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Risen Christ calls all to follow him on path to life, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders “our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms,” Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis delivers his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ’s outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.

For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.

Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began, as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil, imagining the disciples desolate because “the one they loved so much was executed. He died.”

While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, “He is risen.””And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.

“It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence,” he said. And those who follow Jesus, “we pebbles,” find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.

Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, “I don’t know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen.”

Almost immediately after the homily, a brief but intense rain began to fall on the crowd, leading people to scramble to find umbrellas, jackets or plastic bags to keep themselves dry.

After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city of Rome and the world.

Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that “in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion, the wounds of his merciful love, he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.”

Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. “He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”

Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.

“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace,” Pope Francis said. “May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.”

The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.

The pope’s celebration of Easter got underway the night before in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. Walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the basilica in darkness.

The basilica was gently illuminated only by candlelight and the low light emanating from cellphones capturing the solemn procession.

The bells of St. Peter’s pealed in the night, the sound echoing through nearby Roman streets, announcing the joy of the Resurrection.

During the vigil, Pope Francis baptized 11 people: five women and six men from Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope poured water over their foreheads.

Among them was Ali Acacius Damavandy from the United States who smiled brightly as the baptismal waters streamed down his head.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope recalled the women who went “with uncertain and weary steps” to Christ’s tomb.

The pope said the faces of those women, full of sorrow and despair, reflect the faces of mothers, grandmothers, children and young people who carry the “burden of injustice and brutality.”

The poor and the exploited, the lonely and the abandoned, and “immigrants deprived of country, house and family” suffer the heartbreak reflected on the faces of the women at the tomb who have seen “human dignity crucified,” he said.

However, the pope added, in the silence of death, Jesus’ heartbeat resounds and his resurrection comes as a gift and as “a transforming force” to a humanity broken by greed and war.

“In the Resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others,” he said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the woman who, upon learning of Christ’s victory over death, ran to the city and proclaimed the good news in those places “where death seems the only way out.”

Presiding over the Stations of the Cross Good Friday, April 14, at Rome’s Colosseum, Pope Francis offered a prayer expressing both shame for the sins of humanity and hope in God’s mercy.

A crowd of about 20,000 people joined the pope at the Rome landmark. They had passed through two security checks and were watched over by a heavy police presence given recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis recited a prayer to Jesus that he had composed. “Oh Christ, our only savior, we turn to you again this year with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope.”

The shame comes from all the “devastation, destruction and shipwrecks that have become normal in our lives,” he said, hours after some 2,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The shame comes from wars, discrimination and the failure to denounce injustice.

Turning to the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis expressed “shame for all the times we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and injured your body, the church.”

But the pope also prayed that Christians would be filled with the hope that comes from knowing that “you do not treat us according to our merits, but only according to the abundance of your mercy.”

Christian hope, he said, means trusting that Jesus’ cross can “transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh capable of dreaming, forgiving and loving.”

— Also by Junno Arocho Esteves

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Baby Jesus reminds us of painful plight of migrants, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

Baby Jesus, whose parents could find no decent shelter and had to flee persecution, is a reminder of the “painful experience” of so many migrants today, he said Dec. 9, just before the Vatican Christmas tree was to be lit and its Nativity scene was to be unveiled.

A boat representing migrants is pictured in the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A boat representing migrants is pictured in the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Nativity scenes all over the world “are an invitation to make room in our life and society for God, hidden in the gaze of so many people” who are living in need, poverty or suffering, he told people involved in donating the tree and creche for St. Peter’s Square.

The northern Italian province of Trent donated the 82-foot-tall spruce fir, which was adorned with ceramic ornaments handmade by children receiving medical treatment at several Italian hospitals.

The 55-foot-wide Nativity scene was donated by the government and Archdiocese of Malta. It features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a Maltese boat to represent the seafaring traditions of the island.

The boat also represents “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats headed toward Italy,” the pope said in his speech in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.

“In the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, we revisit that (experience) of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then was brought to Egypt to escape Herod’s threat.”

“Those who visit this creche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity,” the pope said.

The beauty of the pristine forests of northern Italy where the tree grew “is an invitation to contemplate the creator and to respect nature,” he said, adding that “we are all called to approach creation with contemplative awe.”

