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Vatican supports new elections to solve Venezuelan crisis

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Negotiations between government and opposition groups in Venezuela, followed by free and fair elections, are needed to put an end to violence and bring relief to the suffering people, a Vatican official said.

In a letter June 13 to six former Latin American heads of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Holy See continues to follow Pope Francis’ directives and is “trying to help find a solution to the current serious difficulties.”

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

“The Holy See continues to consider that a serious and sincere negotiation between the parties, based on very clear conditions, beginning with the celebration of constitutionally scheduled elections, can solve the serious situation in Venezuela and the suffering to which the population is subjected,” said Cardinal Parolin’s letter.

The Vatican did not release the cardinal’s letter, but it was posted on the blog Sismografo.

Pope Francis had met June 8 with the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, which requested the meeting as the country’s political and economic crisis became increasingly violent. Since April, anti-government protests have led to the death of some 70 people, both government and opposition supporters.

Cardinal Parolin’s letter came one day after the pope received a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The letter was posted on Twitter June 12 by the Venezuelan government’s press secretary, Ernesto Villegas Poljak.

Although his government’s violent tactics against protesters have been denounced by the Catholic Church in Venezuela, Maduro has tried to claim he had the support of Pope Francis.

In his letter, Maduro defended the government’s handling of the protests, claiming that the violence was caused by an “extreme right-wing” opposition that was “increasingly smaller and, therefore, more and more insane.”

“The forces of darkness have carried out all kinds of vandalism under the sign of the most abject and brutal terrorism, trying to impose a climate of widespread violence on Venezuela,” he said.

Maduro’s accusations contradict statements by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, who told Vatican Radio that “the repression” exercised by Maduro’s government “has been increasingly cruel.”

In addition to official security forces, there are pro-government, armed civilian groups, “which is absolutely criminal, so that the situation is extremely serious and that is why we are here,” he said at the Vatican June 7.

However, the Venezuelan president said his government’s crackdown against protesters was justified following the death of a 17-year-old boy.

Citing Pope Francis’ own words in his letter, Maduro said children should not “be robbed of joy,” and he was certain the pope’s “active and guiding counsel would open a new stage in national dialogue.”

Asking for the pope’s blessing, Maduro said he would follow the example of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in dealing with the opposition.

“There are those who have diverted toward the field of destabilization, terrorism and coup. My task is to bring them toward the field of the constitution and political debate. In this, I am rigorously following the example of Commander Chavez,” Maduro said.

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Pope names members for renewed Pontifical Academy for Life

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — After broadening the scope of and issuing new statutes for the Pontifical Academy of Life, Pope Francis appointed new members to the advisory body and included scientists, professors and experts in medicine and ethics from both religious and secular backgrounds.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy of Life, says new members appointed by Pope Francis to the academy, will offer the church and the world a “deep and wise vision in the service of human life, especially life that is weakest and most defenseless.”(CNS  file/Carol Glatz)

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy of Life, says new members appointed by Pope Francis to the academy, will offer the church and the world a “deep and wise vision in the service of human life, especially life that is weakest and most defenseless.”(CNS file/Carol Glatz)

Seven of the members come from the United States and Canada, including Dr. Kathleen M. Foley, a neurologist at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Dr. William F. Sullivan, a Toronto family physician and ethicist, who serves as president of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists in Canada.

In a statement released following the Vatican’s announcement June 13, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the academy, said the appointments of clergy, scientists and medical experts, both religious and secular, will offer the church and the world a “deep and wise vision in the service of human life, especially life that is weakest and most defenseless.”

“Among them are a number of non-Catholics, either belonging to other religions or nonbelievers, a sign that the protection and promotion of human life knows no divisions and can be assured only through common endeavor,” Archbishop Paglia said.

The appointments included Rabbi Fernando Szlajen, an Argentine rabbi with an extensive background in bioethics, and the Rev. Nigel Biggar, an Anglican priest who teaches pastoral and moral theology at Oxford University.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, a professor of bioethics and moral theology, and Dutch Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht, a former medical doctor who worked at the Amsterdam university hospital before he became a priest, were also named members of the pontifical academy by Pope Francis.

Founded in 1994 by St. John Paul II, the Pontifical Academy for Life is charged with defending and promoting “the value of human life and the dignity of the person.”

