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Tight security is the ‘new normal’ as Pope Francis heads to Egypt

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis planned to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

Heightened security is part of the “new normal” in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope’s desire “to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness” to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24. Read more »

Why be afraid when God always shows the way, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians always have hope, no matter how bleak, bad or uncertain the journey, because they know God is always by their side, Pope Francis said.

In fact, “even crossing parts of the world (that are) wounded, where things are not going well, we are among those who, even there, continue to hope,” he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 26.

Pope Francis reaches for his zucchetto as a gust of wind lifts it off his head during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis reaches for his zucchetto as a gust of wind lifts it off his head during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Just a few days before his visit to Cairo April 28-29, the pope continued his series of talks on the nature of Christian hope, saying it is rooted in knowing God will always be present, even to the end of time.

The Gospel of St. Matthew, he said, begins with the birth of Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us,” and ends with the risen Christ telling his doubtful disciples to go forth and teach all nations, assuring them that “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The apostle shows how “ours is not an absent God, sequestered in a faraway heaven. Instead he is a God impassioned with mankind,” so tenderly in love that he is unable to stay away, the pope said.

Human beings are the ones who are really good at cutting off ties and destroying bridges, not God, he said.

“If our hearts get cold, his remains incandescent,” the pope said. “Our God always accompanies us even if, through misfortune, we were to forget about him.”

In fact, the decisive moment between skepticism and faith is “the discovery of being loved and accompanied by our Father,” the pope said.

Life is a pilgrimage, a journey in which “the seduction of the horizon” is always calling the human “wandering soul,” pushing people to go and explore the unknown, he said.

“You do not become mature men and women if you cannot perceive the allure of the horizon, that boundary between heaven and earth that asks to be reached” by those who are on the move, he said.

Christians never feel alone “because Jesus assures us he not only waits for us at the end of our long journey, but accompanies us every day,” even through dark and troubled times, he said.

God will always be concerned and take care of his children, even to the end of all time, he said. “And why does he do this? Quite simply because he loves us.”

The pope said the anchor is one of his favorite symbols of hope.

“Our life is anchored in heaven,” he said, which means “we move on because we are sure that our life has an anchor in heaven” and the rope “is always there” to grab onto.

So if God has promised “he will never abandon us, if the beginning of every vocation is a ‘Follow me,’ with which he assures us of always staying before us, why be afraid then?” the pope asked. “With this promise, Christians can walk everywhere,” even in the worst, darkest places.

“It’s precisely there where darkness has taken over that a light needs to stay lit.”

Those who believe only in themselves and their own powers will feel disappointed and defeated, he said, “because the world often proves itself to be resistant to the laws of love” and prefers “the laws of selfishness.”

Jesus promising “I am with you always” is what keeps the faithful standing tall with hope, believing that God is good and working to achieve what seems humanly impossible.

“There is no place in the world that can escape the victory of the risen Christ, the victory of love,” the pope said.

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Pope visits Egypt next week to strengthen beset Christian minorities

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ April 28-29 visit to Egypt, a land increasingly marked by terrorist-led bloodshed, stands as part of his mission to inspire and encourage today’s actors in theaters of violence to change the script and set a new stage. Read more »

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Papal preacher: Victory belongs to one who triumphs over self, not others

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus came to the world not just to teach, but to radically change human hearts that have hardened from sin, the preacher of the papal household said during a service commemorating Christ’s death on the cross.

“A heart of stone is a heart that is closed to God’s will and to the suffering of brothers and sisters,” but God, through the son, offers the world “a heart of flesh,” Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in the homily.

Pope Francis venerates the crucifix as he leads the Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis venerates the crucifix as he leads the Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion April 14 in St. Peter’s Basilica, which began with a silent procession down the central nave under dim lighting to emphasize the solemnity of the ceremony.

The pope then lay prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, his head resting upon his clasped hands on a red pillow, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance. As is customary, the papal household’s preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said the motto of the Carthusian monks, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” (The cross is steady while the world is turning), represents Christ and his cross standing firm, not against the world, which is always in flux, “but for the world, to give meaning to all the suffering that has been, that is and that will be in human history.”

Jesus came not to condemn sinners, who “are creatures of God and preserve their dignity,” but to admonish the sin, which is the “result of one’s passions and of the ‘devil’s envy,’” he said.

Today’s world seems especially “fluid,” he continued, with no fixed moorings, no undisputed values, where “everything is in flux, even the distinction between sexes.”

