POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR FEBRUARY – “VATICAN INSIDER” TAKES A PILGRIMAGE TO VENICE – POPE FRANCIS’ “DISMAY” FOR CONFLICT IN SYRIA AND IRAQ – PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR EXPLOSION IN MEXICAN HOSPITAL

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POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR FEBRUARY

The Holy Father’s general prayer intention for February is: “That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.”

His missionary intention is: “That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.”

“VATICAN INSIDER” TAKES A PILGRIMAGE TO VENICE

Join me this weekend on “Vatican Insider” as I take you on a pilgrimage to Venice for a visit to the world famous St. Mark’s Basilica, to the church of La Madonna della Salute – Our Lady of Good Health, known by Venetians as La Salute – and then to the delightful Shrine of Our Lady of Graces, a small and very beautiful treasure. Venice, oncxe called the Serenissima Republic of Venice has many hidden treasures and we’ll explore a few of those.

ST. MARK’S BASILICA:

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LA SALUTE:

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OUR LADY OF GRACES:

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Venice - Our Lady of Graces 2

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POPE FRANCIS’ “DISMAY” FOR CONFLICT IN SYRIA AND IRAQ

This morning in the Consistory Hall, the Pope received thirty representatives of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He told them they should focus on the way the churches offered communion in the first centuries, and sacraments such as baptism.

This commission was constituted in 2003 following an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the ecclesiastical authorities of the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

During the last ten years, from a historical perspective, the commission has examined the roads through which the Churches have expressed their communion in the first centuries, and what this means for our search for communion today. During the five-day meeting this week, the commission embarked upon a deeper examination of the nature of the Sacraments, especially Baptism with the aim of producing a joint document on “Communion and Communication in the first five centuries of Christianity.”

Francis recalled the inspiring commitment to dialogue of His Holiness Ignatius Zakka I Was, Patriarch of the Syro-Orthodox Church of Antioch and all the East, who died last year, and joined in prayer with the clergy and the faithful for this “dedicated servant of God.”

“At this time,” said the Holy Father, “we especially feel dismay and deep sadness at what is happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. I think of all those living in the region, including our Christian brothers and sisters, and many minorities, who are experiencing the effects of a prolonged and painful conflict. I join you in praying for a negotiated solution and in imploring God’s goodness and mercy upon all those affected by this immense tragedy. All Christians are called to work together, in mutual acceptance and trust, in order to serve the cause of peace and justice. May the intercession and example of many martyrs and saints who have borne courageous witness of Christ in all our Churches sustain and strengthen you and your Christian communities.” (source VIS)

PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR EXPLOSION IN MEXICAN HOSPITAL

(VIS) – Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has sent a telegram on behalf of the Holy Father to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico, Mexico, following an explosion in the Maternity Hospital of Cualjimalpa that claimed several victims and casualties, including a number of babies. The explosion was caused during the transfer of fuel to the center of the city.

The telegram said that Pope Francis, “greatly saddened by this tragic news, offers his prayers for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed” and “wishes to convey his heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, along with expressions of comfort, and his fervent hope for the swift recovery of the injured. He imparts the comfort of his apostolic blessing as a sign of hope in the Resurrected Lord.”

POPE FRANCIS: PALLIUM TO BE GIVEN TO ARCHBISHOPS IN HOME DIOCESE, NOT ROME

It was basically a quiet day at the Vatican, especially for Pope Francis who did not have any public speeches but who did receive a number of people in private audiences including Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who just returned from Vietnam, a papal nuncio, two archbishops from Brazil and Italy, the ambassador from Colombia on his farewell visit and a delegation of Italo-Latin American parliamentarians.

However, there was an important story concerning changes Pope Francis has made in the bestowal of the pallium on new metropolitan archbishops. First reported in America magazine, the announcement appeared today on the Vatican news portal, news.va

POPE FRANCIS: PALLIUM TO BE GIVEN TO ARCHBISHOPS IN HOME DIOCESE, NOT ROME

Vaticanista Gerard O’Connell wrote in the January 28 edition of America magazine that Pope Francis has decided that the public ceremony of investiture of the pallium on metropolitan archbishops will henceforth take place in the prelates’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican as has been the case under recent pontiffs. America is a national Catholic weekly magazine published by Jesuits in the United States.

