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Community prayers for justice, dignity

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Dialog Editor

St. Catherine’s Church hosts a Red Clay area ecumenical prayer service

A dank, rainy evening couldn’t stop more than 300 people from 25 faith communities from gathering at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington Jan. 17 to pray for justice, non-violence and human dignity.

The ecumenical prayer service, organized by Father John M. Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine’s, was appropriately scheduled for the day after the nation celebrated the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the night before the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Read more »

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Embassy at Vatican a sign of pope’s love for Palestine, Abbas says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thanked Pope Francis for his support of the country’s new embassy to the Holy See.

“This is a sign that the pope loves the Palestinian people and loves peace,” Abbas told the pope Jan. 14 before heading to the inauguration of the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

The pope welcomed Abbas with open arms, embracing the president and saying, “It is a pleasure to welcome you here.”

Pope Francis talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at the Vatican Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, Reuters pool)

Pope Francis talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at the Vatican Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, Reuters pool)

“I am also happy to be here,” Abbas replied.

The Vatican said the two leaders spoke privately of the contribution of Catholics in Palestine and their “promotion of human dignity and assistance for those most in need, especially in the fields of education, health and aid.”

The pope and Abbas also discussed the peace process and expressed hope that “direct negotiations between the parties may be resumed to bring an end to the violence” and to find “a just and lasting solution.”

“To this end, it is hoped that with the support of the international community measures can be taken that favor mutual trust and contribute to creating a climate that permits courageous decisions to be made in favor of peace,” the Vatican said.

The protection of holy sites “for believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions” was also discussed, the statement said.

After the pope and president spent more than 20 minutes speaking in private, Abbas introduced Pope Francis to the Palestinian officials traveling with him.

One member of the delegation joked with the pope about the pope’s favorite soccer team, San Lorenzo, before giving Pope Francis a soccer jersey with the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Abbas presented the pope with five gifts: a Byzantine-style icon of Jesus; a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion; documentation from the Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity; a book documenting Palestine’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See; and a gold-plated icon of the Holy Family.

The pope gave the president a gold commemorative medallion of the Holy Year of Mercy and Arabic translations of “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) and “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

Taking his leave, Abbas warmly embraced the pope and went to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Issa Kassissieh, Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, said the new embassy was “a significant achievement for the Palestinian people, considering that the pope has taken a moral, legal and political stand through recognizing the state of Palestine.”

In an interview Jan. 12 with Palestinian news agency, WAFA, Kassissieh said the new embassy “marks the outcome” of improved relations between Palestine and the Holy See after the signing in June 2015 of an agreement that supports a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land.

Abbas’ visit came on the eve of an international peace conference in Paris Jan. 15 aimed at restating the international community’s support for the peace process.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the gathering as a “rigged conference” that seeks to adopt anti-Israeli policies.

“This pushes peace backward. It’s not going to obligate us. It’s a relic of the past. It’s a last gasp of the past before the future sets in,” Netanyahu said Jan. 12 following a meeting with Norway’s foreign minister, Borge Bende.

President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is also a cause for concern for the Palestinian government as both states claim the city as their rightful capital.

The two-state solution would split the city and allow for Palestine to claim East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel, however, claims the entire city as its capital.

According to WAFA, Abbas wrote to Trump Jan. 9 and said the move likely would have a “disastrous impact on the peace process, on the two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire region.”

Following his meeting with Pope Francis, President Abbas told journalists he hoped President-elect Trump would not move forward with the proposal.

“We are waiting to see if it happens. If it does it will not help peace and we hope it does not happen,” Abbas said.

Despite the looming threats to the peace process, President Abbas said he hoped that the example set by the Palestinians agreement with the Vatican will allow European countries to follow suit in order to achieve peace.

“I met his Holiness and (thanked him that) the Holy See has completely recognized Palestine as an independent state and I hope that other states will follow the Vatican’s example and recognize the state of Palestine,” Abbas said.

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Challenging questions a sign faithful aren’t content with ‘same old answers,’ preacher tells pope

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — At the end of a Lenten retreat focused on questions in the Gospels, Servite Father Ermes Ronchi told Pope Francis and senior members of the Roman Curia that it is tempting to bristle when the faithful ask challenging questions, but he is certain it is a sign of how seriously they take the faith.

Pope Francis, along with senior members of the Roman Curia, listen as Servite Father Ermes Ronchi, an Italian theologian, delivers his meditation during a weeklong Lenten retreat in Ariccia, Italy, March 7. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis, along with senior members of the Roman Curia, listen as Servite Father Ermes Ronchi, an Italian theologian, delivers his meditation during a weeklong Lenten retreat in Ariccia, Italy, March 7. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“It gives me hope to see how, among the people of God, questions continue to grow and no one is content with the same old answers,” Father Ronchi told the retreatants March 11 during his last talk before the pope and Curia members returned to the Vatican.

