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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Historic encounter between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia: Orthodox and Catholics are brothers, not competitors

Vatican City, 13 February 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father Francis yesterday began his twelfth apostolic trip with an historic encounter at the Jose Marti airport of Havana, Cuba, with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, at the end of which the two leaders signed a joint declaration.

The Pope, after a twelve-hour flight, arrived in Cuba shortly after 2 p.m. (local time; 8 p.m. in Rome) in Havana, where he was received by the president of Cuba, Raul Castro, in the presence of, among others, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of San Cristobal de La Habana, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The encounter with the Patriarch Kirill took place in a room in the airport, and was also attended by the Metropolitan Hilarion, president of the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate of Russia, and Cardinal Koch. His Holiness Kirill has been a member of the Orthodox Holy Synod Commission for Christian Unity since 1979. In 2006 he consecrated the first Russian Orthodox church in Rome and in 2008 he inaugurated the Cathedral of the Virgin of Kazan in Havana, the first Orthodox church in Cuba. He was elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 2009 by a large majority and was enthroned in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow, a ceremony attended on behalf of the Holy See by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the then-president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

After an intense two-hour meeting, the Pope and the Patriarch proceeded to another room in the airport, where they were awaited by President Castro, in order to sign a Joint Declaration divided into thirty points in which it is recognised that Catholics and Orthodox share the same spiritual tradition of the first millennium of Christianity, despite the division cause by the wounds of conflicts in both distant and recent past, and the differences inherited from ancestors in the understanding and explanation of their faith in God. In the text the bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow express their hope that their meeting may contribute to achieving the unity commanded by God and for which Christ prayed, and emphasised that Catholics and Orthodox must learn to carry forward joint witness to the truth in the areas where this is possible and necessary.

It also makes reference to the Christians persecuted in various regions of the world and launches an appeal to the international community for immediate measures to avoid further displacement of Christians in the Middle East. It expresses joy at the rebirth of Christian faith in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe following the fall of the atheist regimes, and shares concerns regarding the destiny of millions of migrants and refugees who knock on the doors of wealthier countries, and for the crisis in the family in some countries. It reiterates an appeal in favour of the inalienable right to life and the mission that unites Orthodox and Catholics of preaching the Gospel of Christ in the contemporary world, and expresses the hope that the division between the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may be overcome so that all may live in peace and harmony, and that the country's Catholic communities may be able to contribute to this.

Following the signing of the Declaration, the Pope gave a brief, heartfelt extemporaneous address: "We speak as brothers, we have the same Baptism, we are bishops. We speak of our Churches, and we agree that unity is achieved by walking forwards. We speak clearly, without ambiguity, and I must say I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in our conversation. I give thanks for Your Holiness’ humility, your fraternal humility, and your real desire for unity.

"We have taken up a series of initiatives which I believe are viable and can be realised. Thus I wish to thank Your Holiness, once again, for your warm welcome, as well as those collaborating with us – and I mention but two: His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion and His Eminence Cardinal Koch, who with their colleagues worked towards this moment.

"I do not wish to leave without expressing my sincere gratitude to Cuba, to the great Cuban people and to their President here with us. I thank you for your concrete willingness to help. If Cuba continues in this way, it will become the capital of unity.

"And may all this be for the glory of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, for the good of the whole faithful People of God, under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God".

The encounter ended with an exchange of gifts between the Pope and the Patriarch. Francis gave the Patriarch a reliquary of St. Cyril and a chalice, and His Holiness Kirill gave the Pope an original copy of the icon of the Virgin of Kazan.

The following is the full text of the Joint Declaration:

“'The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you'.

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another 'to speak face to face', from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilisation.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the long-standing disputes of the 'Old World', we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us.

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the 'seed of Christians'.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: 'So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one'.

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilisation has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.

We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.

11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, 'the fruit of justice', so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.

We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: 'Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly' (1 Pet 4:12–13).

13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, 'since God is not the God of disorder but of peace'.

14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.

15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularised societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.

16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilisation, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.

17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.

18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that 'God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God'.

19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.

20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.

21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God.

The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.

We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.

22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground, but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.

23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that 'you have been purchased at a great price', at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.

24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.

We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be 'in harmony with one another'. Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: 'Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation'.

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of 'uniatism', understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.

27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.

28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, 'so that the world may believe'. This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.

29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: 'Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom'.

Christ is the wellspring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: 'Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy'.

30. With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: 'We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God'. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!".

Bishop of Rome
Pope of the Catholic Church

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

12 February, Havana, Cuba

Pope Francis arrives in Mexico: pray to Our Lady for those who love you and those who have done you harm

Vatican City, 13 February 2016 (VIS) – After signing the Joint Declaration with Patriarch Kirill, the Pope departed by air for Mexico. During the trip he spoke briefly with journalists, expressing his joy at the encounter with the Patriarch and the willingness of President Raul Castro to host the meeting.

The Pope revealed that he had spoken with the Cuban president at his previous meeting and that the latter had expressed his full availability to facilitate the meeting between the bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in Havana. Francis thanked President Castro for this gesture and spoke about his experience with His Holiness Kirill.

"In all honesty, I felt I was in front of a brother, and he said the same to me too. Two bishops who talk about the situation of their Churches, first of all, and the situation of the world … of wars that now risk becoming not only piecemeal but which instead involve all; and of the situation of Orthodoxy. … Finally we established a programme of possible joint activities, because unity is built by walking together. Once I said that if unity is created through study, by studying theology and so on, perhaps the Lord will come and we will still not have achieved unity. Unity is built through progress: this way the Lord, when He comes, will at least find us walking together".

"Finally, we signed the Declaration. … There will be many interpretations. ... But it is not a political declaration, nor is it a sociological declaration. It is a pastoral declaration, even when it refers to secularism and explicit issues such as bio-genetic manipulation and all these things. But it is pastoral: it is the work of two bishops who met each other with pastoral concern. And I am happy".

