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Monday, September 21, 2015

The Pope speaks with journalists on the papal flight

Vatican City, 19 September 2015 (VIS) – Shortly after beginning his trip from Rome to Havana, the Pope greeted the 76 journalists accompanying him on the flight. As indicated by the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., the media coverage of this trip will be more intense than usual. In a very cordial atmosphere, the Holy Father enquired about the journalists' families and received various edible gifts, including dulce de leche and an empanada, a typical Argentinian pastry, that he offered to all those present.

“Thank you for the welcome”, he said. “I wish you a good journey. If I am not mistaken, I think this is the longest trip I have made. … Fr. Lombardi mentioned peace. Today's world thirsts for peace. There are wars, immigrants who flee, this wave of immigration as a result of war, to escape from death and in search of life. Today I am happy as I was greeted at the door of St. Anna by one of the two families residing in the Vatican, in the parish of the same name. They are Syrian refugees. You can see the suffering in their faces. … This word: peace. I thank you for all that you do in your work to build bridges: small bridges, but bridges nonetheless, that together all form the great bridge of peace. I wish you a good trip and good work. Pray for me. Thank you”.

He also offered a greeting to all the journalists' colleagues working in their offices.

The Pope arrives in Cuba, a meeting point for all peoples who come together in friendship

Vatican City, 20 September 2015 (VIS) – “Missionary of Mercy” is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for his visit to Cuba, where he began his tenth apostolic trip yesterday. The Holy Father arrived in the Jose Marti airport in Havana at 4 p.m. local time (10 p.m. in Italy) after a twelve-hour flight, and was welcomed by the president of Cuba, Raul Castro, and by the cardinal archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, accompanied by Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo Garcia Ibanez, president of the Episcopal Conference.

After the protocol greetings and national anthems of Cuba and Vatican City State, President Castro gave a welcome address on behalf of the government and people of Cuba. The Pope thanked the president and asked him to convey sentiments of particular respect and consideration to his brother Fidel. “I would like my greeting to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet, and to Cubans throughout the world”, continued Francis.

After remarking that 2015 marks the eightieth anniversary of the establishment of uninterrupted diplomatic relations between the Republic of Cuba and the Holy See, the Pope affirmed that his arrival in this “beloved nation” follows “the indelible path opened by the unforgettable apostolic journeys which my two predecessors, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, made to this island. I know that the memory of those visits awakens gratitude and affection in the people and leaders of Cuba. Today we renew those bonds of cooperation and friendship, so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the Kingdom to the existential peripheries of society”.

This Apostolic Journey also coincides with the first centenary of Pope Benedict XV’s declaration of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre as Patroness of Cuba, and Francis commented that it was the veterans of the War of Independence who, moved by sentiments of faith and patriotism, wanted the Virgen mambisa to be the patroness of Cuba as a free and sovereign nation. “Since that time she has accompanied the history of the Cuban people”, he said, “sustaining the hope which preserves people’s dignity in the most difficult situations and championing the promotion of all that gives dignity to the human person. The growing devotion to the Virgin is a visible testimony of her presence in the soul of the Cuban people. In these days I will have occasion to go to El Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to pray to our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved nation, that it may travel the paths of justice, peace, liberty and reconciliation”.

“Geographically, Cuba is an archipelago, facing all directions, with an extraordinary value as a 'key' between north and south, east and west. Its natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all peoples to join in friendship, as Jose Marti dreamed, 'regardless of the languages of isthmuses and the barriers of oceans'. Such was also the desire of St. John Paul II, with his ardent appeal: 'May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself to the world, and may the world open itself to Cuba'”.

“For some months now, we have witnessed an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalising relations between two peoples following years of estrangement. It is a sign of the victory of the culture of encounter and dialogue, 'the system of universal growth' over 'the forever-dead system of groups and dynasties'. I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities as a proof of the high service which they are called to carry out on behalf of the peace and well-being of their peoples, of all America, and as an example of reconciliation for the entire world. The world needs reconciliation, in this climate of a piecemeal third world war in which we are living”.

The Pope concluded his first discourse on Cuban soil by invoking “the protection of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Blessed Olallo Valdes and Blessed Jose Lopez Piteira, and Venerable Felix Varela, the great promoter of love between Cubans and all peoples, so that our bonds of peace, solidarity and mutual respect may ever increase”.