O’Connell writes that this year, however, the Holy Father will concelebrate Mass with the archbishops on June 29 and afterwards will give each metropolitan the pallium “in a private manner.” The pallium ceremony traditionally takes place in Rome on the June 29th solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles. (Photo from news.va)

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The America reports says Pope Francis “believes that in this way the ceremony  ‘will greatly favor the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history’. Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Ceremonies of papal liturgies stated this when he broke the news in a January 12 letter to nuncios in countries where there are metropolitan archbishops that were expected to receive the pallium from the Pope in the Vatican on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.”

Msgr. Marini, who also gave an interview to Vatican Radio, said, “Pope Francis believes that this new custom can serve to advance that journey of synodality in the Catholic Church which, from the beginning of his pontificate, he has constantly emphasized as particularly urgent and precious at this time in the history of the Church.”

It will be the nuncio, the papal ambassador, in each country who will formally bestow the pallium in a ceremony to be determined individually with each new metropolitan.

The pallium, which is placed on the shoulders of each archbishop and worn at all liturgical ceremonies in his own archdiocese, is a band of white wool with two hanging pieces, front and back, that is decorated with six black crosses and represents the authority of a metropolitan archbishop and unity with the Holy Father.  The Pope also wears a pallium. The wool used in weaving the palliums comes from baby lambs  – lambs under one year of age – that are blessed each year in the Basilica of St. Agnese in Rome on her January 21 feast day and then brought to the Apostolic Palace to the Holy Father.

In 2013 Abp. Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis received the pallium from Pope Francis: you can see it here as he shows it to a friend. (JFL photos)

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The America article said Pope Francis decided to make this change “after a long reflection and upon receiving advice which he had requested.” He said the Holy Father has decided that, “the pallium will be blessed during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican, but placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio.”

On June 27, 2012, new rites for bestowing palliums were announced. A Holy See Press Office statement said, “Things will remain substantially the same but this year, following a logic of development in continuity, it has been decided simply to move the rite itself, and it will now take place before the Eucharistic celebration.” The statement indicated that the changes were made to shorten the rite. The names of the archbishops will be read out before the opening procession and the rite of the palliums will take place once the Holy Father reaches the altar.  The changes to the rite were approved by Pope Benedict.

POPE FRANCIS FOCUSES ON FATHERS, FATHERHOOD AT WEEKLY AUDIENCE – PATRIARCHS AND CHRISTIAN LEADERS MEET IN LEBANON

POPE FRANCIS FOCUSES ON FATHERS, FATHERHOOD AT WEEKLY AUDIENCE

Wednesday at the general audience in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis returned to the theme of the family and dedicated his catechesis to fathers and fatherhood. Weeks ago the Pope had announced that, between the two synods dedicated to the family – October 2014 and this coming October – he would be dedicating a series of catechesis to the family. In a previous audience he spoke on mothers and motherhood and today, at the end of his talk, said he will further pursue this theme and focus on “the beauty of paternity,” saying, “May the Lord help us to understand these things well.”

At the end of the general audience, performers from the Medrano circus entertained the Holy Father, who visibly enjoyed the jugglers and other acts, and the faithful who filled the hall on a cold January morning

Pope Francis began his talk by noting that, “Father is a universal word, known to all. It indicates a fundamental relationship that is real and ancient as the history of mankind. Today, however, we have reached the point of affirming that ours would be a ‘society without fathers’. In other words, in particular in western culture, the figure of the father seems to be symbolically absent, seems to have vanished. … At first, this was perceived as a form of liberation: freedom from the father-master, …. Indeed, in the past in some cases authoritarianism, indeed even oppression, reigned in some homes: parents who treated their children like servants, who did not respect the personal needs of their growth, fathers who did not help them to embark on their path in freedom, to assume their own responsibilities for building their future and that of society”.

And now, said the Pope, “we have gone from one extreme to the other. …. from the invasive presence of fathers … to their absence. … Fathers are so focused on themselves, on their work and at times their personal fulfilment, that they even forget their families, leaving children and the young to their own devices. … Now, on this shared path of reflection on the family, I would like to say to all Christian communities that we must be more careful: the absence of the paternal figure in the life of children and the young produces voids and wounds that can be very serious.” The Pope explained how serious it is when children do not have “examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life” or “closeness and love from their fathers.”