The cross standing in and over the world as represented in the monks’ coat of arms, he said, is the “mainmast that holds the boat afloat in the undulation of the world” and marks the “definitive and irreversible ‘no’ of God to violence, injustice, hate, lies — to all that we call ‘evil,’ and at the same it is equally the irreversible ‘yes’ to love, truth, and goodness.”

No one should ever give up hope, he said, because “the cross is the living proclamation that the final victory does not belong to the one who triumphs over others but to the one who triumphs over self; not to the one who causes suffering but to the one who is suffering.”

Father Cantalamessa said, “Christ did not come to explain things, but to change human beings,” who each possess some varying degree of “a heart of darkness,” a heart hardened by sin.

The Bible calls it a heart of stone, he said, which is the heart of those who ignore God’s will and others’ pain; it is someone, for example, who “accumulates unlimited sums of money and remains indifferent to the desperation of the person who does not have a glass of water to give to his or her own child; it is also the heart of someone who lets himself or herself be completely dominated by the instincts of the flesh and is ready to kill or to lead a double life.”

It is also the heart of the church’s ministers and practicing Christians who “still live fundamentally ‘for ourselves’ and not ‘for the Lord,’” he said.

When Christ died, the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs were opened. These signs also indicate, the papal preacher said, “what should happen in the heart of a person who reads and meditates on the Passion of Christ.”

Quoting St. Leo the Great, the preacher said people’s earthly nature should tremble at the suffering of the savior, “the rocks — the hearts of unbelievers — should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart.”

The heart of flesh God promised “is now present in the world” and in receiving the Eucharist, “we firmly believe his very heart comes to beat inside of us as well.”

He asked the assembly to gaze upon the cross and implore, like the tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” so “we too, like he did, will return home ‘justified, that is, reconciled with God, and if it’s necessary, with our cross.’”

After the homily, the assembly venerated the cross, which was carried down the central nave and held before the pope, who kissed and caressed it.

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Church bombings in Egypt won’t stop pope’s April 28-29 visit, says Vatican official

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite recent and repeated terrorist attacks against Egypt’s minority Christian communities, Pope Francis will not cancel his visit to Egypt.

“The pope’s trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled,” Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service April 10. The pope is scheduled to meet governmental and interfaith leaders during an April 28-29 visit to Cairo.

Mourners attend the April 10 funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George  in Tanta, Egypt. That same day, April 9, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (CNS photo/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)

Mourners attend the April 10 funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. That same day, April 9, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (CNS photo/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)

“Egyptians are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit, although the atmosphere at present is heavy,” Father Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, said April 10, the day after the attacks.

The pope’s mission is to be beside his brothers at the time of difficulty. Now is the real time that he can bring peace and hope to the Egyptian people as a whole and to the Christians of the East, in particular,” Father Grieche added.

He said people were uneasy entering churches with metal detectors and other security measures.

“It’s not like going to a normal church. But we need these measures to keep people safe,” he said.

He said after the attack, he celebrated a Mass with 2,000 people.

“The people knew already about the attack in Tanta, but they did not want to be afraid. In the evening, they also came for the prayers of the Holy Week,” Father Grieche said.

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria April 9 for the Palm Sunday service, when an explosion went off outside the church. Security footage appeared to show a security officer direct a man who was seeking entry into the cathedral to go through a metal detector. The man took a step under the detector then backed up a step, followed by a huge explosion that cut off the camera feed.

Earlier, a bomb exploded 70 miles away inside the Church of St. George in Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo, during its Palm Sunday service. Estimates say at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two attacks, making it one of the deadliest against the nation’s Christians in decades.

It was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades and the worst since a bombing at a Cairo church in December killed 30 people.

Pope Tawadros told the Italian national network Rai News April 9 the attacks would “not damage the unity and cohesiveness” of the Egyptian people.

“Egyptians are united before this terrorism,” he said, adding that “these vile attacks that hit people of peace in places of prayer demonstrate that terrorism lacks any religion.”

Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, also condemned the attacks, calling them a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents.”

Retired Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Mina of Giza, Egypt, said the incidents were an attack against the nation’s unity, its Coptic Christians, “to remind them that they have no rights, and against all Christian minorities of the country that anxiously await Pope Francis.”

“Despite it all, we will never lose hope. These atrocious gestures make us firmer in the faith and stronger,” he said. “Egypt’s Christians are warriors of hope.”

