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Pope says marriage annulment process should be free


Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY — Addressing the Vatican tribunal primarily responsible for hearing requests for marriage annulments, Pope Francis said all annulment processes should be free of charge. “The sacraments are free. The sacraments give us grace. And a matrimonial process pertains to the sacrament of matrimony. How I wish that all processes were free,” the pope said Jan. 24, at a meeting to inaugurate the Roman Rota’s judicial year.

Pope Francis gestures to newlywed couples during his weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis gestures to newlywed couples during his weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis also said that, because contemporary culture portrays marriage as a “mere form of emotional gratification,” people often marry without a true understanding of the sacrament, meaning many such marriages might actually be invalid. “The judge, in pondering the validity of the consent expressed, must take into account the context of values and of faith, or their presence or absence, in which the intent to marry was formed. In fact, ignorance of the contents of the faith could lead to what the code (of canon law) calls an error conditioning the will. This eventuality is not to be considered rare as in the past, precisely because worldly thinking often prevails over the magisterium of the church,” the pope said. The pope said judges in matrimonial cases should “determine if there was an original lack of consent, either directly because of a lack of a valid intention, or because of a grave lack of understanding of matrimony itself, such as to condition the will. The crisis of marriage is, in fact, not seldom at the root a crisis of conscience illuminated by faith.” In August, Pope Francis established a commission to simplify and streamline the marriage-annulment process. At the October Synod of Bishops on the family, participants discussed the possibility of waiving fees. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, told reporters that the purpose of such a measure would be to eliminate even the “smallest suspicion” of a profit motive in church activities relating to a sacrament. The impact of the cultural context on the validity of marriages is not a new concern. Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote in the Vatican newspaper in October 2013: “Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because many Christians are influenced by this, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously.” In July 2013, Pope Francis suggested that as many as half of all Catholic marriages might be invalid, “because people get married lacking maturity, they get married without realizing that it is a lifelong commitment, they get married because society tells them they have to get married.”

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Pope Francis discusses U.S. visit, urges Catholics to practice responsible parenthood


Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis said his September trip to the U.S. will take him to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, where he intends to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, but probably no other stops.

Pope Francis made his remarks Jan. 19, in an hourlong news conference with reporters accompanying him back to Rome from a weeklong trip to Asia.

Four days after announcing he would canonize Blessed Junipero in the U.S. in September, the pope said he wished he could do so in California, the 18th-century Franciscan’s mission field, but would not have time to travel t

Pope Francis reacts to questions from Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield about the September U.S. papal visit during a news conference aboard his flight from Manila, Philippines, to Rome Jan. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis reacts to questions from Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield about the September U.S. papal visit during a news conference aboard his flight from Manila, Philippines, to Rome Jan. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


The pope said he planned instead to perform the canonization ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, saying Washington would be a fitting location because a statue of Blessed Junipero stands in the U.S. Capitol.

The pope also confirmed he would visit the United Nations in New York. He had already announced his participation in the late-September World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Asked about widespread speculation that he would visit the U.S.-Mexico border on the same trip, Pope Francis said “entering the United States by crossing the border from Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and of help to the immigrants.” But he said making such a visit would raise expectations that he would visit Mexico’s shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and he joked that “war could break out” if he failed to do so.

“There will be time to go to Mexico later on,” he said.

Catholic News Agency reported on a proposed schedule that U.S. and U.N. church leaders have submitted to the Vatican. That schedule, which has not yet been approved, would have the pope arriving in Washington the evening of Sept. 22; visiting the White House and celebrating Mass at the shrine Sept. 23; addressing a joint sessions of Congress Sept. 24 before traveling to New York City to address U.N. General Assembly Sept. 25.

As previously announced, he would spend Sept. 26 and 27 in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.

However, sources familiar with the trip planning have noted that plans submitted to the Vatican are not always approved, and Pope Francis’ comments about the canonization of Blessed Junipero indicated not all plans are finalized.

His Jan. 15 announcement on the plane from Sri Lanka to the Philippines surprised even the people who have been promoting the sainthood cause of Blessed Junipero. The CNA interview with Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said the Mass at the shrine “would be primarily for bishops, consecrated and religious men and women, seminarians and representatives from humanitarian and Catholic charitable organizations,” while Pope Francis said that is when he would canonize Blessed Junipero.

Pope Francis would be the first pope to address a joint session of Congress.

