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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wisdom of the heart to recognise the image of God in the sick

Vatican City, 30 December 2014 (VIS) – The Pope's message for the 23rd World Day of the Sick 2015 begins with a phrase from the Book of Job: “I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame”, explained from the perspective of “sapientia cordis”, the wisdom of the heart that “is not theoretical, abstract knowledge, the product of reasoning”, Pope Francis remarked, but rather “a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God”.

World Day of the Sick, instituted by St. John Paul II in 1992, is held on 11 February, feast day of the Virgin of Lourdes. The full text of the Message is published below:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this, the twenty-third World Day of the Sick, begun by Saint John Paul II, I turn to all of you who are burdened by illness and are united in various ways to the flesh of the suffering Christ, as well as to you, professionals and volunteers in the field of health care.
This year’s theme invites us to reflect on a phrase from the Book of Job: 'I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame'. I would like to consider this phrase from the perspective of 'sapientia cordis' – the wisdom of the heart.

1. This 'wisdom' is not theoretical, abstract knowledge, the product of reasoning. Rather, it is, as Saint James describes it in his Letter, 'pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity'. It is a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God. So let us take up the prayer of the Psalmist: 'Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom'. This 'sapientia cordis', which is a gift of God, is a compendium of the fruits of the World Day of the Sick.

2. Wisdom of the heart means serving our brothers and sisters. Job’s words: 'I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame', point to the service which this just man, who enjoyed a certain authority and a position of importance amongst the elders of his city, offered to those in need. His moral grandeur found expression in the help he gave to the poor who sought his help and in his care for orphans and widows.

Today too, how many Christians show, not by their words but by lives rooted in a genuine faith, that they are 'eyes to the blind' and 'feet to the lame'! They are close to the sick in need of constant care and help in washing, dressing and eating. This service, especially when it is protracted, can become tiring and burdensome. It is relatively easy to help someone for a few days but it is difficult to look after a person for months or even years, in some cases when he or she is no longer capable of expressing gratitude. And yet, what a great path of sanctification this is! In those difficult moments we can rely in a special way on the closeness of the Lord, and we become a special means of support for the Church’s mission.

3. Wisdom of the heart means being with our brothers and sisters. Time spent with the sick is holy time. It is a way of praising God who conforms us to the image of his Son, who 'came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'. Jesus himself said: 'I am among you as one who serves'.

With lively faith let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted. How great a lie, on the other hand, lurks behind certain phrases which so insist on the importance of 'quality of life' that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!

4. Wisdom of the heart means going forth from ourselves towards our brothers and sisters. Occasionally our world forgets the special value of time spent at the bedside of the sick, since we are in such a rush; caught up as we are in a frenzy of doing, of producing, we forget about giving ourselves freely, taking care of others, being responsible for others. Behind this attitude there is often a lukewarm faith which has forgotten the Lord’s words: 'You did it unto me’.

For this reason, I would like once again to stress 'the absolute priority of “going forth from ourselves toward our brothers and sisters” as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift'. The missionary nature of the Church is the wellspring of an 'effective charity and a compassion which understands, assists and promotes'.

5. Wisdom of the heart means showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters while not judging them. Charity takes time. Time to care for the sick and time to visit them. Time to be at their side like Job’s friends: 'And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great'. Yet Job’s friends harboured a judgement against him: they thought that Job’s misfortune was a punishment from God for his sins. True charity is a sharing which does not judge, which does not demand the conversion of others; it is free of that false humility which, deep down, seeks praise and is self-satisfied about whatever good it does.

Job’s experience of suffering finds its genuine response only in the cross of Jesus, the supreme act of God’s solidarity with us, completely free and abounding in mercy. This response of love to the drama of human pain, especially innocent suffering, remains for ever impressed on the body of the risen Christ; his glorious wounds are a scandal for faith but also the proof of faith.

Even when illness, loneliness and inability make it hard for us to reach out to others, the experience of suffering can become a privileged means of transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in “sapientia cordis”. We come to understand how Job, at the end of his experience, could say to God: 'I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you'. People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.

6. I entrust this World Day of the Sick to the maternal protection of Mary, who conceived and gave birth to Wisdom incarnate: Jesus Christ, our Lord.

O Mary, Seat of Wisdom, intercede as our Mother for all the sick and for those who care for them! Grant that, through our service of our suffering neighbours, and through the experience of suffering itself, we may receive and cultivate true wisdom of heart!

With this prayer for all of you, I impart my Apostolic Blessing”.

Pope Francis' prayer intentions for January

Vatican City, 30 December 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father's universal prayer intention for January 2015 is: “That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace”.

His intention for evangelisation is: “That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal”.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 30 December 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed Fr. John Saw Yaw Han as auxiliary of the archdiocese of Yangon (area 47,192, population 14,620,000, Catholics 69,120, priests 102, religious 438), Myanmar. The bishop-elect was born in Homalim, Myanmar in 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1995. He studied philosophy and theology at the St. Joseph national major seminary, and has served in a number of roles, including missionary “fidei donum” in the diocese of Kentung, lecturer in philosophy at the national major seminary in Mandalay; assistant at the St. Lazarus Church in Insein and St. Mary's Cathedral in Yangon; lecturer in theology at the national major seminary in Yangon; and rector at the minor seminary of Bago. He is currently rector of the national major seminary in Yangon.


Vatican City, 30 December 2014 (VIS) – The Vatican Information Service wishes all its readers a happy New Year. The next bulletin will be transmitted on Friday 2 January 2015.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Francis' visit to Naples to begin in Pompeii

Vatican City, 29 December 2014 (VIS) – Pompeii will be the first port of call on Pope Francis' trip to the Italian region of Campania. On 21 March the Holy Father will begin his pilgrimage to Naples, starting from the statue dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary in Pompeii, according to the prelate archbishop and pontifical delegate of the shrine, Tommaso Caputo, who added that the Pope's visit constitutes an event of extraordinary ecclesial importance.