“The feeling of orphanhood experienced by many young people,” explained the Holy Father,” is more profound than we might think. They are orphans in their families because their fathers are often absent, also physically, from the home, but above all because when they are present, they do not act like fathers: they do not speak with their children, they do not give their children, by their example accompanied by words, those principles, those values, those rules for life that the young need in the same way as they need bread. … At times it seems as if fathers are not sure what position they should occupy in the family, or how to educate their children. And so, in doubt, they abstain, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, possibly seeking refuge in an improbable relationship of parity with their children.”

The Pope said that sometimes the civil community”neglects or poorly exercises” its responsibilities and this too leaves children “as orphans, and does not offer them true prospects. The young are therefore orphaned of sure paths to follow, orphaned of teachers in whom they can trust, orphaned of ideals to warm their hearts, orphaned of values and hopes that support them day by day. They are filled with idols but robbed of their hearts; they are driven to dream of enjoyment and pleasure, but they are not given work; they are deluded by the god of money and denied true richness.”

Pope Francis concluded by noting that, “just as Jesus promised that he would not leave us orphans, let us ask him to deepen and renew our appreciation of fatherhood and to raise up good fathers for the benefit of our families, our Church and our world.”

PATRIARCHS AND CHRISTIAN LEADERS MEET IN LEBANON

(From Beirut – AsiaNews) – A meeting of the Patriarchs and Christian leaders of the East was held yesterday in Bkerke, the seat of the Patriarchate of Lebanon to address the situation of Christians in the Middle East and ask the Arab and international community to stop supporting terrorism, aid the refugee emergency and work for their return home. The need for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was also underscored.

Patriarch Beshara Rai said that the goal of the gathering was to study the situation of Christian refugees and that of the faithful who have decided to stay in their country, despite war and difficulties. For them, he added, it is urgent to help them secure a job, schools, housing so “they can stay in their respective countries and preserve their Christian tradition and mission.” The other goal is an appeal “to the two communities Arab and international” to come to the aid of the refugees, helping them to return home and to rebuild their houses. This can be done “by ending the war in Syria and Iraq by peaceful means, through political negotiations and a serious dialogue between the warring parties, neutralizing terrorist organizations.” This can only be achieved if the Arab and the international community “cease to support [the terrorists] in financial and military terms, closing the borders where it is necessary to prevent the movement of mercenaries”.

“Political and economic designs – he added – cannot justify these terrible attacks against humanity.” For the Christian patriarchs and leaders, greater efforts must be made to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, on the basis of the formula “two peoples, two states”, allowing the return of refugees to their homes. “It ‘obvious – said Patriarch Rai – that both the Israeli Palestinian conflict and Israeli-Arab conflict is the root cause of the misfortunes that we are experiencing today in the Middle East.” Christian leaders are asking for greater effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to assist refugees and securing the release of all those who have been abducted, or detained, whether civil, military or religious figures. These include the two bishops, the Greek-orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox, Youhanna Ibrahim, in the hands of fundamentalist groups in Syria for almost two years.

The situation in Lebanon was also discussed particular the lack of President since last May and the Christian and Muslim political groups who are boycotting the election of the head of state. The meeting was attended by Greek-orthodox patriarch Youhanna Yazigi; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Afram II; Patriarch Greek-catholic Gregory III Laham; Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Youssef III Younane; Joseph Arnaout, representative of the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, Nercès Bedros IX; Michel Kassargi, Chaldean bishop in Lebanon; Pastor Sélim Sahyoun, President of the High Council of the Evangelical community in Lebanon and Syria; the Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Caccia; several representatives of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant charitable organizations.

AUSCHWITZ, A PLACE OF “UNPRECEDENTED MASS CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST GOD AND MAN,” A PLACE OF “DREAD SILENCE – A SILENCE WHICH IS ITSELF A HEARTFELT CRY TO GOD: WHY, LORD, DID YOU REMAIN SILENT? HOW COULD YOU TOLERATE ALL THIS?”

The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2015. Entitled “Make your hearts firm.” it was signed in the Vatican on October 4, 2014, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

While a papal Message is always important, I am dedicating this column today to the celebrations in Italy and elsewhere of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  I covered Pope Benedict’s historic visit to this camp when he traveled to Poland in May 2006, his first foreign trip as Pope (not counting his trip in August to Cologne for World Youth Day, a place and time chosen by his predecessor, St. John Paul). Benedict chose Poland to honor his predecessor who had died 13 months earlier after a pontificate of nearly 27 years

I spent a day at Auschwitz, a day I will never forget as long as I live. I wrote about that visit on my May 31, 2006 “Joan’s Rome.”  I just re-read that column – probably the longest I ever wrote – and am breathless – once again!  So that none of us ever forget the Holocaust, I offer that column today, accompanied by some of the many photos I took.

