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Monday, July 13, 2015

Visit to the “Ninos de Acosta Nu” paediatric hospital

Vatican City, 12 July 2015 (VIS) – The Pope's first visit in Paraguay after his meeting with the president, Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara, was to the patients of the Ninos de Acosta Nu paediatric hospital.

The Pope arrived at 8.30 a.m. (local time) and spent around an hour with the inpatients, including those who were in the emergency room and the oncology ward. Instead of pronouncing the discourse he had prepared, the full text of which is reproduced below, he handed out a copy “as read” and spoke informally to the patients.

“Dear children, I want to ask you a question; maybe you can help me. They tell me that you are all very intelligent, and so I want to ask you: Did Jesus ever get annoyed? … Do you remember when?

If this seems like a difficult question, let me help you. It was when they wouldn’t let the children come to Him. That is the only time in the entire Gospel of Mark when we hear that He was 'annoyed'. We would say that He was really 'ticked off'.

Do you get annoyed every now and then? Jesus felt that way when they wouldn’t let the children come to Him. He was really mad. He loved children. Not that He didn’t like adults, but He was really happy to be with children. He enjoyed their company, He enjoyed being friends with them. But not only. He didn’t just want to have them around, he wanted something else: he wanted them to be an example. He told his disciples that 'unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven'.

The children kept coming to Jesus, and the adults kept trying to keep them away, but Jesus called them, embraced them and brought them forward, so that people us could learn to be like them. Today, he wants to tell us the same thing. He looks at us and he says: 'Learn from the children'.

We need to learn from you. We need to learn from your trust, your joy, and your tenderness. We need to learn from your ability to fight, from your strength, from your remarkable endurance. Some of you are fighters. And when we look at young 'warriors' like you, we feel very proud. Isn’t that right, moms? Isn’t that right, dads and grandparents? Looking at you gives us strength, it gives us the courage to trust, to keep moving forward.

Dear mothers, fathers, grandparents: I know that it is not easy to be here. There are moments of great suffering and uncertainty. There are times of heart-rending anguish but also moments of immense happiness. These two feelings often collide deep within us. However, there is no better relief than your tender compassion, your closeness to one another. It makes me happy to know that as families you help, encourage and support each other, so that you can keep going in these difficult moments.

You count on the support of the doctors, nurses and the entire staff of this home. I thank them for their vocation of service, for helping not only to care for, but also to be there, for these young brothers and sisters of ours who suffer.

Let us never forget that Jesus is close to his children. He is very near, in our hearts. Never hesitate to pray to Him, to talk to Him, to share with him your questions and your pain. He is always with us, He is ever near and he will not let us fall.

There is another thing we can be sure of, and I would say it once again. Wherever there is a son or daughter, there is always a mother. Wherever Jesus is, there is Mary, the Virgin of Caacupe. Let us ask her to wrap us in her mantle, to protect and intercede for you and for your families.

And also, please don’t forget to pray for me. I am certain that your prayers are heard in heaven”.

Caacupe: when everything seemed to be falling apart, Paraguayan women, like Our Lady, hoped against hope

Vatican City, 12 July 2015 (VIS) – After greeting the patients at the paediatric hospital “Ninos de Acosta Nu”, the Pope transferred by car to the Shrine of Caacupe which in Guarani means “behind the mountain”, and from which Lake Ypacaray is visible. Caacupe is considered the spiritual capital of Paraguay and is famous for the feast celebrated on 8 December in honour of the Our Lady of Miracles. According to legend, the image was sculpted in the sixteenth century by a converted Atyra Indio who, feeling from rival Mhayaes indigenous people, hid inside a large tree trunk and prayed to the Virgin to be saved. He later carved the image of Our Lady in a piece of the trunk as an ex voto. The Indio, named Jose, built a small chapel, the nucleus of the future Shrine, which was completed in 1770, considered to be the official date of the founding of the city of Caacupe.

The Pope travelled the last few kilometres leading to the Shrine by popemobile, greeted by the tens of thousands of faithful who awaited him to participate in the Holy Mass, with prayers in Spanish and Guarani. In his homily the Pope emphasised that the Shrine of Caacupe treasured the memory of a people who know that Mary is their mother, and stays by her children's side. He reiterated his admiration for Paraguayan women and mothers, who “ at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by an abominable war”.

“Being here with you makes me feel at home, at the feet of our Mother, the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupe”, Francis affirmed. “In every shrine we, her children, encounter our Mother and are reminded that we are brothers and sisters. Shrines are places of festival, of encounter, of family. We come to present our needs. We come to give thanks, to ask forgiveness and to begin again. How many baptisms, priestly and religious vocations, engagements and marriages, have been born at the feet of our Mother! How many tearful farewells! We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us.

“As so often in the past, we now come because we want to renew our desire to live the joy of the Gospel”, he continued. “How can we forget that this shrine is a vital part of the Paraguayan people, of yourselves? You feel it, it shapes your prayers, and you sing: 'Here, in your Eden of Caacupe, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith'. Today we gather as the People of God, at the feet of our Mother, to offer her our love and our faith”.

