Archive of April 7, 2014

Transcript: Pope Francis' March 31 interview with Belgian youth

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA) - Pope Francis recently gave an interview at the Vatican to some youth from Flanders, Belgium, accompanied by the Bishop of Ghent, Luc Van Looy. The Holy See Press office has released the text of the March 31 interview in Italian. The young people posed their questions in English and the Pope responded in Italian.

Below is Catholic News Agency’s translation, done by the agency's Alan Holdren and Kerri Lenartowick.

They are part of a group of young people that began during World Youth Day in Rio, because in Rio they wished to communicate also to the other young Flemish what they had done there; and they are a group of 12 - the others are here outside, by the way - they also came with…

Well I would like to say hello to them, the others, afterwards, yes!

Well we can organize that … And they are truly carrying out this task of entering, penetrating into media as young people, starting with their Christian inspiration. It is also in that sense that they would like to pose some questions to you. She, on the other hand, is not a believer - they are thus four from that group - she is not a believer, but it seemed important to us also, because we are a very secular society in Flanders, and we know that we have a message for everyone. So, she was very happy…

I like it! We are all brothers and sisters!

Truly, indeed. The first question is: Thank you for having accepted our request, but why did you do so?

When I hear that a young man or woman is restless, I feel that it is my duty to serve these young people, to give a service to this restlessness, because this restlessness is like a seed, and later it will go on a give fruit. And, in this moment I feel that with you I am doing a service to that which is most precious, in this moment, which is your restlessness.

(Boy) Everyone in the world seeks to be happy. But we asked ourselves, are you happy? And, why?

Absolutely, absolutely, I am happy. I’m happy because … I don’t know why … maybe because I have a job, I am not unemployed, I have work, a job as a shepherd!  I am happy because I found my path in life and walking this path makes me happy. And it is also a serene happiness, because at this age it is not the same happiness as that of a young person, there is a difference. A certain interior peace, a great peace, a happiness that also comes with age. And also with a journey that has always had problems, even now there are problems, but this happiness doesn’t go away with the problems, no. It sees the problems, it suffers them and then moves on. It does something to resolve them and moves ahead. But in the depths of the heart, there is this peace and this happiness. It is a grace of God, for me, truly. It is a grace. I don’t deserve it at all.

(Boy) You have shown your great love of the poor and the wounded in many ways. Why is this so important for you?

Because this is the heart of the Gospel. I am a believer. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  And, the core of the Gospel is the proclamation to the poor. When you read the Beatitudes, for example, or you read Matthew 25, you see there how Jesus is clear in this. The core of the Gospel is this. And Jesus says of himself, “I came to announce to the poor, freedom, health, the grace of God…” To the poor. Those who need salvation, that need to be welcomed in society. Then, if you read the Gospel, you see that Jesus had a certain preference for the marginalized. The lepers, the widows, orphaned children, the blind… marginalized people. And also the great sinners… and this is my consolation! Yes, because He is not even scared of sin! When he came across a person like Zaccheus, who was a thief, or like Matthew, who was a traitor to his heritage (patria) for money, He was not afraid! He looked at the them and he chose them. Also this is a poverty: the poverty of sin. For me, the heart of the Gospel is of the poor. I heard two months ago that someone said, for this reason (he is) speaking of the poor, because of this preference: “This Pope is a communist.” No! This is a banner of the Gospel, not of Communism: of the Gospel! But poverty without ideology, poverty… And for this reason I believe that the poor are at the center of the proclamation of Jesus. It’s enough just to read it. The problem is that then this attitude toward the poor sometimes, in history, has been ideologized. No, it is not like that: ideology is another thing. It is like this in the Gospel: it is simple, very simple. Also in the Old Testament, you see this. And it’s for this reason that I always place it at the center.

(Girl) I don’t believe in God, but your actions and your ideals inspire me. Perhaps you have a message for all of us, for the young Christians, for people who don’t believe or have other beliefs or believe in a different way?

For me, one must seek, in a way of speaking, authenticity. And for me, authenticity is this: I am speaking with my brothers. We are all brothers. Believers, non-believers, or those of one religious confession or another, Jews, Muslims… we are all brothers. Man is at the center of history, and this for me is very important: man is at the center. In this moment of history, man has been thrown out of the center, he has slipped out towards the periphery, and at the center - at least at this point - is power, money.  And we must work for people, for man and woman, who are the image of God. Why young people? Because the young - I go back to what I said at the beginning - are the seed that will bear fruit along the path. But also in relation to that which I was saying now: in this world, where at the center is power, money, young people are chased away. Children are chased away - we don’t want kids, we want fewer of them, small families. Children aren’t wanted. The elderly are chased away. So many elderly die by way of a hidden euthanasia, because they are not cared for and they die. And now young people are chased away. Think that in Italy, for example, youth unemployment from 25 years or younger is almost 50 percent. In Spain, it is 60 percent. And, in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, it is nearly 70 percent… I don’t know what the unemployment rate in Belgium might be…

 … a bit less: 5-10 percent.

