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At Fatima, Pope asks Christians to honor Mary of the Gospels, not a ‘plaster statue’

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Catholic News Service

FATIMA, Portugal — Mary’s example of believing and following Jesus is what matters most; she cannot be some image “of our own making” who Christians barter with for mercy, Pope Francis said.

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, the pope asked tens of thousands of pilgrims May 12 to reflect on “which Mary” they choose to venerate, “the virgin Mary from the Gospel” or “one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God?”

Pope Francis arrives to bless candles at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to bless candles at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Is the Mary they honor “a woman blessed because she believed always and everywhere in God’s words or a ‘plaster statue’ from whom we beg favors at little cost?” he asked.

As the sun set at the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, pilgrims held thousands of lit candles, filling the square with a fiery light before Pope Francis led them in praying the rosary.

The pope already had visited the shrine earlier in the evening, arriving by helicopter from Monte Real air base. Excited crowds, waving flags and white handkerchiefs, cheered as he arrived in his popemobile.

He then made his way to the Little Chapel of the Apparitions where Mary appeared to three shepherd children May 13, 1917. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

The festive cheering of the crowd turned to near absolute silence as the pope spent several minutes with his head bowed and hands clasped in prayer, occasionally looking up at the statue of Mary venerated by his predecessors and millions of devotees across the globe.

Pope Francis then recited a prayer he wrote, an expanded version of the traditional “Salve Regina” (“Hail Holy Queen”).

Alternating his verses with a choral refrain venerating the “Queen of the Rosary of Fatima,” the pope consecrated himself to Mary and entrusted to her intercession a suffering humanity where blood “is shed in the wars tearing our world apart.”

Begging Mary’s assistance, the pope prayed that believers would “tear down all walls and overcome all boundaries, going to all peripheries, there revealing God’s justice and peace.”

“In the depths of your being, in your immaculate heart, you keep the sorrows of the human family, as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears,” the pope prayed.

He also presented himself before the image of Mary as “a bishop robed in white,” a reference to the third secret revealed to the children at Fatima. Published 83 years after the Fatima apparitions, the vision described the image of a “bishop dressed in white” shot down amid the rubble of a ruined city.

The official Vatican interpretation, discussed with the visionary Sister Lucia dos Santos before its publication, was that it referred to the persecution of Christians in the 20th century and, specifically, to the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of St. John Paul II.

As Blessed Paul VI and retired Pope Benedict XVI did before him, Pope Francis placed a small silver vase containing 24-karat gold roses at the foot of the statue. Embedded in the statue’s crown is one of the bullets used in the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.

Returning to the little chapel for a nighttime vigil, Pope Francis reminded pilgrims to pray, as Mary taught the children at Fatima, for “those most in need” of God’s mercy.

“On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Pope Francis held up Mary as a “model of evangelization,” particularly because Christian men and women can look at her and see that “humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong.”

Those who emphasize God’s punishment of sinners, he said, commit “a great injustice” to him by not recognizing that sinners “are forgiven by his mercy.”

“Mercy has to be put before judgment,” he said, “and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy.”

“With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything,” he said.

     

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Pope Francis begins pilgrimage to Fatima, a ‘time of prayer’

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Catholic News Service

LEIRIA, Portugal — Pope Francis said his two-day pilgrimage to Fatima would be a time of prayer and encounter with Jesus and Mary.

The visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima “is a bit special,” he told reporters aboard his flight from Rome May 12. “It is a journey of prayer, an encounter with the Lord and the holy Mother of God.”

Pope Francis greets a girl after arriving May 12 at Monte Real air base in Leiria, Portugal. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets a girl after arriving May 12 at Monte Real air base in Leiria, Portugal. (CNS/Paul Haring)

After a three-hour flight, during which Pope Francis greeted each of the 69 journalists traveling with him, the papal plane landed at Monte Real air base, about 25 miles from Fatima.