“The filial and tender Marian devotion that the Pope continues to show is also at the root of the Church of Pompeii's strong commitment towards the humblest and neediest among us”, explained the prelate. “Today, more than ever before, the motivating forces of charity, intimately linked to the needs of justice and respect for the dignity of every person, are strongly felt. Aside from our joy for his visit, we hope that Pope Francis will show us the path to take to be even closer to and more united with our people”.

St. John Paul II also visited Pompeii on 21 October 1979, during his visit to Naples, and he returned there on 7 October 2003 for the conclusion of the Year of the Rosary. Benedict XVI also visited the shrine, again during the month of the Rosary, October 2008.

Enthusiastic participation in Pope Francis' encounters with the faithful in 2014

Vatican City, 29 December 2014 (VIS) – In a communique published today, the Prefecture of the Papal Household reports that during the year 2014, more than 5,900,000 faithful participated in the various encounters with Pope Francis: audiences, both general (1,199,000) and special (567,100); liturgical celebrations in the Vatican Basilica and St. Peter's Square (1,110,700), and the Angelus and Regina Coeli (3,040,000). These data refer only to the encounters that took place in the Vatican and do not include other activities that involved a high level of participation among the faithful, such as the apostolic trips to the Republic of Korea, Turkey or the Holy Land, or the various trips in Italy and visits within the diocese of Rome. The total number of faithful involved in the Vatican events is estimated at 5,916,800.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household reiterates that these are approximate data, calculated on the basis of requests for attendance at events and the invitations distributed by the Prefecture. Similarly, the data regarding participation in the Angelus and large celebrations in St. Peter's Square are based on estimates.

Angelus: Jesus brings the generations together

Vatican City, 28 December 2014 (VIS) – “Jesus brings the generations together”, affirmed Pope Francis, addressing the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square today for the midday Angelus. The Gospel reading narrated the episode of the Presentation in the Temple, when Mary and Joseph, forty days after Jesus' birth, take Him to the temple in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Law of Moses. There, they meet the elderly people Simeon and Anna.

“We can imagine this little family, in the midst of so many people, in the great courtyard of the temple. They do not stand out, they are not distinguished. However”, observed the Holy Father, “they do not go unnoticed. Two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, approach them and praise God for that Child, in Whom they recognise the Messiah, the light of the peoples and the salvation of Israel. It is a simple moment, yet rich in prophecy: the meeting between a young couple full of joy and faith by the grace of the Lord, and two elderly people also full of joy and faith by the action of the Spirit. Who brings them together? Jesus. Jesus brings about the encounter between the young and the elderly. Jesus is the One who brings the generations together. He is the source of that love that unites families and people, overcoming all distrust, all isolation, every distance. … Good relations between the young and the elderly are fundamental to the path of civil and ecclesial community. Looking at these two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, we greet with applause all the grandparents in the world”, exclaimed Francis.

“The message that comes from the Holy Family is above all a message of faith”, he continued. “This is why the family of Nazareth is holy. Why? Because it is centred on Jesus. When parents and children breathe together the same climate of faith, they possess an energy that allows them to face difficult trials, as shown by the experience of the Holy Family, for example, during the dramatic events of the flight into Egypt”.

The child Jesus with his mother Mary and St. Joseph are the icon of the family, simple yet illuminating. The light they radiate is a light of mercy and salvation for the whole world, a light of truth for every man, for the human family. … The light that comes from the Holy Family encourages us to offer human warmth in those family situations that, for various reasons, lack peace, harmony or forgiveness. Our concrete solidarity is not lacking, especially in relation to those families who experience difficult situations such as sickness, unemployment, discrimination, or the need to migrate”. He concluded by asking those present to pray a moment in silence for these families.

Following the Angelus prayer, the Pope mentioned the passengers on the aircraft that disappeared in flight between Indonesia and Singapore, and those on the ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. "I am close, with affection and prayer, to the relatives of the victims, those who are living through these difficult situations with anxiety and suffering, and those involved in the rescue operations”.

Large families are the hope of society

Vatican City, 28 December 2014 (VIS) – On the feast day of the Holy Family, Pope Francis received in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall a group of large Italian families, present in Rome for to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Numerose (National Association for Large Families). The audience was also attended by families from other countries throughout Europe.

“You have come here with the most beautiful fruits of your love. Maternity and paternity are gifts from God, your task is to receive this gift, to be amazed by its beauty and to let it shine in society. Each one of your children is a unique creation that will never be repeated in the history of humanity. When we understand this, that each person is willed by God, we are astonished by the great miracle that is a child”.

“And you, boys and girls”, he continued, addressing the children present, “are precisely this: each one of you is the unique fruit of love, you come from love and grow in love. You are unique, but you are not alone. And the fact of having brothers and sisters is good for you: the sons and daughters of large families are more inclined to fraternal communion from early childhood. In a world that is frequently marked by selfishness, the large family is a school of solidarity and sharing; and these attitudes are of benefit to all society”.

“You, children and young people, are the fruit of the tree that is the family: you are good fruit when the tree has good roots – grandparents – and a good trunk – the parents. … The presence of large families is a hope for society. This is why the presence of grandparents is very important: a valuable presence both in terms of practical assistance, but above all for their contribution to education. Grandparents conserve the values of a people, of a family, and they help parents transmit them to their children. Throughout the last century, in many countries in Europe, it was the grandparents who transmitted faith”.

“Dear parents, thank you for your example of love for life that you protect from conception to its natural end, in spite of all the difficulties and burdens of life, that unfortunately public institutions do not always help you to bear. … Every family is a cell of society, but the large family is a richer, more vital cell, and the state has much to gain by investing in it”, Francis remarked. He concluded by praying for those families who are most affected by the economic crisis, those in which the mother or father have lost their jobs and in which the young are unable to find work, and those families in which the closest relationships are marked by suffering and who are tempted to give in to loneliness and separation”.

Telegram for the death of Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, S.J.

Vatican City, 2 December 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a telegram of condolences to the Prepositor General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, for the death in Tokyo, Japan of Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, S.J., former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, at the age of 86.

