Archive of November 5, 2013

Pope: our strength, hope is in the mercy of God

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a special Mass honoring all of the bishops and cardinals who have died during the past year, Pope Francis emphasized that nothing can separate us from the love of our merciful God.

“It is not by chance that Jesus wanted to preserve the wounds on his hands to make us feel his mercy. This is our strength and our hope!” the Pope said during his homily at a Nov. 4 Mass at the Altar of the Chair inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the month of November, “which is marked by the memory of the faithful departed,” reflected the Pope, “we remember our brother Cardinals and Bishops from around the world who have returned to the Father's house during the past year.”

Turning to the day’s readings, Pope Francis centered his homily on the words of St. Paul to the Romans, in which the apostle affirms that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Saint Paul, he reflected, refers to the love of God as “the deepest, most invincible motive for our trust in Christian hope,” especially in listing those things which can oppose and threaten our faith.

However, continued the pontiff, the apostle “states with confidence that even if our entire existence is surrounded by threats, nothing will ever separate us from the love that Christ himself gained for us, giving of himself completely.”

“Even evil powers that are hostile to man are powerless in the face to the intimate union of love between Jesus and those who welcome him with faith.”

The reality of God’s faithful love for each of us helps us to face our daily lives, which are often “slow and tiring,” with “serenity and strength,” the Pope stressed.

He pointed out that the only thing capable of breaking this bond is our sin, but that “even in this case God will always go in search for him to restore that union that lasts even after death.”

This certainty of God’s love, he explained, gives “a new and full meaning to earthly life and opens us to hope for life beyond death.”

Each time that we face the death of a loved one, we naturally ask what will become of their life, work and service to the Church, noted the Holy Father, emphasizing to those in attendance that Scripture assures us “that they are in God's hands!”

These pastors, “who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and to their brothers are in the hands of God. They are well looked after and they will not be corroded by death.”

“All their days interwoven with joys and sufferings, hopes and labors, fidelity to the Gospel and passion for the spiritual and material salvation of their flocks, are in the hands of God,” observed the Pope, reflecting that our sins too are in the hands of God, “those merciful hands with their ‘wounds’ of love.”

“This reality, which is full of hope,” said the pontiff, “is the prospect of final resurrection, of eternal life, to which the ‘righteous,’ those who accept the Word of God and are obedient to His Spirit are destined.”

With this hope, the Holy Father called to mind “our brother” Bishops and Cardinals who are deceased as “men who were devoted to their vocations and to their service to the Church, which they loved as one loves a bride.”

“In prayer, we entrust them to the mercy of the Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady and of St. Joseph, so they be welcomed into his kingdom of light and peace, where the just and those who have been faithful witnesses to the Gospel live eternally.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by praying that the Lord prepare each one of us for this encounter, stressing that “We do not know the date, but that encounter will take place!”

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Defending marriage is critical for society, Bishop Conley warns

Lincoln, Neb., Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Warning that a “fierce debate on the future of marriage” is coming to Nebraska, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln emphasized that same-sex unions are not civil rights and urged the state to recognize the unique role of the natural family.

“Civil union proponents will work hard to shroud the question in the language of civil rights,” the bishop wrote in a Nov. 2 column for the Lincoln Journal Star. 

“But nearly every benefit sought by civil union legislation already is legally available to Nebraskans. Civil union legislation is not about civil rights. It is about denying the unique and special role that families play in civilizations.”

The legalization of civil unions is “an effort to redefine marriage itself” and to undermine the understanding that “stable, fruitful partnerships between men and women should be promoted and protected,” he continued.

Bishop Conley noted that the Nebraska legislature’s judiciary committee held a hearing Nov. 1 to discuss how Supreme Court rulings on same-sex “marriage” would affect Nebraska state policy.

He said the hearing was “the beginning of an effort to approve same-sex civil unions in our state.”

“The exclusive and permanent bond of a man and woman joined in marriage offers to couples and to society a preeminent value that cannot be redesigned by legal dictate,” the bishop said.

While emphasizing the need to treat everyone with dignity, he said marriage is a “fundamental relationship” across all societies.

“Marriage, between a man and a woman, begets families. Families beget communities. Communities beget cultures and societies and nations.”

