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Archive of March 25, 2012

Poor Clare Sisters make ‘habit’ out of Nun Run

Tempe, Ariz., Mar 25, 2012 (CNA) - The Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who live in temporary facilities on monastery property in Tonopah, Ariz., have added another “habit” to their spiritual regimen: the Nun Run.

The sisters hosted their third annual Nun Run March 10 at Kiwanis Park in Tempe, Ariz. It brought 1,135 runners and walkers — ages 4 to 78 — to the park in support of the sisters plus another 268 “shadow” runners worldwide.

Funds from registration fees, online donations and on-site merchandise sales supported the sisters’ quest to build a 28-cell permanent monastery and place of retreat west of the Valley. Once built, the contemplative sisters can finally enjoy full enclosure. That’s been lacking since they moved to Arizona in 2005.

This marked the first Nun Run directly benefiting the monastery. Past runs supported the 9,000-square-foot chapel, which formally opened last May.

“We’re very pleased with the spirit of everyone coming together,” Sr. John-Mark Maria told The Catholic Sun.

She was among 160 athletes from as far away as New Jersey and Maine who ran the 10k on-site. The run was equally split with 85 women and 81 men.

Sr. John-Mark Maria finished in a little over an hour. She started training after Thanksgiving.

Some athletes had attended every race while others joined for the first time. More than 280 women ran or walked the 5k with 175 men, including six priests and a deacon.

Fr. Paul Sullivan, vocations director for the diocese of Phoenix, initiated a “Chaplains Challenge” for this year’s run. The two-fold challenge was between chaplains at the diocese’s Newman Centers serving Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

Fr. John Muir, assistant director at ASU’s All Saints Newman Center in Tempe, and Fr. Matt Lowry, chaplain at NAU’s Holy Trinity Newman Center, tried to outnumber each other in registration and outrun each other on the course. Fr. Muir and ASU barely won both challenges and a traveling trophy.

“I heard they were drinking Gatorade out of it,” Sr. John-Mark quipped.

The chaplains finished 10 seconds apart. ASU reportedly outnumbered NAU by three runners. Sr. John-Mark said the University of Arizona is looking to get involved next year. The sisters also plan to open a high school division of the “Chaplain’s Challenge.”

Other Catholic groups who supported this year’s Nun Run include St. Joan of Arc Parish, Boy Scout Troop 204 from Sacred Heart Parish in Phoenix and the Knights of Columbus from St. Paul Parish, also in Phoenix. Catholics showed up with their family and friends too.

Marjorie Veitukus was one of them. The St. Henry parishioner from Buckeye, Ariz. brought her three children and her son’s friend to the Nun Run.

“We’ve always watched EWTN,” Veitukus said, noting the network founded by Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare sister.

When the Poor Clares moved to the diocese, it became even more important that Veitukus support their mission. She said a Catholic place of prayer and retreat is sorely needed in the West Valley.

Andee Williams also thought highly of the Poor Clares’ perpetual prayers on behalf of intentions worldwide. The Sacred Heart parishioner traveled from Prescott, Ariz. and walked the one-mile course in a complete white angel costume in support of the Poor Clares.

Shadow participants from six other countries including Australia and a Franciscan high school in Zambia. The racecourse took students directly to a nearby priory for priests.

Posted with permission from The Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz.

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St. Rupert honored as 'Apostle of Bavaria and Austria' on March 27

Denver, Colo., Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On March 27 the Catholic Church remembers the monk and bishop Saint Rupert, whose missionary labors built up the Church in two of its historic strongholds, Austria and Bavaria.

During his lifetime, the “Apostle of Bavaria and Austria” was an energetic founder of churches and monasteries, and a remarkably successful evangelist of the regions – which include the homeland of the Bavarian native Pope Benedict XVI.

Little is known about Rupert's early life, which is thought to have begun around 660 in the territory of Gaul in modern-day France. There is some indication that he came from the Merovignian royal line, though he embraced a life of prayer, fasting, asceticism and charity toward the poor.

This course of life led to his consecration as the Bishop of Worms in present-day Germany. Although Rupert was known as a wise and devout bishop, he eventually met with rejection from the largely pagan population, who beat him savagely and forced him to leave the city.

