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Georgian Orthodox patriarch welcomes Pope Francis to Tbilisi

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Catholic News Service

TBILISI, Georgia — Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.

Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport Sept. 30 and welcomed him to the patriarchal palace after the pope’s meeting with the Georgian president.

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.

More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.

In the 1980s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.

Small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the pope’s visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.”

The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.

Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.

While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”

Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”

Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”

“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”

While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome, the papacy, was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”

“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”

“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.

The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”

Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”

The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.

“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.

When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”

Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”

 

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Pope pleas on behalf of 250,000 Aleppo residents trapped without food, water

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As a brief cease-fire agreement failed and Syrian government forces returned to bombing Aleppo and fighting rebels in the city streets, Pope Francis made a forceful appeal for assistance for the thousands of innocent civilians trapped in the besieged city.

Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital Sept. 27 after an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. More than 200 airstrikes bombarded the city since Sept. 24, leaving more than100 civilians dead, with hundreds more injured, according to the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. (CNS photo/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

Medics inspect the damage outside a field hospital Sept. 27 after an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. More than 200 airstrikes bombarded the city since Sept. 24, leaving more than100 civilians dead, with hundreds more injured, according to the head of the Syria Civil Defense group, a volunteer emergency medical service. (CNS photo/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

“I appeal to the consciences of those responsible for the bombardments,” Pope Francis said at the end of his weekly general audience Sept. 28. “They will have to account to God.”

Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed by the bombardments in late September and the U.N. World Food Program said it was “extremely concerned about the more than 250,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo city who are cut off from food, water, medicine and other essential supplies.”

Pope Francis told people gathered for his general audience that his thoughts and prayers were going “to the beloved and martyred Syria. I continue to receive dramatic news about the fate of Aleppo’s population.”

Expressing his “profound pain and deep concern for what is happening in this already martyred city,” the pope told people that it is a place where death strikes “children, the elderly, the sick, young people, old people, everyone.”

“I renew my appeal that everyone make a commitment with all their strength to the protection of civilians as a mandatory and urgent obligation,” the pope said.

Pope Francis spoke as representatives of dozens of Catholic charitable organizations and leaders of Catholic communities in Syria and Iraq were arriving in Rome for a Sept. 29 meeting to coordinate Catholic emergency and humanitarian assistance to the victims of war, displaced people and refugees in the region.

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which coordinates Catholic charitable giving, said the Catholic Church and Catholic charities have 12,000 workers trying to provide care for people in Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries.

“Just in Syria the victims of the war, according to U.N. data, already exceed 270,000,” he said. More than 8.7 million Syrians have been forced from their homes and some 3.4 million Iraqis are still displaced.

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Third Mexican priest murdered within a week, motives unknown

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — A priest abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. He was the third priest murdered in Mexico within days.

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. A third priest, abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan, has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Diario Marcha, Handout via EPA)

The bodies of Fathers Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz are seen along a roadside Sept. 19 in the Mexican state of Veracruz. A third priest, abducted from his parish residence in the Mexican state of Michoacan, has been found dead, the Archdiocese of Morelia confirmed Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Diario Marcha, Handout via EPA)

State prosecutors say Father Jose Alfredo Lopez Guillen, pastor in the community of Janamuato, 240 miles west of Mexico City, died of gunshot wounds shortly after being abducted Sept. 19. His body was found wrapped in a blanket alongside a highway.

Family members, meanwhile, discovered personal items strewn across the floor of his home, and one of two vehicles stolen from his parish was found flipped over along a highway, Mexican media reported.

A motive for the crime is still uncertain, though family say they received no ransom calls as might be expected in a kidnapping case.

State Gov. Silvano Aureoles Conejo erroneously told Radio Formula that Father Lopez was last seen on video in a local hotel with a teenage boy. The boy’s family subsequently said the governor confused the priest with the boy’s father.

Cardinal Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia also called the information false.

“We pray for his soul,” the Archdiocese of Morelia wrote on its Twitter account, confirming the death of Father Lopez.

The abduction and murder in Michoacan continued a disturbing trend of attacks against priests across Mexico, though Catholic leaders are at a loss to explain the motives, which have included robbery, organized crime activity and possible conflicts with drug cartel leaders. The Catholic Multimedia Center has documented the murders of 15 Mexican priests in less than four years.

On Sept. 19, two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, though the stated motive of the crime has caused controversy.

Veracruz state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras told reporters Sept. 20 that the “victims and the victimizers knew each other” and added that the attack was “not a kidnapping.”