The Nativity scene and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until the feast of the Lord’s Baptism Jan. 9.

Archbishop Lauro Tisi of Trent, speaking at the tree-lighting ceremony as the sun set, told people in St. Peter’s Square that the towering tree had lived decades, decades that saw thousands of people from the region emigrate in search of work in the early 1900s. It’s unconscionable, he said, that people today refuse to welcome those coming from poorer places with the same needs and dreams.

Manwel Grech, a sculptor of religious statues from Gozo, Malta, won a contest to make the Nativity scene. It was dream to create art for the Vatican and have it exhibited in the square where thousands of people from around the world will see it.

With more than a dozen statues of people and a menagerie of animals and other elements in the scene, Grech is a bit of a traditionalist: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are his favorites among the resin sculptures.

He wanted Mary to have a peaceful face because “when you see Jesus, you relax,” he said, and he tried to give Joseph a look of pride.

Grech included several very Maltese touches in the Nativity scene: A traditional balcony decorated with a Maltese cross; a statue of St. George Preca, the country’s only canonized saint; and a “luzzu,” the traditional Maltese fishing boat, which also reminds people of the journeys of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

Between the Nativity scene and the Christmas tree, the Vatican placed the cross and chunks of the facade of the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. The basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in October and dozens of other churches in central Italy crumbled or were heavily damaged. Money left at the Nativity scene by visitors will be donated to the church rebuilding effort in Norcia.

 

Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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Admonish sin without putting on airs or being hypocritical, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Offering counsel and admonishing sinners are works of mercy, but they are not a license to pretend to be better than others, Pope Francis said.

To counsel others is a chance to see how well you, too, measure up to essential standards, he said Nov. 16 to people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square Nov. 16. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 16. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

In his final general audience during the Year of Mercy, which was to close Nov. 20, Pope Francis reflected on two verses in the Gospel of St. Luke (6:41-42) in which Jesus warns against the hypocrisy of noticing “the splinter in your brother’s eye,” but not perceiving “the wooden beam in your own.”

“Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye,” Jesus says.

Those verses and Jesus’ vision of leadership as service, the pope said, help guide Christians in how to carry out the works of mercy traditionally described as instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners and bearing wrongs patiently.

“We are all very good at recognizing something that may be an annoyance” and thinking, “How much longer must I listen to this person’s complaints, gossip, requests or bragging,” he said.

Patiently putting up with people is an essential part of the faith, he said, because God showed so much mercy and patience with his people.

The best example, the pope said, is seen in the Book of Exodus when the people became “truly unbearable,” always finding something new to complain about every time God brought relief to each preceding grievance.

“What must we do with bothersome people?” the pope asked. First, look in the mirror and see “if we, too, may sometimes prove to be bothersome to others.””

“It’s easy to point a finger at other people’s faults and shortcomings, but we must learn to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes,” he said.

Like his father, Jesus showed a lot of patience, too, the pope said. For example, when James’ and John’s mother begged Jesus to grant her sons positions of power in his future kingdom, Jesus used the opportunity to offer instruction on the true purpose of his coming — to sacrifice himself for and care for others, not wield power over them.

The spiritual works of instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners, he said, are all about helping people grow in the faith and discover the path to true joy.

Think, for example, how hard it is for catechists, “especially when kids would rather be playing than listening to the catechism,” he said. Instead, these women and men patiently dedicate their time to teaching young people about the faith.

It is wonderful and important to help people seek what’s truly essential so that they, too, can share in the joy of “savoring the meaning of life.”

So often people just dwell on things that are “superficial, ephemeral and banal,” sometimes because they’ve never run into anyone who encourages them to look deeper, seek something better and appreciate what really matters, he said.

Teaching people to see what is essential is especially critical today when it seems so many “have lost (their) bearings and chase after short-term pleasures.”

Jesus shows how to avoid “envy, ambition and adulation — temptations that are always lurking even among us Christians. The need to counsel, admonish and instruct must not make us feel superior to others, but, above all, requires us to go back into ourselves to make sure we are consistent with what we are asking of others.”

