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Pope encourages Knights of Malta to continue path of renewal

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the Sovereign Military Order of Malta accepted Pope Francis’ intervention in their governance, the pope urged members to follow a path of renewal as they prepare to elect a new grand master.

Pope Francis talks with Fra Matthew Festing, grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, during a private audience with members of the order at the Vatican in this June 23, 2016, file photo. Festing has accepted Pope Francis' request that he resign following weeks of tensions with the Vatican over the dismissal of the order's former chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool) See FESTING-MALTA-RESIGN Jan. 25, 2017.

Pope Francis talks with Fra Matthew Festing, grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, during a private audience with members of the order at the Vatican in this June 23, 2016, file photo. Festing has accepted Pope Francis’ request that he resign following weeks of tensions with the Vatican over the dismissal of the order’s former chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool) 

In accordance with the pope’s wishes, the governing council of the order accepted the resignation Jan. 28 of Fra Matthew Festing as grand master and appointed Fra Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein to temporarily lead the chivalric order.

By “putting aside personal interests and dangerous ambitions,” members, volunteers and benefactors of the order can better dedicate themselves to the “noble and proven mission” of defending the faith and serving the poor, the pope wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to von Rumerstein, lieutenant ad interim of the order.

“The witness of an authentic Christian life makes accompanying the sick more accepted and effective, and charity toward the poor and vulnerable people of society more fraternal,” the pope wrote.

The Knights of Malta have 13,500 members, as well as 80,000 volunteers and 25,000 medical professionals providing relief and humanitarian aid in 120 countries.

Festing offered his resignation Jan. 24 at the behest of Pope Francis, who had established a commission to investigate his removal of the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

Festing refused to cooperate with the investigation and insisted the firing was a sovereign act outside the Vatican’s jurisdiction, although the knights take a vow of obedience to the pope.

Pope Francis said he would appoint a special delegate who, in close collaboration with von Rumerstein. will “specifically take care of the spiritual and moral renewal of the order,” especially the 50 or so members who have taken religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

“The special delegate will have the task of being my exclusive spokesman during the period of your mandate for all that relates to the relationship of the order with the Holy See,” the pope wrote.

The pope’s letter did not clarify how the special delegate’s responsibilities would intersect with those of the current cardinal patron of the order, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.

According the order’s constitution, the cardinal patron “has the task of promoting the spiritual interests of the order and its members and relations between the Holy See and the order.”

Following the acceptance of Festing’s resignation, von Rumerstein expressed his gratitude to him for “the many good things he has done for our order.”

“We are grateful to Fra Matthew in his generous response to the request of the Holy Father to resign his position for the good of the Order of Malta,” he said.

He also thanked the pope and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, for “their interest in and care for our order.”

“We are grateful to the Holy Father for all his decisions so carefully taken with regard to and respect for the order, with a determination to strengthen our sovereignty. In this and all matters, we will not yield in our loyalty to the pope,” von Rumerstein wrote.

 

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Loss of hope and memory of graces shrinks souls, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians who do not remember the graces they received by God in the past can lose hope, turning into cowards who buckle in difficult times, Pope Francis said.

A Christian who doesn’t remember the past and hope for the future is a person who “walks down the street and when an

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

unexpected rain falls is wearing clothes of bad quality that shrink,” the pope said Jan. 27 during his Mass at the Casa Santa Marta where he lives.

“Shrunken souls: This is cowardice. This is the sin against memory, courage, patience and hope,” he said.

The pope reflected on the day’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (10: 32-39), which called on Christians to “remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering.”

Christian life and even one’s daily spiritual life, the pope said, can’t be understood without “the memory of God’s salvation in my life, the memory of woes in my life.”

“Memory is a grace, a grace to ask for,” he said. “‘Lord, may I not forget your steps in my life, may I not forget the good times, even the bad times, the joys and the crosses.’ The Christian is a person of memory.”

Looking to the future “with the hope of an encounter with the Lord” is also necessary for living a Christian life, he said.

The day’s reading, he said, also reminds Christians to live in the present with “courage and patience,” especially in times of suffering and sin.

“We are all sinners,” he said. “But let us not remain there, stopped, because this does not help us to grow.”

Pope Francis warned that not having memory of the past, hope for the future and patience for the present is the “cowardly” sin of those who “always walk backward, who care for themselves too much, who are afraid of everything.”

“May the Lord help us grow in memory, may he make us grow in hope, may he give us courage and patience every day and may he free us from those things that are cowardly,” the pope prayed.

