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Pope washes 12 inmates' feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integral development means being in relationship, says pope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syrian refugees in Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 popes’ close bond to Fatima

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

Loving families bring joy, mercy to world, says pope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-growth and pro-environment

President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017 that rescinds and weakens numerous environmental protections, and effectively dismantles the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the national program designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32% in relation to 2015 levels by the year 2030. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest pollution emitting sector, making up just under one-third of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for 'our own country to curtail carbon emissions,'" said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in response to the order. "This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation. Yesterday's action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals." 

The USCCB has voiced support for a national carbon emission standard in recent years, though the Church does not privilege one set of technical, economic, or political approaches over another.  Bishop Dewane stresses that, although the CPP is not the only possible mechanism for reducing carbon emissions, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.    

"The EPA Administrator has repeatedly stated that policies must be pro-growth and pro-environment.  An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done.  Many states have already made great progress toward carbon mitigation goals under the CPP, and this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered. Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si', focuses on both the 'the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  With this recent order, the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation."
  • Published in Nation

Common dreams, diverse backgrounds

The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States."

Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

"To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes."

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and "listen to their story, and share your own"; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system" in a way that would safeguard the country's security and "our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: "The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."

The bishops urged Catholics to "not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future."

"As shepherds of a pilgrim church," they wrote, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you."

Those families could include "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence," they said, adding that "it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

The bishops said that "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well."

"When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?" they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration's rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump's new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find "common dreams for our children" in their "diverse backgrounds."

"Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, 'out of many, one,'" they said. "In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin."

Christ, as the word made flesh, "strengthens us to bring our words to life," they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, "in our own small way," can "bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life": by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

"Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children," the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to "listen to their story and share your own." The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees "both to comfort them and to help them know their rights."

They also urged Catholics to "to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ."

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland."

Full text of the Bishops' Administrative Committee statement, Living As A People Of God In Unsettled Times
 
  • Published in Nation

Feast of St. Joseph

St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church and Jesus' earthly father, was a "dreamer capable of accepting the task" entrusted to him by God, Pope Francis said.
 
"This man takes God's promise and brings it forward in silence with strength; he brings it forward so that whatever God wants is fulfilled," the pope said March 20 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.
 
Because the March 19 feast of St. Joseph fell on a Sunday this year, the liturgical commemoration of the feast was moved to March 20.
 
St. Joseph, the pope said in his homily, provides an example needed "in this time where there is a strong sense of orphanhood."
 
By marrying Mary, Joseph ensures that Jesus is born of the House of David and provides him with an earthly father and with a stable family.
 
The biblical St. Joseph is "a man who doesn't speak but obeys, a man of tenderness, a man capable of fulfilling his promises so that they become solid, secure," he said.
Christians, especially young people, should follow the example of St. Joseph who was not afraid to listen to his dreams like when he was told in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
 
When "we dream great things, beautiful things, we draw close to God's dream, the things that God dreams for us," the pope said.
 
"May he give young people -- because he, too, was young -- the ability to dream, to risk and to take on difficult tasks that they have seen in their dreams," Pope Francis said.
 
The pope also spoke about the feast during his Sunday Angelus address March 19, which is celebrated as Fathers' Day in Italy. Pope Francis led the crowds in St. Peter's Square in applauding fathers everyone.
 
Pope Francis told the crowd about the beatification March 18 of Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman and father who was sentenced to death for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
 
He died of dysentery on the way to the Dachau concentration camp Feb. 24, 1945.
 
Like St. Joseph, Blessed Mayr-Nusser is a "model for the lay faithful, especially for fathers, who we remember with great affection today," the pope said.
 
Before reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading in which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well.
 
The "tiring and tedious work" of drawing water from a well, the pope explained, mirrored the Samaritan woman's fruitless efforts to quench her thirst "for affection and a full life" by having had five husbands.
 
"Perhaps we are going in search of 'wells' whose waters do not quench us. When we forget the true water, we go in search of wells that do not have clean water," the pope said.
 
The Lenten season, he added, is a time for Christians to renew the grace of baptism and to "quench our thirst at the source of the word of God and of his Holy Spirit."
 
  • Published in World
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