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Pope shares St. Francis’ opinion of money, says people must come first

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Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY —Profit must never be a Christian’s god, although it is one of the tools for measuring the effectiveness of business choices and the ability of a company to help workers feed their families, Pope Francis said.

St. Francis of Assisi (depicted in this fresco at Assisi) once said that "money is the devil's dung." Pope Francis used that quote this week to warn that "when money become an idol, it dictates people's choices."  (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

St. Francis of Assisi (depicted in this fresco at Assisi) once said that “money is the devil’s dung.” Pope Francis used that quote this week to warn that “when money become an idol, it dictates people’s choices.” (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

“Money is the devil’s dung,” the pope said Feb. 28, quoting St. Francis of Assisi. “When money becomes an idol, it dictates people’s choices.” Meeting with members of an Italian association of Catholic farm, credit, housing and shopping cooperatives, the pope urged the co-ops to remain true to their original inspiration of modeling an economy where the needs of the human person are the absolute priority and where sharing and solidarity are at the center of the business model. When unemployment rates are high and there are long “lines of people looking for work,” he said, workers are easily exploited. They will accept long hours for low pay, knowing that if they don’t they will be told, “If you don’t like it, someone else will.” “Hunger makes us accept whatever is given,” even a job that pays under the table, the pope said. Italy’s birthrate has been declining for 50 years, leading many government and church officials to raise an alarm about the financial risks associated with a steady growth in the number of retired people and the shrinking pool of people working and paying taxes. Pope Francis told the Catholic cooperatives that supporting and “even encouraging family life” must be part of their mission in serving their members and influencing the economy. “An economy can never be renewed in a society that is aging instead of growing,” he said. In addition, he said, “to help women fully realize their vocations and allow their talents to bear fruit” and to help them be “protagonists in companies as well as in the family,” the work world must include greater flexibility and services, such as childcare. Cooperatives and anyone truly concerned about the human person and the economy’s impact on individuals and families, he said, must keep in mind the “dizzying increase in unemployed people, the constant tears of the poor” and the need for development that provides jobs and an income while protecting human dignity and ensuring access to health care and a future pension. Pope Francis asked the Catholic cooperatives to solidify their original ties with Catholic parishes and dioceses, but also to look for ways to work with other cooperatives to expand their reach, involve more people and discover new areas where co-ops could meet social and economic needs. “It is a real mission,” he told them, a mission that “calls for a creative imagination to find new forms, methods, attitudes and instruments to combat the ‘throwaway culture’ in which we live, the ‘throwaway culture’ cultivated by the powers that prop up the economic-financial policies of the globalized world where the god money is at the center.” The predominant free market economic model is not working, the pope said; cooperatives need profits to survive, but they must ensure profits do not become an exclusive goal. Catholic co-ops cannot be like “certain forms of liberalism” that believe “it is necessary first of all to produce wealth, and it doesn’t matter how, and then to promote some redistribution policies on the part of the state,” the pope said. He described that approach as being one of “first filling up the glass, then giving to others.” “Others think that companies themselves must share crumbs from the wealth they accumulate, absolving themselves in that way from their so-called social responsibility,” he said. “They run the risk of thinking they are doing good when, unfortunately, they are just doing an exercise in marketing without breaking the fatal cycle of people and businesses who are focused on the god money.”

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Vatican security always on high alert, chief says after IS threats

March 2nd, 2015 Posted in Featured, Vatican News

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The head of Vatican security said Islamic State militants have threatened the Vatican, but there are no indications of any planned attack.

Domenico Giani, left, commander of the Vatican police force, keeps watch as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass with bishops, priests and members of religious orders in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila, Philippines, in this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo. Giani said that he is not aware of any plans to attack the Vatican or the pope although Islamic State militants have made general threats. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Domenico Giani, left, commander of the Vatican police force, keeps watch as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass with bishops, priests and members of religious orders in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila, Philippines, in this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo. Giani said that he is not aware of any plans to attack the Vatican or the pope although Islamic State militants have made general threats. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican gendarmes, Swiss Guards and the Italian state police that patrol the perimeter of Vatican City State are always on high alert, said Domenico Giani, the commander of the gendarme and the pope’s chief bodyguard.