Helen Osman, secretary for communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it was “exciting that the Holy Father has confirmed that he is visiting Washington, New York and Philadelphia. Plans are already under way to enable as many people as possible to participate, including through mass media. We are anticipating that the Vatican will be providing more details toward the end of February and are hoping that a final schedule can be announced soon afterward.”

During his inflight press conference, Pope Francis also stressed that, despite church doctrine against contraception, Catholics fail to practice “responsible parenthood” when they have too many children.

He also denounced the teaching of “gender theory” in schools, likening it to indoctrination of children by the Nazis and fascists.

Pope Francis reaffirmed his rejection of population-control programs as an example of ideological colonization and his praise of Blessed Paul VI for defending Catholic teaching against contraception.

But “this does not mean a Christian must make children one after another,” the pope said, citing the case of a woman who became pregnant an eighth time after giving birth to seven children via cesarean section.

“Does she want to leave seven orphans?” he said. “This is tempting God.”

“Some people think, excuse me for saying this, that to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits,” Pope Francis said, yet church teaching provides for “many licit ways” to limit reproduction.

Elaborating on comments he made in Manila Jan. 16 about “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family,” the pope offered a 20-year-old example of an unnamed government official, apparently in his native Argentina, who was offered a loan to build schools for poor children on the condition she assign students a textbook on “gender theory.”

Catholic leaders often use the term “gender theory” to refer to ideas that question or deny the God-given nature of sex differences and the complementarity of man and woman as the basis of the family.

Pope Francis said African bishops attending the October 2014 Synod on the Family had complained of similar restrictions on funding for projects in their countries,

“Why do I say ideological colonization? Because they use a people’s need as an opportunity to come in and impose their will on children. But this is nothing new. The dictatorships of the last century did the same thing; they came in with their doctrine. Think of the Balilla. Think of the Hitler Youth,” the pope said.

The Balilla was a youth organization instituted by Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

One reporter asked the pope to explain his controversial Jan. 15 statement, prompted by the recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, that freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.

“In theory, we can say what the Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek. In theory, we can say that we have freedom of expression,” he said. “But in practice, let’s stop a bit, because we are human and we risk provoking others. For this reason, freedom must be accompanied by prudence. That’s what I wanted to say.”

Asked about the limited response to his calls on Muslim religious, political and intellectual leaders to condemn violence in the name of religion, Pope Francis said “some of them have done something, but we need to allow a little time, because the situation is not easy for them. I have hope, because there are so many good people among them, so many good people, so many good leaders, and I am sure they will do it.”

Pope Francis explained his refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama in December, when the exiled Tibetan leader was in Rome for a conference of Nobel Peace Prize winners. He said Vatican protocol prevents the pope from “receiving heads of state and people at that level when they are taking part in an international meeting.”

Pope Francis denied his decision was motivated by fear of the Chinese government, which considers the Dalai Lama an outlaw, and which has often arrested Chinese Catholics who oppose government control of the church. The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since shortly after the country’s 1949 communist revolution, but the pope said both sides treated each other respectfully, and he reiterated his openness to meet with Chinese leaders in Beijing or Rome.

While addressing the weightiest topics, the pope once again displayed his disarmingly frank and informal way of speaking. During extended remarks on the evil of government corruption, he recalled being solicited for a bribe by Argentine officials.

“At that moment, I thought about what I would do: either I insult them and give them a kick where the sun doesn’t shine or I play the fool,” Pope Francis said. “I played the fool.”


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Pope, at Mass with millions, tells Filipinos to protect the family


Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis told a crowd of an estimated 6 million gathered in a Manila park to protect the family “against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”

The pope’s homily at the Jan. 18 Mass also reprised several other themes he had sounded during the four-day visit, including environmental problems, poverty and corruption.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass in Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Despite continuous rain, the congregation in Rizal Park began to assemble the night before the afternoon celebration. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila canceled other Masses throughout the archdiocese to enhance turnout. The crowd was so dense in spots that people passed hosts to fellow worshippers unable to reach priests distributing Communion.

The government estimated total crowd size at 6 million-7 million people. According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, that would be the largest number of people ever to gather to see a pope. A Mass with St. John Paul II in the same place 20 years earlier is believed to have drawn 4 million-5 million people, often described as the largest live crowd in history.

