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Pope prays for peace in Ukraine, bishops offer to mediate

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As protests against the Ukrainian president spread to cities across the country, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the nation’s people, “particularly for those who lost their lives in the last few days and for their families.”

At least three protesters died Jan. 22 in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital and the site of anti-government protests since late November.

Pro-European Union protesters pray during a rally on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, early Jan. 16. Since then violent clashes have escalated between police and the demonstrators, who seek stronger ties with Western Europe. The growing violence prompted the U.S. Ukrainian Catholic bishops to issue a statement Jan. 23 supporting the church in Ukraine “in this time of duress.” (CNS photo/Reuters)

Speaking after reciting the Angelus Jan. 26 with visitors in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said, “I hope there would develop a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society and, avoiding any recourse to violent actions, a spirit of peace and search for the common good would prevail in the hearts of all.”

According to news reports, the main demonstration in Kiev’s Independence Square, calling for closer ties to Europe, an end to government corruption and greater respect for human rights, has remained nonviolent. But small groups of other protesters have been throwing rocks and firebombs at police and have occupied several government buildings in Kiev and other cities.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the leaders of other churches and religious groups met embattled President Viktor Yanukovich Jan. 24 and offered to mediate in the name of peace.

The church-run Religious Information Service of Ukraine said Archbishop Shevchuk told the president that while they were pressing for peace and the continued unity of Ukraine, “we are, have been, and will be with the people.”

The archbishop and other religious leaders insisted their clergy have a right and duty to minister to the protesters, a service he said also contributes to keeping the demonstrations peaceful.

 

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Obama will visit Pope Francis in March

January 21st, 2014 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Vatican March 27, the White House announced and the Vatican confirmed.

The spring meeting would be Obama’s second visit to the Vatican as president, but his first with Pope Francis, who was elected March 13, 2013.

The White House said the Vatican visit would be part of a presidential trip to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.

“The president looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality,” said the Jan. 21 White House statement.

During the same trip, Obama will participate in a summit in the Netherlands on nuclear security, visit the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission in Brussels, and hold talks in Rome with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Vatican counterpart, Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, at the Vatican Jan. 14, he told reporters, “I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the president is looking forward to coming here to meet with him.”

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that Cardinal-designate Parolin and Kerry had discussed, among other subjects, “themes that have been the object of concern and discussion by the U.S. bishops,” particularly “the health care reform and its relationship to guarantees of religious freedom,” an apparent reference to the contraception mandate that has proven a major point of tension between the Obama administration and the church.

In general, employers who provide health insurance to workers were required as of Jan. 1 to comply with a government mandate that those policies include various types of contraceptives, including sterilization and abortifacients. The penalty for noncompliance is potentially thousands of dollars daily in fines. Although the Obama administration has made some allowances for exemptions for religious institutions, when final rules were issued in June, some Catholic employers said the exception still did not address their moral objections.

Obama met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in July 2009. The pope gave the president a signed, leather-bound copy of his encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), and a copy of the 2008 instruction “Dignitas Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) on bioethics issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

 

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Argentine rabbi says his friend, the pope, will face challenges in Holy Land

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Catholic News Service

ROME — A rabbi who has known Pope Francis for almost 20 years and counts him as a close personal friend said the pope’s May trip to the Holy Land will be a challenging balancing act because of the high expectations of Israelis and Palestinians and of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a friend of Pope Francis from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is pictured during an interview at the foreign press club in Rome Jan. 14. Rabbi Skorka said the pope’s trip to the Holy Land in May will be a challenging balancing act because of the high expectations of Israelis and Palestianians and of Christians, Jews and Muslims. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“There are many themes, many conflicts that he will have to face and there are the expectations of many people,” said Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of Buenos Aires’ Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and co-author with the pope of the book, “On Heaven and Earth.”

The rabbi was in Rome in mid-January along with a group of Jewish leaders from Argentina. They had a kosher lunch, catered by a Rome restaurant, with Pope Francis Jan. 16 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the pope lives. Rabbi Skorka went back for a private lunch with the pope Jan. 17.

The rabbi gave a speech Jan. 16 at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University about Catholic-Jewish relations in Argentina and met with the press afterward.