Mass in Plaza de la Revolucion: the importance of a people is based on how it serves its most vulnerable members

Vatican City, 20 September 2015 (VIS) – After spending the night in the apostolic nunciature in Havana, the Pope began his second day in Cuba by greeting the thousands of people who lined the streets on his journey by popemobile to Plaza de la Revolucion Jose Marti, dedicated to the poet and writer who fought for Cuban independence. The square, where the Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass attended by more than 200,000 faithful, is a strongly symbolic location for the island, and has provided the backdrop to important demonstrations.

Francis, who before the Eucharistic celebration met with the representatives of other Christian confessions present in Cuba in a provisional sacristy, devoted his homily to the importance of serving the weakest and frailest among us. “Let us not forget the Good News we have heard today: the importance of a people, a nation, and the importance of individuals, which is always based on how they seek to serve their vulnerable brothers and sisters. Here we encounter one of the fruits of a true humanity. Whoever does not live to serve, does not ‘serve’ to live”.

The Pope commented on the Gospel passage in which Jesus asks a seemingly indiscreet question of His disciples: “What were you discussing along the way?” to which they did not answer because on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important, and were ashamed.

“Who is the most important?”, continued the Pope. “This is a life-long question to which, at different times, we must give an answer. ... The history of humanity has been marked by the answer we give to this question. Jesus is not afraid of people’s questions; He is not afraid of our humanity or the different things we are looking for. On the contrary, He knows the 'twists and turns' of the human heart, and, as a good teacher, He is always ready to encourage and support us. As usual, He takes up our searching, our aspirations, and he gives them a new horizon … He somehow finds an the answer which can pose a new challenge, setting aside the 'right answers', the standard replies we are expected to give. As usual, Jesus sets before us the 'logic' of love. A mindset, an approach to life, which is capable of being lived out by all, because it is meant for all”.

“Far from any kind of elitism, the horizon to which Jesus points us is not for those few privileged souls capable of attaining the heights of knowledge or different levels of spirituality. The horizon to which Jesus points us always has to do with daily life, also here on “our island”, something which can season our daily lives with eternity. Who is the most important? Jesus is straightforward in His reply: 'Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the last of all, and the servant of all'. Whatever wishes to be great must serve others, not be served by others”.

“Here lies the great paradox of Jesus”, emphasises the Pope. “The disciples were arguing about who would have the highest place, who would be chosen for privileges ... in order to stand out in the quest for superiority over others. Who would climb the ladder most quickly to take the jobs which carry certain benefits. Jesus upsets their 'logic', their mindset, simply by telling them that life is lived authentically in a concrete commitment to our neighbour. That is, in serving”.

But the call to serve “involves something special, to which we must be attentive. Serving others chiefly means caring for their vulnerability. Serving means caring for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people. Theirs are the suffering, fragile and downcast faces which Jesus tells us specifically to look at and which He asks us to love. With a love which takes shape in our actions and decisions. With a love which finds expression in whatever tasks we, as citizens, are called to perform. People of flesh and blood, people with individual lives and stories, and with all their frailty: these are those whom Jesus asks us to protect, to care for, to serve. Being a Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it. That is why Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable”.

“There is a kind of 'service' which truly 'serves' others, yet we need to be careful not to be tempted by another kind of service, a 'service' which is 'self-serving'. There is a way to go about serving which is interested in only helping 'my people', 'our people'. This service always leaves 'your people' outside, and gives rise to a process of exclusion. All of us are called by virtue of our Christian vocation to that service which truly serves, and to help one another not to be tempted by a 'service' which is really 'self-serving'. … Without looking to one side or the other to see what our neighbour is doing or not doing. Jesus tells us: Whoever would be first among you must be the last, and the servant of all. He will be the servant of all. He does not say: if your neighbour wants to be first, let him be the servant! We have to be careful to avoid judgemental looks and renew our belief in the transforming look to which Jesus invites us. This caring for others out of love is not about being servile. Rather, it means putting our brothers and sisters at the centre. Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, 'suffers' in trying to help. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people”.