“There are not only the threats of the Islamic State, but also the risk of action by individuals, which is more dangerous because it is unpredictable,” he said in an interview for the March edition of Polizia Moderna, the monthly magazine of the Italian state police.

For months, there have been rumors of threats against the Vatican or Pope Francis by the Islamic State militants who are attacking Christians, other religious minorities and Muslims they do not agree with in Syria and Iraq. Concern heightened in February when militants claiming to be allied with the Islamic State group murdered 21 Christians in Libya, which is less than 300 miles from the Italian mainland.

“The threat exists,” Giani said. “That is what has emerged in meetings with my Italian and foreign colleagues. But the existence of a threat is one thing and planning an attack is another. At this time, we have not been informed of any plans to attack the Vatican or the Holy Father.”

Giani, who worked in the Italian secret service before moving to the Vatican, said he is in frequent contact with Italian and other government intelligence services, including some from predominantly Muslim countries. “I can say that today the pontiff is seen and respected by Muslims as the most influential moral authority in the world, and that is on the part of both religious and civil leaders.”

Asked how Pope Francis is living with the threat, Giani responded: “The Holy Father does not intend to abandon the style of his pontificate, which is based on proximity, that is, on a direct encounter with the greatest number of people possible. Even as pontiff, he has remained a priest who does not want to lose contact with his flock.”

“Those of us entrusted with his security must adapt to his style and not the other way around,” he said. “We must do everything possible so that he can continue to carry out his ministry as he wants and believes is best.”

Giani said Pope Francis “is well aware of the threats” against him, “but his only concern is for the faithful.”

The Apostolic Palace, where Pope Francis chose not to live, “is more difficult to access” than the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he has taken up residence, Giani said. “But as I said, the Holy Father has chosen a way of living and does not intend to change it because of a potential risk.”

In addition to his constant collaboration with the Swiss Guard and Italian police forces and his contact with a variety of security services, Giani said the Vatican is aided by a high-tech operations center and “thousands of security cameras installed” in Vatican City and in Vatican buildings around Rome.

Asked if his office ever taps telephones, he said, “it happens sometimes,” but rarely.

 

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Assyrian Christians released by Islamic State militants, but more than 200 still captive

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Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — Christians in the Middle East welcomed the release of nearly 20 Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria, but expressed concern that more than 200 others remained in captivity.

“I can confirm the release of 19 persons (17 men and 2 women) who were captured by the Islamic State in the Khabur region,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI.

“We pray and hope for the others to be released,” he added.

Pope Francis meets Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq during a private audience at the Vatican March 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq during a private audience at the Vatican March 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Bashir Saedi, a senior official in the Assyrian Democratic Organization, said all those released were around 50 years of age or older, suggesting that age might have been a factor.

Vatican Radio reported that Osama Edward, who heads the Assyrian Human Rights Network, said the Christians were released because jizya, an Islamic protection tax levied on non-Muslims, had been paid.

They are now “in the church of the city of Hassakeh,” Edward said. The network published photographs on its Facebook page that appeared to show people in Hassakeh greeting the returnees.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that an Islamic court had ruled the captives be freed, but it said the reasoning behind the decision was unknown.

On Feb. 23, Islamic State militants raided a cluster of villages along the Khabur River near Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh and abducted Assyrian Christian residents and other minorities.

There have been conflicting reports about the actual number of the captives still held by the extremists, and their fate remains unclear. The Observatory said there were 220. Other activists said the figure was higher than 260.

Sunni Muslim Arab tribal leaders have been mediating with the extremist militia to secure the captives’ release. Many observers believe most captives were taken to Shaddadeh, about 30 miles south of Hassakeh.

The abductions have added to growing fears among religious minorities in the Middle East who have been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State group, especially in Syria and Iraq. During the militants’ campaign in Syria and Iraq over the past year, minorities have been repeatedly targeted and killed, driven from their homes, had their women enslaved and places of worship and cultural artifacts destroyed.

