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Mexican bishops join in prayer, grief after second deadly earthquake

September 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Puebla, Mexico, Sep 20, 2017 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following Mexico’s second major earthquake in two weeks, bishops in the country called for prayers and solidarity, asking Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede and comfort the suffering people.

“We join in grieving the victims of the earthquake, which occurred today, Sept. 19, 2017, in different parts of our country,” said Archbishop José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara and Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso G. Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, president and secretary general, respectively, of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

“Once again, we are witnessing the solidarity of the Mexican people, who see the suffering of their brother,” they said, praising the lifesaving efforts to rescue and feed those affected by the quake.

“Today more than ever, we invite the People of God to unite in solidarity for our brothers who are suffering the different calamities that have plagued our country,” the bishops urged. “We ask for the comfort of our Mother Mary of Guadalupe, so that through her intercession she may help us and strengthen us, in the reconstruction of our country.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake tore through Mexico. The epicenter of the tremor was some 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, in the state of Puebla.

According to government officials, the earthquake has killed at least 217 people. As rescue operations continue, the death toll is expected to rise.

At least 25 people – mostly children – were killed when a school in Mexico City partially collapsed, and at least 15 daily Mass attendees died as a church collapsed near Puebla.

Throughout the region, volunteers and rescue workers dug through the night to try to reach survivors.

The deadly quake struck exactly 32 years after the disastrous Sept. 19, 1985 earthquake of Mexico City, which killed thousands. It also comes only 12 days after a massive 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Sept. 7, killing at least 96.

In their statement, the leaders of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference promised that Church organizations will work to collect information and help coordinate a response.

In the past two weeks, the bishops have already been working on recovery operations from the Sept. 7 earthquake. The Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas has begun its relief efforts and echoed the bishops’ statement that a full response will come in coordination with other Church agencies.

In the Diocese of Puebla, local Caritas groups and the diocesan pastoral committee announced that they will distribute food, personal hygiene items and diapers to local shelters.

Pope Francis also expressed his concern and offered prayers for all those affected by the earthquake during his Wednesday general audience address.

“In this moment of sorrow I want to express my closeness and prayer to all the beloved Mexican population. Let us all raise our prayers together to God so that he may welcome into his bosom those who have lost their lives, comfort the wounded, their families and all those affected,” the Pope said, praying that the Virgin of Guadalupe would be “close to the beloved Mexican nation.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops also expressed their condolences in the wake of the disaster.

“Once again, our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in Mexico, who yesterday suffered yet another catastrophic earthquake,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We join them in prayer and solidarity, and together invoke the maternal protection of our Lady of Guadalupe, Comforter of the Afflicted and Mother Most Merciful.”


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Bishop Mark Hagemoen transferred to Saskatoon diocese

September 12, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Saskatoon, Canada, Sep 12, 2017 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Mackenzie-Fort Smith was on Tuesday named as Bishop of Saskatoon, which covers a large portion of south-central Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s prairie provinces.

“Of course, I respond with obedience and enthusiasm to this new appointment, and I look forward to serving the People of God of the Diocese of Saskatoon as their new bishop. They have waited a year for this appointment, and I will strive to serve them to the best of my ability, with great help from Almighty God,” Bishop Hagemoen wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to the people of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese.

He added that he regrets having to leave the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, and that “the news comes at a time when we are in the midst of many developments and projects,” which will continue.

Bishop Hagemoen was born in Vancouver in 1961, and obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia in 1983. After completing his undergraduate, he travelled for a year throughout southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, before entering seminary.

He attended seminary at St. Peter’s in London, Ontario, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver in 1990. He served for 10 years as director of youth ministry, and as a parish pastor, vicar general, episcopal vicar, and head of two Catholic schools.

In 2007 he was named a monsignor.

He also studied youth ministry in the US, and earned a doctorate from Trinity Western University in 2007.

In 2013 he was appointed Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, and was consecrated a bishop. The Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese is centered in the Northwest Territories, and also includes parts of Nunavut and Saskatchewan.

His ministry has focused on Canada’s indigenous peoples, the new evangelization, youth ministry, and Catholic schools.

Bishop Hagemoen told the Saskatoon diocese’s publication that most Catholics in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese are indigenous, and that “In my whole way of approaching pastoral ministry, I have been shaped by walking with our Aboriginal people here. In terms of how I pastor, and how I approach things, that has been a real gift.”

He said that “The diocese of Saskatoon seems to be a very dynamic diocese, with a rich history, a strong Catholic legacy and culture, and I am looking forward to contributing to that legacy with all my might and energy, as well as I can, with the help of almighty God.”

Bishop Hagemoen was among the six bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories who issued guidelines in September 2016 directing “authentic and effective pastoral accompaniment” of the divorced-and-remarried.

A response to Pope Francis’ summons in Amoris laetitia for guidelines about pastoral accompaniment, the document clarified that the belief “that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest” is “erroneous”.

Saskatoon’s last bishop, Donald Bolen, was transferred to the Archdiocese of Regina in July 2016.


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She wanted to be euthanized – but changed her mind after meeting Pope Francis

September 12, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Bogotá, Colombia, Sep 12, 2017 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- Consuelo del Socorro Córdoba is a Colombian woman who had made up her mind to be euthanized because of the serious illnesses caused by an acid attack she suffered in 2001.