 

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Women are braver than men, take their advice, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The humble counsel of courageous women should never be disregarded but rather embraced as advice full of God’s divine wisdom, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis poses with members of a musical group during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis poses with members of a musical group during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Women like the biblical heroine Judith are an example of trusting God amid sufferings and difficulties when it is easy to give up hope and fall into despair, the pope said Jan. 25 during his weekly general audience.

“This is my opinion, but women are more courageous than men,” the pope said to applause.

As the pope arrived for the audience, the sounds of classical music echoed throughout the Paul VI audience hall as a youth orchestra from Bolivia played for the pope.

The Anglican choir of London’s Westminster Abbey and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also were present and greeted the pope at the end of the audience.

Pope Francis focused his audience talk on Judith, “a woman of great beauty and wisdom,” who reproached the people of Israel for their lack of trust in God to deliver them from foreign invaders.

“They were at the point of saying, ‘God has sold us,’” the pope said. “How many times have we come to situations that test our limits where we are not even able to trust in the Lord? It is an ugly temptation.”

Facing a situation full of despair, the pope continued, the people gave God five days to intervene. However, even in prayer they doubted that the Lord would help them.

“Five days are given to God to intervene; this is the sin! Five days of waiting but already expecting the end. In reality, no one among the people is capable of hoping,” he said.

Pope Francis said that in the moment of despair, Judith confronts the people’s doubts with the “courageous language” of faith and hope.

Her courage, he explained, is a reminder for Christians “to knock on the door of God’s heart; he is a father, he can save us. This widow risks (everything), even of making herself look like a fool in front of the others. But she is courageous, she goes forward.”

Christians must “never put conditions on God,” the pope said. Instead, they should allow “hope to conquer our fears.”

“To trust God means entering into his plans without assuming anything” and to believe that “he knows better than us,” the pope said.

The story of Judith exemplifies the importance of the “courageous counsel” of humble women, Pope Francis said. Their words, he added, contain “the wisdom of God” and should never be “dismissed as ignorant.”

“The words of grandmothers, how many times do grandmothers know the right word to say,” the pope said. “They give words of hope because they have the experience of life, they have suffered so much, they trusted in God and the Lord gave them this gift of giving us hopeful advice.”

 

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Order of Malta’s grand master resigns at pope’s request

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Catholic News Service

ROME — After weeks of very public tensions with the Vatican, the head of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta accepted Pope Francis’ request that he submit his resignation.

The order’s communications office confirmed Jan. 25 that Fra Matthew Festing, the 67-year-old grand master, met with Pope Francis the day before and agreed to resign.

Pope Francis met with Fra Matthew Festing, grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, during a private audience last June. This week, Festing resigned at the pope's request.  (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)

Pope Francis met with Fra Matthew Festing, grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, during a private audience last June. This week, Festing resigned at the pope’s request. (CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)

Festing, who has led the world’s largest chivalric order since 2008, will submit his resignation Jan. 28 to the order’s governing council, according to the communications office.

The Order of Malta is made up of some 13,500 knights and dames; more than 50 of them are professed religious, having taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The grand master is elected for life from among the professed knights.

Festing’s offer to resign came after Pope Francis set up a commission to investigate Festing’s removal of the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

A member of the commission told Catholic News Service Jan. 25 that Pope Francis received the commission report before meeting with Festing and asking for his resignation.

In a statement in December, the order said Boeselager was removed “due to severe problems which occurred during Boeselager’s tenure as grand hospitaller of the Order of Malta and his subsequent concealment of these problems from the Grand Magistry.” It was widely reported the problems had to do with the distribution of contraceptives to prevent HIV/AIDS in health clinics run by or funded by Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian relief agency.

Festing insisted the removal of Boeselager was an internal matter and, in letters leaked to the press, urged members not to cooperate with the Vatican commission.

In response, the Vatican published a statement Jan. 17 praising “the commendable work that members and volunteers” with the Order of Malta carry out around the world and it urged members to cooperate with the commission for the good of the order and the church.

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Pope confirms appointment of Opus Dei prelate

January 24th, 2017 Posted in Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis confirmed the election of Spanish Msgr. Fernando Ocariz as the new prelate of Opus Dei.

The 72-year-old monsignor, who had been auxiliary vicar of Opus Dei, was elected and confirmed by the pope Jan. 23, the first day of voting by Opus Dei’s electoral congress, a gathering of priests and laymen.

