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Christians in Africa – Pope Francis’ May prayer intention

May 5, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 5, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the prayer video for May, Pope Francis challenged the Catholic community to pray that the continent’s Christians will witness to reconciliation, justice, and peace.

Beyond the natural beauty of Africa, the Pope said, “we see its joie de vivre, and above all, we see grounds for hope in Africa’s rich intellect, cultural, and religious heritage.”

The May 4 video began with footage expanding over the beautiful landscapes of Africa, and changes to quick scenes of diverse individuals reflected in mirrors – like a doctor with a San Damiano Crucifix hanging beside her, a shop owner reflected among the goods in his shop, and a woman in traditional African attire smiling among vegetables in the market place.

However, as the music became more heartfelt, the Pope admitted, “we cannot fail to see fratricidal wars decimating peoples and destroying these natural and cultural resources,” and the mirror splinters as two men used coarse tools to break apart bricks.

Pope Francis then asked for prayers to assist the Christian communities’ witness to Christ, and promote peace among the countries struck by bloodshed and famine.

“Let us join with our brothers and sisters of this great continent, and pray together that Christians in Africa, in imitation of the merciful Jesus, may give prophetic witness to reconciliation, justice, and peace,” said Pope Francis, appearing near the end of the video.

Then the video pans to a pair of hands reaching to pick up a piece of broken mirror, fractured in the previous scene, and a man lifts it up to reflect the smile of a woman facing him.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope’s intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1844 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the Jesuit-run global prayer network has received a monthly, “universal” intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

Starting in January, rather than including a missionary intention, Pope Francis has elected to have only one prepared prayer intention – the universal intention featured in the prayer video – and will add a second intention focused on an urgent or immediate need if one arises.

The Pope’s prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center.

 

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Despite pro-life provisions, healthcare bill raises serious concerns

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 05:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The House passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a replacement health care bill on Thursday, but one bishop warned that the new bill poses serious problems for the vulnerable.

Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the domestic justice committee for the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the legislation “still contains major defects, particularly regarding changes to Medicaid that risk coverage and affordability for millions.”

In a May 4 statement, he called it “deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded.”

“Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely-held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system,” Bishop Dewane said.

The House voted on Tuesday afternoon to pass a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. The bill passed narrowly, by a vote of 217 to 213.

The American Health Care Act was introduced in the House in March, but ultimately failed to reach the House Floor for a vote. It replaced the ACA’s individual insurance mandate with a 30 percent premium fine for having a significant gap in coverage. More tax credits would be offered and the allowable contributions to health savings accounts would also be expanded.

Bishop Dewane expressed serious concerns about the legislation although he commended its pro-life provisions. The sick and the elderly could end up paying far more for health care, he warned of the original AHCA bill in March.

As the revised health care bill re-surfaced recently in the House, Bishop Dewane said that “serious flaws” still remained, like changes to Medicaid that eventually capped the Medicaid expansion and a lack of conscience protections for doctors and health care providers.

Revisions to the bill included allowing states to determine “essential health benefits,” or benefits that health plans had to include under the ACA which included hospitalizations and maternity care.

Also, under the new bill states could charge more per person based on their health history, which the ACA forbade, provided they set up high-risk pools.

Bishop Dewane warned that proposed amendments “could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.”

The bill “as it now stands, creates new and grave challenges for poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants,” he said April 27. “The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities.”

Several pro-life leaders applauded the bill’s passage.

“The March for Life congratulates the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the American Healthcare Act and for reaffirming their commitment to life,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

Pro-life groups noted that the bill barred federal funding of Planned Parenthood and instead funded health care providers that do not perform abortions.

These health care providers, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, “provide comprehensive primary and preventative care to women and girls.”

That redirection of funding would amount to $422 million, she said. The bill also established protections against taxpayer funding of abortions in health care plans.

“We urge the Senate to keep these non-negotiable provisions and quickly advance this bill to the President’s desk,” Dannenfelser said.

The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, said the new health care bill would “offer truly affordable, patient-centered health care.”

“This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” Louis Brown, director of CMF CURO, said.

