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Pope to diplomats: World peace depends on right to life, disarmament

Because everyone has a right to life, liberty and personal security, nations must find nonviolent solutions to conflict and difficulties, Pope Francis said.
 
A culture of peace "calls for unremitting efforts in favor of disarmament and the reduction of recourse to the use of armed force in the handling of international affairs," he said Jan. 8 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican.
 
Given the urgent need to favor dialogue and diplomacy in conflict resolution and to end the stockpiling of weapons, "I would therefore like to encourage a serene and wide-ranging debate on the subject, one that avoids polarizing the international community on such a sensitive issue," the pope said.
 
At the start of a new year, the pope dedicated his speech to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in December.
 
The declaration was an attempt to help the world's nations base their relations on "truth, justice, willing cooperation and freedom" by upholding the fundamental rights of all human beings, he said. The very foundation of freedom, justice and world peace, he said, quoting the document, is built on recognizing and respecting these rights.
 
However, in his nearly 50-minute speech to the diplomats, the pope cautioned that there has been a movement to create "new rights" that often not only conflict with each other, but can be at odds with the traditional values and cultures of many countries, while neglecting the real needs they have to face.
 
"Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable," he said.
 
Seven decades after the creation of the universal declaration, Pope Francis said, "it is painful to see how many fundamental rights continue to be violated today. First among all of these is the right of every human person to life, liberty and personal security."
 
War, violence and abortion all infringe on these rights, he said.
 
Not only are innocent unborn children discarded because they are "ill or malformed, or as a result of the selfishness of adults," the elderly are often cast aside especially when they are infirm, he said.
 
Ultimately, the right to life entails working for peace, he said, because "without peace, integral human development becomes unattainable."
 
Integral development, in fact, is intertwined with the need for disarmament, he said. "The proliferation of weapons clearly aggravates situations of conflict and entails enormous human and material costs that undermine development and the search for lasting peace."
 
The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last year shows how the desire for peace continues to be alive in the world, he said.
 
"The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced" and "nuclear weapons must be banned," particularly given the risk that a nuclear conflagration could be started by accident, Pope Francis said, quoting St. John XXIII's encyclical on peace, "Pacem in Terris."
 
"In this regard, it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world," Pope Francis said.
 
Fostering dialogue is also of primary importance for Israelis and Palestinians "in the wake of the tensions of recent weeks," he said, apparently referring to demonstrations that took place after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Pope Francis had said such a move would further destabilize the Middle East.
 
In his speech to diplomats, the pope repeated the Vatican's long-standing position that any policy change in the Holy Land must "be carefully weighed so as to avoid exacerbating hostilities" and should respect the "the status quo of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims."
 
"Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders," the pope said. "Despite the difficulties, a willingness to engage in dialogue and to resume negotiations remains the clearest way to achieving at last a peaceful coexistence between the two peoples."
 
In a list of world conflicts of concern, the pope also pointed to the need to support "the various peace initiatives aimed at helping Syria."
 
 
  • Published in World

Unwrapping the Good News

“…I proclaim to you good news of great joy…”(Lk 2:10).
 
The angel’s announcement at the birth of Jesus let all who heard it know God had fulfilled His promise: He had become one of us in “all things but sin” to set us free from the tyranny of sin. This is Good News of great joy! This angelic announcement was given to a world not unlike our own, riven with strife, political difficulty, senseless violence, tears and hardship, especially for those on the margins — the poor, the sick and those of low status in Roman society. And it was to these — the poor shepherds — that this announcement of Good News was first given.
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:18-21).
 
As He begins His public ministry, Jesus proclaims that the Good News first foretold by the prophet Isaiah to the people is now fulfilled in their hearing: He is here to offer liberty to captives, glad tidings to the poor and to bring sight to the blind. Who reacted with joy? The captives, those whom Jesus healed and the poor whom we see Jesus encounter throughout the Gospels, embraced Jesus with great joy. Yet not all reacted with joy — the leaders of the people responsible for governing and those responsible for leading them closer to God often reacted with hostility. What is our reaction to this Good News? Do we see that it is Good News? Are we ready to encounter Christ and look more deeply at what this Good News means for our lives — how can we be “set free?” Are we ready to sell all for this “priceless pearl” and bring others to encounter Christ and also be set free?
 
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
 
Pope Francis reminds the world of the Good News as he begins his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium:” “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (EG, 1). This is Good News! For who? For everyone. God heals wounds, fills empty hearts, provides purpose and gives each of us the grace to become that which He called us to be from the beginning. I have seen this repeatedly in my work with those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. This is Good News for everyone: those who are wounded, suffering from addiction, lonely, insecure, purposeless or seeking love. In the silence of our hearts, when we find ourselves alone with God, we realize our complete weakness and how much we need Christ and this Good News! Come Lord Jesus and set us free.
 
