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

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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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Czech Cardinal Vlk dies, was clandestine priest under communist regime

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who washed windows and ministered underground during communism, died of cancer March 18 in Prague at the age of 84.

The retired archbishop of Prague was elected the first East European president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and dedicated his term to rebuilding the church and society after communism in the East and defending Christian values in the face of secularism and materialism in the West.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, retired archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, died March 18 at the age of 84. Cardinal Vlk worked as a window cleaner while secretly carrying out his priestly ministry during the communist era. He is pictured arriving for a general congregation meeting prior to the election of a new pope at the Vatican in this March 7, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, retired archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, died March 18 at the age of 84. Cardinal Vlk worked as a window cleaner while secretly carrying out his priestly ministry during the communist era. He is pictured arriving for a general congregation meeting prior to the election of a new pope at the Vatican in this March 7, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In a telegram to Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague, Pope Francis recalled “with admiration” the late cardinal’s “tenacious fidelity to Christ despite the privation and persecution against the church.”

The pope also praised his fruitful ministry, which was driven by a desire to share the joy of the Gospel with everyone and promote “an authentic ecclesial renewal” that was always faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Born May 17, 1932, in Lisnice, Czechoslovakia, he studied history at Prague’s Charles University, earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Prague and was a trained archivist.

Ten years after he was ordained a priest in 1968, the communist regime revoked his license to engage in priestly ministry. The regime persecuted clerics, imprisoning them and forcing them into menial jobs; he spent the next 10 years washing windows of government buildings.

However, he continued to minister in secret, like other barred priests, and maintained contacts with students and dissident groups.

“The will of God can be different in different moments of our life,” he said in 1991. “Sometimes it is his will that I wash the windows and other times to be archbishop.”

In the years following his 1988 return to open ministry as a priest, Cardinal Vlk and his homeland faced many changes, including massive anti-government protests.

St. John Paul II appointed the then-57-year-old priest to be bishop of Ceske Budejovice in February 1990, two months after Czechoslovakia’s 40-year communist regime was overthrown by a popular and largely nonviolent uprising.

The late pope then named him archbishop of Prague in 1991 and, in 1993, when Czechoslovakia became two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he became primate of the Czech church. St. John Paul made him a cardinal in 1994.

Internally, the post-communist church had to cope with a shortage of trained clergy and laity and a lack of churches and other buildings because the communist government had confiscated church property.

Cardinal Vlk was a strong supporter of Catholic lay movements, and said that, like religious orders in past centuries, lay movements today express the “needs of our time.”

The highlighting of the laity’s role may even be a hidden benefit of the priest shortage, he had said. While the lack of clergy has serious implications for sacramental life, “the life of the church is not only the sacraments,” he said. The most important thing is to genuinely “live the life of the Gospel,” he said.

In 2002, President Vaclav Havel awarded Cardinal Vlk the Czech Republic’s senior Masaryk Prize in recognition of his work for democracy and human rights.

With Cardinal Vlk’s death, the College of Cardinals has 224 members, 117 of whom are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.

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Pope Francis to visit Egypt in April

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Accepting an invitation from Egypt’s president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29.

In response to an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, “Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt,” the Vatican announced March 18.

Pope Francis accepts an icon of Mary and the Christ Child from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2015 at the Vatican. Accepting an invitation from Egypt's president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis accepts an icon of Mary and the Christ Child from Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, and Bararya, all in Egypt, before a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2015 at the Vatican. Accepting an invitation from Egypt’s president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

While saying details of the trip would be published soon, the announcement said the two-day trip would be focused on Cairo, the capital city.

It will be the pope’s 18th trip abroad in his four years as pope and the seventh time he visits a Muslim-majority nation. He will be the second pope to visit Egypt after St. John Paul II went to Cairo and Mount Sinai in 2000.

The invitation came amid increasingly closer relations between the Vatican and al-Azhar, which is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam.

El-Tayeb visited the pope at the Vatican in May 2016, the first time the grand imam of al-Azhar was received by the pope in a private meeting at the Vatican.

The pope later told reporters that in his 30-minute discussion with the grand imam, it was clear that “they are looking for peace, for encounter.”

“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence,” the pope told reporters. “This is not right and it is not true.”

Pope Francis also has upheld the importance of strengthened cooperation between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox Christians. In the face of so many challenges, he has said, “Copts and Catholics are called to offer a common response founded upon the Gospel” and give a shared witness to the sanctity of human life, family life and creation.

Given the increased persecution against Christians, the pope has told Coptic Pope Tawadros, “Today more than ever we are united by the ecumenism of blood, which further encourages us on the path toward peace and reconciliation.”