Francis cited the Angel's greeting to Mary: “'Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you'. Rejoice, Mary, rejoice. Upon hearing this greeting, Mary was confused and asked herself what it could mean. She did not fully understand what was happening. But she knew that the angel came from God and so she said yes. Mary is the Mother of Yes. Yes to God’s dream, yes to God’s care, yes to God’s will. It was a yes that, as we know, was not easy to live. A yes that bestowed no privileges or distinctions. Simeon told her in his prophecy: 'a sword will pierce your heart', and indeed it did. That is why we love her so much. We find in her a true Mother, one who helps us to keep faith and hope alive in the midst of complicated situations”.

The Pope then considered Simeon’s prophecy, reflecting briefly on three difficult moments in Mary’s life: the birth of Jesus, the flight to Egypt and her Son's death on the Cross.

With regard to the first, he commented, “there was no room for them. They had no house, no dwelling to receive her Son. There was no place where she could give birth. They had no family close by; they were alone. The only place available was a stall of animals. Surely she remembered the words of the angel: 'Rejoice, Mary, the Lord is with you'. She might well have asked herself: 'Where is he now?'”.

During the flight to Egypt, “they had to leave, to go into exile. Not only was there no room for them, no family nearby, but their lives were also in danger. They had to depart to a foreign land. They were persecuted migrants, on account of the envy and greed of the King. There too she might well have asked: 'What happened to all those things promised by the angel?'.

Finally, Jesus’ death on the cross: “there can be no more difficult experience for a mother than to witness the death of her child. It is heart-rending. We see Mary there, at the foot of the cross, like every mother, strong, faithful, staying with her child even to his death, death on the cross. There too she might well have asked: 'What happened to all those things promised to me by the angel?'. Then we see her encouraging and supporting the disciples.

“We contemplate her life, and we feel understood, we feel heard. We can sit down to pray with her and use a common language in the face of the countless situations we encounter each day. We can identify with many situations in her own life. We can tell her what is happening in our lives, because she understands.

“Mary is the woman of faith; she is the Mother of the Church; she believed. Her life testifies that God does not deceive us, that God does not abandon his people, even in moments or situations when it might seem that he is not there. Mary was the first of her Son’s disciples and in moments of difficulty she kept alive the hope of the apostles. With probably more than one key, they were locked in the upper room, due to fear. A woman attentive to the needs of others, she could say – when it seemed like the feast and joy were at an end – 'see, they have no wine'. She was the woman who went to stay with her cousin 'about three months', so that Elizabeth would not be alone as she prepared to give birth. That is out mother, so good and so kind, she who accompanies us in our lives.

“We know all this from the Gospel, but we also know that in this land she is the Mother who has stood beside us in so many difficult situations. This shrine preserves and treasures the memory of a people who know that Mary is their Mother, and that she has always been at the side of her children. Mary has always been in our hospitals, our schools and our homes. She has always sat at the table in every home. She has always been part of the history of this country, making it a nation. Hers has been a discreet and silent presence, making itself felt through a statue, a holy card or a medal. Under the sign of the rosary, we know that we are never alone, that she always accompanies us.

“Why? Because Mary simply wanted to be in the midst of her people, with her children, with her family. She followed Jesus always, from within the crowd. As a good Mother, she did not want to abandon her children, rather, she would always show up wherever one of her children was in need. For the simple reason that she is our Mother. A Mother who learned, amid so many hardships, the meaning of the words: 'Do not be afraid, the Lord is with you'. A Mother who keeps saying to us: 'Do whatever he tells you'. This is what she constantly says to us: 'Do whatever he tells you'. She doesn’t have a plan of her own; she doesn’t come to tell us something new. Rather, she prefers to remain silent, and simply accompanies our faith with her own.

“You know this from experience. All of you, all Paraguayans, share in the living memory of a people who have made incarnate these words of the Gospel. Here I would like especially to mention you, the women, wives and mothers of Paraguay, who at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by an abominable war. You are keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people, together with Mary. You lived through many difficult situations which, in the eyes of the world, would seem to discredit all faith. Yet, inspired and sustained by the Blessed Virgin, you continued to believe, even 'hoping against all hope'. And when all seemed to be falling apart, with Mary you said: 'Let us not be afraid, the Lord is with us; he is with our people, with our families; let us do what he tells us'. Then and now, you found the strength not to let this land lose its bearings. God bless your perseverance, God bless and encourage your faith, God bless the women of Paraguay, the most glorious women of America.

“As a people, we have come home, to this house of all Paraguayans, to hear once more those words which are so comforting: 'Rejoice, the Lord is with you'. They are a summons to cherish your memory, your roots, and the many signs which you have received as a people of believers tested by trials and struggles. Yours is a faith which has become life, a life which has become hope, and a hope which leads to eminent charity. Yes, like Jesus, may you be outstanding in love. May you be bearers of this faith, this life and this hope. May you, Paraguayans, continue to build these up this country’s present and future”.

