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Pope's Easter message

Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders "our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms," Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.
 
With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ's outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.
 
For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.
 
Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began -- as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil -- imagining the disciples desolate because "the one they loved so much was executed. He died."
 
While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, "He is risen." And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.
 
"It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence," he said. And those who follow Jesus, "we pebbles," find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.
Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, "I don't know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen."
 
After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing "urbi et orbi," to the city of Rome and the world.
 
Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that "in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion -- the wounds of his merciful love -- he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life."
 
Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. "He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God."
 
Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.
 
"In the complex and often dramatic situations of today's world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace," Pope Francis said. "May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade."
 
The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.
 
 
  • Published in World

Way of the Cross highlights victory of love

A French biblical scholar not only wrote the meditations to guide Pope Francis' 2017 celebration of the Via Crucis at Rome's Colosseum, she also designed her own set of Bible-based Stations of the Cross.

Pope Francis asked Anne-Marie Pelletier to share her reflections with the worldwide audience that follows the stations on the night of Good Friday. She is the first wife, mother and grandmother to author meditations for the papal service.

In the past, writers chosen by the popes have used either the traditional 14 stations followed by pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem or the 14 biblical stations used by St. John Paul II in 1991. The main difference is that Jesus falling three times and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus are in the traditional devotion, but not in any of the Gospels.

Pelletier's stations are a variation on St. John Paul's Scriptural Stations of the Cross. She starts with Jesus being condemned to death, rather than with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and ends with the women preparing to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb.

Because the Stations of the Cross do not have a "binding form," Pelletier told Vatican Radio, "I chose those moments that seemed particularly significant."

"I didn't think about what I wanted to say or what I wanted to transmit," she said. "Rather, my idea was to put myself on this path, to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he went up to Golgotha."

The driving idea, she said, is that "love is stronger" than any evil. "The love that comes from God is victorious over everything. I believe the task of Christians is to give witness to that."

In the third station, "Jesus and Pilate," she said she felt it was important to show the "complicity" of Pilate and members of the Jewish Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus to death.

In the meditation, which was to be read at the Colosseum, Pelletier wrote: "For all too long, Christians have laid the blame of your condemnation on the shoulders of your people Israel. For all too long, we have failed to realize the need to accept our own complicity in sin, so as to be saved by the blood of Jesus crucified."

She titled the fourth station, "Jesus, King of Glory," and focused on the soldiers dressing Jesus in a purple robe and crowning him with a crown of thorns.

Their actions show "the banality of evil," she wrote. "How many men, women and even children are victims of violence, abuse, torture and murder in every time and place."

"Can the sufferings of yet one more innocent person really help us?" Pelletier asked people to consider.

"The scorn and contempt of Jesus' torturers reveal to us -- in an absolutely paradoxical way -- the unfathomable truth of his unique kingship, revealed as a love that seeks only the will of his father and his desire that all should be saved."

While the Gospels do not mention Jesus falling as he carried his cross, Pelletier imagined that he did "on his grueling journey, most likely under the lashings of his military escort."

"He who raised the sick from their beds, healed the crippled woman, raised the daughter of Jairus from her deathbed, made the lame walk, now lies sprawled in the dust," she wrote. "Through him, the Most High teaches us that he is at the same time -- incredible as it is -- the most lowly, ever ready to come down to us, and to descend even lower if necessary, so that no one will be lost in the depths of his or her misery."

In the prayer she wrote for the sixth station, "Jesus and Simon of Cyrene," Pelletier asks God's blessing for every act of kindness every person performs.

"Deign to acknowledge them as the truth of our humanity, which speaks louder than all acts of rejection and hatred," she prayed. "Deign to bless the men and woman of compassion who give you glory, even if they do not yet know your name."

The seventh station, "Jesus and Daughters of Jerusalem," focuses on Jesus' statement to the women, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children."

"These tears of women are always present in this world," Pelletier wrote. "They fall silently down their cheeks."

But women are not the only ones who weep, she said, noting the "tears of terror-stricken children and of those wounded on battlefields crying out for a mother."