The pope’s trip was planned for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mary’s apparitions to three shepherd children in Fatima.

On the actual anniversary, May 13, Pope Francis was to canonize two of the three young seers, Blessed Jacinta Marto and her brother Blessed Francisco Marto, making them the youngest non-martyred saints in the Catholic Church.

Arriving at the military base, the pope was welcomed by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and held a brief private meeting with him at the base. He also visited the base chapel and blessed sick members of military families.

Before leaving his residence at the Vatican that morning, the pope met with six women, who “had been through tough times,” said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman. Two were pregnant and several were migrants. They all brought their children with them to meet the pope.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state and the pope’s closest collaborator, said Pope Francis’ visit would “express his own love and devotion to Mary” and his great respect for the Marian devotion of Catholics around the world.

In the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children, Pope Francis sees an example of the Mary described by the Magnificat, the biblical hymn of praise for the great things God has done through her, Cardinal Parolin told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

At Fatima, “Our Lady of the Rosary appeared not to the rich or powerful, nor to people who were influential, but to children,” he said. The children were from simple families and were illiterate, “like the least of society or, to use the terminology of the pope, the discarded of society. And Mary wanted to favor this category of people, giving the little shepherds a countercultural message.”

In 1917, World War I was raging and people and public discourse was filled with words of hatred, vengeance and hostility, the cardinal said. “Mary, on the other hand, spoke of love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice and giving oneself to others. It was a total reversal of all the values, or anti-values, that prevailed at that time.”

The two lessons Pope Francis draws from Fatima for the world today, he said, are the need to value the least of one’s brothers and sisters and the need “to live those authentic values that can be the basis for peaceful coexistence and solidarity within a nation and among countries.”

Bishop Antonio dos Santos Marto of Leiria-Fatima, also writing in the Vatican newspaper, said the Fatima message has touched so many people around the world for generations because it spoke and continues to speak about strengthening faith when the world around one is in turmoil.

The messages given by Our Lady of Fatima to the three children in 1917, the bishop said, spoke of “the two world wars and the suffering of humanity, with a specific mention of nations like Russia; the persecution of the church with the mention of the martyrs of the 20th century and of the pope himself; and of the great cause of peace among people.”

“All of that,” Bishop Marto said, “was accompanied by a very strong warning to not resign oneself to those situations as if they were normal” and not to give into a sense that evil will determine human destiny. It is possible to defeat evil by starting with the conversion of hearts to God, prayer and reparation for sins.”

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Pope: Spirit helps church see wrongs in death penalty, slavery

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Faith is a journey guided by the Holy Spirit, who helps the church grow in understanding the sinful nature of once-accepted practices like slavery and the death penalty, Pope Francis said.

While people once even used religious reasons to justify practices such as slavery, the death penalty and “wars of religion,” over time the Holy Spirit has deepened the church’s understanding of the Gospel, the pope said May 11 in his homily during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis celebrates his morning Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis celebrates his morning Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Slavery “is a mortal sin; today we say this. Back then, some would say that this could be done because these people did not have a soul,” he said. The number of people enslaved today is “even more, but at least we know that it is a mortal sin. The same goes for the death penalty; for a time, it was normal. Today, we say that the death penalty is inadmissible.”

Reflecting on the day’s first reading in which St. Paul recounts God’s works throughout history, Pope Francis said the Lord “guides his people in good times and in bad times, through freedom and slavery.”

Like the people of Israel, he said, God also guides the church along the path toward the fullness of time “with many saints and many sinners; between grace and sin.”

It is those saints, some well-known and others who are “hidden,” who “clarify faith and clarify morals,” the pope said.

However, Christians who choose to stop along the path “become a prisoner in a stable, like a donkey,” and end up not deepening their faith and understanding God’s love in their own lives, he said.

Individually, he said, each person also is moving toward the fullness of their own time, the point when they die and come face to face with the Lord.

When Catholics go to confession, he said, they should consider not only the shame they feel for their sins, but they should recognize that confession as another step they need to make in preparation for meeting the Lord.