In November 2016, Pope Francis issued new statutes for the pontifical academy to widen the scope of its activity and research on life issues.

The new statutes added that the pontifical academy’s defense of life must include “the care of the dignity of the human person at different stages of life,” as well as “the promotion of a quality of human life that integrates its material and spiritual value with a view to an authentic human ecology that helps recover the original balance of creation between the human person and the entire universe.”

The new members named by Pope Francis hail from 27 countries, including Italy, Spain, Japan, Tunisia, Israel and Burkina Faso.

The nominations include 13 members who served on the academy before its statutes and membership were renewed.

Five past leaders of the Pontifical Academy for Life were named honorary members, including Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, retired archbishop of Bologna, Italy, and Birthe Lejeune, vice president of the foundation honoring her late husband, Jerome Lejeune, the first president of the academy.

Archbishop Paglia said the honorary members “represent the history of the academy and a passion for human life for which we must all be grateful.”

In addition to Foley and Sullivan, the members from the U.S. and Canada are: Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus; John Haas, president, National Catholic Bioethics Center, Philadelphia; Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, bioethics professor at Georgetown University; John Keown, professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University; and Bishop Noel Simard of Valleyfield, Quebec, spokesman for the Canadian bishops’ conference on bioethical issues related to euthanasia.

In a statement, Anderson quoted “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the church’s mission to evangelize the modern world, and said he looked forward to supporting an authentic human ecology and building a culture of life based on a proper understanding of the right to life and the dignity of each person.

Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life are nominated for five-year terms, which can be renewed. Membership ceases once an academician turns 80.

 

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Poverty requires action, not empty words, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — People cannot sit back and be indifferent or unresponsive to growing poverty in the world as a privileged minority accumulates “ostentatious wealth,” Pope Francis said.

“God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded,” the pope said in a message for the first World Day of the Poor.

Homeless Filipinos rest in late April on a street in Manila. World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated Nov. 19 this year, will focus on the apostle John's call to love "not with words, but with deeds." (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

Homeless Filipinos rest in late April on a street in Manila. World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated Nov. 19 this year, will focus on the apostle John’s call to love “not with words, but with deeds.” (CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA)

The newly established commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to help Christians develop and maintain a more consistent and sincere lifestyle built on sharing, simplicity and the essential truths of the Gospel, the pope said in the message released June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua.

The World Day of the Poor, to be marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time, will be celebrated Nov. 19 this year and will focus on the Apostle John’s call to love “not with words, but with deeds.”

There are so many forms of material and spiritual poverty that poison people’s hearts and harm their dignity, the pope said in his message, and “we must respond with a new vision of life and society.”

Too often Christians have taken on “a worldly way of thinking” and forgotten to keep their gaze and goals focused on Christ, who is present in those who are broken and vulnerable.

An admonition by St. John Chrysostom “remains ever timely,” the pope said, quoting: “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the eucharistic Christ with silk vestments and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”

“Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money,” he said. “What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few and generalized indifference.”

“Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world,” Pope Francis wrote. “Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned.”

Christians must reach out to the poor as Christ did and commanded, the pope said. The poor, in fact, “are not a problem, they are a resource” rich in dignity and God-given gifts that can help Christians better understand the essential truth of the Gospel.

“Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: They are hands that bring hope,” he said. “Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or ‘maybes’: They are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis said a good role model was his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who kept his gaze fixed on Christ so as to be “able to see and serve him in the poor.” The pope took the name of this saint during the conclave that elected him in 2013 after another cardinal told him, “Don’t forget the poor.”

“If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization,” the pope wrote in his message.

Just a few days before the end of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis spoke of his desire to have a special day dedicated to the poor.

As the doors of mercy were set to be closed around the world, “let us ask for the grace not to close our eyes to God, who sees us and to our neighbor who asks something of us,” the pope said in that homily in November 2016. However, straying from his prepared text that day, the pope told those gathered, “I would like today to be the ‘day of the poor” to underline everyone’s responsibility “to care for the true riches, which are the poor.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters the pope envisioned the day as a way for the whole church to reflect on the Gospel sense of poverty, seeking and receiving only the essential, and then to act and concretely share the essential treasure of God’s love and mercy.