That’s small. It is small, thanks be to God. But you think about what a generation of young people who don’t have work means! You can say to me, “But they can eat, because their society feeds them.” Yes, but this is not sufficient, because they don’t have the experience of the dignity of bringing bread home. And this is the moment of the “passion of the youth.” We have entered into a culture of waste. That which does not serve this globalization is discarded. The elderly, children, young people. But in this way one discards the future of a people, because in the children and youth and elderly is the future of a people. The children and the young people, because they will carry history forward: the elderly are those who must give us the memory of a people, how the path of a people has gone. If they are discarded, we will have a group of people without strength, because they will not have many young people and children, and (they will be) without memory. And, this is very grave!  And, for this I believe that we must help young people so that they might have the role in society that in this difficult historical moment is needed.

But do you have a specific, very concrete message for us, so that we - perhaps - might inspire other people as you do? Even people who don’t believe?

You’ve said a very important word: “concrete.”  It is an extremely important word, because in the concreteness of life you move forward. With ideas alone, you don’t move forward! This is very important. And, I believe that you young people must move forward with this concreteness in life. Often also with actions tied to situations, because you must take this, this… but also with strategies… I will tell you something. I have spoken, for my work, also in Buenos Aires, with so many young politicians who came by to say hello to me. And I am happy because they - whether from the left or the right - they spoke a new music, a new style of politics. And, this gives me hope. And, I believe that youth, in this moment, must take the tempo and move ahead. Be courageous! This gives me hope. I don’t know if I responded: concreteness in actions.

(Boy) When I read the newspapers, when I look around, I ask myself if the human race is truly capable of taking care of this world and of the human race itself. Do you share my doubt? (Translator) … We discard, as you said. Do you also feel sometimes, like doubting and saying to yourself, “But, where is God in all of this?”

I ask myself two questions about this question: Where is God and where is man? It’s the first question that, in the Gospel account God poses to man, “Adam, where are you?” It is the first question to man. And, also I ask myself now, “You, man of the 21st century, where are you?” And, this makes me think of another question, “You, God, where are you?” When man finds himself, he seeks God. Maybe he is unable to find him, but walks on a path of honesty, seeking truth, on a path of goodness and a path of beauty. For me, a young person who loves truth and seeks it, love goodness and is good, is a good person, and seeks and loves beauty, is on the good path and will surely find God! Sooner or later, he will find him! But the path is long and some people do not find it, in life. They don’t find it in a conscious way. But they are so true and honest with themselves, so good and so loving of beauty that in the end they have a very mature personality, capable of an encounter with God, which is always a grace. Because the encounter with God is a grace. We cannot make the path… Some find it in other persons… It is a path to take up… Everyone must find it personally. God is not found by being heard of (from a distance) nor can you pay to find God. It is a personal path. We must find him this way. I don’t know if I have responded to your question…

We are all human and we make errors. What have your errors taught you?

I have erred, erred… In the Bible, it says, in the Book of Wisdom, that the most just man errs seven times a day! … That is to say that everyone errs… They say that man is the only animal that falls twice in the same place, but he doesn’t learn immediately from his errors. One can say, “ I don’t err,” but he doesn’t improve. This takes you to vanity, arrogance, pride… I think that the errors also in my life have been and are great teachers of life. Great teachers: they teach you so much. They humiliate you also because you can think yourself to be a superman, a superwoman, and then you make a mistake, and this humiliates you and puts you in your place. I wouldn’t say that from all of my mistakes I have learned. No, I believe that from some I haven’t learned because I am stubborn, and it isn’t easy to learn. But from so many errors I have learned, and this has done me good. It has done me good. And also recognizing errors is important. I erred here, I erred there, I err there… And also being attentive not to return to the same error, to the same water-well… It is a good thing, the dialogue with our own errors, because they teach us. And the important thing is that they help you to become a bit more humble, humility does so much good, so much good to people, to us, it does us good. I don’t know if this was the answer…

(Translator) Do you have a concrete example of how you learned from an error? She (the girl who asked the question) ventures…

No, I will tell you. I wrote it in a book, it is public. For example, in guiding the life of the Church. I was appointed superior very young, and I made so many errors with authoritarianism, for example. I was too authoritarian, at 36 years old… And then I learned that one must dialogue, you must listen to what the others think… But you don’t learn once and for all, no. It is a long road. This is a concrete example. And, I learned from my slightly authoritarian attitude, as a religious superior, to find a path to not be so much like that, or to be more… but I still err! Is she happy?... Does she want to venture to say something else?

(Girl) I see God in others. Where do you see God?