Spanish Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, pictured in Rome in 2016, was elected Jan. 23 as the new head of the prelature of Opus Dei. His appointment was confirmed the same day by Pope Francis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Opus Dei)

Spanish Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, pictured in Rome in 2016, was elected Jan. 23 as the new head of the prelature of Opus Dei. His appointment was confirmed the same day by Pope Francis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Opus Dei)

Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which is in some ways like a diocese without geographic boundaries.

Msgr. Ocariz succeeds Bishop Javier Echevarria, who died in December.

Born in Paris in 1944 to a family exiled during the Spanish civil war, Msgr. Ocariz graduated from the University of Barcelona with a degree in physical sciences in 1966.

Prior to receiving his licentiate in theology from Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University in 1969, he lived in Rome in an Opus Dei house along with St. Josemaria Escriva, the Opus Dei founder. He also received a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarra in 1971, the same year of his ordination.

Msgr. Ocariz serves as a consultor to several Vatican offices, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

The process that led to Msgr. Ocariz’s election began Jan. 21 with a consultation involving more than three dozen women who are members of the Central Advisory.

The advisory submitted a list with the name or names of those priests in the Opus Dei electoral congress who they believed were suited for the role of prelate.

 

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Church must accompany couples before, after marriage, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — To ensure engaged couples are entering into a fully Catholic marriage and remain committed to their vows for life, they must be prepared properly beforehand and supported afterward, Pope Francis said.

Addressing members of the Roman Rota, a tribunal handling mostly marriage cases, the pope said the church cannot ignore that there is a “widespread mentality” that is convinced eternal truths do not exist and, therefore, that many young people approaching the church for marriage do not understand what the sacrament is and that it is for life.

Pope Francis talks with Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, and Father Maurice Monier, pro-dean, during a meeting inaugurating the judicial year of the Roman Rota at the Vatican Jan. 21. The Roman Rota is the highest appellate court in the Catholic Church; it mainly handles marriage cases. (CNS photo L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis talks with Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, and Father Maurice Monier, pro-dean, during a meeting inaugurating the judicial year of the Roman Rota at the Vatican Jan. 21. The Roman Rota is the highest appellate court in the Catholic Church; it mainly handles marriage cases. (CNS photo L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

“Such a context, lacking religious values and faith, cannot help but condition matrimonial consent,” one of the essential conditions for a Catholic marriage to be valid, the pope told the Rota members Jan. 21.

The response of the Catholic Church, he said, must be to provide serious preparation for engaged couples and support that would help newlyweds mature in their vocation.

“The objective of this preparation consists in helping engaged couples to know and live the reality of the marriage they intend to celebrate so that they may do so not only validly and lawfully, but also fruitfully,” he said.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s last address to the Roman Rota, in which he highlighted the relationship between love and truth, the pope said some seeking marriage participate actively in the church while others “are guided by a more generic religious sentiment.”

Educating young people so they rediscover marriage and family life according to God’s plan, he said, is a first “remedy” to situations where sufficient preparation is lacking.

“In this spirit, I would like to reiterate the need of a ‘new catechumenate’ for marriage preparation,” he said.

Pope Francis explained that, just like a catechumenate period in preparation for baptism as an adult, “marriage preparation can become an integral part of the whole sacramental procedure of marriage, as an antidote that impedes the growth of null or inconsistent matrimonial celebrations.”

A second remedy, he continued, is the church’s presence and formation after marriage to encourage newlyweds in their lives together.

The Christian community is “called to welcome, accompany and help young couples” and care for their spiritual life through the parish’s pastoral ministry, he said.

“Often times, young couples are left to themselves, perhaps for the simple fact that they are seen less in the parish; this is especially true after the birth of children,” the pope said.

It is in those “first moments of family life,” he said, that the church must be even closer to young couples so they “may strive for the beauty of the Christian family, despite the destructive traps of a culture dominated by the ephemeral and the provisional.”

“As I have said several times,” the pope said, “great courage is needed to be married in the times in which we are living. And those who have the strength and the joy of fulfilling this important step must feel the love and concrete closeness of the church near them.”

Prior to their meeting with Pope Francis, the members of the Roman Rota celebrated Mass with Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a top official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, to inaugurate the Vatican court’s judicial year.

In his homily, Archbishop Becciu said that like Jesus, the court officials are surrounded by real people who want to be listened to and who have had an “experience of failure, of pain.”

“The ministry you fulfill in the pope’s tribunal puts you daily in contact not just with letters, but with people marked by human and marital failure; they are awaiting answers of truth and justice by the church,” the archbishop said.

