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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy

Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS) – The final General Congregation of the 14 th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops concluded today with an address from Pope Francis. The Holy Father spoke about how these three weeks of intense work have had different meanings for families, the Christian community and the Church, and reiterated that “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness”.

The following are extensive extracts from the Pope's address:

“As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

It was also about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply 'rubber stamp', but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as 'the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures'. Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.

We have seen, also by the richness of our diversity, that the same challenge is ever before us: that of proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of today, and defending the family from all ideological and individualistic assaults.

And without ever falling into the danger of relativism or of demonising others, we sought to embrace, fully and courageously, the goodness and mercy of God who transcends our every human reckoning and desires only that 'all be saved'. In this way we wished to experience this Synod in the context of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy which the Church is called to celebrated.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Synod experience also made us better realise that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness. This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae – they are necessary – or from the importance of laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, Who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of His Mercy. It does have to do with overcoming the recurring temptations of the elder brother and the jealous labourers. Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa.

In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners.

The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord.

Blessed Paul VI expressed this eloquently: 'We can imagine, then, that each of our sins, our attempts to turn our back on God, kindles in Him a more intense flame of love, a desire to bring us back to Himself and to His saving plan… God, in Christ, shows Himself to be infinitely good. God is good. Not only in Himself; God is – let us say it with tears – good for us. He loves us, He seeks us out, He thinks of us, He knows us, He touches our hearts and He waits for us. He will be – so to say – delighted on the day when we return and say: ‘Lord, in your goodness, forgive me. Thus our repentance becomes God’s joy”.

St. John Paul II also stated that: 'the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy ... and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser'.

Benedict XVI, too, said: 'Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God … May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognised truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly'.

In light of all this, and thanks to this time of grace which the Church has experienced in discussing the family, we feel mutually enriched. Many of us have felt the working of the Holy Spirit Who is the real protagonist and guide of the Synod. For all of us, the word 'family' does have the same sound as it did before the Synod, so much so that the word itself already contains the richness of the family’s vocation and the significance of the labours of the Synod.

In effect, for the Church to conclude the Synod means to return to our true 'journeying together' in bringing to every part of the world, to every diocese, to every community and every situation, the light of the Gospel, the embrace of the Church and the support of God’s mercy. Thank you”.

Final Relatio of the Synod: truth and mercy

Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS) – The Synod Fathers approved by 177 votes out of 265, a two-thirds majority, the final Relatio of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod on the Family, made up of 94 paragraphs, each one of which was voted on individually. The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., gave a briefing on the document, which was authorised for publication in Italian by Pope Francis.

Fr. Lombardi remarked that the text takes into account the many difficulties faced by the family, but also its great capacity for facing and reacting to them. The conclusive document of the Synod includes many of the amendments to the Instrumentum Laboris presented by the Synod Fathers and therefore reflects the voice of the Assembly.

With reference to the two paragraphs dedicated to complex family situations, which were approved by a very slender majority of 178 and 180 votes, Fr. Lombardi noted that they regard the pastoral approach to wounded families or those that are irregular from a canonical point of view and in terms of the discipline of the Church: in particular, cohabitation, civil marriage, divorced and remarried persons and the way of pastorally addressing these situations.

Fr. Lombardi underlined that the tone of the document is positive and welcoming, and that it has greatly enriched the Instrumentum Laboris. Similarly, the Pope's Motu Proprio on the reform of marriage annulment procedures made an effective and decisive contribution to the theme of the Synod.

The final Relatio reaffirms the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, which is not a yoke but rather a gift from God, a truth based in Christ and in His relationship with the Church. At the same time, it underlines that truth and mercy converge in Christ, which leads to welcome to wounded families. Without expressly mentioning access to the Eucharist for remarried divorcees, the Synod document recalls that they are not excommunicated and refers the analysis of complex family situations to the discernment of pastors. This discernment, the text underlines, must be applied in accordance with the teaching of the Church, with trust in God's mercy that is denied to no-one. With regard to cohabiting couples, the text reiterates that this situation should be faced constructively, seeking to transform it into an opportunity for a path to conversion towards the fullness of marriage and family, in the light of the Gospel.

