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People must dialogue and respect other religions, cultures, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In societies increasingly made up of people of different cultures and religions, people must learn the art of dialogue and reach out to others with respect and friendship, Pope Francis said.

“Dialogue does not mean renouncing your identity” or “accepting compromises on faith and Catholic morals,” the pope told members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Meeting council members Nov. 28 at the end of their plenary meeting, which focused on the role of religions in society, Pope Francis said true dialogue is not a negotiation, but requires participants to share who they really are and ask others to do likewise.

“Interreligious dialogue and evangelization are not mutually exclusive,” the pope said, but they actually strengthen each other. “We don’t impose anything, we don’t use some subtle strategy to attract the faithful, but rather we give witness to what we believe in and who we are with joy and simplicity.”

A relationship in which people put aside what they believe or pretend to believe differently would not be authentic and would help no one, the pope said.

Pope Francis said modern societies are demonstrating fear of other religions, but also fear of any religion, which is another reason why followers of different faiths should meet, dialogue and work together to promote the common good and show others that faith makes positive contributions to society.

Religion, he said, is often seen as “something useless or even dangerous,” and in some countries some Christians are asked to set aside their religious convictions if they want to exercise their professions.

“The idea that peaceful coexistence is possible only by hiding one’s religious affiliation is widespread,” Pope Francis said. There again, he said, what society is left with is something fake, which cannot benefit anyone.

“Certainly, it’s necessary that everything be done with respect for the convictions of others, including those who do not believe,” the pope said, “but we must have the courage and patience to encounter others, bringing who we are.”

A future of peace for everyone, he said, will require “a coexistence that is respectful of diversity, not the homogenization of a theoretically neutral” way of thinking.

Full religious freedom is an essential part of that respectful diversity, he said.

The Catholic Church will continue to press for religious freedom and it will continue to denounce the many situations of political and economic tension where the unscrupulous use religious or cultural differences to exacerbate fears, Pope Francis said.

“There is only one path for overcoming fear,” he said, “and it is that of dialogue, encounters marked by friendship and respect. This path is the human path.”


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Pope Francis prays for victims of sex abuse


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In his clearest public reference as pope to the subject of clerical sex abuse, Pope Francis urged bishops to support abuse victims while also reaching out to priests who have “fallen short of their commitments.”

The pope made his remarks Dec. 2 to bishops from the Netherlands making their first visits “ad limina apostolorum” (“to the threshold of the apostles”) since they met with Blessed John Paul II in 2004.

Speaking in French, the pope brought up sex abuse near the end of his talk, in a section devoted to bishops’ care of priests under their authority.

“Like fathers, find the necessary time to welcome (your priests) and listen to them, every time they ask. And do not forget to go out to meet those who do not approach you; some of them unfortunately have fallen short of their commitments. In particular, I want to express my compassion and assure my prayers to all victims of sexual abuse and their families; I ask you to continue to support them along their painful path of healing, undertaken with courage,” the pope said.

It was Pope Francis’ most explicit reference to clerical sex abuse, in public or in a statement released by the Vatican, since his election in March.

According to a 2011 report by a Dutch government commission, as many as 20,000 children may have been abused in the country’s Catholic institutions between 1945 and 1981.

In his remarks to the pope, Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, president of the Dutch bishops’ conference, said the conference had established an independent foundation to assist victims.

“We are determined to recognize the problems of the victims, to compensate them for damages and help them to heal as much as possible,” the cardinal said.

Pope Francis also urged the bishops to promote church teaching on marriage and euthanasia through dialogue with the rest of society in the Netherlands, whose population is approximately 30 percent Catholic.

“In your society, strongly marked by secularization, I encourage you to be present in public debate, everywhere man is involved,” he said.

Pope Francis said the church “is sent everywhere to awaken, reawaken, sustain hope! Hence the importance of encouraging your faithful to seize occasions for dialogue, and be present in the places where the future is decided, so they can contribute to debates on the great social questions, for example, of family, marriage, the end of life.”

The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001, and permits physician-assisted suicide.

Cardinal Eijk told the pope that Catholics in the Netherlands have been steadily diminishing in number, and predicted that a “third of the Catholic churches in our country will be closed by 2020 and two thirds by 2025.”


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Christians must work together to protect religious freedom, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, in a message to Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, called for increased cooperation among Christians to protect religious freedom and the right to promote Christian values in society without discrimination.

Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, at the Vatican in late March. In a message to Patriarch Bartholomew, the pope called for increased cooperation among Christians to protect religious freedom and the right to promote Christian values in society without discrimination. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

There is “an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one’s faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture,” the pope said in a written message delivered Nov. 30 to the patriarch in Istanbul.

The pope’s message was carried to Patriarch Bartholomew by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who led a Vatican delegation to Istanbul for the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, the patriarchate’s patron saint.

In his message, Pope Francis also called for continued prayers and greater dialogue in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

“I am aware that you are deeply concerned for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain in their homelands,” he wrote the patriarch.

“Dialogue, pardon and reconciliation are the only possible means to achieve the resolution of conflict,” he wrote. “Let us be unceasing in our prayer to the all-powerful and merciful God for peace in this region, and let us continue to work for reconciliation and the just recognition of people’s rights.”

Pope Francis wrote that many Christians in many parts of the world still experience discrimination “and at times pay with their own blood the price of their profession of faith.”

He noted that 2013 marked the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, a proclamation of tolerance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, which is often seen as a symbol of the first affirmation of the principle of religious freedom.

The edict “put an end to religious persecution in the Roman Empire in both East and West, and opened new channels for the dissemination of the Gospel,” he wrote.

“Today, as then, Christians of East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also mentioned the upcoming 50th anniversary of the historic encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the meeting in 1964 that set the stage for Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation and dialogue.

“God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us throughout these years to regard one another as members of the same family. For indeed we have one Lord and one savior,” the pope wrote.

In his address to the Vatican delegation in Istanbul, Patriarch Bartholomew said he believed Pope Francis “will constitute a renewed inspiration for the common journey of our two churches toward the world in order that we may assume social and moral initiatives for the consolation of humanity, which is suffering from diverse global crises.”

He underlined the importance of joining the pope for his expected visit to Jerusalem in 2014 to commemorate Pope Paul’s meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras. Meeting in Jerusalem would usher in a new season of ecumenical dialogue, Patriarch Bartholomew said.

Ecumenical talks have not been very productive so far, the patriarch said, because they mostly have been “monologues where each side presented its own positions and arguments.”

Future dialogue must “discern the teaching of the Lord and his apostles, as this was experienced and witnessed by the common patristic theology of the undivided church.”

Pope Francis also wrote in his message that he wished “to pursue fraternal relations between the Church of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarchate” and build upon “the depth and the authenticity of our existing bonds.”

In his recent apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pope wrote about the important things that already unite many Christians.

“If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another,” he wrote, for example, “in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.”

Pope Francis said the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew at the 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization was “a true gift from God and a precious Christian witness.”


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A Christian’s life is an encounter with Christ, pope says at start of Advent


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The best present in life is encountering Jesus, an encounter that will last a lifetime, Pope Francis said.

A Christian’s whole life “is an encounter with Jesus: in prayer, when we go to Mass, when we do good works, when we visit the sick, when we help the poor, when we think of others, when we’re not self-centered, when we are amiable,” he said in a homily given at a Rome parish Dec. 1.

Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to a young man during Mass at the Parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in Rome Dec. 1. The pope confirmed several young men. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We always encounter Christ in these things and the journey of life is exactly this: walking to encounter Jesus,” he said.

Beginning Advent for the first time as pope, Pope Francis visited the parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome.

Before celebrating Mass, he met with the sick, children who recently received their first Communion, and, accompanied by their parents, children baptized in the past year. He also heard confessions from a few parishioners and met with a group of young men he confirmed during the evening Mass.

The pope apologized to parishioners for any inconveniences caused by his visit, be it “excessive organization, security, fear; please know that I don’t agree. I’m on your side,” he said.

Some news reports said a beefed-up police presence was also due to protests calling for more affordable housing. The pope later met with some of the activists.

In his homily, the pope asked the congregation if it were true that church life ended with the sacrament of confirmation, saying he’s heard it’s also known as the “sacrament of adieu” because it’s often the last time people go to church.

Encountering Christ is not a one-time event, “we encounter him every day,” he said.

However, some people, especially those who lived a life of sin, may think “How can I encounter Jesus,” he said.

“But, you know, the people Jesus tried to find most of all were the biggest sinners,” he said.

While those who believed they were without sin would admonish Jesus for keeping company with sinners, Jesus would tell them, “I have come for those who need good health, who need healing,” the pope said.

“When we sin, Jesus comes and forgives us” in confession, he added.

“Do you want to met Jesus in your life,” he asked the young men he was about to confirm. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, “you will have more strength for this journey.”

Don’t be afraid, he told them, because “the most beautiful present is encountering Jesus.”

