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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Audience with the President of Iran: the importance of dialogue and responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace

Vatican City, 26 January 2016 (VIS) – Today in the Vatican Apostolic Palace the Holy Father Francis received in audience Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions, common spiritual values emerged and reference was made to the good state of relations between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the life of the Church in the country and the action of the Holy See to favour the promotion of the dignity of the human person and religious freedom.

Attention then turned to the conclusion and application of the Nuclear Accord and the important role that Iran is called upon to fulfil, along with other countries in the Region, to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking. In this respect, the Parties highlighted the importance of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities in promoting reconciliation, tolerance and peace.

Holy Father's Message for Lent 2016: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". The works of mercy on the Jubilee path

Vatican City, 26 January 2016 (VIS) “'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice': The works of mercy on the Jubilee path" is the title of Pope Francis' message for Lent 2016 (10 February to 20 March). Taking as a starting point this phrase from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Holy Father divides his message into three sections: "Mary, the image of a Church which evanglises because she is evangelised", "God's covenant with humanity: a history of mercy", and "The works of mercy". The document, signed on 4 October, feast of St. Francis of Assisi, concludes by encouraging the faithful not to waste this season of Lent, a favourable time for conversion, and by invoking the intercession of Our Lady who, "encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant".

The following is the full text of the Pope's Message:

"The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee

1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelises because she is evangelised

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that 'the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy'. By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative '24 Hours for the Lord', I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelises, for she was, and continues to be, evangelised by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and His people Israel. God shows Himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat His people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea – show to what extent God wishes to bind Himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth His boundless mercy even to making Him 'mercy incarnate'. As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; He embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might'. As the Son of God, He is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of His bride, to whom He is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is 'the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ Who died and rose from the dead', that first proclamation which 'we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment'. Mercy 'expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe', thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows His desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from Him. In this way He hopes to soften the hardened heart of His Bride.

3. The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that 'the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy'. For in the poor, the flesh of Christ 'becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled … to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us'. It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals, especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death, the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep. Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical 'you will be like God' which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolising thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realising that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the 'proud', the 'powerful' and the 'wealthy' spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord Who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ Who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them'. Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify His Betrothed in expectation of His coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant".

Presentation of the Holy Father's Message for Lent 2016

Vatican City, 26 January 2016 (VIS) – A press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office this morning to present the Holy Father's Message for Lent 2016. The panel was composed of Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, Italy and member of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"; Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso and Msgr. Segundo Tejado Munoz, respectively secretary and under-secretary of the same dicastery.

Cardinal Montenegro explained that the Message is divided into three parts, focusing on mercy in the light of the Word of God, insistence on the works of mercy and the relationship between Lent and the Jubilee itinerary.

The first part examines the theme of mercy in the Scripture and helps us to recover the fundamental meanings of this term that Pope Francis has previously described as "the very foundation" of both the Trinitarian mystery and the life of the Church". In particular, since Lent looks towards the Paschal mystery, we focus on the fact that Christ's Cross is the culmination of the revelation of the Father's mercy, and Jesus is the face of this mercy. "During Lent, the Church has always encouraged greater nourishment from the Word of God, and the Pope invites all Christians to explore the theme of mercy through the pages of the Bible and the prophets, as these are not simply limited to repeating that God is merciful, but rather indicate clearly that His children must be merciful too, practising a greater love especially by caring for children, the poor and the helpless".

The works of mercy, the second key point of the Message, form part of the treasury of the Christian tradition. While during Lent we fix our gaze on the crucified Christ and in the liturgy we relive all that He suffered for our love, "we certainly cannot think that face, unique as it is, has stopped being present in our history", added Cardinal Montenegro. The Pope hopes that during Lent all Christians will feel the need to be nurtured by the Word of God and will at the same time open their heart to those who suffer by performing works of mercy. "As a pastor of a Church which experiences several forms of poverty and faces various challenges such as that of immigration, I would like to add something", he continued. "At times we tend to think that faith can be lived only by participating in the sacraments or praying in the most varied ways, excluding from spiritual life the needs of man, and especially those of the poorest. The result is that this type of faith sooner or later becomes sterile or insipid. Instead, when we listen and put this into practice, faith then becomes a joyful and contagious experience, enriching and stimulating. We have experienced this, for example, in Lampedusa with the arrival of thousands of people, and in many other communities who have accepted the challenge of opening up to the different forms of poverty in their area. ... It is clear that this is not easy, as at times it is necessary to deal with entrenched mentalities that do not easily open up to the new. However, in my limited experience, I feel able to say that the way is possible and it is, above all, the way Jesus shows to us in the Gospel".