“God’s holy and faithful people in Cuba is a people with a taste for celebration, for friendship, for beautiful things”, he concluded. “It is a people which marches with songs of praise. It is a people which has its wounds, like every other people, yet knows how to stand up with open arms, to keep walking in hope, because it has a vocation of grandeur. This is how it raised its heroes. Today I ask you to care for this vocation of yours, to care for these gifts which God has given you, but above all I invite you to care for and be at the service of the frailty of your brothers and sisters. Do not neglect them for plans which can be seductive, but are unconcerned about the face of the person beside you. We know, we are witnesses of the incomparable power of the resurrection, which 'everywhere calls forth the seeds of a new world'”.

Angelus: Francis asks for definitive reconciliation in Colombia

Vatican City, 20 September 2015 (VIS) – At the end of Mass, the Pope spoke for a few minutes before praying the Angelus.

“We have heard in the Gospel how the disciples were afraid to question Jesus when He spoke to them about His passion and death. He frightened them, and they could not grasp the idea of seeing Jesus suffer on the cross. We too are tempted to flee from our own crosses and those of others, to withdraw from those who suffer. In concluding this Holy Mass, in which Jesus has once more given Himself to us in His body and blood, let us now lift our gaze to the Virgin Mary, our Mother. We ask her to teach us to stand beside the cross of our brothers and sisters who suffer. To learn to see Jesus in every person bent low on the path of life, in all our brothers and sisters who hunger or thirst, who are naked or in prison or sick. With Mary our Mother, on the cross we can see who is truly “the greatest” and what it means to stand beside the Lord and to share in His glory.

“Let us learn from Mary to keep our hearts awake and attentive to the needs of others. As the wedding feast of Cana teaches us, let us be concerned for the little details of life, and let us not tire of praying for one another, so that no one will lack the new wine of love, the joy which Jesus brings us.

At this time I feel bound to direct my thoughts to the beloved land of Colombia, 'conscious of the crucial importance of the present moment when, with renewed effort and inspired by hope, its sons and daughters are seeking to build a peaceful society'. May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict, united to that of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation. Thus may the long night of pain and violence, with the support of all Colombians, become an unending day of concord, justice, fraternity and love, in respect for institutions and for national and international law, so that there may be lasting peace. Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation. Thank you, Mr. President, for all you have done in this work towards reconciliation”.

“I ask you now that we join together in praying to Mary, that we may place all our concerns and hopes before the heart of Christ. We pray to her in a special way for those who have lost hope and find no reasons to keep fighting, and for those who suffer from injustice, abandonment and loneliness. We pray for the elderly, the infirm, children and young people, for all families experiencing difficulty, that Mary may dry their tears, comfort them with a mother’s love, and restore their hope and joy. Holy Mother, I commend to you these your sons and daughters in Cuba. May you never abandon them!”.

Meeting with President Raul Castro and with Commander Fidel in the Palace of the Revolution

Vatican City, 20 September 2015 (VIS) – Following Holy Mass, and after lunch in the apostolic nunciature, the Pope transferred by car to the Palace of the Revolution to pay a courtesy visit to the President of the Council of State of Cuba, Raul Castro, elected in 2008 after his brother Fidel Castro stood down for reasons of ill health. Although this did not form part of the official programme for the visit, the Holy Father also met with “Commander” Fidel.

“The meeting was foreseeable, although it did not form part of the programme”, explained Fr. Lombardi. “We all knew that Commander Fidel wanted to see the Pope, as he did with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit. Commander Fidel, who is an elderly man, is spending this phase of his life in study and reflection: he reads a lot and enjoys conversing with people with great experience. This is explicitly how it was with Pope Benedict XVI, and also with Pope Francis”.

“Fidel had asked Pope Benedict to send some books that could be useful for his reflections, and Francis followed on from this by taking, on his own initiative, two books by the Italian priest Alessandro Pronzato, known to many as a prolific author of spiritual and catechetic texts. He also took a book and two CDs by Fr. Armando Llorente, a Jesuit priest who died a few years ago, who was close to Castro as a child when he attended the Jesuit school at the Colegio de Belen. The memorial of this relationship with a teacher who profoundly affected his life during his youth was a very meaningful gesture on the part of the Pope”.

