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‘In God, justice is mercy and mercy is justice,’ pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus was motivated by truth and mercy, not blanket judgments that lead to deceit and hypocritical ways of skirting around God’s law, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis delivers his homily during Mass  in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta last year at the Vatican. In his Feb. 23 at the chapel, the pope said Jesus was motivated by truth and mercy, not blanket judgments. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano handout via EPA) See POPE-HOMILY-DESOLATION Sept. 27, 2017.

Pope Francis delivers his homily during Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta last year at the Vatican. In his Feb. 23 at the chapel, the pope said Jesus was motivated by truth and mercy, not blanket judgments. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano/EPA) 

Christians are called to be “just in mercy” rather than following the letter of the law but not the heart of the law, the pope said Feb. 23 during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

“To those who wanted to put him to the test, to those who thought with this logic of ‘you can do this,’ he regards them, not here but in another passage of the Gospel, as hypocrites,” the pope said.

The day’s Gospel reading told of the Pharisees attempting to trap Jesus by asking his thoughts on Moses granting permission for men to divorce their wives.

“Jesus doesn’t answer saying whether it is lawful or not lawful; he does not enter into their case-based reasoning. Because they thought about faith only in terms of you can or you cant” do this or that, he said.

However, the pope noted, Jesus uses the truth to trap them, calling them out on their “hard-hearted” nature, which is precisely what they used to justify their actions.

Instead of being “deceitful” and “hypocritical” like the Pharisees, he continued, Jesus focuses on truth and mercy. Although Jesus confirms that leaving one spouse for another is adultery, he doesn’t reject those who are considered adulterous.

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus speaks to adulterers and says, “‘I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ How is this possible?” the pope asked.

“The path of Jesus, it is clearly seen, is the path from case-based reasoning to truth and mercy,” he said.

Christians need the grace of God in order to pass from a hypocritical mentality of case-based reasoning that views justice and mercy as two separate entities, he said.

“They are not two: it is only one, one thing,” Pope Francis said. “In God, justice is mercy and mercy is justice. May the Lord help us to understand this path, which isn’t easy but it will make us happy and it will make many people happy.”

 

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U.S. senators discuss trafficking, immigration with Vatican officials

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Catholic News Service

ROME — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met Feb. 23 with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to discuss U.S.-Vatican cooperation in fighting human trafficking and ending modern slavery.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, speaks to reporters Feb. 24 about his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met the press at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. (CNS photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See)

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, speaks to reporters Feb. 24 about his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met the press at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. (CNS photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See)

Corker told reporters Feb. 24 that while modern slavery was the focus of his visit, with so much international attention on President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, “certainly it came up. It was not stressed. We understand the pope has spoken very strongly about this issue.”

The senator said the United States and the Vatican have a “mutual interest in dealing with modern slavery,” a phenomenon involving some 27 million people; 24 percent of them, he said, are involved in forced prostitution, while the remaining 76 percent are subjected to “hard labor.”

Pope Francis repeatedly has highlighted the connection between restrictive immigration policies and the growth of human trafficking.

“Obviously, the migrant issue and the crisis it has generated there makes people even more vulnerable,” Corker said.

The senator said he believed Trump’s executive orders on immigration were just the first step in a more comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

While the revised orders have not yet been published, Corker said he believes the restrictions on immigration from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries where terrorism has been an issue would be a “temporary situation while they look at the vetting processes.”

“My hope is that what this is going to lead to is an immigration policy where we deal with the whole issue,” he said. “We’re beginning on the security front,” which responds to the concerns of many Americans.

Corker said he did not meet Cardinal Parolin has an emissary of the White House, but he does hope Trump will meet Pope Francis in May when the president is scheduled to be in Italy for a summit of the G-7 countries.

“Healthy relationships between our administration and the pope and the Vatican” are important for the people of the United States, he said. “As an American and as someone who sees the importance of this relationship, whether it’s in May or some other near-term point, I hope it occurs.”

