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Jesus’ love changes people, enables them to love others, pope says in Holguin, Cuba


Catholic News Service

HOLGUIN, Cuba — Celebrating the feast of St. Matthew, a day he considers a turning point in his own journey of faith, Pope Francis told thousands of Cubans that Jesus knows who they really are and calls them to walk with him.

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Holguin, Cuba, Sept. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Arriving in the eastern city of Holguin from Havana Sept. 21, the pope went directly to the city’s Revolution Square for the feast day Mass. People had the day off work and off school so they could attend.

The pope explained to the people in the square that Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman occupiers, which meant that he was seen as a traitor to be shunned. But Jesus “looked at him with the eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before.”

“And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart,” the pope said. “It set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life,” just as Jesus’ merciful gaze gives new life to men and women today.

The story of St. Matthew’s call and conversion is one the pope talks about often. The feast day is the first day of spring in Argentina, a day students have free from school. It was the day in 1953 that a 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio felt a strange urge to enter a church and go to confession. He often recounts the story and his feeling that the priest in the confessional was waiting just for him; it was the beginning of his vocation to be a Jesuit and a priest.

When Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, conducted the first long interview with Pope Francis in 2013, the pope told him Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew” reminds him of himself.

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew,” he told Father Spadaro. “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”

Father Spadaro wrote that the pope then whispered in Latin the words he said to the cardinals: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

Preaching under bright, sunny skies in Holguin, Pope Francis told the people, “Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness.”

Jesus, he said, sees “our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity all of us have, a dignity sometimes sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul.”

Pope Francis asked people in the crowd to find a quiet time at home or in a church to remember in silence and with gratitude an occasion when they felt that merciful gaze of Christ.

Jesus’ love, his mercy and his call to follow are also calls to love others, respect their dignity and show them mercy, the pope said. “Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.”

Pope Francis asked the crowd to practice gazing upon Jesus in the Eucharist, in confession and “in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us.”


Contributing to this story was Rhina Guidos in Holguin.


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Serve people, not ideology, pope tells Cubans at Havana Mass


Catholic News Service

HAVANA — As Cubans finally face the prospects of calmer relationships and greater ease of communication and commerce with the United States, Pope Francis told the Cuban people that love and service, not anyone’s ideology, are the keys to their happiness.

“We do not serve ideas, we serve people,” the pope told hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Havana’s Revolution Square for Mass Sept. 20.

Choir members cheer as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Choir members cheer as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Revolution Square in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

For decades the square has been the site of major communist government rallies and is dominated by a huge image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist who became a leader in the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.

The image of Che was prominent at the pope’s Mass, but so was a banner proclaiming Pope Francis a “missionary of mercy” and an even bigger image of the merciful Jesus.

After decades of communism, Mass attendance in Cuba is low; even the Vatican reports that only 60 percent of the population is baptized Catholic. But as a sign of the pope’s hopes for the growth of the church in Cuba, he granted an exception to his normal practice of personally giving Communion only to the altar servers and other ministers at his public Masses. Five Cuban children received their first Communion from the pope at the Mass.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that he tries to imitate: First of all, identify the good in a person, then help or challenge him or her to build on that good instinct or behavior.

Using the normal Sunday Mass readings, the pope’s homily was a reflection on the Gospel passage from St. Mark in which the disciples are arguing about who among them is the greatest, and Jesus asks what they were discussing.

“We, too, can be caught up in these same arguments: Who is the most important?” the pope said.

“I remember more than once, at family gatherings, children being asked: ‘Who do you love more, Mommy or Daddy?’” he said. “It’s like asking them: ‘Who is the most important for you?’”

In the lives of individuals and nations, he said, the question of who is most important can take on historic importance because it motivates action and choices. “The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question,” he said.

“Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; he is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for,” Pope Francis told the crowd, which had filled the square before the sun came up. “He knows the twists and turns of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, he is always ready to encourage and support us.”

Jesus takes “our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon” and challenges people, he said. Jesus sets aside the “right answers” and replaces them with the standard of love as the measure of all.

Love, he said, is lived in a concrete commitment to caring for others, especially the most vulnerable. It does not see superiority, or the best jobs with the best benefits and it is not about helping just “my people” or “our people,” he said. Such an attitude always leads to judging and excluding some people as outsiders.

“Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it,” he said.

Pope Francis said he knows the Cuban people and the Catholic Church in Cuba have suffered. Yet, he said, they still know how to celebrate, to praise God and to serve others.

The greatness of a people and a nation, he said, is how it serves the vulnerable.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana addressed the pope at the end of the Mass “in the name of the Cuban people, the Catholics and many other believers, as well as nonbelievers. Thank you for coming to visit our land, our beloved Cuba; thank you for sowing with your pontificate, good and necessary questions in our consciences, which had been sleeping and accustomed to mediocrity.”

He particularly thanked the pope “for promoting the process of renewing relations between Cuba and the United States, which will bring such benefit to our people.”

Normal, friendly and cooperative relations, the cardinal said, should reach not just the highest political levels in both countries, but also promote reconciliation between people in Cuba and Cubans who emigrated.

“Only love and forgiveness among us will be a valid means for a true and peaceful renewal of our Cuban nation,” the cardinal said.


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Francis visits ailing Fidel Castro, discusses faith and reason


Catholic News Service

HAVANA — Although it was not part of his formal program, Pope Francis took time after Sunday Mass to visit Cuba’s ailing former leader, Fidel Castro.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that after the Mass Sept. 20 in Havana’s Revolution Square, Pope Francis was driven to the ailing 89-year-old’s residence for the meeting, which lasted 30-40 minutes.

Pope Francis meets with Cuba's former President Fidel Castro at his home in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano) S

Pope Francis meets with Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro at his home in Havana Sept. 20. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) S

In the presence of Castro’s wife, children and grandchildren, Father Lombardi said, the meeting was “familial and informal.”

Pope Francis, he said, picked up on the conversation Pope Benedict XVI had with Castro in 2012. At that time, Father Lombardi had said Castro had asked about how the church is handling the ethical challenges posed by scientific and technological developments and the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the pope’s concerns about a growing number of people who don’t believe in God or act as if God does not exist.

“In the end,” Father Lombardi said at the time, “Commandante Fidel asked the pope to send him a few books” dealing with the questions he had.

Pope Francis arrived at the meeting at Castro’s home ready to continue the discussion and fulfill Castro’s desire to read more. Father Lombardi said the pope gave Castro two books by the Italian catechist, Father Alessandro Pronzato. One of the books is about the importance of humor and happiness in the spiritual life and the other on the Gospel and social issues.

In addition, he said, the pope brought a book and two CDs of homilies by Jesuit Father Armando Llorente, who had been one of Castro’s teachers in high school in Belen, Cuba.

To round off the gifts, Pope Francis also brought the former Cuban leader copies of his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” and “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on the environment.

Castro returned the favor by giving the pope a copy of “Fidel & Religion: A Conversation With Fidel Castro” by Frei Betto.

After lunch and a rest, Pope Francis made a formal visit to President Raul Castro in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution.

While the pope and president were meeting privately, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his secretary of state, and top Vatican diplomats were holding talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla and his staff.

The pope and president spent about 45 minutes speaking privately before exchanging gifts. Pope Francis gave the president a mosaic of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre made in the Vatican mosaic studio. The pope invited the artist, Valentina Ambrosi, to join his entourage for the trip, and he introduced her to Castro.

Castro’s gift to the pope was an enormous crucifix, which had been covered with a huge while cloth. The president ceremoniously unveiled it, revealing the cross made of bundled boat oars.


Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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‘I sleep like a log’ — Pope talks friendship, pardon, immigrant crisis in radio interviews


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A pope needs friends, needs mercy and needs to reach out to all people, Pope Francis said in two radio interviews released in mid-September.

Pope Francis told Portugal’s Catholic Radio Renascenca that he goes to confession “every 15 days, 20 days. I confess to a Franciscan priest, Father Blanco, who is kind enough to come here and confess me.”

Pope Francis recently gave interviews to radio stations in Argentina and Portugal. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis recently gave interviews to radio stations in Argentina and Portugal. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Laughing, the pope said, “I’ve never had to call an ambulance” to carry him away “in shock over my sins.”

