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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."
 

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."
 

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.

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.

Vatican concerned about U.S. policies

The Vatican hopes that U.S. bishops and others will continue to raise their voices in defense of the obligation to fight climate change and, in time, can persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to change his position, a top Vatican official said.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told a group of reporters March 30 that there is concern at the Vatican over Trump's policies, including on the environment.

Trump's position on immigration and his efforts to roll back U.S. commitments on environmental regulations are "a challenge for us," said the cardinal, whose office works on both questions and is charged with assisting bishops around the world as they promote Catholic social teaching. 

Still, he said, "we are full of hope that things can change."

The first sign of hope, he said, is the growing number of "dissenting voices," who are calling attention to the scientific facts surrounding climate change and the ethical obligation to act to protect the environment for current and future generations.

"This, for us, is a sign that little by little, other positions and political voices will emerge, and so we hope that Trump himself will reconsider some of his decisions," the cardinal said.

"Various American bishops have already spoken about the president's position, and this could have an influence," he said. Perhaps, Trump will come to see that not all the promises he made in the campaign would be good for the country, he added.

A change in position is not impossible, Cardinal Turkson said. "There is another superpower -- China -- that is rethinking its position" and has allocated funds for programs to reduce dangerous emissions. "One hopes it is not only because it is a country with ever more smog and pollution."

The cardinal's remarks came a day after the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development said Trump's executive order calling for a review of the Clean Power Plan jeopardizes environmental protections and moves the country away from a national carbon standard to help meet domestic and international goals to ease greenhouse gas emissions.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the committee, said in a statement March 29 the order fails to offer a "sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation."

Bishop Dewane suggested that an integral approach involving various components of U.S. society can reduce power plant emissions and still encourage economic growth and protect the environment.

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."

Pope: Lent breathes life into world

Lent is a time to receive God's breath of life, a breath that saves humanity from suffocating under the weight of selfishness, indifference and piety devoid of sincerity, Pope Francis said. 

"Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters," the pope said March 1 during an Ash Wednesday Mass.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass after making the traditional Ash Wednesday procession from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill.

After receiving ashes on top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, the pope distributed ashes to the cardinals, his closest aides, some Benedictines and Dominicans. 

He also distributed ashes to a family and to two members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.  

Lent, he said, is a time to say "no" to "all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion."

The church's Lenten journey toward the celebration of Christ's passion, death and resurrection is made on a road "leading from slavery to freedom" and "from suffering to joy," he said. "Lent is a path: It leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God's children."

The ashes, while a symbol of humanity's origin from the earth, the pope said, is also a reminder that God breathes new life into people in order to save them from the suffocation of "petty ambition" and "silent indifference."

"The breath of God's life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt," the pope said. 

The Lenten season, he continued, is a "time for saying no" to the asphyxia caused by superficial and simplistic analyses that "fail to grasp the complexity of problems" of those who suffer most.

"Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good," the pope said.

Instead, Pope Francis said, Lent is a time for Christians to remember God's mercy and "not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our life for the good we are able to do."

"Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity," the pope said.
 

Respect earth and others, says pope

Development projects involving indigenous communities must be planned in consultation with them and must respect their traditional relationship to the land, Pope Francis said.

Having the "prior and informed consent" of the native communities who could be impacted by development projects is essential for "peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict," the pope said Feb. 15 during a meeting with about three dozen representative of indigenous communities.

The representatives from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean were in Rome for continuing discussions with the U.N.-related International Fund for Agricultural Development. Their talks aim at ensuring development projects impacting native communities are carried out in consultation with them and that they respect their land, cultures and traditions.

"I believe that the central issue is how to reconcile the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories," the pope said. "This is especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth."

While none of the representatives were from North America, several news outlets immediately connected the pope's remarks to the ongoing protests over the construction of a leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would go through indigenous land in North Dakota. Several Sioux tribes have protested the pipeline project saying it endangers the Standing Rock reservation's water supply and infringes on sacred tribal grounds.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis praised the indigenous communities for approaching progress "with a special care for Mother Earth. In this moment in which humanity is committing a grave sin in not caring for the earth, I urge you to continue to bear witness to this. And do not allow new technologies -- which are legitimate and good -- but do not allow those that destroy the earth, that destroy the environment and ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples."

Pope leads prayers for migrants, trafficking victims

Marking the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, Pope Francis urged Christians to help victims of human trafficking and migrants, especially the Rohingya people being chased from Myanmar.

For the Catholic Church, St. Bakhita's feast day, Feb. 8, is a day of prayer for victims of trafficking.

Pope Francis asked government officials around the world to "decisively combat this plague" of human trafficking, paying particular attention to trafficking in children. "Every effort must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime."

