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Pope Francis pays tribute to modern martyrs


Catholic News Service

ROME — The Christian church today needs believers who witness each day to the power of God’s love, but it also needs the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis said.

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

At Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service April 22, honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

“These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible,” the pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome’s Tiber Island.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St. Bartholomew by including “a woman, I don’t know her name, but she watches from heaven.”

The pope said he’d met the woman’s husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the pope that one day, terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife’s crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

“I don’t know if that man is still at Lesbos or if he has been able to leave that ‘concentration camp’” the pope said, explaining that despite the good will of local communities many refugee camps are overcrowded and are little more than prisons “because it seems international agreements are more important than human rights.”

But, getting back to the story of the Muslim man who watched his wife be murdered, the pope said, “Now it’s that man, a Muslim, who carries this cross of pain.”

“So many Christian communities are the object of persecution today. Why? Because of the hatred of the spirit of this world,” the pope said. Jesus has “rescued us from the power of this world, from the power of the devil,” who hates Jesus’ saving power and “creates the persecution, which from the time of Jesus and the early church continues up to our day.”

“What does the church need today?” the pope asked. “Martyrs and witnesses, those everyday saints, those saints of an ordinary life lived with coherence. But it also needs those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to the point of death. All of those are the living blood of the church,” those who “witness that Jesus is risen, that Jesus lives.”

Under a large icon depicting modern martyrs of the gulag and concentration camp, Pope Francis prayed: “O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of your Gospel and your love; pour out your mercy on humanity; renew your church; protect persecuted Christians; and quickly grant the whole world peace.”

During the prayer service, Pope Francis wore a stole that had belonged to Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who was murdered in Mosul, Iraq, in 2007.

Father Ganni’s stole along with dozens of other items that belonged to men and women martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries are on display on the side altars at the basilica, which is cared for by the lay Sant’Egidio Community.

During the prayer service, at which Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox clergy were involved, people who had been close to those honored as martyrs at the shrine spoke.

Karl A. Schneider’s father, the Rev. Paul Schneider, was the first Protestant pastor martyred by the Nazis for opposing their hate-filled doctrine. He was married and the father of six children.

“My father was assassinated in 1939 in the Buchenwald concentration camp because he believed the objectives of National Socialism were irreconcilable with the words of the Bible,” Schneider told the congregation. “All of us, still today, make too many compromises, but my father remained faithful only to the Lord and to the faith.”

The next to speak was Roselyne Hamel, the sister of French Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26, 2016. The Archdiocese of Rouen has begun his sainthood cause with Pope Francis’ approval. Father Hamel’s breviary is preserved at St. Bartholomew’s.

“Jacques was 85 years old when two young men, radicalized by hate speech, thought they could become heroes by engaging in homicidal violence,” his sister told the pope. “At his age, Jacques was fragile, but he also was strong — strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people.”

His witness to Gospel values continues, she said, in the reaction of Christians who did not call for revenge after his death, but for love and forgiveness. And, she said, the family and local church have experienced “the solidarity of Muslims who wanted to visit our Sunday assemblies after his death.”

“For his family, there certainly is pain and a void, but it is a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity and love were generated by Jacques’ witness,” she said.

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The last word isn’t the tomb, it’s life, pope says on Easter Monday


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Simple gestures of welcome and solidarity, when supported by faith in Jesus’ resurrection, proclaim the value of life, Pope Francis said.

Being “men and women of the resurrection, men and women of life” involves making “gestures of solidarity, gestures of welcome, increasing the universal desire for peace and the aspiration for an environment free of degradation,” the pope said April 17 before reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer.

Pope Francis speaks after the "Regina Coeli" prayer April 17 from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis speaks after the “Regina Coeli” prayer April 17 from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

On the Easter Monday public holiday, thousands of Italians and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square at noon to join the pope for the Easter-season Marian prayer, which begins, “Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia.”

Pope Francis told the crowd that the message of the angel to the women at the tomb, “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’” is directed to believers today as well.

Christians, he said, are called “to proclaim to the men and women of our time this message of joy and hope.”

Jesus’ resurrection means “the last word isn’t the tomb, it is not death, it is life,” the pope said. “This is why we repeat so often, ‘Christ is risen.’ In him the tomb was vanquished. Life was born.”

Mary, “silent witness of the death and resurrection of her son Jesus,” can help believers be clearer signs of his love and life in the world “so that those experiencing tribulation and difficulty do not become victims of pessimism and defeat or resignation, but find in us brothers and sisters who offer support and consolation,” Pope Francis said.