The Holy Father invited those present to join him in prayer: “Here, in your Eden of Caacupe, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith”. Her exclaimed, “All together: here, in your Eden of Caacupe, are your people, Virgin most pure, who offer you their love and their faith. Pray for us, Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises and graces of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”.

Following the Holy Mass, the Pope commended Paraguay to Our Lady of the Miracles of Caacupe, repeating the act by his predecessor St. John Paul II on 18 May 1988, during his visit to the Shrine as part of his apostolic trip to Paraguay.

Francis responds to the “builders of society” in Paraguay

Vatican City, 12 July 2015 (VIS) – The Leon Condou Sports Centre in Asuncion was the location of the Pope's meeting with the so-called “society-builders” in Paraguay – that is, school and university professors, artists and businesspeople, journalists, women's associations, agriculturalists and indigenous groups. The Holy Father answered various questions from those present, whom he greeted first with the following words:

“Seeing all of you together, each coming from his or her own sector or organisation within beloved Paraguayan society, each bringing his or her own joys, concerns, struggles and hopes, makes me grateful to God. In other words, it seems that Paraguay is anything but dead, thank God. When a people is unengaged and listless, passively accepting things as they are, it is a dead people. On the contrary, I see in you great vitality and promise. And God always blesses this. God is always on the side of those who help to uplift and improve the lives of His children. To be sure, problems and situations of injustice exist. But seeing you and listening to you helps renew my hope in the Lord Who continues to work in the midst of His people. You represent many different backgrounds, situations and aspirations; all together, you make up Paraguayan culture. All of you have a part to play in the pursuit of the common good. In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, to see you here before me is a real gift.

The first question was from a young person who expressed his concern regarding the construction of a society characterised by fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for all.

“Youth is a time of high ideals”, said the Pope. “I often say that it is really sad to see a young person who is out of work. It is important that you, the young, and there are indeed many young persons here in Paraguay, realise that genuine happiness comes from working to make a more fraternal country! It comes from realising that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous. Happiness, joy, is one thing, but fleeting pleasure is another. Happiness is built up, it is something solid which edifies. Happiness is demanding, it requires commitment and effort. … Paraguay has a large population of young people and this is a great source of enrichment for the nation. So I think that the first thing to do is to make sure that all that energy, that light, does not disappear from your hearts, and to resist the growing mentality which considers it useless and absurd to aspire to things that demand effort. … Be committed to something, be committed to someone. This is the vocation of young people so don’t be afraid to take a risk on the field, but play fairly and give it your best. Don’t be afraid to give the best of yourselves! Don’t look for easy solutions beforehand so as to avoid tiredness and struggle. And don’t bribe the referee. I ask you not to fight the good fight alone. Try to talk about these things among yourselves, profit from the lives, the stories of your elders, of your grandparents, for there is great wisdom there. 'Waste' lots of time listening to all the good things they have to teach you. They are the guardians of that spiritual legacy of faith and values which define a people and illumine a path. ... Jesus extends to you an invitation through the memory of your people. … Fraternity, justice, peace and dignity are concrete and real, otherwise they are useless. They are constructed with the work of each day. And so, how do you shape those ideals, daily and concretely? Even if you make mistakes, make amends, get up again and move forward – make progress with concrete steps. I confess to you that I feel somewhat allergic … to very eloquent discourses; those who know the speaker end up saying, 'What are liar you are!' This is why words on their own are not enough. If you give your word of honour, then make sacrifices each day to be faithful to that word, to be committed!

The second question related to dialogue as a means to advance the project of a fully inclusive nation. “Dialogue is not easy. There exists also a 'theatrical dialogue' by which I mean that we rehearse dialogue, play out the conversation, but it is subsequently all forgotten. ... For example, I think about that dialogue we have in the Church, interreligious dialogue, where different representatives of religions speak to each other. We sometimes meet to speak and share our points of view, and everyone speaks on the basis of their own identity: 'I’m Buddhist, I’m Evangelical. I’m Orthodox, I’m Catholic'. Each one explains their identity. They do not negotiate their identity. This means that, for there to be dialogue, that fundamental basis of identity must exist. And what is the identity of a country? – and here we are speaking about a social identity – to love the nation. The nation first, and then my business! … That is identity. That is the basis upon which I will dialogue. If I am to speak without that basis, without that identity, then dialogue is pointless. Moreover, dialogue presupposes and demands that we seek a culture of encounter; an encounter which acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary. Uniformity nullifies us, it makes us robots. The richness of life is in diversity. For this reason, the point of departure cannot be, 'I'm going to dialogue but he’s wrong'. No, no, we must not presume that the other person is wrong. I dialogue with my identity but I'm going to listen to what the other person has to say, how I can be enriched by the other, who makes me realise my mistakes and see the contribution I can offer. It is a process of going out and coming back, always with an open heart. … This is the culture of encounter. Dialogue is not about negotiating. Negotiating is trying to get your own slice of the cake. … Dialogue is about seeking the common good. Discuss, think, and discover together a better solution for everybody. … During dialogue there is conflict. This is logical and even desirable. Because if I think in one way and you in another and we walk together, there will be conflict. But we mustn't fear it, we mustn’t ignore it. On the contrary, we are invited to embrace conflict. … Conflict exists: we have to embrace it, we have to try and resolve it as far as possible, but with the intention of achieving that unity which is not uniformity, but rather a unity in diversity. … True cultures are never closed in on themselves – cultures would die if they closed in on themselves – but are called to meet other cultures and to create new realities. ... Without this essential presupposition, without this basis of fraternity, it will be very difficult to arrive at dialogue. If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures, or situations which are second, third or fourth class surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum, a recognition of the dignity of the other, is lacking. There are no first, second, third, fourth categories of persons: they are all of the same lineage”.