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Pastoral priority: Hear confessions whenever asked, pope tells priests

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hear confession every time someone asks, Pope Francis said, and don’t ever put limited hours on the sacrament of reconciliation.

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, Reuters pool)

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, Reuters pool)

“Please, let there never be those signs that say, ‘Confessions: Mondays and Wednesdays from this time to that time,’” he told hundreds of confessors and other participants attending an annual course sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the absolution of sin.

“Hear confession every time someone asks you. And if you are sitting there, praying, leave the confessional open because God’s heart is open,” he said March 17.

Confession “is a pastoral priority,” and is a daily call to head to the “peripheries of evil and sin, and this is an ugly periphery,” he said.

“I’ll confess,” he told his audience, that the Apostolic Penitentiary “is the tribunal that I really like because it is a ‘tribunal of mercy,’ where one goes to get that indispensable medicine for our souls, which is divine mercy.”

A good confessor, he said, has begged God for “the gift of a wounded heart, capable of understanding others’ wounds and of healing them” with God’s mercy, he said.

Accompany men and women “with prudent and mature discernment and with true compassion for their suffering, caused by the poverty of sin,” he said.

So much harm is done to the church and human souls when a confessor is not guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit in discerning what God wants to be done, he said.

“The confessor never follows his own will and doesn’t teach his own doctrine,” but is called to be God’s servant in full communion with the church.

Be ready to use confession as an opportunity to evangelize and remind people of the basic, essential truth of faith and morality. Pray to God for the gift of humility and the recognition of one’s own sins that God fully pardoned, he told them.

This kind of prayer is not only “the prime guarantee for avoiding every harsh approach that fruitlessly judges the sinner and not the sin,” he said, it also reminds confessors they are “simple, albeit necessary, administrators” of God’s free gift. “And he will certainly be pleased if we make extensive use of his mercy.”

Pope Francis also asked confessors to be very careful in discerning whether a person may be suffering from a mental disorder, “which must be verified through a healthy cooperation with” experts, or from demonic influence or possession.

Whenever a confessor recognizes the presence of evil spirits, he said, never hesitate to refer to an exorcist, who is charged with “this sensitive and necessary ministry” in each diocese.

 

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When there’s no listening, there’s violence, pope says at university

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Addressing the fear of immigrants, dissatisfaction with a “fluid economy” and the impatience and vitriol seen in politics and society, Pope Francis told Rome university students to practice a kind of “intellectual charity” that promotes dialogue and sees value in diversity.

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives for a Feb. 17 meeting at Roma Tre University. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives for a Feb. 17 meeting at Roma Tre University. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

“There are lots of remedies against violence,” but they must start first with one’s heart being open to hearing other people’s opinions and then talking things out with patience, he said in a 45-minute off-the-cuff talk.

“It necessary to tone it down a bit, to talk less and listen more,” he told hundreds of students, staff and their family members and friends during a visit Feb. 17 to Roma Tre University.

Arriving at the university, the pope slowly made his way along a long snaking pathway of metal barricades throughout the campus, smiling, shaking hands and posing for numerous selfies with smiling members of the crowd. When handed a small baby cocooned in a bright red snowsuit for a papal kiss, the pope joked whether the child was attending the university, too.

Seated on a platform facing an open courtyard, the pope listened to questions from four students, including Nour Essa, who was one of the 12 Syrian refugees the pope had brought to Rome on a papal flight from Lesbos, Greece, in 2016.

The pope said he had received the questions beforehand and wrote a prepared text, but he preferred to answer “from the heart” and be “more spontaneous because I like it better that way.”

Asked what remedy could counteract the world’s violence and how to live well in such a fast-paced, globalized world of social networks, the pope said today’s frenetic pace “makes us violent at home.”

Family members don’t bother saying “good morning” to each other, they absentmindedly say “hi” or eat together in silence, each absorbed with a smartphone, he said.

The faster the pace in life, the more people become “nameless” because no one takes the time to get to know the other, ending up with a situation where “I greet you as if you were an object.”

The tendency to de-personalize others, which starts in one’s own heart, at home and with relationships, “grows and grows and it will become violence worldwide,” he said.

“In a society where politics has sunk very low, and I’m talking about society around the world, not here, one loses the sense” of building up civic life and social harmony, which is done through dialogue.

Pope Francis commented on the way many electoral campaigns and debates feature people interrupting each other. “Wait! Listen carefully to what the other thinks and then respond,” he said, and ask for clarification when the point isn’t understood.

“Where there is no dialogue, there is violence,” he said.

The pope said universities must be places dedicated to this kind of openness, dialogue and respect for a diversity of opinions and ideas.

