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Monday, November 30, 2015

To Evangelical Communities: God makes no distinction between those who suffer

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Pope met with the Evangelical Communities of the Central African Republic in the Evangelical Theological Faculty of Bangui (FATEB), instituted by the “Association des Evangeliques en Afrique” (AEA) in 1974 to respond to the needs of this Church in the African continent and where over 650 leaders have completed their preparation, going on to serve in the churches and evangelical institutions of 21 African countries.

Francis was received by the dean of the Faculty and by three members of the “interreligious Platform” which has supported the process of national peacemaking: the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp.the president of the “Alliance des Eglises Evangeliques Centrafricaines” (AEC) and the Imam of Bangui.

“We are all here in the service of the risen Lord Who assembles us today; and, by virtue of the common baptism we have received, we are sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to men and women of this beloved country of Central Africa”, began the Pope, following greetings from the dean of the FATEB and the president of the AEC.

“For all too long, your people have experienced troubles and violence, resulting in great suffering. This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent. For it is Christ’s own flesh which suffers in his dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education. There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones”.

“God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil. Here I wish to express my closeness and solidarity to Pastor Nicholas, whose home was recently ransacked and set on fire, as was the meeting-place of his community. In these difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone His tenderness, compassion and mercy. This shared suffering and shared mission are a providential opportunity for us to advance together on the path of unity; they are also an indispensable spiritual aid. How could the Father refuse the grace of unity, albeit still imperfect, to His children who suffer together and, in different situations, join in serving their brothers and sisters?”

Francis reiterated that the lack of unity among Christians is a scandal, above all because it is “contrary to God’s will. It is also a scandal when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart, and the many forms of opposition which the Gospel of Christ encounters. I appreciate the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation existing between the Christians of your country, and I encourage you to continue on this path of common service in charity. It is a witness to Christ which builds up unity”.

He concluded by expressing his wish that, with a view to achieving the hoped-for full communion, that those present, “with increasing intensity and courage, … perseverance and charity, a commitment to prayer and common reflection”, seek to achieve greater “mutual understanding, trust and friendship. I assure you of my prayerful support along the path of fraternal charity, reconciliation and mercy, a path which is long, yet full of joy and hope”.
“I ask the Lord Jesus to bless all of you, to bless your communities, and also to bless our Church. And I ask you to pray for me. Thank you”.

The Pope opens the Holy Door of Mercy in Bangui, "spiritual capital of the world"

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) “Today Bangui becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war”, said Pope Francis yesterday afternoon in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Bangui, before opening the Holy Door and thus beginning the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Bangui thus becomes, he continued, the spiritual capital of prayer for the Father's mercy. We all ask for peace, mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. For Bangui, and for all the Central African Republic, for all the world, for countries that suffer war, we ask for peace. Let us all ask together for love and peace!”, he exclaimed, adding in the Sango language of the Central African Republic, “Doye Siriri! Love and peace!”.

With this prayer he began the Holy Year following the rite for the opening of the Holy Door. “Opne the doors of justice; this is the door of the Lord; I enter Your House, Lord”, said Francis before entering first, alone, into the cathedral where he was awaited by the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians of the Central African Republic to participate in the Holy Mass. In his homily, the Pope reiterated that all, without exception, share in the “God’s grace, the alms of peace”, and he made an fresh appeal to those who “make unjust use” of weapons: “Lay down these instruments of death. Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace”.

The following is the full text of the homily pronounced by the Holy Father:

“On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which we inaugurated here today. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s pains. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness. All of us are looking for God’s grace, for the alms of peace.

“But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to 'go across to the other side'.

“Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, He asks us to make the crossing with Him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realise that making this crossing can only be done with Him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us, in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is 'good [and] instructs sinners in the way'. Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father 'makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good'. Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect'.

“One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony. Those who evangelise must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to 'cross to the other side' – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that He is in the boat with us. As He did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts His gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming His reassuring words: 'Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah'.

“In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, Who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice. He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And He sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that 'Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness’. Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

“The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love. In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God Who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and women, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realise that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of St. Paul: 'Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women'. Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: 'See how they love one another, how they truly love one another'.

“Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to His disciples the terrible signs that will precede His coming, Jesus concludes: 'When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near'. If St. Paul can speak of a love which 'grows and overflows', it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show His great power, His incomparable glory and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger, more powerful, than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be one of love and peace!

“To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to 'strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints'. Reconciliation, forgiveness, love and peace! Amen”.

Meeting with young Central Africans: the path of resistance is via forgiveness

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – After celebrating Holy Mass, the Pope left the Cathedral of Bangui to greet the young people who awaited him outside the Cathedral for a night-long prayer vigil. Francis addressed some extemporaneous remarks to them, setting aside the discourse he had prepared, which is reproduced at the end of this article.

Beforehand one of the young people had commented that their symbol was the banana tree on account of its resistance, referring also the many difficulties they encounter in this period of war and division.

“The banana tree is a symbol of life”, said Francis. “It always grows, it always reproduces, it always bears nourishing fruit. The banana tree is also resistant. I think that this clearly shows the way for you in this difficult moment of war, hatred and division: the path of resistance”.

“Your friend said that some of you want to go away from here. Fleeing from the challenges of life is never a solution! It is necessary to resist, to have the courage to resist, to struggle for good! Those who flee do not have the courage to give life. The banana tree gives life and continues to reproduce and give more life as it resists, it remains, it stays there. Some of you will ask me, 'But Father, what can we do? How can we resist?'. I will tell you two or three things that may perhaps be useful for you, to resist”.

“First of all, prayer. Prayer is powerful. Prayer conquers evil. Prayer draws us closer to God, who is Almighty. … Secondly, work for peace. And peace is not a document that is signed and stays there. Peace is made every day! Peace is a craft, it is made by hand, with one's own life. But some may say, 'Tell me, Father, how can I be an artisan of peace?'. First: never hate. If someone harms you, try to forgive. No hatred! Forgiveness! Let us say this together: No hatred! Forgiveness! If you do not have hatred in your heart, if you forgive, you will be victorious, because you will be victorious in the most difficult battled of life: victorious in love. And through love comes peace”.