Corker was not the only member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to visit the Vatican in late February.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, attended Pope Francis’ general audience Feb. 22 and spoke with the pope afterward about “the global refugee and migrant crisis,” his office said in a statement.

“As the pope stated so clearly yesterday (Feb. 21), it is a moral imperative to protect and defend the inalienable rights of refugees and respect their dignity, especially by adopting just laws that protect those fleeing dangerous or inhumane situations,” Kaine said.

The senator’s office said he also met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is the Vatican foreign minister, participated in a discussion focused on Latin American issues with Vatican officials and met with the Jesuit Refugee Service to discuss its work with refugees and asylum seekers.

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Vatican Letter: Pope’s remarks on refugee crisis aren’t intended for United States only

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis affirms basic Christian principles, he is not singling out one person or nation, but he definitely is not excluding them either.

The ongoing global migration and refugee crisis is a case in point. Read more »

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Pope: Catholics who fail to live a Christian life cause scandal

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — People who pretend to be Christians publicly, but follow their own selfish passions privately, destroy themselves and cause scandal to those around them, Pope Francis. Read more »

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Greed corrupts beauty of God’s creation, pope says at audience

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Humanity’s greed and selfishness can turn creation into a sad and desolate world instead of the sign of God’s love that it was meant to be, Pope Francis said.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic nominee for U.S. vice president in the 2016 election, talks with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York during Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 22. (CNS/Paul Haring)

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic nominee for U.S. vice president in the 2016 election, talks with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York during Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 22. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Human beings are often tempted to view creation as “a possession we can exploit as we please and for which we do not have to answer to anyone,” the pope said Feb. 22 at his weekly general audience.

“When carried away by selfishness, human beings end up ruining even the most beautiful things that have been entrusted to them,” the pope said.

As an early sign of spring, the audience was held in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since November. Despite the chilly morning temperatures, the pope made the rounds in his popemobile, greeting pilgrims and kissing bundled-up infants.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which expresses the hope “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption.”

St. Paul, the pope said, reminds Christians that creation is a “marvelous gift that God has placed in our hands.”

Through this gift, he said, “we can enter into a relationship with him and recognize the imprint of his loving plan, which we are all called to achieve together.”

Sin, however, breaks communion not only with God but with his creation, “thus making it a slave, submissive to our frailty,” the pope said.  

“Think about water. Water is a beautiful thing; it is so important. Water gives us life and it helps us in everything. But when minerals are exploited, water is contaminated and creation is destroyed and dirtied. This is just one example; there are many,” he said, departing from his prepared remarks.

When people break their relationship with creation, they not only lose their original beauty, he said, but they also “disfigure everything surrounding them,” causing a reminder of God’s love to become a bleak sign of pride and greed.

St. Paul tells believers that hope comes from knowing that God in his mercy wants to heal the “wounded and humbled hearts” of all men and women and, through them, “regenerate a new world and a new humanity, reconciled in his love,” Pope Francis said.

“The Holy Spirit sees beyond the negative appearances for us and reveals to us the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord is preparing for humanity,” the pope said.

“This is the content of our hope. A Christian does not live outside of the world; he knows how to recognize the signs of evil, selfishness and sin in his own life and in what surrounds him,” he said. “But at the same time, a Christian has learned to read all of this with the eyes of Easter, with the eyes of the risen Christ.”

 

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Populist demagoguery in the world fuels rejection of migrants, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Indifference, fueled by populist rhetoric in today’s world, fans the flames of rejection that threaten the rights and dignity of migrants, Pope Francis said.

Refugees from Eritrea tell Pope Francis about their journey to safety during a meeting Feb. 21 at the Vatican with participants in the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace. (CNS LíOsservatore Romano)

Refugees from Eritrea tell Pope Francis about their journey to safety during a meeting Feb. 21 at the Vatican with participants in the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace. (CNS LíOsservatore Romano)

Refugees escaping persecution, violence and poverty are often shunned and deemed as “unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will,” the pope told participants of the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace.

“Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery, what is needed is a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors,” he said Feb. 21.

The Feb. 21-22 conference, “Integration and Development: From Reaction to Action,” was organized by the Scalabrini International Migration Network and sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

According to the forum’s website, the conference focused on refugee crisis management while aiming to “influence migration policies and practices in Europe.”

In his speech, the pope said millions of people are being forced to flee their homelands due to “conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty and inhumane living conditions.”

To confront this challenge, he said, the church and civil society must have a “shared response” of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.

Providing access to “secure humanitarian channels,” legal paths to safety, is crucial in helping people who are “fleeing conflicts and terrible persecutions,” but are often met with rejection and indifference.

“A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter,” the pope said.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI, the pope said the need to defend the “inalienable rights” of exiled and exploited men and women is a duty “from which no one can be exempted.”

“Protecting these brothers and sisters is a moral imperative which translates into adopting juridical instruments, both international and national, that must be clear and relevant,” the pope said.

Protection, he added, can only be guaranteed by ensuring “necessary conditions,” such as fair access to fundamental goods, that offer “the possibility of choice and growth.”

Pope Francis also highlighted the need for integration, which is a “two-way process rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other’s cultural richness.”

Integration is different from assimilation, he said, warning that superimposing one culture over another has the “insidious and dangerous risk of creating ghettos.”

At the same time, he said, migrants are “duty bound not to close themselves off from the culture and traditions of the receiving country” while “respecting above all its laws.”

Helping migrants, exiles and refugees “is today a responsibility, a duty we have toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, civility and solidarity,” the pope said.

Responding to the migration crisis also involves addressing the root causes of the situations that force people to flee, he said, pointing particularly to “unacceptable economic inequality,” which violates “the principle of the universal destination of the earth’s goods.”

“One group of individuals cannot control half of the world’s resources,” Pope Francis said. “We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs.”

Recognizing each person as a member of the same human family, brother or sister created in God’s image, is key to ensuring a proper response to the crisis, the pope insisted. “Fraternity is the most civil way of relating to the reality of another person, which does not threaten us but engages, reaffirms and enriches our individual identity.”

Pope Francis called for “a change of attitude” in understanding the needs of migrants and refugees, a change that moves away from fear and indifference to a “culture of encounter” that builds “a better, more just and fraternal world.”

“The duty of solidarity is to the counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable,” he said.

 

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Pope’s tip for becoming a saint: Pray for someone who doesn’t like you

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Catholic News Service

ROME — A practical first step toward holiness, as well as for assuring peace in one’s family and in the world, is to pray for a person who has caused offense or harm, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he greets the crowd outside St. Mary Josefa Church as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the parish in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he greets the crowd outside St. Mary Josefa Church as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the parish in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS /Paul Haring)

“Are you merciful toward the people who have harmed you or don’t like you? If God is merciful, if he is holy, if he is perfect, then we must be merciful, holy and perfect as he is. This is holiness. A man or woman who does this deserves to be canonized,” the pope said Feb. 19 during an evening parish Mass.

“I suggest you start small,” Pope Francis told members of the parish of St. Mary Josefa on the extreme eastern edge of the Diocese of Rome. “We all have enemies. We all know that so-and-so speaks ill of us. We all know. And we all know that this person or that person hates us.”

When that happens, the pope said, “I suggest you take a minute, look at God (and say), ‘This person is your son or your daughter, change his or her heart, bless him or her.’ This is praying for those who don’t like us, for our enemies. Perhaps the rancor will remain in us, but we are making an effort to follow the path of this God who is so good, merciful, holy, perfect, who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good.”

The day’s first reading included the line, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy,” and in the Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

“You might ask me, ‘But, father, what is the path to holiness?’ ‘What is the journey needed to become holy?’ Jesus explains it well in the Gospel. He explains it with concrete examples,” the pope said.