The Mass was celebrated on Santo Nino Day, or the feast of the Holy Child Jesus, one of the most popular feast days in the Philippines. Many of those who walked great distances down closed roads to get to Rizal Park held statues of Santo Nino.

For his final scheduled public talk in the country, Pope Francis stuck to his prepared English text and did not improvise in Spanish, as he had done at several emotional points during the visit. Yet his voice rose with emphasis during the passage about protecting the family.

Those words echoed his warning, during a Jan. 16 meeting with Filipino families, against “ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family.”

In his homily, Pope Francis said Christians “need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.”

The pope praised the Philippines, whose population is more than 80 percent Catholic, as the “foremost Catholic country in Asia,” and said its people, millions of whom work abroad, are “called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.”

Yet he warned the developing nation, one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, against temptations of materialism, saying the devil “hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being modern, like everyone else. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink.”

Pope Francis, who had urged a group of young people earlier in the day to address the challenge of climate change through dedication to the environment, told Mass-goers human sinfulness had “disfigured (the) natural beauty” of creation.

Other consequences of sin, the pope said, were “social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption,” problems he had emphasized in his Jan. 16 speech at Manila’s presidential palace.


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Pope Francis tells survivors of typhoon they are not alone


Catholic News Service

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Fourteen months after Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of the central Philippines, Pope Francis braved a tropical storm to encourage survivors in their ongoing work of recovery. The weather forced him to leave the area hours ahead of schedule, so he made up for reduced contact with words and gestures of characteristic spontaneity and emotional directness.

The pope arrived at Tacloban International Airport a little before 9 a.m. Jan. 17, after a bumpy 75-minute-long flight from Manila. For his short ride in an open-sided popemobile to the site of the open-air Mass, he donned the same kind of yellow plastic poncho worn by the hundreds of thousands of people awaiting him in the rain. He kept the poncho on while he celebrated Mass, as strong winds blew.

Pilgrims react during a moment of silence for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 as Pope Francis celebrates Mass adjacent to the airport in Tacloban, Philippines, Jan. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pilgrims react during a moment of silence for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 as Pope Francis celebrates Mass adjacent to the airport in Tacloban, Philippines, Jan. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

For his homily, the pope abandoned his prepared English text to improvise in his native Spanish with the aid of an interpreter.

He recalled his initial reaction, on Nov. 8, 2013, to the typhoon that claimed some more than 7,300 lives and destroyed more than 1 million homes.

“When I saw that catastrophe from Rome, I felt that I had to be here, and on that day I decided to be here. Now I have come to be with you, a little bit late, but I am here,” the pope said.

“I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord and he never lets us down. ‘Father,’ you might say to me, ‘he defrauded me, because I lost my house, I lost what I had, I am sick.’ That’s true, if you would say that, and I respect those sentiments. But I see him there nailed to the cross and from there he does not let us down,” Pope Francis said.

“So many of you have lost everything I don’t know what to say to you. But he does know what to say to you,” the pope said.

“And beside him on the cross was his mother,” the pope said, pointing to a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus. “We are like that little child there. In moments of pain, when we no longer understand and want to rebel, all we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and tell her ‘mom,’ as a child says to his mother when he is afraid. Maybe that is the only word we can say in such difficult times: ‘mother, mom.’”

Pope Francis concluded on a solemn yet hopeful note, drawing a link between the consolation of faith and the solidarity among those working to rebuild the area.

“We have a mother, we have our older brother Jesus, we are not alone,” the pope said. “We also have many brothers who in this moment of catastrophe came to help us. And we, too, feel more like brothers and sisters because we have helped each other.”

“Let us move forward, always forward, and walk together as brothers and sisters in the Lord,” he said, before the entire congregation observed a moment of silence.

After the pope’s departure, strong winds caused scaffolding in an area near the altar to fall and hit two women. The accident killed Kristel Padasas, 27, of Manila, a Catholic Relief Services employee on a Typhoon Haiyan recovery project who had attended the papal Mass as a volunteer.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told reporters later in the day that Pope Francis was consulting with advisers on the best way to reach out to the dead woman’s family.

The accident left the other woman, Darla Santos, 19, with a dislocated hip.

The pope carried out all the remaining events on his official agenda in a highly abbreviated fashion, so that the plane taking him back to Manila could take off before the worst of the storm hit the area.