Local churches should dedicate the week preceding the World Day of the Poor to creative initiatives fostering encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance, the papal message said. The pontifical council will release a pastoral guide in September to help parishes in their planning, the archbishop said.

The idea is to stir people’s consciences and to understand more deeply what the Gospel teaches, he said.

It’s not about handing out change in order to feel better about oneself, the archbishop said; it’s about becoming truly concerned and invested in the other and seeing him or her as a brother or sister in God.

The pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 19 with the poor and volunteers and will offer lunch afterward for “at least 500 poor” in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall, Archbishop Fisichella said, adding that many local churches and Catholic organizations in Rome would be offering similar gestures of a shared meal.

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Vatican bank reports $40 million profit in 2016

June 13th, 2017 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Institute for the Works of Religion, often referred to as the Vatican bank, made a profit of 36 million euros (about $40 million) in 2016, according to its annual report.

The institute held assets worth 5.7 billion euros at year’s end, which included deposits and investments from close to 15,000 clients, mostly Catholic religious orders around the world, Vatican offices and employees, and Catholic clergy.

The main entrance of the Institute for the Works of Religion, known colloquially as the Vatican bank, is seen at the Vatican May 31. Ernst von Freyburg, president of the bank, said its operations are sound but "our biggest issue is our reputation." (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The main entrance of the Institute for the Works of Religion, known colloquially as the Vatican bank, is seen at the Vatican May 31. Ernst von Freyburg, president of the bank, said its operations are sound but “our biggest issue is our reputation.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Before the report’s release, the 2016 financial statements were audited by the firm Deloitte & Touche and were reviewed by the Commission of Cardinals overseeing the institute’s work.

According to a statement from the bank June 12, all of the profits will be turned over to the Holy See, with none being placed in the institute’s reserve account.

According to the report, most of the institute’s clients “are active in missions or perform charitable works at institutions such as schools, hospitals or refugee camps.” That work is conducted all over the world, including “in countries with very basic infrastructure and underdeveloped banking and payment systems,” which means they rely on the institute, particularly in transferring donations from wealthier nations to poorer ones.

“Measured by assets entrusted, the most important group of clients was religious orders. They accounted for more than half of our client base in 2016 (54 percent), followed by Roman Curia departments, Holy See Offices and nunciatures (11 percent),” the report said. Cardinals, bishops and other clergy make up about 8 percent of the client base, and another 8 percent is comprised of bishops’ conferences, dioceses and parishes.

In addition to deposits in money, the institute also holds “gold, silver, medals and precious coins” valued at close to 33 million euros. “Gold is mainly deposited with the U.S. Federal Reserve, while medals and precious coins are kept in the IOR vaults,” it said. IOR is the Italian acronym for the Institute for the Works of Religion.

 

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Vatican: Failure to protect child migrants an insult to human dignity

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Too often, national and international policies leave migrant children at the mercy of traffickers and sexual predators and are signs of a widespread failure to protect the innocent, a Vatican official said.

A migrant mother holds her child outside at a transit camp in early February in Gevgelija, Macedonia. (CNS photo/Georgi Licovski, EPA)

A migrant mother holds her child outside at a transit camp in early February in Gevgelija, Macedonia. (CNS photo/Georgi Licovski, EPA)

In addition, policies that involve criminalizing and detaining child migrants “are an insult to human dignity” and are “the dramatic evidence of existing inequalities and failing systems,” said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

“The grave error of the detention model is that it considers the children as sole, isolated subjects responsible for the situations in which they find themselves and over which they have little, if any, control,” the archbishop said. “This model wrongly absolves the international community at large from responsibilities that it regularly fails to fulfill.”

Archbishop Jurkovic spoke about the plight of child migrants during a U.N. Human Rights Council panel discussion June 9 on “Unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights.”

Children forced to flee without the protection of their parents or family members, he said, are given no options for a better life and are often “left at the lower levels of human degradation” due to lack of education and health care.

“They must be considered children first and foremost, and their best interest must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them,” Archbishop Jurkovic said.

The practice of detaining and criminalizing migrant children should “never be an option” given that such a practice, even if for a brief period, “can have lifelong consequences on a child’s development,” he said.

While the protection of all migrating people is “vital and essential, it is not enough,” Archbishop Jurkovic added. The international community must step up its efforts to address the situations that force children to flee their homelands, situations that include war, violence, corruption, poverty and environmental disasters.