“At the core of human communities is the family. And at the core of the family is marriage.”

He noted that Nebraska had already voted to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman in the state constitution, urging policymakers to respect that decision.

Marriage is also vital to the well-being of children, he said.

“Children deserve both a mother and a father; they learn from each and are formed by each, in different ways. Though some children are raised by only a mom, or only a dad, to suggest that mothers and fathers are not uniquely important in the lives of children defies our basic intuitions and our basic logic.”

The effort to preserve marriage “will be a fight for the future of our state, for our children and for our communities,” the bishop concluded, asking that it be undertaken with fairness and respect for all.

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Indian diocese goes 'green' at intercultural festival

Miao, India, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA) - The Diocese of Miao, located in far north-east India, is promoting stewardship of the environment by choosing to give saplings to guests at its events rather than the customary floral arrangements.

“We have decided to offer a sapling to the chief guests of any of our programmes instead of flower bouquets,” Bishop George Pallipparambil of Miao said, according to an Oct. 23 release from the diocese.

The first instance of the Miao diocese's new program was at its first annual Inter-School Cultural Fest Radiance 2013, held in the town of Roing Oct. 20-22, where a sapling was given to an official from the government of Arunachal Pradesh state.

The Miao diocese is located in Arunachal Pradesh, the north-easternmost state in India, part of which is claimed by China. The diocese borders both China and Burma.

The area is mountainous, home to the easternmost portions of the Himalayas. It also receives heavy rainfall, and is home to verdant forests; Arunachal Pradesh is called India's “orchid state” and “paradise of the botanists.”

It is a local tradition to welcome guests with floral garlands or bouquets, but exhaustive deforestation has become a threat to the region's flora and fauna. Many of the inhabitants, including the majority of Catholics, belong to tribes whose livelihood has been based on the forests, providing food, shelter, and resources for artisans and craftsmen.

Out of concern for the environmental threats to the forests near Miao, Bishop Pallipparambil considered the Church's social teaching that we are called to be custodians of God's creation, and saw it as a way to protect the land's rich biodiversity.

Giving sapling trees to guests, rather than floral arrangements, will both preserve the area's flowers and promote the planting of more trees.

At Radiance 2013, Newlai Tingkhatra, a minister of the state, was given a sapling, and he expressed his great happiness with the green initiative, asking that all Arunachal Pradeshis preserve and plant trees.

Radiance 2013 gathered nearly 450 students from the Miao diocese's 14 schools to highlight students' talents in the arts, competing in such areas as singing, folk dances, traditional dress, biblical skits, and drawing.

State minister for minority affairs, Ninong Ering, attended the events and said Radiance is “a noble concept that will help these tribal children from interior villages to share their culture with each other.”

Arunachal Pradesh is home to more than 100 distinct tribes; the state's remote and mountainous terrain has led to challenges of poverty, underemployment, and a lack of infrastructure for its people.

The festival of inter-cultural dialogue was hosted by the Miao' diocese’s educational department, the Newman Educational Society. Ering quoted the department's patron, saying that “this experience of sharing and learning from each other will help these children to 'kindle a flame where it is dark', making a difference in society.”

Bishop Pallipparambil stated that the festival is meant to “give a platform to our students every year to express themselves, and to exhibit their hidden talents” from God.

One of the participants, Puja Wangsu, said, “I feel so happy to meet many new friends from faraway places. Though we competed with one another, off the stage we were like great friends.”

The Miao diocese was established in 2005, and Bishop Pallipparambil, a member of the Salesians of St. Don Bosco, is its first bishop. The diocese is home to 83,500 Catholics across an area of nearly 17,000 square miles.

Its people are served by 33 parishes and missions, staffed by 27 diocesan priests, and 60 religious. Several groups of religious sisters live and work in the diocese, including the Missionaries of Charity.

The diocese's total population is roughly 500,000, with Christians – most of them Catholic – comprising some 19 percent of the population. The largest religious group is Hindus, with large minorities of Buddhists and traditional religions, as well as small numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, and Jains.

Miao, the cathedral city, is home to some 25,000 people.


