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In it for the long march: Pro-life activists ready for another March for Life in D.C. on Jan. 22


Staff reporter


Pro-life activists from throughout the Diocese of Wilmington are making plans to converge on Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 for the 41st annual March for Life to protest the continuing availability of legal abortion in the United States.

In the Diocese of Wilmington, abortion is still legal and available in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but the director of the diocesan Respect Life Office is optimistic as Roe v. Wade drifts one more year into history.

“I think there continues to be considerable positive energy throughout the pro-life movement. Even though there aren’t many advances on the legal front, we look at the polls and they seem to be climbing on the pro-life front,” Father Leonard Klein said. Read more »

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Baptism isn’t a formality, it gives strength to forgive and love, pope says at general audience


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Baptism isn’t just some formal ritual, it profoundly changes people, giving them unwavering hope and the strength to forgive and love others, Pope Francis said.

“With baptism, we are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life that is Jesus’ death, the greatest act of love in all of history,” he said during his first general audience of 2014.

Pope Francis passes circus performers on stilts as he arrives to leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope spent nearly two hours after the audience Jan. 8 greeting people, blessing the sick, speaking with newlyweds and receiving notes, letters and late Christmas gifts from the crowd. He also watched a brief performance by acrobats, jugglers and clowns who were part of an international Golden Circus festival.

During his usual rounds through St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before the start of the audience, the pope caught sight of a friend in the crowd. The pope had the driver stop the popemobile and gestured for his friend to board the vehicle.

The friend, Father Fabian Baez, sat in the back seat, then walked with the pope to a special seating section for guests.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, said the priest works in a parish in Buenos Aires and that the pope said Father Baez was “a great confessor.”

The pope began the new year of audience talks with a new series of catecheses on the sacraments, starting with baptism, the sacrament that “grafts us as living members in Christ and in his church.”

Baptism isn’t merely “a simple rite, a formal act of the church,” he said. “It is an act that profoundly touches our existence” and radically changes the person.

“A baptized baby is not the same as a baby who’s not baptized. A baptized person is not the same as a person who’s not baptized,” he said.

By being immersed in the living waters of Christ’s salvation, he said, “we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but in communion with God and our brothers and sisters,” embarking on a whole new life.

The pope reminded his audience that it was very important for Christians to know the date of their baptism because it was “a happy day” of celebration.

Recalling that event is important because there is always the risk people think of it as something that happened in the past or that it was something just their parents wanted, and was “not of our volition.”

Even though chances are people were just infants on that day and can’t remember it firsthand, “We have to reawaken the memory of our baptism” and live it every day as a great gift from the Lord, the pope said.

“If we are able to follow Jesus and remain in the church, even with our limits, frailties and our sins, it is precisely because of the sacrament in which we became new beings and were vested in Christ.”

The power of baptism frees people from original sin, grafts them to God and makes them bearers of “a new hope” that nothing and nobody can destroy, he said.

“Thanks to baptism, we are able to forgive, to love, even those who offend us and hurt us; that we are able to recognize the face of Christ in the least and the poor,” he said.

The fact that baptism is always conferred by a priest in the Lord’s name shows it is a gift that is passed on from person to person “a chain of grace,” he said. It is “an act of fraternity” and becoming a child of the church, who, like a mother, generates new children in Christ through the Holy Spirit.


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Pope becomes a shepherd during visit to live Nativity scene


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Surrounded by cheese sellers, shoemakers and bleating, baying animals, Pope Francis immersed himself in a lively re-enactment of a special day in Bethlehem.

He even let a lamb rest on his shoulders and greeted a tiny baby named Francis, who played the part of Jesus, when he visited a live Nativity scene Jan. 6 at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori on the northern outskirts of Rome.

A lamb sits around the neck of Pope Francis as he visits a Nativity scene at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome Jan. 6. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

More than 200 people took part in the re-enactment, wearing period costumes and playing the parts of villagers, artisans and street sellers. People lined the sides of the road leading to the church and watched from rooftops and balconies of surrounding buildings.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope greeted each of the participants and many of the parishioners who attended.

One special guest lay waiting in a small hut: a 2-month-old baby named Francesco, who had been baptized that morning and played the role of Jesus in the pageant.

A woman dressed as a shepherd placed a small lamb on the pope’s shoulders. Children sang a Christmas song and gave the pope a bouquet of red roses.