One Catholic leader highlighted his country’s failure to address the real causes behind the Palm Sunday massacres.

Speaking to “the officials and the wise of this country,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna of Minya said that “you don’t fight terrorism with words or slogans, nor with security or armies alone.”

“What have you done for social, economic, health, political and human justice? What have you done for the poor and downtrodden? What have you done to reform thought, expression and religious discourse?”

In a posting on his Facebook page, Bishop Fahim said that when Pope Francis goes to Cairo, he “will come to say no to terrorism and evil, and yes to goodness and fraternity. Love will never fail.”

Around the world, religious leaders offered prayers.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the attacks on the churches were “unspeakable persecution.”

“In the midst of what should be peace, horrible violence yet again,” he said. On behalf of all U.S. bishops, the cardinal expressed “our deepest sadness” for all those killed and injured, and their loved ones.

“I also express our solidarity with the Coptic church in Egypt, an ancient Christian community that faces mounting persecution in its historic home from violent extremism. I also pray for the nation of Egypt, that it may seek justice, find healing, and strengthen protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities who wish only to live in peace.”

Egypt is 90 percent Sunni Muslim; Christians make up the remaining 10 percent, with that majority being the Coptic Orthodox church. The Catholic community in Egypt numbers about 272,000, less than 0.5 percent of the population.

 

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

 

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Love Jesus in all who suffer, pope says on Palm Sunday

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus does not ask that people only contemplate his image, but that they also recognize and love him concretely in all people who suffer like he did, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis carries a cross as he arrives to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jesus is “present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own. They suffer from slave labor, from family tragedies, from diseases. They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike,” the pope said April 9 as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lord’s Passion.

In his noon Angelus address, the pope also decried recent terrorist attacks in Sweden and Egypt, calling on “those who sow terror, violence and death,” including arms’ manufacturers and dealers, to change their ways.

In his prayers for those affected by the attacks, the pope also expressed his deepest condolences to “my dear brother, His Holiness Pope Tawadros, the Coptic church and the entire beloved Egyptian nation,” which the pope was scheduled to visit April 28-29.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens more injured April 9 in an Orthodox church north of Cairo as Coptic Christians gathered for Palm Sunday Mass; the attack in Sweden occurred two days earlier when a truck ran through a crowd outside a busy department store in central Stockholm, killing four and injuring 15 others.

The pope also prayed for all people affected by war, which he called, a “disgrace of humanity.”

Tens of thousands of people carrying palms and olive branches joined the pope during a solemn procession in St. Peter’s Square under a bright, warm sun for the beginning of Holy Week.

The pope, cardinal and bishops were dressed in red vestments, the color of the Passion, and carried large “palmurelli,” bleached and intricately woven and braided palm branches. Hundreds of young people led the procession into St. Peter’s Square and later, youths from Poland handed the World Youth Day cross to young representatives from Panama, where the next international gathering will be held in January in 2019.

In his homily, the pope said that the day’s celebration was “bittersweet.”

“It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time” because the Mass celebrates the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem as the people and disciples acclaim him as king, and yet, the Gospel gives the account of his passion and death on the cross.

Jesus accepts the hosannas coming from of the crowd, but he “knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry, ‘Crucify him!’” the pope said.

Jesus “does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs or in the videos that circulate on the internet,” but to recognize that he is present in those who suffer today, including “women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded.”

“Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved,” the pope said.

We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace.

Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem as the true Messiah, who is a servant of God and humanity, the pope said. He is not a dreamer peddling illusions, a “new age” prophet or con man; he takes on the sins and sufferings of humanity with his passion.

Jesus never promised honor and success would come to those who follow him, rather, the path to final victory requires picking up the cross and carrying it every day, Pope Francis said.

“Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily,” he said.

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Pope to seminarians: ‘Shun careerism,’ live with simplicity, austerity

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Do not settle for a worry-free, comfortable life with an unhealthy attachment to money and an ambitious heart yearning for honors, Pope Francis told seminarians studying in Rome.

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, Spain, during an audience with seminarians and faculty of the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph at the Vatican April 1. Cardinal Blazquez Perez is patron of the seminary in Rome. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, Spain, during an audience with seminarians and faculty of the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph at the Vatican April 1. Cardinal Blazquez Perez is patron of the seminary in Rome. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“I’m telling you this as a brother, father and friend. Please, shun ecclesial careerism. It is a plague. Avoid it,” he said April 1 during an audience at the Vatican with students, faculty, staff and alumni of the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph in Rome. The college was celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding.