After a further three-hour flight, the Pope arrived at 7.30 p.m. local time (2.30 a.m. in Rome) at Mexico City's Benito Juarez airport, where he was received by President Enrique Pena Nieto, in the presence of the state authorities and representatives of the Permanent Council of Mexican Bishops. It was however an informal welcome, without protocol ceremonies or official discourses, although the Pope and the president spoke briefly in the Presidential Hall.

From the airport, Francis made a nineteen-kilometre journey by popemobile to the apostolic nunciature, where he will stay while in Mexico City, and where he was awaited by hundreds of people. He appeared later on to greet them, and before giving his blessing, he asked them to pray at home to Our Lady both for the people who love them and for those who have done them harm, so that the Mother of God would give them her blessing.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 13 February 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed:

- Fr. Jacek Kicinski, C.M.F., as auxiliary of Wroclaw (area 8.850, population 1,199,332, Catholics 1,152,710, priests 892, religious 1,174), Poland. The bishop-elect was born in Turek, Poland in 1968, gave his religious vows in 1993 and was ordained a priest in the same year. He holds a doctorate in spiritual theology from the Catholic University of Lublin and has served in a number of pastoral roles, including head of vocational pastoral ministry for his congregation, superior of the house of formation and prefect for spirituality in Wroclaw, and member of the Council for Consecrated Life and the presbyteral council. He is currently episcopal vicar for religious and professor at the Pontifical University of Theology in Wroclaw.

- Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, formerly apostolic nuncio in the Russian Federation and in Uzbekistan, as Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations and Specialist Institutions in Geneva and at the World Trade Organisation.

- Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, recently appointed apostolic nuncio in South Africa and Botswana, as apostolic nuncio in Lesotho and Namibia.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pope Francis' apostolic trip to Mexico

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father began his twelfth international apostolic trip, this time to Mexico with a stop in Havana, Cuba to meet with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The Pope arrived at Rome's international Fiumicino airport shortly after 7.30 a.m. and his flight departed at 8.24 a.m. He is expected to arrive at Jose Marti airport in Havana at 2 p.m. local time (8 p.m. in Rome).

Due to the apostolic trip and the meeting in Havana, special editions of the Vatican Information Service bulletin will be transmitted on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February.

Collection for the Holy Land

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has sent his annual letter to bishops around the world regarding the Good Friday collection for the Holy Land, "the East whence comes our redemption", as he writes in the text published yesterday and dated 10 February. "There lie our roots; there lies our heart. We are indebted to those who went out from there, carrying the light of faith to the world. Likewise, we are indebted to those who remained to give witness to that faith, in spite of the conflicts that have always tortured that Land", continues the prelate. "Nonetheless, the Christians in the Holy Land care for the places marked by the passage of Jesus Himself, allowing us to touch, as it were, the truth of our faith".

"This land challenges our charity, as it always has, yet today with a growing urgency. Indeed, every person who lives and works there deserves our prayers and our concrete assistance, so necessary for the continuation of the work of healing wounds and fostering confidently justice and peace. In this Jubilee year, we are urged more than ever to demonstrate our mercy and solicitude for our brothers in the Middle East. Refugees, displaced persons, the elderly, children, and the sick are all in need of our help. In this land of the East, people are dying, being kidnapped and even killed. Many live in agony for their loved ones, or suffer when the family is divided on account of forced migration and exodus. They know the darkness and fear of neglect, of loneliness, of misunderstanding. It is a time of trials and challenges, even of martyrdom. All this necessarily augments our obligation to help, to respond to emergencies, to reconstruct and to invent new ways of meeting the whole gamut of needs".

'We cannot remain indifferent: God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind, God does not abandon us'. This care is expressed by our open hands, contributing generously. It can also be shown by making pilgrimages without fear to the places of our salvation, visiting also the schools and centers of assistance, where one can draw near to the local Christians and listen to their stories. The Collection for the Holy Land reminds us of an 'ancient' duty, which the history of recent years has made more urgent, but no less a source of the joy that comes from helping our brothers".

The Collection for the Holy Land is destined for Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

In a report included with the letter the Cardinal provides a summary of the activities carried out in the Holy Land by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land as a result of the 2015 collection, destined both for pilgrims (restoration of some of the Holy Places and works to improve reception), and for local communities (parish family counselling centres, support for artisanal initiatives, study grants, subsidies enabling young families to stay in the Holy Land, schools, and medical and social assistance).

Among the other works this year, special attention has been paid to Christians in Lebanon and Syria who live in situations of extreme need, by sending money to support local communities, the reconstruction of infrastructure and the development of new initiatives.

Ash Wednesday: God invites us to let ourselves be forgiven

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) - This afternoon, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with the rite of the blessing and imposition of the ashes and the conferral of the mandate to the Jubilee Missionaries of Mercy. Cardinals, bishops and more than 700 Missionaries concelebrated with the Holy Father, who at the end of the Mass conferred upon the Missionaries their mandate and the faculty of absolving sins reserved to the Apostolic See. There are more than a thousand Missionaries of Mercy throughout the world, bearing special witness in each Church to the extraordinary nature of the Jubilee.

In his homily, the Holy Father remarked that at the beginning of the Lenten period, the Word of God addresses two invitations to us: "The first, as St. Paul said, is to let ourselves be reconciled with God ... as Christ knows the weakness of our heart; He sees that it is wounded by the evil we have committed and suffered; He knows how much we are in need of forgiveness, and He knows that we need to feel we are loved in order to do good. We are not able to do this by ourselves: therefore the apostle does not tell us to do something, but rather to let ourselves be reconciliated with God. ... He vanquishes sin and lifts us up from our miseries, if we entrust them to Him. It is up to us to recognise that we are in need of mercy; it is the first step on the Christian path and means entering through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself, the Saviour, awaits us and offers us a new and joyful life".

