Archive of October 4, 2013

Seeking transparency, Vatican Bank issues first annual report

Vatican City, Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican Bank confirmed a commitment to full financial transparency Oct. 1 by publishing its first Annual Report.

With the report's publication, the Vatican Bank – known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion – fulfills a promise made in May by its president, Ernst Von Freyberg. The bank receives and administers funds for charitable activities, especially in the developing world.

At that time, Pope Francis had yet to appoint a Pontifical Commission to advise him on the bank, headed by Cardinal Raffaele Farina, former librarian of the Vatican Library and archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives.

The report's publication comes as the Vatican Bank's future has yet to be decided. Pope Francis has indicated a willingness to consider a reform of the institution, hoping to harmonize it with the Church's universal mission.

The Annual Report consists of a review of operations in 2012; information on corporate governance and legal framework; an operational outlook for 2013; and audited financial statements for 2012, together with 2011 data for comparison. The financial statements were compiled according to International Financial Reporting Standards.

The organization's press release indicates that it made a net profit of more than $117.1 million, significantly up from its 2011 net profits of $27.5 million. 

This increase allowed the Vatican Bank to contribute $74 million to the Holy See's budget, while transferring $43.1 to the “general operating risk reserve,” or retained earnings.

The report shows that in 2012, the Vatican Bank was entrusted with $8.5 billion in customers’ assets, consisting of $3.1 billion in deposits; $4.3 billion managed by the bank under asset management agreements; and $1.1 billion in assets held for customers under custody agreements.

According to the report, at the end of 2012 the Vatican Bank had approximately 18,900 customers, and 85 percent of the institution’s global “wealth” consists in the assets deposited by about 5,200 Catholic institutions.

The Vatican Bank has drawn praise for its efforts to increase transparency, although one bank analyst suggested that the new report is “confusing” from a technical standpoint.

After an attentive reading of the report, Romeo Ciminello, scientific director of the Italian society 4metx Onlus, noticed some seeming incongruities within the report, explaining to CNA that it initially “seems there are $9.2 million of net profits missing,” and “the difference comes out” from the data published on page 13 of the report.

Ciminello calculated the difference between profits and expenses, and the result is $107.93 million. But, he notes, “the net profits amounted to $117.1 million,” so there would seem to be $9.2 million missing.

Only on page 29 of the report, Ciminello concludes, “we can find out that the missing dollars come out by the data of the other net income ($6.171 million) and impairment losses ($2.846 million),” whose total amount is $9.2 million.

Other groups applauded the effort as a step towards greater openness and fighting corruption. Von Freyberg stated that “with the publication of our Annual Report, we are meeting our commitment to provide the transparency about our activities which the Catholic Church, our customers, the Vatican authorities, our correspondent banks and the public rightfully expect.”

And in July 2012, Europe’s anti-money-laundering agency Moneyval found the Vatican “compliant” or “largely compliant” on nine of the 16 “key and core” areas for combating terrorist financing and money-laundering.

The Moneyval report indicated that the Vatican Bank's security standards surpass those required by Vatican law and that Vatican legislation on secrecy is compliant with international standards. The report also praised the high level of Vatican engagement in international cooperation.

“The Holy See has come a long way in a very short period of time and many of the building blocks of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regimes are now formally in place,” the Moneyval report said.

At the moment, the Vatican Bank is engaged in a screening of its accounts undertaken by the American firm Promontory Financial Group.

The prominent Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Oct. 1 that the Vatican Bank decided to close 900 accounts the previous day. Among these were the accounts held by the embassies of Iran, Indonesia and Iraq, because they did not fulfill the requirements for transparency requested by Promontory.

Corriere della Sera also reported that the bank may close the accounts of all foreign embassies accredited to the Holy See, but the Vatican Bank neither confirmed nor denied this move.

A Vatican Bank spokesperson told CNA Oct. 1 that “in principle, the Vatican Bank does not comment on customer relationships. On a more general note we can confirm that the remediation effort with regard to the accounts held at the Vatican Bank is proceeding according to plan.”