“Do you want to be defeated, or do you want to win in life?” asked the Pope. “You can win only by taking the path of love. The path of love. And can you love your enemy? Yes. Can you forgive those who have wronged you? Yes. In this way, with love and forgiveness, you will be victorious. With love, you will be victorious in life and will always give life. Love will never let you be defeated”.

The following is the discourse prepared by Pope Francis:

“Dear Young Friends, good evening! It is a great joy for me to be here with you this evening, as we enter upon a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. Is this not, for each one of us, an occasion to begin anew, a chance to 'go across to the other side?'.

“During this, our meeting, I will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some of you. I encourage each of you to reflect on the grandeur of this sacrament, in which God comes to meet us personally. Whenever we ask, He comes to us and helps us to 'go across to the other side', to that side of our life where God forgives us and bathes us in His love which heals, soothes and raises up! The Jubilee of Mercy, which I just opened particularly for you, dear Central African and African friends, rightly reminds us that God is waiting for us, with arms wide open, as we see in the beautiful image of the Father who welcomes the prodigal son.

“The forgiveness which we receive comforts us and enables us to make a new start, with trusting and serene hearts, better able to live in harmony with ourselves, with God and with others. The forgiveness which we receive enables us in turn to forgive others. There is always a need for this, especially in times of conflict and violence, as you know all too well. I renew my closeness to all those among you who are have experienced sorrow, separation and the wounds inflicted by hatred and war. In such situations, forgiving those who have done us harm is, humanly speaking, extremely difficult. But God offers us the strength and the courage to become those artisans of reconciliation and peace which your country greatly needs. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, walks in the footsteps of his Master, who on the Cross asked His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. How far is this sentiment from those which too often reign in our hearts! Meditating on the attitude and the words of Jesus, 'Father, forgive them', can help to turn our gaze and convert our heart.

“For many people, it is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that He died on a cross. Yes, it is scandalous: the scandal of the cross. The cross continues to scandalise. Yet it remains the one sure way: the way of the cross, the way of Jesus Who came to share our life and to save us from sin. Dear friends, this cross speaks to us of the closeness of God: He is with us, He is with each one of you, in your joys and in your trials.

“Dear young people, the most precious good which we can have in this life is our relationship with God. Are you convinced of this? Are you aware of the inestimable value that you have in God’s eyes? Do you know that you are loved and accepted by Him, unconditionally, as you are?. Devoting time to prayer and the reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels, you will come to know Him, and yourselves, ever better. Today too, Jesus’ counsels can illumine your feelings and your decisions. You are enthusiastic and generous, pursuing high ideals, searching for truth and beauty. I encourage you to maintain an alert and critical spirit in the face of every compromise which runs contrary to the Gospel message.

“Thank you for your creative dynamism, which the Church greatly needs. Cultivate this! Be witnesses to the joy of meeting Jesus. May He transform you, strengthen your faith and help you to overcome every fear, so that you may embrace ever more fully God’s loving plan for you! God wills the happiness of every one of His children. Those who open themselves to His gaze are freed from sin, from sorrow, from inner emptiness and from isolation. Instead, they can see others as brothers or sisters, accepting their differences and recognizing that they are a gift for all of us.

“It is in this way that peace is built, day by day. It calls for setting out on the path of service and humility, and being attentive to the needs of others. To embrace this mindset, we need to have a heart capable of bending low and sharing life with those most in need. That is where true charity is found. In this way solidarity grows, beginning with small gestures, and the seeds of division disappear. In this way dialogue among believers bears fruit, fraternity is lived day by day and it enlarges the heart by opening up a future. In this way, you will be able to do so much good for your country. I encourage you do so.

“Dear young friends, the Lord is alive and He is walking at your side. When difficulties seem to abound, when pain and sadness seem to prevail all around you, He does not abandon you. He has left us the memorial of his love: the Eucharist and the sacraments, to aid our progress along the way and furnish the strength we need to daily move forward. This must be the source of your hope and your courage as you 'go across to the other side' with Jesus, opening new paths for yourselves and your generation, for your families, for your country. I pray that you will be filled with this hope. May you be ever anchored in it, so that you can give it to others, to this world of ours so wounded by war and conflicts, by evil and sin. Never forget: the Lord is with you. He trusts you. He wants you to be missionary disciples, sustained in times of difficulty and trial by the prayers of the Virgin Mary and those of the entire Church. Dear young people of Central Africa, go forth! I am sending you out!”.

To the Muslim community: say 'no' to hatred and violence

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) - “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace”. The Holy Father addressed these words to the Muslim community of the Central African Republic this morning in the mosque of Koudoukou, a few kilometres from Bangui. Francis was received by five imams who accompanied him to the podium situated in the mosque, a short distance away from the area reserved for prayer. The event was attended by around two hundred people.

“Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years”, he continued. “They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam”.

Francis emphasised the important role played by Christian and Muslim leaders in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all, and expressed his gratitude and appreciation. “We can also call to mind the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions, by welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world”.

He added, “We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one faction or another. I strongly urge you to make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession. The Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, with the cooperation of all her sons and daughters, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent. It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefiting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right”.

He concluded by inviting those present to “pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events”.

Holy Mass in Bangui: Christians of Central Africa, be artisans of human and spiritual renewal

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – Tens of thousands of people participated in the final act of the Holy Father's apostolic trip in Africa: the Holy Mass celebrated in the Barthelemy Boganda sports complex in Bangui. Those unable to enter followed the event on the maxi screens installed outside the stadium. In his homily, the Pope invited Central Africans to be artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of the country, at a time of difficulties and suffering, passing over to the “other side” which is Christ Who transforms the reality of our present life.

“We might be astonished, listening to this morning’s first reading, by the enthusiasm and missionary drive of St. Paul. 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'. These words inspire us to give thanks for the gift of the faith which we have received. They also inspire us to reflect with amazement on the great missionary effort which – not long ago – first brought the joy of the Gospel to this beloved land of Central Africa. It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord. To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in His presence and in the new life and the salvation which He offers us. For He invites us to cross over to another shore.