“Asking God’s forgiveness is not automatic,” he said.

By understanding their sins and asking God for forgiveness, Christians will discover that they are part of “a people on the way and that one day, perhaps today, tomorrow or in 30 years, I will find myself face to face with that Lord who never leaves us alone, who accompanies us on the way.”

“This is the great work of God’s mercy,” he said.

 

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Vatican makes gravitational waves an opportunity to support science and truth

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Science and religion are not at odds but are united in the continuing search for truth in unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos.

An artistís rendition of a supermassive black hole found at the center of many galaxies is seen in this April 16, 2015, European Southern Observatory image. (CNS photo/European Southern Observatory via EPA) See VATICAN-OBSERVATORY-CONFERENCE May 8, 2017.

An artistís rendition of a supermassive black hole found at the center of many galaxies is seen in this April 16, 2015, European Southern Observatory image. (CNS
photo/European Southern Observatory via EPA) See VATICAN-OBSERVATORY-CONFERENCE May 8, 2017.

The scientific conference titled, “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities,” is an opportunity to show that “the church supports good science,” said Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory.

“We are hoping that this meeting will also be an encounter of people with very different opinions but very close friendships that come from having the same common desire to understand the truth of the universe and how we can understand that truth,” he told journalists May 8.

Renowned experts from around the world were to meet at Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo for the May 9-12 conference, which seeks to bring together science and religion in the continuing search for truth in understanding the mysteries of the universe, he said.

The 2016 discovery of the existence of gravitational waves, predicted nearly 100 years ago by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, was to be one of the topics of discussion. The discovery could open a new chapter in understanding celestial events and black hole regions in the universe, something that previously could only be hypothesized.

The conference also will celebrate the scientific legacy of Msgr. George Lemaitre, one of the fathers of the theory that the expanding universe could be traced to an origin point, also known as the “Big Bang theory.”

As historic as Msgr. Lemaitre’s theory was, Brother Consolmagno said, the Belgian priest was also mindful that the God’s creation of the universe wasn’t just a one-time occurrence but an event “that occurs continually.”

“If you look at God as merely the thing that started the Big Bang, you reduce God to a nature god, like Jupiter throwing lightning bolts,” he said. “That is not the God we as Christians believe in. We must believe in a God who is supernatural and we then recognize God is who is responsible for the existence of the universe and our science tells us how he did it.”

Dr. Alfio Bonanno, an Italian cosmologist at the National Institute for Astrophysics, told journalists that the conference also aims to dispel the “myth” that religion fears science, because the search for truth “will bring us to God.”

“We should not be afraid. Fear is not from God. Rather, we should go in search of this truth because truth, if we have this attitude of humility which was (Msgr.) Lemaitre’s attitude — we can also change our ideological preconceptions,” he said.

“The search for truth is what unites us,” Brother Consolmagno added. “Those of us who are religious will recognize in the truth the presence of God, but you don’t have to make that theological leap to have a desire to know truth.”

“The first step in recognizing the truth is that you don’t already have it,” he said, adding that people cannot consider themselves good scientists nor good religious people “if we think that our work is done.”

Regarding intelligent design, Brother Consolmagno said that its original intention as a way of looking at the universe and seeing “the design of a good God” has been misused.

“If you mean that you can use our scientific ignorance as a way proving the existence of God, that would not be a God I would want to believe in,” he said.

God, he continued, is not something one arrives to at the end of scientific research, but rather its starting point. In that way, “we then can see the hand of God in how we observe the universe.”

“I am afraid of a God that could be proved by science because I know my science well enough to not trust it,” the director of the Vatican Observatory said.

Brother Consolmagno said it was important for scientists who are believers to make their science known to their fellow parishioners and remind them that “science was an invention of the medieval universities that the church founded.”