At a planned lunch with typhoon survivors, the pope managed to taste some salad and cold soup while urging others present to eat more, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila told reporters later.

A visit to the house of a local fisherman, intended to give the pope a closer look at the life of ordinary survivors, lasted 10 minutes. Stopping at the new Pope Francis Center for the Poor, which had been built with Vatican funds, the pope blessed the building without getting out of his popemobile.

A planned prayer service at the cathedral in Palo, less than 10 miles away from Tacloban, turned into a brief talk by the pope followed by a recital of the Hail Mary. The pope also led the congregation in a round of “Happy Birthday” for a member of his entourage, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state.

Contributing were Simone Orendain in Tacloban and Cindy Wooden in Manila.


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Pope, in Philippines, says redefining marriage threatens family


Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines — Appealing to the traditional values of Filipino Catholic families, Pope Francis made one of his strongest calls as pope against movements to recognize same-sex unions as marriage.

“The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage,” the pope said Jan. 16, hours after warning that Philippine society was “tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.”

Pope Francis uses sign language to say thank you while meeting deaf people during an encounter with families in the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 16. Also pictured is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses sign language to say thank you while meeting deaf people during an encounter with families in the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 16. Also pictured is Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“As you know, these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture,” he said.

Pope Francis made his remarks at a Mass in Manila’s cathedral and then at a meeting with families in the city’s Mall of Asia Arena.

At the latter event, the pope called on his listeners to resist “ideological colonization that threatens the family.” The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said later that the pope was referring to same-sex marriage, among other practices.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who was present at the reporters’ briefing, cited claims by African bishops that foreign aid to their countries is sometimes offered on the condition that they accept “alien” views of sexuality and marriage.

Civil law in the Philippines does not recognize marriages or unions between people of the same sex.

The pope’s comments came less than a week after a speech to Vatican diplomats in which he criticized “legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole,” saying that such legislation had contributed to a widespread sense of the family as disposable.

In November, Pope Francis told an interreligious conference on traditional marriage that preserving the family as an institution based on marriage between a man and a woman is not a political cause but a matter of “human ecology,” since “children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jose Maria Bergoglio opposed same-sex marriage in Argentina, calling it an “anti-value and an anthropological regression” and “destructive of the plan of God,” and writing that it expressed the “envy of the devil.” But he did not repeat such statements following his election as pope.

When asked why he had not spoken about Brazil’s legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage during his July 2013 trip to the country, the pope said the “church has already spoken quite clearly on this. It was unnecessary to return to it.”

In an interview published in September 2013, Pope Francis told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

The pope’s latest statements come during a year of preparation for the October 2015 world Synod of Bishops on the family, following an October 2014 extraordinary synod on the same topic.

At the earlier gathering, a midterm report stirred controversy with remarkably conciliatory language toward people with ways of life contrary to Catholic teaching, including those in same-sex unions. While such unions present unspecified “moral problems,” the document stated, they can exemplify “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice (that) constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

That language was absent from the final report, which quoted a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

In a December interview with Argentine journalist Elisabetta Pique, Pope Francis described the midterm report as “merely a first draft,” and said it had mentioned “positive factors” of same-sex unions in an effort to help families support their gay members.

“Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod; it did not cross our minds,” the pope said.


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Pope says respect for religion should limit freedom of expression


Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM COLOMBO, Sri Lanka —Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.

The pope made his remarks Jan. 15 to reporters accompanying him on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. During the 50-minute news conference, the pope also said his encyclical on the environment likely will be published early this summer, and that he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary to North America, in the U.S. this September.

Pope Francis speaks with Caroline Pigozzi of Paris Match magazine during his flight to Manila, Philippines, Jan. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis speaks with Caroline Pigozzi of Paris Match magazine during his flight to Manila, Philippines, Jan. 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Asked by a French reporter to compare freedom of religion and freedom of expression as human rights, Pope Francis linked his answer to the Jan. 7 attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, apparently in retaliation for the newspaper’s publication of cartoons mocking Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

“Let’s go to Paris, let’s speak clearly,” the pope said. “One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”

The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense.”

Offering a hypothetical example that referred to the Vatican’s planner of papal trips, who was standing beside him as he spoke, the pope said: “It’s true, one cannot react violently, but if Dr. (Alberto) Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then he is going to get a punch. But it’s normal, it’s normal. One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

The pope said those who “make fun or toy with other people’s religions, these people provoke, and there can happen what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he said something against my mother. That is, there is a limit. Every religion has its dignity.”

