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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.

Pope highlights sanctity of life in Year of Mercy visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope proposes care for creation as a new work of mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis recognizes miracle needed to canonize Mother Teresa of Kolkata

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, thus paving the way for her canonization.

Pope Francis signed the decree for Blessed Teresa's cause and advanced three other sainthood causes on Dec. 17, the Vatican announced.

Although the date for the canonization ceremony will be officially announced during the next consistory of cardinals in February, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Vatican office organizing the Holy Year of Mercy events, had said it would be Sept. 4. That date celebrates the Jubilee of workers and volunteers of mercy and comes the day before the 19th anniversary of her death, Sept. 5, 1997.

The postulator for her sainthood cause, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, said the second miracle that was approved involved the healing of a now 42-yearold mechanical engineer in Santos, Brazil.

Doctors diagnosed the man with a viral brain infection that resulted in multiple brain abscesses, the priest said in a statement published Dec. 18 by AsiaNews, the Rome-based missionary news agency. Treatments given were ineffective and the man went into a coma, the postulator wrote.

The then-newly married man's wife had spent months praying to Blessed Teresa and her prayers were joined by those of her relatives and friends when her dying husband was taken to the operating room Dec. 9, 2008.

When the surgeon entered the operating room, he reported that he found the patient awake, free of pain and asking, "What am I doing here?" Doctors reported the man showed no more symptoms and a Vatican medical commission voted unanimously in September 2015 that the healing was inexplicable.

St. John Paul II had made an exception to the usual canonization process in Mother Teresa's case by allowing her sainthood cause to be opened without waiting the usual five years after a candidate's death. He beatified her in 2003.

The order she started – the Missionaries of Charity – continues its outreach to the "poorest of the poor."

Among the other decrees approved Dec. 17, the pope recognized the heroic virtues of Comboni Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli, an Italian surgeon, priest and missionary who dedicated his life to caring for people in Uganda, where he also founded a hospital and midwifery school before his death in 1987. His father ran the highly successful Ambrosoli honey company.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of De La Salle Brother Leonardo Lanzuela Martinez of Spain (1894-1976) and Heinrich Hahn, a German surgeon.

Born in 1800, the lay Catholic doctor was the father of 10 children and dedicated much of his activity to providing medical care to the poor. He was also involved in public service, even serving in the German parliament. He founded the St. Francis Xavier Mission Society in Germany and the "Giuseppino" Institute for those suffering from incurable illnesses. He died in 1882. (CNS)

 

Time for forgiveness has begun, pope says, as holy doors open worldwide

With the opening the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Pope Francis declared that the time for tenderness, joy and forgiveness had begun.

As holy doors around the world were opened at city cathedrals, major churches and sanctuaries Dec. 13, the pope said this simple gesture of opening God's house to the world serves as "an invitation to joy. The time of great pardon begins. It is the Jubilee of Mercy."

Dressed in rose vestments on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, marking the joyful expectation of Christmas, the pope began the ceremony outside the basilica in front of the bronze holy door. The door depicts a bas relief of the crucified Christ looking down on Mary tenderly holding the baby Jesus, whose small foot shone like bright gold from the countless kisses and touches of visiting pilgrims.

"This is the door of the Lord. Open for me the gates of justice. I will enter your house, Lord, because of your great mercy," the pope read solemnly before climbing two marble steps and pushing open the large door. He crossed the threshold decorated with a garland of flowers and greenery and bowed his head in silent prayer inside the darkened interior of the basilica.

The Church and the people of God are called to be joyful, the pope said in his brief homily.

"We cannot allow ourselves to become tired, no form of sadness is allowed even if we have reason for it with the many worries and multiple forms of violence that wound our humanity," he said.

Amid the bullying, injustice and violence wrought, "above all, by men of power, God makes it known that he himself will rule his people, that he will never leave them at the mercy of the arrogance of their leaders and that he will free them of all anguish," the pope said.

People today are called to listen to the words of the prophet Zephaniah in the day's first reading, as he told God's people not to be afraid or discouraged "because of doubt, impatience or suffering."

God always protects his people, he is always near, the pope said, and that is why "we must always be joyful and with our kindness offer everyone witness of the closeness and care God has for everyone."

The Holy Year of Mercy is meant to be a time for people to rediscover God's real presence in the world and his tenderness, he said.

"God does not love rigidity. He is father. He is gentle. He does everything with fatherly tenderness."

As Christians are called to cross the threshold of "the door of mercy," they are asked to welcome and experience God's love, which "re-creates, transforms and reforms life."

From there, people of faith must then go out and be "instruments of mercy, aware that we will be judged by this," the pope said. Being a Christian calls for a lifelong journey and a "more radical commitment" to be merciful like God the father, he added.

Christians are asked to be joyful as they open their arms to others and give witness to "a love that goes beyond justice, a love that knows no limits. This is the love we are responsible for despite our contradictions," and weaknesses, he said. (CNS)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Each month there will be a diocesan event celebrating the Holy Year of Mercy. A vesper service will be held at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington. For a complete listing of events log on at: www.vermontcatholic.org/yearofmercy.

 

Pope's Peace Day message urges individuals, world leaders to take action, show mercy

Pope Francis called for abolishing the death penalty worldwide, lifting the burden of debt on poor nations, global aid policies that respect life and revamped laws that welcome and integrate migrants.

He urged individuals, communities and nations to not let indifference, information overload or pessimism discourage them from concrete efforts to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment.

Building peace, he said, is not accomplished by words alone, but through the grace of God, a conversion of heart, an attitude of compassion and the courage to act against despair.

The pope's multifaceted plea came in his message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1. The message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican Dec. 15.

The message, titled Overcome Indifference and Win Peace, contained a three-fold appeal to the world's leaders.

He asked that countries: refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts of wars, which not only destroy a nation's infrastructure and cultural heritage, but also their moral and spiritual integrity; forgive or make less burdensome international debt of poorer nations; and adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of the local populations and not harm the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.

The pope called on national governments to review their current laws on immigration and find ways they could reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration as well as respect the rights and responsibilities of all parties concerned.

All nations' leaders should also take concrete measures in alleviating the problem of a lack of housing, land and employment, the pope wrote, as well as stop discrimination against women in the workplace, which included unfair wages and precarious or dangerous working conditions. He said he hoped those who are ill could be guaranteed access to medical treatment, necessary medications and home care.

With the present Jubilee of Mercy, I want to invite the Church to pray and work so that every Christian will have a humble and compassionate heart and that all people will learn to forgive and to give, he said in his message.

God is never indifferent to the world, he said. He not only sees, hears and knows, he comes down and delivers real healing and eternal teachings.

The credibility of the Church and its members rests on their willingness to live and act with the same tireless mercy God has for the world, the pope said.

We, too, then are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another, he said.

Since these attitudes of compassion and solidarity are often handed down from person to person, the pope emphasized the importance of families and teachers in showing what love, respect, dialogue, generosity, charity and faith mean.

He also reminded the media and communicators of their responsibility to serve the truth and not particular interests. They don't just inform people, he said, but also form and influence their audience.

Communicators should also be mindful that the way in which information is obtained and made public should always be legally and morally admissible, he said.

In his message, the pope praised those journalists and religious who raise awareness about troubling and difficult situations, and defend the human rights of minorities, indigenous peoples, women, children and the most vulnerable people in society. (CNS)

 
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