She prayed that God would teach people not to scorn the tears of the poor, but rather "to have the courage to weep with them."

The French scholar's reflection on Jesus being taken down from the cross highlights the "signs of loving care and honor" with which Joseph of Arimathea lowers Jesus' body and how, in death, Jesus "is once again in hands that treat him with tenderness and compassion."

The attitude continues in the final station commemorating Jesus being laid in the tomb and the women preparing to anoint his body.

"Lord our God," she prayed, "graciously look upon and bless all that women everywhere do to revere weak and vulnerable bodies, surrounding them with kindness and respect."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Via Crucis meditations highlight victory of love

A French biblical scholar not only wrote the meditations to guide Pope Francis' 2017 celebration of the Via Crucis at Rome's Colosseum, she also designed her own set of Bible-based Stations of the Cross.

Pope Francis asked Anne-Marie Pelletier to share her reflections with the worldwide audience that follows the stations on the night of Good Friday. She is the first wife, mother and grandmother to author meditations for the papal service.

In the past, writers chosen by the popes have used either the traditional 14 stations followed by pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem or the 14 biblical stations used by St. John Paul II in 1991. The main difference is that Jesus falling three times and Veronica wiping the face of Jesus are in the traditional devotion, but not in any of the Gospels.

Pelletier's stations are a variation on St. John Paul's Scriptural Stations of the Cross. She starts with Jesus being condemned to death, rather than with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and ends with the women preparing to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb.

Because the Stations of the Cross do not have a "binding form," Pelletier told Vatican Radio, "I chose those moments that seemed particularly significant."

"I didn't think about what I wanted to say or what I wanted to transmit," she said. "Rather, my idea was to put myself on this path, to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as he went up to Golgotha."

The driving idea, she said, is that "love is stronger" than any evil. "The love that comes from God is victorious over everything. I believe the task of Christians is to give witness to that."

In the third station, "Jesus and Pilate," she said she felt it was important to show the "complicity" of Pilate and members of the Jewish Sanhedrin in condemning Jesus to death.

In the meditation, which was to be read at the Colosseum, Pelletier wrote: "For all too long, Christians have laid the blame of your condemnation on the shoulders of your people Israel. For all too long, we have failed to realize the need to accept our own complicity in sin, so as to be saved by the blood of Jesus crucified."

She titled the fourth station, "Jesus, King of Glory," and focused on the soldiers dressing Jesus in a purple robe and crowning him with a crown of thorns.

Their actions show "the banality of evil," she wrote. "How many men, women and even children are victims of violence, abuse, torture and murder in every time and place."

"Can the sufferings of yet one more innocent person really help us?" Pelletier asked people to consider.

"The scorn and contempt of Jesus' torturers reveal to us -- in an absolutely paradoxical way -- the unfathomable truth of his unique kingship, revealed as a love that seeks only the will of his father and his desire that all should be saved."

While the Gospels do not mention Jesus falling as he carried his cross, Pelletier imagined that he did "on his grueling journey, most likely under the lashings of his military escort."

"He who raised the sick from their beds, healed the crippled woman, raised the daughter of Jairus from her deathbed, made the lame walk, now lies sprawled in the dust," she wrote. "Through him, the Most High teaches us that he is at the same time -- incredible as it is -- the most lowly, ever ready to come down to us, and to descend even lower if necessary, so that no one will be lost in the depths of his or her misery."

In the prayer she wrote for the sixth station, "Jesus and Simon of Cyrene," Pelletier asks God's blessing for every act of kindness every person performs.

"Deign to acknowledge them as the truth of our humanity, which speaks louder than all acts of rejection and hatred," she prayed. "Deign to bless the men and woman of compassion who give you glory, even if they do not yet know your name."

The seventh station, "Jesus and Daughters of Jerusalem," focuses on Jesus' statement to the women, "Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children."

"These tears of women are always present in this world," Pelletier wrote. "They fall silently down their cheeks."

But women are not the only ones who weep, she said, noting the "tears of terror-stricken children and of those wounded on battlefields crying out for a mother."

