February 26, 2017
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Rome's Anglican pastor: Papal visit an exciting, but normal, step

Rome, Italy, February 25 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis will tomorrow become the first Roman Pontiff to set foot in an Anglican parish in Rome, marking a symbolic act the church’s pastor said is hugely significant, yet surprisingly normal for two communities that are close to one another.


Rome's Anglican pastor: Papal visit an exciting, but normal, step

Middle East - Africa

Are MidEast youth losing the virtue of hope?


Rome's Anglican pastor: Papal visit an exciting, but normal, step

ROME, ITALY, February 25 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis will tomorrow become the first Roman Pontiff to set foot in an Anglican parish in Rome, marking a symbolic act the church’s pastor said is hugely significant, yet surprisingly normal for two communities that are close to one another.

“Personally, as a parish priest of 17 years in this place, I can’t imagine a more fulfilling moment in my ministry,” Jonathan Boardman, pastor of All Saints Anglican Church in Rome, told CNA.

“It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened, except it isn’t,” he said, explaining that it’s a very “natural and normal thing” for a group of Christians to welcome the leader of their brethren to their house.

For Pope Francis to become the first Roman Pontiff to step inside an Anglican parish in Rome, then, is “the most exciting thing, and it’s the most normal thing,” he said, saying it’s a gesture “that explains a truth about our Christian living.”

Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, he said, have to find “the excitement of the Gospel and the fulfillment of it” in everything they do, “from the most rare thing to the most ordinary thing,” such as giving to the poor and offering prayers together.

Pope Francis' visit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican parish community in the heart of the Eternal City, and will consist of a short choral Evensong service, during which the Pope will bless and dedicate an icon of “St. Saviour” commissioned for the occasion.

The symbolic “twinning” of All Saints Anglican Church with the Catholic parish of “Ognissanti” – the only Catholic parish in Rome dedicated to All Saints – will also take place during the liturgy, forming strong ecumenical ties between the two.

Ognissanti is the parish where Bl. Paul VI, on March 7, 1965, celebrated the first Mass in Italian following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

After the singing of Evensong during his visit to All Saints, Pope Francis is expected to deliver a brief homily before taking questions from the congregation.

Established in 1816, All Saints contains the largest Anglican congregation in Italy, and is headed by Boardman and his assistant chaplain, Dana English. Both pastors will be present to welcome the Pope for his visit Sunday, as well as Robert Innes, the Anglican Bishop in Europe, and his suffragan, David Hamid.

In his comments to CNA, Boardman said that in his opinion, the reason a papal visit to an Anglican parish is possible now rather than in the past is likely due to “the fact that we’ve got Pope Francis.”

Francis “really determinately seeks to exhibit, to show the way in which he’s the Bishop of Rome and how that can be celebrated by other Christians who are present in Rome,” he said, noting that the visit builds on 50 years of dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans.

This positive dialogue the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have enjoyed shows that Anglicans “are serious in giving honor to the Pope, in recognizing him as the leader of Christendom in some way, although obviously not in the juridical way,” Boardman said, explaining that this point “still keeps us separated.”

But from both the Catholic and Anglican sides, “I think both the Pope’s ability to recognize and accept and celebrate that (dialogue) with us, and our willingness to receive him and celebrate that (dialogue), are the two factors that have led us to where we are today.”

Pointing to Benedict XVI’s establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate in 2009 as a means of helping Anglicans who wish to become Catholic while maintaining certain elements of their liturgy and customs, Boardman called the move “a real generosity and attempt to meet some of the deficiencies, as they were conceived, of what kept us apart.”

While some on the Anglican side initially viewed the act as “hostile and invasive,” the pastor said for him that wasn’t the case, and that in his own personal view, the time has come “to settle down” and appreciate the gesture as “an act of generosity”.

“The degree to which Anglican patrimony truly has been inserted into the Roman Catholic world is something that’s ongoing,” he said, and noted that after the Pope’s visit to his parish this weekend, a Choral Evensong of the Anglican rite will be sung inside St. Peter’s Basilica March 13.

When it comes to progress Catholics and Anglicans have made toward unity, Boardman said he thinks the communities have grown closer, and that in his view “we’re closer to unity than we ever were before simply because time has passed and we’re nearer to God’s gathering us all in.”

“In that sense we’re nearer,” he said, but added that if they want to continue growing closer to one another, it can’t happen without taking on a more prayerful attitude.

There has to be greater openness “to God’s surprising demands on us, and our alignment with his will where all of us, all Christians” make the sacrifices and take the steps needed in order “to truly align ourselves with God’s will.”

Dialogue “has flourished” in the past 100 years, particularly after the Second Vatican Council, he said, acknowledging that unity is closer, but there is still a long way to go.

“We’re only just beginning truly to be real friends and being able to talk about our differences and our problems as friends,” he said, adding that “we’ve got a ways to go to resolve them.”

Some of the biggest hurdles that still need to be overcome exist on both a spiritual and practical level, he said, noting that the first challenge is always “to be faithful to God and to grow in spiritual depth.”

Apart from this, major issues from the Catholic standpoint include the ordination of women and homosexual individuals, whereas for Anglicans, how to accept papal primacy without “changing the nature” of Anglicanism is still a looming concern.

But putting the hurdles aside, Boardman said he hopes the twinning of his parish with the Catholic parish of Ognissanti will help to foster “greater friendship between our two communities.”

The gesture will offer both communities a way to experience the spiritual life of the other while staying “true to our … disciplines” and growing together through various activities, such as service to the poor.