How do we unwrap the Good News?
 
The joy and peace of Christ should be tangible wherever the Good News is shared and lived. So as we look around our parishes and communities, we can ask what we see and compare the scene to what Francis describes in the early Church:
 
“In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians ‘ate their food with glad and generous hearts’ (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, ‘there was great joy’ (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be ‘filled with joy’ (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch ‘went on his way rejoicing’ (8:39), while Paul’s jailer ‘and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God’ (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”(EG, 5)
 
And why was there such joy? The Good News brings great joy! God has become one of us, Emmanuel, God with us. God has come among us: We have a Savior who knows us so completely and loves us absolutely so that we can always trust in His merciful love. He will always come to us when we call, and in that encounter He changes our lives for the better. Good News yesterday, today and forever. May we unwrap this Good News in our hearts and joyfully announce it anew to our communities and the world.

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Ephipany festival in Rome

Fifteen-year-old show choir member Molly Biggs of Topeka, Kansas, thought her biggest singing break would be performing in Kansas City.
 
As the New Year dawned, she wasn't in Kansas anymore.
 
She was standing in St. Peter's Square Jan. 3 -- surrounded by Bernini's colossal stone colonnade, a splashing fountain and an ancient Egyptian obelisk -- getting ready to perform with 33 other Kansans in St. Peter's Basilica, with the Sistine Chapel choir, at Mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6.
 
Before she fully understood what the choir trip to Rome was really about, "I thought maybe we would come to Rome to watch" the Sistine Chapel Choir sing, "but no, were going to go sing with them. My mind was blown," she told Catholic News Service.
 
The mastermind behind the choral odyssey was Chris Hubbard, who is the music teacher at St. Matthew's Catholic school and the director of music ministries at St. Matthew Catholic Church and Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church in the city of Topeka.
 
Hubbard, who had earlier experiences of the thrill of taking choir trips to different countries, said he wanted the children, teens and adults he taught or directed "to branch out, experience music in a different light and use the gifts given to us."
 
The choirs he works with, Hubbard said, only sang at Masses at their local parishes, and the majority of those who came with him had never left the United States, much less visited Italy.
 
People's initial doubts or fears meant "at first they didn't think it could happen" and a few pep talks were necessary, he said, to encourage them that "if you believe in God, then anything is possible."
 
Joan Atkins joined the choir at Mother Teresa after her husband passed away in November. The trip was special for her, she said, because she brought with her his rosary, "which he always called, 'my beads,'" to be blessed by the pope.
 
Hubbard said that once he got people on board, all that was left to do was raise the money for the trip. Cinnamon roll sales, garage sales, BBQ and spaghetti dinners and other events brought in about $30,000 -- enough to pay for one choir and split what was left equally among the others, he said.
 
After researching choir tour options, Hubbard said he chose an itinerary with Peter's Way Tours, a Jericho, New York-based company that specializes in arranging performances for choirs at the Vatican.
 
The weeklong trip Hubbard led included: singing an evening concert with the children's choir from the Diocese of Orange, California, in Rome's Church of St. Ignatius Jan. 3; Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Jan. 4; Mass celebrated by U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien in St. Peter's Basilica Jan. 5; and the papal Mass with the Sistine Chapel Choir Jan. 6.
 
Molly's 16-year-old sister, Emma, said at first their parents didn't want them to go because of security concerns given past terrorist attacks in Europe. "But then our mom heard a voice in her head and she let us start fundraising."
 
Emma said she loves the added knowledge music gives her, "like knowing notes, pitch, melody, rhythm." Music also "makes people feel more comfortable" and open to new or faith experiences; it is universal and "people of any language can understand it," she said.
 
The Vatican shares the teen's view of the value of music, said Msgr. Vincenzo De Gregorio, who heads the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome.
 
"The language of art, culture and music" can bring people together in a way that "the language of politics, economics and management" often fail to do, he said.
 
And, he said, by opening up churches, chapels and other sacred spaces at the Vatican and in Rome, singers from around the world experience their craft at "a whole new level."
 
Imagine, the monsignor said, the kind of excitement and emotion these visitors experience when they perform in a space "surrounded by the works of Michelangelo" or other iconic artists.
 
Still, 11-year-old Praizjha Farrant from St. Matthew's School and the choir at Mother Teresa, was not completely convinced.
 
She said that even though she has a beautiful voice and loves to sing, she hates singing in front of people and planned to "not sing that loud" during the papal Mass.
 
When asked why she sang in the choir, she said, "My mom made me," which made her "mad," but just this one time it was OK "because I get to go to Rome."
 