The Pope describes the archbishop as an “exemplary minister of God, who lived for the cause of the Gospel” and underlines his “generous missionary apostleship” in Japan, where his earthly existence came to an end. He also gives thanks to the Lord for the service Archbishop Pittau rendered to the Apostolic See as Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, for his commitment as rector of the Sophia University of Tokyo, and as Magnificent Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, as well as for his devotion to the Society of Jesus. The Pope entrusts the soul of the departed to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, “in the light of Christ's resurrection”, and imparts an apostolic blessing to those who mourn the late archbishop's passing.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 29 December 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed Fr. Angel Javier Perez Pueyo as bishop of Barbastro-Monzon (area 8,321, population 101,320, Catholics 95,127, priests 96, permanent deacons 3, religious 171), Spain. The bishop-elect was born in Ejea de los Caballeros, Spain in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1980. He holds a licentiate in philosophy and science of education from the Civil University of Salamanca, Spain. He has served in a number of roles, including formator and professor in the seminaries of Tarragona and Salmanca and member of the Central Council of the Fraternity of Working Diocesan Priests and pastoral coordinator of the same Fraternity. He has collaborated in courses for formators in various seminaries in Latin America and in those organised by the Episcopal Commission of Seminaries of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. He is currently rector of the “San Jose” Pontifical Spanish College in Rome. He succeeds Bishop Alfonso Milian Sorribas, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

The Nativity of the Lord

Midnight Mass: “do I allow God to love me?”

Vatican City, 24 December 2014 (VIS) – This evening at 10 p.m. the Holy Father celebrated Midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, 2014. During the Eucharistic celebration, following the reading of the Holy Gospel, Pope Francis pronounced the following homily:

“'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined'. 'An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them'. This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.

“We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the 'great light'. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.

“The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel. As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. God was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself. Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples. The patience of God. How difficult it is to comprehend this: God’s patience towards us.

“Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns; and every day, with patience. The patience of God.

“Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: 'This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger'. The 'sign' is in fact the humility of God, the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.

“On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? 'But I am searching for the Lord' – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to seek me, find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?

“More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.

“The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realise that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: 'Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict'.

“'Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light'. People who were unassuming, people open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: 'O Mary, show us Jesus!'”.

Christmas Message: “many tears, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus”

Vatican City, 25 December 2014 (VIS) – At midday today, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the Pope gave his traditional Christmas message from the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica and imparted the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

“Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies. The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.

“Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognise him. And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child. Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognised in Jesus the Messiah. 'My eyes have seen your salvation', Simeon exclaimed, 'the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples'.

“Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!

Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution. May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world. May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity. May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

“May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.

“May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed. I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.

“May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children. May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week. May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea. As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.

“The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods. Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.

“Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognise in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth. May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalisation of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness. Then we will be able to cry out with joy: 'Our eyes have seen your salvation'.

“With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!”

The gift of Christian integrity is coherence: think, feel and live as Christians

Vatican City, 26 December 2014 (VIS) – At midday the Holy Father appeared at the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to pray the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. Before the Marian prayer, the Pontiff gave a brief address to those present, on the subject of coherence with faith.

“The Gospel of this feast day shows a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on their mission. Among other things, He says, 'You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved'. These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life. To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. While not all of us are called, as St. Stephen was, to shed their own blood, every Christian is nonetheless required in every circumstance to lead a life coherent with the faith he or she professes. Christian integrity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord. To be coherent, to live as Christians rather than merely saying, 'I am Christian' while living like a pagan. Coherence is a grace we must ask for today”.

Francis explained that following the Gospel is a “demanding but beautiful path, and those who follow it with devotion and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of goodwill”. He asked those present to pray “in a special way for those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for their witness of Christ … so that due to the sacrifice of these latter-day martyrs, of whom there are many, the commitment to recognising and guaranteeing religious freedom, an inalienable right of every human being, may be reinforced in every part of the world”.

After the Angelus prayer, the Pope conveyed his wishes for peace to all those present and prayed to St. Stephen for the grace of Christian coherence: “thinking, feeling and living as a Christian, not thinking as a Christian and living as a pagan”.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Francis: must the Middle East suffer the lack of peace?

Vatican City, 23 December 2014 (VIS) – Pope Francis has written a letter to Christians in the Middle East to mark the occasion of Christmas, aware that for many of them “the music of [their] Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs”. The Holy Father comments on the conflicts that continue to afflict a part of the world that has long experienced trials and tribulations, and that is now further tormented by terrorism on an unprecedented scale “which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts”, compelling other ethnic and religious groups to abandon their homelands where they have “the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress” of their nations. He also underlines the central role of Christians in the East in the life of the Church, which needs the support and prayer of all the ecclesial community, and he launches a renewed appeal to the international community to promote a global solution to the problems of the region. “How much longer”, he asks, “must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace?”.

The full text of the letter is published here below:

“Dear brothers and sisters: 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God'.

When I thought of writing to you, our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, these words of Saint Paul immediately came to mind. I write to you just before Christmas, knowing that for many of you the music of your Christmas hymns will also be accompanied by tears and sighs. Nonetheless, the birth of the Son of God in our human flesh is an indescribable mystery of consolation: 'For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people'.

Sadly, afflictions and tribulations have not been lacking, even more recently, in the Middle East. They have been aggravated in the past months because of the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organisation, of previously unimaginable dimensions, which has perpetrated all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts. It has particularly affected a number of you, who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times.

Nor, in writing to you, can I remain silent about the members of other religious and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution and the effects of these conflicts. Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible. I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope.

Dear brothers and sisters who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him. May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you.

I pray that you will be able to experience a fraternal communion modelled on that of the first community of Jerusalem. The unity willed by our Lord is more necessary than ever at these difficult times; it is a gift from God, who appeals to our freedom and awaits our response. May the word of God, the sacraments, prayer and fellowship nourish and continually renew your communities.

The situation in which are you living is a powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested. I think with affection and veneration of the pastors and faithful who have lately been killed, often merely for the fact that they were Christians. I think also of those who have been kidnapped, including several Orthodox bishops and priests of various rites. May they soon return, safe and sound, to their homes and communities! I ask God to grant that all this suffering united to the Lord’s cross will bring about much good for the Church and for all the peoples in the Middle East.