The third question was, “How do we hear the cry of the poor in order to build a more inclusive society?”. The Pope responded, “It is important not to exclude anybody, and not to exclude oneself, because everybody needs everybody. A fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them. An ideological approach is useless: it ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests. Ideologies end badly, and are useless. They relate to people in ways that are either incomplete, unhealthy, or evil. Ideologies do not embrace a people. You just have to look at the last century. What was the result of ideologies? Dictatorships, in every case. Always think of the people, never stop thinking about the good of the people. … To really help people, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for individual persons, and I'm thinking of the poor here, valuing them for their goodness. Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them. The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness, sacrifice and solidarity. As Christians, moreover, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made Himself poor so as to enrich us with His poverty. … Let us reflect carefully. The poor person is just like me and, if he or she is going through a difficult time for many reasons, be they economic political, social or personal, it could be me in their place, me longing for someone to help me. As well as desiring this help, if I am in their shoes, I have the right to be respected”.

Another theme was economic growth and the creation of wealth.

“Certainly every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth, and the extension of these to each citizen, without exclusion. And this is necessary. But the creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few. On this point we must be very clear. For 'the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose'. Those charged with promoting economic development have the responsibility of ensuring that it always has a human face. Economic development must have a human face. … They have in their hands the possibility of providing employment for many persons and in this way of giving hope to many families. … I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit. In economics, in business and in politics, what counts first and foremost, in every instance, is the human person and the environment in which he or she lives”.

“Paraguay is rightly known throughout the world for being the place where the Reductions began. These were among the most significant experiences of evangelisation and social organisation in history. There the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression. This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible. You have truly lived this here. It is possible! Where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without. It is possible to seek solutions in every situation, through dialogue”.

The fifth question focused on the definition and importance of a country's culture.

“There exist enlightened cultures which are good and which must be respected”, said Francis. “But there is another culture, which has this same value, which is the culture of the people, of the earliest people, and represents different ethnic groups. I would dare to call this culture, in a positive sense, a popular culture. People possess their own culture and create culture”.

“Before ending, I'd like to make reference to two things”, he continued. “In doing this, as there are political authorities present here, I wish to say this fraternally. Someone told me: 'Look, Mr so-and-so was kidnapped by the Army, please do something to help! I do not know if this is true, or if it is not true, if it is right, or if it is not right, but one of the methods used by dictatorial ideologies of the last century, which I referred to earlier, was to separate the people, either by exile or imprisonment, or in the case of concentration camps, Nazis and Stalinists excluded them by death. For there to be a true culture of the people, a political culture, a culture of the common good, there must be quick and clear judicial proceedings. No other kind of strategy is required. Clear, concise judgements. That would help all of us. … And there is a second thing I would like to say: one method which does not bestow freedom upon people, and enable them to work responsibly towards the construction of society, is the method of blackmail. Blackmail is always corruption: 'If you do this, we will do this to you, and thus destroy you'. Corruption is the parasite, the gangrene of the people. For example, no politician can work and carry out a function, if they are being blackmailed by methods of corruption. … This happens in all populations around the world, and if a society wishes to maintain its dignity, it must banish such blackmail. I am speaking about something universal”.

The Holy Father concluded, “It is a great pleasure to see the number and variety of associations sharing in the creation of an ever more prosperous Paraguay. But if you do not dialogue, all is pointless. If there is blackmail, all is pointless. This great multitude of groups and persons are like a great symphony, each one with his or her own specificity and richness, yet all working together towards a harmonious end. That is what counts. And do not fear conflict, but speak about matters and look for paths that lead to solutions. Love your country, your fellow citizens, and, above all, love the poor. In this way, you will bear witness before the world that another model of development is possible. I am convinced, by virtue of your own history, that you possess the greatest strength of all: your humanity, your faith, your love. Being part of the Paraguayan people is what distinguishes you among the nations of the world”.