After this painful rejection, Rupert made a pilgrimage to Rome. Two years after his expulsion from Worms, his prayers were answered by means of a message from Duke Theodo of Bavaria, who knew of his reputation as a holy man and a sound teacher of the faith.

Bavaria, in Rupert's day, was neither fully pagan nor solidly Catholic. Although missionaries had evangelized the region in the past, the local religion tended to mix portions of the Christian faith – often misunderstood along heretical lines – with native pagan beliefs and practices.

The Bavarian duke sought Rupert's help to restore, correct, and spread the faith in his land. After sending messengers to report back to him on conditions in Bavaria, Rupert agreed. The bishop who had been brutally exiled from Worms was received with honor in the Bavarian city of Regensburg.

With the help of a group of priests he brought with him, Rupert undertook an extensive mission in Bavaria and parts of modern-day Austria. His missionary journeys resulted in many conversions, accompanied by numerous miracles including the healing of diseases.

In Salzburg, Rupert and his companions built a great church, which they placed under the patronage of St. Peter, and a monastery observing the Rule of St. Benedict. Rupert's niece became the abbess of a Benedictine convent established nearby.

Rupert served as both the bishop of Salzburg and the abbot of the Benedictine monastery he established there. This traditional pairing of the two roles, also found in the Irish Church after its development of monasticism, was passed on by St. Rupert's successors until the late 10th century.

St. Rupert died on March 27, Easter Sunday of the year 718, after preaching and celebrating Mass.

After the saint's death, churches and monasteries began to be named after him – including Salzburg's modern-day Cathedral of St. Rupert (also known as the “Salzburg Cathedral”), and the Church of St. Rupert which is believed to be the oldest surviving church structure in Vienna.

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NY Catholic conference opposes 'chemical digestion' of human remains

New York City, N.Y., Mar 25, 2012 (CNA) - A bill that redefines cremation, to include the “chemical digestion” of human remains into liquid waste, has met with rejection from the New York State Catholic Conference.

“The Church’s reverence for the sacredness of the human body and its dignity arises out of concern for both the body’s natural and supernatural properties,” the conference said in a March 19 memorandum on a bill under consideration in the state legislature.

“It is therefore essential that the body of a deceased person be treated with respect and reverence.  Processes involving chemical digestion of human remains do not sufficiently respect this dignity.”

The proposed change to New York's nonprofit corporation law would revise its definition of “cremation.” Along with its conventional meaning, “cremation” could include “any chemical process” that breaks down a human body.

One such procedure, the conference noted in its memo to the legislature, is “alkaline hydrolysis.” The rarely-used process has been publicized in recent years as a “green” alternative to conventional cremation, which involves the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Alkaline hydrolysis involves using lye to dissolve bodies into a liquid substance, which proponents say can be safely poured down a drain. It is also referred to as “bio-cremation.”

Along with its concern for the dignity of the human body, New York's Catholic conference is also worried that the bill could also lead to some individuals being “bio-cremated” against their will.

If the legal definition of cremation changes, the conference noted, individuals who request to be cremated after death – in the traditional sense – could inadvertently have their bodies dissolved into a waste product, due to a misunderstanding of their expressed wishes.

The conference warned that the bill “contains no safeguards to prevent this from occurring.”

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Mexicans feel hopeful after Pope's words at Plaza de Paz

Guanajuato, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - After waiting all day to hear Pope Benedict XVI address them on the evening of March 24, thousands of Mexicans felt moved and inspired by the Pope's call to change the world through God's love.

“We are happy, and support him wholeheartedly because we love him. His words give hope to this country that needs it so much,” said Yolet, a girl from Guadalajara who spoke to CNA after the Pope's appearance at the Plaza de Paz in León.

Yolet said it was a “marvelous” and “once-in-a-lifetime” experience to see the Pope, and hear his words – which she said “will not leave hearts indifferent.”

Alondra Johana Márquez Granados, age 7, was one of the thousands of children who heard the Pope's message about a better future, free from division and strife.

“It’s a miracle that the Pope came here to Guanajuato,” she said.