The evening before, Pope Francis continued the papal tradition of celebrating vespers on the vigil of the first Sunday of Advent with students and professors from universities in Rome.

He urged young people to not be swayed by public opinion, but to go against the tide by remaining faithful to their Christian values.

“Don’t watch life go by from the balcony,” he also said, but be where the challenges of the modern day world are. “Whoever doesn’t respond to challenges are not living,” he said, pinpointing the problems of development, human dignity, poverty and life.


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Pope Francis discusses peace in Middle East with Israel’s prime minister

December 2nd, 2013 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel Dec. 2, and discussed prospects for peace in the Middle East and the pope’s still-unscheduled trip to the Holy Land.

The two met privately for about 25 minutes in the pope’s library.

Pope Francis presents a gift to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a private audience at the Vatican December 2. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)

A statement from the Vatican press office said the leaders discussed the “complex political and social situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hoping that a just and lasting solution may be found as soon as possible.”

The pope’s plans for a trip to the Holy Land also came up, but the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters no date had been set. Unofficial reports suggest the trip will be in May or June.

After their private meeting, the prime minister presented the pope with a book about the Spanish Inquisition’s persecution of the Jews.

The book, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain,” was written by the prime minister’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, a noted historian who died in 2012 at the age of 102. It argues that Spanish Christians of Jewish origin were persecuted not for any religious deviations but because of racism and envy of their economic success.

The prime minister had inscribed his present, a copy of the book’s Spanish edition, “To His Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage.”

Netanyahu also gave Pope Francis a silver menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum used in celebrating the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, sitting on a silver tray with a little silver oil pitcher.

The pope gave Netanyahu a bronze plaque bearing an image of St. Paul.

It was the two men’s first meeting, but Netanyahu had met with Blessed John Paul II in 1997 and with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.


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Vatican Letter: To progress in evangelizing, pope confronts church’s shortcomings


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization met at the Vatican in October 2012, among the top items on the agenda was the threat of militant secularism in a post-Christian West.

“It is as if a tsunami of secular influence has swept across the cultural landscape, taking with it such societal markers as marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong,” and posing new impediments to spreading the Gospel, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the synod’s relator, told the gathering at its first working session.

Pope Francis gestures as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

The same topic arose repeatedly in addresses by synod fathers, especially those from Europe and North America, and in the final propositions they gave the pope as the basis for his post-synodal apostolic exhortation. But Pope Benedict XVI resigned before he could write such a document, leaving the task to his successor, who finally responded with “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), published Nov. 26.

In writing the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis departed from usual practice and declined to use the draft provided by synod officials. The result is a text in the pope’s distinctive voice and focused on his particular concerns. Among the features that distinguish “Evangelii Gaudium” from the synod that gave rise to it, none is more striking than how little attention it pays to the problem of secularism.

The pope criticizes contemporary society and culture, especially in the world’s richer nations, for their “idolatry of money” and an “economy of exclusion and inequality.” But he makes only a few broad references to the “crude and superficial” intolerance of unbelievers and the danger a distorted pluralism poses to religious freedom.

By contrast, Pope Francis devotes much of his exhortation to the shortcomings of the church itself. He laments its “excessive centralization” in the Vatican, which he finds a hindrance to the church’s “missionary outreach.” He complains about members of religious orders who show an “inordinate concern for their personal freedom and relaxation,” and about priests “obsessed with protecting their free time.”

The pope criticizes those who show an “ostentatious preoccupation with the liturgy, doctrine and the church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.” He upbraids Catholics with a “business mentality, caught up with management, statistics, plans and evaluations, whose principal beneficiary is not God’s people but the church as an institution.”

And he regrets that women do not yet have a sufficient role in decision-making within the church.

Pope Francis also deplores divisiveness within the ranks, writing: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, and even persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

Most remarkably, the pope devotes nearly a tenth of the entire document to suggestions for improving priests’ homilies, which in his telling are all too often moralistic, unlearned, disorganized and verbose.

These problems matter, the pope makes clear, insofar as they impede efforts to make the church’s structures “more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, and to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him.”

It is thus surprising that, with the possible exception of a reference to the “pain and the shame we feel at the sins of some members of our church,” Pope Francis does not even allude to what most people inside and outside the church would regard as its greatest scandal of recent years: the sexual abuse of minors by priests. This scandal is not, strictly speaking, a question of evangelization. But as Pope Benedict wrote to the Catholics of Ireland in March 2010, church leaders’ failures to prevent and punish clerical sex abuse “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Over the last decade, bishops’ conferences in a number of countries, including the United States and Canada, have taken systematic action to protect children from this threat, and the Vatican has instructed the rest of the world’s bishops to do likewise. Yet by all accounts the process is still far from complete. Carrying it out will presumably be a priority for Pope Francis, as part of his campaign to reform and purify the church at every level for the sake of its essential evangelical mission.


