Vatican City, Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his general audience, Pope Francis spoke on the meaning of Christian death, emphasizing that the resurrection of Jesus gives it light, and cautioning against worldly ideas which can overcome us.
“If we allow ourselves to be taken in by this mistaken vision of death, we have no other choice than that of hiding death, of denying it, or of trivializing it, so that it won’t make us afraid,” the Pope said in his Nov. 27 general audience.
Pope Francis closed his catechesis on the Creed by speaking to the pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square about the last phrase, in which believers proclaim their belief in the "resurrection of the body."
Bringing to light the two points mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church surrounding the topic, the Pontiff focused his reflections on “our dying and rising in Jesus Christ.”
Beginning with our dying, Pope Francis noted that among many today, “there is a mistaken way of seeing death.”
“It questions us in a profound way, especially when it touches us up close, or when it strikes the little ones, the defenseless in a way that seems to us scandalous,” the Pope reflected, stating that the questions “why do children suffer? Why do children die?” are particularly striking.
“If death is understood as the end of everything,” he explained, “it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.”
This vision of seeing life “enclosed between two poles: birth and death” without anything beyond, observed the Pope, “is typical of atheistic thought, which interprets existence as finding oneself accidentally in the world and walking towards nothingness.”
“There is also a practical atheism, which is to live only for one’s own interests and earthly things,” he continued, adding that if we fall into this vision we have no other choice than to avoid the reality of death so that we won’t be afraid.
However, noted the pontiff, “this false solution reveals in man’s heart, the desire that we all have for the infinite, our nostalgia of the eternal.”
Asking what then is the meaning of Christian death, Pope Francis encouraged those present to recall the passing of a loved one, stating that in our pain “we remember that, even in the tragedy of the loss…the conviction arises in our heart that everything cannot be finished, that the good given and received was not useless.”
“There is a powerful instinct within us, which tells us that life does not end with death.”
The only “reliable” answer to this “thirst for life,” observed the Pope, is the “Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” adding that it “not only gives us the certainty of life beyond death, but it also illumines the mystery itself of the death of each one of us.”
“If we live united to Jesus, faithful to Him, we will be able to face the passage of death with hope and serenity,” he went on to say, emphasizing that one tends to die in the way that they lived.
“If my life has been a journey with the Lord, of trust in His immense mercy, I will be prepared to accept the last moment of my earthly existence as the definitive and confident abandonment in his welcoming hands.”
“This,” stated the Pope, “is the most beautiful thing that could happen: to contemplate face to face that wonderful countenance of the Lord.”
“To see him as he is, beautiful, full of light, full of love, full of tenderness. We go towards this end: to see the Lord.”
Pope Francis then stressed the importance of preparing ourselves for the moment of death, following the invitation of Jesus “to be always ready, vigilant,” with the knowledge that “life in this world is also given to prepare for the other life.”
A “sure way” to prepare well for our deaths, he reflected, is “staying close to Jesus with prayer, in the Sacraments and also in the practice of charity.”
“Solidarity in sharing sorrow and infusing hope is the premise and condition to receive in inheritance the Kingdom prepared for us,” emphasized the Pope, stressing that “one who practices mercy does not fear death.”
He then asked those present, “Do you agree? Shall we say it together so as not to forget? One who practices mercy does not fear death!”
“And why does he not fear death? Because he looks it in the face in the wounds of brothers, and overcomes it with the love of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis concluded his audience by encouraging the 70,000 pilgrims present to open their hearts to “our littlest brothers,” and by extending a personal greeting to groups from various countries around the world.
Vatican City, Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis' new document on the “joy” of evangelization is an opportunity for Catholics to re-examine how to share the gospel in today's world, several Catholic commentators note.
“Pope Francis says the Church has to focus on what is essential and most beautiful, that everyone has to have a personal encounter with the saving grace of Christ,” Vatican media adviser Greg Burke said Nov. 26.
“It’s a wide-ranging document, one that deals with everything from better Sunday homilies to the broadening gap between rich and poor.”
The Pope's 85-page document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” was released Nov. 26. Also known as “Evangelii Gaudium,” the apostolic exhortation follows the 2012 bishops' synod on the new evangelization, which was held as part of the Year of Faith.