At the end of the audience, in anticipation of the Nov. 20 celebration of Universal Children’s Day, the pope launched an appeal for protecting children and their right to an education.

Pope Francis said he was appealing “to the conscience of everyone — institutions and families — so that children may always be protected and their well-being safeguarded, so that they never end up in some form of slavery, conscripted into armed groups or mistreated.”

He asked the international community to “keep watch” and help guarantee “the right to schooling and education for every boy and girl so that they grow with serenity and look to the future with confidence.”

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Dialogue is expression of mercy, respect, love, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Dialogue is an essential component of mercy because it is the only way a husband and wife can understand each other, people of different religions can live in peace and the only way the Catholic Church can evaluate what is needed to promote the common good in the world, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis blesses a camper before a jubilee audience at the Vatican Oct. 22. The camper was donated to the pope for use by the Diocese of Rome in the service of the needy. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)

Pope Francis blesses a camper before a jubilee audience at the Vatican Oct. 22. The camper was donated to the pope for use by the Diocese of Rome in the service of the needy. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)

Good relations between husbands and wives, parents and children, employees and bosses, he said, require one “to listen, explain with meekness, don’t bark at the other, don’t yell, but have an open heart.”

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of dialogue and marked the feast of St. John Paul II Oct. 22 with a special Year of Mercy general audience in and around St. Peter’s Square. With about 100,000 people in attendance, according to Vatican police, the crowd overflowed the square. Making his rounds in the popemobile at the beginning of the audience, Pope Francis made sure to drive part way down the main boulevard outside the square to greet people.

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis said dialogue is an important aspect of mercy; it is what “allows people to know each other and understand the needs of the other.” In addition, “it is a sign of great respect,” because it involves listening to the other and making the effort to see the good in what the other is saying.

“Dialogue calls us to place ourselves before the other, seeing him or her as a gift of God,” the pope said.

“We don’t dialogue when we do not listen enough or when we interrupt the other to prove that we are right,” he said. “How many times when we are listening to someone, we stop them and say, ‘No. No. No, that’s not right,’ and we don’t let the person finish.”

Such an attitude, he said, is “aggression.”

The church, too, is called to dialogue, Pope Francis said. Listening is the only way to know what is in the other’s heart and what the other needs.

Dialogue is an expression of God’s love, which reaches out to each person, sowing seeds of goodness, he said. “Dialogue tears down walls of division and misunderstanding, creates bridges of communication and does not allow anyone to isolate him- or herself.”

Thousands of pilgrims from Poland attended the audience, which occurred on St. John Paul II’s feast day, the anniversary of the day in 1978 that he formally inaugurated his ministry as pope.

Saying St. John Paul tirelessly proclaimed “the Gospel of mercy,” Pope Francis offered special prayers that the late pope would intercede to help young people face the challenges in their lives, help the sick “embrace with hope the cross of illness” and fill with love the families newlyweds are just starting.

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On St. Teresa’s Sept. 5 feast day, cardinal praises her defense of unborn

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Love for those society considers “useless” or even a bother led St. Teresa of Kolkata to a courageous defense of the unborn, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Like prophets and saints before her, Mother Teresa would not “kneel down before anyone but the Almighty” and would not bow before “the fashions or idols of the moment,” said Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

On the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, Sept. 5, her feast day, the cardinal presided over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square to give thanks for the canonization of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

With hundreds of Missionaries of Charity gathered on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and several thousand pilgrims in the square, Cardinal Parolin held Mother Teresa up as “a gleaming mirror of God’s love and a marvelous example of service to one’s neighbor.”

Her example, the cardinal said, is a call to all Christians “to convert from being lukewarm and mediocre to allow ourselves to be set alight by the fire of Christ’s love.”

While Mother Teresa became famous for her care of the poorest of the materially poor, he said she knew the worst form of poverty was to be unloved and unwanted.

“That led her to identify as ‘the poorest of the poor’ children who were not yet born and whose existence was threatened,” Cardinal Parolin said. “An unborn baby has nothing of its own; its every hope and need is in the hands of another.”

The unborn, he said, “ask to be welcomed and protected so they can become what they already are: one of us.”