“The Holy Father also took his two great texts, 'Evangelii Gaudium' and 'Laudato si''. This latter focuses on themes of interest to Castro also in this stage of his life – the great questions of the current world and its future. It is certainly a document he will find most interesting. Commander Castro gave the Pope a very well-known book, 'Fidel y la Religion' by Frei Betto, which takes the form of a conversation with Frei Betto. It was a very informal encounter, a serene exchange in the presence of various members of his family, and certainly a positive moment”.

Vespers in the Cathedral of Havana

Vatican City, 21 September 2015 (VIS) – The Immaculate Conception is the patroness of Havana and, in the historic cathedral dedicated to this title and to St. Cristobal, whose baroque facade was designed by Francesco Borromini, the Pope meet with the priests, men and women religious and seminarians of Cuba to for the Vespers prayer. Francis commented on the Gospel account of the rich young man, observant of the law, who is saddened when Jesus tells him that if he wishes to follow Him he must abandon his riches. He made some unscripted comments regarding the value of poverty for all Christians, as well as for consecrated persons. His original prepared discourse is reproduced below.

“We are gathered in this historic Cathedral of Havana to sing with psalms the faithfulness of God towards his people, with thanksgiving for his presence and his infinite mercy. A faithfulness and mercy not only commemorated by this building, but also by the living memory of some of the elderly among us, who know from experience that 'his mercy endures forever and his faithfulness throughout the ages'. For this, brothers and sisters, let us together give thanks.

“Let us give thanks for the Spirit’s presence in the rich and diverse charisms of all those missionaries who came to this land and became Cubans among Cubans, a sign that God’s mercy is eternal.

“The Gospel presents Jesus in dialogue with His Father. It brings us to the heart of the prayerful intimacy between the Father and the Son. As His hour drew near, Jesus prayed for His disciples, for those with Him and for those who were yet to come. We do well to remember that, in that crucial moment, Jesus made the lives of His disciples, our lives, a part of His prayer. He asked His Father to keep them united and joyful. Jesus knew full well the hearts of His disciples, and He knows full well our own. And so He prays to the Father to save them from a spirit of isolation, of finding refuge in their own certainties and comfort zones, of indifference to others and division into 'cliques' which disfigure the richly diverse face of the Church. These are situations which lead to a kind of isolation and ennui, a sadness that slowly gives rise to resentment, to constant complaint, to boredom; this 'is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit' to which He invited them, to which He has invited us. That is why Jesus prays that sadness and isolation will not prevail in our hearts. We want to do the same, we want to join in Jesus’ prayer, in His words, so that we can say together: 'Father, keep them in Your name… that they may be one, even as we are one', 'that Your joy may be complete'.

“Jesus prays and He invites us to pray, because He knows that some things can only be received as gifts; some things can only be experienced as gifts. Unity is a grace which can be bestowed upon us only by the Holy Spirit; we have to ask for this grace and do our best to be transformed by that gift.

“Unity is often confused with uniformity; with actions, feelings and words which are all identical. This is not unity, it is conformity. It kills the life of the Spirit; it kills the charisms which God has bestowed for the good of His people. Unity is threatened whenever we try to turn others into our own image and likeness. Unity is a gift, not something to be imposed by force or by decree. I am delighted to see you here, men and women of different generations, backgrounds and experiences, all united by our common prayer. Let us ask God to increase our desire to be close to one another. To be neighbours, always there for one another, with all our many differences, interests and ways of seeing things. To speak straightforwardly, despite our disagreements and disputes, and not behind each other’s backs. May we be shepherds who are close to our people, open to their questions and problems. Conflicts and disagreements in the Church are to be expected and, I would even say, needed. They are a sign that the Church is alive and that the Spirit is still acting, still enlivening her. Woe to those communities without a 'yes' and a 'no'! They are like married couples who no longer argue, because they have lost interest, they have lost their love.

“The Lord prays also that we may be filled with His own 'complete joy'. The joy of Christians, and especially of consecrated men and women, is a very clear sign of Christ’s presence in their lives. When we see sad faces, it is a warning that something is wrong. Significantly, this is the request which Jesus makes of the Father just before He goes out to the Garden to renew His own 'fiat'. I am certain that all of you have had to bear many sacrifices and, for some of you, for several decades now, these sacrifices have proved difficult. Jesus prays, at the moment of His own sacrifice, that we will never lose the joy of knowing that He overcomes the world. This certainty is what inspires us, morning after morning, to renew our faith. 'With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy' – by His prayer, and in the faces of our people – Christ 'makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew'.