The pope ended his remarks affirming that Mary intercedes particularly on behalf of those “Christian communities who are persecuted and oppressed in many parts of the world and are called to a more difficult and courageous witness.”

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Risen Christ calls all to follow him on path to life, Pope Francis says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders “our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms,” Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ’s outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.

For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.

Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began, as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil, imagining the disciples desolate because “the one they loved so much was executed. He died.”

While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, “He is risen.””And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.

“It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence,” he said. And those who follow Jesus, “we pebbles,” find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.

Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, “I don’t know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen.”

Almost immediately after the homily, a brief but intense rain began to fall on the crowd, leading people to scramble to find umbrellas, jackets or plastic bags to keep themselves dry.

After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city of Rome and the world.

Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that “in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion, the wounds of his merciful love, he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.”

Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. “He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”

Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.

“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace,” Pope Francis said. “May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.”

The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.

The pope’s celebration of Easter got underway the night before in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. Walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the basilica in darkness.

The basilica was gently illuminated only by candlelight and the low light emanating from cellphones capturing the solemn procession.

The bells of St. Peter’s pealed in the night, the sound echoing through nearby Roman streets, announcing the joy of the Resurrection.

During the vigil, Pope Francis baptized 11 people: five women and six men from Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope poured water over their foreheads.

Among them was Ali Acacius Damavandy from the United States who smiled brightly as the baptismal waters streamed down his head.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope recalled the women who went “with uncertain and weary steps” to Christ’s tomb.

The pope said the faces of those women, full of sorrow and despair, reflect the faces of mothers, grandmothers, children and young people who carry the “burden of injustice and brutality.”

The poor and the exploited, the lonely and the abandoned, and “immigrants deprived of country, house and family” suffer the heartbreak reflected on the faces of the women at the tomb who have seen “human dignity crucified,” he said.

However, the pope added, in the silence of death, Jesus’ heartbeat resounds and his resurrection comes as a gift and as “a transforming force” to a humanity broken by greed and war.

“In the Resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others,” he said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the woman who, upon learning of Christ’s victory over death, ran to the city and proclaimed the good news in those places “where death seems the only way out.”

Presiding over the Stations of the Cross Good Friday, April 14, at Rome’s Colosseum, Pope Francis offered a prayer expressing both shame for the sins of humanity and hope in God’s mercy.

A crowd of about 20,000 people joined the pope at the Rome landmark. They had passed through two security checks and were watched over by a heavy police presence given recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis recited a prayer to Jesus that he had composed. “Oh Christ, our only savior, we turn to you again this year with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope.”

The shame comes from all the “devastation, destruction and shipwrecks that have become normal in our lives,” he said, hours after some 2,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The shame comes from wars, discrimination and the failure to denounce injustice.

Turning to the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis expressed “shame for all the times we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and injured your body, the church.”

But the pope also prayed that Christians would be filled with the hope that comes from knowing that “you do not treat us according to our merits, but only according to the abundance of your mercy.”

Christian hope, he said, means trusting that Jesus’ cross can “transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh capable of dreaming, forgiving and loving.”

— Also by Junno Arocho Esteves

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Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The defense of the life, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want "to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land." (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want “to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are welcomed.”

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of “fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish, in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either. They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America. “This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said. “We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of Pentecost is open to all. open to embracing everyone.”

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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U.S. bishop remembers Martin Luther King at Vatican meeting


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to promote the “integral human development” of all peoples is a work that must continue today in the world and in the Catholic Church, Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, told participants at a Vatican conference.

Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois. (CNS file/c Georgetown University)

Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois. (CNS file/c Georgetown University)

Bishop Braxton moderated a panel discussion April 4 at the conference marking the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on development, “Populorum Progressio.”

Closing the afternoon panel, the bishop reminded participants that it was the 49th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. King, “who was only 39 years old when he was cruelly slain in the midst of trying to bring about a more integral human development for all people in the United States, especially people of color.”

“The racial divide in the United States and, sadly, in the Catholic Church in the United States is not something of the past. It is very much something of the present,” the bishop said.

Bishop Braxton told conference participants that as one of only six active African-American diocesan bishops in the United States and the only one present at the Vatican conference, he wanted to “call attention to the significance of this day,” the anniversary of Rev. King’s slaying in 1968.