There are some obstacles to the doors of the heart, and the Pope included among these the "temptation to lock the doors, or rather to live with our sin, minimising it, always justifying it, thinking that we are no worse than others; in this way, however, we lock up our soul and stay trapped inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is our shame at opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, as it indicates that we want to reject evil; however, one must not convert in fear". The third obstacle is that of "distancing ourselves from the door, which happens when we close ourselves up in our miseries, when we dwell on them continually, linking the negative aspects among them to the point of casting ourselves into the darkest depths of the soul. We become familiar with the sadness we do not want, we are discouraged and we become weaker when faced with temptation. This happens when we stay by ourselves, closing ourselves away and hiding from the light, whereas only the grace of the Lord can free us".

God's second invitation comes from the prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart". "If there is a need to return, it is because we have drifted away", observed the Holy Father. "It is the mystery of sin: we have drifted away from God, from others, from ourselves. It is not difficult to become aware of this: we all see how we struggle to truly trust in God, to entrust ourselves to Him as our Father, without fear; how arduous it may be to love others; how much it costs us to truly do good, while we are attracted and seduced by so many material things, which vanish and in the end leave us poor. Alongside this history of sin, Jesus inaugurated a history of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be active agents, embracing three remedies, three forms of 'medicine' that cure us from sin".
The first is "prayer, the expression of openness and trust in the Lord: it is a personal encounter with Him, that reduces the distances created by sin. Praying means saying, 'I am not self-sufficient, I need You. You are my life and my salvation'". The second medicine, continued the Pope, is "charity, to overcome the sensation of extraneousness in relation to others. True love, in fact, is not an external act; it is not about giving in a paternalistic fashion to ease our conscience, but rather accepting those who are in need of our time, our friendship and our help". Finally, "fasting, penance to free ourselves of the dependencies of the past and to learn to become more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and sharing: giving up something from our own table, some of our own goods, to rediscover the true good of freedom".

"Turn to me, says the Lord, turn with all your heart. Not only by external acts", emphasised the Holy Father at the end of his homily, "but rather from the very depths of our selves. Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and genuineness, conquering hypocrisy. May Lent be a time for 'pruning' away falsity, worldliness and indifference, so as not to think that 'everything is fine if I am fine', to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consent, but rather the purity of heart and life to rediscover Christian identity, which is love that serves, not selfishness that serves itself".

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - The Holy Father has appointed:

- Rev. Fr. Antonio Giuseppe Caiazzo as archbishop of Matera - Irsina (area 2,095, population 142,748, Catholics 140,000, priests 92, religious 90), Italy. The bishop-elect was born in Isola Capo Rizzuto, Italy in 1956 and ordained a priest in 1981. He holds a doctorate in liturgy from the St. Anselm Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Rome, and has served as lecturer and member of the liturgical commission of the Italian Episcopal Conference, director of the diocesan centre of liturgy, rector of a minor seminary and member of the presbyterium in the diocese of Crotone, Italy. He is currently episcopal vicar for the clergy and consecrated life and parish priest.

- Msgr. Tomas Holub as bishop of Plzen (area 9,236, population 853,700, Catholics 119,100, priests 92, permanent deacons 6, religious 67), Czech Republic. The bishop-elect was born in Jaromer, Czech Republic in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1993. He holds a degree in moral theology from the Charles University of Prague, and has served as military almoner and diocesan vicar general. He is currently general secretary of the Czech Episcopal Conference and parish priest. He succeeds Bishop Frantisek Radkovsky, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pope Francis receives in audience the prime minister of Iraq: importance of presence of Christians and ethnic minorities and defence of their rights

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) - Today, in the study of the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father Francis received in audience Haydar al-Abadi, prime minister of Iraq, who subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, reference was made to the good state of bilateral relations, to the life of the Church in the country and to the situation of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities living in Iraq, with particular reference to the importance of their presence and the need to protect their rights. Emphasis was placed on the role of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting tolerance and peace.

In this context, mention was made of the importance of the reconciliation process between the various social sectors within the country, and the national humanitarian and regional situation.

General audience: mercy must also reach our pockets

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father dedicated the catechesis of his Wednesday general audience, held in St. Peter's Square, to a reflection on the biblical meaning of the Jubilee. Francis explained that every fifty years, on the Day of Atonement, a great event of liberation was announced. It consisted of a type of "general amnesty", in which all debts were cancelled and the land was restored to its owners. The central idea is that the earth belongs to God and has been entrusted to men as administrators. The Pope added that the biblical jubilee was a true jubilee of mercy which had the function of helping the people to experience genuine fraternity by sincerely pursuing, by means of mutual assistance, the good of their brother in need. Likewise he mentioned other rules and customs, such as the payment of the tithe, or one-tenth of their harvest, or the sharing of the first part of the harvest, and the prohibition of loads with disproportionate rates of interest, all intended to help the poor, the orphans and widows. Francis emphasised that the message of the biblical jubilee invites us to construct a land and a society based on solidarity, sharing and the just distribution of resources.

He stressed that if the Jubilee does not "reach our pockets" then it is not a true jubilee, and that this, "is in the Bible, it wasn't invented by the Pope". "We are all guests of the Lord, awaiting the celestial homeland, called upon to make the world that welcomes us inhabitable and human. And how much of the harvest the more fortunate could give to those who are in need! Not only the fruits of the fields, but also any other produce of work: salaries, savings, the many things we possess and which are often wasted. It also happens today".