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Beauty necessary to restore culture, says Bishop Conley

San Diego, Calif., Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Beauty must play a central role in our efforts for evangelization and cultural renewal, because it is a gift from God to lead us to him, Bishop James D. Conley said in an address at a recent apologetics conference.

“Our New Evangelization must work to make truth beautiful. By means both ancient and new, we must make use of beauty – to infuse Western culture, once more, with the spirit of the Gospel,” the Bishop of Lincoln said Sept. 28 in his keynote address at the Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference in San Diego.

“By means of earthly beauty, we can help our contemporaries discover the truth of the Gospel. Then, they may come to know the eternal beauty of God.”

Bishop Conley told CNA on Oct. 1 that his decision to focus on beauty and culture at an apologetics conference was well-received, and that Catholic Answer's development director, Christopher Check, “thought it was a real sort of game-changer,” because apologetics efforts can often be rejected by those with a relativistic mindset, who are not even open to entering into a standard apologetics discussion.

But to lead with beauty “opens (others) up to consider the argument” in a way they might not otherwise, the bishop reflected.

Bishop Conley opened the address by sharing a story of his first session of spiritual direction when he entered seminary. Spiritual direction typically involves a detailed discussion with a priest.

When he arrived for his first meeting, the priest, Fr. Anton Morganroth, who had fled Nazi Germany, was playing a Mozart sonata, and proceeded to finish it.

“After a few moments of silence, eager to get started,” Bishop Conley shared, “I broke the silence and said: 'so are we going to have spiritual direction, father?' Fr. Morganroth turned and stared right through me and said: 'son, zat was your spiritual direction, you can go now.'”

This example of being caught up in beauty is a demonstration of how the transcendental can open minds and hearts to “the realities of the spiritual life,” the bishop said.

He emphasized that evangelization is concerned not only with individuals, but with transformation of culture as well.

“We’re starting to get a sense of our cultural mission,” Bishop Conley said. “Catholics are working to recover our traditions, and to build community … to foster a way of life that is true, good, and beautiful.”

He added that faith “is meant to be the basis of culture,” and explained how he was converted to the Catholic Church through the Integrated Humanities Program run by professor John Senior at the University of Kansas, which exposed students to the beauty of Christian culture.

This experience of beauty, he said, allowed him to be open to the great philosophers and theologians of the past, rather than assuming “that truth was found in the dictates of popular culture.”

“Senior was not an evangelist, in the traditional sense of the word: he did not preach from a pulpit, or write works of apologetics. His goal in the classroom was not to convert us, but to open our minds to truth, wherever it might be found. And he did that primarily through the imagination.”

Despite not being a traditional evangelist, the bishop said, Senior “was a remarkably gifted evangelist,” and through his sharing of the beauty of historic Catholic culture, hundreds of University of Kansas students became Catholic in the 1970s.

Their conversion “was not the result of proselytism in the classroom nor was it engaging in apologetics,” Bishop Conley said. “It occurred because we became lovers of beauty, and thus, seekers of truth. Beauty gave us 'eyes to see' and 'ears to hear,' when we encountered the Gospel and the Christian tradition.”

Senior and his colleagues “knew that students had to encounter beauty, and have their hearts and imaginations captured first by beauty, before they could pursue truth and goodness in a serious and worthy manner,” the bishop explained.

He observed that in the midst of intellectual and moral confusion, beauty can break through to hardened hearts, and that “every instance of real beauty points beyond itself” to God, who “invested this world with many forms of captivating beauty, so that created things would lead us to contemplate the transcendent glory of the Creator.”

While God “speaks to our souls through intellectual truth and moral goodness” in addition to beauty, “these forms of communication have become problematic. Many people, especially in modern Western culture, are too intellectually and morally confused to receive such a message.”

Because of this confusion, beauty may be the transcendental which “can get through, where other forms of divine communication may not,” the bishop taught.

“When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue.”