Chants of support for the Pope were heard in the run-up to his appearance in the evening. One joyous slogan announced: “Brother Benedict, now you're Mexican!”

Also heard amid the Mariachi music, was the chant coined at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid: “We are the Pope's children!”

Mariela Ramírez, 21, told CNA that the Pope meets with young people “because he has a great message for them, that they are the seeds of Mexico and the future of the Church.”

“I’m very excited because I love the Holy Father. He’s the Vicar of Christ, the most important person on the planet.” She said Mexicans “should put our hearts” into his visit to their country.

Bells rang out in the evening, to announce the Pope's arrival in the Plaza de Paz. Throughout the encounter, the multitude broke into applause to express their excitement, especially when the children who accompanied the Pope released doves as symbols of peace.

Excitement grew when event organizers released balloons along with white and yellow confetti.

After hearing his message about God's love and Mexico's future, the thousands of cheering faithful accompanied the Holy Father along his route back to Miraflores School in the city of León.

Roque Aria, a 58-year-old Guanajuato native, summed up the Pope's coming as “the best thing that could have happened in my life.”

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Christ's love can transform Mexico, Pope tells children

Leon, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

By embracing and passing on God's love, Mexican youth can shape their country's future for the better, Pope Benedict XVI told children gathered in León's Plaza de Paz on March 24.

“God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness,” the Pope said in the evening message, delivered to a crowd of thousands gathered since the early morning.

Christ's Gospel, he told them, remains the key to a future “without jealousies and divisions.”

“The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity,” the Pope explained.

God, he said, “wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends.”

Pope Benedict said he had come to Mexico to show his affection for the faithful, each of whom “is a gift of God to Mexico and to the world.”

“Your family, the Church, your school and those who have responsibility in society must work together to ensure that you receive a better world as your inheritance, without jealousies and divisions,” he told the children.

All Mexicans were told to “protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.”

“You, my dear young friends, are not alone,” Pope Benedict said to the children who had awaited him in the plaza.

“You can count on the help of Christ and his Church in order to live a Christian lifestyle. Participate in Sunday Mass, in catechesis, in apostolic works, looking for occasions of prayer, fraternity and charity.”

He recalled the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, Blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, who lived and died during the early evangelization of Mexico. Through their knowledge of Jesus, “they discovered that there is no greater treasure than he.”

“They were children like you, and from them we can learn that we are never too young to love and serve.”

As the time for his departure neared, the Pope spoke emotionally of his desire to remain, “to spend more time with all of you.”

“We will remain close in prayer,” he promised.

“So I invite you to pray continually, even in your homes; in this way, you will experience the happiness of speaking about God with your families.”

“Pray for everyone, and also for me,” he asked the faithful. “I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony.”

“I bless all of you from my heart and I ask you to bring the affection and blessing of the Pope to your parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones. May the Virgin accompany you.”

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Popes have worked for 'truth and transparency,' Fr. Lombardi affirms

Leon, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI has followed his predecessor Blessed John Paul II in working for “truth and transparency” on priestly abuse and other topics, the Holy See Press Office director said on March 24.

Pope Benedict XVI “has truly done much to fight against these problems and put fundamental measures in place,” Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists during a press conference at the Hotsson Hotel in León, where he has been briefing journalists during the Pope's visit to Mexico.

“It’s unjust to consider Pope Benedict XVI as someone who has worked against truth and transparency,” he said during the evening press conference.

Fr. Lombardi's comments came in response to a journalist's question about the possibility of a Papal meeting with victims of organized crime, a possibility that was neither confirmed nor denied. It was asked why the Pope might choose to meet with them rather than with victims of sexual abuse.

Regarding the topic of abuse by priests, the Vatican spokesman said that Pope Benedict and Bl. John Paul II “never covered up these topics.” Rather, he said, “the opposite is true.” 

The director of the Holy See Press Office denied that Bl. John Paul II had any knowledge about the crimes of Marcial Maciel, the Mexican priest who founded the Legionaries of Christ.

He noted that the topic was investigated during Pope John Paul II's beatification process, and said there was a “solemn declaration” from Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declaring that the Pope “did not know of Maciel’s secret life.”