Other salient points of the document refer to homosexuality. There must be no discrimination against people with homosexual tendencies, but at the same time the text states that the Church is contrary to same-sex unions and external pressure on the Church in relation to this matter is not accepted. There are special paragraphs dedicated to immigrants, refugees and persecuted families who are often divided and whose members can become victims of trafficking. A welcoming approach was invoked for them too, recalling their rights and also their duties in their host countries.

There are specific paragraphs on women, men and children, the mainstays of family life: the text emphasises the need for the protection and the recognition of the value of their respective roles. It is hoped that a more prominent role will be identified for women in the formation of ordained ministers, while in relation to children mention was made of the beauty of adoption and fostering, practices which reconstruct ruptured family bonds. The Synod does not forget widows and widowers, the disabled, the elderly and grandparents, who enable the transmission of faith in the family and must be protected from the throwaway culture. Unmarried people must also be acknowledged for their commitment to the Church and society.

Among the “shadows” that are frequently cast on the family, the Synod notes the presence of political and religious fanaticism hostile to Christianity, growing individualism, gender ideology, conflicts, persecution, poverty, precarious employment, corruption, economic difficulties that can exclude families from education and culture, the globalisation of indifference in which humanity's place at the centre of society is usurped by money, pornography, and the declining birth rate.

The Relation therefore gathers together suggestions for strengthening preparation for marriage, especially for the young who appear intimidated by it. They are in need, says the Synod, of an adequate emotional formation, following the virtues of chastity and self-giving. In this regard, mention was made of the bond between the sexual act and procreation between spouses, of which children are the most precious fruit, since they bear the memory and hope of an act of love. Another bond is that between the vocation of the family and the vocation to consecrated life. Education in sexuality and corporeality and the promotion of responsible parenting would also be central, in accordance with the teachings of Paul VI's encyclical “Humanae Vitae” and the primary role of parents in the education of their children in faith.

An appeal is launched to institutions to promote an support policies in favour of the family, and Catholics engaged in politics are exhorted to protect the family and life, as a society that neglects them loses its openness to the future. In this respect, the Synod reaffirms the sacredness of life from conception to natural death, and warns against the grave threats posed to the family by abortion and euthanasia. Further paragraphs are dedicated to mixed marriages, whose positive aspects in relation to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue are underlined, while confirming the need to protect religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection in society.

The text includes extensive reflection on the need to modify the language of the Church, making it more meaningful so that the proclamation of the Gospel of the family may truly respond to the deepest human aspirations. This means not only presenting a series of regulations but rather announcing the grace that gives the capacity to live well the good of the family.

Finally, the Relatio emphasises the beauty of the family: as a domestic church based on marriage between a man and a woman, the fundamental cell of the society whose growth it contributes, a safe entry to the deepest sentiments, the sole point of connection in a fragmented age, and an integral part of human ecology, it must be protected, supported and encouraged, also by the authorities.

The document concludes by a plea to the Synod Fathers by the Pope, regarding the possibility of producing a document on the family. As Fr. Lombardi explains, “The Synod Fathers do not say that all is complete, but affirm that they offer the Relatio to the Holy Father to enable him to evaluate whether to continue on this route with a document, on the basis of the Synod text, to further examine the theme of the family from the perspective he wishes to offer. 'We continue on our path'”.

Closing Mass of the Synod: what the people sow today in tears, they will reap tomorrow in joy

Vatican City, 24 October 2015 (VIS) – This Sunday the Pope celebrated Mass for the conclusion of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. In his homily, he reflects on the day's three readings that show us the compassion and paternity of God, revealed in Jesus.