"Thinking of this, the Holy Scripture insistently exhorts us to respond generously to requests for loans, without mean calculations and without demanding unreasonable rates of interest. … This teaching remains current. How many situations of usury do we see, and how much suffering and anguish among families? Very often, in desperation, men even arrive at the point of suicide because they can no longer cope; they are without hope and no-one extends a hand to help them, only a hand to demand they pay interest. Usury is a grave sin. … But the Lord promised His blessing to those who extend their hand to give generously. He will redouble the repayment, perhaps not in money but with other things; it will always be redoubled". Francis concluded by reiterating that "if we wish to receive God's mercy, we must start by being merciful ourselves, starting with our co-citizens, among families, peoples, continents. Contributing to creating an earth without poverty means building societies without discrimination, based on the solidarity that leads us to share what we possess, in a division of resources based on brotherhood and justice".

Mary, example of tenderness in the care of the sick

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – At the end of today's general audience, the Holy Father mentioned that tomorrow, the memory of Our Lady of Lourdes, will be the 24th World Day of the Sick. "In this year's message we reflect on the indispensable role of Mary in the wedding at Cana: 'Do whatever He tells you'. Mary's promptness reflects God's tenderness and the immense goodness of Merciful Jesus".

Francis invited those present to pray for the sick and to let them be aware of our love. "May the same tenderness of Mary's be present in the life of the many people who are by the side of the sick, so they may be able to perceive their needs, even those that are imperceptible, as they are seen through eyes filled with love".

Holy Father's Message for the "KeepLent" initiative

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – Pope Francis inaugurated the "KeepLent" initiative organised by the Youth Pastoral of the Prelature of Pompeii, Italy, with a voice message broadcast via the "Telegram" instant messaging application at 7.30 this morning.

"Dear boys and girls,

Jesus said to His disciples, 'Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them … So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets … Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you"

The Word of God guides us in living well the Lenten period.

When we do something good, at times we are tempted to be appreciated and to seek recompense: human glory. But it is a false recompense as it projects us towards what others think of us.

Jesus asks us to do good because it is good. He asks us to be aware that we are always under the watch of the heavenly Father and to live in relation to Him, not in relation to the judgement of others.

Living in the presence of the Father is a far more profound joy than worldly glory.

Our attitude during Lent must therefore be that of living in secret where the Father sees us, loves us and awaits us. Certainly, even external things are important, but we must always choose and live in the presence of God.

Let us do so in prayer, in mortification, and in the fraternal charity that we are able to give, humbly, before God. We will thus be worthy of the recompense of God the Father.

I wish you a good Lent. May Our Lady of Pompeii accompany you, and please, pray for me".

The Pope to the Missionaries of Mercy: show the maternity of the Church

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – Showing the maternal face of the Church, being aware of the need for forgiveness and the sense of shame of those who confess, and not applying a harsh form of justice were the main features of the advice Pope Francis gave yesterday afternoon to the Missionaries of Mercy from all continents, whom he received in audience in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. Today, during the Ash Wednesday Mass, he will confer to them their mandate as "missionaries" of mercy in the context of the Jubilee.

"I meet with you with great pleasure, before giving you the mandate of being Missionaries of Mercy. This is a sign of special relevance because it characterises the Jubilee, and enables the unfathomable mystery of the mercy of the Father to be lived in all the local Churches", said the Holy Father. "Being a missionary of mercy is a responsibility I have entrusted to you because it requires that you be witnesses in the first person of God's closeness and his way of loving. It is not our way, always limited and at times contradictory, but His way of loving, His way of forgiving, that is indeed mercy".

Francis went on to remind the new missionaries that in their ministry they are called upon to express the maternity of the Church. "The Church is a mother because she always generates new sons and daughters in faith; the Church is a mother also because she nurtures faith; and the Church is a mother also because she offers God's forgiveness, regenerating new life, the fruit of conversion. We cannot run the risk that a penitent does not perceive the maternal presence of the Church who welcomes and loves him. If this perception were to be made less evident as a result of our rigidity, it would constitute a grave damage first and foremost to faith itself, as it would prevent the penitent from seeing himself as integrated within the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it would greatly limit his sense of being part of a community. We are instead called upon to be a living expression of the Church who, as a mother, welcomes anyone who approaches her, knowing that through her they are integrated with Christ. Entering into the confessional let us always remember that it is Christ Who welcomes, Christ Who listens, Christ Who forgives, and Christ Who gives peace. We are His ministers, and we are the first who are in need of His forgiveness. Therefore, whatever may be the sin to be confessed – or that the person does not dare to say, but alludes to, which is enough – each missionary is called upon to remember their own existence as a sinner and to humbly place himself as a 'channel' of God's mercy".

Another important aspect is to know how to "look at the desire for forgiveness in the penitent's heart. It is the fruit of grace and its action in the life of people, which enables us to feel nostalgia for God, for His love and His home. Let us not forget that it is precisely this desire that is at the beginning of conversion. The heart turns to God, recognising the in committed, but with the hope of obtaining forgiveness. And this desire is strengthened when one decides in one's heart to change life and to sin no more. It is the moment at which one entrusts oneself to God's mercy, trusting fully in being understood, forgiven and supported by Him. Let us allow ample space to this desire for God and for His forgiveness; may we let it emerge as a true expression of the grace of the Spirit that inspires the conversion of the heart".

Finally, the Holy Father spoke about a crucial, often neglected aspect: shame. "It is not easy to place oneself in front of another man, knowing that he represents God, and confess to sin. One is ashamed not only of the sin committed, but also of having to confess it to another", said the Pope, emphasising that the Bible from its very first pages tells us about how Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, felt shame and hid themselves from God. Noah too, considered a righteous man, was not free from sin. His intemperance is a sign of his weakness, to the extent that he loses his dignity, expressed in the Scripture by his nakedness. Two of his sons, Shem and Japheth take his cloak and cover him to restore his dignity.