Bishop Conley said that “clearly, beauty has a major role to play in the New Evangelization” and enumerated three ways in which this can be done: through liturgy; appreciation of historic Christian culture; and openness to beauty in all its forms.

He called beauty in liturgy the “most essential” point, noting that “worship … is the basis of Christian culture” and pointing to examples of great converts who were struck by the solemn rites and extraordinary chants of the Catholic Church.

The bishop’s second recommendation was to become familiar with the beauty of historic Christian culture, such as Gregorian chant, in order to help others who appreciate it to understand the Christian beauty that inspired it. 

Finally, he invited Catholics to “open our own minds to beauty, in all its manifestations” in both nature and culture, which will help us to understand beauty as “an earthly reflection of God's glory.”

Concluding, Bishop Conley quoted famous Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who wrote in “The Idiot” that “beauty will save the world.”

“It will,” the bishop added. “When it points to God’s enduring love.”

“There are many souls to rescue, and a vast cultural wasteland to restore. Both tasks will require fluency in God’s language of beauty,” he said.

“To speak this language, we must first begin to listen. And to listen, we must have silence in our lives. I pray that God will open our eyes and ears to beauty, and help us use it in the service of the Truth.”

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Vatican diplomat renews call for nuclear disarmament

New York City, N.Y., Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A top Vatican diplomat has reaffirmed the Holy See’s support for nuclear disarmament, warning that dedication to continued research into nuclear weapons will hinder anti-proliferation efforts.

“The Holy See, which has long called for the banishment of these weapons of mass destruction, joins in this concerted effort to give vigorous expression to the cry of humanity to be freed from the specter of nuclear warfare,” Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for the Holy See’s relations with states, said.

The archbishop addressed a high-level United Nations meeting on nuclear disarmament Sept. 26 in New York City.

“We must emphasize anew that military doctrines based on nuclear arms, as instruments of security and defense of an elite group, in a show of power and supremacy, retard and jeopardize the process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” he said.

There are about 22,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, the United Nations’ disarmament office says. The United States and Russia have the world’s largest stockpiles.

The United Nations has officially supported nuclear disarmament since its first General Assembly in 1946.

Archbishop Mamberti noted that the international non-proliferation treaty requires states to make “good faith” efforts to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, yet many nuclear powers continue to modernize their weapons programs.

“Concern over the proliferation of nuclear weapons into other countries rings hollow as long as the nuclear weapons states hold on to their nuclear weapons,” he said.

The archbishop criticized the continued acceptance of “nuclear deterrence” as a justification for the possession of nuclear weapons.

“With the end of the Cold War, the time for the acceptance of this doctrine is long past. The Holy See does not countenance the continuation of nuclear deterrence, since it is evident it is driving the development of ever newer nuclear arms, thus preventing genuine nuclear disarmament.”

He urged a global effort to provide security that is not based on nuclear deterrence.

Nuclear deterrence policy, he said, diverts human, financial and material resources from efforts to improve health, education and social services. These resources also are diverted from countering threats like poverty, climate change, and terrorism and other crimes.

These factors should make countries consider the “ethical dimension and the moral legitimacy” of nuclear weapons production and development.

Archbishop Mamberti said nuclear disarmament efforts should counter “the logic of fear” with “the ethic of responsibility.” Countries should foster “a climate of trust and sincere dialogue” that can promote “a culture of peace” through international cooperation.

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Peace comes by embracing the cross, Pope says at Assisi

Assisi, Italy, Oct 4, 2013 (CNA) - During his visit to Assisi, Pope Francis told Mass attendees that true peace can only be attained by drawing close to the crucified Lord, stressing the importance of having a relationship with him.

“What is the peace which (Saint) Francis received, experienced and lived, and which he passes on to us? It is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrated his Oct. 4 Mass for the pilgrims who joined him in the town of Assisi to celebrate the feast of his patron, St. Francis of Assisi.

At the beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father revealed in a special audience with journalists that he chose the name “Francis” because of remarks made to him immediately after his election, in which some of his brother cardinals urged him not to forget the poor.