“The logic of science comes out of the logic of theology and if there is a rivalry, it’s a sibling rivalry,” he said. “We need to know that it’s a crime against science to say, ‘only atheists can do it’ because that would eliminate so many wonderful people from so many different religions who could contribute so much to science.”

 

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Pope urges Venezuela’s bishops to stay close to suffering people

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While violent protests continue to break out in the streets of Venezuela, Pope Francis urged the country’s bishops to remain close to the poor and needy.

“My dear brothers, I encourage you to not allow the beloved children of Venezuela to be overcome by mistrust or despair, for these are the evils that penetrate people’s hearts when they do not see prospects for the future,” the pope wrote in a letter May 5 to the country’s bishops.

Demonstrators rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 3. Two days later, Pope Francis urged the country's bishops to remain close to the poor and needy. (CNS/ Reuters)

Demonstrators rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 3. Two days later, Pope Francis urged the country’s bishops to remain close to the poor and needy. (CNS/ Reuters)

Venezuela has descended into chaos after years of food shortages and economic turmoil under embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Despite expressing a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he has been accused of tightening his grip on power and suppressing any threat to his rule.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country’s parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.

Although the Supreme Court restored parliament’s authority after local and international outcry, protests against Maduro’s government continued to escalate.

Venezuela’s bishops have been vocal against the dire conditions and denounced the government’s attempts to change the constitution in order to remain in power, saying that the plan seeks to impose “a totalitarian, militaristic, police, violent and repressive system that has given rise to the evils suffered by our country today.”

“We make our own the pain of the Venezuelan people and say: ‘Enough of so much repression!’” the bishops said in a letter published May 5.

The bishops also called on the people to continue “to raise their voice in protest without falling into the game of those who, while generating violence, want to bring the country into greater confrontation in order to aggravate the situation and stay in power.”

According to Reuters, as of May 6 the protests had resulted the deaths of 37 people, including a 20-year-old demonstrator who was shot in the head.

In his letter to the bishops, Pope Francis said that he is “following the situation of the beloved Venezuelan people with great concern” and the rising numbers of people killed or wounded “do not help to solve the problems, but only provoke more suffering and pain.”

He thanked the Venezuelan bishops for their “continued call to avoid any form of violence, to respect citizens’ rights and to defend human dignity and fundamental rights.”

The pope also conveyed his solidarity with the nation’s priests, religious men and women and laypeople who “suffer for lack of food and medicine,” noting that “some even have endured personal attacks and violent acts in their churches.”

“I wish to express my solidarity with each of you and thank you for your closeness to the flock entrusted to you, especially with the poorest and neediest, as well as for your initiatives to promote solidarity and generosity among Venezuelans,” he said.

Calling on the nation’s bishops and clergy to continue promoting peace, Pope Francis urged them to remain united, adding that “communion among yourselves and your priests will enlighten them to find the right path.”

“I offer my prayers to the risen Lord so that he may pour upon you, my dear brothers, and over the beloved people of Venezuela his abundant Easter gifts of peace which he himself, victorious over death, granted the apostles, freeing them from all fear,” he said.

     

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Pope ordains 10, calls on priests to lighten burdens of Christ’s people

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VATICAN CITY — A priest who does not willingly embrace Christ’s cross and who does not try to lighten the burdens of his people is not worthy of the name, Pope Francis told 10 men he was about to ordain.

“A priest who perhaps has studied a lot of theology and has one, two or three degrees, but has not learned to carry the cross of Christ is useless,” the pope said May 7. “He might be a good academic, a good professor, but not a priest.”

During Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis ordained six priests for the Diocese of Rome and one each for the

Pope Francis ordains 10 priests for the Diocese of Rome during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 7. (CNS photo/Maria Grazie Picciarella, pool)

Pope Francis ordains 10 priests for the Diocese of Rome during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican May 7. (CNS photo/Maria Grazie Picciarella, pool)

Brothers of Our Lady of Mercy, the Peru-based Family of Disciples, the Apostolic Prefecture of Azerbaijan and the Diocese of Nocera Inferiore-Sarno, Italy. The men were between the ages of 26 and 38.