The bishop described Rev. King as “the conscience of the United States, the nonviolent prophet challenging the sin and the heresy of racism and apartheid-like segregation and prejudice in the United States.”

Many people in Europe, he said, seem to think the election of Barack Obama to two terms as U.S. president signaled “an end to the racial divide in the United States. However, the racial divide has not been bridged fully; we do not live in a post-racial society in the United States or in the Catholic Church.”

Integral human development and progress in ensuring all people enjoy the benefits of well-being are still needed for members of minority communities in the United States, just as in most countries around the globe, he said.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of the full, integral human development of all people, especially, in the United States for people of color,” the bishop said. “He died with that dream deferred.”

All Catholics everywhere, he said, need to follow “these simple imperatives: listen, learn, think, pray and act.”

“Christ needs us all,” Bishop Braxton said. “He needs our eyes to continue to see. He needs our ears to continue to hear. He needs our mouths to continue to speak. He needs our hands to continue to work. He needs our feet to continue to walk. He needs our bodies to continue to serve. And he needs our hearts to continue to love.”


Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Pope asks children in Milan to promise Jesus they will never be bullies


Catholic News Service

MILAN — Pope Francis asked 45,000 children preparing for confirmation to promise Jesus they would never engage in bullying.

Turning stern during a lively and laughter-filled encounter March 25, Pope Francis told the youngsters he was very worried about the growing phenomenon of bullying.

Pope Francis embraces a girl during an encounter with children preparing for confirmation at San Siro stadium in Milan March 25. The pope was making a one-day visit to Milan. (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato)

Pope Francis embraces a girl during an encounter with children preparing for confirmation at San Siro stadium in Milan March 25. The pope was making a one-day visit to Milan. (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato)

He asked them to be silent and reflect on if there were times when they made fun of someone for how they looked or behaved. And, as a condition of their confirmation, he made them promise Jesus that they would never tease or bully anyone.

The pope ended his daylong visit to Milan by participating in an expanded version of the archdiocese’s annual encounter for pre-teens preparing for confirmation. An estimated 78,000 people filled the city’s famed San Siro soccer stadium; the archdiocese expects to confirm about 45,000 young people this year.

A boy named Davide asked the pope, “When you were our age, what helped your friendship with Jesus grow?”

First of all, the pope said, it was his grandparents. One of his grandfathers was a carpenter, who told him Jesus learned carpentry from St. Joseph, so whenever the pope saw his grandfather work, he thought of Jesus. The other grandfather taught him to always say something to Jesus before going to sleep, even if it was just, “Good night, Jesus.”

His grandmothers and his mother, the pope said, were the ones who taught him to pray. He told the kids that even if their grandparents “don’t know how to use a computer or have a smartphone,” they have a lot to teach them.

Playing with friends taught him joy and how to get along with others, which is part of faith, the pope said. And going to Mass and to the parish oratory also strengthened his faith because “being with others is important.”

A couple of parents, who introduced themselves as Monica and Alberto, asked the pope’s advice on educating their three children in the faith.

Pope Francis borrowed little Davide’s question and asked the parents to close their eyes and think of the people who transmitted the faith to them and helped it grow.

“Your children watch you continually,” the pope said. “Even if you don’t notice, they observe everything and learn from it,” especially in how parents handle tensions, joys and sorrows.

He also encouraged families to go to Mass together and then, if the weather is nice, to go to a park and play together. “This is beautiful and will help you live the commandment to keep the Lord’s day holy.”

An essential part of handing on the faith, he said, is teaching children the meaning of solidarity and engaging them in the parents’ acts of charity and solidarity with the poor. “Faith grows with charity and charity grows with faith,” he said.

Before going to the soccer stadium, Pope Francis celebrated an afternoon Mass for the feast of the Annunciation in Milan’s Monza Park.

The annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary took place in her home in a small town in the middle of no where, which is a sign that God desired to meet his people “in places we normally would not expect,” the pope said in his homily.

Just as “the joy of salvation began in the daily life of a young woman’s home in Nazareth,” he said, God wants to be welcomed into and given life in the homes of all people.

God is indifferent to no one, the pope said, and “no situation will be deprived of his presence.”

Tens of thousands of people gathered on a warm spring day for the Mass amid the new leaves and fragile buds on the trees of the park.

Pope Francis used Milan’s Ambrosian rite, a Mass that differs slightly from the Latin rite used in most parts of the world. Some of the differences included the pope blessing each of the readers and not only the deacon who proclaimed the Gospel, and the Creed being sung after the offertory, rather than after the homily.

