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Francis: Christians fight evil with love, sacrifice, not with violence

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians are called to detach themselves from power, reject violence and sacrifice themselves for God and others out of love, Pope Francis said.

Christians must live the way Christ chose to: not as “persecutors, but persecuted; not arrogant, but meek; not as snake-oil salesmen, but subservient to the truth; not impostors, but honest,” he said June 28 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis greets a baby during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets a baby during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In fact, “Christians find repugnant the idea that suicide attackers might be called martyrs because there is nothing in their purpose that can come close to the behavior of children of God,” who are called always to act out of love, he told the estimated 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

High temperatures and scattered sprinkles prompted the pope to tell guests in the Vatican audience hall that he was about to head outside to a “Turkish bath.”

In his weekly catechesis, the pope continued his series on Christian hope by focusing on what gives Christians strength and perseverance in the face of opposition, hatred and persecution.

Jesus dispelled all “mirages of easy success,” the pope said, and he warned his disciples that proclaiming the kingdom of God would come at a high price as “you will be hated by all because of my name.”

“Christians love, but they are not always loved,” the pope said.

Because the world is marked by sin, selfishness, injustice and hostility, he said, it is normal that Christians are expected to go against the current and live the way Christ lived and taught.

The Christian lifestyle must be marked by “poverty,” he said, noting how Jesus talks to his disciples more about “stripping” themselves than about “getting dressed.”

“Indeed, a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from wealth and power and, above all, detached from him- or herself, does not resemble Jesus,” he said.

Christians journey forth into the world with the bare essentials, except their heart, which should be overflowing with love, he added.

In the Gospel of Matthew (10:16-22), Jesus warned his disciples that he was sending them “like sheep in the midst of wolves.” They could be shrewd and prudent, the pope said, but never violent because evil can never be defeated with evil.

That is why Jesus sent his people into the world like himself, as sheep — without sharp teeth, without claws, without weapons — Pope Francis said. In fact, “true defeat” for a Christian is to succumb to the temptation of responding to the world’s resistance and hatred with violence, revenge and evil.

The only weapons Christians possess are the Gospel and the hopeful assurance that God is always by their side, especially in the worst of times.

Persecution, then, doesn’t contradict the Gospel, it is part of its very nature, because if the Lord was hated and persecuted, the pope said, “how can we ever hope that we should be spared this battle?”

Yet, “in the great midst of the maelstrom, Christians must not lose hope, believing they have been abandoned,” he said.

Christians know that in their midst, there is always a divine power greater than all evil, “stronger than the Mafia, murky conspiracies, (stronger) than those who profit off the lives of the desperate, those who crush others with arrogance,” he said.

On the eve of the feast of the martyred Sts. Peter and Paul and just a few hours before he was to create new cardinals whose red robes symbolize martyrdom, Pope Francis underlined the real meaning of martyrdom in his catechesis.

“Martyrs do not live for themselves, they do not fight to assert their own ideas, and they accept having to die only out of fidelity to the Gospel” and with love, which is the highest ideal in Christian life, he said.

This, the pope said, is the strength that animates and sustains people facing so much hardship: knowing that “nothing and no one can separate them from God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ.”

Don’t fear ridicule for sharing the Gospel, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Bringing the Gospel to the world isn’t a walk in the park; it will lead to ridicule and contempt, even persecution, Pope Francis said.

But Christians must never be afraid and must keep on going since “Jesus never leaves us on our own because we are precious to him,” the pope said before praying the Angelus June 25 with people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pilgrims are seen through the spray from a fountain as Pope Francis leads his Angelus in St. Peter's Square June 25 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pilgrims are seen through the spray from a fountain as Pope Francis leads his Angelus in St. Peter’s Square June 25 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

The pope’s reflection centered on the day’s readings (Jeremiah 20:10-13 and Matthew 10:26-33), which speak about God always being with his people no matter what. In fact, in the Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples three times to not be afraid and to “proclaim on the housetops” what has been revealed to them in a whisper.

The Lord still tells people today to never be afraid, the pope said. Christians must never forget that; especially “when we have some ordeal, persecution, something that makes us suffer, let us listen to Jesus’ voice in our heart.”

Going on mission is not a form of “tourism” or a vacation where life will be carefree, he said; there may be failure and pain as people may refuse the Gospel message or persecute the messenger.

“This is a bit frightening, but it’s the truth,” the pope said.

The pope reminded everyone that persecution against Christians was still happening today. He asked people to pray for those who endure persecution and “continue to give witness to the faith with courage and fidelity.”

He asked that their example be an inspiration to those who live where hostility and adversity may not be so apparent, but the challenges are still great.

“There are many who smile to our face, but behind our backs, fight the Gospel,” he said.