“They were together, having a few drinks, the gathering broke down due to alcohol and turned violent,” he said.

Catholic officials in Veracruz rejected the explanation, calling it “an easy out” and saying it ignored the reality of a state notorious for crime and corruption.

“We are hoping for more professional and careful inquiry, because this declaration the prosecutor is giving generates more doubts than responses to the issue of the murder of these two priests,” said Father Jose Manuel Suazo Reyes, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Xalapa. “It surprises us how quickly they’ve concluded an investigation that requires more time and care.”

Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.

Media reported the men were found Sept. 19, one day after their abduction, along the side of a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

A driver employed by the parish also was abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.

Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City encouraged prayers for the situation of so many clergy coming under attack.

“For those that injure and defame the church or its pastors, may the Lord grant repentance for their actions and with our prayers provide a path to social reconciliation,” he said Sept. 25 during Mass.

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Catholic Relief joins with other agencies to pledge $1.2 billion to help 65 million refugees

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Eighty-six percent of the world’s refugees are living in developing countries and it is particularly hard for those countries to meet refugees’ needs and provide them an education and a livelihood, according to a senior policy and legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 20 in New York City. Speaking for the last time at the United Nations as president, Obama said that while the world has become safer and more prosperous, nations are struggling with a devastating refugee crisis, terrorism and a breakdown in basic order in the Middle East.  (CNS/ Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 20 in New York City. Speaking for the last time at the United Nations as president, Obama said that while the world has become safer and more prosperous, nations are struggling with a devastating refugee crisis, terrorism and a breakdown in basic order in the Middle East. (CNS/ Reuters)

Overall, 65 million people are displaced worldwide, the highest number since World War II, according to the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees.

“After World War II, many of the refugees at that time were living in camps for a certain amount of time, then would be resettled or helped to be repatriated” in their home country, Jill Marie told Catholic News Service.

Today, she said, it is not unusual for refugees to live 20 years in a country that is not their own, she said, citing the 5 million Afghan refugees who have lived in Pakistan for “a very long time,” many for almost their entire lives.

Millions of Afghans have fled their homeland during waves of civil war spanning more than three decades.

Marie made the comments to CNS Sept. 16 in advance of the special summit that U.S. President Barrack Obama convened Sept. 20 at the United Nations to address the global refugee crisis.

Before the summit, CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, joined 30 other nongovernmental organizations in pledging a total of $1.2 billion to help address the refugee crisis over a three-year period.

All the groups made the pledge as members of InterAction, the largest U.S. alliance of international NGOs.

The funds will provide urgent medical assistance, food and nutrition, security, shelter, education and other essential services to displaced populations, according to CRS.

Each entity will manage its own money but report to InterAction as to how it is used, said Marie.

She also told CNS that in addition to its monetary pledge, CRS hopes the U.S. Congress would “put more pressure on the U.N. to update its humanitarian architecture,” which currently is more the model addressing what World War II refugees faced than what today’s refugees confront.

“Refugees are no longer in camps but move into cities, with an uncle or a brother,” Marie said.

Some are “paying rent to put a tent up in somebody’s front yard and paying for their facilities,” she said, which means it is “much harder to get access to these people, harder to find them” to assess their needs and help them.

“That’s where the Catholic Church comes in,” using its networks to find people, Marie said. Coordination and implementation of assistance to refugees is “better left to agencies like CRS,” she added. “We have the agility. We work with local partners and we can move with them.”

According to CRS, the Baltimore-based agency has assisted more than a million war-affected Syrians across the Middle East and Europe since the armed conflict in their home country began almost five years ago. Among its other assistance efforts, the agency has aided Afghans living in Pakistan; displaced people in Somalia; those fleeing the Muslim militant group Boko Haram in West and Central Africa; and those forced from their homes by the impact of climate change in Bangladesh.

Marie praised the Obama administration for its response to the Syrian refugee crisis in particular; on Sept. 13, the administration said the U.S. would accept 110,000 Syrians over the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, a boost from the original number of 85,000.

The U.S. “historically has settled more refugees than anybody,” Marie noted, but “we would like to see more being resettled globally, because there are so many more refugees.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, too, recently commented that, to date, “a small number of countries have been carrying a disproportionate share of the refugee opportunity and burden.”

By the close of Obama-convened summit, a number of countries represented there “committed to admit significant numbers of refugees into their countries for the first time in recent history,” said a statement issued by the White House in late afternoon Sept. 20.