“This other shore is, of course, eternal life, heaven, which awaits us. Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage. Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love. But the more immediate other shore, which we are trying to reach, this salvation secured by the faith of which St. Paul speaks, is a reality which even now is transforming our lives and the world around us. 'Faith in the heart leads to justification'. Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love”.

The Pope urged those present to thank the Lord “for His presence and for the strength which He gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief. Let us thank Him for the acts of solidarity and generosity which He inspires in us, for the joy and love with which He fills our families and our communities, despite the suffering and violence we sometimes experience, and our fears for the future. Let us thank Him for His gift of courage, which inspires us to forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us, and to work to build a more just and fraternal society in which no one is abandoned. In all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us. I join you in thanking the Lord in His mercy for all the beautiful, generous and courageous things He has enabled you to accomplish in your families and communities during these eventful years in the life of your country.

“Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination”, he continued. “In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore. All the baptised need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.

“We know that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go. Certainly we need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel. May the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has just begun in your country, be an occasion to do so. Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep. The Apostle Andrew, with his brother Peter, did not hesitate to leave everything at Christ’s call: 'Immediately they left their nets and followed him'. Once again, we are amazed at the great enthusiasm of the Apostles. Christ drew them so closely to Himself, that they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with Him.

“Each of us, in his or her heart, can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely. The cry of 'those who bring good news' resounds all the more in our ears, precisely when times are difficult; that cry which 'goes out through all the earth ... to the ends of the earth'. And it resounds here, today, in this land of Central Africa. It resounds in our hearts, our families, our parishes, wherever we live. It invites us to persevere in enthusiasm for mission, for that mission which needs new 'bearers of good news', ever more numerous, generous, joyful and holy. We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?

“We too, like the Apostles, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future. The other shore is at hand, and Jesus is crossing the river with us. He is risen from the dead; henceforth the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow Him. Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country”.

Pope Francis ended his homily by asking the Virgin Mary, “who by sharing in the Passion of her Son, now shares in his perfect joy”, for her protection and encouragement on this path of hope”.

Following Mass and before giving his blessing, the Pope mentioned that today is the feast day of St. Andrew and, from the heart of Africa, he greeted his “dear brother”, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomaios I, expressing his wishes for joy and fraternity, and asking the Lord to bless these two sister Churches.

From the Barthelemy Boganda stadium, the Holy Father transferred by popemobile to the M'Poko airport where he boarded the aircraft for his return flight to Rome, expected to land around 6.45 p.m.

Pope's message to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – As is customary on the feast day of St. Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, a Holy See delegation led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, travelled to Istanbul to participate in the celebration. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits for the feast days of their respective patrons: the Patriarchate sends a delegation to Rome on 29 June, the feast day of the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, every year.

The delegation participated in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomaois I in the patriarchal church of St. George of Phanar, then met with the synodal commission which oversees relations with the Catholic Church, and delivered a message from the Holy Father, read at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

In the text, Francis recalls in particular the fiftieth anniversary of the of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I which expressed the decision to eliminate the mutual excommunications of 1054. “The memory of the mutual sentences of excommunication, together with the offensive words, groundless reproaches, and reprehensible gestures on both sides, which accompanied the sad events of this period, represented for many centuries an obstacle to rapprochement in charity between Catholics and Orthodox. Attentive to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed to the Father on the eve of his Passion that his disciples 'may be one', Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I consigned these painful memories to oblivion. Since then, the logic of antagonism, mistrust and hostility that had been symbolised by the mutual excommunications has been replaced by the logic of love and brotherhood, represented by our fraternal embrace.

“While not all differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were brought to an end, there now existed the conditions necessary to journey towards re-establishing the 'full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church'. Having restored a relationship of love and fraternity, in a spirit of mutual trust, respect and charity, there is no longer any impediment to Eucharistic communion which cannot be overcome through prayer, the purification of hearts, dialogue and the affirmation of truth. Indeed, where there is love in the life of the Church, its source and fulfilment is always to be found in Eucharistic love. So too the symbol of the fraternal embrace finds its most profound truth in the embrace of peace exchanged in the Eucharistic celebration.

“In order to progress on our journey towards the full communion for which we long, we need continually to draw inspiration from the gesture of reconciliation and peace by our venerable predecessors Paul VI and Athenagoras I. At all levels and in every context of Church life, relations between Catholics and Orthodox must increasingly reflect the logic of love that leaves no room for the spirit of rivalry. Theological dialogue itself, sustained by mutual charity, must continue to examine carefully the questions which divide us, aiming always at deepening our shared understanding of revealed truth. Motivated by God’s love, we must together offer the world a credible and effective witness to Christ’s message of reconciliation and salvation.

“The world today has great need of reconciliation, particularly in light of so much blood which has been shed in recent terrorist attacks. May we accompany the victims with our prayers, and renew our commitment to lasting peace by promoting dialogue between religious traditions, for 'indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict'.

“I wish to express my deep appreciation for Your Holiness’ fervent commitment to the critical issue of care for creation, for which your sensitivity and awareness is an exemplary witness for Catholics. I believe that it is a hopeful sign for Catholics and Orthodox that we now celebrate together an annual Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on 1 September, following the long-standing practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this regard, I assure you of my prayers for the important international meeting on the environment to be held in Paris at which you will participate.

“Your Holiness, it is incumbent upon humanity to rediscover the mystery of mercy, 'the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness'. For this reason I have called for an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a favourable time to contemplate the Father’s mercy revealed fully in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to become ourselves an effective sign of God’s love through our mutual pardon and works of mercy. It is providential that the anniversary of that historic Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration concerning the removal of the excommunications of 1054 occurs on the eve of the Year of Mercy. Following Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, Catholics and Orthodox today must ask pardon of God and one another for divisions that Christians have brought about in the Body of Christ. I ask you and all the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to pray that this Extraordinary Jubilee may bear the spiritual fruits for which we yearn. I willingly assure you of my prayers for the events that your Church will celebrate in the year to come, especially the Pan-Orthodox Great Synod. May this important occasion for all the Orthodox Churches be a source of abundant blessings for the life of the Church”, concluded the Holy Father.