At the end of his visit, the pope talked about the importance of a new year beginning with Jesus, who stays by everyone’s side to overcome evil. He asked everyone to pray for children who would be born in 2014 and for all grandparents, who he said are the source of wisdom.

The priest who organizes the parish’s live Nativity scene each year said he had invited the pope just a few days earlier and the pope had accepted immediately.

“The pope was so happy. He told me ‘Keep it up. Don’t get discouraged,’” Father Dario Criscuoli told journalists.

According to the Vatican newspaper, the priest said the pope told him, “Surely to put something like this together you have to be crazy, but that’s OK; God likes some things that are crazy.”

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Avoid temptation with ‘spiritual shrewdness,’ says pope on feast of Epiphany


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians should go out into the world to follow God but use “holy cunning” to guard against the snares of temptation, Pope Francis said.

The pope made the remarks at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6 on the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world.

A woman dressed as royalty walks under a canopy as period enactors participate in an Epiphany parade in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Jan. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In his homily, the pope said that life is a journey, and like the three Wise Men, or Magi, people are looking for the “fullness of truth and of love which we Christians recognize in Jesus, the light of the world.”

Jesus is found by reading the world of God’s creation and the sacred Scripture, which nourishes the soul and “enables us to encounter the living Jesus, to experience him and his love,” the pope said.

On life’s journey, we need to be “attentive, alert and listen to God who speaks to us,” and be prepared when we encounter “darkness, suspicion, fear and jealousy.”

This happened to the Magi when they briefly lost sight of the star to Bethlehem and passed through Jerusalem where they encountered King Herod, who was “distrustful and preoccupied with the birth of a frail child whom he thought of as a rival,” the pope said.

Jesus wasn’t interested in usurping the king, “a wretched puppet,” the pope said, but in overthrowing the devil.

Nonetheless, the king and his counselors felt threatened and feared “a whole world built on power, on success, on possession, on corruption was being thrown into crisis by a child,” the pope said.

“The Magi were able to overcome that dangerous moment of darkness before Herod, because they believed in the Scriptures,” and believed the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, he said.

They were able to flee the darkness and resume their journey toward God because of a “holy cunning, that is, a spiritual shrewdness which enables us to recognize danger and to avoid it.”

Pope Francis said Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” means Christians must welcome God into their hearts and “cultivate that spiritual cunning which is able to combine simplicity with astuteness.”

The Magi “teach us how not to fall into the snares of darkness and how to defend ourselves from the shadows which seek to envelop our life,” the pope said.

Like the Magi, we need to “safeguard the faith with holy cunning, guard it from that darkness which, many times, is also disguised as light,” he said.

“Shield it from the song of the Sirens,” who seek to distract us from taking the right path, guarding one’s faith “with prayer, with love, with charity.”

The Magi also teach us “not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of playing it safe, but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful, by God,” he said.

Look to the heavens as they did, aim high and “follow the great desires of our heart” while also being wise to the deception of appearances, by what the “world considers great, wise and powerful.”

“We must not be content with appearances,” but press on, past the darkness and worldly temptations, to the periphery, to Bethlehem, to find the true light and king of the universe, the pope said.

After the Mass, tens of thousands of people streamed to St. Peter’s Square to listen to the pope’s noon prayer and to visit the Vatican’s Nativity scene.

Like the star that appeared in the night sky over Bethlehem, God is the first to appear and signal to the world his presence, the pope said.

God is always the first to take the initiative; he is the one who invites and then patiently waits.

“The Lord calls you, the Lord looks for you, the Lord waits for you,” the pope said. “The Lord doesn’t proselytize. He gives love and this love looks for you and waits for you, you! Even if right now you don’t believe or you are far” from God.

The pope noted Jan. 6 marked World Day of Missionary Childhood, and he praised the efforts by Christian children to spread the Gospel and reach out to the less fortunate.

The pope also extended a Christmas greeting to Eastern Christians who follow the Julian calendar and were preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ Jan. 7.

He asked that Jesus “strengthen in everyone their faith, hope and love, and give comfort to the Christian communities experiencing ordeals.”


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Jerusalem’s patriarch hopes pope’s Holy Land visit is ‘cry for peace’


AMMAN, Jordan — Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict.