She prayed that God would teach people not to scorn the tears of the poor, but rather "to have the courage to weep with them."

The French scholar's reflection on Jesus being taken down from the cross highlights the "signs of loving care and honor" with which Joseph of Arimathea lowers Jesus' body and how, in death, Jesus "is once again in hands that treat him with tenderness and compassion."

The attitude continues in the final station commemorating Jesus being laid in the tomb and the women preparing to anoint his body.

"Lord our God," she prayed, "graciously look upon and bless all that women everywhere do to revere weak and vulnerable bodies, surrounding them with kindness and respect."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Pope washes 12 inmates' feet

In a gesture of service toward marginalized people, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates, including three women and a man who is converting from Islam to Catholicism.

Although in Jesus' time, washing the feet of one's guests was performed by slaves, Jesus "reverses" this role, the pope said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper April 13 at a prison 45 miles from Rome.

"He came into this world to serve, to serve us. He came to make himself a slave for us, to give his life for us and to love us to the end," he said. 

Pope Francis made his way by car to a penitentiary in Paliano, which houses 70 men and women who testified as a witness for the state against associates or accomplices.

To protect the safety and security of the prisoners, only a live audio feed of the pope's homily was provided by Vatican Radio as well as selected photographs released by the Vatican.

The Vatican said April 13 that among the 12 inmates who participated in the foot washing ceremony, "two are sentenced to life imprisonment and all the others should finish their sentences between 2019 and 2073."

In his brief homily, which he delivered off-the-cuff, the pope said that upon his arrival, people greeted him saying, "'Here comes the pope, the head of the church.'"

"Jesus is the head of the church. The pope is merely the image of Jesus, and I want to do the same as he did. In this ceremony, the pastor washes the feet of the faithful. (The role) reverses: The one who seems to be the greatest must do the work of a slave," he said. 

This gesture, he continued, is meant to "sow love among us" and that the faithful, even those in prison, can imitate Christ in the same manner. 

"I ask that if you can perform a help or a service for your companion here in prison, do it. This is love, this is like washing the feet. It means being the servant of the other," the pope said.

Recalling another Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest among them must be at the service of others, Pope Francis said Christ put his words into action by washing his disciple's feet and "it is what Jesus does with us."

"For this reason, during this ceremony, let us think about Jesus. This isn't a folkloric ceremony. It is a gesture to remind us of what Jesus gave us. After this, he took bread and gave us his body; he took wine and gave us his blood. This is the love of God," the pope said.

Vatican Radio reported that several other inmates took an active role in the liturgy, including four who served as altar servers. Other inmates prepared homemade gifts for the pope, among them were two dessert cakes, a handcrafted wooden cross and fresh vegetables grown in the prison garden.

The evening Mass was the second of two Holy Thursday liturgies for Pope Francis. The first was a morning chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Published in Vatican

Integral development means being in relationship, says pope

A Catholic approach to development aims at helping people achieve both physical and spiritual well-being and promotes both individual responsibility and community ties, Pope Francis said.

A development that is “fully human” recognizes that being a person means being in relationship; it affirms “inclusion and not exclusion,” upholds the dignity of the person against any form of exploitation, and struggles for freedom, the pope said April 4 at a Vatican conference marking the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical on integral human development, “Populorum Progressio.”

Holistic or integral development, Pope Francis said, involves “integrating” all people into one human family, integrating individuals into communities, integrating the individual and communal dimensions of life and integrating body and soul.

“The duty of solidarity obliges us to seek proper ways of sharing so that there is no longer that dramatic inequality between those who have too much and those who have nothing, between those who discard and those who are discarded,” he said.

Social integration recognizes that each individual has “a right and an obligation” to participate in the life of the community, bringing his or her gifts and talents to share for the good of all, the pope said. But it also recognizes that well-being is not something that can be improved or measured only with economic indicators; it includes “work, culture, family life and religion.”

