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Monday, November 30, 2015

To Evangelical Communities: God makes no distinction between those who suffer

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Pope met with the Evangelical Communities of the Central African Republic in the Evangelical Theological Faculty of Bangui (FATEB), instituted by the “Association des Evangeliques en Afrique” (AEA) in 1974 to respond to the needs of this Church in the African continent and where over 650 leaders have completed their preparation, going on to serve in the churches and evangelical institutions of 21 African countries.

Francis was received by the dean of the Faculty and by three members of the “interreligious Platform” which has supported the process of national peacemaking: the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp.the president of the “Alliance des Eglises Evangeliques Centrafricaines” (AEC) and the Imam of Bangui.

“We are all here in the service of the risen Lord Who assembles us today; and, by virtue of the common baptism we have received, we are sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to men and women of this beloved country of Central Africa”, began the Pope, following greetings from the dean of the FATEB and the president of the AEC.

“For all too long, your people have experienced troubles and violence, resulting in great suffering. This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent. For it is Christ’s own flesh which suffers in his dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education. There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones”.

“God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil. Here I wish to express my closeness and solidarity to Pastor Nicholas, whose home was recently ransacked and set on fire, as was the meeting-place of his community. In these difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone His tenderness, compassion and mercy. This shared suffering and shared mission are a providential opportunity for us to advance together on the path of unity; they are also an indispensable spiritual aid. How could the Father refuse the grace of unity, albeit still imperfect, to His children who suffer together and, in different situations, join in serving their brothers and sisters?”

Francis reiterated that the lack of unity among Christians is a scandal, above all because it is “contrary to God’s will. It is also a scandal when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart, and the many forms of opposition which the Gospel of Christ encounters. I appreciate the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation existing between the Christians of your country, and I encourage you to continue on this path of common service in charity. It is a witness to Christ which builds up unity”.

He concluded by expressing his wish that, with a view to achieving the hoped-for full communion, that those present, “with increasing intensity and courage, … perseverance and charity, a commitment to prayer and common reflection”, seek to achieve greater “mutual understanding, trust and friendship. I assure you of my prayerful support along the path of fraternal charity, reconciliation and mercy, a path which is long, yet full of joy and hope”.
“I ask the Lord Jesus to bless all of you, to bless your communities, and also to bless our Church. And I ask you to pray for me. Thank you”.

The Pope opens the Holy Door of Mercy in Bangui, "spiritual capital of the world"

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) “Today Bangui becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war”, said Pope Francis yesterday afternoon in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Bangui, before opening the Holy Door and thus beginning the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Bangui thus becomes, he continued, the spiritual capital of prayer for the Father's mercy. We all ask for peace, mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. For Bangui, and for all the Central African Republic, for all the world, for countries that suffer war, we ask for peace. Let us all ask together for love and peace!”, he exclaimed, adding in the Sango language of the Central African Republic, “Doye Siriri! Love and peace!”.

With this prayer he began the Holy Year following the rite for the opening of the Holy Door. “Opne the doors of justice; this is the door of the Lord; I enter Your House, Lord”, said Francis before entering first, alone, into the cathedral where he was awaited by the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians of the Central African Republic to participate in the Holy Mass. In his homily, the Pope reiterated that all, without exception, share in the “God’s grace, the alms of peace”, and he made an fresh appeal to those who “make unjust use” of weapons: “Lay down these instruments of death. Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace”.

The following is the full text of the homily pronounced by the Holy Father:

“On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which we inaugurated here today. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s pains. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness. All of us are looking for God’s grace, for the alms of peace.

“But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to 'go across to the other side'.

“Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, He asks us to make the crossing with Him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realise that making this crossing can only be done with Him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us, in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is 'good [and] instructs sinners in the way'. Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father 'makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good'. Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect'.

“One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony. Those who evangelise must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to 'cross to the other side' – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that He is in the boat with us. As He did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts His gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming His reassuring words: 'Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah'.

“In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, Who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice. He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And He sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that 'Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness’. Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

“The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love. In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God Who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and women, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realise that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of St. Paul: 'Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women'. Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: 'See how they love one another, how they truly love one another'.

“Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to His disciples the terrible signs that will precede His coming, Jesus concludes: 'When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near'. If St. Paul can speak of a love which 'grows and overflows', it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show His great power, His incomparable glory and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger, more powerful, than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be one of love and peace!

“To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to 'strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints'. Reconciliation, forgiveness, love and peace! Amen”.

Meeting with young Central Africans: the path of resistance is via forgiveness

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – After celebrating Holy Mass, the Pope left the Cathedral of Bangui to greet the young people who awaited him outside the Cathedral for a night-long prayer vigil. Francis addressed some extemporaneous remarks to them, setting aside the discourse he had prepared, which is reproduced at the end of this article.

Beforehand one of the young people had commented that their symbol was the banana tree on account of its resistance, referring also the many difficulties they encounter in this period of war and division.

“The banana tree is a symbol of life”, said Francis. “It always grows, it always reproduces, it always bears nourishing fruit. The banana tree is also resistant. I think that this clearly shows the way for you in this difficult moment of war, hatred and division: the path of resistance”.

“Your friend said that some of you want to go away from here. Fleeing from the challenges of life is never a solution! It is necessary to resist, to have the courage to resist, to struggle for good! Those who flee do not have the courage to give life. The banana tree gives life and continues to reproduce and give more life as it resists, it remains, it stays there. Some of you will ask me, 'But Father, what can we do? How can we resist?'. I will tell you two or three things that may perhaps be useful for you, to resist”.

“First of all, prayer. Prayer is powerful. Prayer conquers evil. Prayer draws us closer to God, who is Almighty. … Secondly, work for peace. And peace is not a document that is signed and stays there. Peace is made every day! Peace is a craft, it is made by hand, with one's own life. But some may say, 'Tell me, Father, how can I be an artisan of peace?'. First: never hate. If someone harms you, try to forgive. No hatred! Forgiveness! Let us say this together: No hatred! Forgiveness! If you do not have hatred in your heart, if you forgive, you will be victorious, because you will be victorious in the most difficult battled of life: victorious in love. And through love comes peace”.

“Do you want to be defeated, or do you want to win in life?” asked the Pope. “You can win only by taking the path of love. The path of love. And can you love your enemy? Yes. Can you forgive those who have wronged you? Yes. In this way, with love and forgiveness, you will be victorious. With love, you will be victorious in life and will always give life. Love will never let you be defeated”.

The following is the discourse prepared by Pope Francis:

“Dear Young Friends, good evening! It is a great joy for me to be here with you this evening, as we enter upon a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. Is this not, for each one of us, an occasion to begin anew, a chance to 'go across to the other side?'.

“During this, our meeting, I will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some of you. I encourage each of you to reflect on the grandeur of this sacrament, in which God comes to meet us personally. Whenever we ask, He comes to us and helps us to 'go across to the other side', to that side of our life where God forgives us and bathes us in His love which heals, soothes and raises up! The Jubilee of Mercy, which I just opened particularly for you, dear Central African and African friends, rightly reminds us that God is waiting for us, with arms wide open, as we see in the beautiful image of the Father who welcomes the prodigal son.

“The forgiveness which we receive comforts us and enables us to make a new start, with trusting and serene hearts, better able to live in harmony with ourselves, with God and with others. The forgiveness which we receive enables us in turn to forgive others. There is always a need for this, especially in times of conflict and violence, as you know all too well. I renew my closeness to all those among you who are have experienced sorrow, separation and the wounds inflicted by hatred and war. In such situations, forgiving those who have done us harm is, humanly speaking, extremely difficult. But God offers us the strength and the courage to become those artisans of reconciliation and peace which your country greatly needs. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, walks in the footsteps of his Master, who on the Cross asked His Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him. How far is this sentiment from those which too often reign in our hearts! Meditating on the attitude and the words of Jesus, 'Father, forgive them', can help to turn our gaze and convert our heart.

“For many people, it is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that He died on a cross. Yes, it is scandalous: the scandal of the cross. The cross continues to scandalise. Yet it remains the one sure way: the way of the cross, the way of Jesus Who came to share our life and to save us from sin. Dear friends, this cross speaks to us of the closeness of God: He is with us, He is with each one of you, in your joys and in your trials.