The attacks along the Khabur took place just weeks after video was released of Islamic State beheading 21 Egyptian Christians that it called “crusaders.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called on everyone to help the people of Syria and Iraq, many of whom are suffering because of their faith.

After praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 1, the pope underlined his dismay over the ongoing dramatic events unfolding in the area — the “violence, kidnappings and oppression to the detriment of Christians and other groups.”

He said the church has not forgotten about the minorities and their plight and said Catholics were “praying urgently that the intolerable brutality” they are suffering “may end as soon as possible.”

“I ask everyone, according to their means, to work to alleviate the suffering of all those who are afflicted, often just because of their faith,” the pontiff said.

Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq, met Pope Francis at the Vatican March 2 to discuss concerns about Islamic State extremists and the fate of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

Ra’ed Bahou, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, called the release of the first batch of Assyrian Christians “positive,” but said the attacks on Christians in Syria were troubling.

“We spoke about the problem of Hassakeh publicly for seven or eight months before this incident. We said that Hassakeh and the nearby villages are all surrounded by Daesh,” the Arabic term for Islamic State, Bahou told CNS. “Despite the warning, nothing happened to protect them.”

A prominent Syrian Christian, Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, added that he raised concerns earlier about the Islamic State presence in the Hassakeh region as well in Washington, but no real measures were taken.

“If you go back to July 22, 2014, we warned publicly that Daesh will enter the Ninevah Valley, and it happened 14 days later,” Bahou said, referring to massive attacks on Iraqi Christian villages last summer that sent thousands fleeing for safety to northern Iraq and neighboring countries.

“When there is warning, the international community must act,” Bahou said.

He said he believed with the announcement of a military campaign by Iraqi troops and the U.S.-led coalition to retake Mosul, Iraq, this spring, the militants will try to take over more territory.

“They want to take more lands because they will lose Mosul and go back to Syria. They want more lands because that is the only way they can survive,” Bahou said. “We (Christians) will have more pressure in the future.”

“It’s been a cleansing of the Iraqi Christians. I think it will be a domino effect. It’s now happening in Syria. It’s happening in Egypt, in Lebanon,” Bahou added.

“Thank God we have stability in Jordan, and we hope it will continue. But we are losing Christians in our region,” he said.

 

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Recognize your own sins and stop judging others, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Drop the innocent look and the habit of judging others, Pope Francis said. Recognizing one’s own faults and failings is the first requirement of being a good Christian.

In fact, paradoxically, one finds peace and relief in judging one’s own sins, being merciful toward others and saying, “Who am I to judge?” he said March 2 during his homily at a morning Mass celebrated in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives.

Pope Francis (CNS/Reuters)

Pope Francis (CNS/Reuters)

The pope’s homily was based on the day’s reading from the Book of Daniel, which laments, “We have sinned, been wicked and done evil,” and expresses the shame of having rebelled against God who is so full of compassion and mercy. It also focused on the Gospel reading according to St. Luke, in which Jesus tells his disciples to stop judging and condemning, but to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Pope Francis said it is so easy to shift the blame.

“We are all experts, we have Ph.D.s in justifying ourselves: ‘But it wasn’t me, no, it’s not my fault. Well, OK, but it wasn’t that bad, you know. That’s not how it went.’ We all have an alibi to explain away our failings, our sins,” he said.

“So often we are able to make that face that says, ‘Who, me?’ that face that says, ‘Well, I didn’t do it, maybe it was someone else,’ playing innocent,” he said. “But one doesn’t progress in Christian life this way.”

While it is easier to blame others, “when we begin to look at the things we are capable of,” the evil that one is tempted to commit, he said at first “we feel bad, we feel disgust,” but then “something a bit strange happens,” the self-critical approach then “gives us peace and well-being.”

By directly, honestly and quietly confronting the evil within, such as feeling envy and knowing how it can lead to putting people down and “killing them morally,” he said, one discovers “the wisdom of accusing oneself.”