The 32 governments participating in the summit, it said, had contributed “roughly $4.5 billion additional dollars to U.N. appeals and international humanitarian organizations than in 2015.”

The statement added that the summit sought “to provide longer-term solutions for refugees stranded in exile, whose lives are on hold.”

“Governments participating here today have come together, with different types of commitments, to approximately double the global number of refugees resettled and afforded other legal channels of admissions and to improve asylum systems,” it said.

In addition, some participants “committed to starting or significantly expanding new UNHCR-facilitated third-country resettlement programs and others have greatly increased the numbers of refugees admitted through family reunification or humanitarian admission visas.”

On Sept. 19, U.N. member states held a high-level plenary meeting to reaffirm their shared responsibility for refugees and migrants. At the same time, Catholic and other leaders held a side event on the role of religious organizations responding to migrant and refugee movements, with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin as a keynote speaker.

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Pope Francis, religious leaders pray for peace at Assisi prayer service

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Jesus’ cry of thirst on the cross is heard today in the cries of innocent victims of war in the world, Pope Francis said.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis, an unidentified clergyman and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, attend an ecumenical prayer service with other Christian leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The pope and other religious leaders participated in the service that marked the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul IIís Assisi interfaith peace gathering. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Pope Francis, an unidentified clergyman and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, attend an ecumenical prayer service with other Christian leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The pope and other religious leaders participated in the service that marked the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul IIís Assisi interfaith peace gathering. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Christians are called to contemplate Christ in “the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied,”” the pope said Sept. 20 at a prayer service in Assisi with other Christian leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

Far too often the victims of war “encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed,” the pope said in his meditation.

The pope arrived in the morning by helicopter and was whisked away to the Sacred Convent near the Basilica of St. Francis.

After arriving in a blue Volkswagen, the pope raised his arms to embrace Patriarch Bartholomew and, together, the two greeted the other religious leaders present. Archbishop Welby, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist communities also welcomed the pope to Assisi.

Several refugees were among those who greeted the pope, including a young Yezidi woman from Iraq’s Sinjar district who survived the August 2014 massacre committed by the Islamic State. “I want to thank you for praying for the Yezidis and your support for acknowledging our genocide,” she told the pope.

“You have suffered a lot. I pray, I will pray for you with all my heart,” the pope said as he placed his hand over his heart.

After having lunch with a dozen refugees and victims of war, Pope Francis and the Christian leaders went to pray in the lower Basilica of St. Francis. Members of other religions went to different locations in Assisi to offer prayers for peace in their own traditions.

During the solemn celebration, prayers were offered for countries where violence and conflicts continue to cause suffering for innocent men, women and children.

One by one, several young men and women placed lit candles in a round stand as an acolyte read the names of each country, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and Ukraine.

The prayer service began with a Liturgy of the Word, which included a meditation after each reading.

Reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, Archbishop Welby said that the world today “struggles to distinguish between what something costs and what it is worth.”

Despite this, God responds with “infinite love and mercy” and offers to receive from him freely because “in God’s economy we are the poorest of the poor; poorer than ever because we think ourselves rich,” he said.

“Our money and wealth is like the toy money in a children’s game: It may buy goods in our human economies which seem so powerful, but in the economy of God it is worthless. We are only truly rich when we accept mercy from God, through Christ our Savior,” he said.

Christians are called to be rich in God’s mercy by listening to him in the voice of the poor, by partaking in the Eucharist, by coming to him through his mercy.

“We are to be those who enable others to be merciful to those with whom they are in conflict. We are called to be Christ’s voice to the hopeless, calling, ‘come to the waters’ in a world of drought and despair, giving away with lavish generosity what we have received in grace-filled mercy,” Archbishop Welby said.

Patriarch Bartholomew commented on the second reading from the book of Revelation in which God calls “all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.”

Christians from around the world, he said, answered God’s call in Assisi “to invoke the Lord for the greatest of his gifts, peace, from him, the king of peace.”

Jesus comes to all who thirst for peace, he continued. However, Christians must experience an inner conversion in order to listen to him through “the cry of our neighbor,” to experience a true conversion and to give prophetic witness through fellowship.

“Then we shall offer living water to the thirsty, endless water, water of peace to a peaceless world, water that is prophecy, and all shall listen to Jesus, who will thrice say: ‘Surely I am coming soon,’” Patriarch Bartholomew said.

In his meditation, Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ words on the cross, “I thirst,” which he said was not only a thirst for water but also for love.