Pope Francis' prayer intentions for December

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father's universal prayer intention for December is: “That all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving”.

His intention for evangelisation is: “That families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope”.

Cardinals to take possession of their titular churches

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff today issued the following announcement:

On Saturday 5 December at 6.30 p.m., Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, bishop of Tonga, will take possession of the title of Santa Paola Romana (Via Duccio Galimberti, 9).

On Sunday 6 December at 11.0 a.m. Cardinal Pierre Nguyen Van Thon, archbishop of Na Noi, Mexico, will take possession of the title of San Tommaso Apostolo (Via Lino Liviabella, 70).

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed:

- Msgr. Jure Bogdan as military ordinary for Croatia. The bishop-elect was born in Donji Dolac, Croatia in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1980. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University and has served in a number of pastoral roles in the archdiocese of Split-Makarska, Croatia, including parish vicar and spiritual father of the archdiocesan minor seminary. He is currently rector of the Pontifical Croatian College of St. Jerome in Rome. He succeeds Bishop Juraj Jezerinac, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same military ordinariate upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- Fr. Vincent Kirabo as bishop of Hoima (area 17,200, population 2,084214, Catholics 1,075,812, priests 131, religious 130), Uganda. The bishop-elect was born in Kyanaisoke, Uganda in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1979. He holds a master's degree in education from the University of Portland, United States of America, and a licentiate in biblical theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University, Rome. He has served in a number of roles in the diocese of Hoima, including teacher and rector of the minor seminary, director of the diocesan commission for vocations, parish vicar, diocesan administrator for finance, parish priest, and teacher and bursar at the Uganda Martyrs National Minor Seminary Alokolum, Gulu. He is currently a teacher at the St. Mary's National Major Seminary Ggaba, Kampala.

- Bishop Luis Albeiro Cortes Rendon of Velez, Colombia, as auxiliary of the diocese of Pereira (area 6,126, population 1,380,000, Catholics 1,041,000, priests 210, permanent deacons 36, religious 266), Colombia.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Encounter with young Ugandans: the blood of martyrs flows in your veins

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Pope met with the young people of Uganda at the Kololo airstrip, a former airport near Kampala which is currently used for major events, and which is able to hold around a hundred thousand people. The young people had followed the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis a few hours previously at the Catholic Namugongo shrine via the maxi screens installed in the area. The civil authorities responsible for education and sport were also present in Kololo along with, in a special area, 200 young deaf people, refugees, and chaplains for youth pastoral ministry. On the stage there were another fifty young people, a couple from each diocese in the country and a group of orphans.

The Pope set aside his prepared discourse, which we reproduce below, preferring instead to converse informally with those present after listening to the testimony of two young people, Emmanuel Odokonyero and Winnie Nansumba, who told of their difficult experiences, from sickness and depression to recruitment and witnessing the torture and murder of their friends.

“As I listened to Winnie and Emmanuel's testimonies, I asked myself a question: can a negative experience have a purpose in life? Yes! … Many of us here today have had negative experiences. There is always the possibility of opening up a horizon, of opening it up with the strength of Jesus. … Because Jesus is the Lord. Jesus can do anything. And Jesus suffered the most negative experience in history: He was insulted, denied and murdered. And Jesus, through the power of God, rose again. He can do the same for each one of us, with every negative experience. This is why Jesus is the Lord.

“I imagine, and together we can all imagine Emmanuel's suffering, when he saw his companions tortured, when he saw his companions murdered. But Emmanuel was brave. … He risked everything, he had faith in Jesus and he escaped. And here he is today, fourteen years later, qualified in management. There is always a way! Our life is like a seed, that must die in order to live again; and at times this means dying physically, like Emmanuel's companions. To die as Charles Lwanga and the martyrs of Uganda died. But through this death there is a life, there is life for all. If I transform a negative into a positive, I am triumphant. But this can be done only with the grace of Jesus. … Are you willing to transform in life all those negative things into positive things? Are you willing to transform war into peace? Be conscious that you are a people of martyrs. The blood of the martyrs flows in your veins! This is why you have your faith and life. And this faith and life is so beautiful, that it is called the 'pearl of Africa'”.

“If you believe that Jesus can change your life, ask Him for His help. This is prayer. … Pray to Jesus, because He is the Saviour. Never cease praying. Prayer is the most powerful weapon a young person has. Jesus loves you. … So, open the door to your heart and let Him enter. Let Jesus enter into your life. And when Jesus enters your life, He will help you fight, to fight against all problems. … To fight against depression, to fight against AIDS. Ask for help to overcome these situations, and always to fight. Fight with desire and with prayer”.

“The third thing I would like to say … We are all in the Church, we all belong to the Church. … And the Church has a mother. Mary! … Pray to Mary! … When a child falls and hurts himself, he cries and looks for his mother. When we have a problem, the best thing we can do is to go to where our Mother is. To pray to Mary, to pray to our Mother”.

“Three things”, he concluded: “The first: overcome difficulties. The second: transform the negative into positive. And the third: prayer. Pray to Jesus, Who is capable of everything. Jesus, Who enters into our heart and changes our life. Jesus, Who came to save me and who gave His life for me. Let us pray to Jesus, because He is the only Lord. And since in the Church we are not orphans, we have a Mother, let us pray to our Mother”.

The following is the Holy Father's prepared discourse:

“Dear Young Friends,

I am happy to be here and to share these moments with you. I greet my brother bishops and the civil authorities present, and I thank Bishop Paul Ssemogerere for his words of welcome. The testimonies of Winnie and Emmanuel confirm my impression that the Church in Uganda is alive with young people who want a better future. Today, if you will allow me, I want to confirm you in your faith, encourage you in your love, and in a special way, strengthen you in your hope.