Like every human being, the cardinal said, the unborn have one basic mission in life: “to love and be loved, as Mother Teresa liked to say.”

“The heroic exercise of charity and the clear proclamation of truth” were found in Mother Teresa, he said.

At the end of the Mass, Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk thanked Pope Francis for canonizing Mother Teresa. The priest served as postulator or chief promoter of her sainthood cause.

“We really cannot thank God enough for all he has done for us through St. Teresa,” he told those in the square. “Following her example of faith and love, may we even more generously and faithfully love God with all our hearts and see and love God in our neighbors, especially the most unloved, unwanted and uncared for of our brothers and sisters.”

Recognizing all those involved in making the celebration of her sainthood a joyful and prayerful experience, he also said, “We thank the poorest of the poor in whom Jesus is loved and served.”

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St. Teresa of Kolkata will always be ‘Mother’ Teresa, pope says

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By Junno Arocho Esteves and Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY — With a large tapestry bearing the portrait of the woman known as the “Saint of the Gutters” suspended above him, Pope Francis proclaimed the sainthood of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, hailing her courage and love for the poor.

Missionaries of Charity nuns present a relic of St. Teresa of Kolkata as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of Mother Teresa in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Missionaries of Charity nuns present a relic of St. Teresa of Kolkata as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of Mother Teresa in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Despite the formality of the occasion though, “her sanctity is so close to us, so tender and fruitful, that spontaneously we will continue to call her ‘’Mother Teresa,’” Pope Francis said to applause at the canonization Mass Sept. 4.

“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded,” the pope said in his homily during the Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

An estimated 120,000 people packed the square, many holding umbrellas or waving fans to keep cool under the sweltering heat of the Roman sun. However, upon hearing Pope Francis “declare and define Blessed Teresa of Kolkata to be a saint,” the crowds could not contain their joy, breaking out in cheers and thunderous applause before he finished speaking.

The moment was especially sweet for more than 300 Albanians who live in Switzerland, but came to Rome for the canonization. “We are very proud,” said Violet Barisha, a member of the Albanian Catholic Mission in St. Gallen.

Daughter of Divine Charity Sister Valdete, a Kosovar and one of the Albanian group’s chaplains, said, “We are so happy and honored. We are a small people, but have had so many martyrs.”

Born in 1910 to an ethnic Albanian family in Skopje, in what is now part of Macedonia, Mother Teresa went to India in 1929 as a Sister of Loreto and became an Indian citizen in 1947. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950.

Mother Teresa, Sister Valdete said, is a shining example of how “Albanian women are strong and our people are hardworking.”

In his homily, Pope Francis said God’s will is explained in the words of the prophets: “I want mercy, not sacrifice.”

“God is pleased by every act of mercy because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see,” he said. “Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help and we visit the Son of God.”

Like Mother Teresa, he said, Christians are called not simply to perform acts of charity, but to live charity as a vocation and “to grow each day in love.”

“Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence — and the presence of the church which sustains and offers hope — must be,” the pope said.

Mother Teresa, he said, lived out this vocation to charity through her commitment to defending the unborn and bowing down “before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road.”

She also “made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created,” Pope Francis said. “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavor to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

For all Christians, especially volunteers engaged in works of mercy, the life of the saintly nun remains an example and witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor, he said.

“Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of holiness,” Pope Francis said. “May this tireless worker of mercy help us to increasingly understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion.”

As she made her way through the tight security and past several closed streets to St. Peter’s Square, Maria Demuru said, “I couldn’t miss this. Even if there’s no place left for me to sit.”

The small Italian woman said, “Mother Teresa is a sign of the times. In her smallness, she revealed the calling we all have. She said we are all saints by our baptism and we must recover our original holiness. She lived in humility and simplicity like the poor of the earth and was never ashamed of that.”

Mother Teresa’s simplicity did not keep the powerful away from the Mass, though. Some 20 nations sent official delegations to the Vatican for the canonization. Queen Sofia of Spain led a delegation. The president and prime minister of Albania attended, as did the presidents of Macedonia and Kosovo and the foreign minister of India.