But after meeting Pope Francis on Sept. 9 during his trip to the Colombia, she gave up her intention to end her life.

The woman, who suffers from toxoplasmosis – a very serious infection that affects the brain – has undergone 87 surgeries. Speaking to CNN en Español she told how she met Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nuntiature in Bogota.

Lo que le dijo el papa Francisco a esta víctima de ataque con ácido le cambió la vida @patriciajaniot

— CNN en Español (@CNNEE) September 10, 2017

“I was the first in line and the first one he greeted was me. He gave me a hug,” she said. “I’m happy, I told him I was going to get euthanized, to help me, and he told me no, that I was not going to do that. He told me I was very brave and very pretty.”

Since the attack this woman has undergone 87 operations, but there are still six more to go since she cannot consume solid food.

This encounter with Pope Francis, she said “completely changed” her. “Now I do want to live and I need the whole world to know.”

“Thanks be to God this miracle could take place, that I could be here,” the woman shared, who still needs several thousand dollars for her treatment.

“I decided to get euthanized Sept. 29. I have the letter here. Here in Teusaquillo, Dr. Gustavo Quiñones was going to give me the injection, but I’m not going to get it anymore,” she said.

Pope Francis’ Sept. 6-11 trip to Colombia follows apostolic visits by two of his predecessors, Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II. During his visit, he met with the country’s civil leaders, addressed Latin American bishops, spoke to men and women religious, and made a plea for an end to violence and human trafficking in the region.


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True peace hinges on the people, not bureaucracy, Pope says

September 10, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Cartagena, Colombia, Sep 10, 2017 / 06:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On his last day in Colombia, Pope Francis said the peace process shouldn’t be reduced to bureaucratic talks between two parties, but must above all focus on and involve the people, who themselves must take steps toward reconciliation, rather than revenge.

“We have learned that these ways of making peace, of placing reason above revenge, of the delicate harmony between politics and law, cannot ignore the involvement of the people,” the Pope said Sept. 10.

“Peace is not achieved by normative frameworks and institutional arrangements between well-intentioned political or economic groups,” he said. Rather, “Jesus finds the solution to the harm inflicted through a personal encounter between the parties.”

It’s also necessary that any peace processes draw on the experience “of those sectors that have often been overlooked, so that communities themselves can influence the development of collective memory.”

“The principal author, the historic subject of this process, is the people as a whole and their culture, and not a single class, minority, group or elite,” he said. While Colombia has sought peace for decades, two sides meeting for dialogue “is not enough; it has also been necessary to involve many more actors in this dialogue aimed at healing sins.”

“We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact.”

Pope Francis offered his reflections during Mass at the port of Contecar in Cartagena on the last day of his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia. Prior to celebrating the liturgy, he blessed and laid the cornerstones for a homeless shelter and prayed the Angelus at the Shrine of Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver y Corberó.

In his homily, the Pope began by noting that Cartagena has for the past 32 years been known as a champion of human rights, and was called “heroic” for it’s role in fighting to maintain independence in the early 1800s.

On the human rights front, Francis quoted the 1985 Congress of Colombia praising the role of Jesuit priests Peter Claver, Alonso de Sandoval and Br. Nicolás González, who in the 7th century sought to “alleviate the situation of the oppressed of that time, especially of slaves, of those who implored fair treatment and freedom.”

With this backdrop, the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, which recounts the parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, offers timely and relevant insights into forgiveness, correction, community and prayer, he said.

“This fact pervades the entire text: there is no one too lost to deserve our care, our closeness and our forgiveness,” the Pope said, adding that from this perspective, “we can see that a fault or a sin committed by one person challenges us all, but involves, primarily, the victim of someone’s sin.”

“He or she is called to take the initiative so that whoever has caused the harm is not lost,” he said, recalling the many testimonies he heard throughout the visit from people who suffered “irreparable losses,”but who, despite their own suffering, were able to reach out and “take the first step” on a path other than violence or revenge.

Francis said peace above all begins with the people, and the path to reintegration into the community “begins with a dialogue of two persons.”

“Nothing can replace that healing encounter; no collective process excuses us from the challenge of meeting, clarifying, forgiving,” he said, explaining that the deep, historic wounds the country has suffered “necessarily require moments where justice is done.”

This means giving victims the opportunity to know the truth, ensuring that damages are adequately repaired and making clear and firm commitments to not repeat the same crimes in the future.

However, the Pope said this is “only the beginning” of the Christian response. Followers of Christ, he said, must generate a change in culture “from below,” so that we “respond to the culture of death and violence, with the culture of life and encounter.”

Francis then questioned those present on both how hard they have worked for peace, and, on the contrary, how much they have neglected in the process, “allowing barbarity to become enfleshed in the life of our people.”

“How many times have we ‘normalized’ the logic of violence and social exclusion, without prophetically raising our hands or voices!” he said, noting that there were thousands of Christians around during the time of St. Peter Claver, including many who were consecrated, “but only a handful started a counter-cultural movement of encounter.”

St. Peter Claver didn’t have “prestigious academic qualifications, and he even said of himself that he was mediocre in terms of intelligence,” the Pope observed. “But he had the genius to live the Gospel to the full, to meet those whom others considered merely as waste material.”

In the process of encountering others, we discover our rights and rebuild our lives so they can reemerge as “authentically human,” he said, and urged all men and women to defend the sacredness “of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic.”