“The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship.”

And, the group added, “there is much more work to be done to protect the right of conscience and religious freedom in health care.”

The White House announced on Thursday that the bill provided billions in funding for vulnerable populations, including $15 billion “for the care of maternity, newborn, mental health, and substance abuse.”

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Vatican, Myanmar officially establish diplomatic ties

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a meeting Thursday between Pope Francis and Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, the two cemented their diplomatic relationship, agreeing to send ambassadors to each other’s countries.

“The Holy See and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, keen to promote bonds of mutual friendship, have jointly agreed to establish diplomatic relations at the level of Apostolic Nunciature, on behalf of the Holy See, and Embassy, on the part of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese diplomat, politician and author who currently serves as the State Counsellor and Foreign Minister of Myanmar.

Before her rise to power, she spent much of her career under house arrest due to her push for human rights and democracy, which contradicted the military rule at the time.

She first met with Pope Francis in October 2013 when she came to Rome to pick up an honorary citizenship she’d been awarded in 1994 but hadn’t been able to retrieve. Just two years later, Pope Francis appointed Myanmar’s first-ever cardinal, Charles Bo, in a clear show if his respect for the country and his preference for the peripheries.  

The move to officially establish diplomatic ties comes just two months Myanmar’s parliament voted in March to make their country the 183rd nation to enjoy diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The proposal from the Vatican was postponed in February by the nuncio to Thailand, Archbishop Paul Tsang-in Nam, who also acts as a delegate to Myanmar. He then held a meeting with Cardinal Bo and Aung San Suu Kyi, resulting in the March announcement.

While Aung San Suu Kyi and Pope Francis’ meeting this morning likely focused on strengthening their diplomatic ties, mention was also likely made on the part of the Pope of the persecuted Rohingya minority, which he has spoken out on often.

Rohingya people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group largely from the Rakhine state of Burma, in west Myanmar. Since clashes began in 2012 between the state’s Buddhist community and the long-oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority, some 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced, while more than 100,000 have fled Myanmar by sea.

In order to escape forced segregation from the rest of the population inside rural ghettos, many of the Rohingya – who are not recognized by the government as a legitimate ethnic group or as citizens of Myanmar – have made the perilous journey at sea in hopes of evading persecution.

In 2015, a number of Rohingya people – estimated to be in the thousands – were stranded at sea in boats with dwindling supplies while Southeastern nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia refuse to take them in.

However, in recent months tens of thousands have fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. The horrifying stories recounted by the Rohingya include harrowing tales of rapes, killings and the burning of their houses.

According to BBC News, despite claims of a genocide, a special government-appointed committee in Myanmar formed in January has investigated the situation, but found no evidence to support the allegations.

In Bangladesh, however, the Rohingya have had little relief, since they are not recognized as refugees in the country. Since October, many who fled to Bangladesh have been detained and forced to return to the neighboring Rakhine state.

Pope Francis first brought up the plight of the Rohingya people during an audience in 2015 with more than 1,500 members of the International Eucharistic Youth Movement.

“Let’s think of those brothers of ours of the Rohingya,” he said. “They were chased from one country and from another and from another. When they arrived at a port or a beach, they gave them a bit of water or a bit to eat and were there chased out to the sea.”

This, he told the youth, “is called killing. It’s true. If I have a conflict with you and I kill you, its war.”

He brought them up again a month later in an interview with a Portuguese radio station, and he has consistently spoken out on behalf of the Rohingya in Angelus addresses, daily Masses or general audiences.

Most recently, in his Feb. 8 general audience the Pope asked pilgrims to pray with him “for our brother and sister Rohingya. They were driven out of Myanmar, they go from one place to another and no one wants them.”

“They are good people, peaceful people, they aren’t Christians, but they are good. They are our brothers and sisters. And they have suffered for years,” he said, noting that often members of the ethnic minority have been “tortured and killed” simply for carrying forward their traditions and Muslim faith.

He then led pilgrims in praying an “Our Father” for the Rohingya, asking afterward St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a former salve, to intercede.