“None of these can be absolutized and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development,” he said, because “human life is like an orchestra that plays well if all the different instruments are in tune with each other and follow a score shared by all.”

One of the major challenges to integral development today, he said, is the tendency to focus either exclusively on the value of the individual or to ignore that value completely.

In the West, he said, culture “has exulted the individual to the point of making him an island, as if one could be happy alone.”

“On the other hand,” the pope said, “there is no lack of ideological visions and political powers who have squashed the person,” or treat people as a mass without individual dignity. The modern global economic system tends to do the same, he said.

Because human beings are both body and soul, working for their well-being must include respecting their faith and helping it grow.

The Catholic Church’s approach to development is modeled on Jesus’ approach to human flourishing, an approach that included spiritual and physical healing, liberating and reconciling people, the pope said.
  • Published in Vatican

Syrian refugees in Rome

The first three refugee families from Syria welcomed by the Vatican left their temporary homes to start their new lives in Italy, and three new families took their places in Vatican apartments.

The papal Almoner’s Office, which helps coordinate Pope Francis’ acts of charity, announced April 2 that two Christian families and one Muslim family moved in to the apartments that housed the first refugee families welcomed by the Vatican in late 2015 and early 2016.

The two Christian families, the papal almoner’s office said, arrived in March after “suffering kidnapping and discrimination” because of their faith.

“The first family is composed of a mother with two adolescent children, a grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them,” the office said.

The second family is a young couple, who had their first child — a daughter named Stella — shortly after moving into the Vatican apartment, the Almoner’s Office said. “The mother had been kidnapped for several months by ISIS and now, in Italy, has regained serenity.”

The third family — a mother, father and two children — arrived in Italy in February 2016, the office said. The children have been attending elementary school in Italy while the mother has been attending graduate courses and currently has an internship.

The Vatican welcomed the refugee families after an appeal made by Pope Francis Sept. 6, 2015, in which he called on every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees, given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said that aside from providing a home for the three families, the office also continues to provide financial support to the three Syrian families whom Pope Francis brought to Italy after his visit last year to the Greek island of Lesbos and for the nine additional refugees who arrived later.
  • Published in World

3 popes’ close bond to Fatima

Recent popes have had a special affection for Our Lady of Fatima, but no pope’s connection can match that of St. John Paul II.
 
“We cannot forget that he was saved by Our Lady of Fatima from the assassination attempt here in St. Peter’s. This is fundamental and central. It is never forgotten,” Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told Catholic News Service.
 
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot Pope John Paul at close range as the pope was greeting a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.
 
Two bullets pierced the pope’s abdomen, but no major organs were struck; a bullet had missed his heart and aorta by a few inches.
 
St. John Paul would later say, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.”
 
That miracle, the cardinal said, is key in “understanding well Pope John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”
 
Given the date of the assassination attempt, the pope specifically credited Our Lady of Fatima with his miraculous survival and recovery. Several months later, he visited the site of the apparitions, the first of three visits he would make as pope to Fatima.
 
For St. John Paul, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, “Our Lady of Fatima was everything,” and his three visits to the Portuguese town were those of a grateful son to the mother who saved his life.
 
“I still remember — I’ll never forget it — when he arrived at the little chapel of the apparitions where (the statue of) Our Lady of Fatima was,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins recalled.
 
St. John Paul was holding one of the bullets that had struck him and slowly approached the statue, finally placing the bullet in her crown, he said. “It is still in the crown today. I witnessed these gestures, how he expressed his devotion to Our Lady. He would just walk closer and closer to Our Lady and would repeat: ‘You saved me, you saved me.'”
 
As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from 1998 to 2008, Cardinal Saraiva Martins also oversaw the process leading to the beatification by St. John Paul of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three young shepherd children, who saw Mary at Fatima.
 
The cardinal also shared a personal friendship with the third seer, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005.
 
It was Cardinal Saraiva Martins who, two years after Sister Lucia’s death, urged Pope Benedict XVI to waive the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could be opened.
 
“The pope was very kind. He said, ‘Yes, you know more about this than I do. We will do as you say,'” the cardinal recalled.
 
