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Monday, December 29, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 28 DEC 2008 (VIS) - At noon today, the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the Pope addressed the thousands who had gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray the Angelus.

The Holy Father affirmed that "the family of Jesus truly merits the title 'holy' because its sole desire was to fulfil the will of God, incarnate in the adorable presence of Jesus. On the one hand, it is a family like all others and as such is a model of conjugal love, collaboration, sacrifice, trust in Divine Providence, industriousness, solidarity, of all those values safeguarded and promoted by the family, contributing in a basic way to the formation of the fabric of every society".

"At the same time", he continued, "the family of Nazareth is unique, different from all others because of its singular vocation tied to the mission of the Son of God. Precisely with this uniqueness it signals to all families, Christian families primarily, the horizon of God, the sweet and demanding primacy of His will, the perspective of heaven to which we are destined".

Benedict XVI then addressed the thousands of persons gathered in Madrid's Plaza de Colon who were participating in a celebration to "pray for the family and dedicate themselves to work in support of it with strength and hope".

The family", he said, "is certainly a grace of God, which allows what He Himself is to be revealed: Love. An eternally gratuitous love that sustains faithfully and without limits, even in moments of difficulty or discouragement. These qualities are eminently incarnate in the Holy Family in which Jesus came to the world and was raised, coming to wisdom with the thoughtful care of Mary and the faithful tutelage of St. Joseph".

"Dear families", he continued, "do not let love, openness to life, and the incomparable bonds that unite your home be corrupted. Ask this continually of the Lord, praying together, that your intentions be illuminated by faith and exalted by divine grace on the path toward holiness. In this way, with the joy of sharing everything in love, you will give the world a beautiful witness of how important the family is for the human being and for society. The Pope is by your side, asking especially of the Lord for those in each family who have the greatest needs of health, work, comfort, and companionship".

The Holy Father concluded, recalling that the 6th World Encounter of Families will take place in Mexico City from 14 to 18 January 2009. "Let us pray for this important ecclesial event, entrusting all family to the Lord, especially those most affected by the difficulties of life and by the wounds of incomprehension and division. May the Redeemer, born in Bethlehem, give to all the serenity and strength of walking united the path of good."
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VATICAN CITY, 27 DEC 2008 (VIS) - The Holy Father:

- Accepted the resignation of Bishop Eduard Kojnok from the pastoral care of the diocese of Roznava, Slovakia, upon having reached the age limit. He is succeeded by Bishop Vladimir Filo, coadjutor bishop of the same diocese.

- Appointed Bishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Vicente, El Salvador, as bishop of San Salvador (area 3,295, population 2,868,000, Catholics 2,008,000, priests 233, permanent deacon 1, religious 1,437), El Salvador. He succeeds Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.

- Appointed Bishop Sebelio Peralta Alvarez of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, Paraguay, as bishop of San Lorenzo (area 1,944, population 831,000, Catholics 738,000, priests 44, permanent deacons 23, religious 109), Paraguay.

On 24 December, the Holy Father appointed:

- Fr. Francisco Javier Del Valle Paredes as Bishop of Campo Mourao (area 12,544, population 361,000, Catholics 296,000, priests 61, permanent deacons 5, religious 106), Brazil. The bishop-elect was born in Isla Pocú, Paraguay in 1942 and was ordained a priest in 1976. He formerly held the position of diocesan administrator in the same diocese.

- Fr. Derek John Christopher Byrne, S.P.S. as Bishop of Guiratinga (area 36,666, population 155,900, Catholics 103,400, priests 16, religious 53), Brazil. The bishop-elect was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1948 and was ordained a priest in 1973. He was formerly pastor of Santo Antonio Parish in the diocese of Juina, Brazil.

- Fr. Marek Mendyk as Auxiliary Bishop of Legnica (area 7,080, population 842,633, Catholics 780,000, priests 485, religious 295), Poland. The bishop-elect was born in Gluszyca, Poland in 1961 and ordained a priest in 1987. He was formerly director of the Catechetical section of the curia in the same diocese.
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VATICAN CITY, 26 DEC 2008 (VIS) - At noon today, on the Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr, the Holy Father appeared at the widow of his study to pray the Angelus with thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

In the account of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Pope said, there is a detail that "during this Pauline Year should be highlighted: the note that 'the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul'".