Describing St. Bakhita as a "young woman who was enslaved in Africa, exploited, humiliated," Pope Francis said she never gave up hope and, finally, she was able to migrate to Europe.

Holding up a booklet with a photograph of the Sudanese saint, who died in Italy in 1947, the pope continued telling her story. In Europe, he said, "she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun," joining the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

"Let us pray to St. Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much," the pope said.

"And speaking of migrants who are exploited and chased away, I want to pray with you today in a special way for our Rohingya brothers and sisters," the pope continued. "These people, thrown out of Myanmar, move from one place to another because no one wants them."

Pope Francis told the estimated 7,000 people at his audience that the Rohingya, who are Muslim, "are good people. They are our brothers and sisters. They have been suffering for years. They have been tortured, killed, just because they want to keep their traditions and their Muslim faith."

He led the audience in praying the Lord's Prayer "for our Rohingya brothers and sisters."

In a report released Feb. 3, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said since October, there had been escalating violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The report cited eyewitness reports of mass gang-rape, killings -- including of babies and young children -- beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.

An estimated 66,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since October, the report said.

The recent violence, the U.N. said, "follows a long-standing pattern of violations and abuses; systematic and systemic discrimination; and policies of exclusion and marginalization against the Rohingya that have been in place for decades in northern Rakhine state."

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis continued to discuss the characteristics of Christian hope, which should be both tender and strong enough to support those who suffer and despair.

The Gospel does not call Christians to pity the suffering, but to have compassion, which means suffering with them, listening to them, encouraging them and offering a helping hand, the pope said.

The Gospel calls Christians "not to build walls, but bridges, not to repay evil with evil, but to defeat evil with goodness (and) offense with forgiveness, to live in peace with all," he said. "This is the church. And this is what Christian hope accomplishes when it takes on the strong and, at the same time, tender features of love."
 

Magi's journey reflects people's longing for God

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Magi had the courage to set out on a journey in the hope of finding something new, unlike Herod who was full of himself and unwilling to change his ways, Pope Francis said.

The Wise Men who set out from the East in search of Jesus personify all those who long for God and reflect "all those who in their lives have let their hearts be anesthetized," the pope said Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

"The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuity," he said.

Thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter's Basilica as the pope entered to the sounds of the choir singing "Angels we have heard on high" in Latin. Before taking his place in front of the altar, the pope stood in front of a statue of baby Jesus, spending several minutes in veneration before kissing it.

The pope said that the Magi adoring the newborn king highlight two specific actions: seeing and worshipping.

Seeing the star of Bethlehem did not prompt them to embark on their journey but rather, "they saw the star because they had already set out," he said.

"Their hearts were open to the horizon and they could see what the heavens were showing them, for they were guided by an inner restlessness. They were open to something new," the pope said.

This restlessness, he continued, awakens a longing for God that exists in the hearts of all believers who know "that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present."

It is holy longing for God "that helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life. A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom," the pope said.

Recalling the biblical figures of Simeon, the prodigal son, and Mary Magdalene, the pope said this longing for God "draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change," and helps us seek Christ.

However, the figure of King Herod presents a different attitude of bewilderment and fear that, when confronted with something new, "closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes."

The quest of the Magi led them first to Herod's palace that, although it befits the birth of king, is only a sign of "power, outward appearances and superiority. Idols that promise only sorrow and enslavement," he said.

"There, in the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be loved. For only under the banner of freedom, not tyranny, is it possible to realize that the gaze of this unknown but desired king does not abase, enslave, or imprison us," the pope said. 

Unlike the Magi, the pope added, Herod is unable to worship the newborn king because he was unwilling to change his way of thinking and "did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him."

Christians are called to imitate the wise men who, "weary of the Herods of their own day," set out in search of the promise of something new.

"The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable infant, the unexpected and unknown child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God," the pope said.

After the Mass, Pope Francis greeted tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. 

A colorful parade led by the sounds of trumpets and drums, people dressed in traditional and festive clothing contributed to the cheerful atmosphere despite the chilly weather. 

Explaining the significance of the Wise Men who presented their gifts to Christ after adoring him, the pope gave the crowds a gift: a small booklet of reflections on mercy. 

The book, entitled "Icons of Mercy," presents "six Gospel episodes that recall the experience of people transformed by Jesus' love: the sinful woman, Zacchaeus, Matthew, the publican, the Samaritan, the good thief and the apostle Peter. Six icons of mercy," the papal almoner's office said. 

Together with the homeless, poor men and women and refugees, religious men and women distributed the books to the crowd. As a thank you, Pope also offered more than 300 homeless men and women sandwiches and drinks.

 
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