An Iraqi woman prays during Mass at the Chaldean Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan, last year. Pope Francis will begin his trip to the Holy Land this May in Amman.. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Pope Francis announced his first trip as pontiff to the Holy Land, May 24-26, during his weekly blessing in Vatican City Jan. 5. His visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories is planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic visit by Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in 1964.

Pope Francis is expected to celebrate Masses in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Jordanian capital, Amman, where he will begin his trip.

Speaking to reporters in Amman Jan. 5, Patriarch Twal underscored that Arab Christians are badly in need of the pope’s encouragement as their numbers continue to decrease due to violence and economic hardship.

“How great is his concern for us. And our presence, I think is one of the aspects he will mention in his speech to ask us to be courageous and to stay,” the Jordanian-born patriarch said.

“To stay in this land, to live in this land, to die in this land: the Holy Land is worthy to stay, to suffer and to die for,” he said.

Christians throughout the Middle East represent the oldest such community in the world. But in their ancient homelands of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, they have increasingly become targets of intimidation and killing in the midst of civil unrest and war.

“The visit is intended to consolidate the good relations that bind the Muslims and Christians of these Arab countries since ancient times, as well as contribute to intensifying calls for mutual respect and redoubling efforts to respect for religious pluralism in an atmosphere of love and cooperation,” the patriarch said.

“We need the pope to bring peace to Jerusalem,” Mary Yadi, a Jerusalem native and parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Amman, expressed as her hope for the visit.

“Our world is engulfed in war and it desperately needs peace. More prayers must be offered to see something positive happen,” she said.

Fellow parishioner, Sameh Girguis, an Egyptian Orthodox, said he wants the pope to “bring God’s love and stability to Arab countries,” writhing in the aftermath of the Arab Spring upheavals that saw long-time rulers toppled.

Another aspect of the papal pilgrimage aims to strengthen efforts initiated by Pope Paul VI to encourage greater unity between the Western and Eastern churches. Pope Francis will meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops, and the three Catholic patriarchs of Jerusalem.

He is expected as well to build on reconciliation efforts by moderate Muslims, such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, to foster better relations between Muslims and Christians. Immediately after his arrival in Jordan May 24, Pope Francis will meet privately with the king, who visited the pontiff with his wife, Queen Rania, in August at the Vatican.

Pope Francis also will hold talks with Jordanian religious and political leaders and celebrate an open-air Mass in an Amman stadium.

Later that evening, the pontiff will travel to the site where it is believed that Jesus was baptized and the “place chosen by Jesus to begin his mission,” Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, apostolic nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, told the news conference.

The place has been “significantly chosen for the pope to share dinner with the least, that is, with those living in peculiar conditions of suffering and uncertainty,” he said.

Pope Francis, who is well-known for his simplicity and humility in the vein of his namesake, St. Francis, will dine with Syrian refugees, the handicapped and the impoverished at the sacred site along the banks of the Jordan River.

Archbishop Lingua said the pontiff, much like Pope Paul, wanted to visit Damascus, Syria, to walk in the footsteps of St. Paul, but he, too, will be able “only in spirit, by heart and mind, to share the suffering of that country.”

Father Rifat Bader of the Catholic Media Center in Amman said Pope Francis will travel to Bethlehem by helicopter from Amman May 25. He will celebrate Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square and will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Patriarch Twal expressed hope that Christians from Gaza and Galilee will also be allowed to participate in the Manger Square Mass.

Samir Karadsheh, an aviation consultant visiting Amman from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he intends to return to Jordan for the pope’s May visit just as he did for that of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

“I won’t ask anything of the pope,” he said. “Instead, I want to say, ‘Thank you for bringing faith back to everyone.’”

American Jesuit Father Alfred J. Hicks, who has served in the Middle East for decades, initially in Iraq and now Jordan, expressed a similar sentiment.

“He’s been sent by the Spirit to reform the church. We’re very proud of what the pope is trying to do, whether in Rome or here,” he said.


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Pope orders new rules on relations between bishops, religious orders

January 3rd, 2014 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: ,


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he has ordered a revision of what he called outdated Vatican norms on the relations between religious orders and local bishops, in order to promote greater appreciation of the orders’ distinctive missions.