Finally, the Message considers the Jubilee itinerary. "The Paschal mystery is the heart of the liturgical year, and this Lent is right at the heart of the Jubilee. The strong time of the Jubilee is interlinked with Lenten time, constituting an extraordinary richness for the conversion and the spiritual growth of every Christian and for the Church as a whole. From this perspective the message we are presenting has a very stimulating backdrop of questions on the current historical and cultural context, and how the Christian is located within it". … From this there derives the prophetic proposal of the Jubilee path and of the Lenten period as a time for reviewing the path of one's own life, and for hearing the cry of the poor, the same Christ Who knocks on the door of our heart in the hope that we decide to open it and, welcoming Him, sample real life. In these first months of the Jubilee, especially through the sign of the door, we have been able to experience the beauty of mercy made accessible to all. Not only the door of the St. Peter's Basilica, or the major Basilicas, but also the cathedrals in the dioceses and, in particular, places that symbolise poverty, such as the Caritas hostel in Rome and prison cells. Through these powerful choices the Pope is inviting all the Church to set out towards every person, and towards the suffering and the poor in particular. In this way, the Jubilee path is not only the one we find in the calendar, but rather the one we are all called to undertake, supported by God's mercy, to recognise Him in the poor so as to place ourselves by their side to listen and serve".

Msgr. Del Toso spoke about the initiatives of "Cor Unum" during the Lenten period. The first, in response to a request from the Holy Father, is a spiritual retreat for those who work in the service of charity in the Church, so that they too may "experience God's mercy". The second is a major international conference to commemorate ten years since the publication of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "Deus caritas est", to be held on 25 and 26 February in the New Synod Hall.

The Pope at the closure of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: unity is achieved by walking together

Vatican City, 26 January 2016 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon, in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Holy Father presided at the celebration of second Vespers on the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul, which concluded the 49th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the theme "Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord". As is customary, the representatives of other Churches and Ecclesiastical Communities present in Rome also attended the ceremony.

In his homily, extensive extracts of which are published below, Pope Francis spoke of the common call to the mission of all Christians and invited Catholics to ask forgiveness for non-evangelical behaviour towards other Christians and to forgive in turn those who have offended them.

The conversion of St. Paul following his encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, said the Holy Father, "is not principally a moral change, but rather an experience of Christ's transforming grace, and at the same time the call to a new mission, that of announcing to all the Jesus he had previously persecuted by persecuting His disciples. In that moment, Paul understood that between the eternally living Christ and His followers there was a real and transcendent union: Jesus lives and is present in them, and they live in Him. … God's superabundant mercy is the sole basis on which Paul's ministry is founded, and it is at the same time what the apostle must proclaim to all. … For the first Christians, as today for our baptised, it is a source of consolation and constant wonder to know that they were chosen to form part of God's plan for salvation, put into effect in Jesus Christ and in the Church. … Here we see the mystery of mercy and of God's choice: the Father loves us all and wants to save us all, and for this reason He calls to some, 'conquering' them with His grace, so that through them His love can reach everyone".

"In the light of the Word of God that we have heard, and that has guided us during this Week of Prayer for Christian unity, we may truly say that all believers in Christ are called to proclaim the mighty acts of God. Going beyond the differences that still separate us, we acknowledge with joy that at the origin of Christian life there is always a call from God Himself. … Converting means letting the Lord live and work in us. For this reason, when Christians from different Churches listen to the Word of God together and seek to put it into practice, they achieve important steps towards unity. It is not only this call that unites us. We have the same mission in common – announcing to all the wonderful works of God. While we are on the path towards full communion, we can already develop multiple forms of collaboration, working together and collaborating to promote the spread of the Gospel. By walking and working together, we realise that we are already united in the name of the Lord. Unity is achieved by walking together".

"In this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we are well aware that Christian unity cannot truly be sought without fully trusting in God's mercy. We first ask forgiveness for the sin of our divisions, which are an open wound on the Body of Christ. As the bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I wish to invoke mercy and forgiveness for the non-evangelical behaviour of Catholics in relation to other Churches. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if, in the past, they have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has been, but we must not allow the weight of past errors to continue to contaminate our relations. God's mercy will renew our relationships".

"Unity is a gift of the mercy of God the Father. Here, before the tomb of St. Paul, apostle and martyr, housed in this splendid Basilica, we feel that our humble request is sustained by the intercession of the multitude of Christian martyrs, past and present. They responded generously to the call of the Lord; they bore faithful witness, with their lives, to the marvellous works that God has achieved for us, have already experienced full communion in the presence of God the Father. Sustained by their example – this example that is the ecumenism of blood – and, consoled by their intercession, we confide our humble prayer to God".

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 25 January 2016 (VIS) – The Holy Father:

- appointed Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia, apostolic nuncio in Romania, as apostolic nuncio in Moldavia.

- decided that the Canadian diocese of Keewatin – Le Pas, Churchill – Hudson Bay, Moosonee, Grouard – McLennan and Mackenzie – Fort Smith Whitehorse shall transfer from the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to that of the Congregation of Bishops.

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