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Pro-life groups say McAuliffe too 'extreme' for Va. governor

Richmond, Va., Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Virginians head to the polls to elect their next governor, pro-life groups are urging voters to consider the ‘extreme’ views of Terry McAuliffe, which they say could jeopardize the health and safety of women.

“It’s an outrage that Terry McAuliffe is siding with big abortion instead of Virginia women by opposing these common sense health and safety standards,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

“Terry McAuliffe supports an extreme platform of abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, abortions for the purposes of sex selection, taxpayer funding of abortion, and abortions on teenage girls without parental consent,” she charged.

“Should McAuliffe be elected Governor, he would turn a blind eye to women’s safety in order to keep abortion facilities…in business.”

Dannenfelser is one of numerous pro-life advocates cautioning against Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia, where he is running against pro-life Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Cuccinelli describes himself on his website as a “strong supporter of life” who worked as a member of the state Senate to end partial-birth abortion and support parental consent and other pro-life measures.

A Quinnipiac University poll released a week before Election Day found Cuccinelli trailing by four percentage points among likely voters.

Pro-life groups have called the election a crucial one, taking place in a state with one of the highest number of pro-life laws in the U.S.

They argue that the Democratic candidate has failed to be transparent on the extent of his support for abortion, at times saying that he would leave abortion laws intact, while at other times calling for efforts to expand abortion in the state.

McAuliffe has been accused of holding an extreme position on abortion, opposing any limitations whatsoever and supporting taxpayer-funding of late-term abortion up until the moment of birth.

When questioned by The Weekly Standard about whether these claims are accurate, McAuliffe avoided the question, instead replying, “It's a beautiful day out today, huh?”

The candidate also sparked criticism after saying that he would act to block new state regulations of abortion clinics passed after more than 80 health violations were documented last year – ranging from doctors with unwashed hands to blood-stained tools.

Out of 18 abortion clinics in the country, 17 fail to meet the new health and safety standards.

However, at a campaign event last month, McAuliffe said that as governor, he would “issue a guidance option” to keep the clinics open, even if they do not comply with the health regulations.

He acknowledged that “only one of those 18 actually meet the requirements, so they’ll all close If I don’t do that,” adding that if elected, he would “give a guidance opinion to the Board of Health to grandfather in those remaining clinics to keep them open.”

Critics immediately slammed McAuliffe’s comments.

“It is disturbing to see a politician so dedicated to the institution of abortion that he would fight to keep substandard facilities open,” said Emily Buchanan, treasurer of Women Speak Out – Virginia.

“Virginia voters deserve to know that Terry McAuliffe would use the Governor’s office to support abortion businesses, rather than to protect Virginia women and families.”

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Musician blends Tango, classic styles in Mass composition

Rome, Italy, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a festival in Rome, an Argentinian composer noted the need for sacred music in modern society and spoke of a Mass he wrote honoring his country which draws from both classical and Tango traditions.

“The Mass is a Catholic Mass, but my history is I don't have a very religious formation…I learn a lot of religious by the music, through the music,” Martin Palmeri said of the music he composed in an Oct. 29 interview with CNA.

Palmeri was born in Argentina, and studied musical composition under many different teachers, including Daniel Montes, Marcelo Chevalier, and Radolfo Mederos, as well as with Virtu Maragno and Edgar Grana in New York.

The “Tango orchestration” that the composer wrote was chosen as the opening piece for the twelfth annual International Festival of Sacred Music and Art held in Rome. The festival began Tues. Oct. 29 and will last until Nov. 10.

Observing that although the genre of sacred music is an ancient style of composition, Palmeri said that it is still widely relevant even in a secular culture, because for him, “studying the music, I can feel the composer's faith.”

Through the music, he reflected, even those who are non-religious or who do not have a strong formation in the faith are able to learn about religion.

Bearing this fact in mind when he wrote the Mass, entitled “Misa a Buenos Aires,” Palmeri expressed that he tried to include “all these experiences, singing and studying the music of the other religious composers.”

The particular score chosen to open the festival, he explained, is “a traditional Latin text of the Mass, and the difference is in the orchestration, is a tango orchestration, using all the material of the orchestras of Buenos Aires, the tango orchestras.”

This music, he noted, “is an experiment of mixing these two different worlds, between the choral music and the tango music.”