I seek - seek! - to find him in all of life’s circumstances. I seek… I find him in the reading of the Bible, I find him in the celebration of the Sacraments, in prayer and also in my work I seek to find him, in the people, in different people… Most of all, I find him in the sick. The sick do me good, because I ask myself, when I am with a sick person, why this one yes and me no? And with those in prison I find him. Why is this person incarcerated and not me? And I speak with God, “You always make injustices, why to this person and not to me?” And, I find God in this, but always in dialogue. It does me good to look for him during the entire day. I am unable to do it, but I try to do this, to be in dialogue. I am not able to do it precisely like that. The saints did this well, I still don’t … but I am on the path.

(Girl) Since I don’t believe in God, I am unable to understand how you pray or why you pray. Can you explain how you pray, in your role as Pontiff, and why you pray? The most concrete way possible…

How I pray… Often I take the Bible, I read it a bit, then I leave it and I let myself be looked at by the Lord. That is the most common idea in my prayer. I allow myself to be looked at by Him. And I feel - but it isn’t sentimentalism - I feel deeply the things that the Lord tells me. Sometimes he doesn’t speak… nothing, empty, empty, empty… but patiently I am there, and I pray this way… I am seated, I pray seated, because it hurts me to kneel, and sometimes I fall asleep in prayer… It is also a way of praying, as a son with the Father, and this is important. I feel like a son with the Father. And why do I pray? “Why” as a cause or for whom do I pray?


I pray, because I need to. This I feel, which pushes me, as if God called me to speak. The first thing. And I pray for people, when I meet people that strike me because they are sick or have problems, or there are problems that… for example, war… Today I was with the Nuncio of Syria, and he showed me photographs… and I’m sure that this afternoon I will pray for this, for those people… I was shown photographs of those who have died of hunger, their bones were like this… at this time, I cannot understand this, when we have (everything) necessary to feed the entire world, that there are people dying of hunger- for me it’s terrible! And this makes me pray, precisely for these people.

I have my fears. What are you afraid of?

Of myself! Fear… Look, in the Gospel, Jesus repeats often, “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!” So many time he says it. And, why? Because he knows that fear is a, I would say, normal thing. We are fearful of life, we are afraid before the challenges, we are afraid before God… All of us are afraid, everyone. You should not be worried about being afraid. You must feel this but not be afraid and then think, “Why am I scared?” And, before God and before yourself, seek to clarify the situation or ask help of another. Fear is not a good counselor, because it gives you bad advice. It pushes you onto a path that is not right. For this reason, Jesus said so often, “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!” Then, we must know ourselves, all of us. Everyone must know himself and seek where the zone is in which we may err the most, and have a bit of fear of that area, because there is bad fear and good fear. Good fear is like prudence. It is a prudent attitude. “Look, you are weak in this, this and this, be prudent and don’t fall.” Bad fear is that which you say and which nullifies you a bit, erases you. It nullifies you, it doesn’t allow you to do something. This is bad and it must be thrown out.

(Translator) She (the girl) has posed this question because sometimes it is not easy in Belgium, for example, to speak of one’s own faith. This was for her also a way, because so many don’t believe, and she said, “I want to pose this question because I also want to have the strength to bear witness.”

There it is, now I understand the root of the question. Bearing witness with simplicity. Because if you go with your faith as a flag, like the crusades, and you go out and proselytize, that doesn’t work. The best way is testimony, but humble, “I am like this,” with humility, without triumphalism. That is another sin of ours, another bad attitude, triumphalism. Jesus was not triumphalist and also history teaches us not to be triumphalist, because the great triumphalists were defeated. Testimony: this is a key, this question. I give it with humility, without proselytizing. I offer it. It is so. And this is not scary. You are not going on the crusades.

(Translator) There is a final question…

The last one? It is the terrible one, the last one, always…

Our last question, do you have a question for us?

The question I want to ask you is not original. I take it from the Gospel. But I think that after hearing it, maybe it will be the right one for you in the this moment. Where is your treasure? This is the question. Where does your heart rest? On what treasure does your heart rest? Because there where your treasure is will be your life. The heart is attached to the treasure, to a treasure that all of us have: power, money, pride, so many… or goodness, beauty, the will to do good… There can be so many treasures. Where is your treasure? This is the question I would like to ask you, but you will have to give the response yourselves, alone! At your home…

They will let you know by letter…

Have them give it to the bishop… Thanks! Thank you, thanks! And pray for me.

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University course highlights role of media in evangelization

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Santa Croce University in Rome is offering a multifaceted communications course, emphasizing the importance of the field for evangelization, and preparing students for difficulties they may encounter.

“I would say that if Jesus had lived in the 21st century, he would have certainly used television, Twitter, Internet to communicate himself, because this is lived-in real world,” Fr. Sergio Tapio Velasco said in an inverview with CNA.

“He lives in the real world, and his Incarnation is real. So, as Jesus used, let's say, the common techniques of his era when he was here…He would have used them today.”