Pope Benedict, the cardinal added, was a “great devotee” of Our Lady of Fatima, even before his election to the papacy.
 
Interviewed in his apartment near St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Saraiva Martins grabbed a copy of part of the interview then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 1985 with Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist.
 
“Before becoming pope, he said: ‘A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity,'” the cardinal read.
 
The special papal bond with Our Lady of Fatima continues today with Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a frequent visitor to a shrine devoted to her, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. Pope Francis will visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
 
The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’ “beautiful” words to Portuguese-speaking pilgrims on May 13, 2015, the 98th anniversary of the apparition: “Entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to your family, neighbors and friends.”
 
“This an example of the words of Pope Francis, so he is a great devotee of Fatima,” the cardinal said. “And for this reason, he will go to Fatima. For him, it will be an extraordinary day in which he will fulfill this great desire that has been expressed in so many ways.”
 
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is emblematic of the popes of the last century who have “always recognized” the relevance of Mary’s message, particularly its emphasis on faith, conversion, hope and peace, the cardinal said.
 
“Today we need faith, to be closer to God and our brothers and sisters — not hate each other — we need hope and we need peace,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. “In short, the message of Fatima given 100 years ago is of extreme relevance.”
 
  • Published in World

Loving families bring joy, mercy to world, says pope

Pope Francis urges families to discover God's love and be generous, forgiving, patient, helpful and respectful.

Family life will be better if people use the words "please," "thank you," and "I'm sorry" every day, he said, and the world will be a better place if the church reaches out to the imperfect and the wounded.

The pope's reflection was part of a letter to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which is helping plan the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Aug. 21-26, 2018. The Vatican released the text of the pope's letter March 30.

When asked about the pope's plans to attend the event next year, Cardinal Farrell told reporters at a Vatican news conference, "We hope. I can't say absolutely" since it depends on the pope's schedule, but the pope has expressed his desire to go.

The letter was meant to help Catholic families and parishes around the world prepare for the gathering, which will focus on the theme, "The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World." The pope said he hoped the event would help families reflect on and share his apostolic exhortation, "Amoris Laetitia."

"Does the Gospel continue to be a joy for the world? And also, does the family continue to be good news for today's world?" the pope asked.

The answer is, "yes," he said, because God's love is his "yes" to all of creation and a "'yes' to the union between man and woman, in openness and service to life in all its phases; it is God's 'yes' and his commitment to a humanity that is often wounded, mistreated and dominated by a lack of love."

"Only starting from love can the family manifest, spread and regenerate God's love in the world. Without love, we cannot live as children of God, as couples, parents and brothers," he said.

Making sure family life is "based on love, for love and in love" means "giving oneself, forgiving, not losing patience, anticipating the other, respecting. How much better family life would be if every day we lived according to the words, 'please,' 'thank you,' and 'I'm sorry.'"

Every day, people experience fragility and weakness, Pope Francis said. All families and pastors need humility so they will become better disciples and teachers, better at helping and being helped, and able to accompany and embrace all people of goodwill.

"I dream of an outbound church, not a self-referential one, a church that does not pass by far from man's wounds, a merciful church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as love, which is mercy," he said.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told reporters that the pope's letter shows the clear, central role families have in the pope's great dream of renewal of the church and society.

"The family is called to be a place of encounter with that divine mercy which heals and liberates," he said. The family is where spouses learn to love "not in vague romantic terms but in terms of their everyday realities and difficulties."

"The pope's vision of the mission of the family does not attempt to hide the fact that families experience challenges, weakness, fragility and even breakdown," the archbishop said. "Families need a church which is with them, accompanying them in a process of discernment and integration though helping them to respond with a 'yes' to the divine love."

Happy, loving families should be recognized and be a resource for the renewal of the church and world, he said.

But the church, Archbishop Martin said, also must be "a place where those who have failed can experience not harsh judgment, but the strong embrace of the Lord which can lift them up to begin again to realize their own dream even if only imperfectly."
  • Published in Vatican
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