Christian hope is not simply optimism; it is much more. It is rooted in the new life we have received in Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism. This hope enables us to trust in Christ’s promises, to trust in the power of His love, His forgiveness, His friendship. That love opens the door to new life. Whenever you experience a problem, a setback, a failure, you must anchor your heart in that love, for it has the power to turn death into life and to banish every evil.

So this afternoon I would invite you, first of all, to pray for this gift to grow within you, and for the grace to become messengers of hope. There are so many people around us who experience deep anxiety and even despair. Jesus lifts these clouds, if we allow Him to.

I would also like to share with you a few thoughts about some of the obstacles which you may encounter on our journey of hope. All of you want a better future, employment, health and prosperity. This is good. You want to share your gifts, your aspirations and your enthusiasm with others, for the good of the nation and of the Church. This too is very good. But when you see poverty, when you experience lack of opportunity, when you experience failure in your lives, sometimes a feeling of despair can grow. You can be tempted to lose hope.

Have you ever seen a little child who stops in front of a dirty puddle on the path ahead of him? A puddle he cannot leap over or go around? He may try but then he stumbles and gets soaked. Then, after many attempts, he calls out to his father, who takes his hand and swings him over to the other side. We are like that child. Life presents us with many dirty puddles. But we don’t have to overcome all those problems and hurdles on our own. God is there to take our hand, if only we call on him.

What I am saying is that all of us have to be like that little child, even the Pope! For it is only when we are small and humble that we are not afraid to call out to our Father. If you have experienced his help, you know what I am speaking about. We need to learn to put our hope in him, knowing that he is always there for us. He gives us confidence and courage. But – and this is important – it would be wrong not to share this beautiful experience with others. It would be wrong for us not to become messengers of hope for others.

There is one particular puddle which can be frightening to young people who want to grow in their friendship with Christ. It is the fear of failing in our commitment to love, and above all, failing in that great and lofty ideal which is Christian marriage. You may be afraid of failing to be a good wife and mother, failing to be a good husband and father. If you are looking at that puddle, you may even see your weaknesses and fears reflected back to you. Please, don’t give in to them! Sometimes these fears come from the devil who does not want you to be happy. No! Call out to God, extend your hearts to him and he will lift you in his arms and show you how to love. I ask young couples in particular to trust that God wants to bless their love and their lives with his grace in the sacrament of marriage. God’s gift of love is at the heart of Christian marriage, not the costly parties which often obscure the deep spiritual meaning of this day of joyful celebration with family and friends.

Finally, one puddle that we all have to face is the fear of being different, of going against the grain in a society which puts increasing pressure on us to embrace models of gratification and consumption alien to the deepest values of African culture. Think about it! What would the Uganda martyrs say about the misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness? What would be the Uganda martyrs’ reaction to the growth of greed and corruption in our midst? Surely they would appeal to you to be model Christians, confident that your love of Christ, your fidelity to the Gospel, and your wise use of your God-given gifts can only enrich, purify and elevate the life of this country. They continue to show you the way. Do not be afraid to let the light of your faith shine in your families, your schools and your places of work. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue humbly with others who may see things differently.

Dear young friends, when I look at your faces I am filled with hope: hope for you, hope for your country, and hope for the Church. I ask you to pray that the hope which you have received from the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire your efforts to grow in wisdom, generosity and goodness. Don’t forget to be messengers of that hope! And don’t forget that God will help you to cross whatever puddles you meet along the way!

Hope in Christ and he will enable you to find true happiness. And if you find it hard to pray, if you find it hard to hope, do not be afraid to turn to Mary, for she is our Mother, the Mother of Hope. Finally, please, do not forget to pray for me! God bless you all!”.

In the Nalukolongo House of Charity: do not close your doors to the cry of the poor

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday, following his encounter with the young people of Uganda, the Pope transferred to the Nalukolongo House of Charity, founded in 1978 by Cardinal Emmanuel Kikwanuka Nsubunga (1914-1990) and entrusted to the Good Samaritan Sisters, the congregation he founded, which currently cares for around one hundred poor people of any religion or age, from infancy to extreme old age.

Nalukolongo is a place which, as Francis recalled in his brief address to the guests in the institution and the thirty women religious who take care of them, “has always been associated with the Church’s outreach to the poor, the handicapped, the sick. I think particularly of the great and fruitful work carried out with those people affected by AIDS. Here, in early times, slave children were ransomed and women received religious instruction. I greet the Good Samaritan Sisters who carry on this fine tradition, and I thank them for their years of quiet and joyful service in this apostolate. And here, Jesus is present here, because he said that he would always be present among the poor, the sick, convicts, the destitute, those who suffer. Jesus is here”.

“I also greet the representatives of the many other apostolic groups who serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in Uganda. Above all, I greet the residents of this home and others like it, and all who benefit from these works of Christian charity. For this is a home. Here you can find love and care; here you can feel the presence of Jesus, our brother, who loves each of us with God’s own love”.

“Today, from this Home, I appeal to all parishes and communities in Uganda – and the rest of Africa – not to forget the poor, not to forget the poor! The Gospel commands us to go out to the peripheries of society, and to find Christ in the suffering and those in need. The Lord tells us, in no uncertain terms, that is what he will judge us on! How sad it is when our societies allow the elderly to be rejected or neglected! How wrong it is when the young are exploited by the modern-day slavery of human trafficking! If we look closely at the world around us, it seems that, in many places, selfishness and indifference are spreading. How many of our brothers and sisters are victims of today’s throwaway culture, which breeds contempt above all towards the unborn, the young and the elderly!”.

“As Christians, we cannot simply stand by, stand by watching what is happening, without doing anything. Something must change! Our families need to become ever more evident signs of God’s patient and merciful love, not only for our children and elders, but for all those in need. Our parishes must not close their doors, or their ears, to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian discipleship. In this way we bear witness to the Lord who came not to be served, but to serve. In this way we show that people count more than things, that who we are is more important than what we possess. For in those whom we serve, Christ daily reveals himself and prepares the welcome which we hope one day to receive in his eternal kingdom”.