“How important, how valuable for the life of the Cuban people, is this witness which always and everywhere radiates such joy, despite our weariness, our misgivings and even our despair, that dangerous temptation which eats away at our soul!

“Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus prays that all of us may be one, and that His joy may abide within us. May we do likewise, as we unite ourselves to one another in prayer”.

Francis meets with the young, Cuba's hope for the future

Vatican City, 21 September 2015 (VIS) – After Vespers, the Pope transferred to the “Centro de Estudio Padre Felix Varela”, the Felix Varela Cultural Centre, adjacent to the cathedral, to meet with the young people of Cuba. The Centre is dedicated to the Servant of God Felix Varela (1788-1853), considered to be the “father of Cuban culture”. The priest, whose cause for beatification is underway, taught for ten years at the San Carlos college and seminary, making a significant contribution to the progress of sciences and letters on the island. In 1821 he was elected as the representative of Cuba before the Spanish court, where he appealed for the liberation of black slaves. In 1823, following the reestablishment of absolutism in Spain under Ferdinand VII, he transferred to the United States where he proclaimed Cuba's right to independence and exercised his pastoral ministry for thirty years, founding schools, building churches and evangelising among the marginalised.

The Centre is a lay institute, in operation since 2011, coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It comprises a centre for ecclesiastical studies, also offering courses in philosophy, psychology, and a master's degree entitled Cuba-Emprende, aimed at supporting private enterprise initiatives in favour of economic change in the country. It also hosts concerts, conferences and other events, and promotes the Festival of Latin American Cinema.

The Pope expressed his joy at being in the company of the young in a centre so important to Cuban history, and after receiving greetings, he set aside his written discourse, and spoke informally with those present. Extensive extracts from the prepared text are published below:

“ … When I look at all of you, the first thing that comes into my mind and heart, too, is the word 'hope'. I cannot imagine a young person who is listless, without dreams or ideals, without a longing for something greater.

“But what kind of hope does a young Cuban have at this moment of history? Nothing more or less than that of any other young person in any other part of the world. Because hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our concrete circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things which fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love. But it also involves taking risks. It means being ready not to be seduced by what is fleeting, by false promises of happiness, by immediate and selfish pleasures, by a life of mediocrity and self-centredness, which only fills the heart with sadness and bitterness. No, hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and can open us up to grand ideals which make life more beautiful and worthwhile. I would ask each one of you: What is it that shapes your life? What lies deep in your heart? Where do your hopes and aspirations lie? Are you ready to put yourself on the line for the sake of something even greater?

“Perhaps you may say: 'Yes, Father, I am strongly attracted to those ideals. I feel their call, their beauty, their light shining in my heart. But I feel too weak, I am not ready to decide to take the path of hope. The goal is lofty and my strength is all too little. It is better to be content with small things, less grand but more realistic, more within my reach'. I can understand that reaction; it is normal to feel weighed down by difficult and demanding things. But take care not to yield to the temptation of a disenchantment which paralyses the intellect and the will, or that apathy which is a radical form of pessimism about the future. These attitudes end either in a flight from reality towards vain utopias, or else in selfish isolation and a cynicism deaf to the cry for justice, truth and humanity which rises up around us and within us.

“But what are we to do? How do we find paths of hope in the situations in which we live? How do we make those hopes for fulfilment, authenticity, justice and truth, become a reality in our personal lives, in our country and our world? I think that there are three ideas which can help to keep our hope alive.

“Hope is a path made of memory and discernment. Hope is the virtue which goes places. It is not simply a path we take for the pleasure of it, but it has an end, a goal which is practical and lights up our way. Hope is also nourished by memory; it looks not only to the future but also to the past and present. To keep moving forward in life, in addition to knowing where we want to go, we also need to know who we are and where we come from. Individuals or peoples who have no memory and erase their past risk losing their identity and destroying their future. So we need to remember who we are, and in what our spiritual and moral heritage consists. This, I believe, was the experience and the insight of that great Cuban, Father Felix Varela. Discernment is also needed, because it is essential to be open to reality and to be able to interpret it without fear or prejudice. Partial and ideological interpretations are useless; they only disfigure reality by trying to fit it into our preconceived schemas, and they always cause disappointment and despair. We need discernment and memory, because discernment is not blind; it is built on solid ethical and moral criteria which help us to see what is good and just.