“A farsighted approach is urgently needed to tackle the tragic and intolerable situations that drive such a drastic increase in the number of children who abandon their lands of birth and search alone for refuge and hope for the future,” he said.

Archbishop Jurkovic urged world leaders to promote an integral human development for the “hundreds of millions of children who are living in appalling conditions.”

“Even while we are engaged in discussion and debate today, any number of these children will have joined the already huge odyssey of children on the move, simply in search of safety, peace and of a fair chance in life,” he said.

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Pope Francis demands Nigerian priests accept diocese’s bishop or be suspended

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is giving priests belonging to the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria, 30 days to write a letter promising obedience to him and accepting the bishop appointed for their diocese or they will be suspended.

The papal text in English was posted June 9 on the blog of Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Nigerian bishops’ conference. Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja told Catholic News Service the same day that the text was what Pope Francis said. The Vatican press office released the text June 10.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, right, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, posted a letter on his blog from Pope Francis that gives priests of the Diocese of Ahiara 30 days promising obedience to the pope and accepting the bishop appointed to their diocese. (CNS EPA)

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, right, president of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, has posted a letter on his blog from Pope Francis that gives priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria,  30 days to promise  obedience to the pope and to accept the bishop appointed to their diocese. (CNS EPA)

Nigerian church leaders had met Pope Francis June 8 to discuss the situation of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who was appointed bishop of Ahiara by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, but who has been unable to take control of the diocese because of protests, apparently by the majority of priests.

Initially the Vatican issued only a short communique on the meeting with the pope, describing the situation in the diocese as “unacceptable” and saying the pope “reserved the right to take appropriate measures.”

The protests were motivated by the fact that Bishop Okpaleke is not a local priest.

In the full text posted later, Pope Francis told the Nigerian leaders, “I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.” The pope also referred to “the parable of the murderous tenants” in Matthew 21:33-44.

“Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the church. This is forbidden,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said he even had considered “suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children.”

Instead, he said, every priest of the diocese, whether residing in Nigeria or abroad, is to write a letter to him asking for forgiveness because “we all must share this common sorrow.”

Each priest’s letter, he said, “must clearly manifest total obedience to the pope” and indicate a willingness “to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed.”

“The letter must be sent within 30 days, from today to July 9th, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended ‘a divinis’ and will lose his current office,” the pope said, according to the posts.

“This seems very hard, but why must the pope do this?” Pope Francis asked. “Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences.”

Bishop Okpaleke, the contested bishop, also met the pope and was joined in Rome by other Nigerian bishops and a handful of priests making an unusual kind of visit “ad limina apostolorum” (to the threshold of the apostles) in early June.

While “ad limina” visits usually are done in national groups, the Vatican communique described the Ahiara diocesan visit using the same term. It noted that the nine-person delegation prayed at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

They also participated in a private celebration of the Mass June 8 with Pope Francis. The Vatican did not say if the pope gave a homily.

Later in the day, the pope held a private audience with the group. Members also had met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and with Cardinal Fernando Filoni and other top officials from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to examine what the Vatican called the “painful situation of the church in Ahiara.”

When Bishop Okpaleke was appointed to the diocese, the announcement was met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy.

Nevertheless, he was ordained a bishop in May 2013, although the ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese, but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo state in southern Nigeria. Bishop Okpaleke is from Anambra state, which borders Imo to the north.

A petition to Pope Benedict launched by the “Coalition of Igbo Catholics” said, “That no priest of Mbaise origin is a bishop today … is mind boggling. Mbaise has embraced, enhanced the growth of and sacrificed for the Catholic Church, has more priests per capita than any other diocese in Nigeria and certainly more than enough pool of priests qualified to become the next bishop of the episcopal see of Ahiara diocese, Mbaise.”

According to the Vatican, the diocese has close to 423,000 Catholics and 110 diocesan priests.

Trying to calm the situation, in July 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Onaiyekan to serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese, and the following December he sent Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to Ahiara to listen to the concerns of the diocesan priests and local laity.