President Barack Obama sent a delegation led by Lisa Monaco, his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism. The U.S. delegation also included Ken Hackett, ambassador to the Holy See; Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services; and Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

The first reading at the Mass was read by Jim Towey, who served as Mother Teresa’s legal counsel in the United States and Canada from 1985 to 1997, and as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, 2002-2006.

After the Mass, 250 Missionaries of Charity Sisters and 50 Missionaries of Charity brothers served pizza to about 1,500 poor people who had come to the Mass from shelters, dormitories and soup kitchens the order runs throughout Italy.

Pope Francis, through the office of the papal almoner, funded the lunch, which was prepared by a team of 20 pizza makers, who brought three ovens with them from Naples and cooked behind the Vatican audience hall.

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U.S. teens say their faith was strengthened at youth celebration in Rome

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Pope Francis welcomes a young pilgrim before hearing confession April 23 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Youth from around the world flocked to Rome for a special Year of Mercy event for teens ages 13-16. (CNS photo/Angelo Carconi, EPA)

Pope Francis welcomes a young pilgrim before hearing confession April 23 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Youth from around the world flocked to Rome for a special Year of Mercy event for teens ages 13-16. (CNS photo/Angelo Carconi, EPA)

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Sharing and celebrating the joy of faith with thousands of Catholic teenagers from around the globe was a rare moment that not many people are able to experience, a U.S. teen said.

“It was a different atmosphere than what I’m used to, but it’s good because it shows that the beauty of the Catholic Church is there,” Emily Sullivan told Catholic News Service April 25.

Emily, her brother Ryan and parents Matt and Susan, came from North Carolina to participate in the Year of Mercy celebration for young teens April 23-24 in Rome.

Both siblings, who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, said that despite the language barrier, they were able to join in singing and praying during the April 23 youth rally at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

“It was awesome; the energy was insane,” Emily said. “The people knew all the lyrics and they were jamming out. So we came up with a couple of words that we could sing along. It was really cool to be in that atmosphere.”

To see so many Catholic teens in one place was “definitely encouraging,” she added.

For Ryan, attending the April 24 Mass in St. Peter’s Square was the highlight of his pilgrimage. “It was great seeing the pope,” and “meeting other people and seeing the city” was “all good,’ he said.

“We will make our confirmation in two weeks so it was definitely great to see the history of the church and (meet) other people who are Catholic because where we live, there’s not as big of a following,” Emily said.

In his homily, Pope Francis told the more than 100,000 teens present that happiness “is not an ‘app’ that you can download on your phones” and that love leads to true freedom, which is a gift that comes from “being able to choose good.”

The pope’s message, Emily said, encouraged people “to go back to the church at the end of the day, not your phone.”

Their mother Susan told CNS she hopes that attending the jubilee event will give her children a “fuller and richer experience” as they prepare to receive confirmation in two weeks.

“It was really important for me and for them to have this experience,” she said. “To be that close (to Pope Francis) as he was celebrating Mass was truly, I hope, a life-changing experience for them that reaffirms their faith.”

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Look at your own sins before judging others, pope says at audience

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians must look to their own sins and failings and not fall into the temptation of hypocrisy that causes them to believe they are better than others, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets traditional singers from Croatia during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets traditional singers from Croatia during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The relationship of salvation” with God cannot move forward if people justify themselves and look at the mistakes of others instead of fixing their gaze on the Lord, he said at his weekly general audience April 20.

“This is the line of salvation, the relationship between me — the sinner, and the Lord,” he told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope reflected on one aspect of mercy exemplified in Jesus’ encounter with a woman who was considered sinful. While Jesus dined with one of the Pharisees, she entered the house weeping, bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

“Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little,” Jesus said.

Although the Pharisee questions Jesus’ reason for allowing himself to be “contaminated” by the woman “as if she were a leper,” the pope said Jesus’ reaction is a lesson on how to “distinguish between the sin and the sinner.”

“With sin there is no need to compromise, while sinners, meaning all of us, we are like sick people who are being cured and in order to be cured, we need the doctor to come close, to visit us, to touch us. And naturally the sick person, in order to be healed, must recognize the need for a doctor,” he said.