So while the official establishment of diplomatic relations is major step in terms of strengthening relations between the Holy See and Myanmar, there are murky waters that still need to be tread.

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Solanus Casey, Cardinal Van Thuan among those advanced toward sainthood

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 10:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Thursday approved decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints advancing the causes for canonization of 12 individuals, including the American-born Capuchin Solanus Casey and the Vietnamese cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

In his May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the congregation, Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Solanus Casey, which allows for his beatification.

Venerable Casey was known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor.  

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.  

Reevaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898 he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.   
 
Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

Fr. Michael Sullivan, provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, said May 4 that “Long before we knew and loved Pope Francis, we had the example of Fr. Solanus who lived the Gospel of Mercy. Known for his compassion and simplicity, he drew many thousands to God.”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit commented that “The beatification of Father Solanus Casey is an incomparable grace for the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit and for the whole community of Southeast Michigan. He is an inspiration to all us Catholics – and to all – of the power of grace to transform one’s life.”

The Pope also recognized the heroic virtue of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan. Imprisoned for his faith in Vietnam for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement, he is now declared venerable, a significant step forward in his cause.

Cardinal Van Thuan was born in Vietnam in 1928. He was ordained a priest of the Vicariate Apostolic of Hue in 1953 and appointed Bishop of Nha Trang in 1967.

He was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon in April 1975, six days before the city fell to the North Vietnamese army. Cardinal Van Thuan was imprisoned in a re-education camp by the communist government of Vietnam for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement.

While imprisoned he smuggled out messages written on scraps of paper that were copied by hand and circulated among the Vietnamese community, eventually being printed in The Road of Hope.

He also wrote prayers in prison, which were later published in Prayers of Hope. He was allowed no religious items, but after sympathetic guards smuggled in a piece of wood and some wire for him, he was able to craft a small crucifix.

After being released from prison, he spent three years under house arrest before being permitted to visit Rome in 1991. He was exiled from Vietnam from that point until early 2001, and he resigned as Saigon’s coadjutor archbishop in 1994 when he was appointed vice president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He became the council’s president in 1998.

In 2000 he preached the spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia, which were subsequently published as Testimony of Hope.

He was made a cardinal by St. John Paul II in 2001, and he died in Rome on Sept. 16, 2002, at the age of 74.

Three other causes were also approved for beatification Thursday: Venerable Maria of the Immaculate Conception, founder of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (1789-1828); Venerable Clara Fey, founder of the Institute of the Sisters of the Poor Baby Jesus (1815-1894); and Venerable Catalina de Maria, founder of the Congregation of the Servant Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (1823-1896).

Pope Francis has also approved the declaration of the martyrdom of Servant of God Luciano Botovasoa, layman and father, of the Third Order of St. Francis, killed in hatred of the faith in Vohipeno, Madagascar on April 17, 1947.

Also recognized were the heroic virtues of the servants of God Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa of Florence (1872-1961); Giovanna Meneghini, founder of the congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary (1868-1918); Vincenza Cusmano, first superior general of the Congregation of the Poor Servants (1826-1894); Alessandro Nottegar, layman and father, founder of the Community of Regina Pacis (1943-1986); Edvige Carboni, laywoman (1880-1952); Maria Guadalupe Ortiz de Landázuri y Fernández de Heredia, laywoman of the Personal Prelature of Santa Croce and of Opus Dei (1916-1975).

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Trump to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on May 24

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 09:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump will meet Pope Francis during a visit to the Vatican later this month.

“His Holiness Pope Francis will receive the Hon. Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, on Wednesday, 24 May 2017, at 8:30 a.m. in the Apostolic Palace,” the Vatican announced Thursday.

“President Trump will then meet with His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.”

The president’s trip will also include visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to officials. Trump will also attend a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 and a G7 summit in Sicily on May 26.

The president and the pope have sometimes been put at odds.

During a Feb. 18, 2016 in-flight press conference, Reuters reporter Philip Pullella asked the Pope to respond to Donald Trump’s immigration stand.

Pope Francis answered: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”

The pontiff added he would “give the benefit of the doubt” to the political candidate.