The Holy Father observed, "St. Paul appears here for the first time, with his Hebrew name of Saul, in the role of a zealous persecutor of the Church. ... Shortly after the martyrdom of St. Stephen and still driven by his zeal against Christians, Saul was struck down by a light from heaven, the extraordinary experience in which the risen Christ appeared to him, spoke to him, and changed his life".

"Saul persecuted the Church and had even participated in the stoning of Stephen. He saw him stoned to death but above all had seen the way in which he died, ever like Christ, that is, praying and forgiving his killers. On the road to Damascus Saul understood that in persecuting the Church he was persecuting Jesus who had died and truly risen; Jesus, alive in His Church, was also alive in Stephen who he had seen die but who now certainly lived together with his risen Lord. We can almost say that in Christ's voice he heard that of Stephen and, as well as by his intercession, divine grace touched his heart".

"In St. Stephen", Benedict XVI concluded, "we see come to fruition the first fruits of the salvation that the Nativity of Christ offered to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of deception. We give thanks to God that this victory still today allows many Christians not to return evil with evil, but to respond with the strength of truth and love".

After praying the Angelus the Pope gave the following words: "At Christmastime our concern for those who find themselves in conditions of suffering or great difficulty is heightened. I think, among others, of the two consecrated Italian women, Maria Teresa Olivero and Caterina Giraudo, belonging to the Father de Foucauld Contemplative Missionary Movement, who have been held hostage for over a month and a half, together with a group of local members, in the village of El Waq in Northern Kenya. I want them to feel the solidarity of the Pope and all the Church in these moments. May the Lord who, being born, came to give us His love reach the heart of the kidnappers, that they free our sisters so that they might return to their selfless service with our poorest brothers and sisters! I invite you to pray for this without forgetting the many persons held hostage in other places around the world, of whom we do not always have clear news: I am thinking of those held hostage for political as well as other reasons in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa".
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VATICAN CITY, 25 DEC 2008 (VIS) - At noon today, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the Pope gave his traditional Christmas message and imparted the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica.

Extracts of the message are given below:

"Every Christmas crib is a simple yet eloquent invitation to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of life. It is an encounter with the immortal Life which became mortal in the mystic scene of the Nativity ".

"This proclamation of hope - the heart of the Christmas message - is meant for all men and women. Jesus was born for everyone, and just as Mary, in Bethlehem, offered Him to the shepherds, so on this day the Church presents Him to all humanity, so that each person and every human situation may come to know the power of God's saving grace, which alone can transform evil into good, which alone can change human hearts, making them oases of peace".

"May the many people who continue to dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Lk 1:79) come to know the power of God's saving grace! May the divine Light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians. May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq, and the whole Middle East. May it bring forth rich fruit from the efforts of all those who, rather than resigning themselves to the twisted logic of conflict and violence, prefer instead the path of dialogue and negotiation as the means of resolving tensions within each country and finding just and lasting solutions to the conflicts troubling the region".

"This light, which brings transformation and renewal, is besought by the people of Zimbabwe, in Africa, trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which, sadly, keeps worsening, as well as the men and women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the war-torn region of Kivu, Darfur, in Sudan, and Somalia, whose interminable sufferings are the tragic consequence of the lack of stability and peace. This light is awaited especially by the children living in those countries, and the children of all countries experiencing troubles, so that their future can once more be filled with hope".

"Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart".

"Dear brothers and sisters, today, 'the grace of God our Saviour has appeared' (cf. Tit 2:11) in this world of ours, with all its potential and its frailty, its advances and crises, its hopes and travails. Today, there shines forth the light of Jesus Christ".

"God has come to meet us; He has shown us His face, full of grace and mercy! May His coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to His light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to Him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!".