"This passage suggests to me the importance of our role as confessor", said Francis. "Before us there is a 'naked' person, and also a person who does not know how to speak and does not know what to say … with the shame of being a sinner, and very often unable to say so. Let us not forget: before us there is not the sin, but the repentant sinner. … A person who wishes to be accepted and forgiven. Therefore, we are not called upon to judge, with an attitude of superiority, as if we were immune to sin. On the contrary, we are called upon to act like Shem and Japheth, who took a cover to spare their father from shame. Being a confessor in accordance with Christ's heart means covering the sinner with a cloak of mercy, so that he is no longer ashamed and is able to recover the joy of his filial dignity, and may also know where to find it".

"However, it is not the club of judgement that we succeed in returning the lost sheep to the flock, but rather with the holiness of life that is the starting point of renewal and reform in the Church. Holiness is nurtured with love and knows how to bear the burden of the weak. A missionary of mercy carries the sinner on his shoulders, and consoles him with the power of compassion. … It is possible to do great damage, great damage to a soul if one does not listen with the heart of a father, with the heart of the Mother Church". "Some months ago I spoke with a wise cardinal of the Roman Curia about the questions that some priests ask in confession, and he said to me, 'When a person starts and I see that they want to say something, and I realise and understand, I say, I understand, don't worry. … This is a father".

"I accompany you on this missionary adventure", concluded the bishop of Rome, "offering you as examples two saints, ministers of God's forgiveness: St. Leopold and St. Pio … along with many other priests who during their life have borne witness to God's mercy. They will help you. When you feel the burden of the sins confessed to you, and the limits of your person and your words, trust in the power of mercy that reaches out to everyone as love and knows no bounds. And say, like many saintly confessors, 'Lord, I forgive you', and go ahead".

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father appointed:

- Msgr. Lauro Tisi as metropolitan archbishop of Trento (area 6,212, population 530,308, Catholics 486,000, priests 587, permanent deacons 28, religious 726), Italy. The bishop-elect was born in Giustino, Italy in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1987. He has served in a number of pastoral roles in the archdiocese of Trento, including deputy priest, vice rector of the seminary, and spiritual father and delegate for young priests. He is currently vicar general and moderator of the Curia. He succeeds Archbishop Luigi Bressan, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- Msgr. Renato Marangoni as bishop of Belluno-Feltre (area 3,263, population 188,500, Catholics 188,300, priests 206, permanent deacons 6, religious 181), Italy. The bishop-elect was born in Crespano del Grappa, Italy in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1983. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and has served in a number of pastoral roles, including parish vicar, deputy director of the Gregorianum College in Padua, secretary of the Commission for the continuing formation of the clergy, episcopal delegate for family pastoral ministry, president of the Commission for the family, deputy director of the Istituto San Luca for the continuing formation of the clergy, member of the diocesan presbyteral council, delegate president of the presbyteral pastoral council, and episcopal vicar for lay apostolate. He is currently episcopal vicar for pastoral ministry in the diocese of Padua. He succeeds Bishop Giuseppe Andrich, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- appointed Fr. Roberto Carboni, O.F.M. Conv., as bishop of Ales-Terralba (area 1,494, population 97,830, Catholics 97,580, priests 66, permanent deacons 5, religious 89), Italy. The bishop-elect was born in Scano Montiferro, Italy in 1958, gave his religious vows in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1984. He holds a licentiate in psychology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and has served in a number of roles including spiritual director of the national centre for spiritual guidance, lecturer of psychology in the Theological Institute of Assisi and in the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Sardinia, deputy priest in Cagliari, rector of the Franciscan postulate, secretary and provincial vicar, missionary in Cuba, spiritual director of the seminary, and rector of the Church of St. Francis in Havana, Cuba. He is currently general secretary for the formation of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. He succeeds Bishop Giovanni Dettori, whose resignation from the pastoral governance of the diocese was accepted upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.


Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) – No Vatican Information Service bulletin will be transmitted tomorrow, the eighty-seventh anniversary of the institution of Vatican City State by the signing of the Lateran Pacts. Service will resume on Friday, 12 February.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

To the Friars Minor Capuchin: the confessional is for forgiveness

Vatican City, 9 February 2016 (VIS) – "Yours is a tradition of forgiving, of granting forgiveness", said Pope Francis to Friars Minor Capuchin from all over the world who participated in the Mass celebrated at the Altar of the Cathedra in St. Peter's Basilica, on the occasion of the translation of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina and St. Leopold Mandic.

"There are great confessors among you: it is because they consider themselves sinners … and before God's greatness then continually pray, 'Hear us, Lord, and forgive'. And because they know how to pray, they know how to forgive; on the contrary, when one forgets the need to ask forgiveness, slowly one forgets God. … The humble, he who considers himself a sinner, is a great forgiver in the confessional", remarked the Holy Father in his homily.

"I speak to you as a brother, and in you I would like to speak to all confessors, especially in this Year of Mercy: the confessional is for forgiveness. And if you cannot give absolution – let us make this assumption – please, do not punish. The person who comes to you does so in search of consolation, forgiveness, peace in his soul; to find a father who embraces him and says, 'God loves you', and who makes him feel this. And, although I am sorry to say this, but many people say, and I think the majority of us have heard this, 'I never go to confess because once they asked me these questions, and they did this...'. Please".

"But you Capuchins have this special gift of the Lord: forgiveness. I ask you: never tire of forgiving. …There are many languages in life: the language of words, and there are also languages of gestures. If a person comes to me, to the confessional, it is because he or she has a burden they want to remove. … If they come it is because they wish to change, to be another person, and they say so through the gesture of coming. It is not necessary to ask questions: 'But you...?'. If a person comes it is because in their soul they do not want to continue. But very often they are unable to stop, because they are conditioned by their psychology, their life, their situation".