Regarding reported terrorist threats to his own life, the pope said he was not courageous in facing pain buthad a “healthy dose of obliviousness” to his own safety. He acknowledged that his situation poses dangers to the crowds of faithful around him, and said his security detail was keeping him informed and taking prudent precautions.

Asked about his widely awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis said the document had already been through three drafts by a team under Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State and the theologian of the papal household.

“Now I’ll take a week out in March to look at it. At the end of March, I think it will be completed. Then it will go to be translated. I think that if the translations go well, in June or July, it could come out,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said it was important the encyclical come out soon enough to influence a global climate change summit scheduled to open Nov. 30 in Paris, where he hoped leaders would show more courage on the subject than in the past.

While not explicitly replying to a question about the influence of human activity on climate change, the pope echoed earlier criticisms of man-made damage to the environment through such practices as deforestation and overexploitation of agricultural lands.

The pope opened the news conference with an unsolicited statement about his decision to canonize St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary to Sri Lanka, without going through the usual process, including verification of a second miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession. Pope Francis said St. Joseph was one of a series of great evangelists whom he planned to canonize without such preliminaries, in an effort to celebrate the practice of evangelization.

“Now in September, God willing, I will canonize Junipero Serra in the United States. He was the evangelizer of the west in the United States,” the pope said.

The pope has confirmed he will visit Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September, and has suggested he might travel to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City on the same trip, but no itinerary has been released. His announcement of Blessed Junipero’s canonization is bound to raise expectations that he will also visit the southwestern U.S. The Franciscan priest established 10 missions in what is now California and Mexico.

Regarding his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis said his focus there would be on poor people: “the poor who want to get ahead, the poor who have suffered through Typhoon Haiyan and are still suffering the consequences, the poor who have faith and hope.” The pope was scheduled to travel Jan.17 to Tacloban, in the central part of the country, which was especially hard hit by the typhoon in November 2013.




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At Marian shrine, pope tells Sri Lankans reconciliation requires repentance


Catholic News Service

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Pope Francis told Sri Lankans seeking reconciliation after two-and-a-half decades of civil war that, before they can forgive each other, they must repent of their own sins.

“Only when we come to understand, in light of the cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance. Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness,” the pope said Jan. 14, during a prayer service in the northern jungle town of Madhu.

Pope Francis prays at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope had traveled 160 miles in a helicopter from the capital city of Colombo to visit the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, which houses a statue of Mary venerated by Sri Lankans since the 16th century.

During the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels from the country’s Tamil minority, which ended in 2009, both sides recognized the area around the shrine as a demilitarized zone, which served as a sanctuary for thousands of war refugees. However, in 2008, the historic statue had to be removed temporarily from the shrine when it came under crossfire.

The 300,000 people assembled for the pope’s visit included families who had lost members during what he described as a “long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka.”

Pope Francis invoked Mary, who “forgave her son’s killers at the foot of the cross,” saying she would guide the country to “greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God’s pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”

He described the shrine as “our mother’s house,” where “every pilgrim can feel at home,” and where members of the country’s two main ethnic groups, “Tamil and Sinhalese alike, come as members of one family.”

“Just as her statue came back to her shrine of Madhu after the war, so we pray that all her Sri Lankan sons and daughters may come home to God in a renewed spirit of reconciliation and fellowship,” the pope said.

Later, Father S. Emalianuspillai, rector of the Madhu shrine, described the pope’s three-hour visit as “wonderful and amazing. Everyone one was thrilled and excited with the visit of the Holy Father to this far-off shrine.

“It will help the renewal of faith and strengthen our people in their spiritual lives,” he said.

After landing at Madhu, the pope rode a mile to the shrine in a popemobile, then spent half an hour greeting devotees. He also blessed a group of 2,000 sick and disabled people, including many who had been injured during the war.

The prayer service stressed national unity, with prayers in both the Tamil and Sinhalese languages. The short Bible reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew blessed mourners, peacemakers and victims of persecution. Pope Francis also released a dove as a sign of peace.

At the end of the liturgy, Pope Francis raised the statue to bless the crowd with it, then placed a rosary around its neck as an offering. He went inside for a few minutes of private devotion before leaving for the helipad.