“In the midst of a national disaster, the people deported by their enemies, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims that 'the Lord has saved His people, the remnant of Israel'. Why did He save them? Because He is their Father; and as a Father, He takes care of His children and accompanies them on the way, sustaining 'the blind and the lame, the women with child and those in labour'. His fatherhood opens up for them a path forward, a way of consolation after so many tears and great sadness. If the people remain faithful, if they persevere in their search for God even in a foreign land, God will change their captivity into freedom, their solitude into communion: what the people sow today in tears, they will reap tomorrow in joy.

“We too have expressed, with the Psalm, the joy which is the fruit of the Lord’s salvation: 'our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy'. A believer is someone who has experienced God’s salvific action in his life. We pastors have experienced what it means to sow with difficulty, at times in tears, and to rejoice for the grace of a harvest which is beyond our strength and capacity. The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews shows us Jesus’ compassion. He also 'is beset with weakness', so that He can feel compassion for those in ignorance and error. Jesus is the great high priest, holy and innocent, but also the high priest Who has taken on our weakness and been tempted like us in all things, save sin. For this reason He is the mediator of the new and definitive covenant which brings us salvation.

“Today’s Gospel is directly linked to the First Reading: as the people of Israel were freed thanks to God’s fatherhood, so too Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though He has only begun His most important journey, which will take Him to Jerusalem, He still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him. He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: 'What do you want me to do for you?'. It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face to face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that He wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from Him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: 'Your faith has made you well'. It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how He has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.

“There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks His disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel. First they say to him: 'Take heart!', meaning 'have faith, strong courage!'. Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations. The second expression is 'Rise!', as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom He took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him. Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate His heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy.

“There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. … None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like Him. … We are able to speak about Him and work for Him, but we live far from His heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a 'spirituality of illusion'”.

“There is a second temptation, that of falling into a 'scheduled faith'. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. ... Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to Him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus”.

“Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together”, he concluded. “Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask Him to turn to us with His healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive”.

The first to walk with us is our Father

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – Following the Holy Mass for the conclusion of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis appeared at the window of his study to pray the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. Before the Marian prayer, the Pope invited those present to “give thanks to God for these three weeks of intense work, inspired by prayer and by a spirit of authentic communion. It has been arduous but it was a true gift from God, which will surely bear many fruits”. He explained that “the word 'Synod' means 'to walk together' and reflected on the Synod experience, also mentioning the continuing refugee crisis.

“This Word of God tells us that the first Who wishes to walk together with us, to have a 'synod' with us is … our Father. His 'dream' is, and has always been, to form a people, to bring them together, leading them toward the land of freedom and peace. And this people is made up of families, the 'mothers and those with child'; it is a people that, as it proceeds, perpetrates life, with God's blessing. … I confess to you that I compare this prophecy of the journeying people with the images of refugees on the streets of Europe, a dramatic situation in our days. God too says to them, 'They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water'. Even those families who suffer the most, who have been uprooted from their lands, were present with us in the Synod, in our prayers and in our work, through the voices of some of their pastors present in the Assembly. These people in search of dignity, these families looking for peace are still with us. The Church does not abandon them, because they belong to the people that God wants to free from slavery and lead to freedom”.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims from several countries, especially the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles of Rome, “who with great devotion have brought the image venerated in Lima, Peru”, the musical pilgrims of the “Musikverein Manhartsberg” from the Austrian diocese of Vienna and the Orchestra of Landwehr, Fribourg, Switzerland, who had performed in a concert for charity the previous day.

The Pope visits Cardinal Roger Etchegaray

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Holy Father made a private visit to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was admitted to the Agostino Gemelli Hospital following a fall at the end of the celebration in the Vatican Basilica, causing a fracture of the left femur. His overall condition is good, but he will need to undergo an operation to repair the fracture.

The Pope spoke cordially with the cardinal for around a quarter of an hour, and gave him his blessing. Cardinal Etchegaray thanked Pope Francis, especially for the Synod which has just come to a close.