Father Mark Morozowich, dean of the Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, called the work “a wonderful call for the entire Church to once again rethink what we’re doing to seed the ever-renewing Spirit and to reach out in evangelization,”
“You can really see the pastor coming through in Pope Francis,” Fr. Morozowich told CNA Nov. 26. “I think he wants that closeness of pastoral life between the bishop and his flock, between the priest and his people.”
He cited the Pope's comment that evangelizers take on the “smell of the sheep.” The document is written, he noted, “as a pastor would speak to his parishioners” in the Pope’s “invitational style” that is “very approachable.”
Fr. Morozowich said Pope Francis is “calling parishes to renewal” and parish leaders should ask themselves questions like “What more can we do to reach out? How can we invite people? Are we an inviting place?”
Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said Pope Francis is showing “how to live the gospels and reach out to the world with what every person needs, a relationship with God.”
“He is leading the word to deeper faith, and the bishops of the United States happily receive this exhortation with faith and look forward to sharing it in our dioceses.”
Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said the document shows Pope Francis’ “missionary spirit” and is “an important and timely contribution to the cause of the new evangelization.”
“It highlights his belief that the gospel message and loving outreach of the Church are for everyone, that the Church must go outside itself and welcome those on the margins with love and healing in the spirit of Christ himself,” Anderson said Nov. 26.
“If this document is embraced by the Church throughout the world, it could mark a key moment for a reinvigorated new evangelization of our culture, which too often has forgotten the Good News of the Gospel, which is central to our faith.”
Burke said the document is in some ways traditional and has an emphasis on “returning to the essentials.” In other ways, it is “prophetic” as Pope Francis calls for a change to how the papacy and the Vatican work.
Burke noted the document’s treatment of the economy and its critique of “the culture of prosperity which makes people indifferent to the needs of others.”
“The document suggests major changes are on the way, with Francis noting that the Church has to get over an attitude that says 'we’ve always done it this way,'” the Vatican media adviser said.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the face of growing restrictions on religious expression, Catholics must be able to explain the place of religious liberty in public life, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.
“We need to evangelize,” he emphasized in a Nov. 11 interview with CNA.
He explained that the broader culture is not paying attention to many of the religious restrictions being enacted in the United States.
“This is part of the new evangelization, and we need to talk neighbor-to-neighbor to those who do not yet understand or see the threats to religious liberty,” he said.
Archbishop Lori chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. In recent months, the bishops have voiced mounting religious liberty concerns in a variety of areas, including service to immigrants and a cultural push to redefine marriage.
Health care has also been a major realm of concern for the bishops and other religious liberty advocates, as pressure increases on Catholic health care workers and systems to perform abortions and dispense contraception against their beliefs.
“Catholic Healthcare provides a tremendous witness,” Archbishop Lori emphasized. “It is the continuation of Jesus's healing ministry. It has always been exceptionally generous to the poor and the needy.”
However, due to an increasing secularist influence, “there is a growing tendency to treat all hospitals, including faith-based hospitals, simply as public institutions and as quasi-governmental institutions, and therefore to say they cannot harbor any particular religious convictions,” he warned.
He described restrictions such as the federal contraception mandate as “a subset of that” trend.
The controversial mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions, has been widely criticized as violating the religious freedom of those who have moral objections to it.
More than 200 plaintiffs across the country have filed religious liberty lawsuits against the mandate. On Nov. 26, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear two cases from for-profit cases challenging the regulation. A ruling is expected in the cases next summer.
At their fall general assembly earlier this month, the U.S. bishops issued a statement voicing their unanimous opposition to the mandate and support for efforts to defend religious freedom.
Archbishop Lori noted that other challenges to religious liberty have begun emerging “at all levels of government,” and these “challenges are, if anything, intensifying.”
Many federal rules, state laws and city ordinances have good intentions, he explained, but they result in the often unintended restriction of religious expression.
In addition, political discourse in much of society has shifted towards the views of “secularists who really want to exclude religion and religious values” from American life.
