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Australian Catholic Youth Festival draws tens of thousands

December 11, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Sydney, Australia, Dec 11, 2017 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Church in Australia kicked off Advent with a Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney last weekend, drawing some 20,000 attendees and including the country’s largest Mass since the World Youth Day in 2008.

The event was also the opening of a “Year of Youth” meant to “open new horizons for spreading joy joy for the young Church and our communities.”  

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that “our culture has messed up about life and love, justice and mercy,” at the festival’s Dec. 9 Mass, citing political challenges such as the recent legalization of voluntary euthanasia in Victoria.

“If ever we need new John the Baptists to call to people to repent and to believe, to offer some really good news amidst all the bad and to point people to Christ, it’s right now.”

The festival was held Dec. 7-9, shortly after Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, invited the nation’s youth to participate in the 2018 Year of Youth, which will last until Nov. 25, 2018.

The festival mostly took place at the Sydney Olympic Park. There young people attended workshops, Mass, faith-filled discussions, and even interactive games, such as a Saint John Paul II video game.

However, the highlight of the weekend was a pilgrimage through Australia’s largest city followed by the closing event. Depending on the desired length, people could begin the pilgrimage at either the St Mary Mackillop Shrine, Harbour Bridge, or St Mary’s Cathedral, but the pilgrims all converged for a concert and closing Mass at the Domain in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The nearly three hour praise and worship concert included Matt Maher and tributes to the country’s aboriginal groups. A Saturday anticipated Mass soon followed the event, celebrated by Archbishop Fisher, who cancelled all other anticipated Masses to encourage attendance at the youth Mass.

“Episode Eight is coming,” said the archbishop at the beginning of his homily, referring to the new Star Wars movie which will be released this month.

He explained that he had first seen Star Wars during his last year of school nearly 40 years ago, and how it is now a cultural staple which has earned billions of dollars and spawned cultural phrases such as “I am your father.”

Although the series has a bizarre religious perspective, he said, it is still based on the theme of a struggle between light and darkness, adding that the movies include champions who fought on behalf of goodness.

“One thing is still clear, we still look for heroes,” he said, pointing to John the Baptist, an unlikely hero who ate bugs, honey, and smelled like camels.

“All together, JB (John the Baptist) is not the kind of guy your parents would want you to bring home from ACYF as your new boyfriend or new best mate,” he joked.

However, he said this saint aimed to bring people the good news, namely Christ, and stood up against the evils of the times, even if it meant losing his head to Herod because he denounced the king’s illegitimate marriage.

Archbishop Fisher highlighted the evils of euthanasia, which was recently legalized in the state of Victoria, and warned that people can no longer rely on the Christian presence within the culture, but will have to choose for themselves to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Things are sliding in our culture, and going forward Christians may not be as influential or even welcome as they used to be. Christian’s won’t be carried by the culture any more. They will have to decide for themselves.”

The culture needs Catholic youth to be heroes and to proclaim the good amid the darkness of the world, he said, noting the example of Mary, the mother of God.

“There were many challenges for [Mary] and not just at the beginning. Accompanying Christ to the cross tore her Immaculate Heart,” he said.

But instead of despairing over evil, he challenged Catholic youth to respond as Mary did at the resurrection.

“Being held by him after the resurrection must have been the greatest joy a human heart, even an immaculate one, could ever have contained. Indeed she couldn’t contain that joy. The next time we see her in the New Testament she is praying in the cenacle of the Church as she awaits her new children to be over shadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”


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With plea for forgiveness, Pope embraces Rohingya in Bangladesh

December 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec 1, 2017 / 08:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After meeting several Rohingya Muslims and hearing their stories in Bangladesh, Pope Francis uttered a moving prayer from the heart, affirming their dignity and asking forgiveness on behalf of all who persecute the Burmese minority.

He also broke the protocol he has maintained so far during his visit to Burma and Bangladesh by publicly calling members of the persecuted minority the “Rohingya” – a controversial term in Burma that until now he has avoided.

“In the name of all who have persecuted you and persecute you, that have done you harm, above all, the world’s indifference, I ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness,” the Pope said Dec. 1.

Speaking in a spontaneous prayer alongside some 18 Rohingya after greeting them individually and hearing brief explanations of their stories, Pope Francis told them that “we are very close to you.”

