caterer who self-identifies as gay and an atheist, and while neither the Catholic Church nor Our Sunday Visitor endorses the homosexual or atheist lifestyles, his insightful comments show first-hand the impact and value of dialogue and accompaniment, two main themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate and life. Here’s their story, in two parts: Part 1: When I met him CNS photo Part 2: What he means CNS photo Related Reading: Being pope past 80 not so rare in recent years
Tue, 13 Dec 2016
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed condolences to the members of Opus Dei following the death of Bishop Javier Echevarria, who led the prelature for over 20 years. The 84-year-old bishop, who once served as secretary to the personal prelature's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, died Dec. 12. Expressing his condolences, Pope Francis said Bishop Echevarria, like his predecessors, "gave his life in a constant service of love to the church and to souls." "I join you in your prayers of thanksgiving to God for his paternal and generous witness of priestly and episcopal life," the pope told Opus Dei members. The Spanish bishop's death came one week after he was admitted to Rome's Campus Biomedico hospital for a pulmonary infection, according to the Opus Dei website. "Bishop Echevarria was receiving an antibiotic to fight the infection. The clinical outlook was complicated in his last hours when difficulty breathing resulted in his death," the website said. Calling the bishop's death "unexpected," Pope Francis assured the Opus Dei members of his prayers and entrusted Bishop Echevarria's soul to Our Lady of Guadalupe, "on whose feast day he gave his soul to God." In an interview with Vatican Radio, Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, vicar general of Opus Dei, said he administered the last rites shortly before Bishop Echevarria's death and that while the prelature is saddened by his death, they are also peaceful "because a good person has gone to heaven who we know will help us from there." "He lived with two saints: with St. Josemaria for many years and later with Blessed Alvaro del Portillo," the founder's successor. "And from them he learned to be very faithful to the church, to the pope and to souls," Msgr. Ocariz said. Born June 14, 1932, Bishop Echevarria was appointed St. Josemaria Escriva's personal secretary in 1953. Following his ordination in 1955, he continued assisting the founder of Opus Dei until his death in 1975. After St. John Paul II designated Opus Dei as a personal prelature in 1982, Bishop Echevarria was named vicar general. He was elected head of the prelature after Blessed del Portillo died, and was made a bishop by St. John Paul II in 1995. Bishop Echevarria was also a member of the Congregation for Saints' Causes and the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature and participated in several meetings of the Synod of Bishops. Bishop Echevarria's body was to lie in repose at the prelature's Church of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome until his funeral, which was scheduled for Dec. 15 in Rome's Basilica of St. Eugenio. After a period of mourning, members of Opus Dei will convene to elect a new prelate and await Pope Francis' approval of the nomination.
Fri, 09 Dec 2016
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God's love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized, Pope Francis said. Baby Jesus, whose parents could find no decent shelter and had to flee persecution, is a reminder of the "painful experience" of so many migrants today, he said Dec. 9, just before the Vatican Christmas tree was to be lit and its Nativity scene was to be unveiled. Nativity scenes all over the world "are an invitation to make room in our life and society for God -- hidden in the gaze of so many people" who are living in need, poverty or suffering, he told people involved in donating the tree and creche for St. Peter's Square. The northern Italian province of Trent donated the 82-foot-tall spruce fir, which was adorned with ceramic ornaments handmade by children receiving medical treatment at several Italian hospitals. The 55-foot-wide Nativity scene was donated by the government and Archdiocese of Malta. It features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a Maltese boat to represent the seafaring traditions of the island. The boat also represents "the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats headed toward Italy," the pope said in his speech in the Vatican's Paul VI hall. "In the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, we revisit that (experience) of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then was brought to Egypt to escape Herod's threat." "Those who visit this creche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity," the pope said. The beauty of the pristine forests of northern Italy where the tree grew "is an invitation to contemplate the creator and to respect nature," he said, adding that "we are all called to approach creation with contemplative awe." The Nativity scene and tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Lord's Baptism Jan. 9. Archbishop Lauro Tisi of Trent, speaking at the tree-lighting ceremony as the sun set, told people in St. Peter's Square that the towering tree had lived decades -- decades that saw thousands of people from the region emigrate in search of work in the early 1900s. It's unconscionable, he said, that people today refuse to welcome those coming from poorer places with the same needs and dreams. Manwel Grech, a sculptor of religious statues from Gozo, Malta, won a contest to make the Nativity scene. It was dream to create art for the Vatican and have it exhibited in the square where thousands of people from around the world will see it. With more than a dozen statues of people and a menagerie of animals and other elements in the scene, Grech is a bit of a traditionalist: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are his favorites among the resin sculptures. He wanted Mary to have a peaceful face because "when you see Jesus, you relax," he said, and he tried to give Joseph a look of pride. Grech included several very Maltese touches in the Nativity scene: A traditional balcony decorated with a Maltese cross; a statue of St. George Preca, the country's only canonized saint; and a "luzzu," the traditional Maltese fishing boat, which also reminds people of the journeys of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea. Between the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree, the Vatican placed the cross and chunks of the facade of the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. The basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in October and dozens of other churches in central Italy crumbled or were heavily damaged. Money left at the Nativity scene by visitors will be donated to the church rebuilding effort in Norcia.
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