Palmeri's piece was specifically chosen for the opening concert of this year’s festival, which has been dedicated to the election of Pope Francis.

“I think they choose this piece because it is Argentine music...and I think they know that the Pope loves a lot that type of music.”

The International Festival of Sacred Music and Art was initiated in 2002 in order to promote the institutional activities of the Foundation for Music and Sacred Art, which include the diffusion of sacred music and the restoration of architectural treasures which are often contained in the Basilicas where the concerts take place.

Having his music played during the festival is “a pleasure,” expressed the composer, especially with the opportunity for his music to be played in Rome under the reign of an Argentinian Pope, which he described as “a big privilege.”

“Since this is a religious piece, it is a Mass, obviously for me it is wonderful, the possibility of singing this piece in Rome…I think this is a capital of all the religious music in the world. So for me it is a big privilege.”

The opening concert where Palmeri's music was featured took place inside of the Basilica of Saint Ignacio in Rome, and was sung by the local Cologne Dome Choir.

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Vatican releases preparatory document for synod on family

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a press conference Tuesday, the Vatican released the official preparatory document on the upcoming synod of bishops on the family, revealing key topics of the meeting's discussions.

“The document contains, as well as a general presentation on the matter, various essential Biblical and Magisterial quotations on the theme as well as a questionnaire on the main challenges regarding the family,” Cardinal Péter Erdo said Nov. 5.

Cardinal Erdo, who is the Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest in Ungheria, and was appointed as the new General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Francis on Sept. 21, made the announcement at the conference earlier this morning.

The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is slated to occur Oct. 5-19 of next year, and will explore the theme of “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”

During the press conference, the cardinal explained that “In order to initiate the process of consultation,” an invitation has been sent out to circulate the document among diaconates and parishes within Dioceses to complete “with the aim of obtaining concrete and real data on the synodal theme.”

Amid the claims of some news organizations that the questionnaire is “a Vatican survey asking (Catholics') opinions on church teachings” – which has been presented to Catholics worldwide in order to consult on homosexual unions and divorced persons – Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi stressed that the questions “are not regarding the doctrinal position of the Church.”

The topics of the questions, which have been issued to the bishop’s in all of the world’s dioceses, have been announced and will center on the Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium, Marriage according to the Natural Law, and the Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization.

Other topics that the survey intends to address are the Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations, the Union of Persons of the Same Sex, the Education of Children in Irregular Marriages, the Openness of the Married Couple to Life, and the Relationship between the Family and the Person.

Due to the limited time-frame of the Synod preparations, Cardinal Erdo announced the request that all entities who have been consulted on the questions “have been required to send their answers to the General Secretariat by the end of January of next year.”

A meeting of the Consistory of the Secretariat, a group of around 15 clergy who are in charge of preparations for the next assembly, is scheduled to occur in the month of February in order to analyze the questionnaire responses.

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US bishops: employment bill is wrong solution to discrimination

Washington D.C., Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against homosexual and transgender persons poses serious threats to religious freedom and undermines the biological basis of gender, say its critics as it heads to a crucial Senate vote.

 “All Americans should oppose unjust discrimination, but ENDA does not advance that goal. In fact, it moves us in the wrong direction,” said scholar and author Ryan T. Anderson.

He told CNA on Nov. 5 that the proposed law “creates new, subjective protected classes that would expose employers to unimaginable liability.”

“No doubt these are difficult and delicate issues, and that is why they are best left to those closest to the decision – not a one-size-fits-all rule from Washington.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the employee’s stated gender identity by all larger non-religious, civilian employers.

Religious organizations, non-profit membership-only clubs, and employers with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt from the legislation.

The bill has been introduced in every congressional session since 1994, except for the 109th session from 2005-2007, but has never been passed. President Barack Obama has voiced his support for both the 2011 and 2013 versions of the bill.

On Nov. 5, the Senate voted for cloture on the bill, ending any potential for a filibuster, and ensuring that the legislation will come to a vote in the chamber in the coming days.

Supporters of the bill note that individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have faced discrimination in the workplace and are hired at a lower rate than persons who do not openly state their sexual identity.