“We’ve already started in sharing some of the feeding programs to the homeless in Rome,” he said, explaining that Ognissanti has already launched various projects, “but now we are participating in them.”

Middle East - Africa

Are MidEast youth losing the virtue of hope?

BEIRUT, LEBANON, February 25 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has said that the number of youth wanting to leave the Middle East is a major concern, and stressed that if local Christians are going to stay, political agendas must be set aside.

“We hope that peace, reconciliation and stability will be realized as soon as possible,” the patriarch said Feb. 23. The problem is that there are geopolitical agendas that don’t involve us.”

Their greatest concern is “how to convince our people to return to their homelands,” he said, adding that “this goes above all for the youth...our youth are losing the virtue of hope.”

Head of the Syriac-Catholic Church of Antioch, Younan, who is based in Lebanon, spoke at the presentation of the project “Stand Together,” a digital ecumenical platform aimed at promoting religious freedom and drawing attention to persecuted Christians, particularly those from the Middle East.

The event was held at the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. Among the partners sponsoring the initiative were Communion and Liberation, Rome Reports and the ISCOM association.

In comments to journalists, Patriarch Younan said that if Christians are to stay in the Middle East, “a welcoming, peaceful environment must be created for them so that they can return.”

If they have gone abroad, “it means that they are threatened, persecuted or are truly in straights for everything: they no longer have anything.”

In the summer of 2014 some 100,000 people were forced to flee when ISIS stormed their homes and villages, demanding that Christians either convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or face death.

According to a recent U.N. report, between January 2014 and October 2015, at least 18,802 civilians were killed in Iraq. About half of them died in Baghdad province. Another 36,000 were injured.

Another 3.2 million people were internally displaced, include about 1 million school-aged children. In addition, millions more have fled to surrounding countries and are currently living as refugees.

Younan said that when he visited Christians displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain after they first fled, he spoke with the Kurdish president, who told him that within a matter of months or even weeks, his people would be back in their villages with the Kurdish Peshmerga army to protect them.

“Two and a half years have passed” since that conversation, the patriarch said, explaining that during a November visit to the Christian villages in Iraq recently liberated from ISIS, “half of the houses were torched, the churches burned.”

Faced with the situation, Younan said his people ask “how can we return if there is no stability, without a strong governing presence?” The burning of their houses and churches, he said, was as if ISIS were telling Christians “you won’t ever come back, we don’t want you.”

The patriarch sympathized with their concerns, admitting that if that he himself had a family with children, “I would not return.”

Another big problem for those who have fled to other countries, such as Lebanon, is the fact that frequently they are not given refugee status, he said, explaining that these people know they will “not ever be accepted as Lebanese,” and so try to move abroad to Australia, Canada, the United States and Sweden.

When asked what can be done to help Christians to stay rather than moving abroad, the patriarch said the world has to avoid letting individual countries go there “to negotiate in order to have greater advantages in trade.”

Local Christians will never be able to be protagonists of change in their home countries because they are such a small minority. Pointing to Egypt as an example, he noted that only 8-10 million of the 80 million people living there are Coptic Christians, and mosques frequently control the elections.

“We try to live in peace with the others but we need stronger interventions on the part of the family of nations to say to these peoples: ‘Live in the 21st century, not the 7th,’” he said. “There must be a unified approach.”

Younan also commented on Pope Francis’ frequent declaration that “no religion is terrorist.” When asked if he agreed this declaration also applies to Islam, the patriarch said that “it’s they who have to prove this, it’s not up to me or the Pope to say it.”

In general “relations with Islamic religious heads are good,” he said, but added that for him, this is only at the “politico-diplomatic level, to not say that there is fanaticism.”

“We meet, we speak in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Syria, but the important thing is that we can’t do more, we are oppressed by a fundamentalism radical Islam that receives funding,” he said, voicing his hope “that Europe reawakens and finds an adequate solution.”

Referring to Pope Francis’ May 23, 2016, meeting with Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb of the prestigious Al-Azhar monsque at the Vatican, Younan called the move “a diplomatic step,” but said he would have representatives at a special Feb. 24 seminar at the Al-Azhar University on countering religious justification for violence.

He said that representatives from his Church have been to the university – widely considered one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam – several times, and that with the joint-seminar with the Vatican they “want to make the world see that they are open.”

However, he also said there are still problems in the educational system of the university, including lessons in which youth use verses of the Koran that endorse violence “as they are.”

“Some are tolerant, others much less,” he said, noting that the two men who killed French priest Jacques Hamel in July 2016, didn’t know the priest, but murdered him “because they were formed like this.”

“It’s there that we need to intervene,” he said, explaining that while the seminar is a step, “Azhar must reform itself.”

When it comes to Vatican diplomacy, the patriarch said they are already doing a lot to intervene in the crisis in the Middle East, “but it’s not enough.”

He recalled that during the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family he urged the Vatican to speak with officials in the U.S. government, in the U.N. and with the foreign ministers in China, Russia and the E.U., telling them that the ancient Christian communities in the region “run the risk of disappearing.”

The primary message that needs to be conveyed is that “you must do something and enough with your own interests please,” he said, but added that so far, “nothing has been done.”

When asked if there was talk of Pope Francis visiting Kurdistan, Younan said that the proposal has been made by several bishops, but nothing is confirmed yet.

However, Younan said that while “will be very happy to have the visit of the Holy Father” if he does go, what they really want are “the facts that can reassure our people.”

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