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Doubts about faith should spur deeper study, prayer, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone experiences doubts about the faith at times -- "I have" many times, Pope Francis said -- but such doubts can be "a sign that we want to know God better and more deeply."

"We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith," the pope said Nov. 23 at his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis said that although the Year of Mercy has concluded, he still wanted to continue his general audience reflections on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

With fewer than 10,000 pilgrims and visitors present and with rain forecast, the Vatican moved the audience indoors to the Vatican audience hall.

The pope, with a voice that was a bit hoarse, focused on the spiritual works of mercy of "counseling the doubtful" and "instructing the ignorant," which he said was not meant as an insult, but simply as a description of a person who does not know something.

Calling a lack of access to education a "grave injustice," Pope Francis asked those in the audience hall to give a round of applause to teachers and the "long list of saints, who throughout the ages, brought education to the most disadvantaged."

Education, he said, is both a work of evangelization and a work of mercy and justice because it recognizes the dignity of the human person, fights discrimination and, by preparing people for jobs, combats poverty.

The work of mercy of counseling the doubtful involves attempting to "soothe that pain and suffering that come from the fear and anguish that are the consequences of doubt" about the goodness of life and God's love.

"I think someone would ask me, 'Father, I have many doubts about the faith, what should I do? Don't you ever have doubts?" the pope said. "I have many," he said, "there are times when everyone has doubts."

The key, he said, is to see those doubts as a call to deepen one's faith either through study or through seeking the guidance of another believer.

"To do this, it is necessary to listen to the word of God and understand what it teaches us," he said. "But, at the same time, an equally important path is that of living the faith as much as possible."

When faith is seen mainly as "an abstract theory," he said, "doubts multiple."

But when faith is lived and shown in service to others, the pope said, "then many doubts vanish because we feel the presence of God and the truth of the Gospel in the love that, by no merit of ours, lives in us and that we share with others."
  • Published in Vatican

Pope calls new cardinals to be agents of unity in divided world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church’s 17 new cardinals must dedicate their lives to being ministers of forgiveness and reconciliation in a world — and sometimes a Church — often marked by hostility and division, Pope Francis said.

Even Catholics are not immune from “the virus of polarization and animosity,” the pope told the new cardinals, and “we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.”

Creating 17 new cardinals from 14 nations Nov. 19, the pope said the College of Cardinals — and the Catholic Church itself — must be a sign for the world that differences of nationality, skin color, language and social class do not make people enemies, but brothers and sisters with different gifts to offer.

Three of the new cardinals created during the prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica were from the United States: Cardinals Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the new Vatican office for laity, family and life; and Joseph W. Tobin, whom the pope asked to move from being archbishop of Indianapolis to archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

Only 16 of the new cardinals were present for the ceremony. The Vatican said 87-year-old Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai, the retired bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho, was created a cardinal although he was unable to travel to Rome.

After reciting the Creed and taking an oath of fidelity to Pope Francis and his successors, each cardinal went up to Pope Francis and knelt before him. The pope gave them each a cardinal’s ring, a three-cornered red hat and a scroll attesting to their appointment as cardinals and containing their “titular church” in Rome. The assignment of a church is a sign they now are members of the clergy of the pope’s diocese.

After the consistory, Pope Francis and the new cardinals hopped in vans for a short ride to visit retired Pope Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, his residence in the Vatican gardens. The retired pope greeted the cardinals, thanked them for stopping by and assured them, “My prayers will accompany you always.”

Cardinal Mario Zenari, the pope’s ambassador to Syria, spoke on behalf of the new cardinals, promising Pope Francis that they and the entire Church would continue to be envoys of God’s mercy, bending down to help those “left half dead on the side of the road, wounded in body and spirit.”

The Gospel reading at the consistory was St. Luke’s version of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

“They are four things we can easily do for our friends and for those more or less close to us, people we like, people whose tastes and habits are similar to our own,” Pope Francis said. But Jesus, not mincing his words, calls his followers to more.

“With people we consider our opponents or enemies,” the pope said, “our first instinctive reaction … is to dismiss, discredit or curse them. Often we try to ‘demonize’ them, so as to have a ‘sacred’ justification for dismissing them.”

In God, he said, there are no enemies. There are only brothers and sisters to love.
 