In regard to Pope Benedict's current visit to Mexico, Fr. Lombardi explained why there was no plan for a visit with abuse victims.

Such a meeting, he said, requires the involvement of the Church hierarchy in situations where a process of reconciliation is already underway. A request for such a meeting must also be made in a private and reserved way – which has not been the case in Mexico.

“The central aim of the Pope’s visit to Mexico is his encounter with the Mexican people who desired to see him, and in order to do that, there is a limited amount of time,” the Vatican spokesman said.

There is “no premise for a meeting,” in cases where aggressive demands are made by those who “do not want to initiate a profound dialogue.”

Pope Benedict's concern for children, he said, had been demonstrated consistently in his words and actions – most recently by his call, during that evening's speech at the Plaza de Paz, for all Mexicans to care for children and protect them.

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At Mexican monument, Pope hails Jesus' kingship of love

Guanajuato, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As he celebrated Mass for 600,000 people at Guanajuato's Mount Cubilete on March 25, Pope Benedict XVI urged them to discover the true kingship of Christ, who rules the world with love.

“His crowns, one of a sovereign, the other of thorns, indicate that his royal status does not correspond to how it has been or is understood by many,” the Pope told worshipers gathered in the Bicentennial Park, near the monumental statue of Christ the King.

“His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power that wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness.”

God's power, he said, “is the power of goodness, the power of love”.

“This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget,” the Pope stressed, asking that Christ would “reign in our hearts, making them pure, docile, filled with hope and courageous in humility.”

As the faithful prepare for Holy Week, Pope Benedict urged them to attend to the words of Psalm 50: “A pure heart, create for me, O God.”

“This exclamation shows us how profoundly we must prepare to celebrate next week the great mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord,” he said.

“It also helps us to look deeply into the human heart, especially in times of sorrow as well as hope, as are the present times for the people of Mexico and of Latin America.”

A pure heart, the Pope reflected, “is one which recognizes that, of itself, it is impotent and places itself in God’s hands so as to continue hoping in his promises.”

This need for self-examination is evident throughout salvation history, particularly in the Biblical history of Israel. Times of crisis taught God's people not to trust in their own strength, but in the Lord.

“The history of Israel relates some great events and battles,” the Pope noted, “but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud.”

This pattern in salvation history “should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us.”

God alone, he said, can save humanity. “We must have recourse to the one who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same (life) through his Son, Jesus Christ.”

As he celebrated his first public Papal Mass in a Spanish-speaking Latin American country, Pope Benedict evoked the memory of his predecessor Blessed John Paul II – who visited Mexico five times, but never made it to Guanajuato, though he “ardently desired to do so.”

“I am sure that in heaven he is happy that the Lord has granted me the grace to be here with you and that he has blessed the millions of Mexicans who have venerated his relics in every corner of the country.”

He also recalled the Latin American bishops' 2007 Aparecida document, which declared a “Continental Mission” of renewal and evangelization.

This task, Pope Benedict said, would require deep attentiveness to God's word – allowing it “to challenge us every day, meditating upon it in our hearts after the example of Mary.”

In this way, communities can resist “the temptation of a faith that is superficial and routine, at times fragmentary and incoherent.”

Instead, believers can rediscover “the joy of being Christians, of being sustained by the inner happiness of knowing Christ and belonging to his Church.”

“Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist us in purifying our hearts, especially in view of the coming Easter celebrations,” urged Pope Benedict, “that we may enter more deeply the salvific mystery of her son, as she made it known in this land.”

“And let us also ask her to continue accompanying and protecting her Mexican and Latin American children, that Christ may reign in their lives and help them boldly to promote peace, harmony, justice and solidarity. Amen.”

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Pope's Mass is worth the all-night wait for Guanajuato Catholics

Guanajuato, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At Guanajuato's Bicentennial Park, some Mexican Catholics had been waiting all night to celebrate Mass with Pope Benedict XVI on March 25.

It was well worth the wait, they told CNA.

“Fatigue and sleepiness are nothing if it means seeing the Pope,” said 36-year-old Esaúl Jíménez.