The Holy Father concluded by emphasising that forgiveness is "a seed, a caress from God", and urged the Capuchins to trust in the Lord as they have the charism of confessors. "Renew this always", he said. "And be great forgivers, because those who do not know how to forgive end up … accusing. And who is the great accuser, in the Bible? The devil! Either do the work of Jesus, who forgave giving His life … or do the work of the devil who condemns and accuses. I don't know what else to say to you. In you I say to everyone, to all the priests who go to confess. And if they do not feel like doing so, may they be humble and say, 'No, no, I will celebrate Mass, clean the floor, I will do everything but not confess, because I don't know how to do it well'. And ask the Lord for the grace, the grace I ask for each one of you, for all of you, for all confessors, and for me too".

Thirteenth meeting of the Council of Cardinals: synodality and sound decentralisation

Vatican City, 9 February 2016 (VIS) - The Council of Cardinals met with the Holy Father for a day and a half this week: Monday 8 February, morning and afternoon, and Tuesday 9 in the morning.

The cardinals concelebrated with the Pope in the Mass for the Friars Minor Capuchin on Tuesday morning at 7.30 in the Basilica, at the Altar of the Cathedral

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, was absent for health reasons. His absence was expected since the month of December, as he was expected to undergo a previously scheduled surgical operation.

As already expected at the end of the previous meeting, the first session consisted of a close examination of the Holy Father's discourse on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops (17 October). This discourse, which develops extensively the theme of "synodality", noting at the same time "the need to promote a sound decentralisation", constitutes an important point of reference for the work of reforming the Curia.

This was followed by a "final" reading of the proposals of the Council regarding the two new Dicasteries, mentioned previously: "Laity, family and life", and "Justice, peace, migration". The proposals were finalised and submitted to the Holy Father for his decisions.

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Boston, reported on the activities of the Commission for the Protection of Minors. The legal and disciplinary issues that fall under the jurisdiction of other Dicasteries of the Curia will need to be examined in further detail.

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, reported on the status and implementation of reforms in the economic field.

The cardinals received documentation on the so-called "vademecum" prepared by the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the implementation of reform on canonical procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriage.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 9 February 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed:

- Bishop Miguel Angel Moran Aquino of San Miguel, El Salvador, as bishop of Santa Ana (area 3,463, population 1,533,000, Catholics 985,000, priests 113, religious 104), El Salvador. He succeeds Bishop Romeo Tovar Astorga, O.F.M., whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- Msgr. Bryan Peter Wells, assessor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, as apostolic nuncio in South Africa and Botswana, elevating him at the same time to the dignity of archbishop.

- Natasa Govekar, Slovakia, as director of the Theological-Pastoral Department of the Secretariat for Communication;

- Francesco Masci, Italy, head of the technical area of the Vatican Internet Service, as director of the Technological Directorate of the Secretariat for Communication.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Thirteenth meeting of the Council of Cardinals

Vatican City, 8 February 2016 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father's thirteenth meeting with the Council of nine cardinals commenced. It will conclude tomorrow, 9 February.

Programme of the Holy Father's apostolic trip to Mexico

Vatican City, 8 February 2016 (VIS) – The programme of the Holy Father's apostolic trip to Mexico, with a prior stop in Havana, Cuba to meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia was published today. The trip, the twelfth of Pope Francis' papacy, will take place from 12 to 18 February. All times given below are local.

The Pope will depart from Fiumicino airport, Rome on Friday 12 February at 7.45 a.m., destined for "Jose Marti" international airport, Havana, Cuba where he is expected to arrive at 2 p.m. At 2.15 p.m. he will meet privately with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, with whom he will sign a Joint Declaration, followed by discourses from both leaders. At 5.30 p.m. Francis will depart for "Benito Juarez" international airport, Mexico City, where he is scheduled to arrive at 7.30 p.m.

On Saturday 13 February at 9.30 a.m. a welcome ceremony will be held at the National Palace, followed by a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic, and a meeting with the representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps. At 11.30 a.m. the Pope will meet with Mexican bishops in the Cathedral, followed by Holy Mass at 5 p.m. in the Basilica of Guadalupe.

In the morning of Sunday 14 February the Holy Father will transfer by helicopter to Ecatepec, where he will preside at a Holy Mass at 11.30. At 2 p.m. he will lunch at the diocesan seminary, after which he will return by airport to Mexico City, where he will visit the "Federico Gomez" paediatric hospital.

On Monday 15 February Francis will travel by air to Tuxtla Gutierrez, followed by a helicopter transfer to San Cristobal de Las Casas. At 10.15 a.m. he will celebrate Holy Mass with the indigenous communities of the Chiapas in the municipal sports centre, followed by lunch with indigenous representatives and the papal entourage. At 3 p.m. he will visit the Cathedral of San Cristobal de Las Casas. At 4.15 p.m., following his return to Tuxtla Gutierrez, he will meet with families at the "Victor Manuel Reyna" stadium, after which he will depart for Mexico City where he is expected to arrive at 8 p.m.

At 7.50 a.m. on Tuesday 16 February he will depart by air for Morelia, where he will celebrate Holy Mass with clergy, men and women religious, consecrated persons and seminarians at the "Venustiano Carranza" stadium. His visit to the Cathedral at 3.20 p.m. will be followed by an encounter with young people at the "Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon" stadium at 4.30 p.m. He will later depart for Mexico City, arriving at 7.35 p.m.