“I ask Our Lady of Caacupe, our Mother, to watch over you and protect you, and to encourage you in all your efforts. God bless you and pray for me. Thank you”.

Vespers in the Cathedral of Asuncion

Vatican City, 12 July 2015 (VIS) – Following his meeting with the “builders of society”, the Pope transferred by popemobile to the Cathedral of Asuncion, rebuilt at the beginning of the nineteenth century and which houses the “Cruz de la Parra”, a fifteenth-century cross, the only one left of the 29 that Christopher Columbus planted during his four voyages to America. At the entrance of the Cathedral, which can hold up to a thousand people, the Pope was awaited by the mayor, Arnaldo Samaniego, who gave him the keys to the city, while an orchestra of 220 Paraguayan harps played traditional music. The Pope celebrated first vespers with the priests, men and women religious, seminarians and representatives of the Catholic movements of Paraguay, and then pronounced a brief discourse.

“How good it is for all of us to pray Vespers together”, he said. “How can we not dream of of a Church which reflects and echoes the harmony of voices and song in her daily life? That is what we are doing in this Cathedral, rebuilt so many times over the years. This Cathedral symbolises the Church and each one of us. At times, storms from without and within force us to tear down what had been built and to begin again, but always with the hope given us by God. When we look at this building, we can surely say that it has not disappointed the hopes of the Paraguayan people, because God never disappoints! For this we give thankful praise.

“Liturgical prayer, in its unhurried structure, is meant to be an expression of the whole Church, the spouse of Christ, as she strives to be ever more conformed to her Lord. Each one of us, in prayer, wants to become more like Jesus. Prayer expresses what we experience and what we ought to experience in our daily lives. At least that is true of prayer that is not self-centred or merely for show. Prayer makes us put into practice, or examine our consciences about, what we have prayed for in the Psalms. We are the hands of the God who 'lifts up the poor from the dust'. We work to turn what is dry and barren into fertile ground. We cry out that 'precious in the eyes of the Lord is the life of his faithful ones'. We are those who fight, speak up and defend the dignity of every human life, from birth to old age, when our years are many and our strength fails. Prayer is the reflection of our love for God, for others and for all creation. The commandment of love is the greatest way for the missionary disciple to be conformed to Jesus. Union with Jesus deepens our Christian vocation, which is concerned with what Jesus 'does' – which is something much greater than mere 'activities' – with becoming more like him in all that we do. The beauty of the ecclesial community is born of this union of each of her members to the person of Jesus, creating an “ensemble of vocations” in the richness of harmonic diversity.

“The antiphons of the Gospel canticles for this weekend evoke for us the sending of the Twelve by Jesus. It is always good to grow in this awareness that apostolic work is carried out in communion. It is admirable to see you cooperating pastorally, with respect for the nature and ecclesial role of each of the vocations and charisms. I want to encourage all of you, priests, men and women religious, laity and seminarians to be committed to this ecclesial collaboration, especially with regard to diocesan pastoral plans and the continental mission, and to work together with complete availability in the service of the common good. If our divisions lead to barrenness, then there is no doubt that communion and harmony lead to fruitfulness, because they are deeply attuned to the Holy Spirit.

“Each of us has his or her limitations, and no one is able to reproduce Jesus in all His fullness. Although all vocations are associated with certain aspects of the life and work of Jesus, some vocations are more general and essential. Just now we praised the Lord for 'he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited'. This is the case with every Christian vocation: a person called by God does not show off; he or she does not seek recognition or applause; he or she does claim to be better than others, standing apart as if on a pedestal.

“Christ’s supremacy is clearly described in the liturgy of the Letter to the Hebrews. As we just read from the final part of that Letter, we are to become perfect like 'the great Shepherd of the sheep'. This means that all consecrated persons are to be conformed to Jesus, who in His earthly life, 'with prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears', achieved perfection when, through suffering, he learned the meaning of obedience. This too is part of our calling.

“Let us conclude our celebration of Vespers. The bell tower of this Cathedral was rebuilt a number of times. The sound of its bells anticipates and accompanies our liturgical prayer on so many occasions. Rebuilt for God whenever we pray, steadfast like a bell tower, joyful in ringing out the wonders of God, let us share the Magnificat and, through our consecrated life, allow the Lord to accomplish great things in Paraguay”.

The Pope at the Banado Norte: faith without solidarity is faith without Christ

Vatican City, 13 July 2015 (VIS) – The final day of Pope Francis' trip to Paraguay began with his visit to Banado Norte, a poor and marshy area of the city of Asuncion, where various Church and public aid projects are currently underway. More than two thousand people awaited the Holy Father in the sports field, to whom he expressed his joy as soon as he arrived: “I have looked forward to being with you today. I could not come to Paraguay without spending some time with you, here on your land”, he said.