However, when looking to the Gospel, Jesus shows us that some choose to stay closed, continuing to do evil.

“We cannot deny that there are people who persist in sins that damage the fabric of our coexistence and community,” he said, and pointed to the “heartbreaking drama” of drugs, the destruction of nature due to pollution, the exploitation of labor and money laundering and human trafficking.

The Pope went off-the-cuff briefly to emphasize the evil of trafficking.

“This evil is a direct attack against the dignity of the human person and progressively breaks the image that the creator infused in us,” he said. “I firmly condemn this scourge which has put an end to so many lives and which is sustained by unscrupulous men.

“You cannot play with the life of a human being, nor manipulate their dignity. I make a call to find ways to end drug trafficking, which sows death everywhere, truncating so many hopes and dreams and destroys so many families.” 

Returning to his script, Pope Francis then spoke about prostitution, “which ever day reaps innocent victims, especially the young, robbing them of their future,” and condemned the crimes and abuses against minors, as well as the “frequently overlooked” plight of migrants, “who are often victims of disgraceful and illegal manipulation.”

Society must be prepared for this, “and solidly base ourselves upon principles of justice that in no way diminish charity,” the Pope said, adding that “it is only possible to live peacefully by avoiding actions that corrupt or harm life.”

Finally, Pope Francis said Jesus asks everyone to pray together for peace, so that this prayer, “even with its personal nuances and different emphases, becomes symphonic and arises as one single cry.”

“I am sure that today we pray together for the rescue of those who were wrong and not for their destruction, for justice and not revenge, for healing in truth and not for oblivion,” he said, and, pointing to the theme of the trip “let us take the first step,” voiced hope that “this first step be in a common direction.”

The Pope closed his speech saying that if Colombia wants a stable and lasting peace, “ it must urgently take a step in this direction, which is that of the common good, of equity, of justice, of respect for human nature and its demands.”

“Only if we help to untie the knots of violence, will we unravel the complex threads of disagreements,” he said, and urged the people to go out and meet others, taking the risk of making a correction “that does not want to expel but to integrate.”

“We are asked to be charitably firm in that which is not negotiable,” the Pope said, adding that the Lord “is able to untie that which seems impossible to us, and he has promised to accompany us to the end of time, and will bring to fruition all our efforts.”

After Mass, Pope Francis gave a final greeting to the people before heading to the airport to return to Rome.

He said the final word he wanted to leave them with is to “not be content with ‘taking the first step,’” but to instead “continue our journey anew each day, going forth to encounter others and to encourage concord and fraternity.”

“We cannot just stand still,” he said, and pointed to the example of St. Peter Claver, who died in Cartagena after 40 years of  tireless work on behalf of the poor, as an example.

“He did not stand still: his first step was followed by many others. His example draws us out of ourselves to encounter our neighbors,” Francis said, telling Colombians that “your brothers and sisters need you. Go out to meet them. Bring them the embrace of peace, free of all violence.”


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Be humble in serving your brothers and sisters in need, Pope says in Colombia

September 10, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Cartagena, Colombia, Sep 10, 2017 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Angelus address Sunday, Pope Francis said the story of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá, the patroness of Colombia, provides an example of the humility with which all Christians should serve each other. 

“The Lord teaches us through the example of the humble and those who are not valued,” the Pope said Sept. 10. “They are the poor, humble ones, who contemplate the presence of God and to whom the mystery of God’s love is revealed most clearly.”

“As we pray the Angelus, recalling the incarnation of the Word, we also reflect on Mary who conceived Jesus and brought him into the world. We look to her this morning under the title of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá,” he said.

Our Lady of Chiquinquirá is the patroness of Colombia. Her image, which was painted on a piece of cloth in the 16th century was abandoned for a long time and allowed to become discolored and full of holes.

Tradition holds that a woman named Maria Ramos found the image in an old oratory in the town of Chiquinquirá in 1855 and “had the courage and faith to put this blurred and torn fabric in a special place, restoring its lost dignity,” Francis said.

It is said the painting was repaired to its former brilliancy through a miraculous restoration which occurred on Friday, Dec. 26, 1586.

The Pope pointed out how the Lord granted Maria Ramos, an ordinary woman, the grace to receive the poor image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, even in its damaged and worn state; and he gave the indigenous Isabel and her son Miguel the grace of being the first people to witness the transformed image.

Maria Ramos, he continued, is a model “for all those who, in different ways, seek to restore the dignity of our brothers and sisters lost through the pain of life’s wounds, to restore the dignity of those who are excluded.”

She is also a model for all those who provide dignified accommodation and care to those without a home, he continued. Being, above all, “a model for all those who pray perseveringly so that the men and women who are suffering may regain the splendor of the children of God which they have been robbed of.”

Pope Francis led the Angelus at the Church of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena, in one of the last events of his Sept. 6-11 trip to Colombia.

He urged all gathered to pray for the intercession of Mary and St. Peter Claver, “the slave of the blacks forever,” as he wanted to be known, who would wait for ships from Africa in the port city of Cartagena in order to help the slaves brought there.

Because of language differences, St. Peter Claver was often only able to communicate through his evangelical and charitable works. If he ever felt revulsion towards the slaves, he would kiss their wounds, the Pope said.

“He knew that the language of charity and mercy was understood by all. Indeed, charity helps us to know the truth and truth calls for acts of kindness,” Francis said.