In the morning of Wednesday 17 February, at 8.35., the Holy Father will depart by air for Ciudad Juarez, where he is expected to arrive at 10 a.m. He will visit the CeReSo No.3 penitentiary at 10.30., followed by a meeting with representatives of the world of work at the Colegio de Bachilleres of the State of Chihuahua at midday. At 4 p.m. he will celebrate Holy Mass in the Ciudad Juarez trade centre. He will then transfer to the "Abraham Gonzalez" international airport where the farewell ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. At 7.15 p.m. he will depart for Rome's Ciampino airport, where he is expected to arrive at 2.45 p.m. on the following day, Thursday 18 February.

Angelus: the logic of mission is to restore dignity and freedom through forgiveness of sins

Vatican City, 7 February 2016 (VIS) – The logic that guides the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Church is that of 'fishing', of going out in search of men and women, not our of proselytism but rather to restore full dignity and freedom through the forgiveness of sins, explained the Pope during today's Angelus, commenting on the day's reading from the Gospel of St. Luke which narrates the call of Jesus' first disciples. On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Simon Peter and his companions were washing their nets after a night's fishing without catching anything. Jesus gets into one of the boats and begins to preach the word of God to the multitude gathered on the banks. He then tells them to take the boat out to see and to cast their nets, and although Simon Peter reminds Him that they had toiled all night in vain, he obeys, faithful to Christ.

"And his faith did not let him down; indeed, the nets were filled with such a quantity of fish that they almost tore", added Francis. "Before this extraordinary event, the fisherman were overcome with wonder. Simon Peter fell at Jesus' feet and said, 'Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'. This miraculous sign convinced him that Jesus was not only a great teacher, Whose word is true and powerful, but that He is the Lord, the manifestation of God. And this presence, so close to him, inspires in Peter a strong sense of his own pettiness and unworthiness. From a human point of view, one would think there should be distance between the sinner and the saint. In truth, it is precisely his sinful condition that requires the Lord to not distance himself from him, the same way a doctor cannot turn away from the sick".

Jesus’ response to Simon Peter is "reassuring and decisive: 'Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men'. Again, the fisherman from Galilee, placing his trust in this word, leaves everything and follows Him, He Who has become his Master and Lord. James and John, companions of Simon Peter, do likewise. This is the logic that drives the mission of Jesus and the mission of the Church: to seek out, to 'fish' for men and women, to return full dignity and freedom to all, through the forgiveness of sins. This is the essence of Christianity: to spread the regenerating and gratuitous love of God, with an attitude of acceptance and mercy to everyone, so that everyone can encounter God's tenderness and achieve a full life. Here, in a particular way, I think of confessors: they are the first to give the mercy of the Father, following the example of Jesus, just as the two saints, Fr. Leopold and Padre Pio, did.

"Today’s Gospel asks us: do we really trust the Word of the Lord? Or do we let ourselves be discouraged by our failures? In this Holy Year of Mercy, we are called to comfort those who feel they are sinners and unworthy and downhearted for their mistakes, repeatin Jesus' words to them: 'Fear not'. The mercy of the Father is greater than your sins. It is greater, do not be afraid".

The Pope renews his appeal for peace and reconciliation in Syria

Vatican City, 7 February 2016 (VIS) – Following today's Angelus prayer, Pope Francis reiterated his concern regarding the tragic fate of civilian populations affected by the heavy fighting in Syria and compelled to abandon their homelands to escape the horrors of war. "I hope that, with generous solidarity, the necessary help may be given to ensure their survival and dignity, and I appeal to the international community to spare no effort in urgently bringing the parties involved to the negotiating table. Only a political solution to the conflict may guarantee a future of reconciliation and peace for this beloved and afflicted country, for which I urge you to pray".

After praying a Hail Mary for Syria with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father mentioned that today in Italy is the Day for Life, on the theme “Mercy makes life bloom.” "I join the Italian bishops in wishing, on the part of various educational and social institutions, for renewed commitment in favour of human life from conception to natural end. Our society must be helped to heal from all attacks on life, and to dare to change within, which is also shown through the works of mercy".

"Tomorrow, we celebrate the Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking, which offers everyone the opportunity to help today's new slaves break the heavy chains of exploitation and to regain their freedom and dignity. I think in particular of the many women and children, the many men. We must make every effort to combat this crime, and this intolerable shame".

Tomorrow, Monday, in the Far East and in various parts of the world, millions of men and women celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Pope conveyed his wish that all may experience "serenity and peace within their families, the first place where we encounter the values of love and brotherhood, coexistence and sharing, attention and care for others. May the New Year bring the fruits of compassion, mercy and solidarity".

Finally, the Pope greeted the priestly community of the Mexican College of Rome, thanking them for their commitment to accompany with prayer his upcoming apostolic trip to Mexico and "the meeting that will take place in Havana with my dear brother Kirill", he concluded.

Video message: "I wish to go to Mexico as a missionary of mercy and peace"

Vatican City, 8 February 2016 (VIS) – "Now that my trip to Mexico is about to begin, I am happy and I feel great joy. I always have a special remembrance for Mexicans in my prayers. I hold them in my hearts and now I will be able to visit them and set foot on that blessed land, so beloved to God and so close to the Virgin Mary", says Pope Francis in the video message broadcast yesterday in Mexico on the eve of his upcoming visit to the country from 12 to 18 February.

"You perhaps ask, what does the Pope wish for from this trip? The answer is immediate and simple", he continues. "I wish to go as a missionary of mercy and peace, to meet with you so we can confess together our faith in God and share a fundamental truth in our days: that God cares for us, that He loves us with an infinite love, far beyond what we deserve. I wish to be as close to you as possible, but in a special way to all those who suffer, to embrace them and to tell them that Jesus loves them very much and that He is always by their side".

"I am glad that you are preparing for the trip with prayer. Prayer enlarges our hearts and prepares us to receive God's gifts. Prayer illuminates our eyes so we are able to see our neighbours as God sees them, to love like God loves. Thank you so much for praying for me, as I am in need of your prayers".

