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Friday, November 20, 2015

Audience with the president of Ukraine: favour a political solution to resolve conflict

Vatican City, 20 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis. He subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

The cordial discussions, in reaffirming the good relations between the Holy See and Ukraine, were dedicated principally to matters connected with the situation of conflict in the country. In this respect the hope was shared that, with the commitment of all the interested Parties, political solutions may be favoured, starting with the full implementation of the Minsk Accords. At the same time, concern was expressed regarding the difficulties of facing the humanitarian crisis, with particular reference to access for specialised organisations to areas affected by hostilities, to healthcare, to the exchange of prisoners, and the economic and social repercussions of the conflict, experienced throughout the territory.

The meeting provided an opportunity to highlight the important role of the Church in society, as well as the contribution of the Greek Catholic and Latin rite communities to the life of the country.

To German bishops: overcome the erosion of faith through pastoral outreach

Vatican City, 20 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning Pope Francis received in audience the prelates of the Episcopal Conference of Germany at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. At the end of the audience the Holy Father handed them a written discourse in which he thanks the German Church for the support given in the form of many works of charity which benefit thousands of people throughout the world. He also mentions that in this exceptional moment, in which large numbers of migrants are arriving in Europe, fleeing from war and persecution, the Christian Churches and many other citizens in Germany have welcomed them warmly offering them assistance and human closeness. Finally, he refers to the erosion of Catholic faith in Germany and the greatly reduced participation in the sacraments and in Sunday Mass in recent decades.

Francis writes that there are great differences not only between the Catholic communities in east and west Germany, but also between north and south, although everywhere the Church is committed with professionalism in social and charitable fields and is very active also in education. On the other hand, in traditionally Catholic regions there has been a major decline in participation in Sunday Mass, as well as in sacramental life. While during the 1960s almost all the faithful participated in Holy Mass every Sunday, now there is attendance of often less than ten per cent, and fewer partake in the sacraments, especially Reconciliation, which has all but disappeared.

In this situation, the Pope emphasises that first it is necessary to overcome this “paralysing resignation”. Although “certainly it is not possible to rebuild from the relics of the good times past … we can be inspired by the life of the first Christians”, such as Priscilla and Aquila, St. Paul's faithful collaborators, who bore witness “with convincing words, but above all with their life, that the truth based on Christ's love for His Church, is truly worthy of faith. They opened up their house for the proclamation of the Gospel”. The example of these “volunteers”, he writes, “can make us reflect, considering the tendency towards a growing institutionalisation. New structures are always being inaugurated, for which in the end there is a lack of faithful. It is a sort of new pelagianism, which leads us to place our trust in administrative structures, in perfect organisations. An excessive centralisation, instead of helping, can complicate the life of the Church and her missionary dynamic. The Church is not a closed system that always revolves around the same questions. The Church is living, and she presents herself to men in their own situations; she knows how to unsettle and to inspire”.

“The current imperative is pastoral conversion, that is, ' a renewal of structures … as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth'. … We must stay among the people with the ardour of those who were the first to welcome the Gospel. And 'whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up … words with new meaning for today's world”.

“In this context of new evangelisation, it is indispensable for the bishop to diligently perform his function as a teacher of the faith – of the faith transmitted and experienced in the living communion of the universal Church – in the many fields of his pastoral ministry”, he continues. “Fidelity to the Church and to the Magisterium does not contradict academic freedom, but requires a humble attitude of service to the gifts of God. The 'sentire cum Ecclesia' must characterise in particular those who educate and form the new generations”.

Parish communities are places where faith is experienced and lived most fully, he adds. “Sacramental life must be one of the bishop's fundamental concerns”. In this regard the Pope highlights two points: Confession and Eucharist. “Confession is the place where the gift of God's forgiveness and mercy is given. In Confession, there begins the transformation of each Christian and the reform of the Church. I trust that greater attention will be given to this Sacrament, which is so important for spiritual renewal, in diocesan and parochial pastoral planning during the Holy Year, and also afterwards. It is also necessary always to emphasise the close relationship between the Eucharist and the priesthood. Pastoral plans that do not accord sufficient importance to priests in their ministry of governing, teaching and sanctifying with regard to the structure and the sacramental life of the Church, experience teaches us, are destined to fail”.

