Bangkok, Thailand, Feb 1, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
East Asian Catholics celebrating the Lunar New Year this weekend are focused on family ties and charity, particularly in the dioceses of Thailand.
“Family is the nucleus and the heritage of Asian spirituality and culture,” Bishop Joseph Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima, a city 160 miles northeast of Bangkok, told CNA Jan. 31.
He said that for some Thai Catholics, the importance of the Lunar New Year celebration is derived from and influenced by Chinese culture.
Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, fell this year on Jan. 31, and celebrations continue until the Lantern Festival, observed Feb. 14. Some parishes will observe the new year on Sunday, Feb. 2, for the sake of those who work or have to travel long distances to come to Mass.
The event is celebrated culturally, and Catholics observe it with Masses of thanksgiving, blessings of cemeteries, “agape” meals, and sharing charitable gifts.
The festivities unite families in offering thanksgiving and in praying for their predecessors' souls.
Bishop Sirisut commented that the immigration of Chinese families to Thailand has influenced Thai culture, with much of the Lunar New Year celebrations representing an inculturation into Catholic spirituality and faith.
The bishop stressed that fellowship is the key which unites families in “prayer, communion, and sharing” during the new year festivities.
Following Masses of thanksgiving, families gathered for the distribution of “angpao”, or red envelopes containing gifts of money accompanied by oranges, which symbolize good luck and are given especially to children.
Bishop Silvio Siripong Charatsri of Chanthaburi said Mass at Sacred Heart parish in Sriracha, during which he preached on the importance of the family and distributed angpao to the faithful.
A local catechist, Aroonpraha Sukasee, told CNA that the Lunar New Year is focused on “prayer and family reunion dinners” among people of all religions in Thailand, but added that some practices of the celebrations are based on “taboos and superstitions” that “do not fall in line with Catholic teaching.”
She said she looks forward to the upcoming synod on the family, to be held in Rome in October, for what it might have to say on the horizons facing pastoral ministry in such multi-cultural situations as are found in Thailand and throughout southeast Asia.
Lunar New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice; Jan. 31 began the Year of the Horse, in the 12-year “Chinese zodiac.”
Turin, Italy, Feb 1, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis may visit the Italian city of Turin in 2015 for the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, and for an exposition of the Shroud of Turin, believed to be Christ's burial cloth.
The news has been circulating this week in Turin, the saint's adopted home where he founded the Salesians, focusing on his feast day, celebrated Jan. 31. St. John Bosco dedicated himself to the betterment of the youth in Turin, and founded the Salesian order to educate the young poor and to prepare them for an occupation.
His 200th birthday will be celebrated Aug. 16, 2015, and a reliquary containing a portion of his right arm has been touring the world since 2010 in preparation for the anniversary.
The Salesian order founded by St. John Bosco is found in 131 countries at more than 1,800 apostolates. The order includes more than 15,000 members, of whom 10,500 are priests.
Pope Francis has already shown his appreciation for the order with his Jan. 19 visit to Rome's Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Praetorian Barracks parish, which is staffed by Salesians. The parish was founded by St. John Bosco a year before his death, and staffs an attached boarding school.
Behind the basilica are the “camarette,” or “little rooms” where St. John Bosco stayed on his last trip to Rome, when the parish was dedicated, from April 30 to May 18, 1887.
It is located near the Termini train and metro stations, and serves an area filled with migrants, refugees, homeless persons, and itinerants.
Having gone to Sacred Heart at the Praetorian Barracks, Pope Francis may now show his support for the Salesians by visiting their home of Turin, in northern Italy some 90 miles from Milan.
According to Torinese media, Pope Francis would visit both Turin and Milan, which will hold the International Expo in 2015.
The Pope met Jan. 17 with Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, who is managing the expo, along with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The Salesians will host several events at the expo.
Should he visit Turin, the Pope would be expected to visit Valdocco, the Salesians' headquarters and site of St. John Bosco's burial; the Shroud of Turin; and perhaps to visit extended family – Pope Francis' father was born in Portacomaro, a town an hour outside of Turin.
According to a Salesian source, the Pope would go to Turin May 24, for the feast of Mary Auxiliatrix, patron of the Salesian Sisters.
Vatican City, Feb 1, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis held an audience with missionary families from around the world Feb. 1, encouraging them to spread the gospel with great charity.
“Evangelize with love, carry to all the love of God. Tell everyone you meet on the streets of your mission (and) that God loves man as he is, even with his limitations, his mistakes and his sins,” the Pope urged members of the Neocatechumenal Way.
Saturday’s meeting in the Paul VI audience hall included almost 8,000 members from the organization dedicated to helping people grow in their faith through parish-based communities, including families, seminarians and priests. Nearly 30 cardinals and bishops were also present.
Pope Francis thanked the participants for their “joy in faith” and “ardor of Christian testimony.”
“My thoughts go in a special way to the families who will travel to different parts of the world to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel. The Church is grateful to you for your generosity! Thank you for all that you do in the Church and in the world!” he exclaimed.
The Neocatechumenal Way is sending hundreds of families on mission throughout the world, particularly to countries in Asia such as China, India, and Vietnam. People at various parts of the audience hall waved flags and erupted in cheers as the names of their mission countries were announced.
The Pontiff then offered some words of advice to those being sent to evangelize.
“Have the greatest care to build and conserve the internal communion of the particular Churches where you will go to work,” he emphasized.
“The (Neocatechumenal) Way has its own charism, its own dynamic, a gift that like all the gifts of the Spirit has a profound ecclesial dimension… (but) at times it could be better not to live in all the details of what your journey would require, in order to ensure the unity amongst brethren that forms one ecclesial community, which you always must feel a part of.”
Pope Francis also encouraged the evangelists to have special concern for those who are weakest.
“The Neocatechumenal Way, as a journey of discovery of one’s Baptism is a difficult path, along which a brother or sister may find unexpected difficulties. In these cases, the exercise of patience and mercy on the part of the community is a sign of maturity in the faith.”
Moreover, the Pope noted, a person’s freedom must always be respected.
“The freedom of each individual must not be forced, and you should also respect the eventual choice of those who decide to seek outside the Way, other forms of Christian life to help him grow in response to the call of the Lord.”
Above all, said Pope Francis, those who evangelize should remember well that “the Spirit of God always arrives prior to us!”
“Be messengers and witnesses to the infinite goodness and inexhaustible mercy of the Father,” he exhorted them.
Following his remarks, Pope Francis met with the groups going to China and India. He then blessed the crosses that the missionary families will take with them on their journeys.
Christopher and Gina Crasto, along with their three children, were present at today’s meeting with Pope Francis. The family from the west coast of India will go on a mission this year to the small town of Ranchi on India’s east coast.
“We came here to receive this mandate, to be sent on mission, but today we received much more than that: we received Jesus Christ in the presence of the Holy Father,” Christopher Crastro told CNA.
“We are blessed to be part of the mission, to be part of Holy Mother Church,” he said.
Crastro has been part of the Neocatechumenal Way since he was a child, when his own parents joined. Through the organization, he said, “God has given us the possibility to live as a Christian family, to find Jesus Christ, to meet Jesus Christ in the Church.”
“I never dreamed that we would meet Pope Francis,” he continued, adding that the meeting with the Pope reconfirmed his own desire to live a missionary life. “Today I find myself ready and willing to go anywhere where the Church needs me, where I can find fulfillment in preaching the Word of God.”