“When everyone silently accepted the word of a priest was it a time of greater faith,” he asked. “I think the opposite is true and even if this means more work for us, it is also an ‘alleluia,’ a ‘finally.’”

Mary’s question — “How can this be?” — in response to the Annunciation was Father Ronchi’s focus for the final meditation at the March 6-11 retreat at a center run by the Pauline Fathers in Ariccia, 20 miles southeast of Rome. While the retreat was private, Vatican Radio and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, provided coverage of Father Ronchi’s talks.

“Being perplexed, asking questions is a way of standing before the Lord with all of one’s human dignity,” the Servite said. Like Mary, “I accept the mystery, but at the same time I use my intelligence.”

“No one ever said that a rock-solid faith is better than a faith interwoven with questions,” Father Ronchi said; questioners know and show that they need God and need dialogue with him.

In a reflection March 10, Father Ronchi looked at the risen Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“The first words of the Risen One in the garden on Easter,” he said, “have an extraordinary tenderness: ‘Tell me about your tears; they are more important to me than anything.’”

The preacher insisted that “God’s archive, his memory,” is not full of lists of people’s sins, but of their tears and suffering.

Stopping, listening and touching those in pain was Jesus’ response to tears and must be the response of his followers, Father Ronchi said. But, unfortunately, “centuries of moralism have turned the works of mercy into reluctant obligations, as if they were the price of salvation.”

His talk about tears followed an evening meditation March 9 on Jesus’ question to the woman caught in adultery. After Jesus told the crowd that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone, the crowd left and Jesus asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?”

Father Ronchi said, “Those who love to accuse, who get drunk off the defects of others, think they are safeguarding the truth by stoning those who err. But it is how wars are started” between countries or within communities, including churches.

In the Gospel story, he said, “the judgment against the woman caught in adultery boomerangs against the hypocrisy of the judges: No one can throw the first stone because they would be hurling it at themselves.”

The Gospel story does not minimize the woman’s sin, he said, but illustrates Jesus’ focus on helping her turn her life around; “Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” Jesus tells her.

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Iranian President Rouhani visits Vatican, asks pope to pray for him

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Vatican, Pope Francis told him he had high hopes for peace.

And while Pope Francis usually asks those he meets for their prayers, the Shiite cleric pre-empted the pope’s request and said, “I ask you to pray for me.”

Pope Francis shares a light moment with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a private meeting at the Vatican Jan. 26. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis shares a light moment with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a private meeting at the Vatican Jan. 26. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)

President Rouhani, who was in Europe to build political and economic ties after Iran’s historic nuclear agreement, met with the pope Jan. 26 for 40 minutes of private talks with the aid of translators. The president then had a separate meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

The recent international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program was discussed as well as “the important role Iran is called to play with other nations in the region in promoting adequate political solutions to the problems that afflict the Middle East, opposing the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking,” the Vatican said in a written communique.

When he convened a Middle East summit at the Vatican in 2014, Pope Francis had said that arms trafficking was the root cause of many problems in the region.

Also underlined during the Jan. 26 discussions were “the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace,” the Vatican communique said.

“During the cordial conversations, common spiritual values were highlighted” and “the good state of relations between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran” was recognized, the Vatican said.

Mention also was made of how the Catholic Church in Iran and the Holy See seek to promote “the dignity of the human person and religious freedom.”

The small Catholic community in Iran dates back to the church’s early centuries and has had a long history of living in harmony with the Muslim majority; there are some restrictions on full religious freedom, including the risk of the death penalty for those who convert from Islam.

After their closed-door meeting, Pope Francis greeted the 12-person Iranian delegation and accepted two gifts from the president.

Speaking in Persian, Rouhani said the intricately designed rug he was giving was “handmade in Qom,” a city considered holy for Shiite Muslims. He also gave the pope a large book of reproductions of Persian miniatures painted by Mahmoud Farshchian, who lives in the United States.

The pope gave Rouhani a large medallion of St. Martin of Tours giving his cloak to a poor person. The pope told the president that the medallion’s image depicted “a sign of selfless fraternity.”

The pope also gave him a copy of his encyclical letter “Laudato Si’” and told him the document was “on the protection of creation.” The pope apologized there was no translation of the document in Persian, but “I’m giving it to you in English” and he explained a copy in Arabic is online.