One week prior, Trump had bashed Pope Francis as a “pawn” for the Mexican government and “a very political person” who does not understand the problems of the United States.

Holy See spokesman Father Federico Lombardi on Feb. 19 told Vatican Radio that the Pope’s comment “was never intended to be, in any way, a personal attack or an indication of how to vote” and had repeated a longstanding theme of his papacy, bridge-building.

The U.S. bishops have had a mixed response to the early days of the Trump administration, criticizing his refugee and immigration plan, while praising his pro-life measures.

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Pope urges Vatican communications to go digital amid ongoing reform

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 06:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, which is holding their first plenary assembly this week, that given a growing digital culture throughout the world, new media must become a primary platform for spreading the Gospel.

“Studying new ways and means to communicate the Gospel of mercy to all people, in the heart of different cultures, through the media that the new digital cultural context makes available to our contemporaries” is something that is “very much in my heart,” Pope Francis said May 4.

He spoke to members of his Secretariat for Communications, which was formed in June 2015 as part of his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia, during their first plenary assembly.

The assembly is taking place May 3-5 at the Vatican and gathers members of the secretariat, which is headed by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano.

In his audience with the plenary participants, Francis said the word “reform” is something we shouldn’t be afraid of. To reform, he said, isn’t just “repainting” things, but is rather “giving another form to things, organizing them in a different way.”

“And it must be done with intelligence, meekness, but also…also, allow me the word, with a bit of ‘violence,’” he said, but stressed that its a “good violence to reform things.”

More than just merging the Vatican’s various communications entities, the secretariat has the task of building “a truly new institution” that has arisen from the need for a “so-called ‘digital convergence,’” he said.

Whereas in the past each form of expression had its own medium in either newspapers, books, photographs, television, radio and CDs, now all of these forms of communications, are transmitted “with a single code that exploits the binary system.”

In this context, he pointed to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which will officially join the secretariat next year, saying it “will have to find a new and different way to reach a number of readers greater to what it can achieve in paper format.”

As of now the paper operates primarily in daily and weekly print format, with a limited online presence in its various languages.

Pope Francis also turned to Vatican Radio, which broadcasts papal and Vatican news several languages throughout the world, saying the entity will need to be revisited “according to new models and adapted to the modern technologies and needs of our contemporaries.”

He made a point to emphasize the attention Vatican Radio has given to broadcasting in countries will little access to technology, such as certain countries in Africa, noting that services to these places “have never been abandoned.”

In addition to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Publishing House and the Vatican Typography office will also be merged into the greater working community of the secretariat, which is something the Pope said will require “availability to harmonize” with their “new productive and distributive design.”

“The work is great, the challenge is great, but it can be done. It must be done,” he said, stressing the need to for a willingness to work together as all of the changes and merges take place.

As the study commissions within the secretariat move forward in identifying new paths and proposals, the Pope told them to be “courageous” in the criteria they choose, asking that the guiding criteria be an “apostolic and missionary one, with special attention to situations of discomfort, poverty, difficulty.”

“In this way, it becomes possible to bring the Gospel to everyone, to optimize human resources, without replacing the communication of the local Churches and, at the same time, supporting the ecclesial communities most in need.”

He concluded his speech stressing the need to “not let ourselves be overcome by the temptation of attachment to a glorious past,” and encouraged members instead to make “a great effort of teamwork to better respond to the new communicative challenges that the culture of today asks of us, without fear and without imagining apocalyptic scenarios.”

Pope Francis established the Secretariat for Communications on June 27, 2015, with the promulgation of the motu proprio, “The current communication context.”

One of its primary responsibilities is the restructuring and consolidation of the Holy See’s various communications outlets, which were previously ran as individual offices.

The dicastery will eventually oversee Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Television Center, the Holy See Press Office, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican Internet Service, the Vatican Typography, the Photograph Service, and the Vatican publishing house.

Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, previously head of Vatican Television, is prefect of the department. On April 12, 2017, the Pope named a group of 13 new consultors, including EWTN’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw

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The Green Pope isn’t who you think it is.