Although there’s “little we can do because your tragedy is very hard and great,” he told them “we give you space in the heart.”

He explained that according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, God created man in his image and likeness. “All of us are in this image, also these brothers and sisters, they too are in the image of God,” he said.

Noting how in the Muslim tradition, it is said that God has took a bit of salt and mixed it with water to create man, Francis said “we all have a little bit of this salt. These brothers and sisters contain the salt of God.”

“We’ll continue to help them, we’ll continue to help them so their rights are recognized.”

“We’ll not close our hearts, not look at the darker side,” he said, because “today the presence of God is also called the Rohingya. Each and everyone of us is his bride.”

Pope Francis spoke at the end of an interreligious encounter in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The event was part of a broader Nov. 27-Dec. 2 visit to south Asia, which included a three-day stop in Burma, and will conclude tomorrow after two days in the Bangladeshi capital.

During the event, the Pope heard testimonies from five leaders representing different religious communities in Bangladesh, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Anglicans and Catholics. Among the Catholics who spoke were a layman and Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario CSC, Archbishop of Dhaka, who is the first Bangladeshi cardinal, appointed by Francis in 2016.

Also present were 18 members of the Rohingya Muslim community, including a 5-year-old child, who fled persecution in their homeland and are now living in Bangladesh.

Francis greeted them individually at the end of the gathering, listening as they each briefly explained their stories through an interpreter. He offered his brief prayer once he had met and spoken with all of them.

Once the Pope had finished, one of the Rohingya also said a prayer, after which the rest of the interreligious leaders present came up on stage and greeted them one-by-one.

According to sources on the ground, several of the Rohingya were weeping, and Cardinal D’Rozario himself was visibly moved as he embraced them.

The Pope’s meeting with the Rohingya is significant, as their plight has been an underlying theme throughout his visit to both Burma and Bangladesh.

A largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma’s Rakhine State, the Rohingya have faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in their homeland, recently reaching staggering levels that have led the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

With an increase in persecution in their home country of Burma, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh, and are living in refugee camps.

Though the Vatican has said the crisis was not the original motive of the visit, the situation has been a constant focal point, with particular attention paid to whether or not the Pope would use the term “Rohingya” on the ground.

Despite widespread use of the word Rohingya in the international community, the term is controversial within Burma. The Burmese government refuses to use the term, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship since Burma gained independence in 1948.

Because of the touchy nature of the term, Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, suggested to the Pope that he refrain from using the word in Burma, arguing that extremists in the area are trying to rouse the population by using the term, making the risk of a new interreligious conflict ever-more present, with Christians in the crossfire.

According to Bo, the correct term to use is “Muslims of the Rakhine State,” which the Pope has chosen to use until today.

Speaking to journalists present at the interreligious encounter before meeting the Pope, Mohammed Ayub, 32, a Rohingya Muslim whose 3-year-old son was killed by the Burmese military, said, “the Pope should say Rohingya. He is the leader of the world. He should say the word, as we are Rohingya.”

Similarly, Abdul Fyez, 35, who had a brother killed by the Burmese army, agreed that Francis ought to use the word, saying “we have been Rohingya for generations, my father and my grandfather.”

Though the Pope’s reasons for choosing to say the word today are unknown, it may have been in part the result of meeting the Rohingya personally and hearing their stories.

It’s also not the first time he’s chosen to say a controversial term. During his 2015 visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan, Francis called the 1915 massacre of some 1.5 million Armenian Christians a “genocide,” despite the risk of political throwback from Turkey, who has argued that the numbers are exaggerated.


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Pope Francis ordains 16 priests in Bangladesh

November 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov 30, 2017 / 10:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Celebrating Mass in the Bangladeshi capital on Friday, Pope Francis ordained 16 men to the priesthood.

“Beloved brothers and sisters: because these our sons … are now to be advanced to the Order of priests, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which they are about to be raised,” he exhorted the crowd in his homily, which is that provided in the Roman Pontifical.

The Dec. 1 Mass was said at Suhrawardy Udyan, a park and national memorial in Dhaka.

“Our great Priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose certain disciples to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of mankind, a priestly office in the Church … priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God,” the Pope preached.