The pontiff began his reflections on the life of the Saint, who was born the son of a wealthy fabric merchant, by recalling how his encounter with Jesus inspired him to resign his inheritance and to embrace a life of poverty.

“In all of Francis' life,” the Pope noted, “love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.”

Deepening his reflection into the life of the saint, the Pope urged those in attendance to question what sort of witness Francis gave, not just in his words, but more importantly in his life.

“His first and most essential witness is this: that being a Christian means having a living relationship with the person of Jesus; it means putting on Christ, being conformed to him,” the Pope said, emphasizing that Francis’ journey of faith began “with the gaze of the crucified Jesus.”

Referencing the cross which spoke to St. Francis calling him to serve God, the Holy Father noted that Jesus is depicted as alive, not dead, saying that “The cross does not speak to us about defeat and failure; paradoxically, it speaks to us about a death which is life.”

“It speaks to us of love, the love of God incarnate, a love which does not die, but triumphs over evil and death.”

When we meet the gaze of the crucified Lord, urged the Pope, we become “re-created,” and experience being loved not by our own merits, but in spite of the fact that we are sinners.

A second witness that St. Francis gives us, noted the pontiff, is that “everyone who follows Christ receives true peace, the peace that Christ alone can give, a peace which the world cannot give.”

Pope Francis reflected that often people associate peace with the great Saint of Assisi, but that few go deeper into the peace which he “received, experienced and lived,” that is “the peace of Christ” which comes from “the love of the Cross.”

“It is the peace which the Risen Jesus gave to his disciples when he stood in their midst and said: ‘Peace be with you!’”

“Franciscan peace is not something saccharine,” he said, “That is not the real Saint Francis! Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with forces of the cosmos… That is not Franciscan either; it is a notion some people have invented!”

“The peace of Saint Francis is the peace of Christ, and it is found by those who ‘take up’ their ‘yoke,’ namely, Christ’s commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Holy Father urged that the “yoke” of his patron Saint “cannot be borne with arrogance, presumption or pride, but only with meekness and humbleness of heart.”

Pope Francis concluded his reflections by looking at St. Francis’ witness to respect, “safeguard and protect all that God has created,” in the world, noting the most importantly the Saint’s “love for every human being.”

“Francis was a man of harmony and peace,” the Holy Father recalled, “From this City of Peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being.”

May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity.”

The Pope prayed in particular for peace in the Holy Land, Syria and the Middle East.

Noting that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy, the Pope extolled all present “Let us pray for Italy, that everyone will always work for the common good, and look more to what unites us, rather than what divides us.”

Pope Francis ended his homily by giving the final blessing, and quoting a prayer written by St. Francis.

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Pope: we must 'undress' ourselves of worldliness like St. Francis

Assisi, Italy, Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis said that Christians should follow the example of the great saint by stripping themselves of a spirit of worldliness.

“All of us must undress ourselves from this worldliness: the spirit contrary to the spirit of the beatitudes, the spirit contrary to the spirit of Jesus,” he said Oct. 4 to a group of bishops and poor individuals gathered in Assisi.

The Pope's speech, which diverged from his prepared remarks, was one of several given during his day-long pilgrimage to St. Francis' hometown.

“When Francis, here, made this gesture of undressing, he was a young man: he didn't have strength. It was the power of God that drove him to do this,” said the Pope, who spoke from the place where St. Francis is said to have disrobed in an act of solidarity with the poor and total reliance on God.

St. Francis' gesture was a visible reminder of Jesus own willingness to “undress” himself: “he became a servant, he wanted to be humbled.”

“And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way,” the Pope stated. “We must undress ourselves today from a very serious danger that threatens each person in the Church: the danger of worldliness.”

There are some who want to “make Christianity 'a little more human,' without the Cross,” he noted. But that is a kind of “bakery Christianity” in which everything is beautiful and sweet like a cake.

“That is not real Christianity,” he underscored.

True Christianity embraces the cross because it is the way of Christ. “Jesus himself said one can´t serve two masters. Either serve God or serve money.”