“We are meeting in this Parish named after the Holy Family, and I confess that as I arrived, everything reminded me of the Holy Family. To see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks... All this makes me think of the little family of Bethlehem. Your struggles have not taken away your laughter, your joy and your hope. Struggles which have not lessened your sense of solidarity but if anything, have made it grow.

“I would like think for a moment about Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem”, continue. “They were forced to leave home, families and friends. They had to leave all that they had and to go somewhere else, to a place where they knew no one, a place where they had no house or family. That was when that young couple had Jesus. That was how they gave us Jesus. They were alone, in a strange land, just the three of them. Then, all of a sudden, shepherds began to arrive. People just like them who had to leave their homes to find better opportunities for their families. Their lives were affected by harsh weather but by other kinds of hardship too. When they heard that Jesus had been born, they went to see him. They became neighbours. In an instant, they became a family to Mary and Joseph. The family of Jesus.

“That is what happens when Jesus comes into our lives. It is what happens with faith. Faith brings us closer. It makes us neighbours. It draws us closer to the lives of others. Faith awakens our commitment, our solidarity. The birth of Jesus changes our lives. A faith which does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead.

“'I am very Catholic, I am a devout Catholic, I go to Mass every Sunday'” said Francis. “But tell me, what goes on in the Banados? 'Ah, I don't know, yes, no, I know that there are people there, but I don't know ...”. For all those Sunday Masses, if you do not have a fraternal heart, if you do not know what happens among your people, then your faith is very weak, it sickens, or it dies. It is a faith without Christ. Faith without solidarity is faith without Christ, it is faith without God, it is faith without brothers. This saying comes to mind – I hope I remember it well – which illustrates this problem of faith without solidarity: 'A God without people, people without brothers, people without Jesus”. This is faith without solidarity. And God places Himself in the midst of the people He chose to accompany, and sends them His Son … to save them and to help them. God acted in solidarity with His people, and Jesus did not hesitate to condescend, to humble Himself unto death for each one of us, for this brotherly solidarity, the solidarity that is born of the His love for His Father and His love for us”.

“As I said, the first to be fraternal was the Lord, Who chose to live among us, Who chose to live in our midst. And I come to you like those shepherds who were in Bethlehem. I want to be your neighbour. I want to bless your faith, your hands and your community. I come to join you in giving thanks, because faith has become hope, and hope in turn kindles love. The faith which Jesus awakens in us is a faith which makes us able to dream of the future, and to work for it here and now. That is why I want to urge you to continue to be missionaries, to keep spreading the faith in these streets and alleys. This faith that gives rise to solidarity between us, with our brother Jesus, and our Mother, the Virgin Mary. Be neighbours above all to the young and the elderly. Be a support for young families and all families which are experiencing difficulty. Perhaps the strongest message you can give is that of solidarity in faith. The devil wants us to fight among ourselves, to divide us in order to defeat us and to rob us of our faith. Solidarity among brothers to defend the faith! Solidarity among brothers to defend the faith! And may this fraternal faith be a message for all the city”.

“I wish to pray for your families, and to pray to the Holy Family so that its example and its witness may continue to offer light for your path, and encouragement in times of trouble. May the Holy Family always give us 'shepherds', priests and bishops able to accompany, support and encourage our families; capable of nurturing this fraternal faith that can never be defeated”.

The Pope invited all those present to recite the Lord's Prayer together, the “prayer to our Father that makes us brothers, that leads us to our brother, His Son Jesus, and that gives us a Mother who accompanies us”. After blessing the inhabitants of Banado Norte, he exclaimed, “Do not let the devil divide you!”.

Mass in Nu Guazu: learning Christian hospitality

Vatican City, 13 July 2015 (VIS) – Holy Mass in Nu Guazu, the shrine where St. John Paul II canonised St. Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz and his companions in 1988, was the second stage of Pope Francis' Sunday in Paraguay. The Pope celebrated Mass in the large field of Nu Guazu in the presence of more than one and a half million people who applauded as he toured to greet the faithful from the popemobile.

In his homily, Pope Francis commented first on the Psalm of the first reading in the liturgy, which tells us that “the Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase”. “We are invited to celebrate this mysterious communion between God and his People, between God and us. The rain is a sign of his presence, in the earth tilled by our hands. It reminds us that our communion with God always brings forth fruit, always gives life. This confidence is born of faith, from knowing that we depend on grace, which will always transform and nourish our land”.

“It is a confidence which is learned, which is taught. A confidence nurtured within a community, in the life of a family. A confidence which radiates from the faces of all those people who encourage us to follow Jesus, to be disciples of the One who can never deceive. A disciple knows that he or she is called to have this confidence; we feel Jesus’ invitation to be his friend, to share his lot, his very life. 'No longer do I call you servants... but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you'. The disciples are those who learn how to dwell in the confidence born of Jesus' friendship”.