In his homily, the pope said that like Mary at the Annunciation, people today naturally wonder how God’s promises could be fulfilled. “But how can this be?” Mary asked.

The same question arises “at a time so filled with speculation. There’s speculation on the poor and migrants, speculation on the young and their future,” the pope said. “While pain knocks on many doors, while young people are increasingly unsatisfied by the lack of real opportunities, speculation is abundant everywhere.”

Finding and living the joy of the Gospel, he said, is possible only following the path the Angel Gabriel led Mary on when he told her she would bear God’s son. People must remember the great things God has done and remember that they belong to the people of God, a community that “is not afraid to welcome those in need because they know the Lord is present in them.”

Finally, he said, they must have faith in the “possibility of the impossible,” demonstrating the same “audacious faith” that Mary showed.

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In Milan, pope lunches with prisoners, visits poor neighborhood


Catholic News Service

Visiting Milan, the center of Italian fashion and finance, Pope Francis spent the morning of March 25 with the poor and those who minister to them.

Pope Francis eats lunch during a visit to San Vittore prison in Milan March 25. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis eats lunch during a visit to San Vittore prison in Milan March 25. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

He had lunch at the city’s historic San Vittore prison, where all 893 inmates, men and women, are awaiting trial.

But Pope Francis began his visit on the outskirts of the city, at the “White Houses,” a housing development for the poor built in the 1970s. Three families welcomed the pope into their apartments: Stefano Pasquale, 59, who is ill and cared for by his 57-year-old wife, Dorotee; a Muslim couple and their three children from Morocco; and the Onetes.

Nuccio Onete, 82, was home for the pope’s visit, but his wife, Adele, was hospitalized with pneumonia three days earlier, so the pope called her on the telephone.

The people of the neighborhood gave Pope Francis a handmade white stole, which he put on before addressing the crowd.

The fact that it was homemade, he said, “makes it much more precious and is a reminder that the Christian priest is chosen from the people and is at the service of the people. My priesthood, like that of your pastor and the other priests who work here, is a gift of Christ, but one sewn by you, by the people, with your faith, your struggles, your prayers and your tears.”

Arriving next at Milan’s massive Gothic cathedral, Pope Francis met with the archdiocese’s pastoral workers and responded to questions from a priest, a permanent deacon and a religious sister, urging them to trust in God, hold on to their joy and share the good news of Christ with everyone they meet.

“We should not fear challenges,” he said. “It is good that they exist” and Christians must “grab them, like a bull, by the horns.”

Challenges “are a sign of a living faith, of a living community that seeks the Lord and keeps its eyes and heart open.”

Asked by Father Gabriele Gioia about evangelization efforts that do not seem to result in “catching fish,” Pope Francis said the work of an evangelizer — of all Christians — is to set out and cast the nets. “It’s the Lord who catches the fish.”

Preoccupation with numbers is never a good thing, Pope Francis said.

Responding to Ursuline Sister Paola Paganoni, who spoke of the challenge of reaching out when so many orders are experiencing an aging and declining membership, the pope spoke as a Jesuit, saying, “The majority of our founding fathers and mothers never thought they’d be a multitude.”

Rather, he said, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to respond to the real needs of their time and “to build the church like leaven in the dough, like salt and light for the world.”

Just think, he said, a dish with too much salt would be inedible. And, “I’ve never seen a pizzamaker who took a half kilo of yeast and 100 grams of flour to make a pizza. No, it has to be the opposite” proportion. Christians must be concerned with being leaven in society more than with being a majority.

It is not up to the pope to tell religious orders what their focus should be, he said. They must look to their founding charisms and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But in all they do, he said, “ignite the hope that has been extinguished and weakened by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others. Our fragility as congregations can make us more attentive to the many forms of fragility that surround us and transform them into spaces of blessing.”

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Pope apologizes for Catholics’ participation in Rwanda genocide


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis asked God’s forgiveness for the failures of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for the hatred and violence perpetrated by some priests and religious.

Pope Francis poses with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his wife, Jeannette, during a private March 20 private meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, pool via EPA)

Pope Francis poses with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his wife, Jeannette, during a private March 20 private meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, pool via EPA)

“He implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission,” said a Vatican statement released March 20 after the meeting of the pope and president.

Some 800,000, and perhaps as many as 1 million people, most of whom belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group, died in the ferocious bloodshed carried out from April to July 1994.