Gathered with group members after seeing Pope Francis at the general audience Jan. 3, Hubbard said, "I'm so thrilled they decided to take a trip outside of Topeka. It's so rewarding for our faith and we are learning from each other, what we are capable of doing."
 
  • Published in World

Pope: Coldest hearts can be warmed by Christmas cheer

Christmas joy expressed through music brings a message of peace and brotherhood for those most in need, Pope Francis said.
 
Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the talents of musicians and artists during the festive season "is a formidable way to open the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas."
 
"Christmas is a heartfelt feast, participatory, capable of warming the coldest hearts, of removing the walls of indifference toward one's neighbor, of encouraging openness toward the other and giving freely," he said Dec. 15.
 
The proceeds of the Dec. 16 concert, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations -- Scholas Occurrentes and the "Don Bosco in the World" Foundation -- to benefit children's programs in Argentina and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
The pope thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "the needs of the needy and disadvantaged who beg for help and solidarity" and for promoting peace and compassion through music.
 
Pope Francis said he hoped the concert would be "an occasion to sow tenderness -- this word that is often forgotten today. Violence, war, no! Tenderness! That it may sow tenderness, peace and hospitality which flows from the grotto in Bethlehem," the pope said.
 
Among the international cast of musicians meeting the pope and performing at the concert were Annie Lennox and Patti Smith.
 
  • Published in Vatican

Welcoming new Americans

Our commitment to host a refugee family in our home and to acclimate them to American life was to last one week.
 
In 2004, my husband, toddler son and I waited at Burlington Airport as a Somali-Bantu woman named Zahara Arbow came though the arrivals door with a baby knotted to her back. Behind her trailed four youngsters, ages 3, 5, 7 and 9, shuffling in oversized Keds supplied by the resettlement agency.
 
At the 23rd hour, Zahara’s husband stayed behind in the Kenyan refugee camp where she bore each of her children. So she came as a single mother to Vermont, a name that meant nothing to her other than a place of safety where her children could be educated.
 
This stoic woman became excited during one of our first drives around town. A translator communicated her question posed to me as she pointed out the window: “Is that the school where my children will go?”
 
In those first days, I helped round up coats and boots, and prepped the family for the impending cold. The only explanation of the winter season they received prior to resettlement was to hold a small block of ice during an orientation session in the camp. I recall the eldest daughter, Madina, phoning me after the first snowfall, asking if it was safe to go outside; they feared they might die of exposure.
 
We ferried the family to doctor appointments and grocery stores until Zahara got a driver’s license and purchased her own van. My husband arranged mentors for each of the children.
 
Through the years, we attended parent-teacher conferences, graduations and college tours and even provided refuge for two of the girls when they got kicked out of the house by their new stepfather.
 
Why I ever imagined that our hosting commitment would last a week, I don’t know. Thankfully, our connection has continued strong for 13 years to the present day.
 
Our encounter with this refugee family (they are American citizens now) has been nothing short of life changing for our family. We acknowledge the “First World problems” we used to fuss over, such as dropped cell service or a stained favorite T-shirt. Our expectations about what constitutes a meaningful life have shifted — from acquiring things (we downsized our home recently) to engaging with people; from fulfilling wants to serving needs. We fail miserably at times.
 
Still, our relationship with this New American family keeps us anchored in what’s most important as followers of Jesus. At no other time in human history have so many people been forcibly displaced throughout the world — some 65.6 million people, with an increasing 20 people per minute.
 
One of Pope Francis’ signature themes in recent years has been to encourage people of faith to create “cultures of encounter” with refugees and migrants, to fight indifference in ourselves and to share the journey with people outside of our normal lives.
 
The pope predicts an inner transformation of sorts; I can say with utmost humility, I know of what he speaks.
 

--By Marybeth Christie Redmond
 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Don't wait to be perfect to answer vocational call, pope says

Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said.
 
"Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
 
"It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!"
 
The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."
 
In his message, Pope Francis said God's call "is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experiences" because God "comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom."
 
Christians, he said, must learn to listen carefully and "view things with the eyes of faith" in order to listen to his voice which is "drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts."
 
"We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world," the pope said.
 
Listening is increasingly difficult in today's society, which is "over stimulated and bombarded by information" and "prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation" and discerning God's plan, he said.
 
Often stifled by "the temptations of ideology and negativity," he said, Christians need spiritual discernment which allows them to "discover the places, the means and situations through which" God's calls them.
 
"Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to 'read within' his or her life and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on His mission," Pope Francis said.
 
He also urged men and women to live out their calling once it is discovered and "become a witness of the Lord here and now," whether in marriage or priesthood or consecrated life.
 