The Gospel speaks to us of this kind of discipleship, showing us “the identity card of the Christian. Our calling card, our credentials. Jesus calls his disciples and sends them out, giving them clear and precise instructions. He challenges them to take on a whole range of attitudes and ways of acting. Sometimes these can strike us as exaggerated or even absurd. It would be easier to interpret these attitudes symbolically or 'spiritually'. But Jesus is quite precise, very clear. He doesn’t tell them simply to do whatever they think they can”.

The Pope invited reflection on some of these attitudes: “'Take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money...' 'When you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place'.

“All this might seem quite unrealistic”, he commented. “We could concentrate on the words, 'bread', 'money', 'bag', 'staff', 'sandals' and 'tunic'. And this would be fine. But it strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed. It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: 'welcome'. Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality. He says to them: 'Where you enter a house, stay there'. He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers. We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

“Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations. Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts. It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules. It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love. It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares. These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

“How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs”, observed the bishop of Rome. “How many times do we see evangelisation as involving any number of strategies, tactics, manoeuvres, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments. Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics. You convince them by learning how to welcome them”.

“The Church is a mother with an open heart. She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty. The Church is the home of hospitality. How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home! Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the leper and the paralytic. Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.

“So often we forget that there is an evil underlying our sins. There is a bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives. There is an evil which, bit by bit, finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life: it is isolation. Isolation which can have many roots, many causes. How much it destroys our life and how much harm it does us. It makes us turn our back on others, God, the community. It makes us closed in on ourselves. That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others. A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father, for “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”.

In this way, “Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking. He opens before us a horizon brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfilment. God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children. God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity. So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him... so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving. He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation. He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

“And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelise, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people. 'We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters'”.

He remarked, “One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom. But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people. No one can tell us us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life. How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centres of encounter between ourselves and God.

“The Church is a mother, like Mary. In her, we have a model. We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others. We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.

“That is how we want to be Christians, that is how we want to live the faith on this Paraguayan soil, like Mary, accepting and welcoming God’s life in our brothers and sisters, in confidence and with the certainty that 'the Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase'. May it be so”, concluded the Holy Father.

Angelus: with Mary's help, may the Church become a home for all

Vatican City, 13 July 2015 (VIS) – At the end of the Holy Mass, Archbishop Edmundo Ponziano Valenzuela Mellid and the Orthodox archbishop of South America, Tarasios, greeted the Holy Father, who expressed his gratitude and, before praying the Angelus, invited all those present to look upon the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.

“She is the gift that Jesus gives to his people. He gave her to us as our Mother at the hour of the cross and of His suffering. She is the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice for us. And from that moment, Mary has always been, and will always be, with her children, especially the poor and those most in need. She has become part of the tapestry of human history, of ours lands and peoples. As in so many other countries of Latin America, the faith of the Paraguayan people is imbued with love for Our Lady. They approach their Mother with confidence, they open their hearts and entrust to her their joys and sorrows, their aspirations and sufferings. Our Lady consoles them and, with tender love, fills them with hope. They never cease to turn with trust to Mary, Mother of mercy for each and every one of her children, without exception”.

“I ask Our Lady, who persevered in prayer with the Apostles as they awaited the Holy Spirit, to watch over the Church and strengthen her members in fraternal love. With Mary's help, may the Church be a home for all, a welcoming home, a mother for all peoples”.

Dear brothers: I ask you, please, do not forget to pray for me. I know how beloved the Pope is in Paraguay. I keep you in my heart and I pray for you and for your country”, concluded the Holy Father who, following the Marian prayer, blessed the one and a half million people who had attended the celebration.

He then travelled by car to the apostolic nunciature where he lunched with the 22 bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Paraguay. He then left the nunciature for the waterfront promenade of Costanera where he met with the young people of the nation.

The Pope greets the young before leaving Paraguay

Vatican City, 13 July 2015 (VIS) – The Pope bade farewell to Paraguay with a meeting with 200 thousand young people at the waterfront promenade of Costanera, where instead of reading the discourse he had prepared for the event, he responded to the testimonies presented by three young people, Orlando, Liz and Manuel. An extensive summary is presented below:

“After reading the Gospel, Orlando came to greet me and said, 'I ask you to pray for the freedom of each one of us, of us all'. It is the blessing that we will now all ask for together: freedom. Because freedom is a gift God gives us, but we must know how to receive it, we must know how to have a free heart, for we all know that in the world there are many bonds that bind our heart and do not let it be free. Exploitation, the lack of means for survival, drug addiction, sadness … all these things take away our freedom. And so, all together, let us thank Orlando who asked for this blessing, that of keeping our heart free, a heart that can say what it thinks and what it feels, that can do what it thinks and feels. This is a free heart!”

He continued, “we have heard two other accounts, from Liz and from Manuel. … Liz could easily have put her mother in a rest home, her grandmother in another rest home, living as a young person, enjoying herself and studying whatever she wanted. And Liz said, 'no'. She has spent her life so far, up to the age of 25, serving her mother and her grandmother. Alone? No. Liz was not alone. She spoke to us about an aunt who was like an angel, and she spoke about her meetings with friends at the weekend, with a young evangelising community, with the youth group that has nurtured her faith. And those two angels – the aunt who helped and the youth group – gave her the strength to keep going. And this is solidarity”.