“Dear friends, by simple gestures, by simple prayerful actions which honour Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters, we can bring the power of his love into our world, and truly change it. I thank you once more for your generosity and love. I will remember you always in my prayers and I ask you, please, to pray for me. I commend all of you to the loving protection of Mary, our Mother, and I give you my blessing. Omukama abakuume (God protect you!)”.

The Pope meets the clergy of Uganda: maintain memory and continue to bear witness

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) The Pope's day ended with an encounter with the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians in the cathedral of Kampala, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Beforehand the Holy Father met with the bishops of Uganda, around thirty in number, including bishops emeritus, in the archbishop's residence near the cathedral.

Upon arrival he was greeted by the bishop responsible for consecrated life, John Baptist Kaggwa, to whom he handed the discourse he had prepared for the occasion, and addressed some extemporaneous remarks in Spanish to those present, apologising for nt doing so in English.

“There are three things I want to say”, Francis began. “First, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his people: 'Do not forget'. He repeats it several times throughout the book: 'Do not forget'. Do not forget all that God has done for the people. The first thing I want to say is: ask for the grace of memory. As I said to the young, the blood of the Catholics of Uganda is mixed the blood of martyrs. Do not lose the memory of this seed, so in this way you will continue to grow. The main enemy of memory is forgetfulness, but it is not the most dangerous. The most dangerous enemy of memory is getting used to inheriting the goods of our fathers. The Church in Uganda should never grow accustomed to viewing her martyrs as a distant memory. Martyr means witness. The Church in Uganda, to be faithful to this memory, must continue to be a witness. You should not 'live off the interest'. Past glories have been the beginning, but you must build future glories too. And this is the task that the Church entrusts to you: to bear witness, like the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel”.

“In order to be witnesses, we need faithfulness. Fidelity to memory, fidelity to our vocation, fidelity to apostolic zeal. Faithfulness means following the way of holiness. It means doing what previous witnesses did: being missionaries. Perhaps here in Uganda there are dioceses that have many priests and dioceses that have few. Faithfulness means suggesting to the bishop that you go to another diocese in need of missionaries. And this is not easy. Faithfulness means perseverance in your vocation. Here I wish to thank the Sisters of the House of Mercy in a special way for the example of faithfulness they give: fidelity to the poor, the sick and the needy, because Christ is there. Uganda has been irrigated by the blood of martyrs and witnesses. Today it is necessary to continue to irrigate it, and to welcome new challenges, new witnesses and new missions. Otherwise, you will lose the great wealth you have, and the 'pearl of Africa' will end up preserved in a museum, because this is how the devil attacks , little by little. I am speaking not only to priests, but also to the religious. But I wish to say this in a special way to priests, with regard to the problem of mission: may priests in dioceses where the clergy is well-represented offer themselves to diocese with fewer clergy, so Uganda can continue to be missionary”.

“Memory, which means fidelity; and fidelity, which is only possible with the prayer. If a religious, a nun or a priest stops praying or prays rarely, because he or she has a lot of work, then he or she has already started to lose memory, which means losing faithfulness. Prayer also means humiliation: the humiliation of going regularly to the confessor, to tell him your sins. You can not limp with both legs. We men and women religious, priests can not lead a double life. If you are a sinner, if you are a sinner, ask forgiveness. But not to hide a lack of fidelity. Do not close memory away in the cupboard”.

“Memory, new challenges, faithfulness to memory, and prayer. Prayer always begins with recognition that we are sinners. With these three pillars the “pearl of Africa” will continue to be a pearl, and not just a phrase we find in the dictionary. May the martyrs, who gave strength to this Church, help you to move forward in memory, fidelity and prayer. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me”.

Finally, Pope Francis invited those present to pray the Hail Mary together.

The following is the discourse prepared by the Holy Father for his encounter with the clergy.

“Dear Brother Priests, Religious and Seminarians,

I am happy to be with you, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I especially thank the speakers for bearing witness to your hopes and concerns, and, above all, the joy which inspires you in your service to God’s people in Uganda.

I am pleased, too, that our meeting takes place on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, a season which invites us to look to new beginnings. This Advent we are also preparing to cross the threshold of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which I have called for the whole Church.

As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I would ask you two questions. First: who are you, as priests or future priests, and as consecrated persons? In one sense, the answer is an easy one: surely you are men and women whose lives have been shaped by a 'personal encounter with Jesus Christ'. Jesus has touched your hearts, called you by name, and asked you to follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.

The Church in Uganda has been blessed, in its short yet venerable history, with a great cloud of witnesses – lay faithful, catechists, priests and religious – who forsook everything for the love of Jesus: homes, families, and, in the case of the martyrs, their own lives. In your own lives, whether in the priestly ministry or in your religious consecration, you are called to carry on this great legacy, above all with quiet acts of humble service. Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples. May we never forget that our 'yes' to Jesus is a 'yes' to his people. Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.

A second question I would ask you tonight is: What more are you called to do in living your specific vocation? Because there is always more that we can do, another mile to be walked on our journey.

God’s people, indeed all people, yearn for new life, forgiveness and peace. Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us. I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace. If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this Cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of his mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries.

All of us know well how difficult this can be. There is so much work to be done. At the same time, modern life also offers so many distractions which can dull our consciences, dissipate our zeal, and even lure us into that 'spiritual worldliness' which eats away at the foundations of the Christian life. The work of conversion – that conversion which is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus – must be carried out each day, in the battle to recognise and overcome those habits and ways of thinking which can fuel spiritual complacency. We need to examine our consciences, as individuals and as communities.

As I mentioned, we are entering the season of Advent, which is a time of new beginnings. In the Church we like to say that Africa is the continent of hope, and with good reason. The Church in these lands is blessed with an abundant harvest of religious vocations. This evening I would offer a special word of encouragement to the young seminarians and religious present. The Lord’s call is a source of joy and a summons to serve. Jesus tells us that 'it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks'. May the fire of the Holy Spirit purify your hearts, so that you can be joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel. You have a beautiful word to speak! May you always speak it, above all, by the integrity and conviction of your lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, my visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church. Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises. I will remember all of you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me!”.