“Dear young people, the most precious good which we can have in this life is our relationship with God. Are you convinced of this? Are you aware of the inestimable value that you have in God’s eyes? Do you know that you are loved and accepted by Him, unconditionally, as you are?. Devoting time to prayer and the reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels, you will come to know Him, and yourselves, ever better. Today too, Jesus’ counsels can illumine your feelings and your decisions. You are enthusiastic and generous, pursuing high ideals, searching for truth and beauty. I encourage you to maintain an alert and critical spirit in the face of every compromise which runs contrary to the Gospel message.

“Thank you for your creative dynamism, which the Church greatly needs. Cultivate this! Be witnesses to the joy of meeting Jesus. May He transform you, strengthen your faith and help you to overcome every fear, so that you may embrace ever more fully God’s loving plan for you! God wills the happiness of every one of His children. Those who open themselves to His gaze are freed from sin, from sorrow, from inner emptiness and from isolation. Instead, they can see others as brothers or sisters, accepting their differences and recognizing that they are a gift for all of us.

“It is in this way that peace is built, day by day. It calls for setting out on the path of service and humility, and being attentive to the needs of others. To embrace this mindset, we need to have a heart capable of bending low and sharing life with those most in need. That is where true charity is found. In this way solidarity grows, beginning with small gestures, and the seeds of division disappear. In this way dialogue among believers bears fruit, fraternity is lived day by day and it enlarges the heart by opening up a future. In this way, you will be able to do so much good for your country. I encourage you do so.

“Dear young friends, the Lord is alive and He is walking at your side. When difficulties seem to abound, when pain and sadness seem to prevail all around you, He does not abandon you. He has left us the memorial of his love: the Eucharist and the sacraments, to aid our progress along the way and furnish the strength we need to daily move forward. This must be the source of your hope and your courage as you 'go across to the other side' with Jesus, opening new paths for yourselves and your generation, for your families, for your country. I pray that you will be filled with this hope. May you be ever anchored in it, so that you can give it to others, to this world of ours so wounded by war and conflicts, by evil and sin. Never forget: the Lord is with you. He trusts you. He wants you to be missionary disciples, sustained in times of difficulty and trial by the prayers of the Virgin Mary and those of the entire Church. Dear young people of Central Africa, go forth! I am sending you out!”.

To the Muslim community: say 'no' to hatred and violence

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) - “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace”. The Holy Father addressed these words to the Muslim community of the Central African Republic this morning in the mosque of Koudoukou, a few kilometres from Bangui. Francis was received by five imams who accompanied him to the podium situated in the mosque, a short distance away from the area reserved for prayer. The event was attended by around two hundred people.

“Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years”, he continued. “They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam”.

Francis emphasised the important role played by Christian and Muslim leaders in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all, and expressed his gratitude and appreciation. “We can also call to mind the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions, by welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world”.

He added, “We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one faction or another. I strongly urge you to make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession. The Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, with the cooperation of all her sons and daughters, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent. It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefiting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right”.

He concluded by inviting those present to “pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events”.

Holy Mass in Bangui: Christians of Central Africa, be artisans of human and spiritual renewal

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – Tens of thousands of people participated in the final act of the Holy Father's apostolic trip in Africa: the Holy Mass celebrated in the Barthelemy Boganda sports complex in Bangui. Those unable to enter followed the event on the maxi screens installed outside the stadium. In his homily, the Pope invited Central Africans to be artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of the country, at a time of difficulties and suffering, passing over to the “other side” which is Christ Who transforms the reality of our present life.

“We might be astonished, listening to this morning’s first reading, by the enthusiasm and missionary drive of St. Paul. 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'. These words inspire us to give thanks for the gift of the faith which we have received. They also inspire us to reflect with amazement on the great missionary effort which – not long ago – first brought the joy of the Gospel to this beloved land of Central Africa. It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord. To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in His presence and in the new life and the salvation which He offers us. For He invites us to cross over to another shore.

