Rome, Italy, Jun 1, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As agencies meet at the Vatican to discuss the Syria crisis, the head of Catholic Relief Services said that the Church cannot forget those who suffer and must advocate for peace as well as provide aid.
“The situation around Syria has not gotten better. There is no end in sight at this point,” Carolyn Woo, CEO and president of the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services, told CNA in Rome May 30.
She said the conflict has affected over nine million people, including 5.5 million children. About half of those affected are internally displaced and over two million are now refugees.
“Many of them are living in camps. Just imagine those situations,” Woo said. “Think of all the areas of need.”
A lack of security is a major problem that particularly endangers children and women. Access to medicine is also difficult. Children lack access to health care for minor issues and are not receiving an education.
“Can you imagine the trauma people have gone through?” Woo asked. “Families are just torn apart. The needs are profound.”
About 160,000 people have died since the conflict between rebels and Syria's government began in March 2011.
“The most important thing to remember is that there is a human face behind everyone who suffers,” Woo continued. “It’s hard to identify with 9.3 million (people), but when you are with each child, you will see the human and the human suffering. And we just cannot abandon each other.”
“People in a conflict say 'please don’t abandon us. Please don't forget us,'” said the relief agency head.
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the charitable and humanitarian action arm of the Pope, on Friday held a meeting on the Syrian crisis with 25 Catholic charitable organizations, including Catholic Relief Services. Scheduled to speak at the meeting were Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, apostolic nuncio to Syria Archbishop Mario Zenari, and Caritas Syria president Antoine Audo.
The meeting was held to evaluate Catholic agencies' response to the crisis and to identify future priorities. The meeting will focus on collaboration between the agencies working in Syria and in nearby countries.
The various agencies report their activities to an information office based in Beirut.
Woo stressed both the difficulty of communication in a crisis situation and the importance of coordination to ensure that relief agencies supplement each other's work, rather than duplicate it.
“Resources are so scarce and the need is so profound,” she said.
Catholic Relief Services is focusing on several areas of aid, including food provisions, non-food items like winter survival supplies, medical services, education and psychosocial care.
Woo called for more peace advocacy to complement the relief work, especially through engaging governments.
“It's not just enough to work on the ground, because there will be no end (to the conflict),” she said. “It's not enough just to advocate because people are dying on the ground.”
“In the end, the war is made possible because there’s a lot of money behind the war. If we stop the infusion of money and supplies, then the war on the ground will stop.”
Woo said that war poses different problems for relief work than natural disasters, in which people come together and work to solve problems logically. It is easier to foresee and work towards an end to disaster relief.
“War is a completely different challenge. It brings out the worst in humanity,” she said.
“The difficulties are not just physical in nature,” she said, adding that it is hardest to accept the fact that “there are people whose interest is served by war.”
She also emphasized the need for prayer. “These things look so overwhelming and so big. Sometimes we can feel that we do very little, but you have to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work,” Woo said.
“War is the worst of humankind and it causes the best of humankind. It requires the best of everything you have, including your faith.”
She said Pope Francis’ example has demonstrated “the call for peace.” She noted his visit with Syrian refugees in Jordan, where he brought along Jewish and a Muslim companions.
Woo said that visit showed “peace and interfaith collaboration.”
She said she hoped the Cor Unum meeting will affirm and celebrate the work that has been done and convey that there has been some progress.
“A lot of our colleagues here have been working non-stop for three years, some of them under immensely difficult situations.”
Vatican City, Jun 1, 2014 (CNA) -
Pope Francis focused his Angelus message today on the saving power of Jesus’ redemption, explaining that the risen Christ who ascends to heaven brings the scars of his crucifixion with him.
“And Jesus, when he goes to heaven, carries there a gift for the Father. Have you thought about this? What is the gift that Jesus brings to the Father? His wounds,” the Pope told the crowds filling St. Peter’s Square on June 1.
“And when he goes to the Father, he says to the Father, ‘look, Father: this is the price of forgiveness you give. And when the Father sees Jesus’ scars, he always forgives us.”
Pope Francis impressed upon his listeners the importance of Jesus’ redemptive work in his suffering, death and resurrection.
God forgives our sinfulness “not because we are good, no! Because he (Jesus) has paid for us.”
Jesus continues his saving work, interceding for every individual before the Father, noted the Pope. “This is the great work that Jesus does today in heaven - to make known to the Father in heaven the price of forgiveness: his wounds.”