The pope’s words were published Jan. 3 in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. He made the comments Nov. 29 at a closed-door meeting with 120 superiors general of religious orders from around the world. Read more »

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U.S. bishops’ president asks Obama for exemption from fines over ACA compliance

January 2nd, 2014 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: ,


WASHINGTON — The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked President Barack Obama to exempt religious institutions from fines related to health insurance requirements while legal challenges work their way through the courts.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. (CNS file)

“The administration’s flexibility in implementing the (Affordable Care Act) has not yet reached those who want only to exercise what has rightly been called our ‘first freedom’ under the Constitution,” wrote Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.

In a Dec. 31 letter, he asked Obama to extend the same kind of temporary exemption from penalties for noncompliance with the ACA that the administration has allowed for small employers and individuals whose current insurance plans will be canceled.

The letter described those allowances as “actions to advance the ACA’s goal of maximizing health coverage, while minimizing hardships to Americans as the act is implemented.”

Archbishop Kurtz said a whole category of Americans “has been left out in the cold: those who, due to moral and religious conviction, cannot in good conscience comply with the (Health and Human Services) regulation requiring coverage of sterilization and contraceptives.

“This mandate includes drugs and devices that can interfere with the survival of a human being in the earliest stage of development, burdening religious convictions on abortion as well as contraception,” the letter said. It noted that at least 90 lawsuits representing almost 300 plaintiffs have been filed to challenge the mandate. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two of the cases, and several lower courts have found merit in the claims and granted at least temporary relief to the institutions and businesses. Other courts have yet to take up the cases. Still others have ruled the employers must comply.

Archbishop Kurtz asked the president to consider that, under other actions by the administration, no employers will be required to offer a health plan at all, and that employers face no penalty in the coming year for canceling coverage.

However, he added, “an employer who chooses, out of charity and good will, to provide and fully subsidize an excellent health plan for employees, but excludes sterilization or any contraceptive drug or device, faces crippling fines of up to $100 a day or $36,500 a year per employee. In effect, the government seems to be telling employees that they are better off with no employer health plan at all than with a plan that does not cover contraceptives. This is hard to reconcile with an act whose purpose is to bring us closer to universal coverage.”

The letter said the result is “a regulation that harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith.”

The archbishop added that he realizes the legal issues will ultimately be settled by the Supreme Court.

“In the meantime, however, many religious employers have not obtained the temporary relief they need in time to avoid being subjected to the HHS mandate beginning Jan. 1,” he wrote. “I urge you, therefore, to consider offering temporary relief from this mandate, as you have for so many other individuals and groups facing other requirements under the ACA.”


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Courts provide Catholic groups last-minute relief from Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the midst of their New Year’s Eve celebration with low-income elderly residents, the Baltimore-based Little Sisters of the Poor learned that the Supreme Court issued an injunction temporarily protecting them from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (CNS file)

The order by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, issued within hours of the mandate taking effect at midnight Jan. 1, applies to the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor and their co-plaintiffs, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, in a lawsuit against the federal government.

The same evening, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an emergency stay for Catholic organizations in a lawsuit filed by the Archdiocese of Washington, including The Catholic University of America, Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington; Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md.; and Mary of Nazareth Roman Catholic Elementary School in Darnestown, Md.

The 2-1 ruling in the Circuit Court included a comment from Judge David S. Tatel explaining why he voted to deny the injunction.

“Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a ‘substantial burden’ under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal,” Tatel said, according to the Associated Press.

The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying the stay vindicates “the pledge of the U.S. Catholic bishops to stand in resolute defense of the first and most sacred freedom, religious liberty.”

Sotomayor’s order came in her capacity as the justice assigned to hear emergency applications from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Denver. Her two-sentence order also instructed the federal government to file its response by 10 a.m. Jan. 3.

The injunction means the Little Sisters and the Christian Brothers will, for now, not be required to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs and devices that cause abortions as part of their employee health insurance coverage.

Sotomayor’s order came as faith-affiliated groups around the nation rushed to federal courts to halt the provision. Several efforts were successful in obtaining temporary injunctions in the last days of 2013.

Also Dec. 31, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed a decision by the Nashville District Court. The HHS mandate now may not be enforced while a lawsuit by the Diocese of Nashville and others works its way through the legal process. The plaintiffs there include Catholic Charities of Tennessee; Camp Marymount; Mary, Queen of Angels; St. Mary Villa; the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia; and Aquinas College.

Sister Constance Veit, communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that the call from their attorney about Sotomayor’s order came just as the sisters were finishing a party with residents at their Baltimore base. The sisters operate 29 homes for the elderly around the country.