(Not to slight Pope Francis, here is a link to his Lenten message: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20141004_messaggio-quaresima2015.html)

Every year on January 27, Italy marks Holocaust Remembrance Day but this year it is a bigger – and more poignant – commemoration because today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. With events scheduled in schools, churches, Rome’s synagogue and in Parliament, Italy is remembering the day when Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1.1 million prisoners were put to death, was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945.

In fact, Pope Francis marked this anniversary with this tweet: Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples.

AUSCHWITZ, A PLACE OF “UNPRECEDENTED MASS CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST GOD AND MAN,” A PLACE OF “DREAD SILENCE – A SILENCE WHICH IS ITSELF A HEARTFELT CRY TO GOD: WHY, LORD, DID YOU REMAIN SILENT? HOW COULD YOU TOLERATE ALL THIS?”

I know to the core of my being that I will never forget May 28, 2006.

The day I visited Auschwitz.

The day a German-born Pope visited “this abyss of terror” where over 60 years ago other Germans killed 1.5 million people, overwhelmingly Jewish, in gas chambers and crematoriums, by working them to death or shooting them, or through atrocious, horrifying medical experiments.

The day that survivors of Auschwitz were embraced by a German Pope who, shortly afterward, in his talk in Italian – not in Polish, not in his native German, but in his adopted Italian, with sensitivity and deference to his listeners – said: “In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the loving God never to let this happen again.”

The day began, as it would end, with a series of unforeseen events. The first happened when I left my hotel – just yards away from Blonie Park where the papal Mass was to start at 9:45 – to go to the press section, a ten- or fifteen-minute walk at a fast pace as the park is enormous, capable of holding one and a half million people. Every street in sight was closed. As far as the eye could see there were metal barriers, uniformed guards of all types, police cars and wagons and ambulances – and (as we later would discover) one million people, who flowed into Blonie like a rushing cascade of humanity. I not only had to show ID to get into the park, I had to show it to leave the hotel grounds.

Journalists wore plasticized ID cards with name, rank, news organization, photo and a few other details. Behind that main identification badge were slightly smaller plastic cards with the specific name and date of a specific venue, allowing access (or not allowing it if you were without the proper ID) to that event. I showed all the proper identification to the guards, was allowed through the myriad gates, and proceeded to walk in the direction that a uniformed guard told me was the spot for journalists.

The policeman’s minimal English and my minimal Polish should have alerted me to the distinct possibility that I was being pointed in the wrong direction. And, after 15 minutes of making my way through the biggest crowd I ever recall being part of – past food and drink vendors (all sales of alcohol were banned from 6 p.m. Friday to midnight Sunday, throughout the entire city: the keys on a cash register that indicate liquor sales were locked down until midnight Sunday), and countless men in uniform, of whom I asked directions to the press section. After 15 minutes I knew instinctively I was just as far from the press section as when I started out because I could now see the papal altar and to one side was the press section. However, it was across the park from where I had been directed.

So I sprinted back to the starting gate, so to speak, spoke to several policeman and told them I had to get to May 3 Street (I did learn something in all of this!) to get to the press section. No, I was told after 10 minutes of waiting as police used their walkie-talkies. The press section had been closed much earlier (earlier by 30 minutes than it was supposed to have closed). No one was allowed in. I was incommunicado with my colleagues because cell phone calls were being jumbled for security reasons. Mass had started by now and I had no choice but to go to the Press Center since I could not get to the press section, nor could I work in the hotel (as you know from my previous blog).

But even the Press Center was not looking like an alternative. Every road within sight was closed. No cars, taxis or busses in or out of our area. I asked one friendly policeman who spoke a little English what he could suggest. I said I must work. Did he have any ideas? He said: “You. Wait. Here.” I saw him speak to colleagues, then get on a walkie-talkie and all of a sudden, I was whisked off to the Press Center with a police escort!

Only the sun coming out could have warmed my heart more. The fun part was arriving at the Center where many colleagues were milling about outside, surprised looks on their faces, wondering why I arrived in a police car. It later dawned on me that a lot of people at the park who saw me leave in a police car probably wondered what on earth I had done!