An institution cannot claim it is offering higher education if there is no “dialogue, discussion, listening, where there is no respect for how others think, where there is no friendship, joy of play,” he said.

People go to university to learn and listen, but not passively, the pope said. It is a place to actively seek the good, the beautiful and the true, as a journey done together over time.

He also critiqued the so-called “fluid economy,” which leads to a lack of stable, solid employment.

Networked trades and transactions in which a person can make, like a business friend of his did, $10,000 in 10 minutes trading commodities is an example of this “fluid” economy, he said.

This “liquidity” erases “the culture of work” and everything that is concrete about labor “because you cannot work and young people don’t know what to do,” which can lead them to addictions or suicide.

“Or the lack of work leads me to join a terrorist militia. ‘At least I have something to do and have meaning in my life.’ It’s horrible,” he said.

Essa, the 31-year-old Syrian woman, told the pope she, her husband and small boy were living in a refugee camp in Lesbos until “our life changed in one day, thanks to you.” Already possessing degrees from her studies in Syria and France, Essa was finishing a degree in biology at Roma Tre.

She asked the pope to address the fear of immigrants, saying she remembered a journalist on the papal flight a year ago asking about people’s fear of those coming from Syria and Iraq and whether they threatened Europe’s Christian culture.

“How many invasions has Europe had?” during its long history, the pope asked.

Europe has been built upon invasions and movements of peoples, he said. “Migration is not a danger, it is a challenge to grow,” he said.

It is only logical that people migrate to escape from conflict, exploitation, hunger and lack of development, he said.

“Don’t exploit. Don’t be the bullies that go to exploit” these nations already suffering so much, he said.

Asking his audience to reflect on how the Mediterranean Sea has become “a cemetery” with the drowning of so many immigrants, he said those fleeing their homelands first must be seen as one’s own “human brothers and sisters. They are men and women like us.”

Each country must determine how many refugees and migrants it can properly welcome and integrate with structures and resources in place so the newcomers can become contributing members of the community and not isolated or “ghetto-ized.””

While trying to grapple with the way times change, he said, it’s also true some things just stay the same. “If we don’t learn to understand life as it comes, we will never ever learn to live it.”

Life is like being a “goalie” where people have to be alert and ready to grab the ball from whatever direction it comes, Pope Francis said. Today “is a different age, that is coming from somewhere I didn’t expect, but I have to take it, I have to take it as it comes without fear.”

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Vatican releases updated guidelines for bioethical questions

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Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To offer clearly and accurately the Catholic Church’s positions on abortion, contraception, genetic engineering, fertility treatments, vaccines, frozen embryos and other life issues, the Vatican released an expanded and updated guide of the church’s bioethical teachings.

The “New Charter for Health Care Workers” is meant to provide a thorough summary of the church’s position on affirming the primary, absolute value of life in the health field and address questions arising from the many medical and scientific advancements made since the first charter was published in 1994, said Msgr. Jean-Marie Mupendawatu. Read more »

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Pope: Like expectant moms, live in joyful expectation of embracing God

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christian hope isn’t about believing in something that may or may not come true, like hoping tomorrow’s weather will be pleasant, Pope Francis said.

“Christian hope is the expectation of something that already has been fulfilled and that certainly will be attained for each one of us,” that is, knowing Christ died and is truly risen so that all of humanity may gain salvation and live together with God, the pope said Feb. 1 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis puts his hand to his ear after asking for a response from the crowd during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis puts his hand to his ear after asking for a response from the crowd during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Continuing a series of talks on Christian hope, the pope looked at St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:4-11) and what it teaches about the Christian belief in life after death.

The early Christian community at Thessaloniki was firm in its belief in Christ’s resurrection, but trusting in one’s own resurrection and the resurrection of loved ones was a bit harder to grasp, the pope said.

Such doubts and uncertainty still exist today as “we all are a little afraid of dying,” he told those gathered in the Paul VI audience hall.

St. Paul, he said, writes words of encouragement, telling Christians to arm themselves against the onslaught of doubt and difficulties by “putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet that is hope for salvation.”

This kind of hope, the pope said, has nothing to do with wishing for “something nice,” something “that may or may not happen.”

“For example, people say, ‘I hope it will be nice weather tomorrow,’ but we know that it might be terrible weather instead.”

Christian hope isn’t like that, he said. It is belief in “a sure reality” because it is rooted in the real event of Christ’s resurrection and his promise of eternal life with him.

It’s knowing and seeing that “there is a door over there,” he said, pointing to the entryway into the Paul VI audience hall.