“Money,” the Pope said, indicates “the whole spirit of worldliness: money, vanity, pride, that path.” Worldliness “leads us to vanity, arrogance, pride,” he continued. “And that is an idol, it's not God.”

“It is truly ridiculous that a Christian, a true Christian...wants to go along the path of worldliness,” the pontiff insisted. “It is a homicidal attitude. Spiritual worldliness kills. It kills the soul, it kills the person. It kills the Church.”

Christians cannot be unconcerned about those in the world who suffer in situations of poverty or other difficulties, the Pope emphasized.

Earlier that morning he had visited with the disabled and sick children of Assisi, noting that similarly to how Jesus is hidden in the Eucharist, he “is hidden in these young people, in these children.”  

“The Christian adores Jesus, the Christian seeks Jesus, the Christian knows to recognize the wounds of Jesus” that are visible in those who suffer with illness and disabilities, Pope Francis went on.

This reality is a “source of hope,” because when Jesus rose from the dead, he kept the scars from his wounds. “We care for the wounds of Jesus here, and from heaven He shows us his scars and says to all of us, every one, 'I am waiting for you!'”

Pope Francis was accompanied on his pilgrimage to Assisi by the group of eight cardinals chosen to help consider a reformation of the Roman Curia. The Pope's itinerary includes visits to many of the city's sacred sites including the tombs of St. Francis and St. Clare.

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'Be antennas' to receive the word of God, Pope exhorts

Assisi, Italy, Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a meeting with priests and religious during his visit to Assisi, Pope Francis urged the professed to listen and be receptive to the Lord, as well as be missionaries who accompany their people.

“It's not enough to read the scriptures, we must hear Jesus speaking in them, we have to be antennas that receive, tuned to the word of God, to be transmitting antennas!”

The Holy Father directed his Oct. 4 comments to the priests and religious during his visit to the town of Assisi in honor of the feast day of his patron, St. Francis of Assisi.

In his address, Pope Francis affirmed those present in many aspects of their vocations, giving special emphasis to “the most important ones.”

Urging them to listen and to pay attention to the word of God, he noted that the Church is “the community that listens with faith and with love to the Lord who speaks.”

“I think we can all improve a bit on this aspect: all become more listeners the word of God, to be less rich in our words and more rich in the word,” said the Pope, citing both priests and parents as examples of listening in order to teach.

“How can he preach until he has heard, in silence, with the heart,” he asked in reference to the priest, and of parents he reflected: “how can they educate if their conscience is not enlightened by the word of God, if their way of thinking and acting is not guided by the word, as an example they can give to their children?”

“The Spirit of God that makes the scriptures come alive, makes us understand in depth, in their true and full meaning,” he said urging those present to ask themselves “what place does the word of God have in my life, the life of every day? Are they tuned to God, or to the popular ways of speech or myself?”

Pope Francis also noted the special importance of “journeying,” which he revealed is one of his “favorite words when I think of the Christian and the Church.”

“This is really the most beautiful experience that we live: to be part of a people in their journey through history, together with their Lord, who walks among us!”

The Pope said that we are not alone in our journey, but rather walk as part of the “flock of Christ,” emphasizing that there is nothing more beautiful than supporting and encouraging one another in community.

“How important is this! Walk together, without leaping forward, without nostalgia for the past. And during this walk, talking, getting to know one another, recounting to each other, we grow in being family.”

Along with the elements of listening and journeying, the Pope also stressed the importance of being a missionary who announces the Gospel “up to the peripheries.”

“What are your peripheries? Let's try to think about it. Let us ask ourselves what are the peripheries in this diocese.”

They are, he said, the areas of the diocese which “risk being on the margins,” but they are also “people, human realities who are marginalized, despised. They are people who maybe are physically located near the ‘center,’ but spiritually are far away.”

“Do not be afraid to go out and meet these people, to these situations,” said the Pope, “Do not let yourselves be blocked by prejudices, by habits, by a mental or pastoral rigidity,” or by the common excuse that “it has always been this way.”