“First: freedom and a free heart. Second: solidarity, to accompany others. Solidarity. This is what this testimony teaches us. And Manuel has not had an easy life. He has said some tough words to us: 'I was exploited, mistreated, and I risked falling prey to drug abuse … I was alone'. Exploitation, mistreatment, loneliness. And instead of doing negative things, instead of stealing, he set to work. Instead of taking revenge for his hardship, he looked ahead! … Hope, work, fighting for life, forging ahead – this is what Manuel tells us about. As you can see, for many young people life is not easy. And I want you to understand this. … 'While for me life has been relatively easy, there are other young people for whom if has not been relatively easy'. Indeed, there are some whom desperation drives to delinquency, crime, and corruption. To these boys and girls, we must say that we are near to them, that we want to lend them a hand, we want to help them with solidarity, love and hope”.

“There are two beautiful phrases that Liz and Manuel said to us. Listen. Liz told us that as she got to know Jesus, this opened the door to hope. And Manuel said, 'I met God, my strength'. That is, getting to know God, drawing closer to Jesus, means hope and strength. And this is what we need to find in the young today: young people with hope and young people with strength. … Why? Because they know Jesus, they know God. Free heart, solidarity, work, hope, effort. This is the path. But this requires sacrifice and means swimming against the current. The Beatitudes that we have just read are Jesus' plan for us. And it is a project that goes against the grain. Jesus tells us, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'. He does not say, 'Blessed are the rich, who accumulate wealth'. No. Those who are poor in spirit. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who are able to draw close to and understand those who are poor. Jesus did not say, 'Blessed are those who get by well', but rather, blessed are those who are able to share in the suffering of others. … The other day, a priest said to me, jokingly, 'Go ahead, keep on telling the young to make noise; but then we have to deal with the hubbub they make! Make a noise, but organise it well! A noise that gives us a free heart, that gives us solidarity, that gives us hope, that is born of meeting Jesus and knowing that God, Who knows us, is our strength. This is the noise I want you to make”.

Following his meeting with the young, the Pope travelled to the airport of Asuncion, pausing to bless the Ycua Bolanos supermarket and commercial complex rebuilt after the worst public accident in the country's history, a fire that caused the death of 400 people and injured 500. The papal aeroplane left Paraguayan soil at 7 p.m. local time, and landed in Rome shortly before 2 p.m. (Rome time).

Telegram for the death of Cardinal Biffi

Vatican City, 11 July 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a telegram of condolences to Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, for the death of Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, archbishop emeritus of the same see, at the age of 87 following a long illness.

The Pope expressed to the relatives of the deceased his profound participation in their suffering and recalls with affection the cardinal who served the Gospel with joy and wisdom, and who loved the Church tenaciously. He remembers with gratitude the late cardinal's intense work as auxiliary bishop of Milan and later as archbishop of Bologna, as well as his tireless service in the human and Christian formation of entire generations through his teaching and the publication of numerous works. The Holy Father praises his direct language in the service of the Word of God, as well as his valued preaching of the Spiritual Exercises, in particular to the Roman Curia.

Strong condemnation of the attack on the Italian consulate in Cairo

Vatican City, 11 July 2015 (VIS) – Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has sent a telegram of condolences to the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Abdel Fatteh Al Sisi, in response to the attack on the Italian consulate in Cairo in which one person was killed and another ten injured.

“His Holiness Pope Francis has learned with great concern of the attack in Cairo against the Italian consulate following a wave of attacks that have risked the lives of many people. Pope Francis firmly condemns this type of act and launches an appeal to political and religious leaders at all levels to work together to combat, with ever greater determination, the scourge of terrorism and to promote harmony and solidarity. The Pope expresses his profound solidarity with the families affected and with all those struck by this blind violence, assuring them of his prayers, and as a pledge of consolation, implores an abundance of divine blessings for all the Egyptian people”.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 11 July 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed:

- the following consultors of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: Msgr. Ennio Apeciti of the clergy of Milan, Italy and rector of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary of Sts. Ambrose and Charles in Rome; Fr. Francesco Massagrande of the clergy of Verona, Italy, member of the Pious Society of Don Nicola Mazza.

- the following members of the executive board of Caritas Internationalis: Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Gent, Belgium, president of Caritas Europe; Archbishop Youssef Antoine Soueif of Cyprus of the Maronites and president of Caritas Cyprus; and Msgr. Gerard Patrick Burns, president of Caritas Oceania.

- Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, archbishop of Manila, Philippines and president of Caritas Internationalis, as member of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”.

- Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, as his special envoy to the Sixth National Eucharistic Congress of Mexico, to be celebrated in Monterrey from 9 to 13 September 2015.
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