“If we do not learn this first step in life, we will never, ever make progress on the path of Christian life, spiritual life,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

Another Christian virtue is being able to feel ashamed before God, he said. Christians should engage in a kind of dialogue with the Lord, not being afraid to feel that shame expressed in the Book of Daniel.

When people can see their own faults, he said, it is easier to ask God for mercy and to be merciful toward others.

“When someone learns to accuse oneself, one is merciful toward others: ‘Yes, but who am I to judge if I am capable of doing worse things?’”

The phrase, “Who am I to judge,” he said, comes from listening to Jesus telling his disciples to “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

The day before, after praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis urged people to listen to Jesus and follow him because only he brings true happiness.

“Jesus’ path always brings us happiness, don’t forget it,” he said March 1.

While following Jesus will always mean carrying some kind of cross and enduring some hardship, the pope said, “in the end he always brings us happiness. Jesus does not deceive, he promised happiness and he will give it if we follow his ways.”

By following Jesus, one’s life can become “a gift of love toward others, in docile obedience to God’s will, with an approach of detachment from worldly things and of inner freedom,” he said.

 

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Vatican condemns leak of documents on economic reform

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis and Vatican officials try to completely revamp the Vatican’s economic policies and the procedures at what is commonly called the Vatican bank, differences of opinion are normal, but leaking documents about those discussions is illegal, said the Vatican spokesman.

“The fact that complex economic or legal issues are the subject of discussion and diverse points of view should be considered normal,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, in a note published late Feb. 27.

The spokesman’s comments came after the Italian magazine L’Espresso published three articles allegedly illustrating how “power struggles between the most important prelates are placing the reforms of Pope Francis at risk.”

The articles particularly target Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of the Secretariat for the Economy. The leaked minutes of a meeting of cardinals, the magazine said, show top Vatican officials are concerned about a lack of checks and balances as the cardinal gains more power over Vatican spending, hiring, income and revenues.

“Passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal,” Father Lombardi said.

One of the articles focused specifically on what it described as lavish spending by Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy during its first year of existence even though the office was formed to monitor and rein in spending.

L’Espresso said it had seen receipts and they included a 2,508 euro ($2,813) bill from Gammarelli, a Rome clerical tailor shop, and surmised that it was for a “cappa magna” or great cape with a long train sometimes worn in processions.

In a statement released Feb. 28, the Secretariat for the Economy said the article’s report of a conversation between Pope Francis and Cardinal Pell about his office’s spending, a conversation the magazine presented in direct quotes, is “complete fiction.”

The money spent by the secretariat in its first year was “in fact, below the budget set when the office was established” in February 2014, it said. An audited financial statement will be presented to the Council for the Economy, which oversees the secretariat’s work.

“Finally and for the record,” the statement said, “Cardinal Pell does not have a cappa magna.”

 

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Pope Francis offers advice on preparing for confession during Lent

February 27th, 2015 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As Catholics are encouraged to make going to confession a significant part of their lives during Lent, Pope Francis offered some quick tips to help people prepare for the sacrament of penance.

After a brief explanation of why people should go to confession, “because we are all sinners,” the pope listed 30 key questions to reflect on as part of making an examination of conscience and being able to “confess well.”

Pope Francis hears confession from a man during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican last year. He recently offered tips on how to prepare for confession. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 31, 2014

Pope Francis hears confession from a man during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican last year. He recently offered tips on how to prepare for confession. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 31, 2014

The guide is part of a 28-page booklet in Italian released by the Vatican publishing house. Pope Francis had 50,000 free copies distributed to people attending his Angelus address Feb. 22, the first Sunday of Lent.

Titled “Safeguard your heart,” the booklet is meant to help the faithful become “courageous” and prepared to battle against evil and choose the good.

The booklet contains quick introductions to Catholic basics: it has the text of the Creed, a list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. It explains the seven sacraments and includes Pope Francis’ explanation of “lectio divina,” a prayerful way of reading Scripture in order to better hear “what the Lord wants to tell us in his word and to let us be transformed by his Spirit.”

The booklet’s title is based on a line from one of the pope’s morning Mass homilies in which he said Christians need to guard and protect their hearts, “just as you protect your home, with a lock.”