Like St. Francis of Assisi who was upset by the reality that “love is not loved,” the pope said Christians are called to contemplate Christ Crucified in those “who thirst for love.”

He also recalled the example of St. Teresa of Kolkata, who asked that all Missionaries of Charity houses have Jesus’ words, “I thirst,” inscribed in their chapels next to the crucifix.

“Her response was to quench Jesus’ thirst for love on the cross through service to the poorest of the poor,” Pope Francis said. “The Lord’s thirst is indeed quenched by our compassionate love; he is consoled when, in his name, we bend down to another’s suffering.”

In response to Jesus’ thirst, he said, Christians are challenged to hear the cry of the poor, suffering and the innocent victims of war.

Those who “live under the threat of bombs” and are forced to flee from their homes are “the wounded and parched members of his body,” he said. “They thirst.”

However, all too often they are offered only “the bitter vinegar of rejection.”

Pope Francis called on Christians to be “trees of life that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.”

“From the side of Christ on the cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who gives life so that, from us, his faithful compassion may flow forth for all who thirst today,” the pope said.

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Religious leaders praise Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as a great ecumenist

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.

The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.

In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God’s creation.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how “with great tact in difficult situations” the patriarch “always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a ‘pontiff,’ that is, a builder of bridges.”

“Like you,” Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, “we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts.”

The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of “any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, “There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.”

The biblical model of excellence, though, is of “a luxuriant tree,” the rabbi said. It is the image of “one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all.”

Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is such a man, Rabbi Rosen praised the patriarch’s leadership in condemning all violence in the name of religion and in addressing the issue of climate change and care for creation.

“His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole,” he said.

Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work “resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.”

“We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages,” he said.

The celebration serves only as an affirmation “that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church,” the patriarch said.

 

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Archbishop of Canterbury: Failure of ecumenism would imprison mercy

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Churches that are not reconciled with one another weaken the experience of mercy that unites believers to God and with each other, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said.

By not reconciling with one other, “our worship is diminished and our capacity to grow close together with God

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

is reduced,” he said Sept. 20 in Assisi during a discussion on ecumenism.

“The failure of ecumenism imprisons mercy and prevents its liberation and its power with one another,” he said.

Speaking before Pope Francis arrived in Assisi for an interreligious peace meeting, Archbishop Welby joined other Christian leaders exploring how love, charity and mercy help foster peace and unity among Christian denominations.

Mercy is the “engine of reconciliation,” Archbishop Welby said, and it is “the source of our capacity for the evangelization of the world in which we live.”

“Mercy begins with the mercy that each of us experiences in the sacrament of reconciliation; the knowledge that we ourselves are accepted,” he said.

Suffering and martyrdom, the archbishop added, also unite Christians and are a visible sign of ecumenism for the world.

“If we do not suffer together, we do not know the meaning of the ecumenism of mercy,” he said. “When they kill us, they do not ask if we are Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic or Orthodox; we are one in Christ for them. So why are we divided when they are not killing us?”

Echoing Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one so that the world may know that I come from the Father,” Archbishop Welby said that the evangelization of the world “depends on that ecumenism of mercy.”

While they may have theological differences, he said, Christians must learn to “disagree well” and “learn to love one another with good disagreement.”

Evangelization depends on the visible sign of love and unity. If not, churches will be unable “to carry out Jesus’ command to go out into the world,” he said.

“It depends on the world seeing visibly that we belong to one another and that we love one another,” Archbishop Welby said. “Without that, we have nothing to say to a world that is incapable of resolving its own differences.”

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Legacy of 1986 interfaith peace gathering in Assisi lingers

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Religious leaders celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s Assisi interfaith peace gathering in 1986 called on people from around the world to continue its legacy to combat today’s indifference and violence.

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The event Sept. 18-20 was sponsored by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars to reflect on the theme, “Thirst for Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.”

At the opening assembly, attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said, peace “starts from within and radiates outward, from local to global.”

“Thus, peace requires an interior conversion, a change in policies and behaviors,” he said.

Humanity’s relationship with creation “has a direct impact on the way in which it acts toward other people,” said the patriarch, known for his decades of work on the connection between Christian spirituality and ecology.

“Any ecological activity will be judged by the consequences it has for the lives of the poor,” he said. “The pollution problem is linked to that of poverty.”

Recalling his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos with Pope Francis, the patriarch said they saw examples of how the world has treated migrants “with exclusion and violence.”

Echoing Patriarch Bartholomew’s sentiments, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said the spirit of the 1986 Assisi meeting is still alive, despite a “complex and fragmented time with its challenges,” particularly with new fears arising due to war and migration.

