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Colombia youths must teach elders to forgive, to move on, pope says

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — As Colombia strives to build a lasting peace, the country’s elders need the encouragement and insistence of young people, who believe with all their hearts that forgiveness is possible and grudges don’t have to last for decades, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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Pope Francis tells Colombian officials to pursue peace through social inclusion

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Pope Francis urged Colombians to put aside prejudice and pursue peace through social inclusion, fighting inequality and paying attention to the plight of the country’s most marginalized populations, such as campesinos, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. Read more »

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Pope in Colombia to promote healing after decades of war

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Pope Francis arrived in Colombia Sept. 6 for a five-day visit to promote reconciliation in a deeply Catholic country scarred and reticent to offer forgiveness after decades of war.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez Munera, welcomed the pope at the airport. Children in traditional costumes presented him with flowers, and the pope greeted members of the Colombian military, including soldiers injured in the line of duty.

Pope Francis accepts gifts from children outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 6. The pope plans to visit four Colombian cities during his six-day trip. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In a gesture to promote the themes of peace and reconciliation, he was given a dove by a boy named Emmanuel, who was born in a guerrilla camp to Colombian politician Clara Rojas, kidnapped in 2002 and released nearly six years later.

With no speeches at the airport, Santos walked Pope Francis to a shiny new popemobile made in Colombia for the occasion. The pope rode 10 miles to the Vatican nunciature in the open-sided vehicle, slowing or completely stopping frequently to greet the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the streets.

At the nunciature, an estimated 2,000 people gathered on the sidewalks, street and on a large makeshift stage to give him a rousing welcome in song and dance.

Each evening of the pope’s visit was to feature different groups meeting the pope outside the nunciature, where he is staying. The first night featured a group of Catholic couples and priests who reach out to families in difficulty and a choir, band and dance troop formed by “at-risk youths,” many of whom had lived on the streets or struggled with drug addiction.

Pope Francis thanked the young people for their happiness, joy and enthusiasm, but especially for the efforts they have made to overcome their pasts. “This is called heroism,” he told them.

The young people gave the pope a “ruana,” a thick wool poncho, which he promptly put on. The organization the youths belong to told the press that the ruana was meant to symbolize both Colombia’s warm embrace of Pope Francis, but also the toil and commitment of the youths who work in the group’s artisan program.

On the 12-hour flight from Rome, Pope Francis told reporters that the trip was “to help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace.”

Expectations for Pope Francis’ visit were running high among Colombian Catholics. It was the first papal trip to Colombia since 1986, when St. John Paul II visited.

Pope Francis arrived after the signing of a peace accord promising to put Colombia on a path of ending more than 50 years of armed conflict. Just days before the visit, the government and the National Liberation Army, a Marxist organization carrying out crimes like kidnapping and bombings, agreed to a four-month cease-fire.

Challenges remain, especially as many Colombians, including Catholics and those of conservative persuasions, object to the idea of demobilized Marxist guerrillas accused of atrocities receiving reduced punishments and even participating in politics. Those persecuted by paramilitaries voice similar misgivings.

“We are expecting that the pope brings a lot of hope,” said Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, director of Caritas Colombia. “The pope arrives at a time when reconciliation is the greatest challenge. We hope that his message touches the hearts of those who have suffered due to this conflict.”

The papal trip carries the motto: “Let’s take the first step,” purposely chosen to convey a sense of collective involvement in the country’s peace process.

“The motto of the apostolic trip says exactly what we are expecting: Let’s take the first step,” said Auxiliary Bishop Juan Carlos Cardenas Toro of Cali. “This first step by the pope, stepping off the flight to come closer to this nation, which has suffered, is something for us that opens the door to hope.”

The Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym as FARC, reached a peace accord in 2016, in which the FARC agreed to demobilize. The agreement has proved polemical, even though violence perpetrated by guerrilla groups, government soldiers and paramilitaries has left an estimated 220,000 dead and millions more displaced.

Catholics are divided on the peace accord, and Colombian bishops have stayed on the sidelines, while encouraging the laity to voice their opinions. Many conservative Catholics, along with evangelicals, argued the deal included provisions harmful to the traditional family, a charge denied by peace accord proponents; opponents turned out to defeat the deal in a plebiscite.