“How often do bad thoughts, bad intentions, jealousy, envy enter?” he asked. “Who opened the door? How did those things get in?”

The Oct. 10, 2014, homily, which is excerpted in the booklet, said the best way to guard one’s heart is with the daily practice of an “examination of conscience,” in which one quietly reviews what bad things one has done and what good things one has failed to do for God, one’s neighbor and oneself.”

The questions include:

• Do I only turn to God when I’m in need?

• Do I attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation?

• Do I begin and end the day with prayer?

• Am I embarrassed to show that I am a Christian?

• Do I rebel against God’s plan?

• Am I envious, hot-tempered, biased?

• Am I honest and fair with everyone

• In my marital and family relations, do I uphold morality as taught in the Gospels?

• Do I honor and respect my parents?

• Have I refused newly conceived life? Have I snuffed out the gift of life? Have I helped do so?

• Do I respect the environment?

• Am I part worldly and part believer?

• Do I overdo it with eating, drinking, smoking and amusements?

• Am I overly concerned about my physical well-being, my possessions?

• How do I use my time? Am I lazy?

• Do I want to be served?

• Do I dream of revenge, hold grudges?

• Am I meek, humble and a builder of peace?

Catholics should go to confession, the pope said, because everyone needs forgiveness for their sins, for the ways “we think and act contrary to the Gospel.”

“Whoever says he is without sin is a liar or is blind,” he wrote.

Confession is meant to be a sincere moment of conversion, an occasion to demonstrate trust in God’s willingness to forgive his children and to help them back on the path of following Jesus, Pope Francis wrote.

 

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Pope names St. Gregory of Narek a doctor of the church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A 10th-century Armenian monk has been named among the doctors of the church.

Pope Francis approved the designation for St. Gregory of Narek during a meeting Feb. 21 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

The church confers this designation on saints whose writings are considered to offer key theological insights for the faith.

St. Gregory of Narek is considered one of the foremost figures of Armenian theology and thought, and many of his prayers are included in the Armenian Divine Liturgy.

He was born in 950 in the Armenian town of Andzevatsik, located in present-day Turkey. He entered a monastery at a young age and was ordained a priest at 25. He lived at the monastery at Narek his whole priestly life and taught at the monastic school.

His best-known writings include a commentary on the Song of Songs and his “Book of Lamentations,” more commonly known as “Narek.”

“Narek” is considered his masterpiece. It includes 95 prayers and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

St. Gregory died in Narek around 1005.

St. Gregory brings the current number of doctors of the church to 36. His feast day in the Armenian churches is Oct. 13; he is remembered in the Roman Catholic Church Feb. 27.

 

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Church leader invites pope to Ukraine, says visit could bring peace

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church invited Pope Francis to visit the war-torn nation, saying it would help bring peace.

“It would be a prophetic gesture that would show the power of prayer and Christian solidarity, give us courage and hope and build a better future for everyone,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, prays during a Divine Liturgy for Ukrainian expatriates at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, prays during a Divine Liturgy for Ukrainian expatriates at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On behalf of Catholics, Orthodox Christians and “people of goodwill” in Ukraine, the archbishop personally invited the pope, telling journalists Feb. 23 that such a visit would “bring peace to that part of Eastern Europe soaked with the blood of so many martyrs for the unity of the church.”

The archbishop was in Rome following an “ad limina” visit Feb. 16-21 in which bishops from Ukraine’s Eastern- and Latin-rite traditions reported to the pope and the Vatican on the state of their dioceses.

Archbishop Shevchuk spoke to journalists about the bishops’ Feb. 20 meeting with Pope Francis.

He said the pope “truly listened to us with a paternal heart,” asking to hear about how the Ukrainian people, including their “Orthodox brothers and sisters,” were facing the current conflict and crisis.

After their closed-door talks with the pope, Archbishop Shevchuk said the “our bishops felt not only welcomed, but also encouraged and above all reaffirmed that we have taken the right position” during the recent turmoil in Ukraine, that is, the position of “being at the side of one’s people, having the smell of sheep, listening carefully to the voice of our people, this is what the Holy Father asks us to do.”