Also, instead of being a sheep among wolves, a disciple may have to be like a sentinel, trying to wake up people “who do not want to snapped out of a worldly stupor, who ignore the words of truth of the Gospel and fabricate their own ephemeral truths.”

“If we go to or live in these contexts and we proclaim the words of the Gospel, this will bother people and they will not look at us well,” the pope said.

Each disciple is called to conform his or her life to Christ and since Christ was refused, abandoned, persecuted and killed, disciples be prepared for the same, he said.

“There is no such thing as Christian mission marked by tranquility,” the pope said. “Difficulties and tribulation are part of the work of evangelization and we are called to find in these things an occasion to ensure the authenticity of our faith and our relationship with Jesus.”

      Enduring trouble in Christ’s name is an opportunity to grow in trusting in God, who “does not abandon his children” in the midst of the storm, he said.

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Cancer prevention programs should reach everyone, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Cancer prevention programs and campaigns need to reach everyone, Pope Francis said.

“Spreading a culture of life, made up of attitudes and behaviors, is greatly needed, a true culture (that is) of the people, serious, accessible to everyone and not based on commercial interests,” he said in an address to members of the Italian League for the Fight Against Tumors June 26.

Pope Francis poses with children during a meeting with members of the Italian League for the Fight Against Tumors, at the Vatican June 26. The pope said that cancer prevention programs and campaigns need to reach everyone. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis poses with children during a meeting with members of the Italian League for the Fight Against Tumors, at the Vatican June 26. The pope said that cancer prevention programs and campaigns need to reach everyone. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

The pope praised the volunteer organization, which promotes education, prevention, research and support for those with cancer and their families.

He said their service represented a constant “decentralization toward the peripheries,” emphasizing that the “peripheries” include any person who is marginalized by society or other people, and those who may be forced to compromise or abandon their daily routine and relationships because of illness.

Taking care of those who are ill “is a priceless richness for society,” he said, and reminds both the church and civil society “to not be afraid of closeness, to not be afraid of tenderness, to not be afraid of wasting time” by offering support, comfort and solidarity to those who need it.

“Since good health is a primary and fundamental necessity for every person, it is desirable that oncological prevention be extended to everyone, thanks to collaboration between public and private services and initiatives by civil society and charities.”

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Living the Gospel is risky, embrace challenges with courage, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Better to take risk of carrying the freshness of the Gospel to others than to be a “museum Christian” afraid of change, Pope Francis told Serra International.

“When Christians go about their daily lives without fear, they can discover God’s constant surprises,” he said June 23. Read more »

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Pope accepts early resignation of Vatican’s first independent auditor

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Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Just two years after being hired to help with the Vatican’s efforts in finance reform, Libero Milone — the Vatican’s first independent auditor who answered only to the pope — handed a request for his resignation to Pope Francis.

The pope accepted Milone’s request, the Vatican announced June 20, after Milone personally presented it to the pope a day earlier.

“While wishing Milone the best in his future endeavors, the Holy See wishes to inform (everyone) that the process of naming a new director of the auditor-general’s office will be underway as soon as possible,” the Vatican’s written statement said. Read more »

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Poverty requires action, not empty words, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — People cannot sit back and be indifferent or unresponsive to growing poverty in the world as a privileged minority accumulates “ostentatious wealth,” Pope Francis said.

“God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded,” the pope said in a message for the first World Day of the Poor.

Homeless Filipinos rest in late April on a street in Manila. World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated Nov. 19 this year, will focus on the apostle John's call to love "not with words, but with deeds." (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

Homeless Filipinos rest in late April on a street in Manila. World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated Nov. 19 this year, will focus on the apostle John’s call to love “not with words, but with deeds.” (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

The newly established commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to help Christians develop and maintain a more consistent and sincere lifestyle built on sharing, simplicity and the essential truths of the Gospel, the pope said in the message released June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

The World Day of the Poor, to be marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time, will be celebrated Nov. 19 this year and will focus on the Apostle John’s call to love “not with words, but with deeds.”

There are so many forms of material and spiritual poverty that poison people’s hearts and harm their dignity, the pope said in his message, and “we must respond with a new vision of life and society.”

Too often Christians have taken on “a worldly way of thinking” and forgotten to keep their gaze and goals focused on Christ, who is present in those who are broken and vulnerable.

An admonition by St. John Chrysostom “remains ever timely,” the pope said, quoting: “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the eucharistic Christ with silk vestments and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”

“Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money,” he said. “What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few and generalized indifference.”

“Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world,” Pope Francis wrote. “Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned.”

Christians must reach out to the poor as Christ did and commanded, the pope said. The poor, in fact, “are not a problem, they are a resource” rich in dignity and God-given gifts that can help Christians better understand the essential truth of the Gospel.

“Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: They are hands that bring hope,” he said. “Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’: They are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis said a good role model was his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who kept his gaze fixed on Christ so as to be “able to see and serve him in the poor.” The pope took the name of this saint during the conclave that elected him in 2013 after another cardinal told him, “Don’t forget the poor.”

“If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization,” the pope wrote in his message.

Just a few days before the end of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis spoke of his desire to have a special day dedicated to the poor.

As the doors of mercy were set to be closed around the world, “let us ask for the grace not to close our eyes to God, who sees us and to our neighbor who asks something of us,” the pope said in that homily in November 2016. However, straying from his prepared text that day, the pope told those gathered, “I would like today to be the ‘day of the poor” to underline everyone’s responsibility “to care for the true riches, which are the poor.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters the pope envisioned the day as a way for the whole church to reflect on the Gospel sense of poverty, seeking and receiving only the essential, and then to act and concretely share the essential treasure of God’s love and mercy.

Local churches should dedicate the week preceding the World Day of the Poor to creative initiatives fostering encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance, the papal message said. The pontifical council will release a pastoral guide in September to help parishes in their planning, the archbishop said.

The idea is to stir people’s consciences and to understand more deeply what the Gospel teaches, he said.

It’s not about handing out change in order to feel better about oneself, the archbishop said; it’s about becoming truly concerned and invested in the other and seeing him or her as a brother or sister in God.

The pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 19 with the poor and volunteers and will offer lunch afterward for “at least 500 poor” in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, Archbishop Fisichella said, adding that many local churches and Catholic organizations in Rome would be offering similar gestures of a shared meal.

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As school year ends, pope tells students: Don’t fear goodbyes, unknown

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Life is a long series of hellos and goodbyes, so don’t be afraid to let go of the past; remember old friends, but keep moving and be open to the new, Pope Francis told students as the school year was coming to an end.

“We have to learn to see life by seeing the horizons,” not the walls that can make people afraid because they don’t know what is on the other side, he told thousands of adolescents during a 45-minute encounter at the Vatican June 2. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation’s “The Knights of the Grail” educational initiative.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of a middle school group June 2 at the Vatican. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation's "The Knights of the Grail" educational initiative. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of a middle school group June 2 at the Vatican. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation’s “The Knights of the Grail” educational initiative. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

In the informal Q-and-A, a teen named Marta told the pope how scared she was to be leaving middle school and most of her best friends as they head on to high school next year. “Why do I have to change everything? Why does growing up make me so afraid?” she asked him.

“Life is a constant ‘Good morning’ and ‘Farewell,’” he said, with the goodbyes sometimes being for forever.

“You grow by encountering and by taking your leave,” he said. “If you don’t learn to say goodbye well, you will never learn how to encounter new people.”

This moment of change in life is “a challenge,” he said, but “in life we have to get used to this journey of leaving something behind and encountering something new.”

Noting that Marta had used the word “afraid” a number of times in her question, the pope said the risk that comes with the challenge is that fear will render a person immobile, “too serene” and unable to grow.

Those who give up, settle down and say, “Enough,” close off the horizons that are out there waiting for them and do not grow.

“Look at that wall? What’s behind it?” he asked the girl. “I don’t know,” she said.

“But if you go outside, to the countryside, what do you see?” he asked. “I see everything,” she replied.

“Everything. You see the horizon,” the pope said. “We have to learn to see life by looking at the horizons” that are always open, always lying ahead, by meeting new people and having new experiences.

Instead of framing the future with terms like “fear” or “afraid,” he added, try “using the word ‘a challenge’ more” and remembering, “I will win this challenge or I will let this challenge defeat me.”

“Look at the wall and think about the horizon that lies in the countryside,” he said. The more a person journeys toward the horizon, the farther, longer and wider that horizon becomes.

Remember to call and visit old friends, he said, “but live and journey with the new ones.”

When asked how kids their age could change the world when it has so many problems, the pope told them they have to begin with the people and situations in their daily lives.

Think of what happens to a person’s hand when sharing a piece of candy, for example: It’s open and moves toward the other person, the pope said. Now think of what happens when a person wants to keep that candy for himself or herself: The hand closes up tight and moves away from the other.

One’s heart has to be like the hand that is responding in a positive, generous way, not the negative, self-centered approach, he said.

“You can begin to change the world with an open heart,” the pope said, and by listening to others, welcoming others and sharing things.

Pray for everyone, including one’s enemies and “those who make you suffer,” he said, “Never return evil with evil.”

Don’t bad-mouth, insult or wish bad things would happen to others, he said. “That’s how you can change the world. There is no magic wand, but there are little things we can learn to do every day.”

Pope Francis suggested that the kids meet up to openly discuss the right and the wrong ways to respond to the many difficulties or choices that have to make each day.