Following his message, the Pope extended Christmas greetings in 64 languages and imparted the "Urbi et Orbi" (to Rome and the world) blessing.
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VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2008 (VIS) - The Pope celebrated Midnight Mass tonight in the Vatican Basilica on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

"God stoops down", the Pope said in his homily. "This is a prophetic word", which "that night in Bethlehem, ... took on a completely new meaning. God's stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. ... He becomes a child and puts Himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in His hands, on whom we all depend, makes Himself small and in need of human love. ... How, indeed, could His love for humanity, His solicitude for us, have appeared greater and more pure? ... The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem".

The Holy Father recalled the Gospel of Luke that narrates the announcement to the shepherds, "people of very lowly status, people who were looked down upon by society at large. ... Luke tells us that they were 'keeping watch'. This phrase reminds us of a central theme of Jesus' message, which insistently bids us to keep watch, ... the command to stay awake, to recognize the Lord's coming, and to be prepared. Here too the expression seems to imply more than simply being physically awake during the night hour. The shepherds were truly 'watchful' people, with a lively sense of God and of His closeness. They were waiting for God, and were not resigned to His apparent remoteness from their everyday lives. .. And who are these people ... if not the poor, the watchful, the expectant, those who hope in God's goodness and seek him, looking to Him from afar?".

Quoting the Church Fathers the Pope explained that if at the moment of the announcement to the shepherds "the angels had known God in the grandeur of the universe, in the reason and the beauty of the cosmos that come from Him and are a reflection of him" then that night "something new had happened, something that astounded them. ... The God who sustains all things and bears them in His hands - He Himself had entered into human history, He had become someone who acts and suffers within history. From the joyful amazement that this unimaginable event called forth, from God's new and further way of making Himself known ... a new song was born, one verse of which the Christmas Gospel has preserved for us: 'Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to His people on earth'. ... God's glory is in the highest heavens, but His high state is now found in the stable - what was lowly has now become sublime. God's glory is on the earth, it is the glory of humility and love. And even more: the glory of God is peace. Wherever He is, there is peace. He is present wherever human beings do not attempt, apart from him, and even violently, to turn earth into heaven. He is with those of watchful hearts; with the humble and those who meet Him at the level of His own 'height', the height of humility and love. To these people He gives His peace, so that through them, peace can enter this world".

"The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God - from the time of Adam - saw that His grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made Himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now - this God who has become a child says to us - you can no longer fear me, you can only love me".

"In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem", exclaimed Benedict XVI. "Every child asks for our love. This night, then, let us think especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents. Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace. Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul. The Child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children; to do everything possible to make the light of Bethlehem touch the heart of every man and woman. ... Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night".

"And speaking of the Child of Bethlehem", he concluded, "let us think also of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which He loved so deeply. And let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease. Let us pray for mutual understanding, that hearts will be opened, so that borders can be opened. Let us pray that peace will descend there, the peace of which the angels sang that night".
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VATICAN CITY, 28 DEC 2008 (VIS) - After praying the Angelus today the Pope called for an end to the violence in the Holy Land and asked the international community to do everything possible to help Israelis and Palestinians find a solution to the current conflict.

 "The Holy Land, which occupies the thoughts and sentiments of faithful around the world during these days of Christmas", the Holy Father said, "has again seen itself struck by an outbreak of unprecedented violence".

 "I am profoundly saddened by the deaths, the wounded, the material damage, the suffering, and the tears of the peoples victim to this tragic recurrence of attacks and reprisals".

 "The earthly homeland of Jesus", he exclaimed, "cannot continue being witness to such bloodshed that is repeated without end! I implore an end to the violence, which is to be condemned in all its forms, and the re-establishment of the truce in the Gaza Strip. I ask for a show of humanity and wisdom in all those who have some responsibility in this situation. I ask the international community to do everything possible to help the Israelis and Palestinians out of this dark alley and not to resign themselves - as I said a few days ago in the 'Urbi et Orbi' message - to the twisted logic of confrontation and violence, but to give precedence to the path of dialogue and negotiation".

 "We entrust to Jesus, the Prince of Peace", he concluded, "our fervent prayer for these intentions, and to Him, Mary, and Joseph we say: 'Oh family of Nazareth, expert in suffering, grant peace to the world'. Grant it today, above all, to the Holy Land!".
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