“Ukraine is the victim” in this war with Russia, and “often Ukrainians feel abandoned, betrayed by politicians, big diplomats by the powerful of this world.” But he said their meeting with the pope left them feeling that “the Holy Father is with us, he gives witness to us that God is always on the side of those who suffer,” he said. “We go home full of hope.”

In a written address that was handed out to the bishops, the pope them to focus on the social and human tragedies unfolding in their country and avoid politicizing their role as church leaders. He asked the bishops to work together and be a clear moral voice calling for peace and harmony as well as strong defenders of families, the poor and weak.

The pope assured the bishops of his prayers and concerns about the “serious conflict” in their nation and the numerous innocent victims and suffering it has caused.

“In this period, as I have assured you on many occasions directly and through cardinal envoys, I am particularly close to you with my prayer for the deceased and for all those affected by the violence, with prayer to the Lord that he may soon grant peace,” he said.

Pope Francis said he continues to appeal to “all sides concerned” to respect international law and carry out their agreements, especially a recent cease-fire deal.

“In these circumstances, what is important is to listen carefully to the voices that come from the places where the people who are entrusted to your pastoral care live” because it is by listening to one’s own flock that they will be able to help uphold the community’s values of “encounter, collaboration, the ability to settle controversies,” he wrote.

Archbishop Shevchuk said the path the pope was indicating was “right, to be at the side of your people and listen to the voice of the people,” and that it was the same approach the bishops have been taking the whole time by addressing social injustices and not supporting any political party.

When it came to ecumenical dialogue aimed at peace, he said it has been very difficult to get the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate to help advocate an end to the violence.

He said this has caused the many Russian Orthodox in Ukraine to question “how come these brothers of the same church, or as Pope Francis says, of the same baptism, come to our land to kill us?”

“If pastors are not able to listen to the voice of their flock and respect the sensitivity of their faithful, well, it becomes more difficult. If the church hierarchy takes the side of those with power against their own people, they lose their credibility,” he said.

The archbishop said the bishops’ visit to the pope and the Vatican Secretariat of State was an important opportunity to tell them “the truth” about the ongoing crisis: that it is not a civil war but “a foreign invasion, a war imposed on us from the outside.”

They told Vatican officials that some of the terms that had been used, for example, when the pope said Feb. 4 the conflict was a “fratricide,” a war between Christians baptized in the same faith, had been extremely painful to the people of Ukraine because it echoed the rhetoric in the Russian position on the conflict.

He said Christian values can be manipulated by Russian authorities “for political motives,” adding that no state policy or propaganda that “sacrifices millions of human beings for geopolitical aims respects Christian values.”

He said he told the pope how more than 2 million people have been displaced by the fighting, among them 140,000 children. He said more than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed to date and another 12,500 people physically wounded.

“The pope was touched by these numbers,” especially by how many children are being affected.

Through Caritas Ukraine, the church is helping more than 40,000 people a day, he said. The people have opened their hearts to the church as a “stable point of reference” during so much confusion and misguidance, he said.

The church has become a true “field hospital” as so many people are suffering spiritually and psychologically from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic disorder, which has become as real a threat to human lives as “the Russian-built missiles,” he said.

 

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Ukraine’s bishops tell pope their nation faces war of aggression, pope asks them to speak for peace

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged Ukraine’s Catholic bishops to focus on the social and human tragedies unfolding in their country and avoid politicizing their role as church leaders.

He asked bishops from the nation’s Eastern- and Latin-rite traditions to work together and be a clear moral voice calling for peace and harmony as well as strong defenders of families, the poor and weak.

“The sense of justice and truth is moral before being political, and such a task is entrusted to your duties as pastors, too,” he said in a written address.