By allowing himself to be free of prejudice “that impedes mercy from expressing itself,” he added, Jesus puts an end to the isolation caused by the hypocrisy of “ruthless judgments.”

Pope Francis said the encounter between Jesus and the woman teaches “us the link between faith, love and gratitude.”

“Let us allow Christ’s love to be poured in us. A disciple draws from and is rooted in this love. From this love, everyone can be nourished and fed. In this way, through the grateful love we pour out to our brothers and sisters, in our homes and in society, the Lord’s mercy can be communicated,” he said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope blesses 5-year-old Ohio girl who is losing her sight and hearing

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Jesus brought humanity God’s merciful, saving love, not hatred and animosity, Pope Francis said.

“Jesus makes visible a love open to everyone, nobody excluded, open to everyone without bounds,” he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 6.

Pope Francis greets Lizzy Myers from Mansfield, Ohio, during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 6. Myers, who has a disease that is gradually rendering her blind and deaf, met the pope as part of her "visual bucket list." (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets Lizzy Myers from Mansfield, Ohio, during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 6. Myers, who has a disease that is gradually rendering her blind and deaf, met the pope as part of her “visual bucket list.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope also met with and blessed the eyes of 5-year-old Lizzy Myers from Mansfield, Ohio.

Struck by a rare disease that is gradually rendering her deaf and blind, Myers was in Rome after a representative from Turkish Airlines heard about her story and offered her and her family free round-trip airfare to any city in the world.

Her parents, Steve and Christine Myers, had created a “visual bucket list” of places and things they wanted Lizzy to see before she loses her sight due to Usher Syndrome Type II A. They chose Rome and the Vatican to be their special destination because they are Catholic and because of the city’s artistic and historical riches, they told Associated Press.

After meeting with bishops and a few special delegations at the end of his general audience, Pope Francis went directly to Lizzy Myers, who was seated with her family in a section reserved for those with special needs. He leaned over her for several minutes, speaking with her and then laid his right hand over her eyes, offering his blessing. Vatican Radio said she gave the pope a small box containing a piece of a meteorite that fell in Ohio.

During his general audience, the pope continued a series of talks dedicated to God’s mercy and reflected on how this mercy was fulfilled in Jesus.

The New Testament “is truly the Gospel of mercy because Jesus is mercy,” he said.

At every moment in his life, Jesus showed love to everyone: a love that is “pure, free and absolute,” the pope said.

Jesus began his mission of mercy with his baptism in the Jordan River, the pope said, waiting in line “with the sinners, he wasn’t ashamed, he was there with everyone, with the sinners, to get baptized.”

He could have begun his public ministry with lots of fanfare, “in the splendor of the temple,” to the blast of trumpets or “in the garments of a judge,” but he didn’t, the pope said. Instead he chose to be with the people, taking on “the human condition, spurred by solidarity and compassion.”

His driving purpose was “to bring everyone the love of God who saves; Jesus didn’t bring hatred, he didn’t bring animosity, he brought us love, a great love, an open heart for everyone, for all of us,” the pope said.

Jesus accompanied the least and the marginalized, sharing with them “the mercy of God who is forgiveness, joy and new life. The son sent by the father is truly the beginning of the time of mercy for all of humanity.”

The great mystery of this love is seen in the crucified Christ, the pope said, because “it is on the cross that Jesus offered to the father’s mercy the sin of the world, everyone’s sins, my sins, your sins” and took those sins away.

“Nothing and no one remains excluded from this sacrificial prayer of Jesus,” which means “we mustn’t be afraid to acknowledge and confess ourselves as sinners,” he said.

So often “we say, ‘well, that one is a sinner, this one did such-and-such.’ We accuse others of being sinners, and you? Each one of us should ask ourselves, ‘Yes, that one is a sinner, and me?’”

“We are all sinners, but we are all forgiven,” Pope Francis said. “We all have the possibility of receiving this forgiveness that is God’s mercy.”

The sacrament of reconciliation, he said, gives the penitent heart “the strength of the forgiveness that flows from the cross and renews in our lives the grace of mercy that Jesus obtained for us.”

People never need to fear their burdens and sins because “the power of love of the crucified one knows no obstacles and never runs out” as it wipes away human sin, he said.

