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No one is excluded from the mercy of God, pope says at audience


Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians are called to work together in order to be a visible sign that God's mercy excludes no one, Pope Francis said during his general audience Jan. 20.

The pope reflected on the theme of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which was taken from the first letter of St. Peter and was selected by an ecumenical group from Latvia. The Lutheran cathedral of Riga, Latvia, he noted, contains a 12th-century baptismal font that serves as a sign of the common baptism that unites Catholics, Protestant and Orthodox Christians.

"St. Peter's first letter is addressed to the first generation of Christians to make them aware of the gift received through Baptism and the requirements it entails," the pope said. "We too, in this week of prayer, are invited to rediscover this and do this together, going beyond our divisions."

The pope said that although divisions are often caused by selfishness, the common baptism shared by Christians is an experience of being "called from the merciless and alienating darkness" to an encounter with God who is "full of mercy."

"To start once again from baptism means to rediscover the source of mercy, the source of hope for all, so that no one is excluded from God's mercy," he said. "No one is excluded from the mercy of God."

The grace of God's mercy, he added, is stronger than what divides Christians and in the measure one receives that grace, one becomes "capable of preaching to all his merciful deeds," especially through a witness of Christian unity.

"We Christians can announce to all the power of the Gospel by committing ourselves to share the corporal and spiritual works of mercy," he said. "This is a concrete witness of unity among us Christians: Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics."

Pope Francis emphasized that the week of prayer serves as a reminder that Christians share a common mission in passing on to others the mercy they have received, especially with "the poor and the abandoned."

"During this week of prayer, let us pray so that all of us, disciples of Christ, may find a way to work together to bring the mercy of the father to every part of the earth," the pope said. (CNS)

 

Renewed hope in role of laity in Church

The Catholic Church needs laypeople who look to the future, take risks and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, Pope Francis said.

While laypeople must be "well-formed, animated by a straightforward and clear faith" and have lives truly touched by Christ's merciful love, they also need to be able to go out and play a major role in the life and mission of the Church, he said.

The pope met recently with members, consultors and employees and their family members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Established by Blessed Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, the office was meant to encourage and support laypeople's involvement in the life and mission of the church, Pope Francis said, underlining the Italian word "incitare," meaning to spur, urge or encourage.

"The mandate you received from the council was exactly that of 'pushing' the lay faithful to get ever more and better involved in the evangelizing mission of the church," he said.

Lay involvement was in no way meant to be a "proxy" of the hierarchy, he said, but to participate in the saving mission of the church as baptized members.

People enter into the church and its mission, through the "door" of baptism, he said, not through priestly or episcopal ordination. "You come in through baptism and we have all come in through the same door," he added.

Through baptism, every Christian becomes "a missionary disciple of the Lord, salt of the earth, light of the world, leaven that transforms reality from within."

Thanking the pontifical council for all that it accomplished over the decades, Pope Francis said it was time to look to the future with hope and "to plan a renewed presence at the service of the laity," which is always "in ferment" and marked by new problems.

The council for the laity will be merged with two other dicasteries – creating a new Vatican office for laity, family and life, which will begin functioning Sept. 1.

Much more needs to be done, he said, to open up new horizons and tackle new challenges.

"From this stems the project of reform of the Curia," he said. The creation of a new office for laity, family and life, he said, is a sign of how much their work is valued and esteemed and of renewed faith in the role of laypeople in the life of the Church.

The pope asked the outgoing council members and staff to keep as their point of reference the image of a Church and a laity "on the move" and reaching for the peripheries.

"Lift up your gaze and look 'outside,' look toward the many people who are 'far' from our world, to the many families in difficulty and needing mercy," he said.

Many laypeople, the pope said, would generously and gladly dedicate their effort, talents and time to serving the Gospel "if they were included, valued and accompanied with affection and dedication" by priests and church institutions.

After underlining the importance of well-formed laypeople, the pope spoke off-the-cuff, saying, "We need laypeople who take risks, who get their hands dirty, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who go forward. We need laypeople with a vision of the future, not closed up in the trivial things in life."

Young people need lay adults, especially the elderly, who can offer them their experience, wisdom and dreams, he said. The young "need the dreams of the elderly," who – instead of being disposed of – should be "pushed" and encouraged to revitalize their dreams and "give us the power of new apostolic points of view," he said. (CNS)

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Review needed to set up diocesan religious order

Diocesan bishops must consult with the Vatican before establishing a diocesan religious order, Pope Francis ruled.

The consultation "is to be understood as necessary for the validity of the erection of a diocesan institute of consecrated life," said the rescript or ruling approved by Pope Francis April 4 and published by the Vatican May 20.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said in a statement that the consultation is necessary because "every new institute of consecrated life, even if it comes into the light and develops within a particular church, is a gift given to the entire Church."

The congregation said it is necessary "to avoid new institutes being erected on the diocesan level without sufficient discernment of the originality of the charism," which determines the way the members will live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Sister Sharon Holland, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a canon lawyer who worked at the congregation, said there had been "much discussion" for years over whether consultation with the Vatican was necessary.

The U.S.-based Sisters of Life, founded by the late Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York in 1991, "is a good example of a group that went through the proper channels in the right way" before being officially approved as a religious institute of diocesan right in 2004, Sister Holland said. (CNS)

Pope tells women religious Vatican will study women deacons

Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders from around the world that he would set up a commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and he also insisted more can and should be done to involve lay and consecrated women in Church decision-making at every level.

Asked if he would establish "an official commission to study the question" of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate, Pope Francis responded: "I accept. It would be useful for the Church to clarify this question. I agree."

The pope spent more than an hour May 12 responding to questions posed by members of the International Union of Superiors General, repeatedly asking if they wanted further clarification.

"I like hearing your questions because they make me think," the pope told close to 900 superiors general, representing almost 500,000 sisters around the world. "I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it's going to come from."

Asked about deaconesses in the New Testament and the possibility of the modern Church admitting women to the permanent diaconate, Pope Francis had said his understanding was that the women described as deaconesses in the Bible were not ordained like permanent deacons are. Mainly, he said, it appeared that they assisted with the baptism by immersion of other women and with the anointing of women.

However, he said, "I will ask the (Congregation for the) Doctrine of the Faith to tell me if there are studies on this."

Pope Francis also promised to have the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments send the UISG a full explanation of why women cannot give a homily at Mass. While women can preach at a Liturgy of the Word when there is not a celebration of the Eucharist, he said, at Mass the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are parts of a whole and only one who is ordained can preside and preach.

The main part of the question was about the lack of influence women religious are given in Church decision-making processes. Pope Francis said the obligation to listen to women in the parish, diocese and at the Vatican "is not a matter of feminism, but of right."

All the baptized–women and men, lay or consecrated–have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Church, he insisted. The entire Church suffers when some voices are excluded from the conversation, he said. (CNS)

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