  • Published in Nation

Pope offers new beatitudes for saints of a new age

MALMO, Sweden (CNS) -- The saints are blessed because they were faithful and meek and cared for others, Pope Francis said.
 
At the end of an ecumenical trip to Sweden, Pope Francis celebrated the feast of All Saints Nov. 1 with a Catholic Mass in a Malmo stadium. He highlighted the lives of the Swedish saints, Elizabeth Hesselblad and Bridget of Vadstena, who "prayed and worked to create bonds of unity and fellowship between Christians."
 
The best description of the saints -- in fact, their "identity card" -- the pope said, is found in the beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which begins, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
 
And, he said, as Christian saints have done throughout the ages, Christ's followers today are called "to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus."
 
New situations require new energy and a new commitment, he said, and then he offered a new list of beatitudes for modern Christians:
 
-- "Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart."
 
-- "Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness."
 
-- "Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him."
 
-- "Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home."
 
-- "Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others."
 
-- "Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians."
 
"All these are messengers of God's mercy and tenderness," Pope Francis said. "Surely they will receive from him their merited reward."
 
Registered Catholics in Sweden number about 115,000 -- just over 1 percent of the population. But with recent waves of immigration, especially from Chaldean Catholic communities in Iraq, local church officials believe the number of Catholics is double the reported figure.
 
Reflecting the multicultural makeup of the Catholic Church in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, the prayer intentions at Mass were read in Spanish, Arabic, English, German and Polish as well as in Swedish.
 
 
  • Published in World

Walls aren't answer to people fleeing war, climate change, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Closing doors to immigrants and refugees is not the answer -- in fact, it only helps encourage the crime of human trafficking, Pope Francis said.

"The only way for resolution is through solidarity," where everyone pitches in because "all together we are a powerful force of support for those who have lost their homeland, family, work and dignity," he said Oct. 26 at his weekly general audience.

In his talk, the pope continued his series of reflections on the works of mercy, focusing on welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked.

He said clothing the naked is about caring for those whose dignity has been stripped from them and helping restore and protect that dignity.

So in addition to providing clothing to those in need, be on the lookout for and ready to help victims of human trafficking and those -- including children -- whose bodies are being bought and sold like some kind of commodity, he said.

Not having a home, a job or fair wages and being discriminated against because of race or faith are all forms of nakedness that "as Christians, we are called to be on the alert (for), vigilant and ready to act."

While voluntary or forced migration has been part of human history, the call to welcome the stranger is even more necessary than ever given that so many people today are on the move because of economic crises, armed conflict and climate change, he said.

There have been many "great expressions of solidarity" over the centuries, even though there have been social tensions, too, the pope said. 

"Unfortunately, today's context of economic crisis prompts the emergence of an attitude of closure and not welcome. In some parts of the world walls and barriers are appearing," he said.

"Sometimes it seems that the silent work of many men and women who, in different ways, strive to help and assist refugees and migrants is overshadowed by the noise of others who give voice to an instinctive selfishness," he said.

"Closure is not a solution, rather it ends up encouraging criminal trafficking," he said. 

The pope asked that people never be tempted by the "trap" of closing in on oneself, never become indifferent to people's needs and never become focused only on one's own personal interests.

The more a person opens up to others, he said, the more one's life is enriched, the more society opens itself up to peace and people recover their full dignity.

Looking up from his written remarks, the pope told the more than 25,000 people gathered in the square about a "little story" that happened a few days ago in Rome.

He said a woman had asked a man who was barefoot and looked lost if he needed help, and the man said he wanted to go to St. Peter's Basilica and walk through the Holy Door. The woman wondered how the man would ever get there without shoes, so she hailed a taxi, the pope said.

At first the cab driver did not want to let the man inside because "he smelled," but he eventually gave in. During the 10-minute ride, the woman asked the man about his life, and he talked about his trials of being a refugee escaping war and hunger. The pope said the women knew "the pain of a migrant" because of her Armenian roots.

When they arrived at their destination, "the woman opened her bag to pay the cab driver, but the driver, who at first didn't want this immigrant to get in because he smelled, told the woman, 'No, ma'am, I'm the one who must pay because you made me hear a story that changed my heart.'"

