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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

General audience: it is essential to revive the alliance between the family and the Christian community

Vatican City, 9 September 2015 (VIS) – The relationship between the family and the Christian community, “a 'natural' bond, since the Church is a spiritual family and the family is a small Church”, was the theme chosen by the Pope for the catechesis of today's Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The Christian community is the home of those who believe in Jesus as the source of fraternity between all humanity. The Church journeys among peoples, in the history of men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. “This is the history that matters to the Lord”, explained the Pope. “The great events of world powers are written in history books, and stay there. But the history of human affections is inscribed directly on God's heart, and it is the history that remains for eternity. It is the place of life and faith. The family is the locus of our initiation – irreplaceable, indelible – into this history of full life that culminates in the contemplation of God for all eternity in heaven, but begins in the family”.

“The son of God also learned human history in this way, and experienced it to its end. … Then, when he left Nazareth and began his public life, Jesus formed a community around him, an 'assembly', a convocation of people. This is the meaning of the word 'church'”.

In the Gospels, Jesus' assembly has the form of “a hospitable family, not an exclusive closed sect”. Pope Francis observed, “we find Peter and with John, but also the hungry and the thirsty, the outsider and the persecuted, the sinner and the publican, the Pharisees and the masses. And Jesus never ceases to welcome them all and to speak with them, including those who did not expect to encounter God in their lives. It is a powerful lesson for the Church! The same disciples were chosen to take care of this assembly, of this family invited by God”.

In order to continue to experience the reality of Jesus' assembly, “it is essential to revive the alliance between the family and the Christian community”, he affirmed. “We could say that the family and the parish are the two places in which the communion of love that finds its ultimate source in God Himself is realised. A true Church according to the Gospel cannot but have the form of a welcoming home, with open doors, always. Churches, parishes and institutions with closed doors cannot call themselves churches – they should call themselves museums”.

“Today this alliance is crucial. Against the centres of power – ideological, financial and political, we posit our experiences in these centres of love: evangelising, full of human warmth, based on solidarity and participation, and also mutual forgiveness. Certainly, it requires a generous faith to find the intelligence and the courage to renew this alliance. Families at times pull back, saying that they are not up to the challenge. … But no-one is! … Without God's grace, we cannot do anything. And the Lord never arrives in a new family without some kind of miracle. Let us remember what He did at the wedding in Cana. Yes, the Lord, if we place ourselves in His hands, makes us perform miracles: these everyday miracles, when the Lord is there, in the family”.

“Naturally the Christian community must play its part. For instance … favouring interpersonal dialogue, and mutual understanding and respect. May families take the initiative and be conscious of their responsibility to bring their precious gifts to the community!” exclaimed the Pope. “We must all be aware that Christian faith plays on the open field of life shared with all, and the family and parish must perform the miracle of achieving a more community-based life for the whole of society”.

After the catechesis, in his greetings to various groups of faithful, the Pope remarked that today the Church celebrates the liturgical memory of the Jesuit St. Peter Claver, patron of the missions in Africa, and expressed his hope that the saint's example, with his tireless service to the weakest, impel the young to choose solidarity with the needy. “May his spiritual vigour help the sick to carry the cross with courage, and his love for Christ be a model for newly-weds of the love that should occupy the centre of the family”, added the Holy Father.

Archbishop Gallagher at the UN Conference on the protection of victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East

Vatican City, 9 September 2015 (VIS) – Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States, spoke at the United Nations International Conference on the Protection of Victims of Ethnic and Religious Violence in the Middle East, held yesterday in Paris, France. The prelate remarked that during this past year we have witnessed “unspeakable atrocities committed in the Middle East, which have forced thousands of Christians and members of other religious and ethnic minorities to abandon their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in precarious conditions, involving great physical and moral suffering”.

“Fundamental principles such as the value of life, human dignity, religious freedom and the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of individuals and peoples are at stake. The phenomenon continues, with the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law by the so-called Islamic State, as well as those perpetrated by other parties to the conflict. The drama of migration during recent weeks, which has compelled Europe to pay greater attention to the situation, is irrefutable proof of this tragedy”.

He went on to indicate three key aspects for improving the future of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, beginning with raising awareness in the international community to face the humanitarian emergency and to guarantee minimum conditions of safety for minorities and Christian communities.

“Currently the situation compels us to deal with the humanitarian crisis”, but, “in the long term, other suitable measures will have to be taken to ensure their presence in their homelands. Among the challenges to be faced, I would underline those regarding first and foremost the respect for human rights, especially those freedom of religion and conscience. It is important to insist on religious freedom, which obviously includes the freedom to change religion. Indeed, in many countries in the Middle East, freedom of worship exists, although the space for religious freedom is at times extremely limited. Increasing this space for freedom is necessary to guarantee to all those who belong to the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith. It would appear appropriate for the States in the region to be directly involved, along with the rest of the international community, in protecting the fundamental rights of Christians and members of other religious minorities. It is not a question of protecting one religious community or another, or one ethnic group or another, but of protecting people who belong to the single human family and whose fundamental rights are systematically violated”.

The second issue is that of guaranteeing the right of refugees to return to live with dignity and in safety in their country of origin; a right that “must be defended and guaranteed both by the international community and by States, whose citizens are refugees or displaced. It must be emphasised that Christians and other religious minorities do not wish simply to be tolerated but to be considered as citizens to full effect. It is important that this concept of citizenship opens up an ever broader space, as a point of reference for social life, guaranteeing the rights of all, including members of minority groups, through the implementation of adequate legal measures”.

Finally, it is important to face the phenomenon of terrorism and to promote interreligious dialogue. “The mechanisms must be found to encourage all, including in particular countries with a Muslim majority, to deal with terrorism in a serious way, with particular attention to the issue of education”, observed the prelate. “In this respect, it is important that teaching in schools, internet use and the preaching of religious leaders do not provide an opportunity for the development of intransigent and extremist attitudes, or radicalisation, but instead promote dialogue and reconciliation. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that care must be taken regarding the use of certain expressions and manifestations, considered sacred by some religions, as occurs from time to time in the West, to avoid acts causing offence to those to whom they are meaningful”.

It is also essential to promote interreligious dialogue, which is “an antidote to fundamentalism, which afflicts religious communities. Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders can and must play a fundamental role in favouring both interreligious and intercultural dialogue and education in mutual understanding. Furthermore, they must clearly condemn the abuse of religion to justify violence”. Archbishop Gallagher concluded by adding “a positive and respectful separation of religion and State should also be promoted. In this sense, it is necessary to contribute to develop the idea of the need to distinguish between the two spheres, in favour of autonomy and mutual independence, without concealing the indispensable collaboration between them, so that they may coexist without contradicting one another, thanks to dialogue between religious and political authorities and with respect for their respective competences”.

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