May 4, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 4, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There once was a Pope called “The Green Pope.”

He earned the title from both the religious and the secular alike, because he wrote frequently about the environment and asked all Catholics to be better stewards of God’s creation.  

Under this pope’s pontificate, the Vatican became the world’s first sovereign state to become carbon-neutral, meaning that all of the small country’s greenhouse gas emissions are offset by renewable energies and carbon credits, thanks to extra trees and solar panels. He also made use of a more energy efficient, partially electric popemobile.

No, “The Green Pope” is not Pope Francis.

It’s his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, which may come as a surprise to those who believe Benedict’s legacy was his staunch conservatism.  

During the World Day of Peace celebration in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI chose the theme “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.”

“We are all responsible for the protection and care of the environment,” he said.

Drawing on the wisdom from his own predecessors, including Pope John Paul II, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Paul VI, Benedict in his message implored his flock to view climate change and care for creation as an extension of the Church’s care for humanity. He also addressed the phenomenon of “environmental refugees” several years before Francis noted the environment’s contribution to the current refugee crisis.

“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees’, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?” Benedict asked in his message.

“All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development,” he added.

This was not the only time Pope Benedict addressed the environment and climate change. In Sydney in 2008, he told the young people of World Youth Day in his opening remarks that care for creation and care for humanity are interconnected.

“The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection on the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable,” he said.

He even managed to work the topic into his 2007 apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, on the topic of Eucharist as the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.

In the letter, in a section entitled “The sanctification of the world and the protection of creation”, Pope Benedict XVI noted that even the liturgy reminds the faithful of the importance of God’s creation when “the priest raises to God a prayer of blessing and petition over the bread and wine, ‘fruit of the earth,’ ‘fruit of the vine’ and ‘work of human hands,’” he wrote.

“With these words, the rite not only includes in our offering to God all human efforts and activity, but also leads us to see the world as God’s creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God’s good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ,” he added.  

His writings on the topic were so prolific and profound that he is quoted numerous times in Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si”.

Like Benedict and his other papal predecessors, Pope Francis noted that an ecology of the environment was directly related to a proper human ecology.

“There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then ‘our overall sense of responsibility wanes,’” Pope Francis wrote in “Laudato Si”, quoting Benedict XVI.

Care for creation, or for “our common home”, as Francis often calls it, will most likely continue to be one of the primary concerns of his pontificate. Besides his encyclical, Pope Francis frequently speaks about climate change and the environment in various audiences, including when he became the first pope to address the United States Congress last fall.

But the important intellectual and practical groundwork laid by his predecessors, and particularly by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, cannot be overlooked.

 

This article was originally published Oct. 11, 2016.

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After visit, Pope Francis says Egypt is a ‘sign of hope’

May 3, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 3, 2017 / 04:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis recalled his recent visit to Egypt, saying that given its rich biblical and cultural history, the country is a sign of hope, and has a special role to play in brokering peace in the Middle East.

“Egypt for us was a sign of hope, of refuge and of help,” the Pope said during his May 3 general audience.

He noted how in scripture Jacob and his sons traveled to the region when it was in famine, and later Jesus himself also found refuge there from Herod.

“So recounting this trip enters on the path of recounting hope,” he said, adding that for Christians, “Egypt has the sense of speaking about hope, whether in history or today, and of this brotherhood that I am telling you about.”

Pope Francis spoke just days after returning from his April 28-29 visit to Egypt, which was made largely as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the prestigious al-Azhar University, one of the highest institutional authorities in Sunni Islam, which had been strained since 2011.

The visit also took place in wake of increasing attacks on Egypt’s Coptic community, and as such was meant to offer support for local Christians as well as cement Catholic-Muslim relations.

During his visit, Pope Francis met with the Great Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed Mohamed al-Tayyeb, at the al-Azhar University, where he also spoke to the International Conference for Peace. He then met with Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and civil authorities before sharing a moment of prayer with Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II.

He also spent time with Egypt’s Christian community, celebrating Mass for Catholics on the second and final day of his trip, and meeting with the country’s priests, religious and seminarians.