There was little time at the center for real work because the busses for Auschwitz were due to leave at 11:30. In fact, that created a huge problem for people attending the Pope Benedict’s Mass – which would not be over by the time the busses left. And that is one of the problems in covering such events – and it was far worse for those on the papal flight. It is usually physically impossible to cover all the events – getting bussed to one event, staying while the Pope is present in order to get your story and then, with breakneck speed, trying to get to the next papal event – if there is a bus, if it hasn’t already left, a lot of “ifs” involved. Even a private car does not help that much. Another problem is that once you are in a venue, you are usually not allowed to leave before the Pope does. So you are back at square one.

It is worse for those on the papal flight because when they arrive at a venue, they have precious little time as a rule to see the site, watch the event or interview people, because, not long after the Pope arrives, they have to depart for the next venue. Auschwitz upset most of the correspondents on the papal plane because they were told to leave for their busses to go to the airport 15 minutes after Pope Benedict’s arrival. The most historic moment of the entire apostolic trip and they could not witness it in its entirety.

The visit to Auschwitz was overshadowed by an attack, the previous day, on Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, 50, on a Warsaw street when a young man yelled “Poland for the Poles” and sprayed the rabbi’s face with what appeared to be pepper spray, when he questioned the man about what he said. Poland’s interior ministry issued a statement calling the attack “a provocation aimed at creating an image of Poland as an anti-Semitic country.” The Israeli embassy also had its say.

The rabbi minimized the attack when he spoke to the press. Focusing instead on Benedict’s visit Sunday to Auschwitz where the two would meet, Rabbi Schudrich said the visit “will not be easy for Benedict XVI, and perhaps even unpleasant, but I think he feels it is his duty to go there. I respect his decision. The fact he is here has great significance.” He told the Polish news service that, “anyone who ever visits Auschwitz, in which the greatest genocide in the world was committed, will never be the same.”

Before World War II, Jews numbered about 4 million in Poland, about ten percent of the entire population. After the war, they numbered only a few thousand and today still are relatively small in number. The anti-Semitism that had been prevalent before the war, then diminished somewhat, returned in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s but, with the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, the new government – and successive governments – attempted to improve relations with the Jews and with Israel. However, one of the parties within the coalition of the current government, ruling together with the Law and Justice Party, is the League of Polish Families, considered to be on the far right, with a strain of anti-Semitism, say observers. This, add the observers, impairs efforts to improve relations with Jews and with Israel.

On Sunday, the media was brought by bus to Oswiecim, Poland, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site where a media center had been erected just a few hundred yards from the area of the camp where Pope Benedict and other religious leaders would participate in an inter-religious, multi-lingual ceremony commemorating the victims of Nazism.

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To reach the media tent we drove around the perimeter of Auschwitz-Birkenau (known as Auschwitz II) – about one and a half miles from the camp known as Auschwitz I, which the Pope visited privately. My companion on the bus to Auschwitz, Natalia Reiker, a knowledgeable and articulate Polish girl working for Reuters in Warsaw, told me that to truly sense and understand what had happened on these now quiet grounds and grassy knolls, the camps should be visited on a normal day, when there are no tents for the media, no stage for a musical ensemble, no outdoor tables for sandwiches and beverages for the media, no satellite dishes punctuating the landscape, no platform with chairs for several thousand guests.

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She is right, of course. But I was nonetheless speechless at what I saw: the tall guard towers, the miles, it seemed, of barbed wire fences, the row upon row upon row – as far as the eye could see – of sad brick barracks which housed those who were allowed to survive the gas chambers in order to labor.

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Sunday everything seemed so peaceful, almost bucolic. No emaciated prisoners toiling in the fields or kitchens or crematoriums. No trains arriving with their huddled, frightened masses. No screams being heard from laboratories where excruciatingly horrifying experiments were carried out on defenseless human beings. Just the stillness of an empty compound, the breath of the forest with its swaying trees, the patter of rain that fell intermittently.

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And yet the silence spoke to me. It helped me be with my own thoughts. It helped me imagine what had happened here, conjuring up images from movies I had seen that tried to portray man’s inhumanity to man. And that was the phrase that stuck with me all day: man’s inhumanity to man.

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In the media center tent, we watched images of Pope Benedict as he and his entourage arrived at Auschwitz I, after a triumphant leave-taking of Krakow.