As the entourage was leaving the papal library, the pope told the president, “Thank you for this visit. I have high hopes for peace.”

Rouhani then replied through a translator, “I ask you to pray for me,” and told the pope it had been “a true pleasure” and wished him good luck with his work.

Mohammed Khatami was the last Iranian leader to meet a pope for private talks at the Vatican. In addition to his meeting with St. John Paul II in 1999, Khatami also attended St. John Paul’s funeral in 2005.

While former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended a U.N. summit in Rome in 2008, he did not visit the pope or hold an official state visit with Italian leaders.

Rouhani, a former lawmaker and diplomat, was visiting Italy and France, meeting with those nation’s leaders in the hopes of re-establishing stronger diplomatic and commercial ties with Europe after decades of sanctions. He ran his 2013 presidential campaign on a platform calling for greater openness, transparency and establishing trust with the wider world.

In July, Iran reached a landmark agreement with six nations, including the United States; the agreement allows U.N. inspectors to include military sites in its monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activity. While a U.N. arms embargo would remain in place for the near future, other sanctions on trade and assets were to be eased.

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Pope Francis calls on nations to stop climate change and fight poverty

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Heads of states at the U.N. climate change conference in Paris must do everything possible to mitigate the effects of both climate change and poverty “for the good of our common home,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis gestures as he leads his Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 6. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Beyond the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis gestures as he leads his Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 6. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

“The two choices go together: to stop climate change and curb poverty so that human dignity may flourish,” he said Dec. 6 after reciting the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope said he was closely following the climate conference and thinking about how conference participants are called to respond to the question, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” The conference participants, he said, must spare no effort in combating climate change for “the good of our common home, of all of us and future generations.”

“Let us pray the Holy Spirit enlighten all those who are called to make such important decisions and give them the courage to always have the greater good of the entire human family as the criterion to guide their decisions,” he said.

Before his appeal, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Luke (3:1-6), which recalled John the Baptist’s call for “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

While some may believe conversion is needed only by “an atheist who becomes a believer or a sinner who becomes just,” the pope said, Christians also are called to convert and not presume that “we are good in every way.”

“None of us can say: ‘I’m a saint, I’m perfect, I’m already saved,’” he said. “No! We should always accept this offer of salvation and that’s what the Year of Mercy is for: to go farther on this path of salvation, that path that Jesus has taught us.”

Christians are not called to proselytize, the pope said, but to “open a door” and preach the Gospel to those who don’t know Christ.

“If Our Lord Jesus has changed our lives, and he changes it every time we draw close to him, how can we not feel a passion to make him known to those we find at work, at school, in our communities, in the hospital, in meeting places?” he asked.

“If we look around us,” he said, “we find people who would be open to beginning, or beginning again, a journey of faith if they were to find Christians who are in love with Jesus.”

One who truly loves Christ will be courageous like John the Baptist by “making low the mountains of pride and rivalry, filling in the valleys dug by indifference and apathy, and making straight the pathways of our laziness and our comforts.”

In the afternoon, the pope took part in the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree and Nativity scene in Assisi via satellite. The nativity scene was built inside a boat used by Tunisian migrants who landed in the southern Italian port city of Lampedusa. A group of migrants from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Nigeria and Syria were among those present during the ceremony.

Remembering the thousands of migrants and refugees who have died at sea, the pope said the joy of Christmas serves as a reminder that “Jesus is always with us, even in difficult times” and that he is “greater than any evil.”

“To all refugees, I say a word, that of the prophet: ‘Lift up your head, the Lord is near.’ And with him there is strength, salvation, hope. The heart, perhaps, is sorrowful, but the head is high in the hope of the Lord,” Pope Francis said.

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Nothing can justify barbaric terrorist attacks in Paris, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Using God’s name to try to justify violence and murder is “blasphemy,” Pope Francis said Nov. 15, speaking about the terrorist attacks on Paris.

“Such barbarity leaves us dismayed, and we ask ourselves how the human heart can plan and carry out such horrible events,” the pope said after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

A police car is seen outside Notre Dame Cathedral as people leave after a Mass celebrated by Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois in Paris Nov. 15 to pray for those killed in terrorist attacks. Coordinated attacks the evening of Nov. 13 claimed the lives of 129 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A police car is seen outside Notre Dame Cathedral as people leave after a Mass celebrated by Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois in Paris Nov. 15 to pray for those killed in terrorist attacks. Coordinated attacks the evening of Nov. 13 claimed the lives of 129 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The attacks in Paris Nov. 13, attacks the French government said were carried out by three teams of Islamic State terrorists, caused the deaths of at least 129 people and left more than 350 injured, many of them critically. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a soccer stadium, gunmen attacked customers at cafes and restaurants and a team of terrorists gunned down dozens of people at a concert.