“In light of the recent Holy Year of Mercy and of the statement published by the Rwandan Bishops at its conclusion” in November, the Vatican said, “the pope also expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”

Pope Francis “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the church, for the genocide against the Tutsi,” the Vatican said. “He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events.”

In President Kagame’s 25-minute private meeting with the pope, as well as during his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, note was made of “the collaboration between the state and the local church in the work of national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace for the benefit of the whole nation,” the Vatican said.

In a statement read in churches throughout Rwanda Nov. 20, the country’s bishops apologized for “all the wrongs the church committed” during the genocide. “We regret that church members violated their oath of allegiance to God’s commandments” and that some Catholics were involved in planning, aiding and carrying out the massacres.

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Pope Francis hears confessions during Lenten penance service


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —A few hours after urging priests to be generously available for the sacrament of penance, Pope Francis went to confession, then offered the sacrament to seven Catholics.

Presiding over the annual Lenten penance service March 17 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis was one of 95 priests and

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/Evandro Inetti, pool) See POPE-LENT March 17, 2017.

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/Evandro Inetti, pool) See POPE-LENT March 17, 2017.

bishops listening to confessions and granting absolution.

After the reading of a Gospel passage, the pope did not give a homily. Instead, he and the thousands of people gathered in the basilica prayed in absolute silence for 10 minutes.

Pope Francis spent about four minutes kneeling before a priest in one of the wooden confessionals before he walked to one nearby, put on a purple stole and waited for the first penitent to approach.

As people were preparing, confessing and praying, the Sistine Chapel Choir alternated with the organist and a harpist in ensuring an atmosphere of peace.

The pope spent 50 minutes administering the sacrament before leading the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the experience of the “goodness and sweetness of God’s love for us.”

The Vatican press office said Pope Francis heard the confessions of three men and four women, all laypeople.

The small service booklets distributed to the congregation included a guide for an examination of conscience. The 28 questions began with a review of one’s motivation for going to confession in the first place: “Do I approach the sacrament of penance out of a sincere desire for purification, conversion, renewal of life and a closer friendship with God, or do I consider it a burden that I am only rarely willing to take on?”

Other questions involved how often one prays, Mass attendance, keeping the Ten Commandments, giving generously to the poor, not gossiping and keeping the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and abstinence and almsgiving.

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Sin is scary, but God is always ready to forgive, pope says


Catholic News Service

ROME — Witches don’t really exist, so they can do no harm, Pope Francis told a young girl, but gossip, sin and evil exist and they hurt people every day.

Pope Francis greets people March 12 during a visit at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis greets people March 12 during a visit at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

“What frightens me?” the pope asked, repeating the question posed by Sara, one of the children at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. “I’m frightened when a person is bad; the wickedness of people” is scary.

Spending close to four hours at the parish March 12, Pope Francis answered questions from the children, met with the older and sick members of the parish, spent time with parents whose babies have been baptized in the past year and with the Canossian Sisters, whose founder is honored as the parish’s patron saint.

Before celebrating an evening Mass, the pope also heard confessions.

He had told the children that the “seeds of wickedness” lie within each human being, but that God is always willing to forgive those who are sincerely sorry for their sins.

Sara had told him she’s afraid of witches, but Pope Francis told her that witches don’t really exist and those who claim to be able to cast spells are lying.

What is really frightening, the pope said, is the harm caused when people choose to sin, a choice that often begins small. “And it frightens me when in a family, neighborhood, workplace, parish, or even the Vatican, there is gossip. That’s scary.”

“You have heard or seen on TV what terrorists do? They throw a bomb and run,” he said. “Gossip is like that. It’s throwing a bomb and running away. Gossip destroys” people and reputations.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis described sin as being ugly, an offense against God and “a slap” to God’s face.

“We are used to talking about other people’s sins. It’s an ugly thing to do,” the pope said. Instead, people need to look at their own sins and at Jesus, who took upon himself the sins of all humanity.

“This is the path toward Easter, toward the resurrection” where Jesus’ face will shine like it did at the transfiguration.

But Christians also need to gaze at the crucifix and at the face of Jesus “disfigured, tortured, despised, bloodied by the crown of thorns” because he loved humanity so much that he took on the sins of the world and “paid so much for all of us.”

The face of Jesus, he said, “encourages us to ask forgiveness for our sins and not to sin so much. It encourages us most of all to trust because if he has made himself sin and has taken on our sins, he is always ready to forgive us. We just need to ask him.”

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