In the midst of hostility and conflicts, the communion which you experience in fraternity and simplicity is a sign of God’s Kingdom. I am gratified by the good relations and cooperation which exist between the patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches and those of the Orthodox Churches, and also between the faithful of the different Churches. The sufferings which Christians endure contribute immensely to the cause of unity. It is the ecumenism of blood, which demands a trusting abandonment to the working of the Holy Spirit.

May you always bear witness to Jesus amid your difficulties! Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence. Thank you for your perseverance!

Your efforts to cooperate with people of other religions, with Jews and Muslims, is another sign of the Kingdom of God. The more difficult the situation, the more interreligious dialogue becomes necessary. There is no other way. Dialogue, grounded in an attitude of openness, in truth and love, is also the best antidote to the temptation to religious fundamentalism, which is a threat for followers of every religion. At the same time, dialogue is a service to justice and a necessary condition for the peace which all so ardently desire.

The majority of you live in environments which are predominantly Muslim. You can help your Muslim fellow citizens to present with discernment a more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire, reiterating that Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and favours peaceful coexistence on the part of all. This will prove beneficial for them and for all society. The tragic situation faced by our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, as well as by the Yazidi and members of other religious and ethnic communities, demands that all religious leaders clearly speak out to condemn these crimes unanimously and unambiguously, and to denounce the practice of invoking religion in order to justify them.

Dear brothers and sisters, almost all of you are native citizens of your respective countries, and as such you have the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress of your nations. Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.

In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to you, dear brother patriarchs, bishops, priests, and men and women religious, who accompany the journey of your communities with loving concern. How valuable is the presence and work of those completely consecrated to the Lord, serving him in their brothers and sisters, especially those in greatest need, and thus witnessing to his grandeur and his infinite love! How important is the presence of pastors in the midst of their flocks, especially in times of trouble!

To the young I send a paternal embrace. I pray for your faithfulness, your human and Christian development, and the attainment of your hopes and dreams. I repeat to you: 'Do not be afraid or ashamed to be Christian. Your relationship with Jesus will help you to cooperate generously with your fellow citizens, whatever their religious affiliation'.

To the elderly I express my respect and esteem. You are the memory of your peoples. I pray that this memory will become a seed which can grow and benefit generations yet to come.

I wish to encourage all of you who work in the very important fields of charity and education. I admire the work you do, especially through Caritas and other Catholic charitable organisations in the different countries, in providing help to anyone who asks, without discrimination. Through this witness of charity you help support the life of society and you contribute to the peace for which the region hungers as if for bread. Education too is critical for the future of society. How important it is for promoting the culture of encounter, respect for the dignity of each person and the absolute value of every human being!

Dear brothers and sisters, even though you may not be numerous, you play a significant role in the Church and in the countries where you live. The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal.

At the same time I continue to urge the international community to address your needs and those of other suffering minorities, above all by promoting peace through negotiation and diplomacy, for the sake of stemming and stopping as soon as possible the violence which has already caused so much harm. I once more condemn in the strongest possible terms the traffic of arms. Instead, what are needed are plans and initiatives for peace, so as to further a global solution to the region’s problems. How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible! In the spirit of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the subsequent prayer meeting in the Vatican with the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, I encourage you to continue to pray for peace in the Middle East. May those forced to leave their lands be able to return and to live in dignity and security. May humanitarian aid increase and always have as its central concern the good of each individual and each country, respecting their identity and without any other agendas. May the entire Church and the international community become ever more conscious of the importance of your presence in the region.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters of the Middle East, you have an enormous responsibility and in meeting it you are not alone. That is why I wanted to write to you, to encourage you and to let you know how precious your presence and your mission are in the land which the Lord has blessed. Your witness means much to me! Thank you! I pray for you and your intentions every day. I thank you because I know that, amid your sufferings, you also pray for me and for my service to the Church. I do hope to have the chance to come to you in person and to visit and to comfort you. May the Virgin Mary, the All-Holy Mother of God and our Mother, accompany you and protect you always with her tender love. To all of you and your families I impart my Apostolic Blessing, and I pray that your celebration of Christmas will be filled with the love and peace of Christ our Saviour”.


Vatican City, 23 December 2014 (VIS) – The Vatican Information Service wishes its readers a happy and holy Christmas. During the Christmas holiday there will be no VIS bulletin from 24 to 28 December. The next bulletin will be transmitted on Monday 29 December.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Francis: a Curia that is outdated, sclerotic or indifferent to others is an ailing body

Vatican City, 22 December 2014 (VIS) – This morning in the Clementine Hall the Holy Father held his annual meeting with the Roman Curia to exchange Christmas greetings with the members of its component dicasteries, councils, offices, tribunals and commissions. “It is good to think of the Roman Curia as a small model of the Church, that is, a body that seeks, seriously and on a daily basis, to be more alive, healthier, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ”.

“The Curia is always required to better itself and to grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom to fully accomplish its mission. However, like any body, it is exposed to sickness, malfunction and infirmity. … I would like to mention some of these illnesses that we encounter most frequently in our life in the Curia. They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord”, continued the Pontiff, who after inviting all those present to an examination of conscience to prepare themselves for Christmas, listed the most common Curial ailments:

The first is “the sickness of considering oneself 'immortal', 'immune' or 'indispensable', neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.

The second is “'Martha-ism', or excessive industriousness; the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting 'the better part' of sitting at Jesus' feet. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to rest a little, as neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. Rest, once one who has brought his or her mission to a close, is a necessary duty and must be taken seriously: in spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes, that 'there is a time for everything'”.

Then there is “the sickness of mental and spiritual hardening: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God. … It is dangerous to lose the human sensibility necessary to be able to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the sickness of those who lose those sentiments that were present in Jesus Christ”.

“The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions. Indeed, the Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it. The Spirit is freshness, imagination and innovation”.

The “sickness of poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team”.

“Spiritual Alzheimer's disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the 'first love': this is a progressive decline of spiritual faculties, that over a period of time causes serious handicaps, making one incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one's own often imaginary views. We see this is those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord … in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands”.