The accord later was reworked and approved in Congress. People say they want peace, but disagree, often strongly, on how to pursue it

“The church itself reflects the divisions in Colombian society,” said Jesuit Father Mauricio Garcia Duran. “The pope comes to Colombia in a context of polarization.”

The papal visit touches on themes important to the country and church. In the capital, Bogota, Sept. 7, the pope was to celebrate a Mass focused on young people. Up to 1 million people were expected to attend.

The pope was to travel Sept. 8 to Villavicencio, gateway to the at-times neglected southern half of Colombia, where he was to pray with 6,000 victims of violence and was expected to call for reconciliation. That call for reconciliation was to include a call to reconcile with creation; indigenous peoples from the Amazon and lands increasingly exploited by mining and natural resource extraction were invited.

The following day, Pope Francis was to address clergy and religious in the city of Medellin. He also was scheduled to visit a Catholic orphanage.

Pope Francis was to end his visit to Colombia on the Caribbean coast in the city of Cartagena. There he was expected to address the church’s controversial role in the slave trade.

He also was to recite the Angelus at a shrine to St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit who worked to stop slavery.

     

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden in Bogota.  

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In new book, pope discusses traditional marriage, sins of the flesh, psychoanalysis

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — By virtue of its very definition, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, Pope Francis said in a new book-length interview.

“We cannot change it. This is the nature of things,” not just in the church, but in human history, he said in a series of interviews with Dominique Wolton, a 70-year-old French sociologist and expert in media and political communication.

Pope Francis (CNS file/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Published in French, the 417-page book, “Politique et Societe” (“Politics and Society”) was to be released Sept. 6. Catholic News Service obtained an advance copy, and excerpts appeared online.

When it comes to the true nature of marriage as well as gender, there is “critical confusion at the moment,” the pope said.

When asked about marriage for same-sex couples, the pope said, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”

Teaching children that they can choose their gender, he said, also plays a part in fostering such mistakes about the truth or facts of nature.

The pope said he wondered whether these new ideas about gender and marriage were somehow based on a fear of differences, and he encouraged researchers to study the subject.

Absolution after abortion

Pope Francis also said his decision to give all priests permanent permission to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion was not mean to trivialize this serious and grave sin.

Abortion continues to be “murder of an innocent person. But if there is sin, forgiveness must be facilitated,” he said. So often a woman who never forgets her aborted child “cries for years without having the courage to go see a priest.”

“Do you have any idea the number of people who can finally breathe?” he asked, adding how important it was these women can find the Lord’s forgiveness and never commit this sin again.

Pope Francis said the biggest threat in the world is money. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus talked about people’s love and loyalty being torn between two things, he didn’t say it was between “your wife or God,” it was choosing between God or money.

“It’s clear. They are two things opposed to each other,” he said.

When asked why people do not listen to this message even though it has been clearly condemned by the church since the time of the Gospels, the pope said it is because some people prefer to speak only about morality.

“There is a great danger for preachers, lecturers, to fall into mediocrity,” which is condemning only those forms of immorality that fall “below the belt,” he said.

Sins of the flesh

“But the other sins that are the most serious: hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking away a life … these are really not talked about that much,” he said.

“The most minor sins are the sins of the flesh,” he said, because the flesh is weak. “The most dangerous sins are those of the mind,” and confessors should spend more time asking if a person prays, reads the Gospel and seeks the Lord.

One temptation the church has always been vulnerable to, the pope said, is being defensive because it is scared.

“Where in the Gospels does the Lord say that we need to seek security? Instead he said, ‘Risk, go ahead, forgive and evangelize.’”

Another temptation, he said, is to seek uniformity with rules, for example, in the debate concerning his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia.”

“When I talk about families in difficulty, I say, ‘Welcome, accompany, discern, integrate …’ and then everyone will see the doors open. In reality, what happens is you hear people say, ‘They cannot receive Communion.’ ‘They cannot do this and that.’”

That temptation of the church to emphasize “no, no and no” and what is prohibited is the same “drama Jesus (experienced) with the Pharisees.”