Fr. Velasco is originally from Mexico, but has been living and working in Rome for the last 20 years, and is in charge of the public speaking and media training program for the Church Communications School at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Often referred to by its Latin name, Santa Croce is a university under the Curial Congregation for Catholic Education and is overseen by Opus Dei.
The course being offered is designed to train students to become directors of communication, and educates them by providing basic knowledge in all areas from the office, to radio and television interviews, as well as how to operate a camera.

Driving the program is the idea that when students come to the university, they come for a three year study period in order to get their license, Fr. Velasco explained, highlighting that “in the second year they have a public speaking subject.”

“Week by week, they will start delivering the speeches to defend some concept of Catholic doctrine, but not only,” he noted, revealing that “once we train them within a semester on public speaking, we start in the third year of their studies with this media training program.”

Each week “we give them a tough topic of the media, like natural marriage against gay marriage, or abortion and pro-life,” he continued, “and so we try to make them face real problems that they will face in the future, in communications.”

“And then week by week, what we try to do is tell them, ‘Well, today we will train you – for example – on giving simple and concise answers…’ so, little by little, within a semester, they receive at least the theoretical and practical instruments that will be useful for them in the future.”

Jorge Milan, who also teaches at Santa Croce as an associate professor of audio-visual communications, emphasized that the importance of combining both the technical and the humanistic side of media, so that students are given “the knowledge of all the Church,” but also practical skills.

“I try to prepare my students to help the professionals of radio and television to do their job, so they to understand how to use a camera, how to edit in a computer, how to, for example, do debates in radio and television.”

This helps them, Milan went on to say, not only to speak about the Church “but also to help journalists to do their prepare a documentary with their bishops, because probably they will work in a communications office.”

By doing this, “they will be able to help the journalists when they want to do a documentary on some issue of the Dioceses, for example,” Milan observed, noting that the school “is for everybody: priests, seminarians, laypeople.”

Emphasizing how “the Church has been insisting since the Second Vatican Council on the need that we have of working on media, because it's very important,” Fr. Velasco insisted that although we cannot meet everyone in person, “through media communications I can meet thousands of people that in other circumstances would be impossible.”

“And that's important, no?” the priest expressed, highlighting that “It's a great” means “for spreading the Word of God.”

Referring to a professional seminar the university is hosting at the end of the month from April 28 – 30 in which participants will be updating their formation on Church communications, Fr. Velasco explained that the strategy will be to focus “on creating a cultural change.”

Among those slated to speak at the seminar are Cardinals Timothy Dolan who oversees the Archdiocese of New York, as well as other Church leaders who constantly deal with media and defend topics relating to the human being.


Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.

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Those who truly seek goodness will be led to God, Pope affirms

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his March 31 interview with Belgian communications students, Pope Francis gave a message to both believers and non-believers, stating that if one genuinely seeks beauty, they will find a path to the Lord.

“When man finds himself, he seeks God. Maybe he is unable to find him, but walks on a path of honesty, seeking truth, on a path of goodness and a path of beauty,” the pontiff said.

“For me, a young person who loves truth and seeks it, loves goodness and is good, is a good person, and seeks and loves beauty, is on the good path and will surely find God!”

Originally published April 4 on the Belgium website, the interview was given at the Vatican to 3 out of a group of 12 Flemish youth that formed during World Youth Day in Rio with the desire to communicate to other young people of Flanders what they had done there, and who were accompanied by the Bishop of Ghent, Lucas Van Looy.

Pope Francis’ words on beauty and goodness came as an answer to one young man’s question as to whether or not man is capable of caring for himself and the world, and as to where God is in the midst of a culture that discards even its own people.

“I ask myself two questions about this question: Where is God and where is man? It’s the first question that, in the Gospel account God poses to man, ‘Adam, where are you?’” the Pope responded, stating that “I ask myself now: ‘You, man of the 21st century, where are you?’”

Asking this question, the pontiff continued, also leads him to ask a second question: “You, God, where are you?” explaining that when man truly finds himself, he also finds the Lord.

Revealing his belief that a person will eventually find the Lord if they authentically search for truth and walk on the path of goodness, the Pope insisted that “Sooner or later, he will find him!”

“But the path is long and some people do not find it, in life. They don’t find it in a conscious way,” he continued, “but they are so true and honest with themselves, so good and so loving of beauty that in the end they have a very mature personality, capable of an encounter with God, which is always a grace.”

When asked if he had a specific message to send to youth in their same situations, as believers and non-believers, the Pope replied that “one must seek, in a way of speaking, authenticity. And for me, authenticity is this: I am speaking with my brothers.”

Highlighting how “We are all brothers. Believers, non-believers, or those of one religious confession or another, Jews, Muslims…we are all brothers,” the Roman pontiff observed that we live in a disposable society, and emphasized the need to recall how man is at the center of creation.