Francis receives the Synod of the Chaldean Church: I pray that Christians will not be forced to abandon Iraq and the Middle East

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis received in audience the members of the Synod of the Chaldean Church, led by His Beatitude Patriarch Raphael I Louis Sako, to whom he expressed his solidarity will all the inhabitants of Iraq and Syria, asking that God's mercy heal the wounds of a war that has afflicted the hearts of communities, so that “no one may feel discouragement in this time when the outcry of violence seems to drown out our heartfelt prayers for peace”.

The bishop of Rome remarked that the current situation in their lands of origin “is gravely compromised by the fanatical hatred sown by terrorism, which continues to cause a great haemorrhage of faithful who leave the lands of their fathers, where they grew up firmly rooted in the furrow of tradition. This state of affairs clearly undermines the vital Christian presence in that land which witnessed the beginning of the journey of the Patriarch Abraham, heard the voice of the Prophets who called Israel to hope during the Exile, and saw the foundation of the first Churches upon the blood of many martyrs. There too Christians bore witness to the fullness of the Gospel, made their specific contribution to the growth of society over centuries of peaceful coexistence with our Islamic brothers and sisters. Sadly, these are times which are instead marked by countless examples of persecution, and even martyrdom”.

“The Chaldean Church, which suffers from the war, is also conscious of the needs of the faithful in the diaspora, who are desirous to maintaining their solid roots while becoming part of new situations. So I confirm, today more than ever, the complete support and solidarity of the Apostolic See in favour of the common good of the entire Chaldean Church. I pray that Christians will not be forced to abandon Iraq and the Middle East – I think especially of the sons and daughters of your Church, and their rich traditions. I urge you to work tirelessly as builders of unity in all the provinces of Iraq, fostering dialogue and cooperation among all those engaged in public life, and contributing to healing existing divisions while preventing new ones from arising”.

The visit of the Synod of the Chaldean Church offers the opportunity, said the Pope “to renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community to adopt every useful strategy aimed at bringing peace to countries terribly devastated by hatred, so that the life-giving breeze of love will once more be felt in places which have always been a crossroads for peoples, cultures and nations. May the peace for which we all hope arise on the horizon of history, so that the grievous tragedies caused by violence may yield to a climate of mutual coexistence”.

“The Synod which you are celebrating these days in Urbe, is a 'journeying together', a favourable moment of exchange amid the diversities which enrich your fraternal communion under the gaze of Christ, the Good Shepherd … who is concerned for the salvation of his sheep, and is especially concerned for those who have strayed. May you imitate him: zealous in seeking the salus animarum of priests as well as laity, realising full well that the exercise of communion sometimes demands a genuine kenosis, a self-basement and self-spoliation”.

“In doing so”, he concluded, “you will bridge distances and discern the response to be given to the pressing needs of the Chaldean Church today, in your native lands and in the diaspora. In this way the reflections which emerge from your discussions will be able to provide fruitful solutions to your current needs and points of convergence for resolving liturgical and more general issues”.

To military chaplains: offer a consoling and fraternal presence to returning servicemen

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) - “You have come from different countries to reflect together on some of the current challenges of international humanitarian law, relating to the protection of human dignity during non-international armed conflicts and the so-called 'new' armed conflicts. This is, unfortunately, a theme of great current relevance, especially if we think of the intensification of violence and the multiplication of theatres of war in various areas around the world, such as Africa, Europe and the Middle East”, said the Pope today as he received in audience the participants in the fourth training course in international humanitarian law for military chaplains, organised by the Congregation for Bishops, the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Francis highlighted that war ruptures relationships between brothers and nations. “It also disfigures those who are witnesses to such atrocities. Many soldiers return after military action or from peacemaking missions with very real inner wounds. War can leave an indelible mark on them. Indeed, war always leaves an indelible mark”.

“It is therefore necessary to ask what the best ways are to cure the spiritual wounds of servicemen who, having experienced war, have witnessed atrocious crimes. These people and their families require a specific form of pastoral attention, a care that enables them to feel the maternal closeness of the Church. The role of the military chaplain is that of accompanying them and supporting them on their journey, always offering a consoling and fraternal presence”.

