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Pope Francis: ‘The cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation’

September 21, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
General audience with Pope Francis on St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, Sept. 21, 2022 / Pablo Esparza / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

Reflecting on his recent trip to Kazakhstan, Pope Francis on Wednesday said that offering Mass for the feast of the Holy Cross surrounded by the capital city of Nur-Sultan’s “ultra-modern architecture” led him to think about the meaning of the cross today. 

“In a world in which progress and regression are intertwined, the cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 21.

Speaking at his Wednesday general audience, the pope underlined that the cross is “a sign of hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the love of God, merciful and faithful.”

Pope Francis said his Sept. 13–15 visit to the Central Asian country reminded him of Kazakhstan’s many martyrs who “suffered so much for the faith during the long period of persecution: murdered, tortured, imprisoned for the faith.”

“And credit … must be given to the Kazakh government, which, having freed itself from the yoke of the atheistic regime, now proposes a path of civilization clearly condemning fundamentalism and extremism,” he said.

The primary purpose of the pope’s trip to Kazakhstan was to take part in an interreligious conference, the Seventh Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

On the final day of the congress, delegates representing the world’s major religions voted to adopt a declaration calling religious pluralism an expression “of the wisdom of God’s will in creation.”

Pope Francis said that the congress aimed to put “religions at the center of efforts to build a world where we listen to each other and respect each other in diversity.”

“And this is not relativism,” he added. “It is listening and respecting.”

Throughout his trip last week, the pope repeatedly appealed for dialogue and peace in the “senseless and tragic war” in Ukraine. At the end of his general audience, the pope repeated his appeal, expressing solidarity with the “noble and martyred” Ukrainian people.

The pope said this envoy in Ukraine, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, called him yesterday and described “the pain of the people, the savage actions, the monstrosities, and the tortured corpses that had been found.”

He was likely referring to Krajewski’s recent visit to a mass grave in Izium, Ukraine, where 146 bodies, mostly civilians, have been exhumed so far. 

Pope Francis praying at the general audience, Sept. 21, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA
Pope Francis praying at the general audience, Sept. 21, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA

Pope Francis also highlighted World Alzheimer’s Day, noting that the disease “affects so many people who, because of this condition, are often placed on the margins of society.”

“We pray for Alzheimer’s patients, their families and their loving caregivers, that they will be increasingly supported and helped,” he said.

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Could Pope Francis visit Ukraine? Here’s what his representative in Kyiv said

March 18, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
This photograph taken on March 18, 2022 shows smoke rising after an explosion in Kyiv. – Authorities in Kyiv said one person was killed early on March 18, 2022 when a downed Russian rocket struck a residential building in the capital’s northern suburbs. They said a school and playground were also hit. / Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 18, 2022 / 12:21 pm (CNA).

While it is logistically feasible for Pope Francis to travel to Kyiv, as the city’s mayor has invited him to do, the danger associated with holding any gatherings with him once he got there makes such a visit unlikely, according to the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas.

“Yesterday, three prime ministers arrived to Kyiv — the prime ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia. So, logistically speaking, yes, it is possible to come to Kyiv,” Kulbokas, the pope’s representative in Ukraine, told Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s “The World Over,” on March 17.

“I know that Pope Francis wants to do all that is possible for him in order to contribute for peace, so I know for sure that he is evaluating, he is thinking about all the possibilities,” he added.

However, Kulbokas explained, the hope is that a papal visit could involve more than simply a discussion, as can happen readily enough through conventional or online means. Catholics and church leaders would want to pray with him, as would members of the Orthodox Church and other faiths.

While it is certainly something to hope for, he said, the situation is “too dangerous in Kyiv.”

KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 18: A woman sheltering in a metro station brushes her daughter's hair on March 18, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Russian forces remain on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, but their advance has stalled in recent days, even while Russian strikes - and pieces of intercepted missiles - have hit residential areas in the north of Kyiv. An estimated half of Kyiv's population has fled to other parts of the country, or abroad, since Russia invaded on February 24. Chris McGrath/Getty Images
KYIV, UKRAINE – MARCH 18: A woman sheltering in a metro station brushes her daughter’s hair on March 18, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Russian forces remain on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, but their advance has stalled in recent days, even while Russian strikes – and pieces of intercepted missiles – have hit residential areas in the north of Kyiv. An estimated half of Kyiv’s population has fled to other parts of the country, or abroad, since Russia invaded on February 24. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Unable to leave nunciature

Kulbokas, 47, who is from Lithuania, is currently bunkering in the nunciature in a residential area of the Ukraine capital.

He told Arroyo that because of the danger of missiles, the upper levels of the building cannot be used. Authorities have asked residents to reduce their movements to only essential ones, he said.

Sleep, prayer, and the celebration of Mass are all held in the same rooms with no windows, he said, adding that the situation is “dramatic.” The government has ordered some of the local shops to stay open, he said, in order that food and other necessities may be available to the people. He said that he has assistants who make the trip to the shops to buy food and other supplies.

Kulbokas also revealed to Arroyo that he has not left his residence for 21 days, because of the frequent attacks on the city. You can watch the full interview in the video below.

‘I will try to get them out’

In the interview, Kulbokas spoke about the solidarity he feels with the pope and the wider Church during this ordeal.

He shared a conversation he had with Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski about the difficulties authorities were having evacuating children from an orphanage in the city, Kulbokas said. Such an undertaking is extremely complicated and risky because of ongoing Russian missile and artillery attacks and the damage that these have done to the city’s infrastructure.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk greet children in Lviv, Ukraine. Screenshot from zhyve.tv YouTube channel.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk greet children in Lviv, Ukraine. Screenshot from zhyve.tv YouTube channel.

Moved by the dire predicament, Krajewski pledged to take action himself, if necessary.

“Look, Visvalda, if you will see that the situation remains as difficult as it is now for some more hours, then I will come. I will take a car and I will try. I will try to get them out,” the nuncio said the Polish prelate told him. “Even under bombing. Even under shelling. If I die, I die. But at least I will try.” 

The exchange made an enormous impression on the nuncio.

Even though he was speaking with a special envoy of Pope Francis, not the pope himself, “I felt his presence,” Kulbokas said.

“He was some 500 or 600 kilometers away from Kyiv, but I was feeling his presence so strongly that it [gave me] courage also.”

Krajewski, who is in charge of the pope’s charitable efforts as papal almoner, will play a prominent role in Pope Francis’ upcoming consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

That day, while the pope leads the act of consecration at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Krajewski will do the same in Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Virgin Mary first requested Russia’s consecration during her appearances to three children in 1917.

Asked for his thoughts on the consecration, Kulbokas told Arroyo that the war does not just have political and military aspects, but spiritual ones, as well. 

The nuncio said he believes that “God wants to tell us something” by allowing this war to occur.

The Blessed Virgin Mary “is the one able to face these satanic deeds,” he said.

Kulbokas added that it is not enough for the pope to consecrate Russia and Ukraine; “all the believers” should join him in consecrating themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he said.

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