“This other shore is, of course, eternal life, heaven, which awaits us. Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage. Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love. But the more immediate other shore, which we are trying to reach, this salvation secured by the faith of which St. Paul speaks, is a reality which even now is transforming our lives and the world around us. 'Faith in the heart leads to justification'. Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love”.

The Pope urged those present to thank the Lord “for His presence and for the strength which He gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief. Let us thank Him for the acts of solidarity and generosity which He inspires in us, for the joy and love with which He fills our families and our communities, despite the suffering and violence we sometimes experience, and our fears for the future. Let us thank Him for His gift of courage, which inspires us to forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us, and to work to build a more just and fraternal society in which no one is abandoned. In all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us. I join you in thanking the Lord in His mercy for all the beautiful, generous and courageous things He has enabled you to accomplish in your families and communities during these eventful years in the life of your country.

“Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination”, he continued. “In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore. All the baptised need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.

“We know that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go. Certainly we need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel. May the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has just begun in your country, be an occasion to do so. Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep. The Apostle Andrew, with his brother Peter, did not hesitate to leave everything at Christ’s call: 'Immediately they left their nets and followed him'. Once again, we are amazed at the great enthusiasm of the Apostles. Christ drew them so closely to Himself, that they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with Him.

“Each of us, in his or her heart, can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely. The cry of 'those who bring good news' resounds all the more in our ears, precisely when times are difficult; that cry which 'goes out through all the earth ... to the ends of the earth'. And it resounds here, today, in this land of Central Africa. It resounds in our hearts, our families, our parishes, wherever we live. It invites us to persevere in enthusiasm for mission, for that mission which needs new 'bearers of good news', ever more numerous, generous, joyful and holy. We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?

“We too, like the Apostles, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future. The other shore is at hand, and Jesus is crossing the river with us. He is risen from the dead; henceforth the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow Him. Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country”.

Pope Francis ended his homily by asking the Virgin Mary, “who by sharing in the Passion of her Son, now shares in his perfect joy”, for her protection and encouragement on this path of hope”.

Following Mass and before giving his blessing, the Pope mentioned that today is the feast day of St. Andrew and, from the heart of Africa, he greeted his “dear brother”, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomaios I, expressing his wishes for joy and fraternity, and asking the Lord to bless these two sister Churches.

From the Barthelemy Boganda stadium, the Holy Father transferred by popemobile to the M'Poko airport where he boarded the aircraft for his return flight to Rome, expected to land around 6.45 p.m.

Pope's message to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – As is customary on the feast day of St. Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople, a Holy See delegation led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, travelled to Istanbul to participate in the celebration. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits for the feast days of their respective patrons: the Patriarchate sends a delegation to Rome on 29 June, the feast day of the apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, every year.

The delegation participated in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomaois I in the patriarchal church of St. George of Phanar, then met with the synodal commission which oversees relations with the Catholic Church, and delivered a message from the Holy Father, read at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

In the text, Francis recalls in particular the fiftieth anniversary of the of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I which expressed the decision to eliminate the mutual excommunications of 1054. “The memory of the mutual sentences of excommunication, together with the offensive words, groundless reproaches, and reprehensible gestures on both sides, which accompanied the sad events of this period, represented for many centuries an obstacle to rapprochement in charity between Catholics and Orthodox. Attentive to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed to the Father on the eve of his Passion that his disciples 'may be one', Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I consigned these painful memories to oblivion. Since then, the logic of antagonism, mistrust and hostility that had been symbolised by the mutual excommunications has been replaced by the logic of love and brotherhood, represented by our fraternal embrace.

“While not all differences between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were brought to an end, there now existed the conditions necessary to journey towards re-establishing the 'full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church'. Having restored a relationship of love and fraternity, in a spirit of mutual trust, respect and charity, there is no longer any impediment to Eucharistic communion which cannot be overcome through prayer, the purification of hearts, dialogue and the affirmation of truth. Indeed, where there is love in the life of the Church, its source and fulfilment is always to be found in Eucharistic love. So too the symbol of the fraternal embrace finds its most profound truth in the embrace of peace exchanged in the Eucharistic celebration.