“International humanitarian law seeks to safeguard the essential principles of humanity in the context of war, which is in itself dehumanising. It aims to protect those who do not participate in the conflict, such as the civil population or healthcare and religious workers, and those who no longer participate actively, such as the wounded and prisoners. … In order to fulfil its aim of humanising the effects of armed conflict, humanitarian law deserves to be better known and promoted among all soldiers and armed forces, including non-state forces, such as security personnel and police. In addition, it needs to be developed further so as to face the new realities of war which today, unfortunately, involve the use of increasingly deadly weapons”.

“However, as Christians we remain profoundly convinced that the final aim, worthy of humanity and of the human community, is the abolition of war. Therefore, we must always make efforts to build bridges that unite rather than walls that separate; we must always help to look for a glimmer of hope for mediation and reconciliation. … In this period, in which we are living a piecemeal third world war, you are called upon to nurture in soldiers and their families the spiritual and ethical dimension so that it may help them face the difficulties and often devastating questions inherent in the special service they carry out for their homeland and for humanity”.

To the Gypsy population: the time has come to eradicate prejudice

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning, in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the World Pilgrimage of Gypsy People, which gathered together Roma, Sinti and other itinerant peoples, organised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples in collaboration with the “Migrantes” Foundation of the Italian Episcopal Conference and the “Migrantes” Office of the diocese of Rome and the Sant'Egidio Community. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's visit to the nomad camp of Pomezia, Italy, on 26 September 1965.

Francis mentioned the great changes that have taken place in the Gypsy community since that historic visit, both in the field of evangelisation and in that of human, social and cultural development. “A strong sign of faith and spiritual growth in your ethnic groups is the increasing number of vocations to priestly life, the diaconate and consecrated life”, he said. He described the latter as “a bridge between two cultures” and remarked that they are therefore “called upon always to be witnesses of evangelical transparency to favour the birth, growth and nurturing of new vocations. You must know how to be companions not only on a spiritual journey, but also in everyday life, with its hardships, joys and worries”.

He acknowledged the difficulties faced by these peoples, and commented that he had seen the precarious conditions in which they live during his pastoral visits, emphasising that this situation is in contrast with the right of every person to a dignified life, dignified work, education and healthcare. “I would like to see the beginning of a new history for your people. The time has come to eradicate the deep-rooted prejudices, preconceptions and mutual distrust that are often at the basis of discrimination, racism and xenophobia. No-one should feel isolated, and no-one should be authorised to trample the dignity and rights of others. … Let us therefore allow the Gospel to awaken our consciences and to open our hearts and hands to the neediest and most marginalised, starting from those closest to us”.

Francis encouraged them to be the first to make efforts to construct more human peripheries and to build bonds of fraternity and exchange. “You can do this if you are, first and foremost, good Christians, avoiding all that which is unworthy of the name: falseness, fraud, cheating and quarrels”, and encouraged them to follow the example of blessed Ceferino Gimenez Malla. The Pope urged them not to give the media or public opinion the opportunity to speak badly of them. “You are the agents of your own present and future. Like all citizens, you can contribute to the well-being and the progress of society by respecting the law, fulfilling your duties and integrating also through the emancipation of the new generations”.

With regard to children and the young, “your most valuable treasure”, he stated that “education is without doubt the foundation for the healthy development of the person. It is well known that the limited scholastic level of many of your young people currently represents the main obstacle to access to the world of work. Your children have the right to go to school: do not prevent them from doing so!”. He also commented on the need for effort on the part of civil institutions in “guaranteeing adequate education for young gypsies, also offering families who live in the most disadvantaged conditions the opportunity to benefit from adequate integration in schools and in work”.

The Pope concluded by echoing the words of Blessed Paul VI fifty years ago, when he affirmed that itinerant populations were not at the margins of the Church, but rather, in some respects, at her very heart.

Telegram for the death of Cardinal Korec, tireless defender of the Christian faith and human rights

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a telegram of condolences to the Archbishop of Bratislava and the president of the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia, Stanislav Zvolensky, for the death last Saturday of Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, at the age of 91.