When greeting special delegations at the end of his audience, the pope met with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was heading to Iraqi Kurdistan to show solidarity with the church there. The cardinal, who is chairman of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, was traveling there with other members of CNEWA and church leaders.

The pope also met briefly with and posed for a group photo with members of a diocesan pastoral association in Italy for separated and divorced Catholics.

A representative of the group, “L’Anello Perduto,” (the lost ring), had received a phone call from the pope in February, according to Vatican Radio, after group members sent a letter explaining their formation program and requesting a papal audience.

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Reconcile with God, resurrect hope in others, pope urges at Easter

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Easter is a feast of hope, a celebration of God’s mercy and a call to pray for and assist all who suffer, Pope Francis said before giving his solemn blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Pope Francis uses incense to reverence an icon of the risen Jesus at the beginning of Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense to reverence an icon of the risen Jesus at the beginning of Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The risen Jesus “makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence,” the pope said March 27 after celebrating Easter morning Mass.

Easter in Rome dawned bright and sunny; in St. Peter’s Square, the steps leading up to the basilica were turned into an abundant garden with thousands of tulips, daffodils and flowering bushes.

On Easter morning, the pope does not give a homily. Instead, with hands clasped in prayer and head bowed, he led the tens of thousands of people in the square in silent reflection.

After Mass, before giving his solemn blessing, Pope Francis said Easter should give people the courage to “blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.”

Speaking about Christ’s power over death and sin, the pope prayed that the Lord would touch places in the globe scarred by war, terrorism, poverty and environmental destruction.

“The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord,” the pope said. “To the power of the risen Lord we entrust the talks now in course.”

He prayed that the power of the Resurrection would “overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures,”particularly in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the Holy Land.

“May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained,” he prayed.

On Easter and throughout the Holy Week liturgies that preceded it, Pope Francis showed special concern for the fate of refugees and migrants fleeing violence and poverty and for Christians facing persecution in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

At Rome’s Colosseum Good Friday, after presiding over the Stations of the Cross, the pope offered a long meditation on how Christ continues to be scorned, tortured and crucified in suffering people around the world.

“O Cross of Christ,” he said March 25, “today too we see you raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.”

“O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces of children, of women and people, worn out and fearful, who flee from war and violence and who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands,” he said.

Two days later, celebrating the Resurrection, Pope Francis said the Easter message “invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees, including many children, fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice. All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance.”

Celebrating the Easter vigil March 26, Pope Francis said Easter is a celebration of hope, one that must begin within the hearts of each Christian.

“Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish,” he said in his homily. “This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives.

“Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love,” the pope said.

“The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living,” Pope Francis said. “After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. This is so necessary today.”

During the Easter vigil, Pope Francis baptized eight women and four men, including Yong-joon Lee, the South Korean ambassador to Italy, who took the baptismal name, Stephen. The ambassador’s wife, taking the name Stella, was also baptized. The other catechumens came from Italy, Albania, Cameroon, India and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope, using a silver shell, poured water over their foreheads.

Confirming the 12 during the vigil, the pope asked the cardinals, bishops and priests present to join him in raising their hands and praying over the newly-baptized so that God would send forth the Holy Spirit upon them.

At the beginning of the vigil, after blessing the Easter fire, Pope Francis entered a darkened basilica, gently illuminated by the light of the Easter candle.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Luke, the pope noted how the disciples doubted the testimony of the women returning from the empty tomb.

Peter, he said, was the first of the men to rise and run to the tomb, choosing not to “succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts.”

“This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope; he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it,” the pope said.

Like Peter and the women, he added, Christians cannot discover life by being “bereft of hope” and “imprisoned within ourselves” but, instead, must allow Christ to bring life and break open their tombs, sealed by “the stones of our rancor and the boulders of our past.”

While problems will always remain, he said, Jesus’ resurrection is a sure foundation of Christian hope and not “mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous.”

The Holy Spirit “does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, death and fear,” he said.

Christians are called to awaken the same hope in the hearts of others, Pope Francis said. Without such witness the church risks becoming “an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.”

Junno Arocho Esteves also contributed to this story.

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