Cardinal Onaiyekan joined Bishop Okpaleke on the “ad limina” visit to Rome, as did Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri and Archbishop Kaigama. Three priests, a religious sister and a traditional elder also made the trip

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God’s fatherly love is a revolution in religious psychology, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The mystery of God’s relationship with humankind is revolutionary in that Christians can look to him without fear as children to a loving father, Pope Francis said.

In teaching the Lord’s prayer, Jesus invites all Christians “to have the courage of calling God with the name ‘father,’” the pope said June 7 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis blesses a man during his general audience June 7 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Maurizo Brambatti, EPA)

Pope Francis blesses a man during his general audience June 7 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Maurizo Brambatti, EPA)

“This is the great revolution that Christianity ingrains into the religious psychology of man. The mystery of God who always fascinates us and makes us feel small but no longer frightens us, he doesn’t crush us, he doesn’t distress us,” the pope said.

With temperatures in Rome hovering slightly above 80 degrees, the hot and humid weather did little to keep the estimated 15,000 pilgrims from singing and waving as Pope Francis greeted them on his popemobile.

The pope occasionally stopped to kiss several babies whose heads were draped in cloth to protect them from the sun.

In his talk, the pope reflected on the theme of God’s fatherhood as a source of hope for Christians as conveyed in the prayer of the “Our Father.”

While some may be more inclined to refer to God with a title that is “more respectful of his transcendence,” he said, the word “father” implies a trustful relationship “like a child to a father, knowing that we are loved and cared for by him.”

Referring to the parable of the prodigal son, the pope said God loves his children “not in a human way because there is no father in this world who would behave like the protagonist in this parable.”

“God is a father in his own way: good, defenseless in the face of man’s free will, capable only of conjugating the verb, ‘love,’” the pope said. “What an unfathomable mystery is a God that nourishes this kind of love toward his children.”

It is for this reason, he added, that St. Paul chose not to translate the word “father” into Greek and instead uses the Aramaic word, ‘“Abba,’ a term that is even more intimate than ‘father’ and that someone may translate as ‘pop, dad.’”

The pope said that although men and women “can be far away, hostile or even profess ourselves as being ‘without God,’” God is never far from humankind.

“When we need help, Jesus doesn’t tell us to give up and close in on ourselves, but rather to turn to the father and ask him with confidence,” he said.

Before concluding, Pope Francis asked pilgrims to contemplate on the difficulties they face in their lives before leading them in praying the “Our Father.”

“Let us think about these problems and needs in silence. Let us also think about the father, our father, who cannot be without us and who is watching us at this moment,” he said.

Pope Francis also said he would participate in the “One minute for peace” initiative June 8, a moment of prayer starting at 1 p.m. on the third anniversary of the prayer service held at the Vatican with the late Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“In our time, there is a great need to pray — Christians, Jews and Muslims — for peace,” the pope said.

 

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Pentecost is celebration of unity in diversity, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Holy Spirit continues to give Christians different gifts and to call them to share those gifts with each other in a community marked by forgiveness and “unity in diversity,” Pope Francis said on Pentecost.

“In a way both creative and unexpected,” the pope said, the Holy Spirit “generates diversity, for in every age he causes new and varied charisms to blossom. Then he brings about unity: he joins together, gathers and restores harmony.”

Pope Francis prays during a Pentecost vigil marking the 50th anniversary of the Catholic charismatic renewal at the Circus Maximus in Rome June 3. Next to the pope are Gilberto Barbosa from Brazil and Patti Gallagher Mansfield, a participant in the 1967 Pittsburgh retreat that marked the beginning of the Charismatic renewal. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays during a Pentecost vigil marking the 50th anniversary of the Catholic charismatic renewal at the Circus Maximus in Rome June 3. Next to the pope are Gilberto Barbosa from Brazil and Patti Gallagher Mansfield, a participant in the 1967 Pittsburgh retreat that marked the beginning of the Charismatic renewal. (CNS /Paul Haring)

With tens of thousands of Catholic charismatics from around the world and with dozens of Pentecostal and evangelical leaders present, Pope Francis celebrated Pentecost Mass June 4 in St. Peter’s Square and concluded a five-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Catholic charismatic renewal.

In his homily at the Mass, the pope said Christians can block the unity in diversity desired by the Holy Spirit by focusing on their differences rather than on what they share.

“This happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others,” he said.