“The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one's robes, insignia and honours become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false 'mysticism' and a false 'quietism'”.

Then there is “existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honours. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life”.

The sickness of “chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs”.

“The sickness of deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honouring people rather than God. They are people who experience service thinking only of what they might obtain and not of what they should give. They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness”.

“The disease of indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. When the most expert does not put his knowledge to the service of less expert colleagues; when out of jealousy … one experiences joy in seeing another person instead of lifting him up or encouraging him”.

“The illness of the funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity”.

“The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure. … Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress”.

“The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself. This sickness too may start from good intentions but, as time passes, enslaves members and becomes a 'cancer' that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes a great deal of harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers”.

Then, there is the “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others”.

After listing these ailments, Pope Francis continued, “We are therefore required, at this Christmas time and in all the time of our service and our existence – to live 'speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love'”.

“I once read that priests are like aeroplanes: they only make the news when they crash, but there are many that fly. Many criticise them and few pray for them”, he concluded. “It is a very nice phrase, but also very true, as it expresses the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service, and how much harm just one priest who falls may cause to the whole body of the Church”.

To employees of the Holy See: “Transform this Holy Nativity into an opportunity to heal”

Vatican City, 22 December 2014 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis met with employees of the Holy See, whom he thanked fervently for their work during the last year. He dedicated some special words to the Italians present, as “during all the history of the Church and the Roman Curia they have worked regularly with a generous and faithful spirit, placing at the service of the Holy See and Peter's Successor their unique laboriousness and filial devotion, offering the Church great Saints, Popes, martyrs, missionaries and artists that no passing cloud in history will be able to obscure”. He also thanked workers from other countries, “who generously work in the Curia, far from their homelands and their families, representing for the Curia the face of the Church's 'Catholicity'”.

The Pope encouraged those present to consider a text that he had mentioned in his discourse to the Roman Curia shortly beforehand, treating it as a “starting point for a fruitful examination of conscience in preparation for the Holy Nativity and the New Year. He exhorted them to receive the Sacrament of Confession “with a docile heart, to receive the mercy of the Lord, who knocks on the door of our heart, in the joy of the family”.

Francis emphasised the word “care” and explained that “caring means manifesting diligent and thoughtful interest, that directs our heart and our activities towards someone or something; it means looking with attention to those who are in need of care without thinking of anything else; it means accepting to give or receive care”. To “transform this Holy Nativity into a true opportunity to heal every wound and every lack”, he urged those present to take care of their spiritual life, their relationship with God, and to look after their family life and relationships with others. This means caring about one's way of speaking, purifying language of offensive words; healing the wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness; caring for one's work, performing it with enthusiasm, humility and passion; curing oneself of envy, lust, hatred and the negative feelings that devour our inner peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people; curing oneself of the rancour that leads us to revenge and the idleness that leads to existential euthanasia. Caring for the poorest, the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and foreigners, and making sure that the Holy Nativity never becomes a celebration of commercial consumerism, appearances and pointless gifts, or superfluous waste, but rather of the joy of welcoming the Lord into the creche of the heart”.

“Imagine how our world would change if each one of us began straight away”, he remarked. “This is the true Nativity: the feast of the poverty of the God Who annihilated Himself, assuming the nature of a slave; of God Who served at the table; of God Who hid Himself from the intelligent and the wise and instead revealed Himself to the smallest, the simple and the poor. It is above all the feast of Peace brought to earth by the baby Jesus, … the peace the Angels sang”. He continued, “Peace needs our enthusiasm, our care, to warm our frozen hearts, to encourage distrusting souls and to brighten jaded eyes with the light of Jesus' face”.

The Pope concluded by asking forgiveness for his shortcomings, and those of his colleagues, and also for the various scandals “that do a great deal of damage”, he commented. “Forgive me and, please, pray for me”.

Angelus: at Christmas, Jesus calls out again to the heart of every Christian

Vatican City, 21 December 2014 (VIS) – On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, with Christmas just around the corner, the Gospel narrates the Angel's annunciation to Mary and the Virgin's “yes” that made possible the Incarnation, the revelation of a mystery “enveloped in silence for eternity”. Before this morning's Angelus prayer, Pope Francis addressed the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, focusing on two essential aspects of Mary's attitude as a model to prepare for Christmas.

The first is her faith, which consists of listening to the Word of God in order to surrender herself entirely to it, with full willingness of both mind and heart. “In her 'yes', full of faith, Mary does not know which road she will have to embark upon, how much pain she will have to suffer, what risks she will run. But she is aware that it is the Lord Who asks her to entrust herself entirely to Him, and she surrenders herself to His love. This is Mary's faith”.

“Another aspect is the capacity of the Mother of Christ to recognise the time of God. Mary teaches us to seize the favourable moment in which Jesus passes into our life and asks for a prompt and generous response”.

“And Jesus passes”, added the Pope, “because the mystery of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, which historically took place more than two thousand years ago, occurs as a spiritual event on the 'today' of the Liturgy. The Word, that finds a home in the virginal womb of Mary, during the celebration of the Nativity calls out to the heart of every Christian; it passes, and knocks on the door. Each one of us is called to answer, like Mary, with a personal and sincere 'yes', placing ourselves entirely at the disposal of God and His mercy, His love”.

“How many times does Jesus pass into our lives!”, he exclaimed. “And how many times he sends us an angel, and how often we do not realise, because we are too preoccupied, immersed in our thoughts, in our affairs and even, these days, in our preparations for Christmas, to realise that He passes and knocks at the door of our heart, asking for welcome, asking for a 'yes', like that of Mary”.

“A saint once said, 'I am afraid that the Lord will pass'. Do you know why he was afraid? He was afraid he would not welcome Him, that he would let Him pass by. When we feel in our heart, 'I would like to be a better person', “I feel remorse for doing that”, it is the Lord Who is calling. He makes you feel this: the wish to be better, the wish to stay closer to others and to God. If you feel this, then stop. It is the Lord Who is there! And pray, perhaps go to Confession, to clean up a little … this does you good. But keep in mind: if you feel this desire to improve, it is He Who is calling: do not let Him pass by”.