“You can go to the peripheries only if you bring the word of God in your heart and you walk with the Church, like St. Francis.”

Later on, the Holy Father also met with a group of cloistered sisters without prepared remarks, stressing the importance of remaining close to Jesus in contemplative prayer, and maintaining a joyful life in community.

“When a sister in the cloister consecrates her whole life to the Lord,” he said, “a transformation happens" which is not easily understood.

The Pope emphasized to them that in the cloister, the sister has God “at the center of our life.”

“I am sad when I find sisters who are not joyful,” who maybe smile, but with “a smile sustained by the will” rather than a heart full of happiness at serving God, he told them – saying that “this is our reality, the reality of Jesus Christ,” which is “not an abstract idea.”

He stressed to them that many come to the convent seeking prayers and advice, and that a sister may not “say something extraordinary,” but because she speaks “from the heart of contemplation of Jesus Christ" she becomes "an expert in humanity. Pope Francis ended his visit to the sisters with his frequent request: “please, don’t forget to pray for me.”

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Recent Popes complement each other, Cardinal Dolan notes

New York City, N.Y., Oct 4, 2013 (CNA) - Each of the last three Popes has had a different but complementary emphasis, highlighting different aspects of the faithful and the Church, said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

“A good way to understand the different gifts of each of these recent pontiffs might be to use the imagery of soul, head and heart,” the cardinal explained in a Sept. 30 opinion piece for the New York Post.

The three most recent Popes – Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – “are all giants,” Cardinal Dolan said, and each “has particular talents.”

“John Paul II emphasized the soul,” he suggested.

“His eloquent calls to prayer; his accent on the revival of the spirit; his concentration on the sacraments and devotions of the church, which bring the grace and mercy of Jesus; his tender trust of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his record ‘saint-making,’ cogently reminded us that the soul comes first.”

“In Pope Benedict XVI we have a successor of St. Peter who emphasized the head,” Cardinal Dolan continued, noting that the recently retired Pope helped to “renew the church’s vast intellectual heritage, and remind us so effectively that faith and reason are hardly at odds, but actually allies.”

“And now, Pope Francis emphasizes the heart,” he said.

“Warmth, mercy, joy, tenderness, outreach, acceptance, love,” the cardinal observed, “all flow from the heart, and those are the words most used by Pope Francis.”

“Don’t get me wrong: All three knew well that the soul, the head and the heart were all essentials,” Cardinal Dolan explained. “But each had a particular favorite.”

He added that God “seems to have given us the pope we needed for a particular era.”

“Every person needs a soul, a head, a heart,” the cardinal pointed out, as “does the person we call 'Mother Church'” and as does “each one of us.”

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Pope Francis entreats youth not to fear commitment

Assisi, Italy, Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis concluded his one-day pilgrimage to Assisi with a visit to young people, encouraging them to reject a “provisional culture” that fears making definitive commitments.

“I want to tell you not to be afraid of taking definitive steps in life,” he said to the cheering crowds of youth on Oct. 4. “Jesus didn't save us provisionally, he saved us definitively!”

The Pope spoke of how both the married and consecrated life are vocations from God.

“Two Christians who marry have recognized in their story of love the call of the Lord,” he said. “The sacrament of matrimony envelops this (human) love in the grace of God, rooting it in God himself.”

God also offers a different call “to celibacy and to virginity for the kingdom of heaven” which is “complementary” to marriage, he continued.

Each vocation, however, comes with the risk of making a commitment, which so many are afraid to do today. 

Pope Francis recounted the story of one very good seminarian who told him, “I want to be a priest, but only for ten years.” He also noted how many mothers approach him and say, “I have a son who is 30, and he isn't married: I don't know what to do!”

“I tell them: stop doing his ironing!” quipped the Pope with a laugh.

He grew more serious, however, as he spoke of the “selfishness” that is so pervasive in our “provisional culture” which causes people to leave a marriage when they no longer “feel love.”

Surety in any vocation comes from a relationship with the Lord in which one prays daily, “listening to him in silence in front of the tabernacle and in our own souls, speaking to him, approaching the sacraments.”