“It was surprising that we heard anything because we knew Justice Sotomayor was in New York City for the celebration, and we are grateful for the move in the right direction,” she told CNS. Sotomayor led the countdown to midnight as the crystal ball was dropped in Times Square.

In general, employers who provide health insurance to workers are required as of Jan. 1 to comply with the mandate that those policies include various types of contraceptives, including sterilization and abortifacients. The penalty for noncompliance is potentially thousands of dollars daily in fines. Although the Obama administration has made some allowances for exemptions for religious institutions, when final rules were issued in June, some Catholic employers said the exception still did not address their moral objections.

The sisters said they hope and pray for a favorable outcome so they can continue to serve the elderly of all faiths.

“If we were subject to the fines, it would impact all our homes around the country,” Sister Veit said. “We have 13,000 residents.”

Prior to the order, preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of 20 similar cases, according the Washington-based Becket Fund, which represents many organizations suing over the mandate and maintains data about the cases on its website.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, told CNS it makes no sense for the Little Sisters to be fined for noncompliance before the lawsuit can even be decided.

“For the most part, the religious nonprofits are winning their cases, and the courts have said the governments are wrong here and that people have a right to exercise their religion,” Rienzi told CNS shortly before Sotomayor’s order. “Some, unfortunately, didn’t get preliminary injunctions and therefore face an imminent choice of either violating their religions or facing enormous fines.”

There are 91 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, according to the Becket Fund. Rienzi added that until the Supreme Court provides a clear answer to the legal challenges there will be a patchwork of court decisions in which some groups win and others face massive fines that may force some to close.

In Nashville, Rick Musacchio, diocesan director of communications, told CNS that its lawsuit is “not about access to contraception, it is about making Catholic entities facilitate and provide those services even though we find them morally objectionable.”

“We think the government mandates unfairly and unconstitutionally drive a wedge between the Catholic faith and the works we do through these affiliated entities,” he said, explaining that the mandate penalizes organizations for refusing to participate in providing morally objectionable products and services that are readily available anywhere.

“We still know that there is a long road ahead, but we are delighted about this outcome,” said Sister Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, president of Aquinas College in Nashville.

Elsewhere, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based U.S. District Court entered a preliminary injunction temporarily barring enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The suit included the diocesan Catholic Charities, St. Anne Home and Retirement Community, Franciscan Alliance, Specialized Physicians of Illinois, the University of St. Francis and Our Sunday Visitor.

The Dec. 27 order by Judge Jon DeGuilio focused only on the request for an injunction against enforcement while the lawsuit proceeds.

“It is small first step, a touchdown in the first quarter, but there is still a lot of game to be played; this is not over by any means,” Sean McBride, diocesan spokesman, told CNS.

“Clearly this is an affirmation for religious freedoms, of the First Amendment, and an opportunity for us to operate on a daily basis without violating our deeply held religious beliefs,” McBride added.

The Supreme Court will hear, probably in March, two cases by for-profit employers that are challenging the contraceptive mandate. Challenges by entities similar to the religious orders are working their way to the high court.


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It’s time to stop violence, discord, and begin making peace at home, Francis says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Welcoming in a new year, Pope Francis said it was time to stop provoking and ignoring violence, tragedy and conflict in the world, and begin building peace at home.

“Justice and peace at home, among us, you begin at home and then you move on to all of humanity. But we have to start at home,” he said Jan. 1, which the church marks as the feast of Mary, Mother of God and as World Peace Day.

Children bring Pope Francis a chalice during the offertory as he celebrates Mass in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

Speaking to tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the first noon Angelus of 2014, the pope referred to his peace day message, which he said called for building a world where everyone “respects each other, accepts others in their diversity and takes care of each and every one.”

People must not remain “indifferent and immobile” in the face of violence and injustice, but commit themselves to “build a truly more just and caring society,” he said.

The pope referred to a letter he had received the day before from a man struggling to understand why there were still so many tragedies and wars.

The pope said he wanted to ask the same question: “What is happening in people’s hearts? What is going on in the heart of humanity” that leads to violence?

“It’s time to stop,” Pope Francis said. “It will do us good to stop taking this path of violence.”

May God “help all of us walk the path of justice and peace with greater determination,” he said, and the Holy Spirit break down the obstinacy and barriers people construct between each other.