Speaking specifically of how the elderly and the youth are being thrown out, the Pope drew attention to the need to develop concrete solutions, “because in the concreteness of life you move forward.”

“I believe that youth, in this moment, must take the tempo and move ahead,” he said, “Be courageous! This gives me hope.”

Speaking of his emphasis on care of the poor, the Bishop of Rome responded to a question about why this is so important for him, stating that “this is the heart of the Gospel.”

“Jesus says of himself, ‘I came to announce to the poor, freedom, health, the grace of God…’ To the poor. Those who need salvation, that need to be welcomed in society,” the pontiff continued, adding that “if you read the Gospel, you see that Jesus had a certain preference for the marginalized.”

Recalling how he heard that a few months ago that someone referred to the attention he gives to the poor, saying “This Pope is a communist,” Pope Francis emphasized that “No! This is a banner of the Gospel, not of Communism: of the Gospel!”

“But poverty without ideology” he clarified, noting how “the problem is that then this attitude toward the poor sometimes, in history, has been idealized,” and adding that “No, it is not like that: ideology is another thing. It is like this in the Gospel: it is simple, very simple.”

During the interview Pope Francis also spoke of his own personal fears and lessons he has learned from his mistakes, as well as how he prays, and the reasons why he does it.

“I pray, because I need to,” he explained, adding “I pray for people, when I meet people that strike me because they are sick or have problems, or there are problems” such as war and hunger.

“Often I take the Bible, I read it a bit, then I leave it and I let myself be looked at by the Lord. That is the most common idea in my prayer. I allow myself to be looked at by Him. And I feel - but it isn’t sentimentalism - I feel deeply the things that the Lord tells me.”

Sometimes, noted the pontiff, the Lord “doesn’t speak…nothing, empty, empty, empty…but patiently I am there, and I pray this way…I am seated, I pray seated, because it hurts me to kneel, and sometimes I fall asleep in prayer…It is also a way of praying, as a son with the Father, and this is important.”

Last among the questions asked was if Pope Francis himself had a question for the students, to which he responded that he did, but that his question was “not original” because he took if from the Gospel.

“Where is your treasure? This is the question. Where does your heart rest? On what treasure does your heart rest? Because there where your treasure is will be your life.”

“The heart is attached to the treasure, to a treasure that all of us have: power, money, pride, so many…or goodness, beauty, the will to do good…There can be so many treasures,” he observed, asking again “Where is your treasure?”

Pope Francis then asked that the youth’s responses be given to their bishop, so that they could later be sent to him by letter.

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God's mercy goes beyond our sin, Pope Francis reflects

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Mass said Monday, Pope Francis reflected on the biblical scene in which Jesus prevents the stoning of an adulterous woman, observing how the Lord’s forgiveness extends even beyond what is considered just.

“Jesus goes beyond the law. He does not say: ‘adultery is not a sin!’ But he does not condemn it according to law,” the Pope explained in his April 7 homily during Mass said at the St. Martha guesthouse chapel.

This “is the mystery of mercy. It is the mystery of the mercy of Jesus.”

Highlighting how the story is well-known, the Pope recalled that in the passage the scribes and Pharisees bring to him a woman who had been caught in an adulterous relationship, pointing out how in the law, Moses condemns such a woman to be stoned to death because of the seriousness of the sin.

Turning to the sacrament of marriage, the Roman Pontiff explained that it is a human reality, but that it is also an image of the relationship between God and his people – so when a marriage is damaged by adultery, one's relationship with the Lord is damaged also.

Pope Francis then went on to say that when the Pharisees ask Jesus, “what do you say,” they did it to test him so that they could find a reason to condemn him.

“If Jesus had said: ‘Yes, go ahead and have her stoned,’ they would have told the people ‘this is your good and merciful master… just look at what he has done to this poor woman!’ And if Jesus had said: ‘Poor woman! Forgive her!’ they would have said: ‘He does not observe the Law!”

Emphasizing how “they did not care about adultery” and that “perhaps among them there were some adulterers,” the Pope noted that “all they cared about was catching Jesus in a trap.”

When Jesus responds to them by saying “let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her,” the scribes walk away, beginning with the elders, the Pope stated, which shows that their own records weren’t that clean either.

“So Jesus was left alone with the woman before him and said to her: ‘woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’”

“It is just you and I, alone before God, without accusations, without gossip. You and God! No one has condemned you.”

When the woman replies to Jesus saying “No one, sir,” she does not “say it was a false accusation! She does not say ‘I have not committed adultery,’” the Pope explained, emphasizing: “she recognizes her sin.”

“Then Jesus said: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin anymore,’ do not offend God again; do not spoil the beautiful relationship between God and his people.”

Recognizing that Jesus forgives, Pope Francis revealed that “there is something that goes beyond forgiveness,” and that “Jesus goes beyond the law” in forgiving a punishment that would have been considered just.