Pope Francis used the prescribed homily for the ordination although, as usual, he added comments.

To the admonition that priests nourish their people with sound doctrine, Pope Francis added a request that they speak simply and clearly.

“Don’t give homilies that are too intellectual and elaborate,” he said. “Speak simply, speak to people’s hearts, and this preaching will be true nourishment.”

Pope Francis asked the new priests to be particularly merciful with penitents in the confessional. “Don’t lay on the shoulders of the faithful burdens that they cannot carry and that you couldn’t either. That is the reason Jesus rebuked the doctors of the law and called them hypocrites.”

“You were chosen by the Lord not to advance your career, but to carry out this service,” the pope told the men. “Please, don’t be ‘lords,’” but pastors who model their service on Jesus, the good shepherd.

Shortly after the Mass, before reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer at noon, Pope Francis told visitors in St. Peter’s Square that Jesus expressed his authority in service, leading his flock “by giving his life and not asking others to sacrifice theirs.”

“One can trust such a leader, like the sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd, because they know that with him they will be led to good and abundant pastures,” the pope said.

Before giving his blessing to an estimated 25,000 people gathered in the square below, Pope Francis invited four of the newly ordained Rome priests to his window. They joined him in blessing the crowd below.

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Pope Francis to meet President Trump at Vatican May 24

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will visit the Vatican and meet with Pope Francis May 24 as part of his first foreign trip as president.

White House officials said the visit will be part of a trip that will include stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia before Trump attends a NATO meeting in Brussels May 25 and the G7 summit in Taormina on the island of Sicily May 26-27. Read more »

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Pope: U.S., North Korea need diplomatic solution to escalating tensions

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Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM CAIRO — A diplomatic solution must be found to the escalating tension between North Korea and the United States, Pope Francis told journalists.

“The path (to take) is the path of negotiation, the path of a diplomatic solution,” he said when asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to send Navy warships to the region in response to North Korea’s continued missile tests and threats to launch nuclear strikes against South Korea, Japan and the United States.

Pope Francis listens to a question from Vera Shcherbakova of the Itar-Tass news agency while talking with journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis listens to a question from Vera Shcherbakova of the Itar-Tass news agency while talking with journalists aboard his flight from Cairo to Rome April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“What do you say to these leaders who hold responsibility for the future of humanity,” the pope was asked, during a Q-and-A with journalists on the flight to Rome April 29 after a 27-hour trip to Cairo.

“I will call on them. I’m going to call on them like I have called on the leaders of different places,” he said.

There are many facilitators and mediators around the world who are “always ready to help” with negotiations, the pope said.

The situation in North Korea, he added, has been heated for a long time, “but now it seems it has heated up too much, no?”

“I always call (for) resolving problems through the diplomatic path, negotiations” because the future of humanity depends on it, he said.

Pope Francis said his contention that the Third World War already is underway and is being fought “piecemeal” also can be seen in places where there are internal conflicts like in the Middle East, Yemen and parts of Africa.

“Let’s stop. Let’s look for a diplomatic solution,” he said. “And there, I believe that the United Nations has a duty to regain its leadership (role) a bit because it has been watered down.”

When asked if he would want to meet with President Trump when the U.S. leader is in Italy in late May, the pope said, “I have not been informed yet by the (Vatican) secretary of state about a request being made.”

But he added, “I receive every head of state who asks for an audience.”

A journalist with German media asked the pope about the controversy he sparked April 22 for saying some refugee camps are like concentration camps.

“For us Germans obviously that is a very, very serious term. People say it was a slip of the tongue. What did you want to say?” the reporter asked.

“No, it was not a slip of the tongue,” Pope Francis said, adding that there are some refugee camps in the world, but definitely not in Germany, that “are real concentration camps.”

When centers are built to lock people up, where there is nothing to do and they can’t leave, that is a “lager,” he said, referring to the German word for concentration camps.