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Pope Francis proclaims ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ — 50,000-word ‘exhortation’ is his vision for the church


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In his first extensive piece of writing as pope, Pope Francis lays out a vision of the Catholic Church dedicated to evangelization in a positive key, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

“Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), released by the Vatican Nov. 26, is an apostolic exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis’ first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei,” published in July, was mostly the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope wrote the new document in response to the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, but declined to work from a draft provided by synod officials.

Pope Francis’ voice is unmistakable in the 50,000-word document’s relatively relaxed style, he writes that an “evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral,” and its emphasis on some of his signature themes, including the dangers of economic globalization and “spiritual worldliness.”

The church’s message “has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary,” he writes. “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”

Inspired by Jesus’ poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a “church which is poor and for the poor.”

The poor “have much to teach us,” he writes. “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”

Charity is more than mere handouts, “it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor,” the pope writes. “This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”

Yet he adds that the “worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. … They need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith.”

Pope Francis reiterates his earlier criticisms of “ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” which he blames for the current financial crisis and attributes to an “idolatry of money.”

He emphasizes that the church’s concern for the vulnerable extends to “unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us,” whose defense is “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”

“A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development,” the pope writes, in his strongest statement to date on the subject of abortion. “Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”

The pope writes that evangelization entails peacemaking, among other ways through ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. He “humbly” calls on Muslim majority countries to grant religious freedom to Christians, and enjoins Catholics to “avoid hateful generalizations” based on “disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism,” since “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence.”

Pope Francis characteristically directs some of his strongest criticism at his fellow clergy, among other reasons, for what he describes as largely inadequate preaching.

The faithful and “their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies,” he writes: “the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them.”

The pope devotes several pages to suggestions for better homilies, based on careful study of the Scriptures and respect for the principle of brevity.

Pope Francis reaffirms church teaching that only men can be priests, but notes that their “sacramental power” must not be “too closely identified with power in general,” nor “understood as domination”; and he allows for the “possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the church’s life.”

As he has done in a number of his homilies and public statements, the pope stresses the importance of mercy, particularly with regard to the church’s moral teaching. While lamenting “moral relativism” that paints the church’s teaching on sexuality as unjustly discriminatory, he also warns against overemphasizing certain teachings out of the context of more essential Christian truths.

In words very close to those he used in an oft-quoted interview with a Jesuit journalist in August, Pope Francis writes that “pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed,” lest they distract from the Gospel’s primary invitation to “respond to the God of love who saves us.”

Returning to a theme of earlier statements, the pope also warns against “spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the church, (but) consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being,” either through embrace of a “purely subjective faith” or a “narcissistic and authoritarian elitism” that overemphasizes certain rules or a “particular Catholic style from the past.”

Despite his censures and warnings, the pope ends on a hopeful note true to his well-attested devotion to Mary, whom he invokes as the mother of evangelization and “wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones.”


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At Vatican meeting, Pope Francis discusses war in Syria with Putin


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Peace in the Middle East, particularly the ongoing war in Syria, topped the agenda Nov. 25 as Pope Francis welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Vatican.

The Russian president “conveyed the greetings of (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Kirill, but there was not a discussion of ecumenical relations,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

Pope Francis shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican Nov. 25. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

A formal statement issued after the meeting said “special attention was given to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and to the serious situation in Syria.”

The Vatican said Putin thanked the pope for a letter the pope had written him in September when the Russian president was hosting a summit of the G-20 leaders of the world’s largest economies. The pope asked the leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” to the Syria crisis and promote dialogue and negotiation.

Putin’s government has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad and has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions to authorize the use of force to oust the Syrian president.

Pope Francis led a prayer vigil for peace in Syria in September and had asked other Christians around the world to observe a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Middle Eastern country. The war has claimed more than 100,000 lives in fighting since March 2011 and some 9 million have been displaced or forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

The Vatican statement said that during the pope’s meeting with Putin, “the urgency of stopping the violence and bringing the necessary humanitarian assistance to the (Syrian) population was underlined,” as well as the need to promote negotiations and “involve the various ethnic and religious components, recognizing their essential role in society.”