In a separate interview with Argentina’s Radio Milenium, Pope Francis was asked how he feels when he hears people refer to him as a global moral leader and a point of reference for all humanity.

“I know that I am a sinner,” the pope responded, and “so I speak with Jesus and tell him, ‘People are so good to think this of me.’ But the good that is in me, I owe to him. It is a gift from God.”

The interviewer, Marcelo Figueroa, a Protestant, was the host of the television program the pope used to appear on in Buenos Aires with Rabbi Abraham Skorka. The radio program broadcast Sept. 13 focused on the biblical idea of friendship, a topic for the television program that was interrupted by the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election as Pope Francis in 2013.

Pope Francis told Figueroa, “I’ve never had as many ‘friends’ in quotation marks as I have now. Everyone is a friend of the pope!”

However, he said, friendship is something “very sacred.” It involves walking alongside another person. Friendship takes time. And it is not about “using” the other, which Pope Francis said has happened to him, just as it happens to everyone.

The world, he said, seems to be cultivating a “culture of enmity” rather than friendship and brotherhood. In response, religious leaders must cultivate dialogue, friendship and a culture of encounter, rather than setting themselves up as a judge.

Fundamentalists in every religion, he said, judge others and “seek to destroy because they are faithful to an idea, but not to a reality.”

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, he said, there are people who “transform God into an ideology and also in the name of God kill, attack, destroy and slander.”

In both radio interviews, Pope Francis spoke about his need to be with people, even though it is difficult now that he is pope.

“A priest must be a bridge; that’s why they call a pope pontiff, that is, he must build bridges and not isolate himself,” the pope told Figueroa. “When I say priest, I mean bishops and the pope as well.”

Interacting with people, “I’m not only giving, but I receive. I need the faithful. They give me a gift,” he said. Pope Francis said he is not trying to be an example, “it is my identity. I feel like a priest and it comes spontaneously. Otherwise, I’d just be a church employee.”

He told Radio Renascenca’s Aura Miguel that he really needs to get out of the Vatican more, which is something he is working on. “But I have contact with people on Wednesdays” at his general audience “and this helps a lot. The only thing I really miss from Buenos Aires is going out, walking along the streets.”

Pope Francis also told Miguel he hopes to go to Portugal in 2017 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

In anticipation of the anniversary, Pope Francis said people should do what Mary wants: “The Virgin Mary always asks us to pray, to look after the family and follow the commandments. She doesn’t make odd requests. She asks us to pray for those who have lost their way, for those who say they are sinners, aren’t we all? I am the first.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the huge wave of refugees, particularly from Syria, who were seeking safety and a new life in Europe in August and September.

The summer’s movement of people “is the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Because underneath that is the cause; and the cause is a bad and unjust socio-economic system.”

“The dominant economic system today has removed the person from the center, placing the god money in its place, the idol of fashion,” Pope Francis said.

Where profit is more important than job creation, development, peace and safeguarding creation, conditions necessary for a dignified life, people will continue to believe they must move in order to provide for their families, he said.

Miguel also asked the pope what keeps him awake at night. “Can I tell you truth,” Pope Francis responded. “I sleep like a log.”

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Prisoners given tour of the Vatican, faith leads to freedom from sin, Pope says in Angelus address


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —The Christian journey is not a pursuit of earthly success, but of obeying God’s will, knowing that at the end of time one will be with God, Pope Francis said.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer Sept. 14, Pope Francis told people in St. Peter’s Square and a group of about 50 inmates from Rome’s Rebibbia prison that the Christian journey leads “to real freedom, freedom from selfishness and sin.”

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 6. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 6. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

The inmates were treated to a special morning at the Vatican, touring the Vatican Gardens and museums, arriving in the Sistine Chapel to listen to the pope’s Angelus address. Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, led the tour.

One of the inmates, identified only as Carmine, told Vatican Radio, “We were welcomed so beautifully, which usually does not happen in society.”

At the Vatican, he said, “we were treated like important guests. This was moving for all of us. It was something indescribable.”

Pope Francis, commenting on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark, spoke at the Angelus about what it means to pick up one’s cross and follow Christ.