The Pope arrives in the Central African Republic as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning, at 9.15 local time (7.15 in Rome), the Holy Father left Uganda to embark on the final phase of his eleventh apostolic trip, in the Central African Republic, reaching the capital Bangui at 10 am local time, the same as in Rome. The Pope was received by the Head of State of the Transition of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, who is also the deputy president of the Association of African Women Jurists. The Head of State, mayor of the capital during the 2012- 2013 armed conflict, was elected as interim president to govern the country during the phase of transition between civil war and the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in December.

From the airport the Pope proceeded to the Palais de la Renaissance, where after meeting with the family of the president in private, he encountered the ruling class and diplomatic corps accredited to the country, to whom he expressed his sympathy and spiritual closeness to all Central Africans. The bishop of Rome also greeted the representatives of international organisations whose work evokes “the ideal of solidarity and cooperation which needs to be cultivated between peoples and nations”.

“As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalisation of its social and political life, I come to this land for the first time, following my predecessor St. John Paul II. I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope. For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point. It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history”.

“To brighten the horizon, there is the motto of the Central African Republic, which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers: 'Unity-Dignity-Labour'. Today, more than ever, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African. Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country. Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted”.

“First, unity. This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, avoiding the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession. Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others”.

Then, dignity. This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterise men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect. Each person has dignity. I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the 'Zo kwe zo', the country where everybody is somebody. Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person. Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential. Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity. In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man”.

“Finally, labour. It is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. St. Paul tells us that 'children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children'. The work of parents expresses their love for their children. And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvellous land by wisely exploiting its many resources. Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity. In this regard, echoing my cncyclical 'Laudato Si’', I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet. The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort. The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: 'The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home'”.

“It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots”.

“The history of the evangelisation of this land and the socio-political history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour. In recalling the pioneers of evangelisation in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work. With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation. I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission. In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to 'promoting the good of every man and of the whole man', to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age”.

“For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organisations. I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity, in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels”.

“To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness. Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts! May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice. May God bless you all! Thank you”.

After his meeting with the country's leaders, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to the refugee camp in the parish of St. Sauveur, where he was welcomed by the children who live there and greeted by a woman residing there. The Pope greeted all present and addressed the following words to them: “We must work and pray to do everything possible for peace, but peace without love, without friendship, without tolerance and without forgiveness, is not possible. Each one of us must do something. I wish peace upon all of you and for all Central Africans, a great peace among you; that you may live in peace regardless of ethnic group, culture, religion or social status. Peace to all, as we are all brothers and sisters. I would like us all to say together that we are all brothers and sisters, and therefore we want peace. I bring you the Lord's blessing”.

This afternoon, after lunching with the bishops of the Central African Republic at the apostolic nunciature, he will visit the faculty of theology in Bangui, where he will pronounce a discourse before the country's evangelical communities.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Francis in Uganda: despite our different beliefs, we must all seek truth and work for justice and reconciliation

Vatican City, 28 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon Pope Francis arrived in Uganda, the second leg of his apostolic trip in Africa. He was awaited at at the airport by President Yoweri Kaguta Museweni, representatives of the religious and civil authorities, and a group of dancers who performed a traditional dance in his honour. From the airport the Pope transferred to the State House in Entebbe, where he privately greeted the family of the president, who was also Head of State during St. John Paul II's visit to the country. He then met with the authorities and the diplomatic corps of Uganda.

In his address in the Conference Hall, Francis emphasised that his visit was intended to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation of the martyrs of Uganda by his predecessor Pope Paul VI, but at the same time he hoped it would also be “a sign of friendship, esteem and encouragement for all the people of this great nation”.

“The Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, are true national heroes. They bear witness to the guiding principles expressed in Uganda’s motto – For God and My Country. They remind us of the importance that faith, moral rectitude and commitment to the common good have played, and continue to play, in the cultural, economic and political life of this country. They also remind us that, despite our different beliefs and convictions, all of us are called to seek the truth, to work for justice and reconciliation, and to respect, protect and help one another as members of our one human family. These high ideals are particularly demanded of men and women like yourselves, who are charged with ensuring good and transparent governance, integral human development, a broad participation in national life, as well as a wise and just distribution of the goods which the Creator has so richly bestowed upon these lands”.

“My visit is also meant to draw attention to Africa as a whole, its promise, its hopes, its struggles and its achievements”, he continued. “The world looks to Africa as the continent of hope. Uganda has indeed been blessed by God with abundant natural resources, which you are challenged to administer as responsible stewards. But above all, the nation has been blessed in its people: its strong families, its young and its elderly... the living memory of every people”.

Francis praised Uganda's “outstanding concern” for refugees, which has enabled them “to rebuild their lives in security and to sense the dignity which comes from earning one’s livelihood through honest labour. Our world, caught up in wars, violence, and various forms of injustice, is witnessing an unprecedented movement of peoples. How we deal with them is a test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity, and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need”.

“I hope to encourage the many quiet efforts being made to care for the poor, the sick and those in any kind of trouble. It is in these small signs that we see the true soul of a people. In so many ways, our world is growing closer; yet at the same time we see with concern the globalisation of a 'throwaway culture' which blinds us to spiritual values, hardens our hearts before the needs of the poor, and robs our young of hope”.

He concluded, “As I look forward to meeting you and spending this time with you, I pray that you, Mr. President, and all the beloved Ugandan people, will always prove worthy of the values which have shaped the soul of your nation. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord’s richest blessings. Mungu awabariki!”.

At the Munyonyo Shrine: may the martyrs obtain for you the grace to be wise teachers

Vatican City, 28 November 2015 (VIS) – Following his encounter with the leaders of Uganda, the Pope travelled 38 kilometres by car from Entebbe to Munyonyo, the place where King Mwanga II (1884-1903) chose to exterminate the Christians of Uganda and where in May 1886 the first four martyrs were killed, including St. Andrew Kaggwa, patron of Ugandan catechists. Every year catechists gather in the area of the shrine of Munyonyo, now entrusted to the Conventual Franciscans, where a new Church able to hold a thousand people is being built. Among the catechists attending the meeting with the Holy Father there was also a representation of teachers from the Uganda National Council of Laity, as laypeople have played, and continue to play, a very important role in the evangelisation of the country.