"If (God) lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to His kingdom, then we should have no fear!" Pope Francis said.
 
"It is beautiful -- and a great grace," he said, "to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters."
 
  • Published in World

Prayers for peace in South Sudan, Congo

Although it was not possible to visit South Sudan as he had hoped, Pope Francis said that "prayer is more important, because it is more powerful. Prayer works by the power of God for whom nothing is impossible."
 
With hundreds of women and men from dozens of religious orders, with migrants from Africa and representatives from a number of Christian churches and a variety of religions, the pope presided thismonth over an evening prayer service for peace in South Sudan and Congo.
 
As the service began in St. Peter's Basilica, religious carried in procession large photographs of women and children from the two war-torn countries. The images were placed on easels at the foot of the sanctuary steps.
 
Flanking the photos were paintings of St. Josephine Bakhita from Sudan and Blessed Anuarite Nengapeta from Congo.
 
On the cross, Pope Francis said, Jesus "took upon himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies."
 
The pope's brief reflection at the service ended with a series of prayers that began: "May the risen Lord break down the walls of hostility that today divide brothers and sisters, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
 
Echoing the petitions read during the service, he prayed that God would "comfort those women who are the victims of violence in war zones and throughout the world."
 
"May he protect children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself," he prayed. Then he added, "How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children! Here war shows its most horrid face."
 
He also prayed that God would sustain those who work for peace and would "strengthen in government officials and all leaders a spirit which is noble, upright, steadfast and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation."
 
The morning after the prayer service, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced Pope Francis was sending financial aid to dioceses in Congo's Kasai region, which has been particularly embroiled in violence. The dicastery said an estimated 3,400 people have been killed there in recent months.
 
An early November note from Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of Catholic charities, said that in addition to those killed in the fighting, "hundreds have been mutilated and raped. Villages have been sacked and burned, and homes, churches, schools and health centers destroyed. By July 2017, the United Nations had already documented 80 mass graves."
 
"An estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced in the country," the report said. "The conflict has since degenerated into inter-ethnic fighting and the recruitment of children as soldiers by the militias is commonplace."
 
  • Published in World

First World Day of the Poor

People have a basic choice in the way they live: either striving to build up treasures on Earth or giving to others in order to gain heaven, Pope Francis said.
 
"What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes," the pope said in his homily Nov. 19, the first World Day of the Poor.
 
Between 6,000 and 7,000 poor people attended the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica as special guests, the Vatican said. While almost all of them live in Europe, they include migrants and refugees from all over the world.
 
Among the altar servers were young men who are either poor, migrants or homeless. The first reader at the Mass, Tony Battah, is a refugee from Syria. Those presenting the gifts at the offertory were led by the Zambardi family from Turin, whom the Vatican described as living in a "precarious condition" and whose 1-year-old daughter has cystic fibrosis.
 
In addition to the bread and wine that were consecrated at the Mass, the offertory included a large basket of bread and rolls that were blessed to be shared at the lunch the pope was offering after Mass. Some 1,500 poor people joined the pope in the Vatican's audience hall for the meal, while the other special guests were served at the Pontifical North American College -- the U.S. seminary in Rome -- and other seminaries and Catholic-run soup kitchens nearby.
 
Preaching about the Gospel "parable of the talents" (Mt 25:14-30), Pope Francis said the servant in the story who buried his master's money was rebuked not because he did something wrong, but because he failed to do something good with what he was given.
 
"All too often, we have the idea that we haven't done anything wrong, and so we rest content, presuming that we are good and just," the pope said. "But to do no wrong is not enough. God is not an inspector looking for unstamped tickets; he is a Father looking for children to whom he can entrust his property and his plans."
 
If in the eyes of the world, the poor they have little value, he said, "they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our 'passport to paradise.' For us it is an evangelical duty to care for them, as our real riches, and to do so not only by giving them bread, but also by breaking with them the bread of God's word, which is addressed first to them."
 
Where the poor are concerned, the pope said, too many people are often guilty of a sin of omission or indifference.
 
Thinking it is "society's problem" to solve, looking the other way when passing a beggar or changing the channel when the news shows something disturbing are not Christian responses, he said.
 
"God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation," he said, "but whether we did some good."
 
People please God in a similar way to how they please anyone they love. They learn what that person likes and gives that to him or her, the pope said.
 
Offering special prayers for people living in poverty because of war and conflict, the pope asked the international community to make special efforts to bring peace to those areas, especially the Middle East.
 
Pope Francis made a specific plea for stability in Lebanon, which is in the middle of a political crisis after its prime minister announced his resignation. He prayed the country would "continue to be a 'message' of respect and coexistence throughout the region and for the whole world."
 
  • Published in World
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