After returning to Colombo, the pope paid an unscheduled visit to a Buddhist temple at the headquarters of the Maha Bodhi Society, responding to an invitation he had received the previous day from its head priest, the Venerable Banagala Upatissa.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope removed his shoes to enter the temple, where he was given a rare look at some relics of two disciples of the Buddha and listened while some monks prayed.

Asked if the pope himself had prayed, Father Lombardi said there had been no moment of silence during the visit, which he described as relaxed and “not a particularly solemn occasion.”

It was at least the second time a pope had visited a Buddhist temple, following St. John Paul II’s visit to a temple in Bangkok in 1984.

The pilgrimage was the pope’s last major public event over two days in Sri Lanka and reinforced his calls to reconciliation the day before, in speeches to President Maithripala Sirisena and at a meeting with other religious leaders. Pope Francis was scheduled to leave for the Philippines early Jan. 15.

Contributing was Anto Akkara.


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Pope Francis proclaims Sri Lanka’s first saint, right to religious freedom


Catholic News Service

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Canonizing Sri Lanka’s first saint, who ministered to Catholics under persecution three centuries earlier, Pope Francis proclaimed what he called the “fundamental human right” of religious freedom.

“Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion,” the pope said Jan. 14, before a congregation of more than 500,000 in a park on the Indian Ocean.

Dancers perform before Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Dancers perform before Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis gave his homily half an hour after canonizing St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary from India who rebuilt the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka after its suppression by Dutch Protestant colonists.

The pope called on Catholics today to emulate the new saint by spreading the Gospel with “missionary zeal.”

“St. Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multireligious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility,” the pope said. “We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage of St. Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.”

Noting that St. Joseph had won the support of a Buddhist king by caring for victims of a smallpox epidemic, and thus “was allowed greater freedom to minister,” the pope praised today’s Sri Lankan Catholics, who make up only 7 percent of the population, for their charitable service to their neighbors.

The church in Sri Lanka today “makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics and many other charitable works. All she asks is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he said.

“As the life of St. Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”

The canonization Mass reflected the multicultural character of Sri Lankan society. The pope celebrated the liturgy in English and Latin, but there were readings in the local languages of Tamil and Sinhalese. Drums and sitars accompanied the choir, and dancers in traditional costume performed before the start of Mass. The altar was housed in a structure whose peaked roof recalled the Buddhist temple architecture of Kandy, the central region of the country where St. Joseph won acceptance for his ministry.

Temperatures and humidity levels were both in the high 70s and attendants held umbrellas over priests as they distributed Communion.

As the canonization service began, a black wooden cross was carried in solemn procession. The cross was one that St. Joseph had planted in one of the churches; it has been preserved in the church in Sri Lanka’s North Western province.

“There is no trace of St. Vaz’s tomb. The only big relic we have is this cross. Wherever he went, he installed crosses,” Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesman for the papal visit, told Catholic News Service.

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo addressed the pope, thanking him for the new saint, “God’s precious gem for Sri Lanka.”

Cardinal Ranjith also asked for Pope Francis’ blessing and guidance in the search for reconciliation after Sri Lanka’s two-and-a-half decade civil war between government forces and rebels from the Tamil-Hindu minority, which ended in 2009.

“We call upon you to kindly help us in that search for a true healing of hearts, the strength to ask pardon from each other for the senseless violence unleashed then, to forgive and forget that sad past and to arrive at a process of a give and take to build bridges of understanding between the parties hurt in the conflict. We are still far from reaching that goal,” the cardinal said.

“Our nation, blessed by teachings of the great world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, does possess the moral and spiritual strength and nobility needed to generate such peace, but we will all need to make that leap toward each other with a genuine spirit of reconciliation, trust and a sense of reciprocity,” the cardinal said.

As Pope Francis gave the final blessing, people held aloft items, such as rosaries or statues; a deaf girl lifted a portrait of the new saint.

Soon after the pope left, priests swarmed the elevated altar and posed around the wood-carved statue of St. Joseph as Sri Lankan and papal flags fluttered around it.

The Mass was Pope Francis’ first public event on his second day in Sri Lanka. In the afternoon, he traveled by helicopter to the northern town of Madhu for a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine that sheltered refugees during the civil war. He was scheduled to fly to the Philippines the next day.

Contributing to this story was Anto Akkara.


