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Friday, February 12, 2016

Pope Francis' apostolic trip to Mexico

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father began his twelfth international apostolic trip, this time to Mexico with a stop in Havana, Cuba to meet with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The Pope arrived at Rome's international Fiumicino airport shortly after 7.30 a.m. and his flight departed at 8.24 a.m. He is expected to arrive at Jose Marti airport in Havana at 2 p.m. local time (8 p.m. in Rome).

Due to the apostolic trip and the meeting in Havana, special editions of the Vatican Information Service bulletin will be transmitted on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February.

Collection for the Holy Land

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has sent his annual letter to bishops around the world regarding the Good Friday collection for the Holy Land, "the East whence comes our redemption", as he writes in the text published yesterday and dated 10 February. "There lie our roots; there lies our heart. We are indebted to those who went out from there, carrying the light of faith to the world. Likewise, we are indebted to those who remained to give witness to that faith, in spite of the conflicts that have always tortured that Land", continues the prelate. "Nonetheless, the Christians in the Holy Land care for the places marked by the passage of Jesus Himself, allowing us to touch, as it were, the truth of our faith".

"This land challenges our charity, as it always has, yet today with a growing urgency. Indeed, every person who lives and works there deserves our prayers and our concrete assistance, so necessary for the continuation of the work of healing wounds and fostering confidently justice and peace. In this Jubilee year, we are urged more than ever to demonstrate our mercy and solicitude for our brothers in the Middle East. Refugees, displaced persons, the elderly, children, and the sick are all in need of our help. In this land of the East, people are dying, being kidnapped and even killed. Many live in agony for their loved ones, or suffer when the family is divided on account of forced migration and exodus. They know the darkness and fear of neglect, of loneliness, of misunderstanding. It is a time of trials and challenges, even of martyrdom. All this necessarily augments our obligation to help, to respond to emergencies, to reconstruct and to invent new ways of meeting the whole gamut of needs".

'We cannot remain indifferent: God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind, God does not abandon us'. This care is expressed by our open hands, contributing generously. It can also be shown by making pilgrimages without fear to the places of our salvation, visiting also the schools and centers of assistance, where one can draw near to the local Christians and listen to their stories. The Collection for the Holy Land reminds us of an 'ancient' duty, which the history of recent years has made more urgent, but no less a source of the joy that comes from helping our brothers".

The Collection for the Holy Land is destined for Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

In a report included with the letter the Cardinal provides a summary of the activities carried out in the Holy Land by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land as a result of the 2015 collection, destined both for pilgrims (restoration of some of the Holy Places and works to improve reception), and for local communities (parish family counselling centres, support for artisanal initiatives, study grants, subsidies enabling young families to stay in the Holy Land, schools, and medical and social assistance).

Among the other works this year, special attention has been paid to Christians in Lebanon and Syria who live in situations of extreme need, by sending money to support local communities, the reconstruction of infrastructure and the development of new initiatives.

Ash Wednesday: God invites us to let ourselves be forgiven

Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) - This afternoon, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with the rite of the blessing and imposition of the ashes and the conferral of the mandate to the Jubilee Missionaries of Mercy. Cardinals, bishops and more than 700 Missionaries concelebrated with the Holy Father, who at the end of the Mass conferred upon the Missionaries their mandate and the faculty of absolving sins reserved to the Apostolic See. There are more than a thousand Missionaries of Mercy throughout the world, bearing special witness in each Church to the extraordinary nature of the Jubilee.

In his homily, the Holy Father remarked that at the beginning of the Lenten period, the Word of God addresses two invitations to us: "The first, as St. Paul said, is to let ourselves be reconciled with God ... as Christ knows the weakness of our heart; He sees that it is wounded by the evil we have committed and suffered; He knows how much we are in need of forgiveness, and He knows that we need to feel we are loved in order to do good. We are not able to do this by ourselves: therefore the apostle does not tell us to do something, but rather to let ourselves be reconciliated with God. ... He vanquishes sin and lifts us up from our miseries, if we entrust them to Him. It is up to us to recognise that we are in need of mercy; it is the first step on the Christian path and means entering through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself, the Saviour, awaits us and offers us a new and joyful life".

There are some obstacles to the doors of the heart, and the Pope included among these the "temptation to lock the doors, or rather to live with our sin, minimising it, always justifying it, thinking that we are no worse than others; in this way, however, we lock up our soul and stay trapped inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is our shame at opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, as it indicates that we want to reject evil; however, one must not convert in fear". The third obstacle is that of "distancing ourselves from the door, which happens when we close ourselves up in our miseries, when we dwell on them continually, linking the negative aspects among them to the point of casting ourselves into the darkest depths of the soul. We become familiar with the sadness we do not want, we are discouraged and we become weaker when faced with temptation. This happens when we stay by ourselves, closing ourselves away and hiding from the light, whereas only the grace of the Lord can free us".

God's second invitation comes from the prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart". "If there is a need to return, it is because we have drifted away", observed the Holy Father. "It is the mystery of sin: we have drifted away from God, from others, from ourselves. It is not difficult to become aware of this: we all see how we struggle to truly trust in God, to entrust ourselves to Him as our Father, without fear; how arduous it may be to love others; how much it costs us to truly do good, while we are attracted and seduced by so many material things, which vanish and in the end leave us poor. Alongside this history of sin, Jesus inaugurated a history of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be active agents, embracing three remedies, three forms of 'medicine' that cure us from sin".
The first is "prayer, the expression of openness and trust in the Lord: it is a personal encounter with Him, that reduces the distances created by sin. Praying means saying, 'I am not self-sufficient, I need You. You are my life and my salvation'". The second medicine, continued the Pope, is "charity, to overcome the sensation of extraneousness in relation to others. True love, in fact, is not an external act; it is not about giving in a paternalistic fashion to ease our conscience, but rather accepting those who are in need of our time, our friendship and our help". Finally, "fasting, penance to free ourselves of the dependencies of the past and to learn to become more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and sharing: giving up something from our own table, some of our own goods, to rediscover the true good of freedom".

"Turn to me, says the Lord, turn with all your heart. Not only by external acts", emphasised the Holy Father at the end of his homily, "but rather from the very depths of our selves. Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and genuineness, conquering hypocrisy. May Lent be a time for 'pruning' away falsity, worldliness and indifference, so as not to think that 'everything is fine if I am fine', to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consent, but rather the purity of heart and life to rediscover Christian identity, which is love that serves, not selfishness that serves itself".

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 12 February 2016 (VIS) - The Holy Father has appointed:

- Rev. Fr. Antonio Giuseppe Caiazzo as archbishop of Matera - Irsina (area 2,095, population 142,748, Catholics 140,000, priests 92, religious 90), Italy. The bishop-elect was born in Isola Capo Rizzuto, Italy in 1956 and ordained a priest in 1981. He holds a doctorate in liturgy from the St. Anselm Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Rome, and has served as lecturer and member of the liturgical commission of the Italian Episcopal Conference, director of the diocesan centre of liturgy, rector of a minor seminary and member of the presbyterium in the diocese of Crotone, Italy. He is currently episcopal vicar for the clergy and consecrated life and parish priest.

- Msgr. Tomas Holub as bishop of Plzen (area 9,236, population 853,700, Catholics 119,100, priests 92, permanent deacons 6, religious 67), Czech Republic. The bishop-elect was born in Jaromer, Czech Republic in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1993. He holds a degree in moral theology from the Charles University of Prague, and has served as military almoner and diocesan vicar general. He is currently general secretary of the Czech Episcopal Conference and parish priest. He succeeds Bishop Frantisek Radkovsky, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father. 
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