In this passage, we are able to see the merciful attitude of Jesus clearly, the Roman Pontiff continued, drawing attention to how “he defends the sinner from her enemies; he defends her against a just condemnation.”

“How many of us should perhaps go to hell? And the condemnation would be just … but he forgives and goes beyond. How? With this mercy!”

Mercy “goes beyond in such a way that sin is put to the side. It is like heaven.”

“We look at the sky, there are many, many stars; but when the sun rises in the morning, the light is such that we can’t see the stars,” the Bishop of Rome reflected, highlighting that “God’s mercy is like that: a great light of love and tenderness.”

Observing how “God forgives us, not with a decree, but with his love, healing the wounds of sin,” the Roman Pontiff expressed that this is because the Lord “is involved in forgiveness, he is involved in our salvation.”

“So when Jesus acts as confessor to the woman he does not humiliate her, he does not say: ‘What have you done? When did you do it? How did you do it? With whom did you do it?’ No! He says: ‘Go and do not sin again!’”

“God’s mercy is great, Jesus’s mercy is great. Forgive us and heal us!”

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Twenty years after genocide, Church helps Rwanda heal

Kigali, Rwanda, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Boniface Hakizimana lives in a rural area of Southern Rwanda. He lives peacefully with the widow next door, Viviane N'Habimana. They help each other and support each other when difficulties arise.

At first glance, this arrangement might not appear extraordinary. However, this harmonious relationship is anything but typical, because Hakizimana is responsible for the murder of N’Habimana’s husband 20 years ago.

April 7, 2014, marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide. The causes of the violence were complex – fueled by decades of ethnic tension dating back to Belgian colonialism and fostered through hate-filled propaganda broadcast by political extremists.

In the spring of 1994, the tension erupted into frenzied bloodshed, as members of the Hutu ethnic majority took up machetes and turned on their minority Tutsi neighbors, butchering relatives, friends, classmates and colleagues based on the color of their skin and the width of their nose. It is estimated that up to 1 million people were slaughtered in just 100 days, while the outside world largely looked the other way.

The result was a country left in shambles, the very social fabric of the nation destroyed. The last 20 years in Rwanda has been the story of a people pursuing a nearly impossible task: picking themselves back up, rebuilding their lives and learning how to forge the bonds of trust and forgiveness.

Hakizimana admits that he killed people, including N’Habimana’s husband, during the genocide. While serving a 10-year prison sentence for his role in the violence, the Gospel message touched his conscience, and he found a desire to be reconciled.

Upon being released from prison, however, he was shocked to discover that his wife and N’Habimana were already “living in peace and harmony,” despite the fact that he had killed the neighboring woman’s husband. The two women had both found themselves alone after the genocide – one woman’s husband dead and the other’s imprisoned – and they had learned to support and care for each other.

Even more surprising, N’Habimana had been contributing part of the retribution money she received after the genocide in order to ensure that her husband’s killer had been adequately fed while he was in prison. Overwhelmed by this act of mercy, Hakizimana apologized for his crime, and N’Habimana forgave him.

Seeking Peace

Hakizimana and N’Habimana are just two of many individuals who have found peace through a reconciliation program run through a partnership of the local Church and government. The program united perpetrators and victims, bringing them together to talk and listen to one another, and to learn how to seek and grant forgiveness.

For many of the survivors, this has not been an easy process.

“After the genocide, I hated everybody in the community,” confessed one woman. Another said that she was so traumatized at first that she was incapable of seeing those around her as human. Other survivors said they had their faith shaken, and found themselves struggling to pray and questioning how a good God could allow such evil.

But those who have gradually learned to open their hearts – often with the help of a friend or neighbor, or through the outreach of a priest or nun – have developed the capacity for reconciliation and healing.

Perpetrators say that apologizing and receiving forgiveness has lifted a burden from their heart and allowed them to rest, while victims say that granting forgiveness allows them to heal and move forward with their lives.

They emphasize that forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened. But in the words of one survivor, “We forgive because we know that God also forgives.”

Participants in the reconciliation program say that their neighbors who have chosen not to seek or grant forgiveness still live in anger and bitterness. Some say they have been approached by other people who see the peace they have achieved in their lives and want to know how to attain it for themselves as well.

This reconciliation model, instituted largely through the Catholic Church, is now being examined as a possible template for other conflicts, and peacebuilding efforts are now taking place on a regional level, seeking to promote a culture of peace across borders.

The Church and the Genocide

Members of the Church were not exempt from the hatred and violence that enveloped the small African country in the spring of 1994; clergy members were included in the ranks of both perpetrators and victims. In some cases, Hutu priests, bishops and religious helped to hide and protect Tutsis. In other cases, they took up arms against them, ushering them into church buildings with false promises of security and then trapping and betraying them, facilitating their massacre.