Father Lombardi said the two also spoke about “the life of the Catholic community in Russia” and its contributions to the life of society, the oppression of Christians in some parts of the world, the defense and promotion of human dignity and the safeguarding of human life and the family.

Putin’s plane arrived late in Rome and he was more than 45 minutes late for his meeting with the pope. The two spoke privately, aided by interpreters, for 35 minutes before Putin introduced the members of his entourage, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Pope Francis gave Putin a mosaic with a view of the Vatican gardens and Putin gave Pope Francis an icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, one of the most venerated images in the Russian Orthodox Church.

As the pope was moving away from the gift table, Putin was overheard asking him, “Do you like the icon?” When the pope said yes, Putin made the sign of the cross, bowed and kissed the icon and the pope did likewise.

Father Lombardi said the ongoing tensions in the Middle East also were the main focus of Putin’s meeting later with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with several thousand Ukrainian Catholic pilgrims, many of them concerned about the demonstrations that had been going on in Kiev to protest Putin’s alleged efforts to discourage Ukraine’s government from forging closer economic ties with the European Union.

At the end of his Sunday Angelus address Nov. 24, Pope Francis also mentioned the Ukrainians’ prayerful remembrance of the 80th anniversary of the “Holodomor” or “Terror-Famine of Ukraine.”

The pope described the Holodomor as “the great famine provoked by the Soviet regime that caused millions of victims.” Largely blamed on Joseph Stalin’s radical economic policies, and perhaps augmented by his desire to crush the Ukrainian resistance, some 1.8 million to 3.5 million Ukrainians died of starvation in 1932 and 1933.

Critics have accused Putin of promoting a revisionist and overly favorable image of Stalin’s regime and particularly of his prowess in turning the Soviet Union into a superpower.


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Pope Francis closes the Year of Faith with call to keep Christ at center of life


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis closed the Year of Faith by calling on people to keep Christ at the center of their lives, especially in times of trouble.

“When Jesus is at the center, light shines even the darkest moments of our lives; he gives us hope,” he said in his homily Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King.

Pope Francis censes the relics of St. Peter the Apostle on the altar during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 24. The bone fragments, which were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s, are kept in the pope’s private chapel but had never been displayed in public. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

The closing Mass in St. Peter’s Square also saw, for the first time, the exposition for public veneration of bones believed to be those of St. Peter. The apostle is believed to have been martyred on a hill overlooking St. Peter’s Square and buried a tomb now located two levels below the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Eight bone fragments, each two to three centimeters long, were nestled in an open bronze reliquary displayed to the side of the altar.

During the ceremony, the pope, the 265th successor of Peter, held the closed reliquary for several minutes in silent prayer while choirs sang the Nicene Creed in Latin.

The bones, which were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940s, are kept in the pope’s private chapel but had never been displayed in public.

While no pope has ever declared the bones to be authentic, Pope Paul VI said in 1968 that the “relics” of St. Peter had been “identified in a way which we can hold to be convincing.”

Pope Francis began his homily by thanking retired Pope Benedict XVI for establishing the Year of Faith, calling it a “providential initiative” that gave Christians “the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our baptism.”

The pope then greeted patriarchs and archbishops of the Eastern Catholic churches, who were in Rome for a meeting, and extended those greetings to all Christians living in the Holy Land, Syria and the East, wishing “them the gift of peace and harmony.”

He expressed his appreciation for their fidelity to Christ, which comes “often at a high price.”

In his homily, the pope focused on “the centrality of Christ” and how the faithful are expected to recognize and accept “the centrality of Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words and works.”

“When this center is lost, because it is replaced with something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves,” he said.

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading of the good thief, who was crucified alongside Jesus, repents and asks Jesus to remember him in paradise, the pope said Jesus responds to the man with forgiveness, “not condemnation.”

“Whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard.”

The pope said everyone should ask the Lord to remember them because “each one of us has a history,” has made mistakes and sinned as well as experienced happy times and sad.

People need to say, “‘Jesus, remember me because I want to be good, I have the desire to become good, but I don’t have the strength. I can’t, I’m a sinner,’” the pope said. In response, “the Lord always grants more than what he has been asked.”

With an estimated 60,000 people gathered in the square for the Mass, a special collection was taken up for victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

At the end of the Mass and before reciting the Angelus prayer at noon, the pope formally presented his first apostolic exhortation to representatives of the church community, including bishops, seminarians, catechists, Catholic journalists and a woman with a visual impairment, who received her copy as an audio file on a CD-ROM.