Above all, the Holy Father stressed, it is crucial to remember that a vocation is a “yes” to God especially when so many see consecrated life as a “no” because of the sacrifices entailed.

Pope Francis acknowledged that virginity for the sake of the kingdom “involves the renunciation of a marital bond and one's own family, but at the core, it is a 'yes', as a response to the total 'yes' of Christ toward us, and this 'yes' bears fruit.”

This fruit comes in the work of evangelization, which “does not apply only to religion” but to “the world, society, and human civilization” because “every one of us needs salvation!” exclaimed the Pope.

The good news of salvation, he said, is that “God is much bigger than evil: God is infinite love, mercy without limit, and this Love has overcome evil at its root in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

Our response to that good news must entail our belief carried out in life. The Christian has “one mission: to carry the Gospel with the witness of our lives.”

Speaking personally, the Pope added, “if I don't succeed at being a servant of the Gospel, my life isn't worth anything!”

His pilgrimage to Assisi on Friday included speeches to bishops and religious as well as visits to holy sites such as the baptismal font where Saints Francis and Clare received the sacrament, and the tiny Church which St. Francis rebuilt in response to God's call. Pope Francis stopped to pray silently there before speaking to the enthusiastic youth.

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Panelists point to Pope as model for Catholics, entire world

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis’ message of service and encounter is a model for the faithful and for society at large, said panelists at a recent conference on the Holy Father.

Pope Francis is “calling Catholics to move past this liberal-conservative divide that has too often pitted us against each other and too often prevented us from working together for the common good,” said Kim Daniels, spokesperson for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

“He’s confidently engaging the world, and he’s calling us to do the same.”

The Oct. 1 event, entitled “The Francis Factor,” was held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as the opening event of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. The new program is headed by John Carr, former executive director of the U.S. bishops' department of justice and peace, who moderated the panel.

Carr underscored the need to “share the substance of Catholic social thought more fully,” encouraging a future generation of Catholic leaders to see their faith as “a call to participate in public life.”

The leadership of Pope Francis provides “tremendous momentum” for this venture, he said.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., gave the introduction to the event, asking if the Pope’s “model of civility and service” is not something “that a polarized and paralyzed Washington could learn from.”

The cardinal called the Holy Father a model of “the new evangelization in action,” noting that the Pope presents the same truth that the Church has taught for years; however, by “what he says and how he says it, Pope Francis is offering us a whole new way of seeing these ancient teachings.”

Mark Shields, a commentator for PBS, emphasized that the Pope “doesn't talk about loving humankind in the abstract,” but instead emphasizes action in everyday life.

“I think his authenticity can be felt; there’s nothing contrived about him.”

Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and employee in the Obama administration, echoed Shield’s statements, saying that Pope Francis doesn’t just show the Catholic faith “in an intellectual sense or an academic sense, but he's living it very symbolically.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks, the panel’s only non-Catholic, said that from the outside, it seems that Pope Francis is “offering a comprehensive counterculture” and “just looks like a Christian.”

He wondered, however, if those who do not understand the Church might mistake the Pope’s humble style and emphasis as appearing to “slide into mushiness,” without someone to adequately explain Catholic teaching.

Brooks stressed that the “Church is not only a feel-good institution about a humble guy,” warning that if “you lose contact with the doctrine and the stuff that actually makes outsiders uncomfortable with a charming guy that washes people’s feet, then you’re losing something elemental to the Church.”

Daniels responded, saying that the Pope’s modesty is, in fact, a gift to the Church.

“What it will do is that it will call everyday Catholics back into the pews and call them to live out their faith on the ground level,” she said.

She emphasized that what “the Pope is calling us to is … to witness to our faith in all its fullness and to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable wherever we find them.”

What Pope Francis offers Catholics and society, she said, is “a renewed sense of the challenge and the adventure of our faith.”

His symbolism and action call us “not to be part-time Christians but to live out our faith every day,” and are “just a wonderful example of living the Gospel.”

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