However, survivor Gaspard Mukwiye, who was 19 years old at the time of the genocide, warns against placing blame on the Church as a whole.

“It’s not good to generalize,” he emphasized, noting that the killing was not done in the Church’s name, even though some priests and bishops were involved.

“I don’t blame the Church as an institution,” he said. “I blame people individually.”

In the past two decades, the Catholic Church has been a major factor in rebuilding the country.

Deogratias Nzabonimpa, director of administration and finance for the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda, explained that “the churches have played a big role” in promoting healing and forgiveness among the people.

A strongly religious country, nearly 100 percent of Rwandans attend religious services weekly. The majority of the country – roughly 57 percent – is Catholic, and another 37 percent identify as Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. A devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus is widespread, and the image of Divine Mercy is displayed prominently in many churches, office buildings and homes. Many Rwandans cite their faith as a reason to pursue reconciliation and forgiveness after the genocide.

In addition, it was the Catholic Church that suggested the revival of Gacaca court system after the genocide. These communal courts had been an element of traditional Rwandan culture, but the Church suggested transforming them to help process the tens of thousands of criminal cases that arose following the genocide.

With the nation’s justice system heavily overburdened, it would have taken more than a century for the cases to be heard in the conventional court system. The Gacaca courts utilized public trials in the community with well-respected elders serving as judges. They helped to facilitate justice for both victims and perpetrators in the wake of the violence.

Cooperation Bears Fruit

Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has played a critical role in helping with peacebuilding efforts in the country. Following the genocide, the organization worked closely with the local Church and government to implement reconciliation programs and structures – many at the parish level – and train some 40,000 leaders in conflict resolution and peace efforts.

Present in the country for more than 50 years, Catholic Relief Services has worked in recent years to focus on overall quality of life improvement. At the community level, the agency teaches bio-intensive agricultural techniques to help rural Rwandans improve their production, diversify income and fight malnutrition.

Such programs bring together perpetrators and victims, encouraging cooperation, communication and solidarity, and further working to heal wounds and bring about reconciliation.

“CRS is a child of the Church,” said Fr. Celestin Hakizimana, general secretary of the Rwandan bishops’ conference. “In some ways, CRS is here as a sister Church to represent the Church in America.”

Fr. Hakizimana described the current relationship between Church and State in Rwanda as generally good. Efforts are ongoing to repair relationships that were damaged during the genocide, and the Church is dealing with modern challenges, including a recent law to legalize abortion, which the bishops vocally opposed.

Although obstacles do exist, the Church in Rwanda is strong, Fr. Hakizimana said. With the help of Catholic Relief Services, the national bishops’ conference has improved its structure and organization, and many dioceses are working with the international agency to strengthen their efficiency, professionalism and financial management capabilities.

In addition, Fr. Hakizimana explained that he knows the Church is growing “because every Sunday, there are baptisms.”

As of October 2013, the seminaries in the small country were filled to capacity, with 530 men studying in major seminaries. Church leaders have been forced to limit the number of applicants while one facility is being expanded. As Rwanda works to rebuild, the local Church grows as well.

Looking to the Future

Two decades after being ravaged by unimaginable violence, the small African country now looks to the future with hope. While wounds from the past remain, the people have taken important steps toward healing.

“Forgiveness is a process,” stressed Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege of Kabgayi.

Reconciliation is not as simple as merely asking for forgiveness and receiving it immediately, he explained, adding that it would be unrealistic to expect all the nation’s wounds to be healed in 20 years.

“The people have scars on their hearts,” he said. “To rebuild a person who has been destroyed is not as easy as rebuilding a house that has been destroyed.”

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Argentine archbishop defends baptism of child with lesbian parents

Cordoba, Argentina, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA) - Archbishop Carlos Nanez of Cordoba, Argentina, explained that the recent baptism of a baby who is being raised by her biological mother and the woman’s lesbian partner is not an endorsement of their lifestyle.

Rather, he said in statements to CNA, the case “is like that of any other person who asks for baptism.”

“The one that is receiving baptism is the girl. It is her right,” he underscored.

His comments came in response to the baptism of Umma Azul at the Cathedral of Cordoba on April 5. Azul is the biological daughter of Soledad Ortiz, a woman who contracted a civil marriage with her same-sex partner Kartina Villarroel under Argentinean law last year.

Denying media reports that he had met with the lesbian couple and even authorized that they receive the sacrament of Confirmation, Archbishop Nanez said that “they came here without speaking to me and were directed to a parish where they had to fulfill the necessary requirements for preparation for baptism.”

He added that he has spoken about the case with Cardinal Antonio Canizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, “so the Holy See is aware of this.”

The archbishop noted that one of the commitments made by the parents and godparents of a child who is baptized is to raise him or her in the faith.