Another reporter asked how people should interpret his speeches to government officials when he calls on them to support peace, harmony and equality for all citizens, and whether it reflected him supporting that government.

The pope said that with all 18 trips he has taken to various countries during his pontificate, he always hears the same concern.

However, when it comes to local politics, “I do not get involved,” he said.

“I talk about values,” he said, and then it is up to each individual to look and judge whether this particular government or nation or person is “delivering these values.”

When asked if he had had a chance to run off to see the pyramids, the pope said, “Well, you know that today at six in this morning two of my assistants went to see” them.

When asked if he wished he had gone with them, too, the pope said, “Ah, yes.”

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Faith means loving others to the extreme, pope tells Egypt’s Catholics

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Catholic News Service

CAIRO — The only kind of fanaticism that is acceptable to God is being fanatical about loving and helping others, Pope Francis said on his final day in Egypt.

“True faith,” he told Catholics, “makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost.”

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo April 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The pope celebrated an open-air Mass April 29 in Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium, built by the anti-aircraft branch of the Egyptian armed forces. The pope concelebrated with Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria and leaders of the other Catholic rites in Egypt.

After spending the first day of his visit in meetings with Muslim leaders, government officials, diplomats and members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the pope dedicated the second day of his trip to Egypt’s minority Catholic community.

Arriving at the stadium in a blue Fiat, the pope was slowly driven around the stadium’s red running track in a small and low golf cart, far from the estimated 15,000 people seated in the stands high above. Yellow balloons and a long chain of blue balloons tied together like a rosary were released into the sky as a military helicopter circled high above the venue.

Helicopter gunships circled the perimeter of the stadium, while military jeeps patrolled Cairo’s streets.

Surrounded by security, the pope managed to personally greet only one small group of children who were dressed as pharaohs and other traditional figures. They hugged the pope affectionately as security tightly closed in on the group.

In his homily, the pope used the day’s Gospel reading of the two disciples’ journey to Emmaus to highlight how easy it is to feel disappointment, despair and defeat when one is trapped by a false notion of who God really is.

The disciples could not believe that the one who could raise others from the dead and heal the sick could “end up on hanging on the cross of shame,” the pope said. Believing Jesus was dead, all their dreams died with him on the cross and were buried in the tomb.

“How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas about God, a god created in the image and likeness of man,” he said. “How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life.”

Like the disciples, he said, Christians will never recognize the true face of God until they let their mistaken ideas die on the cross, rise up from the tomb of their limited understanding and shatter their hardened hearts like the “breaking of the bread” in the Eucharist.

“We cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power,” the pope said.

True faith “makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome, but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped,” he said, and it leads to dialogue and respect and the courage to defend the rights and dignity of everyone, not just oneself.

“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity. Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him,” he said.

At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Sedrak thanked the pope for his visit, which, though it was brief, “has overflowed our hearts with joy and our lives with blessing.”

The warm welcome Pope Francis received from so many political and religious components of Egyptian society “is a message to the world that confirms Egypt’s nature” as a lover of peace that seeks to affirm peace in the Middle East and the world, the patriarch said.

Later in the day, before his departure for Rome, the pope met with about 1,500 priests, seminarians and religious men and women for a prayer service on the sports field of a Coptic Catholic seminary in Cairo.

He thanked the church workers for their witness and for the good they do in the midst of “many challenges and often few consolations.”

“Although there are many reasons to be discouraged, amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices, may you be a positive force, salt and light for this society,” he told them.

But to be builders of hope, dialogue and harmony, he said, they must not give in to the many temptations that come each day, including the temptation to expect gratitude from those they must serve and lead.

A good shepherd, Pope Francis said, consoles even when he is broken-hearted and is always a father, even when his children are ungrateful.

Don’t become like Pharaoh either with a heart hardened by a sense of superiority, lording over others, expecting to be served and not serve, the pope said.