“After many hours of waiting we got in here (Bicentennial Park) at 1:00 a.m. today, Sunday,” Jíménez recalled. “But we couldn’t sleep because of the music and happiness.”

During the early hours of the morning, a sea of people converged on the park to secure their spaces for the Pope's appearance and his celebration of Mass the next day.

Lively cheers and expressions of affection met Pope Benedict – especially as he rode around for nearly half an hour wearing a black Mexican sombrero.

Almir Gómez, from Salamanca in the state of Guanajuato, said the Pope's visit has been “an extraordinary experience for all of us; something very beautiful.”

“People haven’t stopped singing and dancing since last night,” he said on Sunday.

Gómez hopes that all young people take Pope Benedict's message seriously – so that “after the Pope’s visit we are left with the seeds for peace,” needed to help Mexico during a difficult and violent time.

Approximately 600,000 people joined the Pope as he offered the Eucharistic celebration in 93-degree heat. The temperature did not lessen the enthusiasm of the crowds, who were provided with water from a number of trucks.

“I really wanted to see the Pope, and thanks be to God it came true,” said Cristina Mendieta of Jalisco.

“I’m here with so many young people before the Holy Father, who I know is a person who has much to give. I’m here to get something from him.”

Victoria Pantoja, 19, was among the thousands of volunteers who helped with the security of the enclosure at the park.

“I’m so excited for having seen the Pope and think it’s an unforgettable experience,” said Pantoja.

She and her fellow volunteers could be identified by the traditional “ayate” – a type of poncho – with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on one side and the Sanctuary of Christ the King on the other.

Jorge López, 18, came to Bicentennial Park to hear a message of “peace and hope from the Pope that is so needed by this country. I also hope that our faith grows.”

“I’m excited to be here,” said Paula Garza Ojeda, wife and mother of three children, who was especially happy “to see so many young people gathered here today.”  

Miguel Paire Masías, who was able to see the Pope at World Youth day last August in Madrid, said he hoped Mexicans would “encounter God through the Holy Father’s message.”

Young people welcomed the Pope with rhyming chants on Sunday, as they did at his previous appearances during the visit to Guanajuato. One of the popular chants declared: “Se siente, se siente, el Papa está presente.” (“He’s coming, he’s coming, the Pope is now here.”)

“Benedicto, amigo, Juan Pablo está contigo,” ran another – “Benedict, friend, John Paul is with you.”

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Plant seeds of hope in Latin America and Carribean, Pope tells bishops

Leon, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a March 25 evening prayer service at the cathedral in León, Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI called on Latin American and Carribean bishops to plant the “seed of hope” through the Church's work in the regions.

“Certainly your dioceses face a number of challenges and difficulties at the present moment,” the Pope acknowledged.

“Yet, in the sure knowledge that the Lord is risen, we are able to move forward confidently, in the conviction that evil does not have the last word in human history, and that God is able to open up new horizons to a hope that does not disappoint.”

“You are not alone amid your trials or in your successes in the work of evangelization,” the Pope told the Latin American and Carribean bishops, promising them that “all of us are one in sufferings and in consolation.”

“Know that you can count on a special place in the prayers of the one who has received from Christ the charge of confirming his brethren in faith,” the Pope said, referring to his role as the Successor of St. Peter.

“He now encourages you in your mission of making our Lord Jesus Christ ever better known, loved and followed in these lands, and he urges you not to let yourselves be intimidated by obstacles along the way.”

In his address, delivered during the celebration of Vespers, Pope noted the historic contributions of the Church to Latin American and Carribean life, particularly due to the labors of “outstanding and self-sacrificing missionaries who proclaimed it boldly and wisely.”

“They gave their all for Christ, demonstrating that in him men and women encounter the truth of their being and the strength needed both to live fully and to build a truly humane society.”

Looking forward to the “Year of Faith” that begins in the fall of 2012, Pope Benedict said its initiatives “must be aimed at guiding men and women to Christ; his grace will enable them to cast off the bonds of sin and slavery, and to progress along the path of authentic and responsible freedom.”

The bishops also received the Pope's charge to “show great concern for your seminarians”, and remain “close to your priests,” who “must never lack the understanding and encouragement of their bishop, nor, if necessary, his paternal admonition in response to improper attitudes.”

