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Pope’s Easter appeal for peace includes special prayers for Syria, Gaza

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In his Easter appeal for peace throughout the world, Pope Francis made special mention of the ongoing “carnage” in Syria and the recent violence along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, violence the pope said had not spared “the defenseless.” Read more »

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Christ’s birth can bring peace, hope to suffering world, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christmas is a reminder that through the birth of Christ, hope and peace are possible and that only through his grace can humanity find peaceful solutions to the world’s most difficult problems, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis uses incense as he visits the Nativity scene at the conclusion of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense as he visits the Nativity scene at the conclusion of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” the pope said Dec. 25. “Where God is born, hope is born. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war.”

Heightened security around St. Peter’s Square did little to dampen the spirits of an estimated 50,000 people attending the pope’s solemn Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world). Many in the crowd dressed festively and applauded the music of the Vatican’s marching band.

However, police and anti-terrorism task forces were a visible sign of a world shaken by violence and extremism; conflicts that have not even spared the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The pope prayed that Israelis and Palestinians would reach a peaceful agreement that would end the “conflict which has long set them at odds, with grave repercussions for the entire region.”

The pope also prayed that recently approved agreements would bring a quick end to the wars afflicting Syria and Libya, two countries ravaged by war for several years. He also prayed that the international community would find ways to end atrocities in Iraq, Yemen, Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Ukraine.

Victims of terrorism were also in the pope’s thoughts and prayers as he remembered the victims of the Russian airliner bombed in Egyptian airspace and terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris; Bamako, Mali and Tunis, Tunisia.

Christians persecuted for their faith were remembered as the pope prayed that “the Child Jesus grant consolation and strength” to those suffering.

Recalling the thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing poverty and war, Pope Francis compared the lack of respect for their dignity to the situation of Christ who was born into the world suffering “cold, poverty and rejection.”

“May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade,” he said.

As the church celebrates the Holy Year of Mercy, the pope said mercy is the “most precious gift which God gives us” and that Christians “are called to discover that tender love of our heavenly Father for each of us.”

The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica pealed at midday, just as they did late Dec. 24 when thousands packed the church for Christmas Mass. Hundreds of people who could not find room in the basilica braved the cold weather and watched on giant screens from St. Peter’s Square.

With his voice noticeably hoarse from a bout of flu, the pope said in his homily that the prophetic words of Isaiah are those of a fulfilled promise of joy and gladness that are “a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God.”

Doubt and indifference, he stressed, should be left to skeptics who “by looking to reason alone, never find the truth.”

“There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something,” he said. “All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.”

The birth of Jesus, he continued, is a call for all Christians to “put away all fear and dread” and to follow the path that leads to Christ “who has been born to us, he was given to us as the prophet Isaiah proclaims.”

The coming of Christ into the world, the pope said, shows what is truly essential in life. Despite his birth into the “nothingness” of poverty, Jesus shows men and women who are simple of heart the true path of “authentic liberation and perennial redemption” while giving them strength to reject “godless ways and the richness of the world.”

“In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is a essential,” he said.

Christians, the pope said, are called to cultivate a sense of justice, discernment and doing God’s will in a world that is often “merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin.”

As a choral rendition of “Silent Night” echoed through the basilica during the distribution of Communion, many attending the Mass were visibly moved.

“Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: ‘Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation,’” the pope said.

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Easter proclaims that love gives life, pope says; share it with others

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged Christians to remember how they first encountered Christ and to share his love and mercy with others, especially through acts of caring and sharing.

Proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection means giving concrete witness “to unconditional and faithful love,” he said April 20 before solemnly giving his blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Celebrating the second Easter of his pontificate, the pope told at least 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square and on adjacent streets that evangelization “is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”

Pope Francis prepares to deliver his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Whatever is going on in one’s life, he said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Jesus’ victory over sin and death demonstrates that “love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.”

Overlooking the square where he had just celebrated Easter morning Mass surrounded by hundreds of flowering trees and bushes and thousands of daffodils, tulips and roses, Pope Francis said Christians proclaim to the world that “Jesus, love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death.”

In his Easter message, the pope prayed that the risen Lord would “help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.” He also prayed that Christians would be given the strength “to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.”

The pope offered special prayers for those facing serious difficulties and threats in various parts of the world: for victims of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; the victims of kidnapping; migrants and refugees; and for the victims of war and conflict in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Venezuela.

Celebrating the fact that in 2014 Easter fell on the same day on the Gregorian calendar used in the West and on the Julian calendar used by many Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, the pope’s Easter morning Mass included a Byzantine choir singing “stichi” and “stichira,” hymns that in ancient times were sung in the presence of the bishop of Rome on Easter.

In his “urbi et orbi” message, the pope offered special prayers for peace in Ukraine, a country with various Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic communities. The pope prayed that all sides in the current political tensions would avoid violence and, “in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future.”

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

His 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 darkened basilica. In the silence and solemnity of the moment, very few pilgrims and tourists disturbed the atmosphere with their camera flashes.

Brian Baker, a deacon and seminarian from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, sang the Exultet — the poetic hymn of praise calling the whole world to rejoice at the resurrection of Christ.

As the bells of St. Peter’s pealed the joy of the Resurrection through the night, torrential rains beat down on Rome.

In his homily Pope Francis, who often tells people to look up the date of their baptism and commemorate it each year, urged people to remember and reflect on the first moment they really recall having encountered Jesus.

Referring to the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, Pope Francis noted how the women who went to Jesus’ tomb were told first by the angel and then by the risen Lord to await him in Galilee and tell the disciples to go as well.

“After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over,” the pope said. Yet they were told to go back to Galilee, the place they first met Jesus.

Returning to Galilee, he said, means re-reading everything – “Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal — to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning,” one that begins with Jesus’ “supreme act of love” in dying for humanity’s sin.

Departing repeatedly from his prepared text, Pope Francis kept telling people: “Have no fear. Do not be afraid. Have the courage to open your hearts” to the Lord’s love.

Returning to Galilee, he said, “means treasuring in my heart the living memory” of “the moment when his eyes met mine.”

“Where is my Galilee,” the pope urged people to ask themselves.”Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?”

Pope Francis encouraged people to ask the Lord’s help in remembering and in telling the Lord, “I want to return there to encounter you and to let myself be embraced by your mercy.”

Pope Francis baptized 10 people at the Easter Vigil; they ranged from a 7-year-old Italian boy to a 58-year-old Vietnamese woman. Four other Italians and one person each from Senegal, Lebanon, France and Belarus also were baptized. As each stepped forward, the pope asked if they wanted to be baptized and waited for their response; he asked one man twice because his response had not been clear. The catechumens bent over the baptismal font and the pope, putting one hand on their heads, used a deep silver shell to pour water over their foreheads.

The pope confirmed the 10 during the liturgy, anointing them with oil and giving each a kiss on the cheek. And, although Pope Francis does not usually distribute Communion at large public Masses, he made an exception for the 10 new Catholics, who received their first Communion during the vigil.

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

 

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Pope says Christmas shows God’s will to save people from sin

December 27th, 2011 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — God sent his son into the world to save it from evil, pride and violence, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas message “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

“The child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace,” the pope said Dec. 25 as he stood on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and gave his solemn Christmas blessing.

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