The Pope remembers with profound emotion the archbishop emeritus of Nitra, a committed and generous pastor who throughout his long episcopal ministry was a “fearless witness of the Gospel and a tireless defender of the Christian faith and the rights of the person”.

The cardinal, who was imprisoned for several years and prevented from freely exercising his episcopal mission, “did not let himself be intimidated, always giving a luminous example of strength and trust in divine providence, as well as faithfulness to the See of Peter”, Francis writes.

“I thank the Lord for having given His Church this eminent priestly and episcopal figure, and raise fervent prayers to God that He might welcome in His eternal joy, after so much suffering, this good and faithful servant”. The Pope concludes by offering his apostolic blessing to the archbishop, the Slovakian episcopate, the presbytery, religious communities and all the faithful of the diocese of Nitra, whom the cardinal loved and served, as a sign of Christian faith and hope in the Resurrected Lord.

Cardinals, patriarchs and bishops launch appeal to negotiators of COP 21

Vatican City, 26 October 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office a press conference was held to present the Appeal by by Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops from across the globe representing the continental groupings of national episcopal conferences, to the negotiators of the COP 21 in Paris (Conference of Parties), to be held from 30 November to 11 December this year. The initiative was promoted by the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace”, inspired by the Holy Father's Encyclical “Laudato si'”.

The speakers were Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India, president of the FABC (Asia); Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez, archbishop of Bogota, Colombia, president of the CELAM (Latin America), Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, president of the Federation of Episcopal Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO) and Bishop Jean Kockerols of Mechelen-Brussels, first vice-president of the Commission of the Episcopates of the European Community (COMECE) and, as special envoy, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele de Strihou of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, former vice-president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Before the beginning of the Conference, the Appeal was signed by various representatives of the episcopate from around the world, in the presence of Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace”, and His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, O.M.M., Patriarch of Antioch (Maronites) and president of CCPO (the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East), Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi, C.S.Sp., of Lubango, Angola, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Archbishop Richard William Smith of Edmonton, Canada, former president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada, Msgr. Duarte Nuno Queiroz de Barros de Cunha, general secretary of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe and Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bernd Nilles, general secretary of CIDSE (International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies).

The appeal is issued by Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops from across the globe representing the continental groupings of national episcopal conferences and it is addressed to those negotiating the COP 21 in Paris, calling on them to work toward the approval of a fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement.

“Representing the Catholic Church from the five continents, we Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops have come together to express, on our own behalf and on behalf of the people for whom we care, the widely-held hope that a just and legally binding climate agreement will emerge from the negotiations of the COP 21 in Paris. We advance a ten-point policy proposal, drawing on the concrete experience of people across the continents, and linking climate change to social injustice and the social exclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens.

Climate Change: challenges and opportunities

In his encyclical letter, Laudato si’, addressed ‘to every person living on this planet’, Pope Francis claims that ‘climate change represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity today’. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.

Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone. Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.

Damage to climate and environment has enormous repercussions. The problem arising from the dramatic acceleration of climatic change is global in its effects. It challenges us to re- define our notions of growth and progress. It poses a lifestyle question. It is imperative that we find a solution that is consensual, because of the scale and global nature of the climate’s impact, it invites a solidarity that is universal, a solidarity that is ‘intergenerational’ and ‘intragenerational’.

The Pope defines our world as ‘our common home’ and, in the exercise of our stewardship, we must keep in mind the human and social degradation which is a consequence of a damaged environment. We call for an integral ecological approach, we call for social justice to be placed centre stage ‘so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.
Sustainable development must include the poor

While deploring the dramatic impact of rapid climate change on sea levels, extreme weather events, deteriorating ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity, the Church is also witness to how climate change is affecting vulnerable communities and peoples, greatly to their disadvantage. Pope Francis draws our attention to the irreparable impact of unrestrained climate change in many developing countries across the world. Moreover, in his address to the United Nations the Pope said the misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.