 

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‘We must wait and see,’ pope says of President Trump

January 23rd, 2017 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As President Donald Trump was being sworn in, Pope Francis told an interviewer it would be “reckless” to pass judgment on the new president before he had a chance to do anything.

“We must wait and see,” the pope told two reporters from the Spanish newspaper El Pais during a 75-minute interview Jan. 20.

The interview was published late Jan. 21 in its original Spanish with an English translation.

Asked if he wasn’t worried at least about some of the things Trump said before his election, the pope responded, “I’m waiting. God waited so long for

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington during an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington Jan. 21, the day after Trump's swearing-in as the country's 45th president. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington during an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s swearing-in as the country’s 45th president. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

me, with all my sins.”

“Being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite reckless,” the pope said. “We will see. We will see what he does and then we will judge, always on the concrete. Christianity either is concrete or it is not Christianity.”

El Pais asked another question about Trump and populists in the United States and Europe who, the interviewer said, “capitalize on fear in the face of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred toward the foreigner.”

“”Crises provoke fear, alarm,” the pope said. “In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. After (Paul von) Hindenburg, after the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: ‘I can, I can.’”

“Hitler didn’t steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people,” Pope Francis said.

In times of crisis, he said, large segments of the population think, “Let’s look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let’s defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other peoples who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing.”

Obviously, Pope Francis said, nations have a right and duty to control their borders, especially under the threat of terrorism, but “no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility of talking with their neighbors.”

The El Pais reporters also asked Pope Francis about his hopes for improved diplomatic relations with China. As he has done in the past, the pope reported that a Vatican-Chinese committee has been meeting regularly for years and the dialogue continues.

“Are you ready to go to China?” he was asked.

“When they invite me,” he replied. “In China the churches are full. One can practice one’s religion in China,” he added, without mentioning the fact that religious practice is tightly controlled by the government.

El Pais also asked the 80-year-old pope if he expects to resign like Pope Benedict XVI did.

“That I don’t know. That is for God to decide,” he said. “When I feel that I cannot go on, my great teacher Benedict taught me what to do. And, if God takes me before that, I will see it from the other side, hopefully not from hell.”

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Vatican policy promotes access to Jerusalem, self-determination for all

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years.

The key concern of the Holy See, and of the Catholic Church as a whole, since the Middle Ages has been for the Christian holy sites and Christian communities present in the Holy Land from the time of Jesus. The vast majority of Christians in the region are Palestinians.

Family and friends of an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Palestinian truck driver mourn during her Jan. 9 funeral in Jerusalem. The Vatican's hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

Family and friends of an Israeli soldier who was killed by a Palestinian truck driver mourn during her Jan. 9 funeral in Jerusalem. The Vatican’s hopes for a peace-filled world and its defense of the right to religious freedom have supported its consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 70 years. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

More recently, it has supported the “two-state solution” with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

While support for the two-state system evolved over time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly the Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

As Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, told the U.N. General Assembly in November: “The Holy See views the holy city of Jerusalem as the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

Before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush said the same thing during their campaigns for election, although once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Some observers think Trump is more serious about having the embassy in Jerusalem.

“At this point we are in a wait-and-see pattern,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who was in Jerusalem in mid-January together with 12 other bishops from North America and Europe.

Bishop Cantu, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Service that Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem poses a “serious problem” to any possible two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are hoping that other, clearer minds will convince the president-elect to change his mind,” he said, promising the U.S. bishops would engage with the new administration in “as friendly a way as possible.”

“We will share with him our concerns based on the dignity of every human person and also based on the rights of the Palestinians to exist as a free and sovereign state living in peace next to a free and sovereign Israel,” Bishop Cantu said.

One of the Vatican’s earliest mentions of the Palestinians’ right to a homeland came in a communique issued by the Vatican press office when St. John Paul II held his first meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1982.

The statement said the pope had expressed his hope to Arafat that “a just and lasting solution to the Middle East conflict would be reached as quickly as possible, a solution which, by excluding recourse to arms and violence, in any form, and especially that of terrorism and reprisal, would lead to the recognition of the right of all peoples, and in particular the Palestinian people, to possess a land of their own, and that of the Israeli people to ensure their own security.”

Hopes and prayers for peace and an encouragement for dialogue to resolve the ongoing dispute have been a centerpiece of papal pronouncements about the Holy Land for more than half a century.

Almost every Christmas and Easter, popes have renewed their pleas for Israelis and Palestinians, with the support of the international community, to commit themselves to dialogue for their sake and the sake of peace throughout the region.

