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Flying to Colombia to encourage peace, pope also prays for Venezuela


Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO COLOMBIA — Flying to Colombia, with a flight plan changed to avoid Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Sea, Pope Francis told reporters that Colombia and its neighbor, Venezuela, were in his prayers.

Pope Francis boards the plane in Italy for his trip to Colombia Sept. 6. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)

The Sept. 6-10 visit to Colombia “is a bit special,” the pope said, because he is going “to help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace.”

The pope also told reporters the flight would take him over Venezuela, and “we will say a prayer for Venezuela that it can have dialogue, dialogue among all, for the stability of the country.”

Venezuela, Colombia’s eastern neighbor, has been the scene of protests and severe shortages of food and medicine for months as President Nicolas Maduro has tried to consolidate his power and rewrite the nation’s constitution. More than 100 people have died in the protests since April.

Alitalia’s original plan for the more than 12-hour flight to Colombia was to cross the Atlantic, then fly over U.S. territorial waters and Puerto Rico, the Antilles and Venezuela before landing in Bogota, Colombia.

As the flight was about to take off, Vatican officials said there had been a change of plans because of Hurricane Irma. They said the new flight path would go over Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago as well.

On the eve of the trip, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the visit to Colombia coincides with “the beginning of a process of peace after 50 years of conflict and violence.” The pope wants to encourage Colombians “so that after so much mourning, so much destruction, so much suffering, the Colombian people and the Colombian nation can know a new reality of peace and harmony.”

The motto of the pope’s visit, “Let’s take the first step,” purposefully uses the plural because “everyone must feel involved in this process, this itinerary, and concretely translate it” into action, the cardinal told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Pope Francis will highlight some of the ways of doing that, he said, by insisting on “the sacredness of life, respect for life always and everywhere, the theme of the dignity of the person, of human rights.”

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Dialogue, memory, peace highlighted as pope visits synagogue


Catholic News Service

ROME — While the Catholic Church affirms that salvation comes through Jesus, it also recognizes that God is faithful and has not revoked his covenant with the Jewish people, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis visits the main synagogue in Rome Jan. 17. Also pictured is Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, second from left, and an unidentified rabbi. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis visits the main synagogue in Rome Jan. 17. Also pictured is Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, second from left, and an unidentified rabbi. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Interrupted repeatedly with applause at Rome’s main synagogue Jan. 17, the pope said the church “recognizes the irrevocability of the Old Covenant and the constant and faithful love of God for Israel.”

The statement, which he already had made in his 2013 exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” was repeated in a recent document by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. The document reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching that the church “neither conducts nor supports” any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews.

While frigid winter temperatures finally arrived in Rome, Pope Francis received the warmest of welcomes at the synagogue.

The visit featured an exchange of standing ovations. Members of the Jewish community greeted the pope on their feet applauding and bid him farewell the same way; he stood and applauded with the congregation when honor was paid to the handful of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust who were present for the event.

“Their sufferings, anguish and tears must never be forgotten,” the pope said. “And the past must be a lesson to us for the present and the future. The Shoah teaches us that maximum vigilance is always needed in order to intervene quickly in defense of human dignity and peace.”

Pope Francis was the third pope to visit the Rome synagogue and Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, said that in Jewish tradition “an act repeated three times becomes ‘chazaqa,’ a fixed tradition.”

The pope, the rabbi, the president of the Rome Jewish community and the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities all recalled the visits of St. John Paul II in 1986 and of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. And they all spoke of the “new era” in Catholic-Jewish relations that began with the Second Vatican Council and its declaration “Nostra Aetate” on relations with non-Christian religions.

But continued violence in the Middle East and the specter of terrorism also were on the hearts and minds of all the speakers.

“Conflicts, wars, violence and injustice open profound wounds in humanity and call us to reinforce our commitment to peace and justice,” the pope said.

“The violence of man against man is in contradiction with every religion worthy of the name and, particularly, with the three monotheistic religions” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Human life is a sacred gift of God, Pope Francis said. “God is the God of life and always wants to promote and defend it; and we, created in his image and likeness, are obliged to do the same.”

Catholics and Jews must pray intensely that God would help bring peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and life to the Holy Land, the Middle East and all places where conflict and terrorism are sowing death and destruction.

Interreligious dialogue, he said, must be based on a recognition that all people are children of the same God, who calls them to praise him and to work together for the good of all.

However, he said, the relationship between Christians and Jews is unique because of Christianity’s Jewish roots. “Therefore, Christians and Jews must see themselves as brothers and sisters united by the same God and by a rich, common spiritual heritage.”

In his speech, Rabbi Di Segni said the Rome Jewish community was welcoming the pope “to reaffirm that religious differences, which should be maintained and respected, must not however be a justification for hatred and violence.”

“The Near East, Europe and many other parts of the world are besieged by wars and terrorism,” the rabbi said. After decades in which Nazism, communism and other totalitarian ideologies led to such suffering, now “violence has come back and it is fed and justified by fanatic visions inspired by religion.”

Dialogue and respect are the answer, he said, and the pope’s visit to the synagogue is a sign of that.

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Pope plans to visit Sri Lanka


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When civil strife, conflict and bloodshed have pitted people of different ethnic groups against one another, reconciliation is particularly difficult, but it’s still the only way to ensure a better future for all, Pope Francis told a large group of Sri Lankan pilgrims.

Sri Lankan women bring forward offertory gifts during a Mass for people from Sri Lanka in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 8. After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted an estimated 12,000 Sri Lankans living in Italy who were in attendance. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“It is not easy, I know, to heal the wounds and cooperate with yesterday’s enemy to build tomorrow together, but it is the only path that gives hope for the future,” the pope said Feb. 8 during a meeting with an estimated 12,000 Sri Lankan pilgrims.

From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka was involved in a bloody internal conflict. Rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam carried out a violent campaign seeking autonomy for the Tamil majority in areas north and east of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese make up the majority of the country’s 20 million inhabitants.

Pope Francis joined the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica after Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo celebrated Mass. The cardinal invited Pope Francis to visit Sri Lanka, to which the pope responded, “I welcome this invitation and believe the Lord will give me the grace to do so.”

Cardinal Ranjith had told the pope that the more fortunate among the pilgrims work as housekeepers, caregivers or factory workers in Italy. The others, he said, have part-time jobs or no work at all; “many live in harsh and difficult conditions.”

Pope Francis asked the pilgrims, who were marking the 75th anniversary of the consecration of their country to Mary, to share with him some of their songs. The Tamil- and Sinhalese-language choirs and dancers were happy to comply.


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