Courageous leaders seeking enforceable agreements

The building and maintenance of a sustainable common home requires courageous and imaginative political leadership. Legal frameworks are required which clearly establish boundaries and ensure the protection of the ecosystem.

Reliable scientific evidence suggests that accelerated climate change is the result of unrestrained human activity, working to a particular model of progress and development, and that excessive reliance on fossil fuels is primarily responsible. The Pope and Catholic Bishops from five continents, sensitive to the damage caused, appeal for a drastic reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases.

We join the Holy Father in pleading for a major break-through in Paris, for a comprehensive and transformational agreement supported by all based on principles of solidarity, justice and participation. This agreement must put the common good ahead of national interests. It is essential too that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants.

We, Cardinals, Patriarchs and Bishops, issue a general call and make ten specific policy proposals. We call on COP 21 to forge an international agreement to limit a global temperature increase to within those parameters currently suggested from within the global scientific community to avoid catastrophic climatic impacts, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable communities. There is, we agree, a common but also differentiated responsibility of all nations. Different countries have reached a different stage on the development spectrum. The need to work together in a common endeavour is imperative.

Our ten calls:

1. to keep in mind not only the technical but particularly the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change as indicated in Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

2. to accept that climate and atmosphere are global common goods that are belonging to all and meant for all.

3. to adopt a fair, transformational and legally binding global agreement based on our vision of the world that recognises the need to live in harmony with nature, and to guarantee the fulfilment of human rights for all, including those of Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and workers.

4. to strongly limit a global temperature increase and to set a goal for complete decarbonisation by mid-century, in order to protect front-line communities suffering from the impacts of climate change, such as those in the Pacific Islands and in coastal regions.

- to ensure that the temperature threshold is enshrined in a legally binding global agreement, with ambitious mitigation commitments and actions from all countries recognising their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDRRC), based on equity principles, historical responsibilities, and the right to sustainable development.

- to secure that the emissions reductions by governments are in line with the decarbonisation goal, governments need to undertake periodic reviews of the pledges they make and of the ambition they show. And to be successful these reviews need also to be based on science and equity and shall be mandatory.

5. to develop new models of development and lifestyles that are climate compatible, address inequality and bring people out of poverty. Central to this is to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions, including emissions from military, aviation and shipping, and providing affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy access for all.

6. to ensure people’s access to water and to land for climate resilient and sustainable food systems, which give priority to people driven solutions rather than profits.

7. to ensure inclusion and participation of the poorest, most vulnerable and impacted at all levels of the decision-making process.

8. to ensure that the 2015 agreement delivers an adaptation approach that adequately responds to the immediate needs of the most vulnerable communities and builds on local alternatives.
9. to recognise that adaptation needs are contingent on the success of mitigation measures taken. Those responsible for climate change have responsibilities to assist the most vulnerable in adapting and managing loss and damage and to share the necessary technology and knowhow.

10. to provide clear roadmaps on how countries will meet the provision of predictable, consistent, and additional finance commitments, ensuring a balanced financing of mitigation actions and adaptation needs.

All this would call for serious ecological awareness and education.

Prayer for the Earth

God of love, teach us to care for this world our common home. Inspire government leaders as they gather in Paris to listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor; to be united in heart and mind in responding courageously; to seek the common good and protect the beautiful earthly garden you have created for us, for all our brothers and sisters, for all generations to come. Amen”.

Bishop Signatories to this Declaration:

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India, president of FABC (Asia); Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of of Esztergom –Budapest, president of CCEE (Europe); Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, Germany, president of COMECE (Europe); Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez, archbishop of Bogota, Colombia, president of CELAM (Latin America); Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, Angola, president of SECAM (Africa); Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of USCCB (United States of America), Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, president of FCBCO (Oceania), and Bishop David Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., of Hamilton, Canada, president of CCCB-CECC (Canada).

The document was written in collaboration with the Catholic networks CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis, and with the sponsorship of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace”.
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