The “simple and profound” gesture of religious leaders standing together for peace, he said, “gave witness to their respective faithful that it was possible to live together.”

“Dialogue is the intelligence to live together: either we live together or together we will die,” he said.

The meeting featured dozens of interreligious panel discussions on topics ranging from the environment and migration to dialogue and the media.

Discussing the 30th anniversary of the 1986 peace gathering and its relevance today, Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “The spirit of Assisi is not a vague feeling, a sentimentalism or nostalgic memory,” but an example that “peace is not possible without prayer.”

“Prayer is one of the means for implementing God’s design among people,” he said. “It is apparent that the world cannot give peace; it is a gift from God that we must ask from him through prayers.”

The religious leaders who were gathering to pray for peace, he added, are “here to show that religion is not the problem but is part of the solution to bring peace and harmony in our societies.”

“I hope that the spirit of Assisi may be deeply rooted in our hearts so that it can keep enlightening this world that is marked by the darkness of hatred and violence,” he said.

Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, stressed the need to promote “the message of the spirit of Assisi to all nations” in order for peace to prevail, particularly between Christians and Muslims.

While differences exist between the two faiths, he said, “it does not mean that we have to be the enemy of one another.”

On the contrary, the differences between religions can complement and complete each other. “And this process of common belief and common respect is manifested in the spirit of Assisi,” Sammak said.

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of Pope Francis, also addressed the panel and lamented that violence, hate and uncertainty “has become more and more one of the characteristics of human reality.”

He also denounced the “exacerbated egoism” prevalent in politics today and racist overtones by individuals who “are holding leadership positions in well-established democratic countries.”

“Uncertainty about the future to come and no clear ethical rules respected by peoples and nations build the best scenario for the rise of demagogic and corrupted leaders,” Skorka said.

However, despite humanity’s worsening condition, he said, the “voice calling for justice, peace and love” that emerged in1986 “has not been silenced.”

“The spiritual fire lit then gathers us today,” he said. “The hope of peace, which is the core of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, continues palpitating in the hearts of many,” he said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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In Kolkata, joy, prayers and testimonies as Mother Teresa becomes saint

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — At Shishu Bhavan, children, the destitute, Missionaries of Charity nuns and novices sat silently, glued to the TV screen for the live telecast of the Vatican canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa.

While many prayed at the new saint’s tomb, the nuns and the children of Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), preferred to stay indoors and celebrate the historic moment all by themselves, as Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa to be St. Teresa.

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa's canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa’s canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

“It is a day of feast for us. Brothers and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are watching this in all the establishments of the MOC, but many of the sisters are visiting the headquarters for the special thanksgiving Mass after the ceremony in the evening,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Benoy, who had come from the home in suburban Dum Dum to help the sisters with the large number of visitors.

Earlier, outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan, the poor, the sick and the old had gathered like they do each Sunday, hoping for a meal. Like any other Sunday, the nuns and cooks filled their plates.

“This has been our home. What would you call someone who provides you food, medicine and shelter?” asked a woman who identified herself only as Amina, who regularly visits for food and medicine. After the meal, she and her mother waited to watch the ceremony. She sang hymns and prayed silently near the saint’s statue.

In the narrow lane leading to the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, hundreds of people had gathered together not just to witness the live ceremony for the “saint of Kolkata” but also to invoke her in their prayers. Special arrangements outside the home had been made for live viewing, and devotees gathered with their little memories of the “blessed” one. Some were carrying pictures, some flowers and some photographs declaring their love and devotion. Hymns were sung by the visitors and the nuns, but also commoners who gathered outside. Souvenir shops had come up and people went around buying little artifacts being attributed to Mother Teresa.

Mohammad Ahsan, 62, had come to visit the nuns and pray at the tomb. He had carried his photographs with Mother Teresa that he had taken in 1994.

“My association with her is more than two decades old. These pictures are my prized possessions. My life is much peaceful now, and I owe it to the saint of Kolkata,” he said gleefully.

Diana Silvester, a television producer from the Indian state of Kerala, came carrying a poster of Mother Teresa.

“I came to witness a historic moment,” she said. “Mother Teresa was and will be the icon of love, compassion and service to humanity for all days to come.”

Sister Babita, 20, from the Indian state of Orissa, chose to sit with other postulants at the convent to watch the ceremony. “For us it was sheer the call of the saint of Kolkata,” she said of her vocation.