Everything hinges on loving the Lord with all of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, he said, citing the Gospel of Mark (12:30).

That is what determines whether a person will be able to say “yes” to Jesus or turn one’s back on him like the rich young man did in the Gospels, he said.

“You cannot settle for leading an orderly and comfortable life that lets you live without worry unless you feel the need to cultivate a spirit of poverty rooted in the heart of Christ,” the pope said.

Priests must have “an appropriate relationship with the world and earthly goods” if they are to gain authentic freedom as children of God, he said.

“Do not forget this: the devil always comes in through the pocket, always.”

Give thanks for what one possesses, he said, and “generously and willingly renounce the superfluous in order to be near the poor and weak.”

While Pope Francis said he wasn’t asking them to “sell their shirt” like Blessed Manuel Domingo y Sol, the college founder, asked people to be willing to do, the pope said he was asking them to be witnesses to Jesus through a lifestyle based on “simplicity and austerity” so as to be “credible proponents of a true social justice.”

Priestly formation cannot depend solely on academic formation, which breeds “all the ideologies that infect the church with every type of clerical academicism.”

Studies must intertwine academic, spiritual, community and apostolic formation all together, and when one of these four legs is missing, he said, “formation begins to limp and the priest ends up paralyzed.”

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Pope Francis: Real Christian hope is rooted in faith

March 30th, 2017 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hope is not built on people’s predictions, assurances or line of reasoning, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Real Christian hope “is not based on our word, but on God’s Word” and promises of salvation and eternal life, the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 29.

Continuing a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope, the pope looked at how Abraham’s faith is held up as a model for everyone in the apostle’s Letter to the Romans (4:16-25).

Despite all logic — Abraham was old and his wife infertile — Abraham “believed, hoping against hope that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’” which shows how faith is so closely connected to hope, the pope said.

“Our hope is not based on human reasoning, predictions and assurances,” he said; real hope arises “where there is no more hope, where there is nothing left to hope for.”

True hope “is rooted in faith and, precisely for this reason, it is able to go beyond all hope” because it is built on faith in God and his promise, he said.

“This is the paradox and, at the same time, the strongest part,” he said, because from a human point of view, that promise seems “unsure and unforeseeable.”

Looking at the people gathered for the general audience, the pope asked them if they really believed in God’s love for them and his promise of eternal life.

“There is only one price” to be paid for this, he said. “Opening your heart. Open your hearts and God’s power will carry you forward. He will do miraculous things and he will teach you what hope is.”

Just “open your heart to faith and he will do the rest,” he added.

Mary, too, believed in the unbelievable when the angel told her she would become the mother of God, the pope said in remarks to pilgrims from Arabic-speaking countries, particularly Iraq.

Like Mary, they are called to embrace that which they do not understand God is doing, and to open their hearts and minds to him, so that his will may be done, he said.

He later launched an appeal for more to be done to protect civilians in Iraq, reaffirming his prayers for civilians trapped in parts of Mosul and those displaced by war.

The pope also greeted a delegation of Iraqi authorities representing Shiites and Sunnis, and one representing Christians and other religious minorities, who were accompanied by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“The richness of the beloved Iraqi nation lies precisely in this mosaic that represents unity in diversity, the strength of union, prosperity in harmony,” the pope said.

He encouraged them to continue their efforts and invited people to pray that “Iraq may find peace, unity and prosperity through reconciliation and harmony among its diverse ethnic and religious communities.”

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Loving families are key to bringing joy, mercy to world, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urges families to discover God’s love and be generous, forgiving, patient, helpful and respectful.

This is a promotional image for World Meeting of Families to be held Aug. 21-26, 2018, in Dublin. The theme of the meeting is "The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World." (CNS illustration/World Meeting of Families)

This is a promotional image for World Meeting of Families to be held Aug. 21-26, 2018, in Dublin. The theme of the meeting is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.” (CNS illustration/World Meeting of Families)

Family life will be better if people use the words “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” every day, he said, and the world will be a better place if the church reaches out to the imperfect and the wounded.

The pope’s reflection was part of a letter to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which is helping plan the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Aug. 21-26, 2018. The Vatican released the text of the pope’s letter March 30.

When asked about the pope’s plans to attend the event next year, Cardinal Farrell told reporters at a Vatican news conference, “We hope. I can’t say absolutely” since it depends on the pope’s schedule, but the pope has expressed his desire to go.