‘Fundamentalist mindset’

This closed, fundamentalist mindset like Jesus faced is “the battle I lead today with the exhortation.”

Jesus followed “another logic” that went beyond prohibitions as he did not adhere to customs, like not touching lepers and stoning adulterers, that had become like commandments, he said.

Church leaders are used to “frozen norms” and “fixed standards,” but when they ask, ‘“Can we give Communion to divorcees?’ I reply, ‘Speak with the divorced man and woman, welcome, accompany, integrate and discern,’ which opens a path and a way of communication to lead people to Christ.”

Encountering Christ is what leads people onto a path of living a moral life, he said.

When asked about the church’s “just-war” theory, the pope said the issue should be looked into because “no war is just. The only just thing is peace.”

Concerning the persecution of Christians, particularly in the East, and the question of why God would allow such tragedy, the pope said, “I do not know where God is, but I know where man is in this situation. Men make weapons and sell them.”

It is easy for people to question God, he said, but “it is we who commit all this” and allow it to happen; “our humanity is corrupted.”

Speaking about women, the pope said they have an important role in society because they help unify and reconcile people.

Some people mistake women’s demands to be represented and heard in the world with a kind of “machoism in a skirt,” but machoism is a form of “brutality” and does not represent what women should be.

He said with the reform of the Roman Curia, “there will be many women who will have decision-making power,” not just roles as advisers.

While he said he believes he will succeed in opening up more positions to women in the curia, it will be difficult and there will be problems, not because of misogyny, but because of “the problem of power.”

Psychoanalysis

When Pope Francis and the French interviewer talked about differences between the Argentines and the French, the pope said, “Argentines are quite fond of psychoanalysis.”

The pope praised those psychoanalysts who are able to be “open to humanism and to dialogue with other sciences,” particularly medicine and homeopathy.

“Those whom I have known have helped me a lot at one point in my life when I needed consultation,” he said, describing how met with a Jewish psychoanalyst once a week for six months when he was 42 “to clear up certain things.

“She was very good. Very professional as a doctor and psychoanalyst” and “she helped me so much.”

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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‘Hear the cry of the earth,’ pope and patriarch urge in ecology message

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Environmental destruction is a sign of a “morally decaying scenario” in which too many people ignore or deny that, from the beginning, “God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment,” said the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Women carry children as they make their way through a flooded area Aug. 20 in Bogra, Bangladesh. (CNS photo/Mohammad Ponir Hossain, Reuters)

Marking the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for Creation, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople issued a joint message.

They urged government and business leaders “to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.”

Looking at the description of the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, the pope and patriarch said, “The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy.”

But, they said, “our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”

“We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession,” the two leaders said. “We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”

Ignoring God’s plan for creation has “tragic and lasting” consequences on both “the human environment and the natural environment,” they wrote. “Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.”

The pope and the patriarch said prayer is not incidental to ecology, because “an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.”

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 1989. In 2015, shortly after publishing his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis established the day of prayer for Catholics as well.

The object of Christian prayer and action for the safeguarding of creation, the two leaders wrote, is to encourage all Christians “to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.”

Echoing remarks Pope Francis made Aug. 30 when the pontiff announced he and the patriarch were issuing a joint message, the text included a plea to world leaders.

“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized,” they wrote. No enduring solution can be found “to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew also highlighted how “this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people,” especially the poor, in a more pronounced way.

“Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures,” they said. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development.”

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Pope offers prayers for victims of flooding in Texas, Louisiana

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered his prayers for the people of Texas and Louisiana struggling to cope with the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey and he praised all those engaged in rescuing and caring for the thousands of people forced out of their homes.

A worker helps an elderly woman from a rescue boat as it evacuates people from the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Harvey Aug. 30 in Houston. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)

In a message to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Pope Francis asked that his “spiritual closeness and pastoral concern” be relayed to all those affected by the hurricane and flooding.

The message was sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and released by the Vatican Aug. 31.

“Deeply moved by the tragic loss of life and the immense material devastation that this natural catastrophe has left in its wake, he prays for the victims and their families, and for all those engaged in the vital work of relief, recovery and rebuilding,” Cardinal Parolin said.