In his general audience address, the Pope thanked Egypt for “the truly warm welcome” he was given, saying President el-Sisi and the Egyptian authorities made “an extraordinary commitment so this event could take place in the best of ways.”

The goal, he said, was for the visit to be “a sign of peace for Egypt and for that entire region, which unfortunately suffers from conflicts and terrorism.”

Francis told pilgrims that his visit to the al-Azhar University had the “double horizon” of promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and of promoting peace on a global level.

“In this context, I offered a reflection that valued the history of Egypt as a land of civilization and alliance,” he said, explaining that Egypt is widely considered to be “synonymous with ancient civilization and with treasures of art and knowledge.”

This serves as a reminder “that peace is built through education, the formation of wisdom, of a humanism which includes as the religious dimension, the relationship with God, as an integral part,” he said, pointing to the speech given by al-Tayyeb.

“Peace is also built starting from the alliance between God and man, founded on the alliance between men,” he said, explaining that this is a law which can be summed up in the two commandments of love of God and neighbor.

Francis then said this same foundation is also the basis of building “the social and civic order, in which all citizens of every culture, origin and religion are called to participate.”

Because of “the great historic and religious patrimony” of Egypt and its role in the Middle East, the country has “a peculiar task on the path toward a stable and lasting peace, which does not rely on the law of force, but the force of the law.”

Turning to his encounter with Egypt’s Christian community, the Pope said that Christians in Egypt, as in every other nation, “are called to be the leaven of brotherhood,” which is only possible if they are in communion with Christ.

Recalling how he signed a joint-declaration with Patriarch Tawadros, Francis said the two renewed their commitment to finding a shared baptism, and prayed together for the “the martyrs” who have died in recent attacks on the Coptic community.

“Their blood fertilized that ecumenical encounter,” he said, noting that in addition to himself and Tawadros, Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople was also present.  

Francis then pointed to the Mass he celebrated with Egyptian Catholics, calling it a celebration of “faith and fraternity,” in which the presence of the Risen Lord was truly felt.

He also recalled his meeting with the priests, religious and seminarians of Egypt, saying he saw in them “the beauty of the Church in Egypt,” and could pray with them for all Christians in the Middle East, that “they be salt and light in that land, in the midst of that people.”

Speaking off-the-cuff, he noted that Egypt has “a lot of seminarians,” which he said is “a consolation.”

He closed by offering his thanks and praying that the Holy Family of Nazareth, who “emigrated on the banks of the Nile to avoid the violence of Herod,” would always bless and protect the Egyptian people, “and guide them on the path of prosperity, fraternity and peace.”

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Pope Francis: Closed hearts cause suffering in the Church

May 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 2, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Moralists without empathy are unable to see how God transforms “hearts of stone” into real hearts of flesh – and it’s a problem that harms the Christian community, Pope Francis said.

“This causes suffering in the Church. The closed hearts, the hearts of stone, the hearts which do not want to be open, do not want to hear, the hearts which only know the language of condemnation,” the Pope said during his Tuesday morning homily at Casa Santa Maria.

He reflected on the hardness of heart which lead to the death of Saint Stephen, as depicted in the day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles at Mass.

The temple authorities who stoned St. Stephen are what Pope Francis called “those who condemn all who are outside the law.” He said Stephen had called them “uncircumcised of heart” because they lacked an ability to understand the word of God.

Although the apostles were called foolish by Christ on the walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, the Pope clarified that they were blinded by misunderstanding and fear but capable of hearing the truth and being corrected.

“When Jesus rebuked them, they let his words enter them and their hearts burned within them, while those who stoned Stephen were furious and did not want to listen!”

Pope Francis referred to the Lord’s “beautiful promise” to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

A tender and responsive heart understands correction and how to hear. Closed hearts, however, don’t know how to listen, they only “know how to condemn, they do not know how to say ‘Explain it to me, why do you say this? Why this? Explain it to me.”

He said these stony hearts are not able to handle Christ’s words of rebuke and are the same hearts which led to the deaths of Saint Stephen and the prophets in the Old Testament.