The pope also prayed to Mary that the “Gospel of fraternity” might “speak to every conscience and knock down the walls that hinder enemies from recognizing each other as brothers and sisters.”

Earlier in the day, the pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was decorated with white flowers, evergreens, gold trim and poinsettias. Two girls and one boy, wearing long capes and shiny gold paper crowns in memory of the magi who traveled to Bethlehem, brought the offertory gifts to the pope.

Prayers for peace were offered in five languages; the Spanish version asked that God “bless all women and all mothers, called to bring forth, to guard and to promote life.”

In his homily, the pope said Mary, the Mother of God, became the mother of all humanity when Jesus, dying on the cross, gave her to the world.

When she lost her divine son, “her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loved Jesus,” he said.

Even before the church officially defined Mary as God’s mother in the fifth century, the faithful had already acknowledged her divine maternity and called for its recognition, the pope said, noting the case as an example of the “sensus fidei” (sense of the faith) “of holy people, the faithful of God, who, in their unity, are never ever wrong.”

Mary is a source of hope and true joy and continually strengthens people in their faith, vocation and mission, he said. “By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.”

He asked the faithful to entrust with Mary their journey of faith, their hopes and needs as well as “the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice, peace and God.”

In his homily, Pope Francis also mentioned the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) in Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, which he said was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God, the “Theotokos,” was venerated.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope visited St. Mary Major Dec. 31 to pray at length before the icon, repeating a pilgrimage he made on the first morning of his pontificate in March and on other subsequent occasions.


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Pope Francis: 2014 will be brighter if everyone steps outside their comfort zones to work on solving problems


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The new year will be brighter only if everyone steps outside their safe havens, gets involved and works together to solve local problems with generosity and love, Pope Francis said.

As 2013 comes to a close, let everyone ask God for forgiveness and thank him for his patience and love, the pope said as he presided over a Dec. 31 evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis arrives to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square after leading an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

May Mary “teach us to welcome God made man so that every year, every month, every day be overflowing with his eternal love,” he said on the eve of the feast honoring her as Mother of God.

Leading the annual “Te Deum” prayer service to thank God for his blessings in 2013 and the gift of salvation in Christ, the pope asked people to reflect on how they have spent the past year, the precious days, weeks and months the Lord has given as a gift to everyone.

“Have we used it mostly for ourselves, for our own interests or did we know to spend it for others, too? How much time did we set aside for being with God, in prayer, in silence, in adoration?”

People should also reflect on how they used their time to contribute to their communities.

The quality of life in a community, how it runs and looks, depends on everyone, he said in his homily, which he delivered standing from a lectern.

“A city’s face is like a mosaic in which the tiles are all those who live there,” he said.

While public officials and other leaders certainly have more responsibility, “everyone is co-responsible, for the good and bad.”

“Have we contributed, in our small way, to making (our communities) livable, orderly, and welcoming?” the pope asked. “What will we do, how will we act in the new year to make our city a little bit better?”

As the bishop of Rome, the pope looked at the Italian capital in particular, noting its “extraordinary” spiritual and cultural riches.

“And yet, Rome also has many people marked by material and moral poverty, people who are poor, unhappy and suffering, who prick the consciences of every citizen,” he said.

“In Rome, perhaps we feel this contrast more strongly” with such a stark difference between its “majestic setting, loaded with artistic beauty” and the difficulties people struggle against.

A city of opposites, Rome is teeming with tourists, “but is also filled with refugees. Rome is full of people who work, but also people who can’t find work,” who are underpaid or have jobs that harm their dignity, he said.

“Everyone has the right to be treated with the same attitude of welcome and fairness because everyone possesses human dignity” and are part of the same human family, he said.

Pope Francis said Rome, like all communities, will be more beautiful, hospitable, welcoming and kind “if all of us are attentive and generous toward whoever is in difficulty; if we know how to collaborate with a constructive and caring spirit for the good of all people.”

Every community will be a better place “if there are no people who watch it ‘from afar,’ like a picture postcard, who observe its life only ‘from the balcony’ without getting involved” directly with the many problems of the men and women who, “whether we want it or not, are our brothers and sisters.”

The pope underlined the important work and duty of the church in contributing to people’s lives and future, and how, with the leaven of the Gospel, the church is a sign and instrument of God’s mercy.

After the prayer service, Pope Francis visited St. Peter’s Square to get a close look at the Nativity scene.


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