Pope Francis said, "When we do something like this, at first we refuse because it makes us feel a bit uncomfortable" or awkward, but in the end, carrying out an act of mercy or assistance makes the soul smell sweet and "makes us change. Think about this story and let us think about what we can do for refugees."

The pope also recalled the "stupendous figure" of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who emigrated to New York from Italy in 1889 to minister to fellow immigrants, opening schools, orphanages and hospitals for the poor. She became the first U.S. citizen to be declared a saint.

"It is urgent today as is in the past" for all Christians to be assisting immigrants and refugees, he said. "It is a task that involves everyone, without exception." 
  • Published in Vatican

Street saints and brave martyrs: Pope to declare 7 new saints

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will create seven new saints Oct. 16. Here are brief biographies of the six men and one woman about to be canonized.

-- Blessed Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, affectionately known as the "gaucho priest," was born in Argentina in 1840 and died in 1914. Ordained for the Archdiocese of Cordoba, he spent years traveling far and wide by mule to reach his flock. Pope Francis, in a message in 2013 for the priest's beatification -- a ceremony scheduled before the Argentine pope was elected -- said Father Brochero "did not stay in the sacristy combing the sheep," but went out in search of the lost.

"This is what Jesus wants today, missionary disciples, street priests of faith!" the pope said.

The new saint gained particular fame for caring for the sick and dying, devoting himself to ensuring they received the sacraments. He eventually contracted Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, possibly from sharing a cup of mate tea with someone who was infected.

-- Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio was martyred several weeks before his 15th birthday in 1928. Born in Michoacan, he wanted to join his brothers in the Cristero War, a civil war between rebels and the government of Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles who introduced tough anti-clerical laws and confiscated church property.

Although his enlistment was refused, the young boy's persistence wore down the rebel general and he was allowed to be the flag bearer of a unit. During an intense battle, he was captured by government forces and threatened with death if he didn't renounce his faith. In an attempt to break his resolve, he was forced to witness the hanging of a fellow soldier. Instead, the young boy encouraged the soldier, saying they would soon meet in heaven.

After enduring two weeks of torture following his capture, Blessed Sanchez was executed. Witnesses say that before his death, he drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it. He was declared a martyr by St. John Paul II and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

-- Blessed Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclerq, commonly called by his religious name, Salomone, entered the De La Salle Christian Brothers in 1767. After serving several years as a teacher and provincial, Blessed Leclerq along with his confreres found themselves and other Catholic clergy targeted during the French Revolution.

The Christian Brothers were among the many Catholic institutions deemed illegal for refusing to pledge the oath of allegiance to the new government after King Louis XVI was deposed. Despite being monitored, Blessed Leclerq continued to write to his relatives and even planned to form a new religious congregation.

However, he was arrested and imprisoned with other priests in a convent in Paris in 1792. Several weeks later, he and his fellow inmates were executed in the convent garden.

-- Known as the "bishop of the tabernacle," Blessed Manuel Gonzalez Garcia was deeply devoted to eucharistic adoration. Born in Seville, Blessed Gonzalez felt called to the priesthood at the age of 12. After his ordination in 1901, he was sent to preach at a church that he found was unclean and abandoned.

It was there, praying before the tabernacle that he decided to dedicate his life to bringing souls back to the church and founded the "Union Eucaristica Reparatoria" ("Eucharist Reparation Union"), an order devoted to the Eucharist and caring for the sick, the poor and abandoned children.

He was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Malaga and later named bishop of Palencia in 1935 by Pope Pius XI. He died in 1940 and because his final request was to be buried at the foot of the tabernacle, he was buried at the main altar of the Cathedral of Palencia.

-- Blessed Ludovico Pavoni was born in Brescia, Italy, in 1784. Ordained to the priesthood in 1807, he opened an oratory dedicated to the personal and social education of young people.

With his bishop's support, he also opened an orphanage and vocational school, which was among the first schools to admit deaf children. He established the Sons of Mary Immaculate, now commonly known as the Pavonians, to continue his work. He died in 1849.

-- Blessed Alfonso Maria Fusco was born in Angri, Italy, to parents who, hoping for a child, went to pray at the tomb of St. Alfonso Maria de Liguori. A priest there told them they would have a son, who they should name Alfonso and that he would become a priest. One year later, the baby was born.