The letter was meant to help Catholic families and parishes around the world prepare for the gathering, which will focus on the theme, “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.” The pope said he hoped the event would help families reflect on and share his apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia.”

“Does the Gospel continue to be a joy for the world? And also, does the family continue to be good news for today’s world?” the pope asked.

The answer is, “yes,” he said, because God’s love is his “yes” to all of creation and a ‘“’yes’ to the union between man and woman, in openness and service to life in all its phases; it is God’s ‘yes’ and his commitment to a humanity that is often wounded, mistreated and dominated by a lack of love.”

“Only starting from love can the family manifest, spread and regenerate God’s love in the world. Without love, we cannot live as children of God, as couples, parents and brothers,” he said.

Making sure family life is “based on love, for love and in love” means “giving oneself, forgiving, not losing patience, anticipating the other, respecting. How much better family life would be if every day we lived according to the words, ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘I’m sorry.’”

Every day, people experience fragility and weakness, Pope Francis said. All families and pastors need humility so they will become better disciples and teachers, better at helping and being helped, and able to accompany and embrace all people of goodwill.

“I dream of an outbound church, not a self-referential one, a church that does not pass by far from man’s wounds, a merciful church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as love, which is mercy,” he said.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told reporters that the pope’s letter shows the clear, central role families have in the pope’s great dream of renewal of the church and society.

“The family is called to be a place of encounter with that divine mercy which heals and liberates,” he said. The family is where spouses learn to love “not in vague romantic terms but in terms of their everyday realities and difficulties.”

“The pope’s vision of the mission of the family does not attempt to hide the fact that families experience challenges, weakness, fragility and even breakdown,” the archbishop said. “Families need a church which is with them, accompanying them in a process of discernment and integration though helping them to respond with a ‘yes’ to the divine love.”

Happy, loving families should be recognized and be a resource for the renewal of the church and world, he said.

But the church, Archbishop Martin said, also must be “a place where those who have failed can experience not harsh judgment, but the strong embrace of the Lord which can lift them up to begin again to realize their own dream even if only imperfectly.”

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World needs those who can bring God’s hope, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God’s presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said.

An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 22. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 22. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

God “never tires of loving us” as he “takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy, meaning, he consoles us and he never tires of consoling us,” the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 22.

The pope also invited all Catholics to “rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation” during the Lenten season. The pope asked people to make time for confession to “experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father,” who welcomes and forgives everyone.

During his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle’s Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he said that it is “by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

This endurance or perseverance, the pope said, is the patient ability to remain faithful and steadfast even when dealing with the most unbearable burdens. It is persevering even when “we would be tempted to judge unfavorably and give up on everything and everyone.”

The encouragement or consolation St. Paul talks about, the pope said, is “the grace to know how to grasp and show the presence and compassionate action of God in every situation, even in one greatly marked by disappointment and suffering.”

When St. Paul says, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak,” he isn’t separating the Christian community into a special class of those who are “strong” and a group of “second-class citizens” who are weak, the pope said.

In actuality, the strong are those who experience and understand their fragility and know they need the support and comfort of others, he said. And when people are experiencing their fragility and vulnerability, they “can always offer a smile or hand to a brother or sister in need,” showing them strength.

It’s about people offering one another what they can and knowing that the truly strong one is Christ, who takes care of everyone. “In fact, we all need to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel surrounded by his tender and caring gaze,” Pope Francis said.

That strength to endure and find encouragement all comes from God and his sacred Scriptures, the pope said, not from one’s own efforts.

The closer people are to God with prayer and reading the Bible, the more they will have the energy and feel the responsibility to go to those in need, “to console them and give them strength.”

The aim of serving others then will not be to feel proud of oneself, he said, but to “please our neighbor for the good, for building up,” as the Apostle Paul says.

People will realize they are “a channel for broadcasting the Lord’s gifts and, in that way, concretely become a sower of hope,” the pope said.

Planting seeds of hope “is needed today. It’s not easy,” Pope Francis said. But with Christ at the center of one’s life, it will be him who “gives us the strength, the patience, the hope and the consolation” needed to live in harmony.

At the end of the general audience, the pope highlighted that the day also marked World Water Day, established by the United Nations 25 years ago.

The pope greeted participants attending the conference, “Watershed: Replenishing Water Values for a Thirsty World,” sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome March 22.

He said he was “happy this meeting is taking place” as part of continued joint efforts to raise awareness about “the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone.”

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