“The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful,” he said, and the more they will experience “renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission.”

 

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Pope, Coptic patriarch honor martyrs, agree on baptism

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Catholic News Service

CAIRO — Placing flowers, lighting a candle and praying at the site where dozens of Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed by an Islamic State militant last year, Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II paid homage to those who were killed for their faith.

Pope Francis, accompanied by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, lights a candle outside St. Peter's Church in Cairo April 28. The pope lit the candle in remembrance of victims of a December 2016 bombing inside the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis, accompanied by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, lights a candle outside St. Peter’s Church in Cairo April 28. The pope lit the candle in remembrance of victims of a December 2016 bombing inside the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros walked in a short procession to the Church of St. Peter, where 29 people died and 31 were wounded Dec. 11. The faithful chanted a song of martyrs, and some clashed cymbals under the darkened evening sky.

Inside the small church, the leaders of several other Christian communities in Egypt as well as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople sat before the congregation, which included family members of the victims.

A portion of one wall of the complex was splattered with blood, and pictures of those killed, many with bright smiles to the camera, were hung above. Some of the church’s stone columns were pock-marked from the debris or shrapnel sent flying from the explosion.

Each of the eight Christian leaders seated before the congregation, beginning with Pope Francis, read a verse from the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros then each said a few words in prayer, and everyone shared a sign of peace.

Led by Pope Francis, the eight leaders went to the back of the church, where each lit a small candle and placed white flowers beneath the photos of the martyrs. Pope Francis leaned low to touch the blood-stained wall and made the sign of the cross.

Earlier, in a historic and significant move toward greater Christian unity, Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis signed an agreement to end a longtime disagreement between the two churches over the sacrament of baptism.

The Coptic Orthodox Church had required new members joining from most non-Coptic churches, including those who had previously been baptized as Catholic, to be baptized again.

The Catholic Church recognizes all Christian baptisms performed with water and in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Orthodox who enter the Catholic Church are received as full members, but not baptized again.

In the joint declaration, the two leaders “mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our churches for any person who wishes to join the other.”

The document was signed during a courtesy visit with Pope Tawadros at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral April 28.

In his speech to Pope Tawadros and other Coptic Orthodox leaders, Pope Francis said, “The innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.” He told them it was that innocent blood “that united us.”

“Your sufferings are also our sufferings,” he said, the first day of a two-day visit to Egypt’s capital.

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil?”

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil,” he said.

He encouraged Catholic and Orthodox to work hard to “oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and peace for all.”

Pope Tawadros, in his speech, said Pope Francis was following in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who came to Egypt nearly 1,000 years ago to meet Sultan al-Kamel and engage in “one of the most important experiences of intercultural dialogue in history — a dialogue that is renewed today with your visit.”

Calling Pope Francis one of the symbols of peace “in a world tormented by conflicts and wars,” the Orthodox leader underlined that the world was thirsting for sincere efforts of spreading peace and love, and stopping violence and extremism.

Pope Tawadros said Pope Francis’ visit “is a message for the rest of the world,” showing Egypt as a model of mutual respect and understanding.

Despite Christianity’s deep roots in Egypt, which was evangelized by St. Mark, Christians have lived through some difficult and turbulent periods, he said. But that only made people’s desire to love even greater, showing that “love and tolerance are stronger than hatred and revenge and that the light of hope is stronger than the darkness of desperation.”

“The criminal minds” behind all the violence and threats hurting Egypt will never be able to break or weaken the hearts of its citizens who are united and showing an example for future generations.

Later in the evening, Pope Francis was scheduled to go to the apostolic nunciature, where he was staying, and greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo. After dinner, he was expected to greet some 300 young people who came from outside Cairo to see him.

The majority of the 82.5 million Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Most estimates say 10-15 percent of the Egyptian population are Christians, most of them Coptic Orthodox, but there are Catholics, Protestants and other various Christian communities in the country as well.

 

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