After his ordination to the priesthood in 1863, he dedicated himself to evangelization and gained fame as an understanding confessor. He founded the Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene and opened the Little House of Providence, a home for abandoned children. After dedicating his life to opening similar houses throughout Italy, he died in 1910.

-- Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was born Elisabeth Catez in France in 1880 and died in 1906.

Against the wishes of her mother, who wanted her to marry, she entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in 1901. Throughout her life, she desired a deeper understanding of God's love, which she expressed in her writings. A writer and mystic, she died at the age of 26.
  • Published in Vatican

Pope announces 17 new cardinals, including three from U.S.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will conclude the Year of Mercy by creating 17 new cardinals, including three from the United States: Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the new Vatican office for laity, family and life; and Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis.
 
Announcing the names of the new cardinals Oct. 9, Pope Francis said, "Their coming from 11 nations expresses the universality of the Church that proclaims and witnesses the good news of God's mercy in every corner of the earth."
 
The new cardinals -- 13 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope and four over 80 being honored for their "clear Christian witness" -- will be inducted into the College of Cardinals Nov. 19, the eve of the close of the Year of Mercy.
 
The next day, Nov. 20, they will join Pope Francis and other cardinals in celebrating the feast of Christ the King and closing the Year of Mercy, the pope said.
 
Shortly after the pope's announcement, Archbishop Tobin tweeted: "I am shocked beyond words by the decision of the Holy Father. Please pray for me."
 
The first of the new cardinals announced by the pope was Archbishop Mario Zenari, who, the pope explained, "will remain apostolic nuncio to the beloved and martyred Syria."
 
The last of the cardinals he named was Albanian Father Ernest Simoni, an priest of the Archdiocese of Shkodre-Pult, who will turn 88 Oct. 18. He had moved Pope Francis to tears in 2014 when he spoke about his 30 years in prison or forced labor under Albania's militant atheistic regime.
 
Ordained in 1956, he was arrested on Christmas Eve 1963 while celebrating Mass and was sentenced to death by firing squad. He was beaten, placed for three months in solitary confinement and then tortured because he refused to denounce the Church.
 
He was eventually freed, but later arrested again and sent to a prison camp, where he was forced to work in a mine for 18 years and then 10 more years in sewage canals.
 
In creating 13 cardinal-electors -- those under the age of 80 -- Pope Francis will exceed by one the 120 cardinal-elector limit set by Blessed Paul VI. The number of potential electors will return to 120 Nov. 28 when Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr of Dakar, Senegal, celebrates his 80th birthday.
 
The youngest of the new cardinals -- who will be the youngest member of the College of Cardinals -- is 49-year-old Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic.
 
When violence broke out in his country, the archbishop along with a Protestant leader and a local imam began working together to build peace and counter efforts to turn the conflict into a religious war. Archbishop Nzapalainga hosted Pope Francis during a visit to Central African Republic in November 2015.
 
Seven of the 11 nations represented by the new cardinals did not have a cardinal at the time of the pope's announcement: Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Papua New Guinea will now have cardinal-electors. Malayasia, Lesotho and Albania will be represented in the College of Cardinals, although their cardinals will be too old to vote in a conclave.
 
Here is the list of new cardinals in the order in which Pope Francis announced them:
-- Archbishop Zenari, an Italian who is 70 years old.
-- Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic, 49.
-- Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, 71.
-- Archbishop Sergio da Rocha of Brasilia, Brazil, who will be 57 Oct. 21.
-- Archbishop Cupich, 67.
-- Archbishop Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 73.
-- Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela, who turns 72 Oct. 10.
-- Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, 69.
-- Archbishop Maurice Piat of Port-Louis, Mauritius, 75.
-- Bishop Farrell, 69.
-- Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico, 66.
-- Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 59.
-- Archbishop Tobin, 64.
-- Retired Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 84.
-- Retired Archbishop Renato Corti of Novara, Italy, 80.
-- Retired Bishop Sebastian Koto Khoarai of Mohale's Hoek, Lesotho, 87.
-- Father Simoni, 87.
 
 
  • Published in World

Pope highlights sanctity of life in Year of Mercy visits

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis donned a green hospital gown over his white cassock and entered the neonatal unit of a Rome hospital, peering in the incubators, making the sign of the cross and encouraging worried parents.