Pope Francis, he said, “trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation.”

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Church is always in need of repair, reform, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Although the church is built upon a strong foundation, it is always in need of being reformed and repaired, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 23. (CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Before reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 27, Pope Francis said that Christians are the “living stones” that Christ uses to fill in the gaps and crevices that continually appear.

“Even with us today, Jesus wants to continue building his church, this house with solid foundations yet where cracks aren’t lacking and which still needs to be repaired. Always,” the pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope spoke about the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew in which Peter proclaims that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God.”

With Peter’s affirmation, the pope said, Jesus understands that “thanks to the faith given him by the father, there is a solid foundation upon which he can build his community, his church.”

Christ proclaimed Peter the rock upon which he would build his church, the pope said. And Christ sees every believer, no matter how small, as a precious stone that he can use “in the right place” and continue building up the church.

“Each one of us is a small stone, but in Jesus’ hands we participate in the construction of the church,” the pope said. “And all of us, as small as we are, are made into ‘living stones’ because when Jesus takes a stone in his hand, he makes it his own, he makes it alive, full of life, full of the life of the Holy Spirit, full of life from his love.”

“Thus, we have a place and mission in the church: to be a community of life made up of many stones, all different, that form one single edifice in the sign of brotherhood and communion,” Pope Francis said.

The Gospel, he added, reminds Christians that Jesus wanted Peter and his successors, the popes, to be the “visible center of communion” for the church.

     

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope Francis calls Vatican II’s liturgical reforms ‘irreversible’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church must continue to work to understand the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and why they were made, rather than rethinking them, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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Imprisonment without hope for the future is torture, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Although prisoners must pay a price for their crimes, incarceration must not be used as a method of torture but rather an opportunity to become contributing members of society, Pope Francis said. Read more »

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Pope: God weeps with the suffering and offers a future of joy

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While the world reels from terrorism, natural disasters and division, God weeps with those who suffer and offers the hope of a future full of joy and consolation, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets children as he arrives for his weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 23. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Recalling the victims of a terror attack in Barcelona Aug. 17, a devastating landslide Aug. 16 in Congo, and “many other” tragic global events, the pope urged Christians to meditate on God’s tenderness when “they report sad news, which we are all at risk of becoming accustomed to.”

“Think of the faces of children frightened by war, the cry of mothers, the broken dreams of many young people, the refugees who face terrible journeys and are exploited so many times,” the pope said Aug. 23 during his weekly general audience.

Continuing his series of audience talks on Christian hope, Pope Francis said that in moments of suffering, Christians can find comfort in knowing they have a heavenly father, who “weeps tears of infinite pity for his children” and “has prepared for us a different future.”

Reflecting on a reading from the Book of Revelation in which God proclaims that he “makes all things new,” the pope explained that Christian hope is based on “faith that God always creates new things” in history, in the cosmos and in everyday life.

Christians must not look downward “like pigs” as if “we were forced into an eternal wandering without any reason for our many labors,” he said. Rather, they must trust in God’s promise of a “heavenly Jerusalem,” a place “where there is no more death nor mourning nor weeping or pain.”

God did not create human beings “by mistake, sentencing himself and us to hard nights of anguish,” the pope said. “He created us because he wants us to be happy. He is our father and, if right now we are experiencing a life that isn’t what he wanted for us, Jesus assures us that God himself is working on our salvation. He works to save us.”

Christians, he added, are called to be “people of spring rather than fall” and must always hold on to the hope that “our most beautiful days are yet to come.”

“Don’t forget to ask yourselves this question: Am I a person of the spring or the fall?” the pope told the pilgrims. “Am I of the spring, which awaits the flowers, awaits the fruit, awaits the sun that is Jesus? Or fall, which always has a face cast down, bitter and, as I have said at times, a sourpuss?”

Like the wheat that grows even when surrounded by darnels, the kingdom of God continues to grow even amid “problems, gossip, war, and sickness,” Pope Francis said.

“Creation did not end on the sixth day of Genesis, but continued tirelessly because God always worries about us,” he said. “Yes, our father is a God of newness and surprises. And on that day, we will be truly happy and we will weep, but we will be weeping with joy.”

     

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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