This solitary figure in white entered Auschwitz alone and on foot, looking pensively ahead as he walked 300 meters to the yard of Block 11. The metal gate at the entrance (the only entrance to the camp) through which the Pope walked, was made by Polish prisoners and shipped to this camp in the summer of 1940. The sign above the gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes you Free) was made by a group of prisoners who were locksmiths. The letter “B” in the first word “arbeit (work)” was purposefully turned upside down by the men as they made the sign, as an act of disobedience.

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After the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers, they wanted to ship the inscription part of the gate off to the U.S.S.R. but former inmates bribed a sentry, removed the original inscription, substituted it with a new one, and hid the original in the town hall. The original inscription was brought back and is the one seen today.

Pope Benedict walked through the gate because he had been told that the German soldiers entered by car but prisoners had to enter on foot. And so he chose to walk into Auschwitz.

The Pope prayed and lit a memorial candle, handed to him by former inmates, at the execution wall. He then greeted 32 former inmates, one of whom, a woman, Salomea Kanikula, was a survivor of atrocious medical experiments. He visited and prayed in the death cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe and lit a candle left there by John Paul II in 1979. After signing the commemorative book, the Holy Father went to the Center for Dialogue and Prayer, met the staff, volunteers and Carmelite sisters who live in a nearby convent, signed another commemorative book and blessed the activity of the center.

Benedict’s arrival at Birkenau was scheduled for about 5:45 but he was about 30 minutes behind schedule at this point. This former concentration camp was the site of the gas chambers used to exterminate the prisoners: They were blown up or set on fire by Germans as they left the camp in 1945.

In the pouring rain of a cloudburst, the Pope and a small entourage arrived at Birkenau where, under the cover of a large, white umbrella, he greeted people and then walked slowly past the row of 22 tablets, each written in a different language, that commemorated the more than 1.5 million people who perished at Birkenau. Candles inside blue glass holders were placed at each plaque by young boys and girls of various nationalities.

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About 1,500 guests were in what was called the “O Zone,” the area nearest the Pope, including 200 former inmates, representatives of Jewish communities in Poland and around the world, and members of movements and organizations actively involved in promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue and Polish-German dialogue. Also present was Polish President Lech Kaczynski, members of the diplomatic corps, senior members of the Vatican and the Church in Poland, and the ambassadors of Israel to Poland and the Vatican.

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Outside the “O Zone,” but still close to the Pope, were several thousand invited guests, mostly faithful from the diocese where Auschwitz is located, and members of the media.

I did a live stand-up for EWTN at 5 p.m. and, to better view the entire ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I remained on the TV platform afterwards. As I climbed the stairs to the platform for the stand-up, I found I had an excellent vantage point for all the ceremonies but as I got to the Position Three camera, my heart stopped.

Not 30 feet away were the tracks for the trains that had brought 1.5 million prisoners to this camp, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers, just yards away. I just stood and stared. Beyond the tracks was the vast space of barbed wire and barracks and guard towers and thick forests. And then I saw it: The tracks simply ended. They went nowhere. They ended. As did the lives of all who entered Birkenau.

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We had seen train tracks off to our right on the road we used to enter Birkenau. They went through the main building and gate – but we couldn’t see where they ended until we actually arrived at the commemorative area. Pope Benedict was seated perhaps 50 yards away from where the tracks dead-ended.

As I turned to face the camera – with the train tracks behind me – I again had my breath taken away. In front of me now, not 100 feet away, was a gas chamber, or the ruins of one. It had been blown up by the Nazis as they left the camp in the hopes of leaving no signs of their barbaric acts – yet it was there, its remnants a stark reminder, once again, of man’s inhumanity to man. Later, as I returned to the media tent, I saw the black floor of another chamber and the vents through which gas had been pumped into the chambers.

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I tried to think of the individual victims, to do what Pope Benedict suggested in his talk at Birkenau, when he spoke of the inscriptions on the tablets. “They would stir our hearts profoundly,” he said, “if we remembered the victims not merely in general but rather saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror.” These were people, with names, faces, families, feelings. Not a statistic. Not “one and a half million people” – but one person. And another. And yet another. All individuals.

I could only do that if I closed my eyes. But I did try. I try to imagine the faces of friends, to imagine that people I knew were plucked off the street or torn from their homes, crammed into a train and brought to what the Pope called “this place of horror,” simply because they were Jewish or gypsy, or whatever their “crime” was. People stripped of their human dignity and worth. People treated as “material objects,” not “as persons embodying the image of God.” People seen as “part of the refuse of world history in an ideology which valued only the empirically useful.” People whose “life (was) unworthy to be lived.