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Pope Francis to Sri Lankans: Reconciliation means dialogue, ‘pursuit of truth’


Catholic News Service

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Arriving in Sri Lanka, a country recovering from two-and-a-half decades of ethnic and religious civil war, Pope Francis said reconciliation would require its people to explore their painful recent history and accept persistent differences within their multicultural society.

“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity,” the pope said Jan. 13 at an arrival ceremony at Colombo’s international airport.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 13. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis addressed his words to Sri Lanka’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected Jan. 8 and sworn in the next day. During his campaign, Sirisena promised an independent investigation into war crimes allegedly committed during the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels belonging to the country’s Tamil minority.

In his remarks to the pope, Sirisena noted that during the last papal visit, by St. John Paul II in 1995, “Sri Lanka was embroiled in annihilating terrorism, following the mayhem caused by the terrorists in the daily lives of the people,” a reference to the Tamil Tigers, finally defeated in 2009 by the military under Sirisena’s predecessor, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The war divided Sri Lanka along religious as well as ethnic lines, since members of the Sinhalese majority are typically Buddhist, and Tamils for the most part Hindu. Catholics, who make up 7 percent of the country’s population, include members of both ethnic groups. Rajapaksa, who sought re-election Jan. 8, had his political base in the country’s Sinhalese-Buddhist majority. Sirisena enjoys more support among minorities.

“Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years,” Pope Francis said, his voice hoarse and weary-sounding after the 10-hour flight from Rome. “I am convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding which is taking place in this country.”

That afternoon, the pope met with local Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other Christian leaders, telling them that efforts at “interreligious and ecumenical relations take on a particular significance and urgency in Sri Lanka,” as sources of “healing and unity” after years of “civil strife and violence.”

Again, he sounded a note of realism, stressing that dialogue could not eliminate cultural differences but would emphasize the need for their acceptance.

“For such dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions. Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common,” the pope said. “Men and women do not have to forsake their identity, whether ethnic or religious, in order to live in harmony.”

The pope urged followers of different religions to cooperate in social service, providing for the “material and spiritual needs of the poor, the destitute” and thus “rebuild the moral foundations of society as a whole.”

At the interreligious meeting, held at a Colombo conference centers, a Hindu leader, speaking the Tamil language, voiced hopes for lasting peace and draped a saffron silk shawl over Pope Francis’ shoulders.

A representative of the local Muslim community condemned “terrorism, racism, extremism,” including recent killings by Islamist militants at a Paris newspaper and a military-run school in Pakistan.

A Buddhist monk, representing the faith of 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, noted the common dedication of great religions to the values of love, self-sacrifice and peace, as well as the common susceptibility of humanity to hatred and violence.

Pope Francis’ first day in Sri Lanka started when his plane from Rome landed at 9 a.m. He was greeted by traditional dancers and drummers, a 21-gun salute and a choir of teenagers who sang a song of welcome in English, the same language the pope and Sirisena used for their remarks. Girls in white dresses and boys in neckties and shorts waved gold-and-white Vatican flags. Nearby stood 40 elephants draped in colorful fabrics, a traditional gesture of honor for distinguished guests.

The pope’s entourage, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, wore white cassocks, keeping with the ecclesiastical custom in tropical climates. Temperatures were in the 80s in the bright sunshine.

The pope rode the 17-mile distance to the nuncio’s residence in an open-sided popemobile past crowds waving Vatican flags. A persistent breeze made it impossible for him to keep his zucchetto on for much of the ride. Because the pope made frequent stops to greet and bless individuals along the way, his ride took twice as long as expected, leading him to cancel a meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops planned for early afternoon.

The day marked the start of Pope Francis’ second trip to Asia, following a visit to South Korea in August. He was scheduled to spend two full days in Sri Lanka, before flying to the Philippines Jan. 15.The highlights of the Sri Lanka leg were expected to be the Jan. 14 canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz as the country’s first saint and, later the same day, a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which served as a sanctuary for refugees during the civil war.


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Pope names 15 new cardinals, most from global south


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Underscoring the geographical diversity of his selections, Pope Francis named 15 cardinal electors “from 14 nations of every continent, showing the inseparable link between the church of Rome and the particular churches present in the world.”

The pope announced the names Jan. 4, after praying the Angelus with a crowd in St. Peter’s Square, and said he would formally induct the men into the College of Cardinals Feb. 14.

Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, Vietnam, waves in front of St. Joseph Cathedral after Pentecost Mass in this May 23, 2010, file photo. Archbishop Van Nhon, 76, was among the 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Jan. 4. (CNS photo/Kham, Reuters)

Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, Vietnam, waves in front of St. Joseph Cathedral after Pentecost Mass in this May 23, 2010, file photo. Archbishop Van Nhon, 76, was among the 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Jan. 4. (CNS photo/Kham, Reuters)

With the list, the pope continues a movement he started with his first batch of appointments a year ago, giving gradually more representation at the highest levels of the church to poorer countries in the global south. According to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the new cardinals will include the first in history from Cape Verde, Tonga and Myanmar.

The Feb. 14 consistory will bring the total number of cardinals under the age of 80 to 125. Until they reach their 80th birthdays, cardinals are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. Blessed Paul VI limited the number of electors to 120, but later popes have occasionally exceeded that limit.

Three of the new cardinal electors hail from Asia, three from Latin America, two from Africa and two from Oceania.

Of the five Europeans on the list, three lead dioceses in Italy and Spain that have not traditionally had cardinals as bishops – another sign of Pope Francis’ willingness to break precedent. While giving red hats to the archbishops of Ancona-Osimo and Agrigento, Italy, the pope will once again pass over the leaders of Venice and Turin, both historically more prestigious dioceses.

None of the new cardinals hails from the U.S. or Canada. Father Lombardi noted that the numbers of cardinals from those countries have remained stable since February 2014, when Pope Francis elevated the archbishop of Quebec. The U.S. currently has 11 cardinal electors and Canada 3.

The continuing geographic shift is incremental in nature. With the new appointments, cardinals from Europe and North America will make up 56.8 percent of those eligible to elect the next pope, down from 60 percent on Jan. 4.

The shift reflects the pope’s emphasis on Africa and Asia, where the church is growing fastest, and on his native region of Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

A number of the selections also reflect Pope Francis’ emphasis on social justice. The new Mexican cardinal leads a diocese that has been hard hit by the current wave of drug-related violence in his country.

And one of the Italian cardinals designate, the archbishop of Agrigento in Sicily, leads the Italian bishops’ commission on migration, an issue on which Pope Francis has placed particular importance. In July 2013, the pope visited the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for undocumented immigrants to Europe, and mourned the many who had died attempting to cross the sea.

Only one of the new cardinals, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a member of the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia, which currently accounts for about a quarter of all cardinal electors.

Announcing the appointments, Pope Francis noted that the ceremony to induct the new cardinals will follow a two-day meeting of the entire college, Feb. 12 and 13, “to reflect on guidelines and proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.”

The pope’s nine-member Council of Cardinals is currently working on a major reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, including a new apostolic constitution for the curia.

In addition to 15 new electors, Pope Francis named five new cardinals who are over the age of 80 and, therefore, ineligible to vote in a conclave. Popes have used such nominations to honor churchmen for their scholarship or other contributions.

Pope Francis said he had chosen to honor five retired bishops “distinguished for their pastoral charity in service to the Holy See and the church,” representing “so many bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude, have given testimony of love for Christ and the people of God, whether in particular churches, the Roman Curia or the diplomatic service of the Holy See.”

The five new honorary cardinals hail from Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Italy and Mozambique.

Here is the list of the new cardinals:

• French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Apostolic Signature, 62.

• Portuguese Patriarch Manuel Jose Macario do Nascimento Clemente of Lisbon, 66.

• Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, 66.

• New Zealand Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington, 66.

• Italian Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo, 75.

• Vietnamese Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, 76.

• Mexican Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia, 75.

• Myanmar Archbishop Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, 66.

• Thai Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, 65.

• Italian Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, 68.

• Uruguayan Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, 55.

• Spanish Archbishop Ricardo Blazquez Perez of Valladolid, 72.

• Spanish-born Panamanian Bishop Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, 70.

• Cape Verdean Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Santiago de Cabo Verde, 65.

• Tongan Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, 53.

• Colombian Archbishop Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, retired, of Manizales, 95.

• Italian Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, 88.

• German Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, 80.

• Argentine Archbishop Luis Hector Villalba, retired, of Tucuman, 80.

• Mozambican Bishop Julio Duarte Langa, retired, of Xai-Xai, 87.


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