“There is a door. I hope to get to the door. What do I have to do? Walk toward the door. I am sure I will make it to the door. That is what Christian hope is like. Being certain that I am walking” with that destination, he said.

Christian hope is living like an expectant mother, the pope said.

“When a woman realizes she is pregnant, she learns to live each day in expectation of seeing her child’s gaze,” he said.

Everyone needs to learn to live each day with this same joyful anticipation – “to live in expectation of gazing at the Lord, of finding the Lord,” he said.

Learning to live in “sure expectation” isn’t easy, but it can be learned, he said.

“A humble, poor heart” knows how to wait, but it is difficult for someone who is “full of himself and his possessions.”

The pope asked everyone to repeat aloud with him St. Paul’s words (1 Thes 4:17) as a way to find peace and consolation, knowing that one day the faithful will be united with God and their loved ones: “Thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

At the end of his main audience talk, the pope greeted members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which seeks to act upon the pope’s encyclical “Laudato Si’” and address climate change.

He thanked them for their dedication to “taking care of our common home during this time of serious social-environmental crisis.”

He encouraged them to continue to expand and strengthen their networks “so that local churches may respond with determination to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Iraqi patriarch: Fast track for Christian refugees will fuel tensions

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic patriarch.

“Every reception policy that discriminates (between) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the East” and would be “a trap for Christians in the Middle East,” said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.

A Yemeni and three children are seen in Sanaa, Yemen Jan. 26. Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be "a trap" that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.(CNS photo/Yahya Arhab, EPA)

A Yemeni and three children are seen in Sanaa, Yemen Jan. 26. Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.(CNS photo/Yahya Arhab, EPA)

The patriarch, speaking to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, commented on an executive action by U.S. President Donald Trump that temporarily stops from U.S. entry refugees from all over the world and migrants from seven countries in an attempt to review the screening process. The document asks that once the ban is lifted, refugee claims based on religious persecution be prioritized.

Patriarch Sako said any preferential treatment based on religion provides the kind of arguments used by those who propagate “propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’” or as groups that are “supported and defended by Western powers.”

“These discriminating choices,” he said, “create and feed tensions with our Muslim fellow citizens. Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels. And we do not want privileges. This is what the Gospel teaches, and what was pointed out by Pope Francis, who welcomed refugees in Rome who fled from the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims without distinction.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, said any policy that gave priorities to Christians “might revive some of these animosities and might even pit Christians against Muslims, and that (also) might generate contrary action from the Muslims against Christians.”

“This is a time when we don’t want to add to the prejudice, the biases and even discriminatory attitudes evolving in the world,” he told Catholic News Service in Beirut Jan. 30 at the Caritas Lebanon headquarters.

Emphasizing that he had not read the text of the executive action, but only news reports, the Philippine cardinal said announcing a ban being applied to specific countries was akin to “labeling them and the migrants coming from those countries as possible threats to a country. I think it is quite a generalization that needs to be justified.”

Cardinal Tagle, who has visited refugee settlements as part of his role as Caritas president, said he asks people who express reservations about receiving refugees and migrants, “Have you ever talked to a real refugee? Have you heard stories of real persons?”

“Very often, the refugee issue is reduced to statistics and an abstraction,” he said, and when people actually talk with refugees, “you realize that there is a human story, a global story (there) and if you just open your ears, your eyes, your heart then you could say, ‘This could be my mother. This could be my father. This could be my brother, my child.’

“These are human lives,” he said. “So, for people making decisions on the global level, please know that whatever you decide touches persons for better or for worse. And if our decisions are not based on the respect for human dignity and for what is good, then we will just be prolonging this problem — creating conflicts that drive people away.”

Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told CNS in Rome that Christians are asked to reflect on the Good Samaritan and not to “react and act as if the plight of migrants and refugees is none of our business.”

People should focus on those seeking security and “take the trouble to find out the facts” — like how “migrants, far from being a drain, make a net contribution to the domestic economy — rather (than) swallow allegations which just trigger fear.”

Richer countries should not only welcome those who are fleeing, they “can do much more to help improve security and living, working, education and health opportunities in the refugee- and migrant-producing countries,” he said in a written statement.

More effort should be put into peacemaking and more resources dedicated to “helpful foreign aid.”

“The role of government is to enact its people’s values, keeping different factors in balance. National security is important, but always in balance with human security, which includes values like openness, solidarity, hope for the future,” the Jesuit priest said.

“The bottom line,” he said “is the centrality and dignity of the human person, where you cannot favor ‘us’ and ‘them,’ citizens over others.”

 

Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

 

 

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Success at any cost will deceive, disappoint, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Watch out for the tempting promises and easy rewards of false gods and idols because they always lead to confusion, disappointment and even death, Pope Francis said.