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In the midst of the pain of remembrance, of the Kaddish, the Jewish song for the deceased, of the reciting of Psalm 22 and prayers in six languages, including Roma, Russian, Polish, Hebrew, English and German (recited by Pope Benedict), the most astonishing thing happened.

An immensely beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky! An awesome, unforgettable magical moment in the midst of remembering godless evil.

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Was this not the hand of God, answering the Pope’s question: “Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?” Was it God telling us: “I was there, but no one let me speak. They tried to kill Me too. I am here now, and I’m speaking.”

The magic and yet mystery of the rainbow as it swept away the black rain clouds was lost on no one. Someone tapped Pope Benedict on the shoulder to tell him to turn around and look at this phenomenal sign. The rainbow stayed in the sky for what seemed like a long time. Rainbows can be so ephemeral, but it appeared that this one had a message, a message uniting all of us, irrespective of language, nationality or religion.

What is at the end of a rainbow? Hope? Joy? Peace? Reconciliation? A better tomorrow in a better world? Perhaps even man’s humanity towards man?

As the rainbow graced the sky, Pope Benedict began his address: “To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible – and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany,” said Benedict XVI.

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“In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence that is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did You remain silent? How could You tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.”

He recalled the 1979 visit by John Paul II, who “came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. ‘Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,’ he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations.”

“John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of John Paul II and as a son of the German people – a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.”

“How many questions arise in this place!” he exclaimed. “Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? … How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, … This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age … suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness.”

“We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No, when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: … Do not forget mankind, Your creature!”

“Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him.”

“The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. … Some [of the] inscriptions [here] are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. … If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God Who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone – to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.”

“Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people. … There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold aim: by setting people free from one dictatorship, they were to submit them to another, that of Stalin and the communist system.” The inscription in German serves as a reminder that “the Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as … the refuse of the nation.”

“Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instill hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil.”

As I read, then listened to Benedict’s words, I could only imagine his pain as he wrote them. I imagined a sting of tears as he thought of the atrocities performed by one human being on another, of the senselessness and destructive force of violence and hatred, of the apparent absence of God at the darkest moment, when mankind most needed God’s light.

May 28, 2006.

The day I went to Auschwitz.

The day that Benedict XVI ended his visit to Poland with a dramatic visit to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, where he spoke about his native land, about Nazism, mass crimes, terror and intimidation, about the horrors that German soldiers perpetrated on Jews in the Shoah, and their attempt to silence or kill God. But, in this place of remembrance, he also spoke of “the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror,” of reconciliation, conversion, peace and God’s love.

FOCUS OF A PAPAL WEEKEND: CONSECRATED LIFE AND CHRISTIAN UNITY – BALLOONS, NOT DOVES, RELEASED BY CATHOLIC ACTION AT VATICAN – POPE ON INDISPENSABLE ROLE OF WOMEN IN TRANSMITTING THE FAITH

Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily this morning during his daily Mass in the Santa Marta Chapel and focussed on the indispensable role of women in the tranmission of the faith. The Vatican Radio translation into English (which they do daily for the papal Masses) is the third news story today.

FOCUS OF A PAPAL WEEKEND: CONSECRATED LIFE AND CHRISTIAN UNITY

It was a busy weekend for Pope Francis who met with a number of groups on Saturday, including participants in a three-day seminar on consecrated life and the search for Christian unity, and then on Sunday not only prayed the Angelus with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square but later that afternoon presided at vespers in the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls to end the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Pope Saturday highlighted the vital role played by men and women religious of different Christian Churches in the ecumenical journey, saying “men and women religious who pray for unity are like ‘an invisible monastery’ bringing together Christians of different denominations from different countries around the world.” (photos from news.va)POPE FRANCIS - CONSECRATED PEOPLE

Participants in this three-day meeting concluded each day with Vespers in the Orthodox, Anglican and Catholic traditions, and participated Sunday in the liturgy presided over by Pope Francis in St Paul’s.

Quoing from the Vatican Council II document “Unitatis Redintegratio” that stressed that spiritual ecumenism is the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, Francis said, “consecrated people like yourselves therefore have a particular vocation in this work of promoting unity.”