The attacks, Pope Francis said, were an “unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person.”

“The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy,” he said.

Pope Francis asked the thousands of people who gathered at St. Peter’s for the Sunday midday prayer to observe a moment of silence and to join him in reciting a Hail Mary.

“May the Virgin Mary, mother of mercy, give rise in the hearts of everyone thoughts of wisdom and proposals for peace,” he said. “We ask her to protect and watch over the dear French nation, the first daughter of the church, over Europe and the whole world.”

“Let us entrust to the mercy of God the innocent victims of this tragedy,” the pope said.

Speaking Nov. 14, the day after the terrorist attacks, Pope Francis had told the television station of the Italian bishops’ conference, “I am shaken and pained.”

“I don’t understand, but these things are difficult to understand, how human beings can do this,” the pope said. “That is why I am shaken, pained and am praying.”

The director of the television station recalled how the pope has spoken many times about a “third world war being fought in pieces.”

“This is a piece,” the pope responded. “There are no justifications for these things.”

On social media, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility, but Pope Francis insisted there can be no “religious or human” excuse for killing innocent people and sowing terror. “This is not human.”

French authorities reported Nov. 14 that eight terrorists were dead after the night of attacks; six of them committed suicide and two were killed by police, who stormed the concert hall where the terrorists had taken hostages and where the majority of victims died.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris issued a statement calling for calm and for prayers, not only for the Paris victims, but also for the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Lebanon and in Africa.

“May no one allow himself to be defeated by panic and hatred,” the cardinal said. “Let us ask for the grace of being peacemakers. We must never lose our hope for peace if we work for justice.”

With some 1,500 inside Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and hundreds more gathered outside Nov. 15, Cardinal Vingt-Trois celebrated a special Mass in memory of the victims. As the cathedral bells tolled a death knell, police patrolled the square in front of the cathedral and checked people as they entered the Paris landmark for Mass.

The cardinal told the assembly, which included government officials and ambassadors from a variety of nations, that the Mass was intended as a sign of sharing the pain of the victims and of praying for them, their families, for Paris and for France.

“The savage killings this black Friday plunged entire families into despair, and this despair is all the more profound because there can be no rational explanation that would justify the indiscriminate execution of dozens of anonymous people,” the cardinal said.

The only Christian response, he said, is to be “messengers of hope in the heart of human suffering.”

The terrorists succeed if their actions shake Christians’ hope founded on faith in Christ and on a belief that all of history, including moments of suffering, is in God’s hands, he said.

The appropriate response to the “barbaric savagery” of the terrorists, he said, is “to demonstrate additional trust in our fellowmen and their dignity.”

Just a few hours after the attacks occurred, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement saying the Vatican was “shocked by this new manifestation of maddening terrorist violence and hatred, which we condemn in the most radical way.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message in the pope’s name to Cardinal Vingt-Trois, calling the attacks “horrific” and relaying the pope’s prayers for the victims, their families and the entire nation.

“He invokes God, the father of mercy, asking that he welcome the victims into the peace of his light and bring comfort and hope to the injured and their families,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

The pope also “vigorously condemns violence, which cannot solve anything, and he asks God to inspire thoughts of peace and solidarity in all.”

Father Lombardi was asked about security concerns throughout Europe, and particularly whether the terrorist attacks would impact plans for the Year of Mercy, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 8.

“These murderers, possessed by senseless hatred, are called terrorists precisely because they want to spread terror,” Father Lombardi responded in a statement. “If we let ourselves be frightened, they will have already reached their first objective.”

“It goes without saying that we must be cautious, and not irresponsible,” he said, but “we must go on living by building peace and mutual trust.”

“I would say that the Jubilee of Mercy shows itself even more more necessary,” Father Lombardi said. Preaching God’s love and mercy also is a call for people to love one another and reconcile with each other. It “is precisely the answer we must give in times of temptation to mistrust.”

 

Contributing to this story was Paul Haring in Paris.

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Achbishop calls human dignity a primary doctrine of church

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Calling the dignity of the human person “a primary doctrine” of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York told an audience at the University of Notre Dame Dec. 6 that it must prompt Catholics “to treat ourselves and others only with respect, love, honor and care.”

That doctrine also means people must not be identified “with our urges, our flaws, our status, our possessions, our utility,” but each seen as “a child of God, his creation, modeled in his own image, destined for eternity,” he said.

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