Pope Francis explained that even though Jesus ascended to “the heights of Heaven to show us that the goal of our journey is the Father,” he “remains present and working in the events of human history with the power and the gifts of his Spirit.”
“Jesus is close to each one of us - even if we don’t see him with our eyes, He is here!”
The “risen Jesus is close to Christians who are persecuted and discriminated against; he is close to every man and woman who suffers. He is close to all of us. Even today he is here with us in the square. The Lord is with us. Do you believe this?” he queried the crowds.
“Let’s say it together,” he urged, “The Lord is with us!”
Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit also works “through the Church, which he has invited to continue his mission,” Pope Francis explained.
Jesus’ final command to the disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” remains the mission of the Church.
The Church is a Christian community “in departure” or in “going out.” Even the cloistered communities are “in departure” through “prayer, with a heart opened to the world, to the horizons of God,” he stressed.
The same can be said for the elderly, or the sick, Pope Francis encouraged, for “they, too, with prayer and union with Jesus’ wounds” have a missionary calling.
It is not through human efforts that the Church can fulfill her mission, however. “Alone, without Jesus, we cannot do anything!” underscored the Pope. “In apostolic activity our strength, our resources, our structures, are not enough, even though they are necessary.”
“Without the presence of the Lord and the power of the Spirit, our work, even if well organized, turns out to be ineffective.”
The Pontiff added that along with Jesus, Mary accompanies us, for “she is already in the house of the Father, she is the Queen of Heaven.”
He then led the crowds in the Marian prayer of the Easter season, the Regina Coeli, and invoked Mary’s intercession as “Queen of Peace” in a special prayer for the Ukraine and the Central African Republic with their continued circumstances of political unrest and violence.
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to all the parties involved, so that they may overcome misunderstandings and seek dialogue and reconciliation with patience,” he implored.
Pope Francis also noted that today marks the World Day for Social Communications.
“Let us pray in order that communications, in every form, may be effective at the service of meetings between persons, communities, nations; a meeting founded upon respect and mutual listening,” he said.
The Pope took a moment to recall the newly beatified Madre Speranza, founder of the Italian religious communities Handmaids and Sons of Merciful Love. “Her testimony helps the Church to announce everywhere, with daily and concrete gestures, the infinite mercy of the heavenly Father for every person.”
He then greeted the various pilgrims present, closing with his customary wish for everyone to have a “good Sunday and a good lunch.” Today he added, “and pray for me!”
Vatican City, Jun 1, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Hundreds of clergy, religious, and laity processed through the Vatican gardens in a candlelight vigil on Saturday evening to mark the close of a month traditionally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Led by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the pilgrims prayed the rosary and sang Marian hymns as evening fell over the Vatican. Families with infants and small children processed alongside religious sisters and priests as meditations on the life of Christ were read.
Cardinal Comastri began the procession by reading a passage from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium. Mary is “the mother of the evangelizing Church and without her we cannot fully understand the spirit of the new evangelization,” he reminded the faithful gathered behind the St. Peter’s Basilica on May 31.
As the crowds walked slowly up the hill behind the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, the echoes of the “Ave Maria” being sung between decades of the rosary rang out. Candles were raised high at each refrain of the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the annunciation.
Pope Francis joined the crowds gathered for prayer in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where he offered a short reflection on the gospel passage that had been proclaimed - the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.
The Holy Father meditated on Mary’s ready willingness to serve others.
“The gospel says that after the annunciation of the angel, she went ‘in haste,’” he recalled.
“She didn’t lose time. Immediately, she went to serve. She is the ‘Virgin of readiness,’ the ‘Madonna of readiness,’ immediate and ready to give us help when we pray, when we ask her help, her protection, her favor.”
The Pope noted that Mary’s prompt action in the gospel should inspire Christians to ask for her aid.
“In many moments of life in which we need her help, her protection, remember that she doesn’t wait - she is the ‘Madonna of readiness’ - immediately going to serve.”
The prayer vigil in the grotto also included the chanting of Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, and prayers of intercession for the Pope and the whole Church.
A prayer of Pope Francis for Mary’s intercession concluded the evening.
“Star of the new evangelization, help us to shine with the testimony of communion, of service, of ardent and generous faith, in justice and in love for the poor, so that the joy of the gospel may reach to the ends of the earth and no periphery may be deprived of its light.”