“There was no place in their hearts for the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said, comparing them to Stephen who “was filled with the Holy Spirit, he had understood everything, he was a witness to the obedience of the word made flesh, and this was done by the Holy Spirit.”

Reflecting on the Gospel when the Pharisees propose to stone the adulteress, he told those present to “look inside yourself” to see the sins which Christ makes clearer.

“We look at the tenderness of Jesus, the witness of obedience, that great witness, Jesus, who has given life, which makes us look for the tenderness of God, confronting us, our sins, our weaknesses.”

The fear, misunderstanding, and foolishness of the apostles on the way to Emmaus represent us with our “many doubts, many sins” the Pope said. However, during the temptation to pull away from the cross, he said we should “make space to hear Jesus, who makes our hearts burn.”

Pope Francis urged the faithful to “enter this dialogue and let us call for the grace of the Lord which softens the rigid hearts of those people who are always closed in the law and condemn all who are outside the law.”

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Vatican group talks new ways to help poor, marginalized

May 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 2, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Traditional solutions to the problem of poverty typically take a top-down welfare approach, focused on fulfilling a person’s most basic needs, such as food and shelter – but which don’t address the issue of societal participation and inclusion.

The plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held at the Vatican April 28-May 2, aimed to find solutions which promote inclusion for the otherwise marginalized, especially the poorest in society.

“All of the 20th century, and the end of the 19th century, the response to the poorest of the poor was to provide them with absolute basic necessities, such as the workhouse, food, clothes,” said Margaret Archer, president of the Academy of Social Sciences.

“This is not enabling them to participate in society; at best, only to survive. Life is about more than just simple survival. Welfare is a top-down solution. So this was the motive for the conference on participation,” she said.

Archer, who spoke to journalists at a press conference May 2, said the question of how to go about helping “the poorest of the poor” is a “major challenge” for social theory.

“When you have a population of extreme poverty, what do you do? You give them welfare. The Pope doesn’t want the simplistic solution of just giving them money, because it doesn’t last forever anyway,” she said.

The academy’s plenary session, titled “Towards a participatory society: new ways for social and cultural integration,” discussed the wide-ranging topic of societal exclusion, which can manifest in different ways in different parts of the world.

In addition to the poor and economically disadvantaged, it also can include migrants and refugees, religious minorities, and those with disabilities.

In some parts of the world, an initial exclusion can end up leading to more and worsening issues, said Paulus Zulu, a professor at the University of Natal. In Africa, for example, he said there is “a crisis of representative democracy.”

This is one of the major causes of a lack of social participation, he explained. And when this happens to too great an extent, it frequently leads to excluded populations seeking inclusion or existence elsewhere, one of the reasons behind migration, especially economic migration.

In their meetings, the group discussed alternative ways to bring about “global social change in the direction of inclusivity and fraternity,” Archer said, one solution being through Church support of non-governmental organizations.

Pope Francis sent a message to the academy on April 28 encouraging them in their plenary session and urging them, according to the Church’s social doctrine, to find “ways to apply in practice fraternity as the governing principle of the economic order.”

“Fraternity allows people who are equal in their essence, dignity, freedom, and their fundamental rights to participate differently in the common good according to their capacity, their plan of life, their vocation, their work, or their charism of service,” he said.

“From the beginning of my pontificate, I wanted to point out that ‘in our brother lies the permanent extension of the Incarnation for each of us’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 179). In fact, the protocol we are judged by is based on brotherhood: ‘All you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me’ (Mt. 25:40).”

“Even though we live in a world where wealth abounds, many people are still victims of poverty and social exclusion,” Francis continued.

“The Gospel Proposal: ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice, and all these things will be added to you’ (Mt 6:33) has been and is still a new energy in history that tends to arouse fraternity, freedom, justice, peace and dignity for all.”

Concluding, he quoted from Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, saying: “To the extent that the Lord will succeed in reigning in us and among us, we will be able to participate in divine life and we will be one to the other ‘instruments of his grace, to pour out the mercy of God and to weave nets of charity and fraternity.’”

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