He told reporters that the pope’s trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine “is a very sensitive theme” and that every detail must be handled very carefully because of the “many themes, many conflicts and the expectations of many people, some of which are very radical.”

“This is a great challenge for my friend,” he said.

After visits to Jerusalem by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he said, Jews around the world are expecting a further gesture of reconciliation and a sign of the Catholic Church’s commitment to moving relations of mutual respect forward.

“What I expect, ask from God and hope with all my heart is that in a very intelligent way, in a very careful way, because the inhabitants of that region … have many passions, he is able to leave a message of peace that will inspire a dimension of peace for all,” the rabbi told those attending his speech. “Obviously, it won’t be easy.”

“It’s easy to imagine the pope being dragged by his coattails from one place to another because of what he represents and what he means,” Rabbi Skorka said. However, he said, the pope has the strength and charisma to resist manipulation, “and leave a very positive sign.”

“He won’t resolve all the problems, that’s impossible,” the rabbi said, “but I hope he can leave a sign that can inspire people to peace.”

In his main speech, Rabbi Skorka said the book he wrote with the pope, “On Heaven and Earth,” is a collection of their dialogues about themes of great concern to people today. “In Argentine society, where the ability to dialogue seems very limited, we wanted to give a living example of the meaning of dialogue in the broadest sense,” he said.

The rabbi and then-cardinal’s discussions about the meaning of life and death, about sin, the economy, politics, poverty and about the Holocaust show that religions “offer a valid alternative in facing life’s problems.”

Before Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis in March 2013, the two also recorded 31 televised discussions about current topics of social and religious interest in Argentina.

“All we did was offer people the fruit of our relationship,” the rabbi said. “The Bible offers a clear, simple response to the concerns of our age,” which Pope Francis continues “to show in his daily teachings” through his morning Mass homilies, general audience talks and Sunday Angelus addresses.

Catholic-Jewish dialogue began in Argentina in the 1950s, pushed by the concerns of Argentina’s large and diverse immigrant population and by social and economic tensions in the country. But until the 1990s, he said, the dialogue had not really reached the masses because it was too theoretical and scholarly.

Rabbi Skorka said his public dialogues with Cardinal Bergoglio and similar efforts by others over the past 25 years have tried to show Christians and Jews how much they have in common, how important dialogue is for promoting respect and social harmony, and how much Christians and Jews can accomplish when they work together to help the poor and bring moral values to society.

Accompanying Rabbi Skorka, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with the Jews, said he sees “a beautiful continuity from John Paul II to Benedict XVI to Francis in the importance they give to this dialogue” with the Jews. “Judaism is not a religion like any other” for Catholics, he said, because “Judaism is the mother of Christianity.”

“Reconciliation between the synagogue and the church is very important and I’m convinced that Pope Francis wants to carry it forward,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Koch said he was pleased to hear that Pope Francis told the rabbi that the next step in Catholic-Jewish dialogue must be theological, “perhaps developing further a Christian theology of Judaism and, perhaps, a Jewish theology of Christianity to understand each other better and to deepen our understanding of all we have in common.”

Rabbi Skorka said that for him as a believer, “I want to know why Catholics are Catholic and I want them to know why I am Jewish. Only when we understand this will there be mutual respect.”

 

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Morning homily: Preaching authority comes from loving like Jesus did, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The authority of Jesus’ teaching seemed new to the people of his day, not because of its content, but because of the love and respect with which Jesus spoke, Pope Francis said.

Jesus “wanted the people to draw near and seek him, and he was moved when he saw them like sheep without a shepherd,” the pope said Jan. 14 in the homily at his early morning Mass.

The day’s Gospel reading, describing Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, said the people were astonished by his preaching, which to them was “a new teaching with authority.”

Jesus’ authority came from “the power of holiness” and the novelty of his teaching came from the fact that he transmitted “the love of God for each one of us,” the pope said, according to a summary by Vatican Radio.

Jesus “draws near to the people so they can draw near to him; he is close to sinners,” the pope said. He forgave the adulterer and “talks theology with the Samaritan, who wasn’t a little angel.”

“He seeks people’s hearts and draws near to people’s wounded hearts,” Pope Francis said. The Lord had only two interests: “the person and God.”