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Defending sacredness of life offers service to everyone, pope says

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Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Upholding the sacredness of human life becomes concrete when generations work together to serve everyone: the poor, disabled, orphans, migrants, the unborn and the elderly, Pope Francis said.

Such work is demanding and complicated, but “only by strengthening your association and inviting other families to join with you, will the task become less arduous, since union makes for strength,” he told members of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe June 1. The group was holding a meeting in Rome to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Read more »

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Don’t be overly harsh on youth; they have much to give, pope says

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Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY  — Young people often are judged too easily, even though with their limitations they are still a much needed and valuable part of the world, Pope Francis said.

Do not forget how God often chose the smallest, because proclaiming the Gospel “is not based on the greatness of human strength, but rather on the willingness to let oneself be guided by the gift of the Spirit,” he said June 1. Read more »

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Frescoed chambers restored in Rome’s Catacombs of St. Domitilla

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10-miles of tunnels believed to be world’s oldest Christian cemetery

Catholic News Service

ROME — Under a mown hayfield, whose dried-out stalks crunch underfoot, lies the four-level labyrinth of the early Christian Catacombs of St. Domitilla.

Jesus is seated on a throne with his disciples at his side in this fresco seen during the unveiling of two newly restored burial chambers in the Christian catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome May 30. The Catacombs of St. Domitilla are believed to be the world's oldest Christian cemetery. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

Jesus is seated on a throne with his disciples at his side in this fresco seen during the unveiling of two newly restored burial chambers in the Christian catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome May 30. The Catacombs of St. Domitilla are believed to be the world’s oldest Christian cemetery. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

Ten miles of tunnels, carved out of soft volcanic tuff rock, snake and fork out in a dizzying number of different directions. Luckily, capsule bulbs of lights strung sparsely overhead work like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs leading to the sought-after destination: two newly restored burial chambers not yet open to the public.

The sprawling catacomb complex has about 70 burial chambers, or cubicula, but only 10 have been restored, said Barbara Mazzei, who oversaw the restoration of the chambers’ frescoes.

She led a group of reporters to see the finished results May 30. They were unveiled by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, which oversees the upkeep and preservation of more than 100 early Christian catacombs scattered all over Italy.

The Catacombs of St. Domitilla are believed to be the world’s oldest existing Christian cemetery and are among the largest in Italy with a total of some 150,000 burial spots.

The majority are small niches carved into the tunnel walls for poorer Christians; the niches were sealed with a slab of marble or walled up with brick. The round and sumptuously decorated cubicula rooms were built by wealthier families and trade cooperatives, whose members pooled their money for a more dignified resting place.

The newest restoration work was done on the chambers for the city’s bakers, who ran a lucrative state-supported industry of ferrying grain into Rome and making and distributing bread, which was considered something every Roman had a right to with a daily ration.

Bernardino Bartocci, president of the modern city’s association of bread makers, told Catholic News Service he attended the unveiling as a sign of how bakers continue to be and “have always been united as a group, like a big family.”

The importance and spiritual significance of bread is evident throughout Christian beliefs, he said, and the early Christian bakers proudly displayed the glories of their craft on the ceiling’s frescoes.

Pagan symbolism, such as depictions of the four seasons or a peacock representing the afterlife, together with biblical scenes are integrated without contradiction, Mazzei said.

The unifying motif is salvation and the deliverance from death as is underlined by the varied depictions of Noah in his ark welcoming back the dove, Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac, Jonah and the whale, and the multiplication of the fishes and loaves, she said.

Restorers used lasers to send pulses of precise frequencies to selectively remove specific substances — soot, algae and calcium carbonate — without damaging the color pigments and underlying surfaces, she said.

Despite the seven years of meticulous work to reveal the frescoes’ original splendor, restorers intentionally left the graffiti and autographs penned by visitors from the 1600s and 1700s.

The most prolific selfie-signature seen throughout the complex was “Bosio,” left by Antonio Bosio, a Maltese-born lawyer and scholar who discovered this and many more abandoned catacombs in Rome.

His intense exploratory spirit and stunning discoveries earned him the name, “the Christopher Columbus of the catacombs,” Mazzei said.

He also struck a new path for modern archaeology in which the focus switched from discovering pieces for collectors to understanding what those objects could have meant and disclosed about the past.

He also inadvertently revealed an abundant source of bones to feed the “martyr-mania” raging at the time, she said. He mistakenly believed the dead were all early Christian martyrs, when instead, they were simply devoted faithful who sought to be buried close to the site’s original two martyrs: Sts. Nereus and Achilleus.

While the bakers’ cubicula were to remain closed to the public, a small museum by the catacombs’ main entrance was to open in June to showcase marble busts, ornately sculpted sarcophagi and simple slabs marking the daily lives and legacies of some of the church’s early Christians. 

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz.

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