The trip to the babies' ward of Rome's San Giovanni Hospital and then to a hospice Sept. 16 were part of a series of Mercy Friday activities Pope Francis has been doing once a month during the Year of Mercy.

By visiting the ailing newborns and the dying on the same day, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "wanted to give a strong sign of the importance of life from its first moment to its natural end."

"Welcoming life and guaranteeing its dignity at every moment of its development is a teaching Pope Francis has underlined many times," the statement said. With the September visits he wanted to put "a concrete and tangible seal" on his teaching that living a life of mercy means giving special attention to those in the most precarious situations.

During the Mercy Friday visits, Pope Francis has spent time with migrants, the aged, at a recovery community for former drug addicts and at a shelter for women rescued from human trafficking and prostitution.

Pope Francis stopped by the emergency room of San Giovanni Hospital before going to the neonatal unit, where 12 little patients were being treated. Five of the newborns, including a pair of twins, were in intensive care and were intubated, the Vatican said. The pope also went to the maternity ward and nursery upstairs, greeting new parents and holding their bundles of joy.

At the neonatal unit, the Vatican said, the pope was "welcomed by the surprised personnel" and, like everyone else, put on a gown and followed all the hygiene procedures. 

Leaving the hospital, he drove across town to the Villa Speranza hospice, which hosts 30 terminally ill patients. The hospice is connected to Rome's Gemelli Hospital.

Pope Francis went into each of the rooms and greeted each patient, the Vatican said. "There was great surprise on the part of all -- patients and relatives -- who experienced moments of intense emotion with tears and smiles of joy."
  • Published in Vatican

Pope proposes care for creation as a new work of mercy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Calling for concrete actions that benefit human life and the environment, Pope Francis proposed adding the care and protection of creation to the traditional list of corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 

As a spiritual work of mercy, the pope said, care for creation requires "a grateful contemplation of God's world," while as a corporal work, it calls for "simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness." 

The pope reflected on the need for an integral ecology in Christian life in his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Sept. 1. 

The message, titled "Show Mercy to our Common Home," reflects on the day of prayer as an occasion for Christians to "reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation" and to thank God "for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care."

Presenting the pope's message at a news conference Sept. 1, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the day of prayer follows the example of the Orthodox Church, which initiated the prayer day in 1989. 

Pope Francis' message, the cardinal told journalists, calls on Christians to be "honest with ourselves" and acknowledge that "when we hurt the earth, we also hurt the poor" and thus commit "a sin against creation, against the poor and against those who have not yet been born."

"This means that we must examine our consciences and repent. I realize that this is not the way we traditionally think about sin. These are sins, Pope Francis says, that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed," Cardinal Turkson said. 

In his message, the pope said concern for the planet's future unites religious leaders and organizations and draws attention to "the moral and spiritual crisis" that is at the heart of environmental problems. "Christians or not, as people of faith and goodwill, we should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion," the pope said. 

Pollution and global warming, due partly to human activity, he said, has turned the beauty of God's creation into a "polluted wasteland" that impacts the world's poor, who have suffered the brunt of "irresponsible and selfish behavior."

"As an integral ecology emphasizes, human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings," the pope said.

The Year of Mercy, he added, offers Christians an opportunity to experience not only an interior conversion but also an "ecological conversion," one that recognizes "our responsibility to ourselves, our neighbors, creation and the Creator."

The first step on the path of conversion is to reflect on the harm done to creation by lifestyles inspired by "a distorted culture of prosperity," which brings about a "disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary," he said. 

Ecological conversion, the pope said, requires a serious examination of conscience, recognizing one's sins "against the Creator, against creation and against our brothers and sisters," and sincere repentance.

Sincere conversion and repentance are shown by a firm resolve to change course and bring about concrete actions that respect creation, such as energy conservation, recycling and caring concern for others.

"We must not think that these efforts are too small to improve our world. They call for a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread and encourage a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle," he wrote.

A change of course also requires governments to take steps to protect the environment. While praising the adoption of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, Pope Francis called on world leaders to honor their commitments in halting the rise of global temperatures and on citizens to hold them accountable and "advocate for even more ambitious goals."

Pope Francis said that adding care for creation to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy acknowledges human life and everything that surrounds it as "an object of mercy."

"In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing," Pope Francis said. "In response to them, we need to be creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy."
  • Published in Vatican
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