Francis also recalled, in the mystery of the Nativity, the silent presence of Joseph and emphasised the example that he and Mary offer as an invitation to receive with total openness the Lord Jesus, “who for love made Himself into our brother, and came to bring light to the world”, as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds: 'on earth peace, good will toward men'”.

“The precious gift of Christmas is peace”, he concluded. “Christ, Who is our true peace, calls to our hearts to give us peace, the peace of the soul. Let us open the doors to Christ”.

The Pope receives the Community of Pope John XXIII and praises its generosity in helping people rise above material and moral degradation

Vatican City, 20 December 2014 (VIS) – Today in the Paul VI Hall the Holy Father received 7,500 members of the Community of John Paul XXIII, founded by the Italian priest Oreste Benzi in 1968. The association, currently present in 34 countries, is concerned with situations of marginalisation and poverty and promotes the non-violent removal of the root causes. It follows the principle of sharing of life in a number of contexts: minors and young people in difficult conditions, the disabled, detainees, itinerant communities, drug users, alcoholics, those without fixed abode, the elderly, the sick, mothers with problems and women forced into prostitution.

During the audience, various members of the Community narrated to the Pope their experiences, which as Francis said, spoke of “slavery and liberation, of the selfishness of those who imagine they can build up their lives by exploiting others and taking advantage of the generosity of those who help others to rise up from material and moral degradation. They are experiences that shed light on the many forms of poverty that unfortunately afflict our world, and they reveal the most dangerous misery of all, the cause of all others: distance from God, the presumption of being able to do without Him. This is the blind misery of those who believe that the aim of their existence is material wealth, the pursuit of power and pleasure, and the enslavement of the lives of others to these objectives”.

“Yes, my friends, it is the presence of the Lord that makes the difference between the freedom of good and the slavery of evil … it broadens horizons … and gives us the strength necessary to overcome difficulties and obstacles. … Faith, indeed, moves the mountains of indifference and apathy, of disinterest and sterile self-centredness. … Faith opens the doors of charity … giving us the courage to act according to the example of the Good Samaritan. Fr. Oresti Benzi, the founder of your association, understood this well. His love for the least and for the poor, for the excluded and the abandoned, was rooted in his love for Jesus crucified, Who made Himself poor for us. … From the mission of involving adolescents and encouraging their interest in the figure of Jesus, there was born the idea of organising for them a vital and radical encounter with Him as a hero and friend, through testimonies of life, fully demonstrating the Christian message, but in a joyful or even joking fashion”.

“In this way your community was born, now present in 34 countries with its family-houses, its social and educational cooperatives, its houses of prayer, services for accompanying difficult motherhood and other initiatives”, continued the Pope. “Providence has enabled you to grow, demonstrating the vitality of the charism of your Founder, who liked to say that “to get onto your feet, you need to kneel first”.

Pope Francis concluded by inviting those present to be attentive to their spiritual formation, and to partake frequently of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as “it fills the heart with the love for God that is the wellspring of charity towards our brothers and sisters”.


On Saturday, 20 December, the Holy Father received in audience:

- His Royal Highness Jaime Bernardo, Prince of Bourbon de Parme, ambassador of the Netherlands to the Holy See, presenting his letters of credence;

- Clelio Galassi, ambassador of the Republic of San Marino to the Holy See, presenting his letters of credence;

- Eduardo Felix Valdes, ambassador of the Republic of Argentina to the Holy See, presenting his letters of credence.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 22 December 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has

- appointed Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, auxiliary of the archdiocese of Indianapolis, U.S.A., as bishop of Burlington (area 23,651, population 651,000, Catholics 123,700, priests 133, permanent deacons 43, religious 149), U.S.A.

- appointed Bishop Benjamin Ndiaye of Kaolack, Senegal, as archbishop of Dakar (area 4,803, population 3,677,000, Catholics 455,000, priests 168, religious 645), Senegal. He succeeds Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary of the diocese of Basel, Switzerland, presented by Bishop Martin Gachter upon reaching the age limit.

- erected the new diocese of Kuzhithurai (area 915, population 855,485, Catholics 264,222, priests 131, religious 269) India, with territory taken from the diocese of Kottar, making it a suffragan of the metropolitan church of Madurai. He appointed Fr. Jerome Dhas Varuvel, S.D.B., as first bishop of the new diocese. The bishop-elect was born in Paduvoor, India in 1951, gave his perpetual vows in 1981, and was ordained a priest in 1985. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and theology, and a licentiate in education from the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome, and has served in a number of roles, including vice rector of the novitiate in Vellakinar, rector of the pre-novitiate in Tirupattur and Maiyam, dean of the Salesian student body in Trichy, parish priest and rector of the con-Cathedral of Madras-Mylapore, provincial counsellor, director of Kalvi Solai in Tirupattur and in Ennore, and director of Mount Don Bosco in Thalavadi. He is currently master of novices in Yeallagiri Hills, Vellore.

On Saturday, 20 December, the Holy Father appointed:

- Bishop Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos of Gomez Palacio, Mexico, as bishop of Ciudad Juarez (area 29,639, population 2,727,000, Catholics 2,318,000, priests 116, permanent deacons 19, religious 206), Mexico. He succeeds Bishop Renato Ascencio Leon, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue as camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church;

- Archbishop Giampiero Gloder, apostolic nuncio and president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, as vice camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Nativity and the Christmas Tree are signs of light and hope

Vatican City, 19 December 2014 (VIS) – This morning in the Clementine Hall the Pope received delegations from the Italian provinces of Verona and Catanzaro, which provided the Nativity scene with its terracotta figures and the Christmas tree that are decorating St. Peter's Square during the festive season this year, and which will be illuminated before the public this evening.

“Christian values have enriched the culture, literature, music and art of your lands, and today such values continue to constitute a valuable heritage to be preserved and transmitted to future generations”, he said. “The Nativity and the Christmas tree are evocative festive symbols very dear to our Christian families: they recall the mystery of the Incarnation, the only begotten Son of God, made flesh in order to save us, and the light that Jesus has brought to the world through His birth. But the creche and the tree touch the hearts of all, as they speak of fraternity, intimacy and friendship, calling to people of our time to rediscover the beauty of simplicity, sharing and solidarity. They are an invitation to unity, harmony and peace; an invitation to make room, in our personal and social life, for God, Who does not come with arrogance, imposing His power, but instead offers His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a Child. The creche and the tree therefore bring a message of light, hope, and love”.