These challenges can be difficult to address, Archbishop Lori said, because many of the threats and restrictions are “just under the radar screen,” and consequently, “most people don't pay too much attention to them.”
Efforts to educated American Catholics of these troubling trends have resulted in a “much greater consciousness of the need to promote and defend religious liberty,” as well as “more attention to what the church teaches, and more attention to our heritage as Americans,” he said.
However, he continued, the greater public needs to be aware of the threats facing religious activity and expression.
“There's got to be a lot of neighbor-to-neighbor explaining,” the archbishop stressed.
In addition, he said, Catholics should strive to “be really great citizens, and that means participating very actively in the political process and making their voice heard.”
“When our elected officials hear from us and realize that a lot of people are paying attention, it really makes a difference.”
Vatican City, Nov 27, 2013 (CNA) -
Pope Francis and Russian president Vladimir Putin's first-ever meeting this week mostly focused on the Middle East, particularly on the ongoing Syrian conflict.
The president met with the pontiff Nov. 25 amid Putin's short visit to Italy – along with 11 ministers of his cabinet – to sign commercial agreements and have institutional meetings with government officials.
According to a Vatican press office statement, Putin “expressed thanks for the letter addressed to him by the Holy Father on the occasion of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg,” in which the Pope urged global leaders during the September event to pay attention to the situation in Syria.
A source in the State Secretariat said that Pope Francis and Putin mostly spoke about Syria and Middle East during the 35 minutes of conversation, conducted with the help of two translators.
Pope Francis had sent a letter to Putin on Sept. 3, saying that “the leaders of the G20 cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people which has lasted far too long, and even risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and needful of peace.”
At the time, a military intervention to Syria seemed unavoidable, and Pope Francis called a day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 5.
Over 115,000 Syrians have been killed and more than two million have fled the country, which has been entangled in a violent civil war for more than two years.
The Vatican's statement on the meeting stressed that “emphasis was placed on the urgency of the need to bring an end to the violence and to ensure necessary humanitarian assistance for the population, as well as to promote concrete initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict, favoring negotiation and involving the various ethnic and religious groups, recognizing their essential role in society.”
Putin's visit to the Vatican is not his first – he met with Pope John Paul II in 2000 and 2003 and had an audience with Pope Benedict in 2007.
The Vatican press office reported that Putin and Pope Francis also discussed “the critical situation faced by Christians in some regions of the world,” and spoke of questions of common interest, like “life of the Catholic community in Russia, revealing the fundamental contribution of Christianity in society.”
Before the meeting, it was rumored that Putin might invite Pope Francis to Russia, thus realizing the ecumenical dream of a meeting between the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said in a media briefing Nov. 25 that “Putin did not make any invitation,” and that “this is normal, since it is not his competence inviting the Pope in Russia.”
Putin greeted the Pope on behalf of Patriarch Kirill, who has championed ecumenical dialogue and aimed to improve the relations with Rome.
When still president of the department for the external relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Patriarch Kirill met three times with Benedict XVI in the Vatican from 2005 to 2007, and he was one of the main drafter of the Social Teaching of the Orthodox Church.
The bilateral relations between the Holy See and Russia are good, as much as the ecumenical relations between the Church of Rome and the Moscow Patriarchate.
In Rome over the past weeks, Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion has indicated the possibility of an ecumenical meeting between Pope Francis and the Patriarch Kirill in a neutral territory.
Commenting on his words, Archbishop of Moscow Paolo Pezzi said that he finds that “the wish of organizing this meeting is growing, and this is a new fact came out by the meeting between Hilarion and Pope Francis” that took place earlier this month on Nov. 13.
At the end of this week's discussion with Putin, Pope Francis gave the Russian leader a mosaic representing a glance of Vatican gardens, while Putin gave Pope Francis a classical icon, the “Madonna of Vladimir” also know as “Madonna of tenderness.”
Putin asked Pope Francis if he liked the icon and, after the Pope’s affirmative answer, he made the Orthodox sign of cross and kissed the icon. The Pope kissed the icon after him.
Archbishop Pezzi described the meeting as “really positive” for both the Russian president and the pontiff.
Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop José H. Gomez blessed a plaza dedicated to Archbishop Oscar Romero at a Los Angeles Park Nov. 23, praising the peaceful vision of the murdered Salvadoran archbishop.
“This gathering today is such a beautiful witness to his memory. My friends, this is what Archbishop Romero lived for,” Archbishop Gomez said Nov. 23 at MacArthur Park in Central Los Angeles.
“To see the rich and poor, the powerful and the humble – to see people of many races and nations – all standing together as one human family. As brothers and sisters, children of God. Living in freedom, justice and in peace.”
Archbishop Romero became head of the Archdiocese of San Salvador in 1977 and was a vocal critic of the human rights abuses of the repressive Salvadoran government. He was shot and killed in 1980 while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel.
No one has been prosecuted for his assassination, but right-wing death squads are suspected.
In Los Angeles on Saturday, Archbishop Gomez said the slain archbishop lived for “the vision of the world as God created it to be.”
“This is the vision he gave his life for,” the Los Angeles archbishop added.
The plaza dedication also unveiled a bronze statue of the Salvadoran archbishop. The statue is six-and-a-half feet tall and 450 pounds in weight. Its creator is Salvadoran artist Joaquin Serrano, the Southern California public radio station KPCC reports.
The Salvadoran American Leadership and Education Fund sponsored the statute at the Monseñor Oscar Romero Memorial Plaza.
“Monsignor Romero represents for us a symbol of hope, someone who fought for the right things,” the fund’s executive director, Carlos Vaquerano, told KPCC. “He was a very spiritual guy. He wasn't a politician. You know, he was just the archbishop for the poor.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti was among the dignitaries at the ceremony.
Archbishop Gomez encouraged the crowd to work “in Archbishop Romero’s name” for human life, liberty, dignity and immigration reform. He referred to Archbishop Romero as a “martyr” and prayed that God bless the park.
“May this beautiful plaza be a sanctuary in the heart of our city,” he prayed. “May it be a place of peace where our families can gather and our children can play, a place where we can all know the warmth of friendship and community.”
“Give us the courage to stand with the poor and build a city of truth and love,” his prayer continued.
He also urged the crowd to remember “our Filipino brothers and sisters” suffering in the aftermath of the massive Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country in early November and killed over 5,000 people.
Rome, Italy, Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto reflected at the close of the Year of Faith that many visible fruits can already been seen, but that the true depth of these will not be known until coming years.
With “the most important things in our life, the fruits are seen much, much later,” noted Cardinal Collins in a Nov. 21 interview with CNA.
The Canadian prelate was present in Rome to participate in the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Pontifical Canadian College.
Retired pontiff Benedict XVI declared the Year of Faith from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013 to renew the Catholic faithful and to help restore God's presence in the world.
Commenting on the effects of the year in the Church, said that “it's hard to tell right now because we're just coming to the end of it,” and that “it takes time,” but “eventually the different things that are experienced will grow more and more.”
“I think that's what we'll be finding in the years to come,” reflected the cardinal, explaining that already “people have been brought closer to an appreciation of their faith.”
As one who oversees the Canadian College of Rome, Cardinal Collins also spoke of the significance of celebrating such an important anniversary at the close of a year dedicated to the virtue of Faith.
It is “certainly” important “as a year of faith and a time where we think about studying our faith and also living it out,” he observed, highlighting that “that's what people who come to study are meant to do.”
The Pontifical Canadian College was founded in Rome in 1888, and is a residence for Canadian and Sulpician priests who come to pursue graduate studies in various universities in the Eternal City, and where priests prepare a license or a doctorate in one of the ecclesiastical sciences.
“It's not just an intellectual, gaining a knowledge of the faith,” the Cardinal reflected, “but also learning how to really be transformed by an experience of Christ our Lord and then going out and serving.”
The priests who study at the college he noted, are “sent to learn but also to experience and then to come back and evangelize. So that's the key thing about what they are doing here.”
Cardinal Collins revealed that his diocese planned to celebrate the close of the Year of Faith with a special Mass held at the country’s oldest parish, St. Paul's Basilica, in order to create “a great gathering of people from around the diocese.”