A clergyman stands near photos of people killed in Ukrainian protests in 2014, during a Feb. 20 commemorating ceremony in Kiev's Independence Square. (CNS photo/Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)

A clergyman stands near photos of people killed in Ukrainian protests in 2014, during a Feb. 20 commemorating ceremony in Kiev’s Independence Square. (CNS photo/Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)

The pope met Feb. 20 with bishops from Ukraine’s Byzantine- and Latin-rite communities, who were in Rome Feb. 16-21 for their “ad limina” visits to report on the state of their dioceses. The Vatican said the pope had his two-page written speech handed out to the bishops rather than read aloud.

The pope assured the bishops of his prayers and concerns about the “serious conflict” in their nation and the numerous innocent victims and suffering it has caused.

“In this period, as I have assured you on many occasions directly and through cardinal envoys, I am particularly close to you with my prayer for the deceased and for all those affected by the violence, with prayer to the Lord that he may soon grant peace,” he said.

He said he continues to appeal to “all sides concerned” to respect international law and carry out their agreements, especially a recent cease-fire deal.

However, he said Ukraine’s bishops must avoid becoming politicized, saying “you are not called to give a direct response” to those historical issues and current concerns that have, “in part, a political basis.”

“But there are social-cultural situations and human tragedies, too, that are waiting for your direct and positive contribution,” he wrote.

“In these circumstances, what is important is to listen carefully to the voices that come from the places where the people who are entrusted to your pastoral care live” because it is by listening to one’s own flock that they will be able to help uphold the community’s values of “encounter, collaboration, the ability to settle controversies,” he wrote. “In a nutshell: the quest of possible peace.”

As citizens of Ukraine, the bishops have the right, as individuals and a group, to express their thoughts about their future, he said.

But “not in the sense of promoting a concrete political action, rather in the indication and reaffirmation of the values that make up the thing that holds Ukrainian society together, persevering in the tireless search for harmony and the common good, even in the face of serious and complex difficulties.”

“The Holy See is at your side, also at that of international entities, to make your rights, your concerns and the just evangelical values that motivate you, understood,” he said, adding that the Vatican was looking for ways to best help their pastoral needs.

The pope highlighted the nation’s serious economic problems and the huge income disparities that have also “unfortunately contaminated, to various degrees, public institutions, too.”

Working for truth and justice are moral imperatives, he said, and are a part of their duties as pastors.

“The more you are free ministers of the church of Christ, all the more so, even in your poverty, will you be defenders of the family, the poor, the unemployed, the weak, the ill, the retired elderly, the handicapped and the displaced.”

He also urged the different Catholic communities to be united and work together.

“Personally it hurts me to hear that there are misunderstandings and wounds” between the different Christian rites and traditions in Ukraine, he wrote.

“There needs to be a doctor, and it is Jesus Christ, whom you both serve with generosity and all your heart.”

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting with the pope, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said the Ukrainian Catholic bishops intended to share “the truth” with Pope Francis about the ongoing crisis in their country: that it is not a civil war but “the direct aggression of our neighbor.”

“We are here to convey the truth to the Holy Father about the situation of Ukraine. This is our whole proposal of the visit ‘ad limina,’” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, said Feb. 19.

“And the truth is that we, the Ukrainian people, are the victims,” he said.

The archbishop was responding to questions put to him by Catholic News Service regarding media reports, following the pope’s comments on Ukraine at his Feb. 4 general audience.

Critics said the pope’s choice of words suggested the Holy See views the crisis in eastern Ukraine as a civil war. They also accused the Holy See of using rhetoric in line with the Russian position on the conflict for the sake of keeping positive ecumenical relations with the Orthodox Church.

Noting “the differing interpretations of the pope’s words,” the Vatican press office issued a statement Feb. 10, stating that the pope is “following attentively” the situation in Ukraine and has always addressed all interested parties when speaking about the conflict.

However, after a liturgy Feb. 19 to pray for peace in Ukraine, Archbishop Shevchuk spoke plainly with journalists at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, saying the situation in his country can be described “in one word: a war.”

“But we have to say that we do not have a civil war in Ukraine,” he continued. “We have an aggression of a foreign country against the Ukrainian citizens and the Ukrainian state.”