“In order to progress on our journey towards the full communion for which we long, we need continually to draw inspiration from the gesture of reconciliation and peace by our venerable predecessors Paul VI and Athenagoras I. At all levels and in every context of Church life, relations between Catholics and Orthodox must increasingly reflect the logic of love that leaves no room for the spirit of rivalry. Theological dialogue itself, sustained by mutual charity, must continue to examine carefully the questions which divide us, aiming always at deepening our shared understanding of revealed truth. Motivated by God’s love, we must together offer the world a credible and effective witness to Christ’s message of reconciliation and salvation.

“The world today has great need of reconciliation, particularly in light of so much blood which has been shed in recent terrorist attacks. May we accompany the victims with our prayers, and renew our commitment to lasting peace by promoting dialogue between religious traditions, for 'indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict'.

“I wish to express my deep appreciation for Your Holiness’ fervent commitment to the critical issue of care for creation, for which your sensitivity and awareness is an exemplary witness for Catholics. I believe that it is a hopeful sign for Catholics and Orthodox that we now celebrate together an annual Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on 1 September, following the long-standing practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this regard, I assure you of my prayers for the important international meeting on the environment to be held in Paris at which you will participate.

“Your Holiness, it is incumbent upon humanity to rediscover the mystery of mercy, 'the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness'. For this reason I have called for an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a favourable time to contemplate the Father’s mercy revealed fully in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to become ourselves an effective sign of God’s love through our mutual pardon and works of mercy. It is providential that the anniversary of that historic Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration concerning the removal of the excommunications of 1054 occurs on the eve of the Year of Mercy. Following Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I, Catholics and Orthodox today must ask pardon of God and one another for divisions that Christians have brought about in the Body of Christ. I ask you and all the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to pray that this Extraordinary Jubilee may bear the spiritual fruits for which we yearn. I willingly assure you of my prayers for the events that your Church will celebrate in the year to come, especially the Pan-Orthodox Great Synod. May this important occasion for all the Orthodox Churches be a source of abundant blessings for the life of the Church”, concluded the Holy Father.

Pope Francis' prayer intentions for December

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father's universal prayer intention for December is: “That all may experience the mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving”.

His intention for evangelisation is: “That families, especially those who suffer, may find in the birth of Jesus a sign of certain hope”.

Cardinals to take possession of their titular churches

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff today issued the following announcement:

On Saturday 5 December at 6.30 p.m., Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, bishop of Tonga, will take possession of the title of Santa Paola Romana (Via Duccio Galimberti, 9).

On Sunday 6 December at 11.0 a.m. Cardinal Pierre Nguyen Van Thon, archbishop of Na Noi, Mexico, will take possession of the title of San Tommaso Apostolo (Via Lino Liviabella, 70).

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 30 November 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed:

- Msgr. Jure Bogdan as military ordinary for Croatia. The bishop-elect was born in Donji Dolac, Croatia in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1980. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University and has served in a number of pastoral roles in the archdiocese of Split-Makarska, Croatia, including parish vicar and spiritual father of the archdiocesan minor seminary. He is currently rector of the Pontifical Croatian College of St. Jerome in Rome. He succeeds Bishop Juraj Jezerinac, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same military ordinariate upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

- Fr. Vincent Kirabo as bishop of Hoima (area 17,200, population 2,084214, Catholics 1,075,812, priests 131, religious 130), Uganda. The bishop-elect was born in Kyanaisoke, Uganda in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1979. He holds a master's degree in education from the University of Portland, United States of America, and a licentiate in biblical theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University, Rome. He has served in a number of roles in the diocese of Hoima, including teacher and rector of the minor seminary, director of the diocesan commission for vocations, parish vicar, diocesan administrator for finance, parish priest, and teacher and bursar at the Uganda Martyrs National Minor Seminary Alokolum, Gulu. He is currently a teacher at the St. Mary's National Major Seminary Ggaba, Kampala.

- Bishop Luis Albeiro Cortes Rendon of Velez, Colombia, as auxiliary of the diocese of Pereira (area 6,126, population 1,380,000, Catholics 1,041,000, priests 210, permanent deacons 36, religious 266), Colombia.

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