Upon arrival, the Pope was received by the superior of the Franciscans and by Archbishiop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala, who accompanied him to the churchyard where he planted and watered a tree, along with the archbishop and leaders of the Orthodox and Protestant confessions to underline the ecumenical aspect of the Ugandan martyrs. Indeed, dozens of Anglicans were killed during the reign of King Mwanga II, alongside twenty-two of his servants, pages and functionaries who were converted to Catholicism by the missionaries of Africa.

After blessing the new statue of St. Andrew Kaggwa, located in the place of his martyrdom, the Pope addressed the catechists, first thanking them for their sacrifices in fulfilling their mission. “You teach what Jesus taught, you instruct adults and help parents to raise their children in the faith, and you bring the joy and hope of eternal life to all”, he said. “Thank you for your dedication, your example, your closeness to God’s people in their daily lives, and all the many ways you plant and nurture the seeds of faith throughout this vast land. Thank you especially for teaching our children and young people how to pray”.

“I know that your work, although rewarding, is not easy. So I encourage you to persevere, and I ask your bishops and priests to support you with a doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral formation capable of making you ever more effective in your outreach. Even when the task seems too much, the resources too few, the obstacles too great, it should never be forgotten that yours is a holy work. The Holy Spirit is present wherever the name of Christ is proclaimed. He is in our midst whenever we lift up our hearts and minds to God in prayer. He will give you the light and strength you need! The message you bring will take root all the more firmly in people’s hearts if you are not only a teacher but also a witness. Your example should speak to everyone of the beauty of prayer, the power of mercy and forgiveness, the joy of sharing in the Eucharist with all our brothers and sisters”.

“The Christian community in Uganda grew strong through the witness of the martyrs”, he continued. “They testified to the truth which sets men free; they were willing to shed their blood to be faithful to what they knew was good and beautiful and true. We stand here today in Munyonyo at the place where King Mwanga determined to wipe out the followers of Christ. He failed in this, just as King Herod failed to kill Jesus. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. After seeing the fearless testimony of Saint Andrew Kaggwa and his companions, Christians in Uganda became even more convinced of Christ’s promises”.

“May Saint Andrew, your patron, and all the Ugandan catechist martyrs, obtain for you the grace to be wise teachers, men and women whose every word is filled with grace, convincing witnesses to the splendour of God’s truth and the joy of the Gospel”, the Pontiff concluded. “Go forth without fear to every town and village in this country, to spread the good seed of God’s word, and trust in his promise that you will come back rejoicing, with sheaves full from the harvest. Omukama Abawe Omukisa! God bless you!”.

Yesterday evening in the nunciature of Kampala Pope Francis received the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir. The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., underlined that the audience represented a “special gesture” demonstrating the attention with which the Pope follows the troubled events in this country, the youngest in Africa (independent since July 2011), and whose founders included the Catholic bishop Cesare Mazzolari, who died shortly after its birth. South Sudan has not yet known peace, although the ideals that inspired its independence included peacemaking between ethnic groups and with Sudan.

Homily at the Namugongo shrines: we honour the Ugandan martyrs when we carry on their witness to Christ

Vatican City, 28 November 2015 (VIS) – Early this morning, the Pope visited the Anglican shrine at Namugongo (under the jurisdiction of the Church of Uganda), erected in the place where 25 Ugandans, Catholics and Anglicans, were martyred between 1884 and 1887. Their relics are conserved in a chapel adjacent to the holy building, situated just a few kilometres from the Catholic shrine. Francis was welcomed by the Anglican archbishop Stanley Ntagali, and he unveiled a commemorative plaque near the recently restored chapel. He then went to the place where the martyrs were condemned, tortured and killed. Forty bishops of the Ugandan Anglican episcopate were present in the chapel. After praying a few minutes in silence, the Holy Father took leave of Archbishop Ntagali and travelled the three kilometres between the Anglican and Catholic shrines by popemobile.

The national Catholic shrine of Namugongo stands in a large natural park where religious ceremonies are often held in the open air, due to the large numbers of faithful. The shape of the Church recalls that of the traditional huts of the Baganda or “Akasiisiira” ethnic group, and is supported by 22 pillars commemorating the 22 Catholic martyrs. In front of the main entrance to the Basilica, below the great altar, there is the place where Charles Lwanga was burned alive in 1886. The church was consecrated by Blessed Paul VI during his apostolic trip to Uganda in 1969, and is a destination for pilgrims throughout the year, but especially on 3 June, the day of Charles Lwanga's martyrdom.

Before celebrating the Eucharist, Francis entered the Basilica and prayed before the altar which holds the relics of Charles Lwanga. He then toured the area by popemobile to greet the thousands of faithful who attended the votive Mass for the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation of the martyrs of Uganda, and pronounced the following homily:

“From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone 'to the end of the earth'. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age”.

“We too have received the gift of the Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, but also so that we may bear witness to Jesus and make him everywhere known and loved. We received the Spirit when we were reborn in Baptism, and we were strengthened by his gifts at our Confirmation. Every day we are called to deepen the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life, to 'fan into flame' the gift of his divine love so that we may be a source of wisdom and strength to others”.

“The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love. I think of Saints Joseph Mkasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechised by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times. Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross”.

“If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be. To our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us. This openness to others begins first in the family, in our homes where charity and forgiveness are learned, and the mercy and love of God made known in our parents’ love. It finds expression too in our care for the elderly and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned”.

“The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home”.

“Dear brothers and sisters, this is the legacy which you have received from the Ugandan martyrs – lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit, lives which witness even now to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world”.

“May the Uganda martyrs, together with Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the fire of his divine love! Omukama abawe omukisa. God bless you!”.

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