Opponents, however, argue that the legislation goes further than addressing discrimination, and creates new concerns for religious freedom and the understanding of sexuality within society.

In an Oct. 31 letter to Congress, three leading U.S. bishop explained that while they welcome efforts “to end all forms of unjust discrimination, including against those who experience same sex attraction,” they ultimately cannot support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because it “does not justly advance the dignity of all workers and authentic non-discrimination.”

The letter was signed by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who leads the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, who heads the Religious Liberty Committee. 

The bishops explained that as it is currently written, the proposed law lacks an exception for a “bona fide occupational qualification” for “those cases where it is neither unjust nor inappropriate to consider an applicant’s sexual inclinations.”

This wording enshrines sexual attraction as a specially privileged class by elevating ‘sexual orientation’ discrimination “above religion, sex, and national origin discrimination,” to be at “the same and, until now unique, level as race discrimination,” which allows no bona fide occupational qualifications

In addition, the bill does not differentiate between same-sex attraction and same-sex conduct, protecting same-sex extramarital actions under the legislation’s language.

The bill’s emphasis on “gender identity” uses “force of law to a tendency to view 'gender' as nothing more than a social construct or psychosocial reality,” divorced from physical sex, the bishops added, failing to properly protect privacy in areas of the workplace where it would be reasonable to have only members of the same sex, such as restrooms.

The proposed law may also be used to support the redefinition of marriage as a union between two persons of the same sex, they continued, “as a matter of federal constitutional right.”

Finally, the bishops noted, the bill poses a threat to religious freedom and “could be used to punish as discrimination what many religions – including the Catholic religion – teach, particularly moral teaching about same-sex sexual conduct.”

Anderson – who is currently serving as William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation – argued that the legislation “would limit the ability of private employers to run their own businesses.” 

The use of both ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ to “describe behaviors as well as identities,” he noted, limits an employer’s ability to reasonably “consider the impact of behaviors at the workplace,” such as the impact of a male dressing and acting as a female, or vice versa, in a school setting.

Some senators, such as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have tried to create middle ground between the two predominant opinions on the legislation. On Nov. 4, Toomey voted to bring the bill to a vote, while proposing an amendment to broaden the bill’s religious freedom protections.

“I believe the Employment Non-Discrimination Act contains very important provisions,” Toomey said in a Nov. 4 press release.

“However, I also believe it should be improved, especially as it pertains to religious organizations. We must strive to reach the appropriate balance between protecting workers and protecting religious freedom.”

Toomey's proposed amendment is not yet included in the legislation, and his support for the bill when it is voted on may hinge on the adoption of such religious liberty protections. However, critics have argued that even with the religious liberty amendment, the bill would fail to address the other concerns surrounding the legislation.

If the bill passes the Senate, it is expected to face stronger opposition in the Republican-led House.

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Pope Francis: Christians are 'called to a party'

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his daily Mass Pope Francis said that at the essence of Christianity is an invitation to the Lord’s feast, emphasizing that we cannot be passive in front of the Lord’s call.

“You are invited to join in the feast, to the joy of being saved, to the joy of being redeemed, to the joy of sharing life with Christ. This is a joy! You are called to a party!” the Pope exclaimed in his Nov. 5 homily.

The reflections of the pontiff were directed at those who were present for his Mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.

Pope Francis began his homily by observing that the readings of the day reveal the true identity of a Christian, saying that “the Christian essence is an invitation: we only become Christians if we are invited,” adding that this is a “free invitation” from God.

“A Christian is one who is invited,” he reflected, but “Invited to what? To a shop? To take a walk? The Lord wants to tell us something more: You are invited to join in the feast, to the joy of being saved, to the joy of being redeemed, to the joy of sharing life with Christ.”

Using the analogy of a party, the pontiff described this feast as “a gathering of people who talk, laugh, celebrate, are happy together.”

“I have never seen anyone party on their own. That would be boring, no? Opening the bottle of wine...That’s not a feast, it’s something else.”

“You have to party with others,” stressed the Pope, “with the family, with friends, with those who’ve been invited, as I was invited. Being Christian means belonging, belonging to this body, to the people that have been invited to the feast: this is Christian belonging.”