The first example, he said, is “not taking revenge. If I have some rancor in my heart for something someone has done, I want vengeance, but this moves me off the path of holiness. No revenge. ‘But he did this and he will pay.’ Is this Christian? No. ‘He will pay’ is not in the Christian’s vocabulary. No revenge.”

In people’s everyday lives, he said, their squabbles with their relatives or neighbors may seem a little thing, but they are not. “These big wars we read about in the papers and see on the news, these massacres of people, of children, how much hatred! It’s the same hatred you have in your heart for this person, that person, that relative, your mother-in-law. It’s bigger, but it’s the same hatred.”

Forgiveness, the pope said, is the path toward holiness and toward peace. “If everyone in the world learned this, there would be no wars.”

Wars begin “with bitterness, rancor, the desire for vengeance, to make them pay,” he said. It’s an attitude that destroys families and neighborhoods and peaceful relations between nations.

“I’m not telling you what to do, Jesus is: Love your enemies. ‘You mean I have to love that person?’ Yes.”

“‘I have to pray for someone who has harmed me?’ Yes, that he will change his life, that the Lord will forgive him,” the pope said. “This is the magnanimity of God, of God who has a big heart, who forgives all.”

“Prayer is an antidote for hatred, for wars, these wars that begin at home, in families,” he said. “Think of how many wars there have been in families because of an inheritance.”

“Prayer is powerful. Prayer defeats evil. Prayer brings peace,” the pope said.

As is his custom for parish visits, Pope Francis began this three-hour visit to St. Mary Josefa by meeting different parish groups, including children, who were invited to ask him questions.

One asked how he became pope and Pope Francis said when a pope is elected “maybe he is not the most intelligent, perhaps not the most astute or the quickest at doing what must be done, but he is the one who God wants for the church at that moment.”

Pope Francis explained that when a pope dies or resigns, like Pope Benedict XVI did, the cardinals gather for a conclave. “They speak among themselves, discuss what profile would be best, who has this advantage and who has that one. But, above all, they pray.”

They use their reason to try to figure out what the church needs and who could provide it, he said, but mostly they rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire them in their choice.

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When there’s no listening, there’s violence, pope says at university

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Addressing the fear of immigrants, dissatisfaction with a “fluid economy” and the impatience and vitriol seen in politics and society, Pope Francis told Rome university students to practice a kind of “intellectual charity” that promotes dialogue and sees value in diversity.

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives for a Feb. 17 meeting at Roma Tre University. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives for a Feb. 17 meeting at Roma Tre University. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

“There are lots of remedies against violence,” but they must start first with one’s heart being open to hearing other people’s opinions and then talking things out with patience, he said in a 45-minute off-the-cuff talk.

“It necessary to tone it down a bit, to talk less and listen more,” he told hundreds of students, staff and their family members and friends during a visit Feb. 17 to Roma Tre University.

Arriving at the university, the pope slowly made his way along a long snaking pathway of metal barricades throughout the campus, smiling, shaking hands and posing for numerous selfies with smiling members of the crowd. When handed a small baby cocooned in a bright red snowsuit for a papal kiss, the pope joked whether the child was attending the university, too.

Seated on a platform facing an open courtyard, the pope listened to questions from four students, including Nour Essa, who was one of the 12 Syrian refugees the pope had brought to Rome on a papal flight from Lesbos, Greece, in 2016.

The pope said he had received the questions beforehand and wrote a prepared text, but he preferred to answer “from the heart” and be “more spontaneous because I like it better that way.”

Asked what remedy could counteract the world’s violence and how to live well in such a fast-paced, globalized world of social networks, the pope said today’s frenetic pace “makes us violent at home.”

Family members don’t bother saying “good morning” to each other, they absentmindedly say “hi” or eat together in silence, each absorbed with a smartphone, he said.

The faster the pace in life, the more people become “nameless” because no one takes the time to get to know the other, ending up with a situation where “I greet you as if you were an object.”