The people of Capernaum were used to hearing the Scribes preach, the pope said. They taught and preached, but they placed so many requirements, so many “heavy things on their shoulders that the poor people couldn’t move.”

The Scribes and Pharisees basically “beat the people down, didn’t they? ‘You have to do this and this and this,’” he said. “Many people think the faith is like this.”

The day’s first reading, from the First Book of Samuel, tells how the priest Eli at first belittles Hannah, who is weeping and begging God for a child.

Eli “was a representative of the faith, a faith leader, but his heart wasn’t in the right place and he disrespected this woman,” the pope said. “How many times do the people of God feel unwanted by those who should be giving a witness — by Christians, lay Christians, priests, bishops?” the pope asked.

He also spoke about Eli’s sons, who were “priests, but brigands,” because they were focused on money and power. “They exploited the people, profiting from their alms and gifts.”

“The Lord punished them heavily,” he said, because they were corrupt, which should serve as a warning to “laity who are corrupt, corrupt priests, corrupt bishops, who profit from their situations and the privileges of faith and being Christian.”

Such people, Pope Francis said, “are traitors” like Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

Pope Francis prayed that Christians would learn “not to be pure legalists, hypocrites like the Scribes and Pharisees; to not be corrupt like the sons of Eli; and to not be lukewarm like Eli.”

Instead, he said, Christians should imitate Jesus “with zeal for seeking people out, healing them, loving them.”

 

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Francis supports efforts to help parents of disabled

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Meeting a leading Italian campaigner for the rights of people with disabilities, Pope Francis promised to encourage greater support for the parents of young people with disabilities and to support efforts to make churches and church buildings accessible.

Ileana Argentin, a member of the Italian Parliament, had written to Pope Francis, asking to speak with him about the problems facing people with disabilities. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope responded quickly and the 30-minute meeting Jan. 11 was the result.

One of the key themes of the conversation, Father Lombardi said, was “the support that must be given to the parents of seriously disabled persons,” because the parents live with growing concern about dying and leaving their children without appropriate care and love.

Argentin, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair, told Vatican Radio that meeting the pope was “magic, if I can use that term.”

“He’s exactly what you see on television: a person who is human, real,” she said.

Argentin said she asked to meet the pope to get his support for her ongoing efforts to defend the rights of people with disabilities.

“I am Catholic and I’ve always believed, but Pope Francis really has made a difference for the handicapped,” she said. When, just a couple weeks after his election, images went around the world of him holding and kissing an 8-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, “the first wall, that of prejudice, fell,” Argentin said.

In addition to securing a papal promise to personally support efforts to make church buildings handicap accessible, Argentin said they spoke “about the mothers of disabled children and the fear they have of dying and leaving their children alone.”

“He told me it is important to talk about this because the more we talk about this the more people will understand that the parents of someone with a disability don’t even have the ‘luxury of dying,’” she said.

 

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Christmas is time to feel God’s closeness, experience peace, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Celebrating the first Christmas since his election, Pope Francis preached the goodness and tenderness of God, and prayed that men and women around the world would allow God’s grace to transform them into peacemakers.

Pope Francis kisses a figurine of the baby Jesus after celebrating Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress,” the pope said Dec. 25, standing on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressing an estimated 70,000 people in the square below.

“God is peace,” the pope said. “Let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.”

“My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his presence, love him and adore him,” Pope Francis said before delivering his Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Instead of reading Christmas greetings in more than 50 languages, from Chinese to Swahili, as his predecessors had done, Pope Francis spoke only in Italian.

As is traditional, his Christmas address included prayers and pleas for peace in war-torn and tense countries around the world, including Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Israel and Palestine and Iraq, where a car bomb exploded outside a church a few hours earlier, killing at least a dozen people.

Looking at the Christ child, “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars,” he said. Offering a prayer, he asked God to “look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.”

“Wars shatter and hurt so many lives,” he said.

“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces,” he said, and it is not “a lovely façade” simply covering conflicts and divisions. Rather, “peace calls for daily commitment, it’s homemade, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis asked nonbelievers who feel unable to pray to “enlarge their hearts” by ardently desiring peace.