He also asked them to value and accompany the diverse forms of consecrated life, and give “greater attention” to “the members of the lay faithful most engaged in the fields of catechesis, liturgical animation, charitable activity and social commitment.”

“In all of this, it is particularly important for pastors to ensure that a spirit of communion reigns among priests, religious and the lay faithful, and that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided,” he affirmed.

The Pope invited the bishops to be “vigilant in proclaiming day and night the glory of God, which is the life of mankind.”

“Stand beside those who are marginalized as the result of force, power or a prosperity which is blind to the poorest of the poor,” he urged them, noting that the Church “cannot separate the praise of God from service to others.”

“The one God, our Father and creator, has made us brothers and sisters: to be human is to be a brother and guardian to our neighbor.”

“Along this path, in union with the whole human family, the Church must relive and make present what Jesus was: the 'Good Samaritan' who came from afar, entered our human history, lifted us up and sought to heal us.”

Pope Benedict acknowledged that the Church in Latin America has often shared Christ's sufferings. Now, he said, it “must continue to be a seed of hope enabling the world to see how the fruits of the resurrection have come to enrich these lands.”

He asked that the Virgin Mary, invoked as “Our Lady of Light,” would “dispel the darkness of our world and illumine our path.”

With God's grace, the Pope said, “we can confirm the faith of the people of Latin America amid their struggles and aspirations, with integrity, valor and firm faith in the one who can do all things and loves all men and women to the fullest.”

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No current plan for Pope-Chavez meeting in Cuba

Leon, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has not currently scheduled any meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, according to the director of the Holy See Press Office.

“Neither myself nor the papal entourage, the cardinals, have any news of this,” Fr. Federico Lombardi said on March 25, in response to speculation about a possible meeting between the Pope and Venezuela's president during the papal visit to Cuba.

Asked about the prospect at the International Press Office set up in León's Hotsson Hotel, the priest said no such meeting is in the trip's program. He urged journalists “not to raise expectations” without warrant, as some news sources have done.

The Pope did, however, meet with a group of Mexicans victimized by violence during his time in the country.

This meeting, Fr. Lombardi said, took place after his meeting with children in Guanajuato, and was not solely concerned with one topic. Rather, the Pope greeted them as part of a larger group of people with whom he spent some time during the evening in the House of Count Rul.

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Mexican trip achieved Pope's goals, Fr. Lombardi affirms

Leon, Mexico, Mar 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Pope Benedict XVI prepared to leave Mexico and journey to Cuba, the director of the Holy See Press Office said the Pope had accomplished his goal of confirming the country in its Catholic faith.

The trip's fundamental objective “had been completed,” said Fr. Federico Lombardi, offering his evaluation of Pope Benedict's visit to Mexico. It was the Pope's first official visit to a Spanish-speaking Latin American country during his reign.

At a press conference in the city of León, the Jesuit priest and Vatican spokesman said the goal of the trip was to “have a personal encounter between the Holy Father and the Mexican people” – as occurred at Sunday's Mass, with over 600,000 worshipers in attendance.

Fr. Lombardi said the German Pope had “overcome” any distance between himself and the Mexican people, who greeted him as an honorary Mexican in one popular rhyming chant.

For their part, the thousands of faithful attended the Pope's Mass with reverence, silence, and active participation. Pope Benedict “appreciated it greatly,” Fr. Lombardi commented.

“The Mexican faithful’s capacity demonstrates Christian maturity that the Holy Father is thankful for,” he said, noting the silence that prevailed during the Eucharist.

But the faithful undoubtedly “still knew how to express themselves with joy and happiness” – as when the Pope passed them in his Popemobile, wearing a black sombrero he had been given as a gift.

Fr. Lombardi commented that Sunday's homily was “exceptional,” not only because of its content but also for the form with which the Pope pronounced it, as he “tried to express his spirit” to convey his message to the Mexican people.

The Vatican spokesman also noted that the Pope had spoken of the essential human right to life, a truth made vividly present to Mexicans and other Catholics of the Americas through the apparition and image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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