The disciples, he said, did not want to hear Jesus talk about having to suffer and die. And, in fact, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for talking about the cross. And Jesus responded: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

“He said Satan!” the pope said. “Jesus sees that in Peter, like in the other disciples and in each one of us, the temptation of the evil one fights against the grace of the Father.”

Picking up one’s cross, “we all have them,” means not seeking an easy life, but seeking always to do God’s will, the pope said. “It involves putting into practice a complete refusal to accept the worldly mentality of placing the ‘I’ and one’s own interests at the center of one’s existence. This is not what Jesus wants from us.”

Looking at the thousands of people in the square below the window of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis ad-libbed: “There are many young men and women in the square. I want to ask you, have you felt a desire to follow Jesus more closely? Think about it. Pray. And let the Lord speak to you.”

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Someone who never spoke ill of another qualifies for instant sainthood, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Someone who has never ever spoken ill of another could be declared a saint right away, Pope Francis said.

The Catholic Church’s sainthood process is long, complicated and usually requires the recognition of a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession, Pope Francis said Sept. 11 at his early morning Mass. “But if you find a person who never, never, never spoke ill of another, you could canonize him or her immediately.”

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope’s homily focused on Jesus saying, ”Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”

In other passages of the Bible, he said, Jesus tells his disciples, “judge not and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.”

The pope told the small congregation in the chapel of his residence that he could imagine them saying, “Father, that’s beautiful, but how do you do it, where do you start?”

The first step, he said, is to learn how to “accuse yourself,” to look honestly at your own faults, ask the Lord’s forgiveness and praise him for his mercy.

“The Lord teaches us this with this image of the splinter in the eye of your brother and the beam in your own eye,” the pope said. “The first step is to accuse yourself” and not presume to be “the judge” pointing out the faults of others.

In the day’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, Jesus describes as “hypocrites” those who notice only the faults of others.

“The man and woman who don’t learn to acknowledge their own failings become hypocrites. Everyone, eh? Everyone starting from the pope on down,” he said.

Recognizing one’s own faults and weaknesses, the pope said, is the first task in “this beautiful work of reconciliation, peace, tenderness, goodness, forgiveness, magnanimity and mercy that Jesus Christ brought.”

Everyone, he said, needs to ask God for the grace and the strength to not speak ill of others, to stop when tempted to point out another’s faults.

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Austrian cardinal hopes bishops’ synod helps families and doesn’t just criticize


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A three-week Synod of Bishops to talk in the abstract about Catholic teaching on the family makes no sense to Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna. Read more »

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Analysis — Pope Francis’ annulment reform requires proof union was invalid


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ reformed rules for marriage annulment cases, making the process simpler, quicker and less expensive, respond to calls that bishops from around the world have been making since before the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family convoked by St. John Paul II.

Catholic marriage tribunals do not dissolve marriages, but assess whether or not a valid sacramental marriage was present from the beginning. Catholics whose first unions are declared “null” — meaning there never was a marriage —are free to marry in the church and receive the sacraments, including reconciliation and Communion. Read more »

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Pope simplifies annulment process, asks that it be free of charge


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY— While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods.

The Vatican released Sept. 8 the texts of two papal documents, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge”) for the Latin-rite church and “Mitis et misericors Iesus,” (“The Meek and Merciful Jesus”) for the Eastern Catholic churches.

The changes, including the option of a brief process without the obligatory automatic appeal, go into effect Dec. 8, the opening day of the Year of Mercy.

The rules for the Latin and Eastern churches are substantially the same since the differences in texts refer mainly to the different structures of the hierarchy with Latin churches having bishops and Eastern churches having eparchs and patriarchs.

Pope Francis said the changes in the annulment process were motivated by “concern for the salvation of souls,” and particularly “charity and mercy” toward those who feel alienated from the church because of their marriage situations and the perceived complexity of the church’s annulment process.

The reformed processes were drafted by a special committee Pope Francis established a year earlier. Among the criteria he said guided their work, the first he listed was the possibility of there being “only one executive sentence in favor of nullity” when the local bishop or judge delegated by him had the “moral certainty” that the marriage was not valid. Previously an appeal was automatic and a declaration of nullity had to come from two tribunals.

Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, a Vatican court, and president of the commission that drafted the new rules, told reporters Pope Francis asked for updates throughout the year, sought a review by four “great canonists” not involved in the drafting and, in the end, adopted the changes with “great seriousness, but also great serenity.”

The changes made by Pope Francis, particularly the responsibility and trust placed in local bishops, are the most substantial changes in the church’s marriage law since the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIV in the mid-1700s, Msgr. Pinto said. Even with the 1917 and 1983 new Codes of Canon Law, the process for recognizing the nullity of a marriage remained “substantially unchanged,” he said.

“Putting the poor at the center is what distinguishes the reform of Pope Francis from those made by Pope Pius X and Pope Benedict XIV,” Msgr. Pinto said.

In fact, Pope Francis ordered that the “gratuity of the procedure be assured so that, in a matter so closely tied to the salvation of souls, the church — by demonstrating to the faithful that she is a generous mother — may demonstrate the gratuitous love of Christ, which saves us all.”

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, who also was a member of the commission, insisted the pope’s new rules were not about “annulling marriages,” but about recognizing and declaring the nullity of a marriage, in other words, declaring that it never existed as a valid sacrament.

Although the new rules remove the obligation that a declaration of nullity automatically be appealed, he said, it does not remove the right of one of the parties to appeal the decision. However, he said, “and this is a great innovation,” if the appeals court believes the appeal is “obviously a delaying tactic,” the appeals court can issue a decree confirming the nullity of the marriage without a full process.

Msgr. Alejandro Bunge, secretary of the commission and a member of the Roman Rota, said the new processes are motivated by recognition of the church as a “field hospital,” as Pope Francis has described it. “For those who have special injuries, a marriage null from the beginning, we will have intensive care” in the form of more rapid annulment procedures.

While many marriage cases will continue to require time in order to arrive at the truth, he said, the longer procedure will be reserved to those cases in which it is not obvious that the marriage was null from the beginning and in which the couple does not agree that a real marriage never existed.

Byzantine Bishop Dimitrios Salachas of Greece, also a member of the commission that drafted the new rules, said they were urgent for his Eastern church. Some 90 percent of his married faithful are married to a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, which permits second marriages under special penitential provisions.

Most Catholics who have divorced an Orthodox “don’t wait years and years” for the Catholic Church’s double declaration of nullity, he said. “They just leave,” finding it easier to follow the Orthodox Church’s procedures and begin a second union in the Orthodox Church.

The changes, he said, “were necessary, including to keep the Catholics” in the church.



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Pope meets Israeli president, expresses hopes for peace


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As Catholics joined others in protesting Israel’s extension of its security wall, further dividing Palestinians and Israelis, Pope Francis gave Israeli President Reuven Rivlin a tangible sign of his hopes for peace.

The pope’s new peace medal, replacing one depicting “the Angel of Peace,” is a bronze circle split in two with an olive branch growing up the middle. A band around the entire medal reads, in Italian, “Seek what unites. Overcome what divides.”

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a private audience in the pontiff's private library at the Vatican Sept. 3. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella)

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during a private audience in the pontiff’s private library at the Vatican Sept. 3. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella)

“There is division,” the pope told Rivlin Sept. 3. “The challenge is to unite.”

Rivlin gave the pope a rough basalt copy of an inscribed slab. The original was dated to the 9th century B.C. and includes what Rivlin said was the earliest reference to King David outside the Bible. “I thought it was right to give you this gift to recall the common origins of Christianity and Judaism,” he told the pope.

Pope Francis and Rivlin met privately for 30 minutes. The Vatican said their conversation and the president’s subsequent meeting with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State “focused on the political and social situation in the Middle East, affected by several conflicts, with special attention to the condition of Christians and other minority groups.” “The need and urgency of promoting a climate of trust between Israelis and Palestinians was highlighted, along with the resumption of direct negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement respecting the legitimate aspirations” of both the Israelis and Palestinians, the statement said.

In addition, it said, the hope was express “that an adequate solution be found for various matters of common interest, including the situation of Christian schools in the country.”

Israel’s Education Ministry has been urging Christian and other private schools to become part of the state school system and adopt the national curriculum. The ministry has been cutting funds to the schools and has limited the amount of tuition they may charge, forcing many of them into serious financial difficulties.

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