Pope Francis also prayed for the elderly, for battered women, for the sick, for migrants and refugees, for those persecuted for their faith, for the victims of human trafficking and for the conversion of traffickers.

The pope’s Christmas celebrations began in the crisp air of a cloudless winter night when he celebrated Christmas Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting his homily with the first line from the night’s reading from Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

The reading gave the pope an opportunity to combine reflections on the Christmas symbolism of light and a verb he has emphasized since his first Mass at pope: “to walk.”

Thousands of people packed into the basilica for the Mass and hundreds stood outside watching on big video screens; already in November people were being told there were no more of the free tickets left.

Pope Francis carried a statue of the baby Jesus to a golden manger in front of the altar at the beginning of Mass. After the liturgy, walking behind children from Italy, the Philippines, Argentina, Congo and Lebanon, he carried the statue to a Nativity scene.

In his homily, the pope said that from the moment God called Abraham, believers in the one God have been a walking, pilgrim people, and through all the wandering, God has never left his people’s side.

“Yet on the part of the people,” he said, “there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.”

In individual stories as well, “there are both bright and dark moments,” the pope said. “If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.”

The glad tidings of Christmas reveal that God has broken into the world with light and salvation, he said. “Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God,” has entered human history and is sharing the human journey.

“Jesus is love incarnate,” Pope Francis said. “He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history who has pitched his tent in our midst.”

The biblical Christmas story tells how the shepherds were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth and the first to run to see him. They were first, the pope said, because in social standing they were among the last. They were the ones outside town staying up all night keeping watch over the flocks.

With the shepherds, he said, “let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence.”

“Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: ‘We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.’”

As people continue their journey through the world, even when it is dark, Pope Francis said Christmas is a reminder that they do not have to be afraid. “Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness.”

While the pope added only a few improvised words to his prepared text, one phrase he added was a familiar refrain of his pontificate: The Lord is merciful; “our Father always forgives us. He is our peace.”

 

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Pope pays pre-Christmas visit to Rome’s children’s hospital

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — With lots of kisses, but very few words, Pope Francis spent more than two-and-a-half hours visiting sick children, their parents and doctors at Rome’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital Dec. 21.

In the end, the little patients gave Pope Francis a basket filled with little notes containing descriptions of their prayers and their dreams.

Pope Francis blesses a sick child as he arrives to visit the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital in Rome Dec. 21. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

“Thank you,” the pope told the children. “We will present them together to Jesus. He knows them better than anyone; he knows what is in the depths of your hearts.

“Especially with you children, Jesus has a special bond,” the pope said. “He is very close to you.”

More than 3,000 parents, children and staff gathered outside the main entrance, keeping Pope Francis busy for a long time listening to prayer requests, giving blessings and exchanging tight hugs.

Mostly without cameras following him, the pope also visited the 12 babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, the eight children in intensive care and the 18 youngsters in the hospital’s nephrology department.

He also wandered throughout the hospital, visiting dozens of rooms, kissing the tops of heads, accepting drawings and even blessing a stuffed animal.

In the hospital chapel, he met 30 children suffering from cancer; they were the ones who gave him the basket of prayers and dreams.

Just outside the chapel, he blessed and held hands tightly with members of the “Children in Heaven” parents’ support group.

 

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Jerusalem church leader says pope will visit in May

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Latin-rite Patriarch Faoud Twal of Jerusalem told reporters he expected to host Pope Francis on a visit to the Holy Land in May.

Listing “upcoming events for next year,” Patriarch Twal began with “the pope’s visit to the Holy Land planned for next May, first in Jordan, then in Israel-Palestine.”

A view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock is seen from the walls along the top of the Damascus Gate in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. CNS file

At his Dec. 19 meeting with the press, the patriarch did not give specific dates for the trip. At the Vatican, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters it would be up to Pope Francis to decide when to announce the trip’s dates, although the spokesman confirmed a Vatican advance team had already visited.

Israeli newspapers were reporting a May 24 papal flight to Amman, Jordan, and a May 25-26 visit to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories.

Pope Francis had told reporters in July that he hoped to travel to Jerusalem to fulfill a plan proposed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The Orthodox patriarch suggested they meet in Jerusalem in 2014 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras, a meeting that set the stage for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation and dialogue.