"May I confide to you another of my greatest wishes?", he continues. "To visit the house of Our Lady. Like a child, I wish to come to my mother and to place at her feet all that I carry in my heart. It is good to be able to visit the maternal home and to be able to feel the tenderness of her gracious presence. To her I entrust my trip and all of you, my dear Mexican brothers. May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin care for you".

Pope's telegram for the earthquake in Taiwan

Vatican City, 8 February 2016 (VIS) – Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has sent a message to Taiwan to express his profound sadness upon learning of the earthquake last Saturday in Tainan City, which has so far claimed 34 victims and has injured over five hundred. More than a hundred people are still missing.

The Pope sends prayerful condolences to the families of the deceased and to the injured, as well as the civil authorities, and offers encouragement to rescue workers. He commends the souls of the departed to God's tender mercy and invokes abundant blessings of consolation and strength to all those affected by the tragedy.

Jubilee audience: In the words of Padre Pio, prayer is our best weapon

Vatican City, 6 February 2016 (VIS) – "He was a servant of mercy. He dedicated himself full time to the "apostolate of listening", often to the point of exhaustion. He became, through the ministry of Confession, a living caress of the Father, healing the wounds of sin and enlivening the heart with peace. St. Pio never tired of welcoming people and listening to them, of spending time and energy to spread the perfume of the Lord's forgiveness. He was able to do so because he was always attached to the source: he continually slaked his thirst from the Crucified Jesus and thus became a channel of His mercy", said the Holy Father of St. Pio of Pietrelcina this morning at the Jubilee audience, addressing the Padre Pio Prayer Groups, workers of the Home for the Relief of Suffering private hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, founded by St. Pio, and the faithful of the diocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo. Yesterday afternoon a procession brought the relics of St. Pio and St. Leopold Mandic to St. Peter's Basilica, where they will remain until Thursday 11 February.

Francis described prayer as the "true mission", and recalled that the Saint defined the prayer groups as "hothouses of faith and seedbeds of love". "Padre Pio said that prayer is the force that moves the world, that extends God's smile and blessing to every languor and weakness", and explained that prayer is not simply "a good practice for bringing peace to the heart, nor is it a pious way of obtaining what one needs from God". "If it were, it would simply be motivated by a futile selfishness. Prayer, however, is a work of spiritual mercy, that wishes to present everything to the heart of God. It is a gift of faith and love, an intercession that is as necessary as bread. In a word, it means to entrust: to entrust the Church, people and situations to the Father, so that He may take care of them. For this reason prayer, as Padre Pio liked to say, is the best weapon we have; it is a key to God's heart".

The Pope thanked the prayer groups for their commitment and encouraged them to be "centres of mercy". He commented that Padre Pio had wanted the Home for the Relief of Suffering to be not only an excellent hospital, but also a "temple of science and prayer", and recalled the words of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: "Human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern". Curing sickness means, first and foremost, "taking care of the patient. At times, while the wounds of the body are tended to, the wounds of the soul worsen, and these heal more slowly and with greater difficulty", he added. "Even the dying, those who are apparently unconscious, participate in prayer carried out with faith near to them, and they trust in God, in His mercy". Francis concluded with greetings to the archdiocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo: "May whoever comes to your beautiful land find in you too a reflection of the light of Heaven".

Meeting of the Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

Vatican City, 6 February 2016 (VIS) – This morning the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors held a meeting in Rome in which it analysed the direction and purpose of the Commission. As the result of this discussion, it was decided that Mr. Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the Commission's work.

Communique of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors

Vatican City, 8 February 2016 (VIS) – The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has had seven full days of meetings in Rome. Meetings of the six Working Groups focused on updates for current projects, and developing and drafting proposals. External collaborators who assisted the Working Groups included the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD), and an expert in Penal Canon Law. Draft proposals were presented to the Plenary Assembly for further discussion and decision about policies to propose to the Holy Father. Policies endeavour to recognise the diversity of information and guidance currently available to the Church around the world.

Examples of proposals being finalised for Pope Francis’ consideration include: a request for him to remind all authorities in the Church of the importance of responding directly to victims and survivors who approach them; the finalisation of a Universal Day of Prayer and a penitential liturgy.

Workshops on the legal aspects of the Protection of Minors to establish more transparency around canonical trials, with participation of external collaborators, are planned for later in the year and a report and recommendations will be provided at the next Plenary Assembly. A website is also being developed to share Best Practice for the Protection of Minors around the world.

In order to fulfil the mission of the Holy Father’s Chirograph for the Institution of the Commission to promote local responsibility, Commission members are actively in contact with numerous Bishops Conferences, and members of the Commission have presented to Religious Conferences and Congregations on safeguarding minors.

Over the past year or so, Commission members have met with Bishops and child protection authorities in: Philippines, Austria, Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Scotland, Poland, Central America (in Costa Rica), United States National Safe Environment (SECs) and Victims Assistance Coordinators (VACs). As an outcome of the workshop conducted by members of the Commission last August in the Philippines, the Philippine Bishops’ Conference created a child safeguarding office and Pastoral Exhortation on the pastoral care and protection of minors.

A meeting is planned in March in Ghana with Secretaries General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and a second meeting with child protection practitioners drawn from the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) in Tanzania. Commission members are also attending the Anglophone Safeguarding Conference in Rome and the United States National Safe Environment and Victims Assistance Coordinators 2016. In 2017 the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has requested a workshop with Commission members. The Commission likewise welcomes the recent announcement that in a week’s time the first course offering a diploma in the Safeguarding of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University will start with 19 participants from four continents: Africa, Europe, America and Asia.

The September 2016 meeting of the Commission will have a strategic focus on safeguarding minors in Catholic schools, and will invite contributions from experts in Latin America, England and Wales.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was created by Pope Francis in March of 2014. The Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis states specifically, “The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

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