“When this happens,” the pope said, “we choose the part over the whole, belonging to this or that group before belonging to the church” and taking pride in being “Christians of the ‘right’ or the ‘left’ before being on the side of Jesus.”

The other temptation, he said, is to seek unity without tolerating diversity. “Here, unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together and in the same way, always thinking alike.”

When the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, he said, the first gift the Spirit brought was forgiveness for their sins and the grace to forgive others.

“Here we see the beginning of the church, the glue that holds us together, the cement that binds the bricks of the house: forgiveness,” he said.

Forgiveness “preserves unity despite everything, prevents collapse and consolidates and strengthens,” he said. “Forgiveness sets our hearts free and enables us to start afresh.”

Pope Francis began his Pentecost celebrations at an ecumenical vigil June 3 with some 50,000 Catholic charismatics and Pentecostals from more than 125 countries gathered for praise and worship at the site of the ancient Roman Circus Maximus.

Although less exuberantly, the pope, too, sang with his hands cupped open or with his hands raised. He stood between Michelle Moran, president of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, and Patti Mansfield, who was present when the Catholic charismatic renewal was born. In February 1967 Mansfield was one of the Duquesne University students, who experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit during a retreat.

The charismatic renewal is “a current of grace,” Pope Francis told the crowd at the Circus Maximus. “It is a work that was born — Catholic? No. It was born ecumenical,” with similar results in many denominations and with Pentecostals providing support and education to new Catholic charismatics.

“It was born ecumenical because it is the Holy Spirit who creates unity,” the pope said. The Holy Spirit drew Catholics and Pentecostals together to profess that Jesus is Lord and “to proclaim together the Father’s love for all his children.”

In ancient Rome, Pope Francis said, Christians were martyred in the Circus Maximus “for the entertainment of those watching.” He urged the crowd to remember how many Christians are being killed for their faith today and to recognize that their murderers are not asking them their denomination, just whether or not they are Christian.

If those who want to kill Christians believe they are one, he said, it is urgent that Christians be “united by the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer and in action on behalf of those who are weaker.”

“Walk together. Work together. Love each other,” Pope Francis told them.

Being baptized in the Spirit and knowing how to praise God, he said, “are not enough” if Christians don’t also help those in need.

An Italian Pentecostal pastor, Giovanni Traettino, a friend of Pope Francis’ since they met at an ecumenical charismatic gathering in Buenos Aires in 2006, told the crowd that as Christians grow in their love for God, they should simultaneously grow in love for one another.

“The movement of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Pentecostal movement, has in its DNA, its life in the Holy Spirit, the vocation to build Christian unity,” he said.

Pentecostals and Catholic charismatics have not always gotten along, Traettino said. But “the election of Pope Francis clearly opened a new season, especially in relations with us.”

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, offered a reflection also focusing on the ecumenical vocation of the charismatic renewal.

How many of the divisions among Christians “have been due to the desire to make a name for ourselves or for our own church more than for God,” he asked. “A renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit will not be possible without a collective movement of repentance on the part of all Christians.”

Tens of thousands of people gathered for hours of song and prayer before the pope arrived. As Rome’s summer sun beat down on the pilgrims, Elaine Pollard and Sandra Mobley from Holy Cross parish in Brooklyn, New York, found space in the shade under one of the few trees on the edge of the crowd. They had traveled to Rome with group of 88 people.

Both women are lifelong Catholics who discovered the charismatic renewal in 1989. Pollard said she has stayed with it “because my whole life changed. The first night I went I wasn’t impressed.” That was a Saturday and when she went to work on Monday, “I started to hum one of the songs and my heart just broke open, like living water” flowing forth. “It changed my whole life.”

As she spoke to Catholic News Service, the choir on stage started singing, “10,000 Reasons,” a song of praise. Pollard started to cry.

“We were singing this song when my husband died” 15 months ago, she said. He was in the hospital, dying, and her adopted daughter started singing it. Other relatives, who couldn’t be there in person, were connected by Skype and they were singing it, too, as he passed away.

It is still difficult, she said, but “he wanted me to come and be here.”

Kaye and George Balsam and Terry Mroz from St. Gabriel the Archangel parish in McKinney, Texas, were at the Circus Maximus as part of a 130-person pilgrimage that visited the Holy Land before arriving in Rome for the Pentecost celebrations.