The tendency to de-personalize others, which starts in one’s own heart, at home and with relationships, “grows and grows and it will become violence worldwide,” he said.

“In a society where politics has sunk very low, and I’m talking about society around the world, not here, one loses the sense” of building up civic life and social harmony, which is done through dialogue.

Pope Francis commented on the way many electoral campaigns and debates feature people interrupting each other. “Wait! Listen carefully to what the other thinks and then respond,” he said, and ask for clarification when the point isn’t understood.

“Where there is no dialogue, there is violence,” he said.

The pope said universities must be places dedicated to this kind of openness, dialogue and respect for a diversity of opinions and ideas.

An institution cannot claim it is offering higher education if there is no “dialogue, discussion, listening, where there is no respect for how others think, where there is no friendship, joy of play,” he said.

People go to university to learn and listen, but not passively, the pope said. It is a place to actively seek the good, the beautiful and the true, as a journey done together over time.

He also critiqued the so-called “fluid economy,” which leads to a lack of stable, solid employment.

Networked trades and transactions in which a person can make, like a business friend of his did, $10,000 in 10 minutes trading commodities is an example of this “fluid” economy, he said.

This “liquidity” erases “the culture of work” and everything that is concrete about labor “because you cannot work and young people don’t know what to do,” which can lead them to addictions or suicide.

“Or the lack of work leads me to join a terrorist militia. ‘At least I have something to do and have meaning in my life.’ It’s horrible,” he said.

Essa, the 31-year-old Syrian woman, told the pope she, her husband and small boy were living in a refugee camp in Lesbos until “our life changed in one day, thanks to you.” Already possessing degrees from her studies in Syria and France, Essa was finishing a degree in biology at Roma Tre.

She asked the pope to address the fear of immigrants, saying she remembered a journalist on the papal flight a year ago asking about people’s fear of those coming from Syria and Iraq and whether they threatened Europe’s Christian culture.

“How many invasions has Europe had?” during its long history, the pope asked.

Europe has been built upon invasions and movements of peoples, he said. “Migration is not a danger, it is a challenge to grow,” he said.

It is only logical that people migrate to escape from conflict, exploitation, hunger and lack of development, he said.

“Don’t exploit. Don’t be the bullies that go to exploit” these nations already suffering so much, he said.

Asking his audience to reflect on how the Mediterranean Sea has become “a cemetery” with the drowning of so many immigrants, he said those fleeing their homelands first must be seen as one’s own “human brothers and sisters. They are men and women like us.”

Each country must determine how many refugees and migrants it can properly welcome and integrate with structures and resources in place so the newcomers can become contributing members of the community and not isolated or “ghetto-ized.””

While trying to grapple with the way times change, he said, it’s also true some things just stay the same. “If we don’t learn to understand life as it comes, we will never ever learn to live it.”

Life is like being a “goalie” where people have to be alert and ready to grab the ball from whatever direction it comes, Pope Francis said. Today “is a different age, that is coming from somewhere I didn’t expect, but I have to take it, I have to take it as it comes without fear.”

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God will ask an account for blood spilled in today’s wars, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Humankind will have to answer to God for the bloodshed of the innocent victims of war, and the blood spilled by greed and arms trafficking, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis watches as children release doves from the window of his studio at the Vatican in this Jan. 26, 2014, file photo. In his Feb. 16 morning Mass homily, the pope recalled the dove release and how a seagull and crow swooped down to attack the doves. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis watches as children release doves from the window of his studio at the Vatican in this Jan. 26, 2014, file photo. In his Feb. 16 morning Mass homily, the pope recalled the dove release and how a seagull and crow swooped down to attack the doves. (CNS/Paul Haring)

While God has given peace to the world, inside all human beings “there is still that seed, that original sin, the spirit of Cain who out of envy, jealousy, greed and the desire for domination, makes war,” the pope said Feb. 16 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

“Today in the world, blood is being spilled. Today the world is at war. So many brothers and sisters die, even innocents, because the great, the powerful want a bigger piece of the earth; they want a little bit more power or want to gain a bit more through arms trafficking,” he said.