“When it comes to this, I think the people's goodwill is what is at stake,” he said. “Many people come to us to have their children baptized and we vouch for their goodwill, but we do not have the absolute certainty that they are going to respect this, or that their lives are completely consistent with the values of the Gospel.”

“The Church in that matter demonstrates that she is a merciful and wide-reaching mother, in order to open the doors of salvation,” he continued. “Baptism is a right of every human person, and I think that the Holy Father as well, ever since he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, always advocated for great openness in administering these sacraments.”

Archbishop Nanez warned that media reports on the baptism have been distorted.  

“This is about the baptism of a girl who has the right to receive this sacrament, and as much as possible we strive to ensure that the conditions are met for its correct administration,” he said.

“The media is often manipulated,” the archbishop stressed, “and we have to take a critical view. Not everything that the newspapers or the press says is true.”

Addressing a group of Italian priests in August 2006, then-Pope Benedict XVI also defended the baptism of children whose parents may not be entirely adherent to the Church’s beliefs.

He described baptismal preparation as “a missionary commitment that goes beyond the boundaries of people who are already ‘faithful.’”

“Baptism, its preparation and the commitment to giving continuity to the baptismal promises, already puts us in contact with those who are not convinced believers,” he said. “It is not, let us say, a task of preserving Christianity, but rather an encounter with people who may seldom go to church.”

Pope Francis has similarly defended the baptism of children whose parents are not in a valid marriage.

“The child has absolutely no responsibility for the state of his parents' marriage,” he reportedly told Italian magazine 30 Giorni during his time as a cardinal in Argentina in 2009. “And often a baptism can be a new start for the parents as well.”

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Priest murdered in Syria witnessed to Christ's love

Homs, Syria, Apr 7, 2014 (CNA) - A priest of the Society of Jesus who refused to leave his flock in the Syrian city of Homs was murdered by an unknown gunman Monday morning.

Fr. Frans van der Lugt, a native of the Netherlands, was killed April 7. He was caring for the fewer than 30 Christians who remain in the Old City district of Homs, which has been blockaded by the Syrian regime for nearly two years.

“Where people die, their faithful shepherds also die with them,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said April 7 in response to the death of Fr. van der Lugt.

Fr. Lombardi said the slain priest “died as a man of peace” and acted “with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation.”

Fr.  Ziad Hillal, a fellow Jesuit who has been serving in Syria, told Aid to the Church in Need the slain priest was “a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City of Homs,” adding he represented “Christ in the world who is willing to lay down his life for his friends, who always gives us hope.”

Fr. Hillal said the priest was “apparently killed execution-style with shots to the head.”

“A man came into his house, took him outside and shot him twice in the head. In the street in front of his house,” Jan Stuyt, secretary of the Dutch Jesuits, told Agence France Press.

Given the siege, his body cannot be recovered.

In February, a three-day truce allowed residents of Homs to leave the city; at that time, the number of Christians fell from 89 to fewer than 30.

“The U.N. representatives were urgently required to leave Homs and go to another city, so we had to stop abruptly before finishing the evacuations,” Fr. Hillal said, explaining the February truce.

“Fr. Frans and the remaining 20-25 Christians in the city did not manage to leave in time.”

The February evacuation rescued 1,400 persons from the siege.

Fr. Hillal had reflected on the priest's humility, noting “he always asks how I am and does not talk much about himself.”

He described one of their last conversations, held via Skype, noting their hopes for a modest celebration of Fr. van de Lugt's birthday.

He was to have turned 76 April 10.

Fr. van der Lugt had worked in Syria since 1967. He was a psychotherapist and was involved in interreligious dialogue.

In the 1980s, he built a spirituality center in Homs which housed some 40 children with mental disabilities.

In February Fr. van der Lugt spoke to Agence France Presse about his time in Syria, saying, “the Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties.”

He had also said that “I don't see people as Muslims or Christians, I see a human being first and foremost.”

The priest often lamented the lack of medicine, food, and aid to civilians trapped in Homs by the Syrian regime's siege, and repeatedly called for intervention on the civilians’ behalf. The Syrian regime will not allow food to be brought into the city.

Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said the priest “brought nothing but good to Homs,” and that Fr. van der Lugt “deserves our thanks and respect” and “must be able to count on our commitment to help end this misery,” the BBC reports.

Fr. Lombardi said the priest’s death was a “time of great sorrow,” and called for prayer and also voiced “great pride and gratitude” that the priest was close to those who suffered most and that he witnessed “the love of Jesus to the end.”

The priest is among the latest victims in the three-year civil war among rebel groups and the Syrian regime.

The conflict began when demonstrations sprang up nationwide 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 an estimated 140,000 people.

There are 2.6 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

An additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, director Aid to the Church in Need UK, said the priest’s “witness to faith in the midst of the conflict in Syria inspires us to do all we can to help others.”

“We will continue to act in solidarity, prayer and action, helping to sustain the Christian presence in the region.”

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