“The Messiah made Himself man and came among us, to dispel the shadows of error and sin, bringing His divine light to humanity. Jesus Himself says of Himself: 'I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life'. Let us follow Him, the true light, so as not to lose our way and in turn to reflect light and warmth on those who go through moments of difficulty and inner darkness”.

Francis: sport to promote friendship between peoples

Vatican City, 19 December 2014 (VIS) – The Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) celebrates its centenary this year. This morning around five thousand managers and athletes from the Committee attended a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, after which Pope Francis addressed a brief discourse to them. “In our times sport is the home of the Church, and this meeting is the proof of this: we celebrate together your centenary, an important anniversary for Italian sport”, he said.

The Holy Father commented that for one hundred years the CONI has promoted and organised sport in Italy not only in relation to the great global event that is the Modern Olympics, but also focusing on the popular, social, educational and cultural dimensions. “It does this taking inspiration from the principles of the Olympic Charter, that places among its main aims the centrality of the person, the harmonious development of humanity, the defence of human dignity, and, moreover, the contribution to a better world, without wars or tension, educating the young through sport practised without discrimination of any type, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”.

“Sport has always promoted universalism characterised by fraternity and friendship among peoples, accord and peace between nations; respect, tolerance, and harmony in diversity”, he added. “Every sporting event, especially Olympic ones, in which representatives of nations with different histories, cultures, traditions, faiths and values compete, can be come a channel for an ideal strength able to open up new paths, at times unexpected, in overcoming conflicts caused by the violation of human rights”.

The Olympic motto, “Citius, altius, fortius”, “is not an incitement to the supremacy of one nation over another, of one people over another people, nor of the exclusion of the weakest and least protected, but rather represents the challenge posed to all of us, not just athletes: that of making the effort and the sacrifice to reach the important goals in life, accepting one's own limits without allowing oneself to be obstructed by them, but seeking instead to overcome them”.

The Holy Father encouraged the members of CONI to continue their work in schools, in the world of work and in solidarity “to promote a sport that is accessible to all, mindful of the weakest and of the most precarious sectors of society; an inclusive sport for the differently-abled, foreigners, those who live in peripheries and are in need of meeting places, sociality, sharing and play; a sport that aims not at being 'useful', but at the development of the human person, in a gratuitous fashion”.

Finally, Francis remarked that CONI was the first national Olympic committee – whose example was later followed by others – to include an Olympic chaplain in its organisation. “It is a friendly presence to demonstrate the closeness of the Church and to stimulate in sports people a strong sense of spiritual training. Indeed, there are certain words typical of sport that can be used to refer to spiritual life. The saints understood this, and knew how to interpret passion, enthusiasm, constancy, determination, challenge and limits, looking beyond themselves, towards the horizon of God”.


Vatican City, 19 December 2014 (VIS) – Today, the Holy Father received in audience:

- Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., prefect of the Congregation for Bishops;

- Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseilles, France, president of the Conference of Bishops of France, accompanied by Bishop Pascal Delannoy of Saint-Denis, vice president, and Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau, general secretary.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pope to new ambassadors: task of ambassador, through small steps, is to bring peace

Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) -This morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father received in audience the ambassadors of the following nations, presenting their Credential Letters:
      - Mr. Vaanchig Purevdorj of Mongolia,
      - Mr. Sean Mcweeney, Q.C., of The Bahamas,
      - Mr. Edward D.A. Lambert of Dominica,
      - Mr. Philip Sang’ka Marmo of Tanzania,
      - Mrs. Louise Bang Jespersen of Denmark,
      - Mr. Dato’ Mohd Zulkephli Bin Mohd Noor of Malaysia,
      - Dr. Francois Xavier Ngarambe of Rwanda,
      - Mr. Jari Petteri Luoto of Finland,
      - Mrs. Janet Lowe of New Zealand,
      - Sheikh Mouclary Diarra of Mali,
      - Mr. Kokou Nayo Atsumikoa M’Beou of Togo,
      - Mr. Shameem Ahsan of Bangladesh, and,
      - Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser bin Ahmad Ali Al-Thani of Qatar.

The Holy Father welcomed the new ambassadors with the following words: “I warmly welcome you and hope that every time you enter this house that you feel at home. I extend our welcome and respect for you and for your peoples and the heads of your governments. I greet you and wish your work to be fruitful, to be fertile. The work of an ambassador lies in small steps, small things, but they always end up making peace, bringing closer the hearts of people, sowing brotherhood among peoples. This is your job, but with little things, tiny things. Today we are all happy because we have seen how two peoples, distanced for so many years, made a step nearer one another yesterday. That was brought about by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Your job is noble work, very noble. I wish it to be fruitful, fertile, and may God bless you. Thank you.”


Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) – Official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics has been in place for almost 50 years and the progress made in this half century “constitutes a solid foundation for sincere friendship lived in faith and spirituality,” Pope Francis said this morning on receiving a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany on an ecumenical visit to Rome.

Despite theological differences that persist in various issues of the faith, collaboration and fraternal coexistence characterize the life of our churches and ecclesial communities, which are committed to a common ecumenical journey and joint documents. One such text was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which was officially signed fifteen years ago in Augsburg. “These are,” Pope Francis said, “important milestones that allow us to confidently continue along the path undertaken.”

Although the common goal of full and visible unity of Christians sometimes seems to become more difficult to achieve because of different interpretations regarding the church and its unity, we must not give in to resignation but concentrate on the next possible step. “Do not forget,” the Pope stressed, “that we are walking together the path of friendship, mutual respect, and theological research. It is a path that makes us look with hope to the future. That is why, this past 21 November, bells of all the cathedrals in Germany rang to invite all Christian brothers and sisters to a common liturgical service for the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism.”