The saint, who is buried beneath the altar in the church with his name, was “austere and charitable to the point of heroism,” the Pope said. And after helping hundreds of thousands of people, he himself spent the last four years of his life sick and confined to a bad cell.

St. Peter Claver is also a witness to the responsibility and care we should have for one another, he noted, despite the criticism he faced from those who hated his ministry and thought it would undermine the lucrative slave trade.

In Colombia and around the world millions of people are still being sold into slavery, the Pope emphasized. “They either beg for some expressions of humanity, moments of tenderness, or they flee by sea or land because they have lost everything, primarily their dignity and their rights.”

“María de Chiquinquirá and Peter Claver invite us to work to promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters, particularly the poor and the excluded of society, those who are abandoned, immigrants, and those who suffer violence and human trafficking.”

They all have human dignity, he concluded, because they are living images of God. “We all are created in the image and likeness of God, and the Blessed Virgin holds each one of us in her arms as her beloved children.”

“Let us now turn to Our Blessed Virgin Mother in prayer, so that she may help us recognize the face of God in every man and woman of our time.”

After the Angelus, the Pope assured those present of his prayers for the countries of Latin America, particularly Venezuela, expressing his closeness to the nation and those from the nation who have been welcomed into Colombia.

“From this city, known as the seat of human rights, I appeal for the rejection of all violence in political life and for a solution to the current grave crisis, which affects everyone, particularly the poorest and most disadvantaged of society,” he said.

Before the Angelus in the Square of St. Peter Claver, Pope Francis blessed the cornerstones of two new homeless shelters being built in Cartagena. He also visited the home of a woman who opens her home daily to those in need, giving them food and affection.

“These visits have done me much good because they demonstrate how the love of God is made visible each day,” Francis said.

In his blessing of the cornerstones in St. Francis Square, the Pope prayed to the Lord that he would “fill with your blessings these servants of yours, who wish to devote themselves generously to the help of their brothers; so that, in urgent needs, they may serve you faithfully and fully in the person of their neighbor. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


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Vocations that only seek to ‘climb the ladder’ are dead, Pope says

September 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Medellin, Colombia, Sep 9, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Pope Francis told Colombia’s priests and religious that vocations come from a variety of different backgrounds and flourish with joyful service, but die as soon as they become infected by greed or selfish interests.

“We are a people chosen for the truth, and our call has to be in truth,” the Pope said Sept. 9. “There can be no place for deceit, hypocrisy or small-mindedness if we are branches of this vine, if our vocation is grafted onto Jesus.”

Every consecrated person must be careful to ensure that they bear fruit, he said, explaining that from the start, those who accompany the vocational process must “encourage a right intention, a genuine desire to be configured to Jesus.”

“When these processes are not nourished by this true sap that is the Spirit of Jesus, then we experience dryness and God learns with sadness that these branches are already dead,” he said.

Sadly, consecrated vocations “die when they love to be sustained with honors, when they are driven by a search for personal reassurance and social advancement, when the motivation is ‘to climb the ladder,’ to cleave to material interests and to strive shamefully for financial gain,” he said.

As he has done frequently in the past, the Pope said the devil “enters through the wallet.” And this doesn’t just apply to the early stages of the vocation, but “all of us have to be careful because the corrupting of men and women in the Church begins in this way.”

Pope Francis spoke to priests, religious, seminarians and their families in the Macarena Stadium in Medellin, Colombia. 

Largely undertaken as an encouragement of the country’s peace process, the Sept. 6-11 visit includes stops in four cities. Francis has already traveled to Bogota, Villavicencio and Medellin, and will go to Cartagena tomorrow on his last official day in the country. 

At times throughout his speech, Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks, delving into the crisis of commitment among young people, discussing the importance of vulnerability, and emphasizing that our lives are what make the Gospel credible to our non-believing friends and neighbors.

Before speaking, the Pope listened to the testimonies of Sr. Leidy de San Jose, a contemplative Carmelite nun; Maria Isabel Arboleda Perez, whose son is a priest; and Fr. Juan Felipe Escobar, priest for the Archdiocese of Medellin.

In his speech, Francis directly addressed the young people present, saying most of them likely first discovered Jesus in communities “with a contagious apostolic zeal, which inspire and attract others.”

“Where there is life, zeal, the desire to take Christ to others, genuine vocations arise,” he said, noting that despite the current crisis of commitment in relationships, many youth “stand together against the evils of the world” through both political and volunteer work.

And when they do this for Jesus with the understanding that they are a part of the community, they become “street preachers,” and are able “to bring Jesus Christ to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth.”

Pope Francis pointed to the importance of recognizing the “complex relational realities” and varied situations out of which vocations arise. 

“It would be almost unrealistic to think that all of you heard the call of God in the midst of families sustained by a strong love and full of values such as generosity, compromise, fidelity and patience,” he said.

While there are some vocations that arise from these situations, “and I pray to God that they are many,” the Pope said, keeping our feet “firmly planted on the ground” means recognizing that our vocational calling brings us closer to the “thread of suffering and bloodshed” that runs throughout the Bible, and which “Colombia knows so well.”

This thread can be seen in Cain’s murder of Abel, in the violence in the family of David, the problems within Tobias’ family and the lamentations of Job, Francis said, explaining that from the beginning we see how God shows his closeness when he “changes the course of events to call men and women in the frailty of their personal and shared history.”