“After mature deliberation, these, our brothers, are now to be ordained to the priesthood in the Order of the presbyterate, so as to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd, by whose ministry his body, that is, the Church, is built and grows into the people of God, a holy temple.”

He reflected that the newly ordained would be consecrated “to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice.”

Turning to the ordinandi, he said: “For your part, you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.”

“Let the holiness of your lives be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God’s Church,” he added.

“Likewise you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As celebrants of the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful and to walk in newness of life.”

Referring to their duties in the sacraments and in the recitation of the Divine Office, he called them to remember “that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.”

“Finally, dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.”

Having finished the exemplar homily from the Pontifical, Pope Francis then addressed extemporaneously the crowd attending the Mass.

“Thank you for your generosity,” he told them. “This shows the love you have for the Church. This shows the love you have for Jesus Christ. Thank you all. Thank you all for your generosity. Thank you for your faithfulness.”

“Today I ask you in a special way always to pray for these new priests … the People of God sustain their priests with prayer. Your responsibility is to sustain your priests.”

“Don’t get tired of sustaining your priests with prayer. I know you will do this.”


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Your faith and enthusiasm are a welcome sight, Pope tells Burmese youth

November 29, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Yangon, Burma, Nov 29, 2017 / 09:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic young people of Burma are “a welcome sound” of encouragement, Pope Francis told them Thursday at a Mass said at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon.

“Dear young people of Myanmar … you are a beautiful and encouraging sight, for you bring us ‘good news’, the good news of your youth, your faith and your enthusiasm. Indeed, you are good news, because you are concrete signs of the Church’s faith in Jesus Christ, who brings us a joy and a hope that will never die,” Francis said Nov. 30 in the largest city of Burma (also known as Myanmar).

The Pope’s Mass with Burmese youth comes at the conclusion of his visit to the country, where he arrived Nov. 27. He also met with government officials, religious leaders, Buddhist monks, and the country’s bishops. The previous day, he said Mass in Yangon’s Kyaikkasan Ground, attended by much of the country’s Catholic population. From Burma, he will continue on to Bangladesh before returning to Rome.

“As my visit to your beautiful country draws to a close, I join you in thanking God for the many graces we have received in these days,” he stated.

“Some people ask how it is possible to speak of good news when so many people around us are suffering? Where is the good news when so much injustice, poverty and misery cast a shadow over us and our world?”

In the face of this suffering, he said it is important that the Burmese youth “are not afraid to believe in the good news of God’s mercy, because it has a name and a face: Jesus Christ. As messengers of this good news, you are ready to bring a word of hope to the Church, to your own country, and to the wider world.”

“You are ready to bring good news for your suffering brothers and sisters who need your prayers and your solidarity, but also your enthusiasm for human rights, for justice,” and for Christ’s love and peace.

The Pope’s words about solidarity, human rights, and justice come as international attention on Burma is focused on the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have been denied citizenship and who face general persecution in the Buddhist-majority country. In recent months, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the country for Bangladesh amid state-sponsored violence against them.

At the same time, Pope Francis challenged his listeners with three conditions of salvation given in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans which was proclaimed at the Mass, and which ask us “to think about our place in God’s plan.”

“In effect, Paul asks three questions, and I want to put them to each of you personally,” he said. “First, how are people to believe in the Lord unless they have heard about him? Second, how are people to hear about the Lord unless they have a messenger, someone to bring the good news? And third, how can they have a messenger unless one is sent?”

While wanting all of his listeners “to think deeply about these questions,” the Pope offered guidance to “help you to discern what it is that the Lord is asking of you.”

First, he said, it is important to listen for God’s voice: “Our world is full of many sounds, so many distractions, that can drown out God’s voice. If others are to hear and believe in him, they need to find him in people who are authentic. People who know how to listen … But only the Lord can help you to be genuine, so talk to him in prayer. Learn to hear his voice, quietly speaking in the depths of your heart.”

“But talk also to the saints,” he added, pointing to Saint Andrew, whose feast was celebrated at the Mass. “Andrew was a humble fisherman who became a great martyr … But before he became a martyr, he made his share of mistakes, and he needed to be patient, and to learn gradually how to be a true disciple of Christ. So do not be afraid to learn from your own mistakes!”