Finally, “a task of the Bishops that is never sufficiently appreciated is commitment to life. The Church must never tire of being an advocate for life and must not take steps back in her announcement that human life is to be protected unconditionally from the moment of conception until natural death. Here we must never make compromises, as otherwise we too become accomplices to the unfortunately widespread throwaway culture”.

Francis: the sanctification of the priest is closely linked to that of his people

Vatican City, 20 November 2015 (VIS) – The Congregation for the Clergy, whose prefect is Cardinal Beniamino Stella, has organised a congress at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Vatican Council II decrees “Optatum totius” and “Presbyterorum ordinis”, dedicated to the formation of priests. At the closing of the Congress Pope Francis received the participants in audience this morning in the Sala Regia. The following are extensive extracts of his address.

“Given that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift that God gives to some for the good of all, I would like to share with you some thoughts, starting form the relationship between priests and other people, following on from no.3 of 'Presbyterorum ordinis', in which there is a little compendium of the theology of priesthood, from the Letter to the Hebrews: 'Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers' amid brothers. Let us consider these three moments: 'taken from among men', 'ordained for men', and present among other men”.

“The priest is a man who is born in a certain human context: there he learns the primary values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, grows accustomed to relations. Priests also have a history, they are not 'mushrooms' that suddenly appear in the Cathedral on the day of their ordination. It is important for formators and priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take into account this personal history along the path of formation. … A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, who has learned to make peace with this, achieving the fundamental serenity proper to one of the Lord's disciples. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests, so that they learn not to be dominate by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use”.

“We priests are apostles of joy: we announce the Gospel, which is the quintessential 'good news'; we certainly do not give strength to the Gospel – some believe this – but we can favour or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is a the clay vase in which we conserve God's treasure, a vase we must take care of, so as to transmit well its valuable contents”.

“A priest cannot lose his roots: he always remains a man of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us 'from among men', to 'ordain us for men'. This is the second step”.

“Responding to God's call, we become priests to serve our brothers and sisters. The images of Christ we take as a point of reference for our ministry as priests are clear: He is the 'Supreme Priest', at the time close to God and close to man; He is the 'Servant', Who washes the feet and makes Himself close to the weakest; and He is the 'Good Shepherd', Who always cares for His flock”.

“They are the three images we must look to, thinking of the ministry of priests, sent to serve men, to bring God's mercy to them, to announce His Word of life. We are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative and not authoritarian, firm but not hard, joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries. St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, said that where there is mercy, there is the spirit of the Lord; where there is rigidity there are only His ministers. The minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a danger for the people of God”.

“Finally, what is born with the people must stay with the people. The priests is always among other men: he is not a professional of pastoral ministry or evangelisation, who arrives and does what he is supposed to do – perhaps well, but as if it were a profession like any other – before then going away and living a separate life. One becomes a priest in order to stay in the midst of the people. The good that priests can do arises above all from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers”.


Vatican City, 20 November 2015 (VIS) – Today, the Holy Father received in audience the following prelates of the Episcopal Conference of the Federal Republic of Germany, on their “ad Limina” visit:

- Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Köln, with his auxiliaries, Bishop Dominik Schwaderlapp, and Bishop Ansgar Puff;

- Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen, with his auxiliaries, Bishop Karl Borsch and Bishop Johannes Bundgens;

- Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, military ordinary, with his auxiliaries Bishop Ludger Schepers and Bishop Wilhelm Zimmermann;

- Bishop Thomas Löhr, auxiliary of Limburg;

- Bishop Felix Genn, Vescovo di Münster, with his auxiliaries Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers, Bishop Christoph Hegge, BIshop Wilfried Theising and Bishop Stefan Zekorn;

- Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, with his auxiliaries Bishop Robert Brahm, Bishop Jörg Michael Peters and Bishop Helmut Karl Dieser, and

- Bishop Piotr Kryk, apostolic exarch for Ukrainian faithful of Byzantine rite resident in Germany and Scandinavia.
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