“If not a saint, then why would the world follow her footsteps 19 years after her death? Her life, through her humanitarian work and her healing touch, is the everyday miracle that keeps us going,” said Sister Adelica, who came from Bangladesh for the ceremony and will spend a month working in India.

Before leaving for Vatican, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was part of the 40-member official delegation from the state, said: “Mother was the mother of humanity. Her love for the ailing, the needy, entire humanity was unbounded. Bengal is more proud as Mother lived and worked here and showered us with her abundant love and care.

“Bless us, Mother, so that we can continue to serve the people,” she prayed.

Nearly 250 miles away from Kolkata, in Nakor village, Monica Besra, whose healing from a tumor was Mother Teresa’s first miracle recognized by the Vatican, sat and prayed at the nearby cathedral.

“I miss not being at Vatican. But I was there for the beatification ceremony,” she told Catholic News Service by telephone. “For me she was a saint always, and I invoked her always in my prayers. Today the world recognizes her and prays to her.

“I was dying,” she said. “Mother had a healing touch and she healed me. That is enough for us. We are much better and a happy family now.”

— By Saadia Azim

 

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Catholic missionaries stay in South Sudan after brutal attack on foreigners

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Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — While most expatriate aid workers left South Sudan after a brutal attack on foreigners in the capital, a group of Catholic missionaries chose to stay.

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

“We stayed because we are committed to the ordinary people who are suffering so much,” La Sallian Christian Brother Bill Firman, director of Solidarity with South Sudan, said in an Aug. 29 telephone interview from Juba, the capital.

“My colleagues and I believe this is a good place for religious to be,” the Australian brother said, noting that “we know our continued presence encourages” local residents and “provides some hope.”

South Sudanese troops attacked aid workers in July in a Juba hotel. According to an Associated Press report, more than 80 armed men “raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions” for nearly four hours. One woman was raped by 15 men.

U.N. peacekeepers did not respond to repeated pleas for help.

Four days after the attack Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian aid and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the upsurge in violence in Juba had led it to evacuate its “non-essential international staff” from the capital.

CRS “is supporting the work of Solidarity with South Sudan to help those affected by the current violence with food, water and shelter in churches and schools, where many have sought refuge,” the July 15 statement from Baltimore said.

A civil war that began December 2013 has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes in the northeast African country. In July, hundreds of people in Juba were killed in fighting that dashed hopes of a transitional government ending the conflict. Since then, sporadic fighting has rocked the north and east of the country.

“None of our members were evacuated but many, probably most, expatriates were,” Brother Firman said. “Many foreign aid workers are returning now, and most of CRS’ staff came back fairly quickly.”

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international Catholic group of missionaries implementing teacher and health training, agriculture, trauma healing and pastoral programs in many parts of South Sudan, under the auspices of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“I don’t see any of our people being excessively nervous, and we are living a normal life here,” Brother Firman said. “But we are cautious, because we do live with uncertainty about the future and declining law and order.”

“Many people in Juba are very hungry,” Brother Firman said, noting that “the collapse of South Sudan’s economy” is a major concern.

South Sudan has a “very complex political situation, with many militias,” Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Joan Mumaw, Solidarity with South Sudan’s development director in the U.S., said in an Aug. 27 telephone interview from Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Violence has spread and everybody is armed,” she said, noting that “young boys with no education and no formation for life are taken into the military.”

Solidarity with South Sudan, which has a network of 17 congregations in 14 countries, uses its local religious partners to distribute humanitarian aid “to people most in need” for aid organizations whose usual routes have been disrupted, she said. As the “only credible group left in the predominantly Christian country,” the church, with its “strong ecumenical reach, has a chance of restoring peace” to South Sudan, Sister Mumaw said.

“But it will be very difficult to do this until the militia is stopped from killing and raping,” she said, noting a “new and complete lack of respect for human life.”

After a late-December attack on religious sisters at the Solidarity teacher training college in Yambio, the capital of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, and subsequent sporadic violence in the area, some training staff from neighboring Kenya and Uganda were evacuated, Sister Mumaw said.

“This leaves us with a shortage of staff in our capacity-building programs, and there is some feeling among local people that the international community has deserted them,” she said.

A primary school teacher who was among 50 graduates from the college last year has set up a makeshift school for about 300 children at a U.N. camp in Juba, Sister Mumaw said.

“This young man recognized the need and has pulled together everyone with training that he could find to educate these children,” she said. “The camp was built to house U.N. staff, not refugees, yet people fleeing violence have been taking shelter there for about two years.”

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