“Hope is a path taken with others. An African proverb says: 'If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others'. Isolation and aloofness never generate hope; but closeness to others and encounter do. Left to ourselves, we will go nowhere. Nor by exclusion will we be able to build a future for anyone, even ourselves. A path of hope calls for a culture of encounter, dialogue, which can overcome conflict and sterile confrontation. To create that culture, it is vital to see different ways of thinking not in terms of risk, but of richness and growth. The world needs this culture of encounter. It needs young people who seek to know and love one another, to journey together in building a country like that which José Martí dreamed of: 'With all, and for the good of all'.

“Hope is a path of solidarity. The culture of encounter should naturally lead to a culture of solidarity. I was struck by what Leonardo said at the beginning, when he spoke of solidarity as a source of strength for overcoming all obstacles. Without solidarity, no country has a future. Beyond all other considerations or interests, there has to be concern for that person who may be my friend, my companion, but also someone who may think differently than I do, someone with his own ideas yet just as human and just as Cuban as I am. Simple tolerance is not enough; we have to go well beyond that, passing from a suspicious and defensive attitude to one of acceptance, cooperation, concrete service and effective assistance. Do not be afraid of solidarity, service and offering a helping hand, so that no one is excluded from the path.

“This path of life is lit up by a higher hope: the hope born of our faith in Christ. He made himself our companion along the way. Not only does He encourage us, He also accompanies us; He is at our side and He extends a friendly hand to us. The Son of God, He wanted to become someone like us, to accompany us on our way. Faith in His presence, in His friendship and love, lights up all our hopes and dreams. With Him at our side, we learn to discern what is real, to encounter and serve others, and to walk the path of solidarity.

“Dear young people of Cuba, if God Himself entered our history and became flesh in Jesus, if He shouldered our weakness and sin, then you need not be afraid of hope, or of the future, because God is on your side. He believes in you, and He hopes in you.

“Dear friends, thank you for this meeting. May hope in Christ, your friend, always guide you along your path in life. And, please, remember to pray for me. May the Lord bless all of you”.

Other News

Message to the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East

Vatican City, 21 September 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a message to His Holiness Mar Gewargis, on the occasion of his election as Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, in which he extends his “good wishes and prayerful solidarity” to the Patriarch and his faithful. He adds that it is his prayer that His Holiness may be an inspirational pastor for the flock entrusted to his care and “an untiring builder of peace and harmony, serving the common good and the good of the entire Middle East”.

He continues, “I join your Holiness in prayer and solidarity with all who suffer because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. With you, I ask the Lord to grant them strength so that they may persevere in their Christian witness. In expressing gratitude to Almighty God for the bonds of fraternity between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, I hope and pray that our continuing friendship and dialogue may be further developed and deepened”.

Message to Hungarian religious: seek the concerns and expectations of the people

Vatican City, 19 September 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon Pope Francis sent a video message to the participants in the Meeting of Consecrated Persons in Hungary, an initiative linked to the Year of Consecrated Life.

“In the various forms of consecrated life, I think of you as close to the troubles and expectations of the people; I think of you as committed in the contexts in which you are inserted, with their difficulties and signs of hope. I encourage you to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep; to ask of God a heart capable of compassion, to tend to the wounds of the body and the spirit and to bring God's consolation to many people. I believe that the most beautiful side of a country and a city is that of the Lord's disciples – the bishops, religious and lay faithful – who live with simplicity, in their daily lives, in the style of the Good Samaritan and who are close to the flesh and the wounds of their brethren, in whom they recognise the flesh and wounds of Jesus”.

“This charity full of mercy – we know well – comes from the heart of Christ, and we find this in prayer, especially in adoration, and in partaking with faith in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance. May Mary, our Mother, help us always to be men and women of prayer”.

The Pope speaks with young people from Cuba and the United States before his apostolic trip

Vatican City, 19 September 2015 (VIS) – On 17 September Pope Francis participated in a programme organised by “Scholas Occurrentes” - an initiative organised between the students of various countries, cultures and religions – broadcast by CNN on Friday 18, in which two groups of students from Havana and New York also took part. The Holy Father answered questions posed by the students, starting with one from a girl from New York on the responsibility of the young in the care of the environment.