Pope Francis has followed in his predecessors’ footsteps. In his 2016 Christmas address, he prayed, “May Israelis and Palestinians have the courage and determination to write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony.”

 

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.

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Pope: Catholics, Lutherans must continue to seek common ground

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Although great strides have been made through 50 years of ecumenical dialogue, Catholics and Lutherans must continue to work toward becoming a full and visible sign of unity for the world, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rome during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A continued “communion of harmony” will allow Catholics and Lutherans to “find further convergence on points of doctrine and the moral teaching of the church,” the pope told members of a pilgrimage from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Jan. 19.

“I pray to the Lord that he may bestow his blessing on the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission in Finland, which is working diligently toward a common sacramental understanding of the church, the Eucharist and ecclesial ministry,” he said.

The pope met the Finnish delegation during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme chosen for the 2017 observance was: “Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels us.”

The week of prayer, Pope Francis said, urges Catholics and Lutherans to reconcile and “draw closer to one another anew through conversion.”

“True ecumenism is based on a shared conversion to Jesus Christ as our Lord and redeemer. If we draw close to him, we draw close also to one another,” the pope said.

Recalling his visit to Sweden last October to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s efforts to reform the church, the pope said Luther’s intention “was to renew the church, not divide her” and that the joint commemoration “was important on both the human and theological-spiritual levels.”

“The gathering there gave us the courage and strength in our Lord Jesus Christ to look ahead to the ecumenical journey that we are called to walk together,” he said.

Helping those who suffer persecution and violence, he added, can further unite Christians “on the journey toward full communion.”

In doing so, the pope said, Catholics and Lutherans can put their witness of faith into practice “through concrete acts of service, fraternity and sharing.”

Speaking off-the-cuff, Pope Francis thanked Lutheran Archbishop Kari Makinen of Turku for bringing his grandchildren to the meeting.

“We need the simplicity of children; they teach us the way to Jesus Christ,” the pope said.

 

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Prayer brings light of hope in dark times, pope says at audience

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Prayer has the power to awaken hope in men and women, even in the face of death and destruction, Pope Francis said.

People often feel unworthy to turn to God when they are in need “as if it were a self-interested prayer and, thus, imperfect,” the pope said Jan. 18 during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis walks near violinists during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis walks near violinists during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“But God knows our weakness; he knows that we remember him to ask for help and, with the indulgent smile of a father, he responds graciously,” he said.

Greeting thousands of people in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope seemed to lose his balance several times as pilgrims clasped his hand and tried pulling him toward them, hoping for a hug or a blessing.

Still, the pope took time to greet people, stopping to bless a pregnant woman’s belly and embracing a young boy in tears, who was overcome with emotion at meeting him.

The audience took place at the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for 2017 had the theme: “Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels us.”

Addressing the different language groups, the pope prayed that all Christian communities would “be open more to reconciliation” and communion.

“In this same spirit of hope and with gratitude for the progress already made in the ecumenical movement, I ask your prayers for this important intention,” the pope told the English-speaking pilgrims.

During the audience, the pope reflected on the prophet Jonah, a man who first tried to run away from God’s call and initially refused “to place himself at the service of the divine plan of salvation.”

Nevertheless, the story of Jonah is a “great lesson about the mercy of God who forgives,” the pope said.

Jonah fled from his task of preaching salvation to the people of Ninevah who, in the eyes of the Israelites, “deserved to be destroyed, not to be saved,” the pope said. But when a dangerous storm hit, the pagans aboard his ship immediately prayed to their gods; a just reaction in the face of death because only then “man experiences his own frailty and his own need of salvation,” he said.

“The instinctive horror of death awakens the need to hope in the God of life,” the pope said. People think, “‘Perhaps God will think of us and we will not perish.’ These are the words of hope that become a prayer, that plea full of anguish raised by the lips of man in front of an imminent danger of death.”

The storm passed once Jonah accepted his responsibility and asked to be thrown into the sea, the pope continued, which moved the pagans to a sincere fear of God and “to recognize the one true Lord of heaven and earth.”

The people of Ninevah, he added, also had the experience of facing death yet being saved in the end, which led them to know and experience the truth of God’s love.

This experience of God’s divine mercy is a reminder for all men and women to recognize the “surprising occasions of knowing hope and encountering God,” Pope Francis said.

“Prayer brings you to hope,” the pope said. “And when things become dark, with more prayer there will be more hope.”

 

 

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