The new document on evangelization, titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), was to be released to the public Nov. 26.

In a Nov. 25 meeting with people who volunteered their time and efforts to organize and promote Year of Faith activities, Pope Francis said, “the faith is the cornerstone of the Christian experience because it drives the choices and actions of our daily life.”

“Faith in Christ is able to warm hearts, truly becoming the driving force of the new evangelization,” he said.

A faith “lived deeply and with conviction” spreads the proclamation of the Gospel far and wide, but “apostolic courage” also is needed to reach people where they are, especially in very difficult places.

Before closing the Year of Faith, Pope Francis presided Nov. 23 over the Rite of Acceptance, marking the moment when some 500 men and women, from 47 countries, inquiring about the Catholic faith formally became catechumens preparing for baptism at Easter.

During a Liturgy of the Word in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope told the adult catechumens that it is always God who initiates relationships with people and that he patiently and perseveringly waits for a response. “He never draws away from us, but has the patience to wait for the favorable moment to meet each of us.”

Believing “is walking with Jesus. It’s a journey that lasts a lifetime,” Pope Francis told the catechumens. “Obviously, in this journey there will be moments when we feel tired and confused. However, faith gives us the certainty of the constant presence of Jesus in every situation, including the most painful and difficult to understand.”


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Vatican letter: Pope Francis will address ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ on Nov. 26


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — With his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), which the Vatican has scheduled for publication Nov. 26, Pope Francis finally makes his real debut as papal author.

Popes through the centuries have issued their most important written messages in one of 10 classic forms, ranging from encyclical to “chirograph,” a brief document on a highly limited subject. But most of these are typically formulaic texts that do not express the distinctive voice or charism of the man who issues them.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has already published an encyclical, traditionally considered the most authoritative form of papal writing. But in the opening paragraphs of “Lumen Fidei,” released in July, he explained that the text was essentially the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to whose words Pope Francis had merely “added a few contributions” of his own.

By contrast, Pope Francis has made clear that “Evangelii Gaudium” is very much his own work.

Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelization. But last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.

Instead, the pope said, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod,” in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework.”

That choice surprised some, especially since Pope Francis had voiced his strong commitment to the principle of consultation with fellow bishops and even suggested that the synod should become a permanent advisory body.

But the pope was merely reverting to earlier practice. None of the first three modern synods, in 1967, 1969 or 1971, led to a papal document. It was not until 1974 that Pope Paul first chose to use a synod’s recommendations to write an apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” published the following year.

Pope Francis may already be deep into his next major document, an encyclical on social teaching. In May, Bishop Luigi Martella of Molfetta, Italy, wrote that the pope had recently told him and other bishops of Italy’s Puglia region that he was planning an encyclical on poverty, “understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in an evangelical sense.” The bishop said the encyclical would be called “Beati Pauperes” (Blessed Are the Poor).

Subsequent reports suggest that Pope Francis’ social encyclical might deal not only with poverty but also with protection of the natural environment, a topic on which he has voiced concern from practically the start of his pontificate.

A category of document that Pope Francis has not yet produced, but in which he is likely to make a major contribution, is that of apostolic constitutions. These are usually routine legal documents establishing a new diocese or appointing a bishop. But they can also address exceptional matters, as did Pope Benedict’s 2009 “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which established personal prelatures for former Anglicans who join the Catholic Church.

An apostolic constitution especially relevant to this pontificate is Blessed John Paul’s 1988 “Pastor Bonus,” which was the last major set of changes to the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia. Planning a revision of that document was the one specific task Pope Francis assigned to his advisory Council of Cardinals when he established the eight-member body in September.

Another consequential type of papal document is an apostolic letter given “motu proprio,” i.e., on the pope’s own initiative. Such letters are used to set up new norms, establish new bodies or reorganize existing ones. Pope Benedict issued 18 of them in the course of his eight-year pontificate, most famously in 2007, when he lifted most restrictions on celebration of the Tridentine Mass; and most recently in February, when he changed the voting rules of a papal conclave less than a week before he resigned from office.

Pope Francis has already issued three such apostolic letters in his first eight months: to update the Vatican’s criminal code so that it includes all Vatican employees around the world, not just those working in Vatican City; to broaden Vatican City laws against money laundering and terrorism financing so that they cover all the offices of the Roman Curia; and to expand the reach of the Vatican body that inspects suspicious financial transactions.

As evidence of the pope’s determination to reform, these impersonal legal documents may be his most eloquent statements yet.


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