Speaking also of the fruits of 17th World Youth Day held in Toronto in 2002, the cardinal stated that the effects after 13 years, are clearly visible, including an increase in vocations.
“We've seen a great experience of youth ministry, it's been very much strengthened,” he observed, highlighting that “there's been a real strengthening of the Church and a real engagement.”
The “involvement of people in different vocations,” emphasized the Cardinal, is one example of this strength, stating that this “stepping forward” also “depends a lot on how you take part in World Youth Day.”
“If you go just for the big celebrations it doesn't have much effect, but it's a long preparation before and then really engaging for years to come, but that really makes all the difference.”
Turning to different challenges which the Church in Canada currently faces, Cardinal Collins revealed that the “great degree of secularism” is a particular concern, adding that “it may well perhaps be even more secular than in the American context.”
“A lot of the popular culture is very much affected by a great deal of individualism and things of that type.”
He also stated that in the area of the family, something that is “common to our Western culture” is “the difficulty” of “people making permanent commitments.”
“That's true with the priesthood and religious life and that's true of the family.”
“I think that it is very important for people to joyfully enter into the permanent commitments that can transform their lives and to do so with great joy and courage,” he said, “living one day at a time in the commitment that they've undertaken.”
“We need to help people to experience the joy of long-term experiences,” the cardinal continued, stressing the importance of celebrating “anniversaries of marriage or anniversaries of ordinations” because “it's a great strength for the whole community.”
Despite these various challenges, Cardinal Collins affirmed that the Church in Canada is “strong,” and “very vibrant.”
“We've had to open a major parish every year for the last 10 years and we've got 3 more on the way coming in,” he explained, “so it's a very vibrant reality which, in our case, is helped also by a great deal of immigration. So that's a great richness as well.”
Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has come under fire from past U.S. ambassadors who say the move will diminish its influence, though State Department officials defend the decision as good for security.
Former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson said the embassy’s planned move to the grounds of the U.S. Embassy to Italy is “another manifestation of the antipathy of this administration both to Catholics and to the Vatican – and to Christians in the Middle East.”
“This is a key post for intermediation in so many sovereignties but particularly in the Middle East,” Nicholson told CatholicVote.org. “This is anything but a good time to diminish the stature of this post. To diminish the stature of this post is to diminish its influence.”
Nicholson, who served as ambassador from 2001-2005 under President George W. Bush, said that the State Department has sought for years to relocate the embassy.
“It came up when I was an ambassador. I explained the folly of this and it went away. But now they seem determined to do this,” he said.
The U.S. did not establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican until 1984, in part because of anti-Catholic sentiment.
The U.S. embassy to the Vatican is presently outside Vatican City in Rome. After its move, it will share a location with the U.S. Embassy to Italy and the U.S. Mission to U.N. Agencies in Rome.
Nicole Thompson of the State Department’s press relations office told CNA Nov. 26 that the relocation will take place in late 2014 or early 2015.
Thompson cited security as the primary motive for the move. Security was reviewed after an attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, killed the U.S. ambassador to the country. Thompson also said the move will save on operating costs.
“We reject any suggestion that this decision, made for security and administrative reasons, constitutes a downgrading of our relations with the Holy See,” she said.
Thompson said the State Department had discussed the move with Vatican officials who did not object to the move.
“The United States continues to regard the Holy See as a key bilateral partner in promoting religious freedom, protecting religious minorities, advancing humanitarian causes, and mitigating conflicts around the world,” Thompson said. “We look forward to continuing our high levels of engagement with the Holy See.”
However, the planned move has drawn criticism from former U.S. ambassadors Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, Raymond Flynn and Thomas Melady.
Ken Hackett, the present U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and his immediate predecessor Miguel Diaz, both Obama appointees, support the move, according to John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
A senior State Department official stated during a Nov. 25 press conference call that the U.S. ambassador’s residence will not change its location. The official said the U.S. diplomatic presence will remain “one of the largest missions accredited to the Holy See” and diplomatic staff will not be reduced.
The official said the Vatican embassy’s new location will be in the same compound as the embassy to Italy, but it will have a separate building and separate entrances.
The Embassy to the Holy See on Nov. 27 rejected as “untrue” reports that the embassy would close.