“We are tempted to seek even fleeting comfort, which seems to fill the emptiness of solitude and ease the exertion of believing” in God, especially in times of trouble, he said Jan. 11 during his weekly general audience.

A nun takes a photo of Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 11. (CNS/Paul Haring)

A nun takes a photo of Pope Francis during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 11. (CNS/Paul Haring)

But the hope and security that come from God “never ever disappoint,” he said. “Idols always let you down” since they are figments of the imagination and not “alive and real” like God.

The pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by reflecting on Psalm 115, which warns of the false hopes and securities offered by man-made idols.

While the psalmist speaks of statues made of “silver and gold,” the pope said idols also include anything people hold up as the ultimate answer to their happiness and security like money, power, success and false ideologies, all of which carry “illusions of eternity and omnipotence.”

Even things like physical beauty and health become idols when a person is willing “to sacrifice everything” in order to obtain or maintain them, he said.

“They are all things that confuse the heart and mind and instead of promoting life, they lead to death,” he said. As an example of this, he said he once heard a woman speak very nonchalantly about procuring an abortion because the pregnancy would have ruined her figure.

“These are idols and they take you down the wrong path. They do not give you happiness,” he said.

The pope marveled at the huge number of fortunetellers he used to see sitting in a city park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the lines of people waiting their turn to consult them.

The shtick “is always the same, ‘There is a woman in your life,’ ‘Something dark is coming,’” he said ominously. But the people would pay to hear such things, and this was supposed to make them feel better even though they were putting their trust in a bunch of nonsense, he said.

“We buy false hope,” which shows how much people cling to it, he said. True hope, the kind Jesus brought freely by “giving his life for us, that kind we don’t trust in so much sometimes.”

Faith in God takes strength and perseverance, and when bad things happen in life, he said, sometimes that faith wavers and people feel they need a different kind of certainty, something easier or more “tangible and concrete.”

“Sometimes we seek a god that can bend to our wishes and magically intervene to change reality and make it be the way we want,” he said. This is what people love and seek, a god “that looks like us, understandable, predictable,” even though “it can do nothing, impotent and deceitful.”

The psalmist says that those who worship or trust in things that cannot speak, see, feel, move or hear, will become like them with nothing to say, “incapable of helping, changing things, smiling, giving oneself and incapable of loving.”

“Even we, people of the church, run this risk” of becoming worldly, he said. “We need to be in the world, but defend ourselves from the illusions” and idols of the world.

But those who persevere and courageously trust and hope in the Lord, they become more and more like him, sharing in his life and blessings, “transforming us into his children.”

“In this God, we have hope. This is the God that is not an idol, that never disappoints,” and always remembers his people even during their most difficult trials, he said.

At the end of the audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, the pope told people to make sure they never pay for a ticket to see the pope because entry to papal events is always free since “this is a home for everyone.”

“I found out that there are pretty crafty (people) who charge for tickets,” which should have written on them in different languages that they are completely free of charge.

“Whoever makes you pay to get you into an audience commits a crime,” he said. Tickets for papal Masses also always are free. No tickets are needed for the noon Angelus prayer.

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Pope: Jesus’ service to others gave him authority

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus astonished people with the way he taught and interacted with others because he wasn’t aloof, domineering or hypocritical, Pope Francis said in a homily.

“Jesus wasn’t allergic to people. Touching lepers, the sick did not disgust him,” whereas the Pharisees, who strolled around in fine clothes, looked down on the people and considered them ignorant, he said at the Mass Jan. 10 in the chapel of his residence.

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)

“They were removed from the people, they weren’t close,” the pope said of the Pharisees. “Jesus was very close to the people and this gave him authority.”

The pope’s homily centered on the day’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) in which people gathered at the synagogue in Capernaum “were astonished” at Jesus’ teaching because he displayed an authority that differed so greatly from that of the scribes.

The people would listen to and be respectful toward the doctors of the law and the scribes, but the people didn’t take what they said “to heart,” he said.

These teachers felt themselves superior, as if to say: “We are the teachers, the princes and we teach you. No service. We command, you obey,” the pope said. But Jesus “never passed himself off as a prince. He was always the servant of everyone and this is what gave him authority.”

The traditional teachers were hypocrites, declaring the truth, but not doing what they preached, Pope Francis said.

Jesus “lived what he preached,” he said, representing the harmonious union of “what he thought, felt and did.”

“Jesus, who is humble, who is at the service (of others), who is near, who doesn’t despise people and who is consistent, has authority,” the pope said. “This is the authority that the people of God sense.”

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