“It is one of the things that we have to learn from when we are young”, he said. “The environment, at this time, is one of the excluded. It cries to us to pay attention and to take care of it. So, how can a young person take care of the environment? First of all, by seeing the problems that exist in his or her neighbourhood, city and nation. … By looking for concrete measures you can take. The waste of paper is impressive. Avoid wasting electricity … What little you can do, but it is still a little more, a little more, a little more. Add to the will to save our common home”.

A girl from Havana asked the second question, regarding the capacity for leadership attributed to the Pope. “A leader is a good leader if he is capable of making other leaders emerge among the young”, he said. “If a leader wishes to lead alone, then he is a tyrant. Or rather, true leadership is fruitful. ... Sole leaders are here today and gone tomorrow. There are those who are born leaders: leaders in thought, leaders of action, leaders of joy, leaders of hope, leaders in building a better world. This is the path for you to follow; but you already have the seed of leadership within you. If they do not sow leadership in others, if they do not serve, they are dictators. I have no desire to be a dictator. I like to plant the seed of leadership in others”.

The third question was asked by a girl from New York, who showed the Pope a photograph of a dead tree with a bird perched on a branch.

“Yes, in the photo the tree is dead and the bird is alive”, observed Francis. “In a few months' time the bird will need to build a nest to lay its eggs and care for its young, but if the tree is dead, how will it be able to make a nest? This is what happens when we do not take care of the environment. One death leads to another, and then, instead of sowing growth, instead of sowing hope, we sow death. The way is the opposite: caring for life”.

A boy from Havana then spoke about the need to lift the embargo against Cuba. “I too will do everything possible not to forget”, replied the Holy Father. “Building bridges and removing obstacles to communication, so that communication can lead to friendship. One of the most beautiful things is social friendship. That's what I would like you to seek: friendship”.

The final two questions regarded education of boys and girls. “Education is one of the human rights”, affirmed Pope Francis. “A child has the right to be loved … to play … and to receive an education. Do you think about the number of children who, in countries at war at the moment, do not receive an education? … It is a challenge that must be faced. And it is up to us to start. … Do not wait for States to make agreements or governments to agree. Many years will pass in the meantime, as it is difficult. … So many children of your age, so many boys and girls devote their weekends and holidays to teach them. … A people that is not educated, who either because of war or for other reasons cannot receive an education, decays; it decays and declines even to the level of mere instinct. … We must be committed to the education of the young”.

“This morning I received a group of young people”, the Pope revealed. “One boy was from a country at war and he gave me a bullet, one of the many that rain down continually on his city. The young, in order to survive, have to stay closed up inside their homes, and no longer have the right to play. … We have lost the idea of how many children do not experience the joy of play, either because of war, or poverty, or because they live on the streets. And these children do not know how to communicate with the joy of play. They become easy prey to traffickers, who use them and lead them into delinquency, theft, drug abuse, prostitution, and many other things. So, the best way to begin to educate children is to give them the opportunity to play”.

At the end of the broadcast, the presenter invited the Pope to plant an olive tree in a pot placed nearby, and asked the Pope to give him the bullet so as to bury it in the ground on which the olive tree will grow.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 21 September 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed Bishop Ferenc Palanki, auxiliary of Eger, Hungary, as bishop of Debrecen-Nyiregyhaza, (area 11,300, population 1,137,000, Catholics 250,000, priests 93, religious 33), Hungary. He succeeds Bishop Nandor Bosak, whose resignation from the pastoral ministry of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

On Saturday 19 September the Holy Father:

- accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary of the diocese of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg, Poland, presented by Bishop Pawel Cieslik, upon reaching the age limit.

- appointed Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, archbishop emeritus of Palermo, as his special envoy to the concluding celebration of the fifth centenary of the creation of the diocese of Lanciano (present-day archdiocese of Lanciano-Ortona), Italy, to be held on 22 November 2015.

On Friday 18 September the Holy Father appointed Fr. Guy Joseph Consolmagno, S.J., as director of the Vatican Observatory. Fr. Consolmagno is currently a member of the same scientific institution and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.
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