The Holy Father expressed his satisfaction that the Commission on Bilateral Dialogue between the German Bishops' Conference and the German Evangelical Lutheran Church is about to finish its work dedicated to “God and the Dignity of Man”. He emphasized the relevance of “issues related to the dignity of the human person at the beginning and end of life, as well as those related to family, marriage, and sexuality, which cannot be excluded or left to the side just because one doesn't want to endanger the ecumenical consensus reached thus far. It would be a shame if new confessional differences arose in such important topics related to human existence.”

Ecumenical dialogue today can no longer be separated from the reality and the life of our churches. In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will jointly commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On that occasion, Lutherans and Catholics around the world will, for the first time, have the opportunity to share the same ecumenical commemoration, not in the form of a triumphalistic celebration, but as the profession of our common faith in the Triune God. At the center of this event, therefore, there will be common prayer and the plea that our Lord Jesus Christ pardon for our mutual faults, along with the joy of journeying together on a shared ecumenical path. This meaningfully references the document produced by the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for Unity published last year entitled “From Conflict to Communion: The Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017”. May this commemoration of the Reformation encourage us all to carry out, with God's help and the support of his Spirit, further steps towards unity and to not just limit ourselves to what we have already achieved!”


Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) - “I have heard that this year you are working on a theme with the slogan 'Everything to Discover'. It's a beautiful journey, one which requires courage and the hard work of exploring to then rejoice when the plan that Jesus has for each of us is discovered.” This is what Pope Frances told the youth of Catholic Action Italy this morning when he met with them in the Vatican. Regarding their theme, especially the word “everything”, the Holy Father offered some advice for “walking well in Catholic Action, in your family, and in your communities”.

Never give up,” he said, “because what Jesus thought for your path is something to be built together: together with your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends from school, from catechism, from your parishes, and from Catholic Action. Concern yourselves with the needs of the poorest, those suffering the most, and those who are most lonely because whoever has chosen to love Jesus cannot not love their neighbor. Your journey in Catholic Action, therefore, will become total love.”

The Pope asked them not to forget the Church and her priests, and to put themselves at the service of their community, “because the Church is not just priests and bishops, but the entire community. So put yourselves at the service of the community. Give of your time, energy, personal qualities and skills in your parishes and thus bear witness that the wealth of each is a gift from God that should be fully shared.” He also encouraged them to be apostles of peace and serenity starting with their families. Remind your parents, siblings, and peers that it is beautiful to love one another and that misunderstandings can be overcome because, united to Jesus, everything is possible.” To that end, Pope Francis encouraged them to talk to Jesus in prayer. “He is your best friend who will never abandon you. Entrust your joys and sorrows to Him. Turn to Him any time you make a mistake or do something wrong. You can be sure that He will forgive you. And speak to all of Jesus, of his love, his mercy, his tenderness, because friendship with Jesus—who gave himself for us—is an event that must be told.”

Finally, he emphasized that “with the grace of his birth, Jesus wants to help us take a stronger, safer, and happier step toward being his disciples” and that it only takes a few words, which our Mother, the Virgin, teaches us; the words of her response to the Lord's call; “Here I am.”


Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) - The following is the full text of a communique published yesterday afternoon by the Governorate of Vatican City State.

The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raul Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties.”

The Holy See received delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties.”

The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens.”


Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father received in audience:

- Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and

- Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to Singapore, non-residential pontifical representative for Vietnam, and apostolic nuncio to the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

General Audience: Jesus chose to come to the world as part of a family

Vatican City, 17 December 2014 (VIS) – The family is the “great gift that the Lord has given to the world ever since the beginning, when he entrusted to Adam and Eve the mission of multiplying and filling the earth; the gift that Jesus confirmed and sealed in His Gospel”, said the Holy Father during this Wednesday's general audience, in the first of the new cycle of catechesis dedicated to the family, which will continue throughout the coming year.

The proximity to Christmas illuminates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, which opens a new chapter in the universal history of man and woman. “And this new beginning occurs within a family, in Nazareth. He could have come spectacularly, or as a warrior, an emperor… No – he came as the son of a family, in a family”, he emphasised.

God chose to be born “in a human family, that He Himself had formed. He created this family in a remote village in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire. Not in Rome, the capital of the Empire, not in a great city, but in an almost invisible and somewhat notorious periphery. This is even noted in the Gospel, almost as if it were a turn of phrase: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'. Perhaps, in many parts of the world, we too still speak in this way when we hear the name of certain peripheral areas of large cities. And yet, it was precisely there, in the outskirts of the great Empire, that there began the most holy and good story of Jesus among mankind”.

“Jesus chose to remain in the periphery for thirty years, during which there is no mention of miracles or healing, of preaching, of crowds who run after him. In Nazareth, everything seems to happen 'normally', according to the habits of a pious and hard-working family of Israelites. … The Gospels, in their sobriety, say nothing of Jesus' adolescence and leave this task to our affectionate imaginings. Art, literature and music have followed the path of the imagination. Certainly, it is not difficult to imagine how much mothers could learn from Mary's tender care for her Son! And how much fathers could benefit from the example of Joseph, a righteous man, who dedicated his life to supporting and defending his wife and child – is family – through difficult times. To say nothing of how much the young could be encouraged by the adolescent Jesus in understanding the necessity and beauty of cultivating their deepest vocation, and of having great dreams”, he added.

“Every Christian family – as Mary and Joseph did – must first welcome Jesus, listen to Him, speak with Him, shelter Him, protect Him, grow with Him; and in this way, make the world better. Let us make space in our heart and in our days for the Lord. This is what Mary and Joseph did, and it was not easy: how many difficulties they had to overcome! It was not a false or unreal family. The family of Nazareth calls to us to rediscover the vocation and the mission of the family, of every family. And so what happened in those thirty years in Nazareth can also happen to us: making love, not hate, normal; mutual help common, instead of indifference and hostility. It is not by chance that Nazareth means 'she who preserves', like Mary who, as the Gospel tells us, 'treasured all these things in her heart'. From then on, whenever there is a family that preserves this mystery, even if it should be at the outer reaches of the world, the mystery of the Son of God is at work. And He comes to save the world”.

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