“Let us not be afraid, in that complex land, for God always brings about the miracle of producing good clusters on the vine,” he said, and prayed that there would be vocations in every community and family of Medellín.

The vine of Christ is true, and truth is essential to the religious call, the Pope continued. 

“The poison of lies, obfuscation, manipulation and the abuse of the People of God, the weak and especially the elderly and young, can have no place in our communities,” he said. “They are branches that are determined to dry us out and that God tells us to cut off.”

Francis then noted that God doesn’t just cut away the dead branches, but, as the Gospel passage says, he also “purifies the vine of its imperfections.”

“The promise is that we will bear fruit, and abundantly, just like the grain of wheat, if we are able to give ourselves, to offer our lives freely,” he said, and pointed to Colombian saints such as St. Laura Montoya and Bl. Mariano de Jesus Euse Hoyos as examples.

Asking those present how it is that God purifies us of the things that “lead to death and which take hold of our lives and distort his call,” the Pope said the answer is by “inviting us to dwell in him.”

To dwell, he said, “does not only signify being, but rather also indicates maintaining a relationship that is alive, existential and absolutely necessary; it means to live and grow in an intimate and fruitful union with Jesus.”

This “dwelling” cannot be a merely passive act or simple abandonment without having any consequences in our daily lives, he continued, and offered the religious three ways to make their “dwelling in the Lord” effective.

The first is to touch Christ’s humanity, Francis said, which means to look with “the gaze and attitude of Jesus, who contemplates reality not as a judge, but rather as a Good Samaritan; who recognizes the value of the people who walk with him, as well as their wounds and sins.”

It means to imitate Jesus, who looks at people and “discovers their silent suffering and who is moved by peoples’ needs, above all when they are overwhelmed by injustice, inhumane poverty, indifference or by the perverse actions of corruption and violence.”

It also entails embracing Jesus’ words and gestures, “which express love for those nearby and search for those far away,” while being both tender and firm in rejecting sin and announcing the Gospel.

The second means of dwelling in the Lord is contemplating Christ’s divinity, which requires “awakening and sustaining” studies that increase our knowledge of God, Pope Francis said, adding that priority ought to be given to reading Sacred Scripture.

“Whoever does not know the Scriptures, does not know Jesus. Whoever does not love the Scriptures, does not love Jesus,” he said, and prayed that studying would “help us to interpret reality with the eyes of God, that it may not be a way of avoiding what is happening to our people, nor be subject to the whim of fashions or ideologies.”

“May our study not be overcome by nostalgia or the tendency to confine the mystery, nor may it be unwilling to respond to questions that people no longer ask themselves, and may it not abandon those who find themselves in an existential void and who question us from their worlds and cultures,” he said.

Prayer is also an essential to this contemplation, he said, since it forms a “fundamental part of our lives and apostolic service.”

Time spent in prayer “frees us from the burden of worldliness, and teaches us to live joyfully, to distance ourselves from what is superficial, in an exercise of true freedom,” he said. It also frees us from self-centeredness and from “being reclusive in an empty religious experience.”

Contemplating God also requires that we are “reconciled in order to reconcile,” Francis said, explaining that to be called “does not give us a certificate of right conduct and sinlessness; we are not clothed in an aura of holiness.”

Rather, “we are all sinners and we need forgiveness and God’s mercy to rise each day. He uproots whatever is not good in us, as well as the wrong we have done, casting it out of the vineyard to be burned up. He cleanses us so that we may bear fruit.”

Finally, the Pope said we have to dwell in God in order to live fully, because “if we remain in him, his joy will be in us. We will not be sad disciples and bitter apostles.”

On the contrary, “we will reflect and be heralds of true happiness, a complete joy that no one can take away. We will spread the hope of a new life that Christ has given to us.”

God’s call, the Pope said, is not “a heavy burden that robs us of joy,” but rather, he wants us to live “a spirituality that brings joy to our lives and even to our weariness.”

“Our contagious joy must be our first testimony to the closeness and love of God,” he said, adding that Colombia itself has received the gaze of the Lord and is thus a sign of his “loving election.”

Francis closed his speech saying “it is now up to us to offer all our love and service while being united to Jesus, our vine. To be the promise of a new beginning for Colombia, that leaves behind the floods of discord and violence, a Colombia that wants to bear abundant fruits of justice and peace, of encounter and solidarity.”


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The suffering of children wounds the heart, Pope Francis says

September 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Medellin, Colombia, Sep 9, 2017 / 02:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a visit to a children’s home in Colombia, Pope Francis said Saturday that we can never accept the mistreatment or suffering of children, who are Jesus’ favorites, and need our protection for a hope-filled future.

“To see children suffer, wounds our hearts because children are Jesus’ favorites. We can never accept that they are mistreated, that they are denied the right to live out their childhood peacefully and joyfully, that they are denied a future of hope,” the Pope said Sept. 9.

“Jesus, however, never abandons those who suffer, much less you, boys and girls, who are his special ones.”

Pope Francis spoke to children, caregivers and teachers during a visit to a children’s home in the Boston neighborhood of Medellin.

Across five locations, the homes provide care and education to 630 children from all over the country who have lost their families through death, abandonment, displacement due to armed conflict, or extreme poverty.

They also care for children who have escaped violence caused by guerilla groups and drug traffickers or neglect or mistreatment from parents.