The pope centered his homily on the day’s first reading in which God makes a covenant with Noah and all of humanity after the flood and warns that he “will demand an account for human life.”

This covenant, along with the rainbow and the dove holding an olive branch, are signs of “what God wanted after the flood: peace; that all men and women would be in peace,” the pope explained.

The rainbow and the dove are symbolic of peace not only because of their beauty, but also because of their fragility, he said. “The rainbow is beautiful after a storm, but when a cloud comes, it disappears,” and doves are easy prey for predators.

The pope recalled the unfortunate incident when, after delivering his Sunday Angelus address Jan. 26, 2014, he and two children released two doves as a gesture of peace. A seagull and a crow swooped down and attacked the two doves.

“The covenant God makes is strong, but how we receive it, how we accept it is with weakness,” the pope said. “God makes peace with us, but it isn’t easy to keep the peace.”

The seed of war that creates jealousy, envy and greed in people’s hearts, the pope continued, “has grown into a tree,” causing “bombs that fall on hospitals, on a school and kills children.”

“The blood of Christ is what makes peace, not my brothers’ blood that is spilled by me, or arms traffickers or the powers of the earth in the great wars,” he said.

Pope Francis said that all men and women are called not only to protect peace, but to “handcraft” it every day, beginning in their hearts and in their homes.

He recalled a childhood memory when, after hearing the sounds of sirens and alarm bells ringing throughout his neighborhood, a neighbor tearfully exclaimed to his mother: “The war is over.”

“May the Lord give us the grace of being able to say: ‘The war is over’ and weep. ‘The war is over in my heart, the war is over in my family, the war is over in my neighborhood, the war is over in my workplace, the war is over in the world’ so that the dove, the rainbow and the covenant will be stronger,” the pope said.

 

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Special Olympians demonstrate that ‘every person is a gift,’ pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The athletes of the Special Olympics witness to the world the beauty and value of every human life and the joy that comes from reaching a goal with the encouragement and support of others, Pope Francis said.

Pope receives a stuffed animal from a participant in the Special Olympics during a meeting Feb. 16 at the Vatican. The athletes and organizers were at the Vatican to promote the Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will be held in Austria March 14-25. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope receives a stuffed animal from a participant in the Special Olympics during a meeting Feb. 16 at the Vatican. The athletes and organizers were at the Vatican to promote the Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will be held in Austria March 14-25. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Together, athletes and helpers show us that there are no obstacles or barriers which cannot be overcome,” the pope told representatives of the Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will take place in Austria March 14-25.

“You are a sign of hope for all who commit themselves to a more inclusive society,” the pope told the group Feb. 16. “Every life is precious, every person is a gift, and inclusion enriches every community and society. This is your message for the world, for a world without borders, which excludes no one.”

Pope Francis praised the passion and dedication of the Special Olympians as they train for their events, and said sports are good for everyone, physically and mentally.

“The constant training, which also requires effort and sacrifice, helps you to grow in patience and perseverance, gives you strength and courage and lets you acquire and develop talents which would otherwise remain hidden,” the pope told the athletes.

“In a way,” he said, “at the heart of all sporting activity is joy: the joy of exercising, of being together, of being alive and rejoicing in the gifts the Creator gives us each day. Seeing the smile on your faces and the great happiness in your eyes when you have done well in an event, for the sweetest victory is when we surpass ourselves. We realize what true and well-deserved joy feels like!”

Watching the Special Olympians, he said, everyone should learn “to enjoy small and simple pleasures, and to enjoy them together.”

Sporting events, especially international events like the Special Olympics World Winter Games, help “spread a culture of encounter and solidarity,” the pope said, wishing the athletes “joyful days together and time with friends from around the world.”

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