Pope Francis urged Burma’s youth to “let the saints lead you to Jesus and teach you to put your lives in his hands. You know that Jesus is full of mercy. So share with him all that you hold in your hearts: your fears and your worries, as well as your dreams and your hopes. Cultivate your interior life, as you would tend a garden or a field. This takes time; it takes patience. But like a farmer who waits for the crops to grow, if you wait the Lord will make you bear much fruit, a fruit you can then share with others.”

The Pope then turned to young people’s need to be “messengers of the good news of Jesus, above all to your contemporaries and friends. Do not be afraid to make a ruckus, to ask questions that make people think!”

“Don’t worry if sometimes you feel that you are few and far between,” he told them, in consideration of the fact that Catholics make up only about one percent of Burma’s population. “The Gospel always grows from small beginnings. So make yourselves heard.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Pope</a> to young people in Yangon: “Do not be afraid to make a ruckus, to ask questions that make people think!… Make yourselves heard. I want you to shout! But not with your voices. No! I want you to shout with your lives, with your hearts, &amp; in this way to be signs of hope…” <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) <a href=””>November 30, 2017</a></blockquote>
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“I want you to shout … with your lives, with your hearts, and in this way to be signs of hope to those who need encouragement, a helping hand to the sick, a welcome smile to the stranger, a kindly support to the lonely.”

Finally, Pope Francis discussed being sent forth at the conclusion of Mass “to take with us the gifts we have received and to share them with others. This can be a little daunting, since we don’t always know where Jesus may be sending us. But he never sends us out without also walking at our side, and always just a little in front, leading us into new and wonderful parts of his kingdom.”

To be sent by Christ is to follow him, the Pope added. “The Lord will invite some of you to follow him as priests … Others he will call to become religious or consecrated men and women. And yet others he will call to the married life, to be loving fathers and mothers. Whatever your vocation, I urge you: be brave, be generous and, above all, be joyful!”

Francis concluded by given Burma’s young people the example of Mary, who though young, “had the courage to trust in the ‘good news’ she had heard, and to express it in a life of faithful dedication to her vocation, total self-giving, and complete trust in God’s loving care. Like Mary, may all of you be gentle but courageous in bringing Jesus and his love to others.”

“Dear young people, with great affection I commend all of you, and your families, to her maternal intercession. And I ask you, please, to remember to pray for me. God bless Myanmar!”


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Burmese bishops say despite pressure, Suu Kyi has their support

November 29, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Yangon, Burma, Nov 29, 2017 / 10:56 am (CNA).- As international criticism mounts for Burmese leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi over perceived inaction on the nation’s Rohingya refugee crisis, Catholic bishops say they support her, fearing too much pressure could lead to a collapse of their newly-formed democracy, which is still struggling to take root.

“We need to really rebuild our nation,” said Fr Mariano Soe Naing, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burma. He noted that even two years ago, it would not have been possible for the bishops to be vocal about their stand given the tumultuous political climate.

“We are only here (because of) the lives that have been shed on the streets, so we have gone through such a struggle in this country and we cannot compromise the lives, the blood, that this country has given,” he said. “We need to go on with our democratic reform of this nation.”

Fr. Soe Naing spoke to journalists at a press briefing on the second full day of Pope Francis’ Nov. 27-30 visit to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The Pope will next travel to Bangladesh Nov. 30-Dec. 2 before returning to Rome.

The visit comes at a precarious time for Burma as it continues to struggle in transitioning to democracy. Burma functioned as a military dictatorship for more than 50 years, until democratic reforms began taking root in 2011. In November 2015, Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, were elected by an overwhelming majority, putting an end to a five-decade military dictatorship.

Suu Kyi and her party had also won the election in 1990, but the results were not recognized by the military government, and she was put under house arrest. However, despite her success in 2015, she is still barred from officially becoming president, and holds the title of “State Counselor” and Foreign Minister, while a close associate is acting as president.

Despite emerging signs of democratic reform in Burma, the transition has been rocky. The military still wields considerable political authority, including the appointment of cabinet ministers, and one-quarter of the nation’s legislature.

Compounding the issue, the Pope’s visit also takes place amid a sharp increase in state-supported violence against the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma’s Rakhine State, prompting the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

With an increase in persecution in their home country, many of the Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, with millions camping along the border as refugees. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Burma for Bangladesh in recent months.

