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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.

 

Defend and protect children, says pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Stand up and protect children from exploitation, slaughter and abuse, which includes committing to a policy of "zero tolerance" of sexual abuse by clergy, Pope Francis told the world's bishops.

Wake up to what is happening to so many of today's innocents and be moved by their plight and the cries of their mothers to do everything to protect life, helping it "be born and grow," he said in a letter sent to bishops commemorating the feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28. The Vatican press office published the letter and translations from the original Italian Jan. 2.

Just as King Herod's men slaughtered young children of Bethlehem in his "unbridled thirst for power," there are plenty of new Herods today -- gang members, criminal networks and "merchants of death" -- "who devour the innocence of our children" through slave labor, prostitution and exploitation, he said. Wars and forced immigration also strip children of their innocence, joy and dignity, he added.

The prophet Jeremiah was aware of this "sobbing and loud lamentation" and knew that Rachel was "weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled since they were no more."

"Today too, we hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to ignore or to silence," Pope Francis said.


"Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears," and the Gospel writers "did not disguise reality to make it more credible or attractive."

Christmas and the birth of the son of God aren't about escaping reality, but are a way to help "contemplate this cry of pain, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbors, especially where children are involved. It also means realizing that that sad chapter in history is still being written today."

Given such challenges, Pope Francis told the world's bishops to look to St. Joseph as a role model.

This obedient and loyal man was capable of recognizing and listening to God's voice, which meant St. Joseph could let himself be guided by his will and be moved by "what was going on around him and was able to interpret these events realistically."

"The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to be men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us," he said.

Like St. Joseph, "we are asked not to let ourselves be robbed of joy. We are asked to protect this joy from the Herods of our own time. Like Joseph, we need the courage to respond to this reality, to arise and take it firmly in hand."

The church weeps not only for children suffering the pain of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, forced displacement, slavery and sexual exploitation, the pope said, she weeps "because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests."

"It is a sin that shames us," he said, that people who were responsible for caring for children, "destroyed their dignity."

Deploring "the sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power," the church also begs for forgiveness, he said.

"Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to 'zero tolerance,'" he said.

The pope urged the bishops to remember that Christian joy doesn't ignore or sugarcoat reality, but "is born from a call" to embrace and protect life, "especially that of the holy innocents."

He asked they renew their commitment to be shepherds with the courage to acknowledge what so many children are experiencing today and to work to guarantee the kind of conditions needed so their dignity will be respected and defended.

- - -

Editors: The text of the pope's letter in English and Spanish can be found on the Vatican website.

Pope establishes new office for promoting integral human development

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To promote Catholic social teaching and ensure appropriate assistance to vulnerable people -- especially victims of war, refugees and the sick -- Pope Francis has established a new office combining the responsibilities of four pontifical councils. 

In an apostolic letter given "motu proprio" (on his own initiative) and published by the Vatican Aug. 31, the pope said the new "Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development" will merge the pontifical councils for Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Migrants and Travelers, and Health Care Ministry. 

The pope named Cardinal Peter Turkson, current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to serve as prefect of the new office, which begins functioning Jan. 1.

In his letter signed Aug. 17, the pope said, "This dicastery will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture."

According to the new statutes, the prefect will be assisted by a secretary and "at least one undersecretary." Laypeople can be chosen for either role.

While Cardinal Turkson will lead the new office, a section dedicated to refugees and migrants will be led "ad tempus" (for the time being) directly by the pope, who will "exercise it in the manner he deems appropriate," the statutes state. 

The new dicastery's responsibilities include gathering news and information regarding areas of justice and peace and the protection of human rights, particularly in areas where people are plagued by violence, migration, slavery, torture and exploitation, the Vatican said. 

The new office will work to "deepen the social doctrine of the church and ensure that it is widely known and put into practice and that social, economic and political relationships will be increasingly permeated by the spirit of the Gospel," the press statement said. 

Ensuring that local churches offer appropriate material and spiritual assistance to the sick, migrants, refugees and itinerant people also is part of the new office's mandate. 

The Dicastery for Promoting Integrating Human Development will have separate commissions for charity, ecology and health workers and will maintain a "close relationship" with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Vatican said. 

Pope Francis approved the statutes "ad experimentum" (on a trial basis) for an unspecified period of time.

World must welcome prince of peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The song of the angels that heralded the birth of Christ urges men and women to seek peace in a world divided by war, terrorism and greed, Pope Francis said. 

"Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace," the pope said Dec. 25. 

Migrants, refugees, children suffering due to hunger and war, victims of human trafficking as well as social and economic unrest were also remembered by the pope.

"Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of the few, because of the sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery," he said. 

An estimated 40,000 people slowly made their way through security checkpoints into St. Peter's Square to attend the pope's solemn Christmas blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world). 

Heightened security following the Dec. 19 terrorist attack in Berlin, Germany was evident as police cordoned off streets and established multiple checkpoints throughout the area. 

While police presence is standard for major events in St. Peter's, the added security was a sign of the times where crowded areas have become a target for terrorists.

The pope prayed for "peace to those who have lost a person dear to them as a result of brutal acts of terrorism that has sown fear and death into the hearts of so many countries and cities."

Countries ravaged by the scourge of war were also in the pope's thoughts, particularly in "the war-torn land of Syria, where far too much blood has been spilled," especially in the city Aleppo. The pope called on the world to support the people of Syria with humanitarian assistance and to put an end to the conflict.

"It is time for weapons to be silenced forever and the international community to actively seek a negotiated solution so that civil coexistence can be restored in the country," he said. 

The pope appealed for peace for the people of Ukraine, "who to this day suffer the consequences of the conflict." 

The Vatican announced Dec. 23 that the first installment of 6 million euro ($6.3 million) would be distributed on Christmas Day to assist in relief efforts in Ukraine. Earlier this year, the pope called for a collection across churches in Europe to help the people of the war-torn country.  

Iraq, Libya and Yemen, "where their peoples suffer war and the brutality of terrorism," were in the pope's prayers so that they may "be able to once again find unity and harmony." 

The pope also remembered Africa, especially Nigeria where fundamentalist terrorism "exploits children in order to perpetrate horror and death" as well as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling on their leaders to choose the path of dialogue rather than "the mindset of conflict."

He also prayed for peace in the Holy Land and that Israelis and Palestinians turn away from hate and revenge while having "the courage and determination to write a new page of history."

Praying for an end to current tensions, the pope also called for peace in Venezuela, Colombia, Myanmar and the Korean peninsula

Christ's birth, he said, is a sign of joy and a call for the world to contemplate "the child Jesus who gives hope once again to every person on the face of the earth."

"'For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.' He is the 'prince of peace;' let us welcome him."

After his address, the bells of St. Peter's rang loudly, pealing throughout the square as they did in the evening Dec. 24 following the proclamation of Jesus' birth during Christmas Mass.  

The darkness of the night sky over St. Peter's Basilica was broken by the bright lights emanating from the colonnade and the Christmas tree from the square.

Temperatures just above 40 degrees didn't stop thousands of people unable to enter the packed basilica from participating in the Mass, sitting outside and watching the Mass on giant screens in St. Peter's Square. 

In his homily, the pope said the love of God is made visible at Christ's birth on a night of glory, joy and light "which would illuminates those who walk in darkness."

The shepherds are a witness to "the enduring sign" of finding Jesus when they discover him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger;" a sign that is given to all Christians today, the pope said. 

"If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes. God is there," he said. 

This sign of humility, he added, also reveals a paradox: God who chose not to reveal himself through power, but rather through the "poverty of a stable" and "in the simplicity of life."

"In order to discover him, we need to go there, where he is: we need to bow down, humble ourselves, make ourselves small," the pope said. 

The image of the child in the manger, he continued, is a challenge for all Christians to "leave behind fleeting illusions" and "renounce insatiable claims." 

It is also a calling for the world to respond to the sufferings of children in this age who "suffer the squalid mangers that devour dignity: hiding underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of a large city, at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants," the pope said. 

"Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who do not have toys in their hands, but rather weapons," he said. 

Christmas is not only a mystery of hope but also of sadness where "love is not received and life discarded" as seen by the indifference felt by Mary and Joseph "who found the doors closed and placed Jesus in a manger."

That same indifference, he said, exists today when commercialism overshadows the light of God and "when we are concerned for gifts but cold towards those who are marginalized."

"This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed!" the pope said departing from his prepared remarks. 

However, the hope of Christmas is the light that outshines this darkness and "draws us to himself" through his humble birth in Bethlehem," he said. 

Noting that Bethlehem means "house of bread," the pope said that Jesus was born to nourish us, creating a "direct thread joining the manger and the cross." 

"In this way, he seems to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he enters life to give us his life; he comes into our world to give us his love. He does not come to devour or to command but to nourish and to serve," the pope said. 

Pope Francis said that like the shepherds, who although marginalized are chosen to witness the birth of Christ, Christians are reminded of God's closeness and can enjoy the true spirit of Christmas: "the beauty of being loved by God."

"Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us say to him: thank you, thank you because you have done all this for me," the pope said.

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."

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." 

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.
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