Turning to the verses in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans for the day’s first reading, Pope Francis clarified that the feast is one “of unity,” highlighting how all are invited, “the good and the bad.”

“The Church is not the Church only for good people,” he explained, stressing that it is the marginalized who will be invited first.

“Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited,” he stated, detailing how at this point we each bring diverse gifts as a community.

“We all have qualities and strengths,” noted the Pope, “but each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation.”

“‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I familiar with…’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside.”

“You can’t pick and choose,” proclaimed the pontiff, “the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church!”

The Pope then spoke of the day’s gospel passage in which Jesus tells the parable of the man who had a feast and invited many, but they made excuses not to come, lamenting that “They don’t accept the invitation! They say ‘yes,’ but their actions say ‘no.’”

These are the Christians who “are content to be on the guest list,” which is not enough, because if we do not participate then we are not really a Christian, he warned.

“You were on the list,” he declared, “but this isn’t enough for salvation! This is the Church: to enter into the Church is a grace; to enter into the Church is an invitation” which cannot be purchased.

To enter into the Church “means to be responsible for those things that the Lord asks of us,” explained the Pope, emphasizing that “No one is the protagonist of the Church,” but that rather, “we have ONE” who has done everything.

“God is the protagonist! He who does not follow Him is the one who excuses himself.”

“The Lord is very generous,” added the pontiff, and he understands when we say to him “‘No, Lord, I don’t want to go to you.’”

Jesus understands and waits for those people because he is merciful, Pope Francis expressed, but he “does not like those who say ‘yes’ and do the opposite, who have good manners, but go their own way and do not follow the way of the Lord.”

It is these people, he continued, “who do not know joy, who don’t experience the joy of belonging.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by urging those in attendance to pray for the “grace of understanding,” reflecting that “how beautiful it is to be invited to the feast, how beautiful it is to take part in it and to share one’s qualities.”

“How beautiful it is to be with Him and how wrong it is to dither between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ to say ‘yes,’ but to be satisfied merely with being a nominal Christian.”

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Vatican nunciature to Syria hit by mortar; no casualties

Damascus, Syria, Nov 5, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's nunciature in Damascus was hit by a mortar round at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, damaging the building but neither killing nor injuring any persons.

“Given the hour, there was only material damages, not to people,” Vatican press officer Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a press conference Nov. 5.

“Had it been later it would have been much more dangerous. Thanks to God no one was hurt.”

The mortar hit the embassy's rooftop, and according to the Associated Press it is “not clear” if the building was targeted.

Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, told Vatican Radio that “we do not know why it happened … we cannot say that the Vatican Embassy was targeted.”

The Assad regime's news agency, SANA, reported that the mortar shell was “fired by terrorists,” the regime's term for the Syrian rebels.

SANA went on to say that “targeting the Apostolic Nunciature and diplomatic missions in Damascus comes in the framework of the terrorist groups implementing their backers' instructions in a bid to influence the stance of these missions in support of peace and security in Syria.”

The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for 31 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people.

The rebels are comprised of diverse groups, including both moderates and Islamists, as well as Kurds.

Two weeks ago, Islamists rebels including al-Nusra Front occupied Sadad, a majority-Syriac Orthodox town almost 40 miles south of Homs. On Oct. 21, the Islamists seized the town, holding Christian families as “human shields”, according to Aid to the Church in Need, to prevent regime forces from retaking the village.

Churches were desecrated, and the rebels killed 45 of the inhabitants, including a family of six who were thrown down a well.

“How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family,” Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch Gregorios III told Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 4.

“I do not understand why the world does not raise its voice against such acts of brutality.”

Patriarch Gregorios called for an end to the transfer of arms into his country, and said the attack on Sadad shows “the rise of fundamentalism and extremism” in Syria, adding that “it is frightening the Christians into leaving the country.”

The Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, told Fides that the Sadad attack has been the “most serious and biggest massacre of Christians” in the Syrian civil war.

The Syrian regime retook Sadad Oct. 28, after many of the town's inhabitants fled the week-long violence, joining the 6.5 million Syrian people who have become internally displaced by the war.

In addition, there are at least 2.1 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

Archbishop Zenari stressed that “the Syrian people want that the violence should stop immediately. They are fed up with this conflict.”

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