Founded more than 100 years ago, they now have three homes for primary school-aged children, a high school program which opened in 1999, and “St. Joseph’s Workshop” for children ages 2-5. 

Many of those in the preschool program are the children of women who are imprisoned or in prostitution.

The program aims to create as close to a home and family environment as possible, providing the children with love and affection in addition to the necessities of food, education, and housing.

One young student, Claudia Yesenia, gave a testimony on her life to the Pope. “Hearing all of the difficulties you experienced, I thought of the unjust suffering of so many boys and girls throughout the world, who have been and continue to be innocent victims of the evil that others commit,” he responded.

Despite all of these horrible things, however, there are signs of Jesus’ love for you and desire to be close to you, he encouraged, such as the children’s home and the care of good people.

“I think of those who direct this house, the sisters, the staff and so many others who are already a part of your family. For this is what you do here, you make this place a home: the warmth of a family where we feel loved, protected, accepted, cared for and accompanied,” he noted.

Pope Francis asked the children if they remembered what is written in St. Matthew’s Gospel when Herod decides to kill the Infant Jesus. Do you remember “how, in a dream, God spoke to Saint Joseph by means of an angel, and entrusted to his care and protection his most valuable treasures: Jesus and Mary?” he asked.

Joseph then obeyed immediately, taking the baby Jesus and his mother Mary to Egypt for safety.

“I am sure that, just as Saint Joseph protected and defended the Holy Family from danger, so too he is defending you, caring for you and accompanying you,” he said. And alongside him are Jesus and Mary, who always accompany him.

The Pope reminded the religious and lay people who care for the children of two parts of the Christian identity – “the love that knows how to see Jesus present in the smallest and weakest, and the sacred duty of bringing children to Jesus.”

He commended them and all the joys and hardships of their work to St. Joseph’s protection. 

“Learn from him, that his example may inspire you and help you in your loving care for these little ones, who are the future of Colombian society, of the world and of the Church, so that like Jesus, they may grow and be strengthened in wisdom and grace, before God and others.”

Concluding, he promised to pray for all of them that they may “grow in love, peace and happiness,” and their “wounds of body and heart” heal.

“God will not abandon you, but protect you and help you. And the Pope will keep you in his heart. Please do not forget to pray for me,” he said.


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Pope Francis in Colombia: True freedom is found in courageous discipleship

September 9, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Medellin, Colombia, Sep 9, 2017 / 10:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Pope Francis said that true freedom is found in letting go of the superficial things we cling to for security, embracing instead a discipleship which has the courage to follow Jesus in living in the fullness of the law.

“For the Lord, as also for the first community, it is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus,” the Pope said Sept. 9.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellin Saturday morning. Huge crowds – estimated at more than 1 million people – attended the Mass, which took place during the Pope’s Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia. 

In his homily, the Holy Father reflected on three attitudes that he said must form our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The first is going to what is essential. “This does not mean ‘breaking with everything’ that does not suit us,” he said, “because Jesus did not come ‘to abolish the law, but to fulfil it’ (Mt 5:17); it means to go deep, to what matters and has value for life.”

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us that discipleship requires a relationship with God – not merely following rules or exhibiting outward actions without really changing your heart, he said.

“Discipleship must begin with a living experience of God and his love. It is not something static, but a continuous movement towards Christ; it is not simply the fidelity to making a doctrine explicit, but rather the experience of the Lord’s living, kindly and active presence, an ongoing formation by listening to his word.”

And hearing this word, we live it out in serving the concrete needs of our brothers and sisters, he explained.

The second attitude disciples are called to adopt is renewal, which Francis said the Church is always in need of – “Ecclesia semper reformanda.” The Church doesn’t renew herself on “her own whim,” but firm in the faith and following the hope of the Gospel.

And this requires sacrifice and courage, “not so that we can consider ourselves superior or flawless, but rather to respond better to the Lord’s call,” he stated.

The Church must be ‘shaken’ by the Holy Spirit in order to let go of comforts and attachments, but we shouldn’t be afraid of renewal, the Pope noted.

In Colombia, for example, he said this renewal is needed in the many situations of violence, which can be transformed by Jesus’ reconciliation and peace. 

The third attitude of a disciple is the willingness to get our hands dirty and get involved in helping our brothers and sisters, the Pope said.

We are called to be brave, to have “that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived.”

As Christians, we must help others to satisfy this hunger, to encounter Christ, we can’t put up “do not enter” signs, he said.

“The Church is not ours, she is God’s; he is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment.”

Jesus told his disciples to give the hungry crowd something to eat, which is our call, too, the Pope emphasized. 

He pointed out that St. Peter Claver, whose feast day is celebrated by the Church Sept. 9, understood this well. In the 1600s, the Spanish missionary cared for the spiritual and physical needs of slaves in modern-day Colombia.

“‘Slave of the blacks forever’ was the motto of his life, because he understood, as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering,” Francis said.

Referencing the gathering of Latin American bishops at Aparecida in 2007, he said that the Church in Colombia “is called to commit itself, with greater boldness, to forming missionary disciples.”

As it says in the document from that gathering, Colombia needs disciples who know how to see, judge and act, he said.

“I have come here precisely to confirm you in the faith and hope of the Gospel. Remain steadfast and free in Christ, in such a way that you manifest him in everything you do; take up the path of Jesus with all your strength, know him, allow yourselves to be called and taught by him, and proclaim him with great joy,” he concluded.