In addition to the fighting, he said the country’s pastors are concerned about the more than 2 million refugees, among them 140,000 children. He said more than 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed to date.

“We are witnessing the biggest humanitarian catastrophe in Eastern Europe, after the end of the Second World War,” he said.

Ukrainians have responded generously to the crisis; about 80 percent of the population is involved in a parish-based volunteer movement, he reported.

Still, there is the need for assistance, he said, launching an appeal to the international community for “help to stop the aggression” and to organize humanitarian aid.

Hundreds of Ukrainian nationals, living in Rome, packed St. Mary Major for the Feb. 19 liturgy to pray for peace in Ukraine, with dozens lining the aisles or sitting on the steps of the side chapels. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, was also in attendance.

 

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Pope: Lent isn’t just about not eating meat on Fridays, it’s about treating others justly, paying fair wages

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY  — Real fasting isn’t just restricting food choices, it must also include cleansing the heart of all selfishness and making room in one’s life for those in need and those who have sinned and need healing, Pope Francis said.

Faith without concrete acts of charity is not only hypocritical, “it is dead; what good is it?” he said, criticizing those who hide behind a veil of piety while unjustly treating others, such as denying workers fair wages, a pension and health care.

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome Feb. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome Feb. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Being generous toward the church, but selfish and unjust toward others “is a very serious sin: It is using God to cover up injustice,” he said Feb. 20 during his homily in a morning Mass celebrated in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives.

The pope’s homily was based on the day’s reading from the Book of Isaiah in which God tells his people he does not care for those who observe penance passively, bowed “like a reed,” lying quietly in a “sackcloth and ashes.”

Instead, God says he desires to see his people crying out “full-throated and unsparingly” against injustice and sin, “setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless.” In the reading, God also points out the hypocrisy of the faithful who fast, but treat their workers badly and fight and quarrel with others.

Pope Francis said Lent is about fulfilling all commandments both toward God and others, according to reports from Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper.

Lent is not about the formal observance of “doing a little whatever” and not eating meat on Fridays, while giving oneself free reign to “grow in selfishness, exploit others and ignore the poor,” he said.

There might be someone who thinks, “Today is Friday, I can’t eat meat, but I’m going to have a nice plate of seafood, a real banquet,” which, while appearing to be an abstinence from meat, is the sin of gluttony, the pope said.

Another person might say: “I am a great Catholic, Father, I like it a lot. I always go to Mass every Sunday, I receive Communion,” to which, the pope said he would reply, “Great, and how is your relationship with your workers? Do you pay them under the table? Do you give them a fair wage? Do you contribute toward their pension? To their health insurance and social services?”

Some people may regularly make financial contributions to the church, but, the pope asked, how generous are they toward their loved ones and their dependents? Are they generous and just to them, too, he asked.

People cannot “make offerings to the church on the back of injustice,” he said. “It is not a good Christian who doesn’t do justice to the people who depend on him” and who does not “deprive himself of something essential for him in order to give it to another who is in need.”

“This is the distinction between formal and real,” he said, which Jesus underlined, too, when he condemned the Pharisees and doctors of the law, who adhered to “many external observances but without the truth of the heart.”

Unfortunately, he said, many “men and women have faith but they separate the tablets of law,” that is, they obey the first commandments and obligations to God while ignoring or being selective about the rest of the commandments concerning others.

“They are united: love toward God and love to your neighbor are one, and if you want to practice real, not formal, penance, you have to do it before God and also with your brother and sister, your neighbor,” he said.

The pope asked that during Lent people think about what they can do for people who are in very difficult situations, for example, to help “children and the elderly who don’t have the possibility of being seen by a doctor.”

Perhaps they have to wait “eight hours to be seen and then they give them an appointment for the week after,” he said.

“What will you do for these people? What will your Lent be like?”

He also asked people to make room in their hearts for those who have sinned, those who “have made mistakes and are in jail.”

To those who may protest about associating with people who have been imprisoned, the pope said, “He is in jail, but you, if you are not in jail, it is because the Lord helped you to not fall.” Pray for them, he said, so that the Lord may help them turn their lives around.

 

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