However, despite widespread use of the term “Rohingya” in the international community, the term is controversial within Burma. The Burmese government refuses to use the term, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship since Burma gained independence in 1948.

In many ways this crisis has overshadowed the Pope Francis’ trip, the first-ever visit from a Pope to the Asian nation. Specific attention has been paid to whether or not Francis will use the term “Rohingya” while on Burmese soil. So far, he has refrained, upon the request of the country’s Catholic leaders.

In the Nov. 29 news briefing, Vatican Spokesman Greg Burke said while the topic of migrants and refugees is a major concern for Pope Francis, the plight of the Rohingya “was not the original intention for making the trip.”

Differing from the Pope’s 2016 daytrip to the Greek island of Lesbos, which Burke described as a “refugee trip,” the visit to Burma was made as an official visit to a country with whom the Holy See has just established diplomatic relations, and the refugee crisis happened to escalate at the same time.

The decision to officially form diplomatic ties was made in March, and relations were further cemented in May when Suu Kyi visited Pope Francis at the Vatican, with both leaders agreeing to send ambassadors to each other’s countries.

With Catholic bishops in Burma backing Suu Kyi and her government, the decision to establish ties and schedule a papal visit so soon after was likely made in a bid to support democracy in the country amid fears it could crumble under too much pressure from both inside and outside of the country.

In his first speech of the trip, given to Burmese authorities and diplomats Nov. 28, the Pope said healing and peace in the nation can only be achieved through the pursuit of justice and the promotion of human rights.

He also advocated for “the consolidation of democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level of society.” He further advanced the cause of democracy in his speech to bishops earlier today, during which he told them to spread the Gospel through charity and the “support for democratic rule.”

In the lead-up to Francis’ visit, the heat has been turned up on Suu Kyi, with many claiming the leader isn’t doing enough to defend the Rohingya.

On Monday the Oxford City Council voted to strip Suu Kyi of her “Freedom of Oxford” award over what they said was a failure to speak out on abuses committed against the Rohingya. She was initially given the award in 1997 and collected it personally in 2012 after 15 years of house arrest.

However, the bishops have continued to support Suu Kyi. In a September statement, they called for an end to persecution of the Rohingya, while also emphasizing the complicated nature of the political, military, and humanitarian situation in the country, and saying that lasting reform will take time and that placing sole blame on Suu Kyi is counterproductive.

“Thousands of citizens went on the street against the socialist government and gave their lives on the streets of Yangon,” Fr. Soe Naing said at the press conference. “So we cannot just forget all these struggles to have a democratic transition in this country.”

And this democracy is now in danger again, the priest said, explaining that when Suu Kyi is criticized, the pressure comes in two ways: “the international community and the people in the country.”

He argued that the leader, and therefore democracy, is suffering as some criticize her on the Rohingya front, while others use her weakened public standing as an opportunity question the benefits of democracy for Burmese society.

Soe Naing said “we have to come up with a clear stand that we are for development of the country. We have just 18 months of her rule and then we met this crisis, and she is under pressure from all sides,” so the Church is eager to provide support.

Also present at the press conference was Bishop Hsane Hgyi, Vice President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burma (CBCM); Bishop Felix Liankhenthang, President of the CBCM; and Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, auxiliary bishop of Yangon.

In comments to journalists, Bishop Hgyi stressed the importance of both knowing and focusing on the truth on the political situation.

“We know Aung Sun Suu Kyi has been sacrificing and suffering for many years, not for herself and not for her family, but for her country,” he said, and cautioned against believing everything that’s read in the papers.

People ought to look for authoritative sources, he said, and suggested that critics “go into the field to study the reality and study the history well” before speaking, because “just hearing from other people won’t be enough.”

When asked whether there is fear that the Rohingya might be disappointed that Pope Francis has decided not to use the term during his visit to Burma, Burke said “Vatican diplomacy is not infallible,” and that everyone is entitled to form their own opinion on the matter.

“That’s part of what diplomatic work is about,” he said, explaining that the main goal of the Holy See is “building bridges” in a nation with which they are just starting to form diplomatic relations.

“We’re in the start of a relationship. The Holy See only recently began full diplomatic relations here, it’s a very tiny Church,” Burke said, adding while the Pope “is very persuasive” and enjoys great moral authority, “he doesn’t parachute” into regions to solve problems immediately, but takes things one step at a time.