“Let us pray through the intercession of Our Mother, Our Lady of Candelaria, that she may accompany us on our path of discipleship, so that, giving our lives to Christ, we may simply be missionaries who bring the light and joy of the Gospel to all people.”


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Forgiveness is the first step to ending cycle of violence, Pope says

September 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Villavicencio, Colombia, Sep 8, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told the Colombian people Friday that while it will be challenging, they must let go the anger caused by years of painful suffering and break the cycle of violence through a process of genuine forgiveness.

“Violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death. We must break this cycle which seems inescapable,” the Pope said Sept. 8. “This is only possible through forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Pope Francis spoke during a prayer gathering in Villavicencio for national reconciliation as part of his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia.

The trip, which marks his third tour of South America since his election, is largely the result of the country’s ongoing peace process between the government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

After more than six decades of conflict, a peace deal was finally struck in August 2016, de-escalating a conflict which since 1964 has left some 260,000 people dead and an estimated 7 million displaced.

Archbishop Oscar Urbina Ortega of Villavicencio greeted the Pope, offering his own brief reflection on the need for reconciliation.

In his comments, the archbishop stressed that “you cannot have true conversion of heart that does not also produce social and political resonances. Because of this reconciliation is offered to everyone.”

Reconciliation among the Colombian people “is a process, not only a goal or a perfect state,” Archbishop Urbina said, pointing to the strong desire of Colombians to overcome the pain caused by different forms of violence such as kidnapping, extortion, displacement, forced disappearance, forced recruitment, threats against life, and murders.

These, he said, “have destroyed projects of life from thousands of families and communities,” and it will take time to help so many people rebuild their lives.

“The search and constant effort to listen to each other, forgive each other and to try again will be the basis for generating a culture of fraternity,” Archbishop Urbina said, praying that that God would give them “a fruitful seed so that the tree of forgiveness, justice, reconciliation and peace blooms in this land.”

Pope Francis then listened to four testimonies from victims of the violence, including former FARC fighters and former members of other paramilitary groups.

The first  testimony was given by Juan Carlos Murcia Perdomo, who was part of FARC forces for 12 years, and reflected on truth. After being recruited at 16, he lost his left had working with explosives.

He eventually ascended the ranks and was named commander of his own squad. However, Murcia said at the same time he felt used and had a strong sense of nostalgia for home, and little by little understood that violence wasn’t the right path. He left FARC and later launched the “Funddrras Foundation,” which is dedicated to sports in a bid to offer youth an alternative to drugs and violence.

Deisy Sanchez Rey, who at 16 was recruited by her brother to join the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary and drug trafficking group, spoke on justice. She shared her story of how she was eventually arrested and, after two years in prison, wanted to change her life. She began attending Mass and studying psychology, and now offers counseling to victims of drugs and violence.

A third testimony, given by Luz Dary Landazury, the victim of an explosion set off by guerrilla forces, regarded mercy. In addition to nearly losing her left leg and suffering wounds all over her body, Landazury’s 7-month-old daughter also suffered significant injuries to her face.

Despite her anger, Landazury said she eventually understood that hate would only lead to more violence, and so began visiting other victims in order to help them learn to let go of their own anger and move forward with their lives.

The final testimony, focused on peace, was given by Pastora Mira Garcia, whose father was killed by guerrillas when she was just 6-years-old. She also lost her first husband, her daughter, and her son to guerrilla violence.

However, with what she describes as grace and the help of Our Lady, she was able not only to work with other families who had experienced similar losses, but eventually, in different moments, met and cared for both her father’s killer, who was sick and abandoned, and her son’s murderer, who was wounded.

In his address following the testimonies, Pope Francis said he had been looking forward to the encounter “since my arrival in your country.”

“You carry in your hearts and your flesh the signs of the recent, living memory of your people which is marked by tragic events, but also filled with heroic acts, great humanity, and the noble spiritual values of faith and hope,” he said.

Colombia has sadly become “a land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends,” he said, adding that these wounds “hurt us all, because every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh.”

The Pope said he didn’t come to speak, but rather “to be close to you and to see you with my own eyes, to listen to you and to open my heart to your witness of life and faith. And if you will allow me, I wish also to embrace you and weep with you.”

“I would like us to pray together and to forgive one another – I also need to ask forgiveness – so that, together, we can all look and walk forward in faith and hope.”

He pointed to the Crucifix of Bojayá, where on May 2, 2002, 119 civilians, including 45 children, were killed by guerrilla forces in an effort to take the Atrato River region from the AUC. Victims had taken refuge in the town’s church, but were all killed when the militants began launching gas cylinder bombs inside.

Pope Francis noted how the crucifix pulled from the carnage shows a Christ “mutilated and wounded,” with no arms and no body. “But his face remains, with which he looks upon us and loves us.”

To see Christ this way challenges us, he said, and reminds us of the “immense suffering, the many deaths and broken lives, and all the blood spilt in Colombia these past decades.”

“Christ broken and without limbs is for us even more Christ, because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people,” Francis said. “He came to show us that hatred does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence.”

Turning to the testimonies given, the Pope said he was moved when listening to them, because they are stories that speak of pain and suffering, “but also, and above all, they are stories of love and forgiveness that speak to us of life and hope; stories of not letting hatred, vengeance or pain take control of our hearts.”