Speaking to reporters about the Holy Land in general, the Latin-rite patriarch said he met Pope Francis on the day of the pontiff’s March 19 installation and several times since then.

“He cares about the Holy Land and the Middle East. His statements clearly express that the Holy See maintains a consistent interest for our region,” the patriarch said.

As Christmas drew near, he said that the eyes of the world look toward Bethlehem, West Bank.

“It is from here, in the midst of conflict and violence tearing our Middle East apart, that the mystery of Christmas gently rises and spreads throughout the world.”

While the patriarch insisted that the entire Middle East would not be at peace until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settled, he also urged special prayers and assistance for the people of Syria and for the many foreign workers from the Philippines who are suffering far from home because their families were impacted by the deadly typhoon in November.

“The situation in the Middle East is becoming more complex and more dramatic,” he said. “The instability affects everyone, but especially our faithful who are tempted to emigrate.”

 

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Pope reconfirms Canadian cardinal to lead bishops’ congregation

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Nine months after his election, Pope Francis has reconfirmed Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, seen as one of the most powerful offices of the Roman Curia, and expanded the international membership of the congregation.

Among the new members named Dec. 16 were Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England; Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico; and Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia.

The departing members of the congregation include U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature, the church’s highest court; Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia; and 70-year-old Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the Italian bishops’ conference.

Confirming Cardinal Ouellet as prefect Dec. 16, Pope Francis also confirmed 18 current members of the congregation, including Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney and U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Besides French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, the other 15 members reconfirmed are officials or recently retired officials of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Ouellet, the 69-year-old the former archbishop of Quebec, was first appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to head of the congregation that oversees the vetting and appointment of bishops for Latin-rite dioceses around the world.

Technically, all heads of Vatican congregations and councils lose their jobs at the end of a pontificate.

Just three days after his election in March, Pope Francis formally reconfirmed the prefects, presidents and secretaries of Vatican congregations and councils “donec aliter provideatur” (until otherwise provided), meaning for the time being. While temporary reappointments are normal at the beginning of a pontificate, the Vatican said the pope intended to take “time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or confirmations.”

In September, Pope Francis confirmed German Archbishop Gerhard Muller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, along with all the members and consultants of the congregation. He also confirmed Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and named Italian Archbishop Beniamino Stella to be the new prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. In late November, he confirmed Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The confirmation or appointment of prefects for the congregations for religious, saints’ causes, worship and Eastern churches have yet to be announced.

 

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Christmas lights reflect truth that Christ is light of world, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The lights glowing on the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square, like Christmas lights everywhere, are reminders that Jesus is the light of the world, Pope Francis said.

While he did not attend the Vatican’s tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 13, the pope personally thanked the German donors and their Czech neighbors for the tree during an audience earlier in the day.

The cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica and the top of the Vatican Christmas tree are seen following a lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The 82-feet-tall tree was a gift of the German city of Waldmunchen, but it grew just over the border in the Czech Republic. Mayors from Bavaria in Germany and Bohemia in the Czech Republic joined hands to light the tree.

“This tree is international,” the pope told the 350 pilgrims who traveled to the Vatican for the tree-lighting ceremony.

The Gospel story of Jesus’ birth tells how the shepherds tending their flocks nearby were surrounded by a “great light,” the pope said. “Today, too, Jesus continues to dispel the darkness of error and sin and brings humanity the joy of blazing divine light.”

“We should let ourselves be enveloped by the light of his truth so that the joy of the Gospel would fill the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus,” he said.

As the sun was about to set, the German and Czech pilgrims, many in traditional costumes, gathered with Vatican officials for the ceremony. The festivities began with the Vatican police band playing the Vatican and German national anthems.

The Bavarians said they particularly were proud that it was the second time they donated a tree to the Vatican; the first was in 1984.

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State, told the pilgrims that while the Christmas tree was a northern European tradition, it was a custom Pope John Paul II brought to the Vatican in 1982.

“The tree, in every culture, is a symbol of life,” the cardinal said. A Christmas tree is a reminder that “the Lord comes to give us his life. Let us welcome him in our hearts and, in the glow of its light, let us bring him to the world.”

 

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