Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has welcomed Pope Francis’ new commission to fight the sexual abuse of minors, pledging his help and support in its mission.
“Abuse of minors is a sin and a crime, and every step must be taken to eradicate this blight. Such abuse is especially grave when committed by anyone in ministry in our Church,” the Louisville, Ky., archbishop said Dec. 5.
Earlier in the week, Pope Francis approved a proposal for a new commission to advise him on how to protect children from abuse and how to help abuse victims.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, a member of an eight-cardinal council advising the Pope, explained at a Dec. 5 press conference that the commission will study current child protection programs and suggest new initiatives for the Roman curia, in collaboration with the bishops and episcopal conferences.
The commission will consist of international experts in relevant child protection fields, including psychology.
Archbishop Kurtz promised the “full cooperation” of the U.S. bishops with the commission.
“Our prayers are with Pope Francis and this commission, and we are grateful for this effort,” he said.
Sexual abuse is a “horrific problem,” the archbishop emphasized, and the announcement of the initiative shows “a broad-based approach” that is considering changes in Vatican procedures regarding abuse. Possible changes include how the Church responds to abuse accusations against clergy, how to train future priests, and other pastoral efforts.
Archbishop Kurtz said the sexual abuse of minors is a problem throughout society, adding that “every effort must be made to protect children, particularly within the Church.”
He explained that the U.S. bishops have learned many important measures to help prevent abuse, including background checks, education of children and adults on child safety, the “swift removal of offenders,” and the need for Church authorities and civil authorities to work together.
“While these efforts have resulted in a dramatic reduction in abuse cases, much work remains to be done,” he said.
Cardinal O’Malley stated at the press conference that Pope Francis will soon release a document with details about the commission.
The commission is not intended to take over the role of the individual bishop in establishing diocesan policy, the cardinal said. Rather, the commission aims to create a model for practices that adequately respond to abuse.
Rome, Italy, Dec 8, 2013 (CNA) -
The children at the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome – known locally as the “Pope's Hospital” – are enthusiastic about Pope Francis' Christmas visit, scheduled for December 21.
In statements to CNA, the president of the hospital, Giuseppe Profiti, said news of the visit has been “joyfully welcomed by the personnel and has spread quickly among the young patients and their families as well.”
The Holy Father’s visit responds to the call of these children, who sent drawings to the Pope for his inaugural Mass on March 19 inviting him to come to the hospital.
The Pope is very popular among the children at the hospital, who know many details about his life, his home country of Argentina, his words and homilies, and his favorite soccer team.
The Pontiff has received letters from many of the children.
“Dear Pope Francis,” reads one letter, “I would like to ask you to pray for all the sick children, not only for those at this hospital but for those all over the world. All children ought to be at home and not in the hospital.”
During a recent visit to a parish on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis said that if he could perform one miracle, it would be “to heal children, because it pains me to see children suffer.”
The papal visit continues an esteemed tradition dating back to 1958, when Pope John XXIII visited the hospital for the first time. Four years later, he returned to show his concern for the children.
Pope Paul VI visited the hospital in January 1968. Eleven years later, Pope John Paul II continued the tradition. Pope Benedict XVI visited the hospital in September 2005, during the first three months of his pontificate, in order “to bear witness to the love of Jesus for children.”
The Bambino Gesu hospital was built in 1869 and is the oldest pediatric hospital in Italy.
Vatican City, Dec 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis focused his Sunday Angelus message on the importance of Mary as a model for the Christian life.
“The Virgin Mary is not far from this love (of God): all of her life, all of her being is a ‘yes’ to God,” he said to the crowds filling St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8.
“Let us look at her, and let us look to her,” encouraged Pope Francis, “in order to be more humble, and even more courageous in following the Word of God, to receive the tender embrace of her son Jesus, an embrace that gives us life, hope, and peace.”
Mary’s ‘yes’ to God “was certainly not easy for her!” he exclaimed. “When the angel called her ‘full of grace’ she remained ‘troubled,’ because in her humility she felt unworthy before God.”
Despite her concerns, “Mary listens, obeying interiorly and responds, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word’.”
This witness serves as an example for every Christian. “With great joy the Church contemplates Mary as ‘full of grace’,” Pope Francis explained. He encouraged the crowds to repeat with him, “full of grace!”
Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, but “we too… are chosen by God to live a life of holiness, free from sin. It is a project of love that God renews every time we come close to him, especially in the sacraments,” the Pope said.
“Mary sustains us in our journey towards Christmas, because she teaches us to live this time of Advent in waiting for the Lord.”
Pope Francis recalled Mary’s humble origins.
“The Gospel of Luke presents us with a young girl from Nazareth, a little place in Galilee, on the periphery of the Roman Empire and also on the periphery of Israel. Yet upon her was the gaze of the Lord, who chose her to be the mother of His Son.”
“The mystery of this young girl from Nazareth, which is in the heart of God, is not irrelevant to us,” reflected the pontiff. “In fact, God places his gaze of love on every man and every woman.”
The Pope noted that the second Sunday of Advent this year falls on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
“On this feast day, then, contemplating our Immaculate Mother, we also recognize our true destiny, our deepest vocation: to be loved, to be transformed by love.”
The pontiff then led the crowds in the traditional Angelus prayer. Afterward, he greeted the pilgrim groups present. He said that he was particularly close to the Church in North America, which on Sunday “recalls the foundation of its first parish, 350 years ago, ‘Notre Dame de Quebec’.”
Pope Francis concluded by asking everyone to join him in prayer later Sunday afternoon at the Piazza di Spanga, at the base of Rome’s famous Spanish Steps. There, he will follow an ancient tradition of praying at the base of a monument to Mary to mark the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Pope ended his remarks by wishing the crowds a good feast day and a good lunch.
Rome, Italy, Dec 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - On a day dedicated to celebrating the Mother of God, Pope Francis made a special trip in Rome to pray before a traditional statue of Mary.
“Enkindle in all of us a renewed desire for holiness: may our words glow with the splendor of truth, may our works resound with the song of charity, may purity and chastity live in our bodies and in our hearts, may our lives express the presence of all the beauty of the gospel,” he prayed on Dec. 8.
Pope Francis had crossed the city to Piazza di Spagna, where on the top of a tall ancient Roman column stands a statue of the Virgin Mary under the title of “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.”
On the eighth of December every year, the Catholic Church celebrates the solemn feast of Mary’s conception without sin. It is customary for the Pope to pay an annual visit to the image, which was originally dedicated in 1857.
The pontiff stood at the base of the column, which was surrounded by flowers. He bowed his head as a choir sang and asked for Mary’s intercession under her various titles.
“Help us to attentively listen to the voice of the Lord: let not the cry of the poor ever leave us indifferent, may the suffering of the sick and of those who are in need not find us inattentive, may the solitude of the elderly and the weakness of children move us, may every human life be loved and respected by all,” the pontiff asked.
“Don’t let us forget the meaning of our earthly journey: may the noble light of faith illumine our days, the consoling strength of hope orient our steps, the consoling warmth of love animate our heart, may our eyes always remain fixed there, in God, where there is true joy.”
After his prayers in Piazza di Spagna, Pope Francis was scheduled to travel by car to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, which houses the Byzantine Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” or “Protectress of the Roman People.” The Pope has gone to pray before this image before, and had it brought to St. Peter's Square in September during a prayer vigil for peace.