“Thank you, Lord, for the witness of those who inflicted suffering and who ask for forgiveness; for the witness of those who suffered unjustly and who forgive,” he said, adding that “this is only possible with your help and presence.”

Francis recalled how in her testimony, Mira Garcia had said that she wanted to place her suffering and that of all victims of the conflict at the feet of Christ Crucified, “so that united to his suffering, it may be transformed into blessing and forgiveness so as to break the cycle of violence that has reigned over Colombia.”

“And you, dear Pastora, and so many others like you, have shown us that this is possible,” he said, adding that “with the help of Christ alive in the midst of the community, it is possible to conquer hatred, it is possible to conquer death and it is possible to begin again and usher in a new Colombia.”

Noting how in her testimony Luz Dary shared that the wounds in her heart were deeper and harder to heal than the ones that scarred her body, he acknowledged that this is true, and commended her for realizing that “it is not possible to live with resentment, but only with a love that liberates and builds.”

By going out of herself to help other victims heal and rebuild their lives, Dary found the peace and serenity needed to keep going, he said. And while physical wounds remain, “your spiritual gait is fast and steady, because you think of others and want to help them.”

Turning to Deisy and Juan Carlos, the former FARC and AUC fighters, Pope Francis said their testimony helps one to understand that they, too, are victims.

“In the end, in one way or another, we too are victims, innocent or guilty, but all victims,” he said. “We are all united in this loss of humanity that means violence and death.”

“There is also hope for those who did wrong; all is not lost,” he said, noting that while justice requires that those who do wrong “undergo moral and spiritual renewal,” we must all “make a positive contribution to healing our society that has been wounded by violence.”

Francis recognized that it might be hard to believe change is possible given the sheer amount of suffering and violence perpetrated by those pursuing their own agenda. However, “even when conflicts, violence and feelings of vengeance remain, may we not prevent justice and mercy from embracing Colombia’s painful history,” he said.

“Let us heal that pain and welcome every person who has committed offenses, who admits their failures, is repentant and truly wants to make reparation, thus contributing to the building of a new order where justice and peace shine forth.”

As part of the reconciliation process, “it is also indispensable to come to terms with the truth.” This, he said, “is a great challenge, but a necessary one,” because “truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.”

Both truth and justice are essential in building peace, he said, explaining that each prevents the other from being manipulated and transformed into “instruments of revenge against the weakest.”

Truth, the Pope said, “means telling families torn apart by pain what happened to their missing relatives,” and “confessing what happened to minors recruited by violent people.” It also means “recognizing the pain of women who are victims of violence and abuse.”

Pope Francis closed his address offering his perspective as “a brother and a father,” telling Colombia to  “open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled. Fear neither the truth nor justice.”

“Do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it. Do not resist that reconciliation which allows you to draw near and encounter one another as brothers and sisters, and surmount enmity,” he said.

“Now is the time to heal wounds, to build bridges, to overcome differences. It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance, and to open yourselves to a coexistence founded on justice, truth, and the creation of a genuine culture of fraternal encounter.”

Francis then led attendees in a prayer for peace to the “Christ of  Bojayá,” in “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” a 20th century prayer which is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and in the Hail Mary. Before departing, the Pope blessed all present.


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Prisoners in Colombia unite in prayer for Pope Francis’ visit

September 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Bogotá, Colombia, Sep 8, 2017 / 02:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Prison inmates from jails around Colombia prepared themselves spiritually for the Pope’s visit to their country through prayers, letters, messages, and watching his arrival to their country on television.

Although the Pope Francis’s Sept. 6-10 trip to Colombia does not include a visit to a penitentiary, the Pope’s visit has been viewed as a sign of peace and serenity for persons deprived of their liberty.  

The trip holds even more special meaning for those who have asked that the government consider the Jubilee Law, through which inmates with minor offenses are granted a reduction of their sentence.

Encouraged through the country’s Catholic Penitentiary Ministry and the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute, inmates of the various prison centers throughout the country prepared spiritually for the Pope’s visit.  

Fr. Edgar Galeano, chaplain at Colombia’s Model Jail in Bogota, explained that the inmates in his prison participated in prayer groups, daily recitation of the Rosary, and reading sacred scripture. In addition, every block read a book called “Take the First Step” in order to develop ten spiritual encounters on a weekly basis.

Likewise, in the penitentiary centers, liturgical celebrations were held with the motto “Pope Francis: the prisoners in Colombia are praying for you.” During the services, they asked for forgiveness for their personal sins and lit candles to pray for the protection of Pope Francis on his journey.

One of the inmates of Block 3 began painting a picture of Pope Francis three years ago. “Three years ago the initiative was born, a hope, a faith was born. Something in my heart told me that it would be a nice gesture to give something to a representative of Jesus.”

Aldo, another one of the prison inmates, wrote a letter to the pontiff in which he said: “If I could speak to you personally, Pope Francis, I would ask you to perform three miracles: Forgive all my mistakes and all the times I have hurt others; to return to be a child with the memories lived, having repented of having done bad things; I do not want to move away from my family. I would like to start over.”

Carlos Manuel Gutiérrez, a spokesman for the Building New and Better Roads Corporation in Bucaramanga, Colombia told the Colombian outlet Vanguardia that the letters written by the inmates are due to be delivered on Sept. 9 to Pope Francis, during his visit to Medellin.