The trip was George’s first with charismatics and he was enthused. “This is what we need to reinvent the church,” he said. Getting people excited about the faith is what is needed if “we want the church to get straightened out and stop losing people,” he said.

Mroz said, “We receive baptism as babies and then we’re confirmed,” but so many people experience the sacraments only as “ritual” and are unaware of the power the sacraments hold. The charismatic renewal “reawakens those gifts you received at baptism and confirmation. Until you get the Holy Spirit, you don’t get this reawakening. That’s what it is, a reawakening of the gifts given you before.”

 

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz.

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As school year ends, pope tells students: Don’t fear goodbyes, unknown

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Life is a long series of hellos and goodbyes, so don’t be afraid to let go of the past; remember old friends, but keep moving and be open to the new, Pope Francis told students as the school year was coming to an end.

“We have to learn to see life by seeing the horizons,” not the walls that can make people afraid because they don’t know what is on the other side, he told thousands of adolescents during a 45-minute encounter at the Vatican June 2. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation’s “The Knights of the Grail” educational initiative.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of a middle school group June 2 at the Vatican. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation's "The Knights of the Grail" educational initiative. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis poses for a selfie as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of a middle school group June 2 at the Vatican. The middle-schoolers were part of Communion and Liberation’s “The Knights of the Grail” educational initiative. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

In the informal Q-and-A, a teen named Marta told the pope how scared she was to be leaving middle school and most of her best friends as they head on to high school next year. “Why do I have to change everything? Why does growing up make me so afraid?” she asked him.

“Life is a constant ‘Good morning’ and ‘Farewell,’” he said, with the goodbyes sometimes being for forever.

“You grow by encountering and by taking your leave,” he said. “If you don’t learn to say goodbye well, you will never learn how to encounter new people.”

This moment of change in life is “a challenge,” he said, but “in life we have to get used to this journey of leaving something behind and encountering something new.”

Noting that Marta had used the word “afraid” a number of times in her question, the pope said the risk that comes with the challenge is that fear will render a person immobile, “too serene” and unable to grow.

Those who give up, settle down and say, “Enough,” close off the horizons that are out there waiting for them and do not grow.

“Look at that wall? What’s behind it?” he asked the girl. “I don’t know,” she said.

“But if you go outside, to the countryside, what do you see?” he asked. “I see everything,” she replied.

“Everything. You see the horizon,” the pope said. “We have to learn to see life by looking at the horizons” that are always open, always lying ahead, by meeting new people and having new experiences.

Instead of framing the future with terms like “fear” or “afraid,” he added, try “using the word ‘a challenge’ more” and remembering, “I will win this challenge or I will let this challenge defeat me.”

“Look at the wall and think about the horizon that lies in the countryside,” he said. The more a person journeys toward the horizon, the farther, longer and wider that horizon becomes.

Remember to call and visit old friends, he said, “but live and journey with the new ones.”

When asked how kids their age could change the world when it has so many problems, the pope told them they have to begin with the people and situations in their daily lives.

Think of what happens to a person’s hand when sharing a piece of candy, for example: It’s open and moves toward the other person, the pope said. Now think of what happens when a person wants to keep that candy for himself or herself: The hand closes up tight and moves away from the other.

One’s heart has to be like the hand that is responding in a positive, generous way, not the negative, self-centered approach, he said.

“You can begin to change the world with an open heart,” the pope said, and by listening to others, welcoming others and sharing things.

Pray for everyone, including one’s enemies and “those who make you suffer,” he said, “Never return evil with evil.”

Don’t bad-mouth, insult or wish bad things would happen to others, he said. “That’s how you can change the world. There is no magic wand, but there are little things we can learn to do every day.”

Pope Francis suggested that the kids meet up to openly discuss the right and the wrong ways to respond to the many difficulties or choices that have to make each day.

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Don’t be overly harsh on youth; they have much to give, pope says

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Catholic News Service

 

VATICAN CITY  — Young people often are judged too easily, even though with their limitations they are still a much needed and valuable part of the world, Pope Francis said.

Do not forget how God often chose the smallest, because proclaiming the Gospel “is not based on the greatness of human strength, but rather on the willingness to let oneself be guided by the gift of the Spirit,” he said June 1. Read more »

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