He then named three conditions at the core of the search for Christian unity : 1. no unity without conversion of heart, which includes forgiving and asking for forgiveness; 2. no unity without prayer and 3. “no unity without holiness of daily life. so the more we put our search for unity into practise in our relations with others, the more we will be modelling our lives on the message of the Gospel.”

Sunday evening at St. Paul’s, the Pope presided at the second Vespers on the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul, bringing to a close the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, whose theme this year was “Give me to drink” (John, 4.7). Present at the liturgy were representatives from other Churches and ecclesial communities in Rome.

The focus of the Holy Father’s homily was the Gospel pasage about the Samaritan woman. He explains that, “On his way from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria. He has no problem dealing with Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews to be heretics, schismatics, separate. His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.”

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“Jesus is patient, respectful of the person before him, and gradually reveals himself to her. His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others. To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity. Unity grows along the way; it never stands still. Unity happens when we walk together.

Francis said, “So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity, we are convinced, will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. When the Son of Man comes, he will find us still discussing! We need to realise that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts, reconciles differences.”

“In the call to be evangelizers,” stated Pope Francis, “all the Churches and ecclesial communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations. Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel.”

“In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today. They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood’.”

He noted the presence at vespers of the group he met Saturday, “men and women religious from various Churches and ecclesial communities who have taken part in an ecumenical meeting organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to mark the Year for Consecrated Life.” He said, “the pursuit of Christian unity cannot be the sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue. A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and ecclesial communities”.

BALLOONS, NOT DOVES, RELEASED BY CATHOLIC ACTION AT VATICAN 

At the end of Sunday’s Angelus prayer, the Pope was joined at his study window by a two young people from Italian Catholic Action of the diocese of Rome as the group concludes its traditional January journey of the “Caravan of Peace.” The youth were from two Roman parishes and the girl read a message of peace from ACI. In the past, each young person released a dove – the symbol of peace – after words by the Holy Father. However, last year two bigger birds – a crow and a seagull – attacked the smaller birds and, though captured on film, it was never known whether they survived the attack.

This year, the young people of Catholic Action in St. Peter’s Square released a mini hotair balloon containing messages of peace, as well as smaller balloons. (If you have visited the Vatican’s news.va website, you can be excused for thinking that doves were released this year. The photo of Pope Francis and the two ACI youngsters releasing doves is from last year, albeit the two young people this year look like twins to last year’s boy and girl!)

In earlier remarks, Francis had noted “with deep concern the escalation of the clashes in east Ukraine, which continue to claim many victims among the civilian population. While I assure my prayers to those who suffer, I renew my heartfelt appeal for the resumption of attempts at dialogue in order to bring an end to the hostilities.”

He also mentioned that Sunday marked World Leprosy Day, and expressed his closeness to “all those who suffer from this disease, as well as those who care for them and those who fight to eradicate the causes of contagion, that is, living conditions that are not worthy of mankind. Let us renew our commitment to solidarity with these brothers and sisters.”

Finally, the Pope addressed the large contingent in St. Peter’s Square fom the Filipino community in Rome. “The Filipino people are wonderful for their strong and joyful faith. May the Lord also support those of you who live far from your homeland. Many thanks for your witness, and thank you for all the good you do for us, as you sow faith among us and offer a beautiful witness of faith.”

POPE ON INDISPENSABLE ROLE OF WOMEN IN TRANSMITTING THE FAITH

(Vatican Radio) The primary and indispensable role of women in transmitting the faith to new generations: this was the focus of Pope Francis’ remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day at Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. On the day when the Church celebrates the memory of Saints Timothy and Titus – bishops and disciples of St Paul the Apostle – Pope Francis commented in particular on the second letter of Paul to Timothy.

Mothers and Grandmothers transmit the faith

Paul reminds Timothy, said the Pope, that his “sincere faith” comes from the Holy Spirit,  “through his mother and grandmother.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Mothers and grandmothers are the ones who, in the first place [in primis]  transmit the faith.” The Holy Father went on to say:

It is one thing to pass on the faith, and another to teach the matters of faith. Faith is a gift: it is not possible to study Faith. We study the things of faith, yes, to understand it better, but with study [alone] one never comes to Faith. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which surpasses all [“academic”] formation.

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Faith, moreover, is a gift that passes from generation to generation, through the “beautiful work of mothers and grandmothers, the fine work of the women who play those roles,” in a family, “whether they be maids or aunts,” who transmit the faith:

It occurs to me: why is it mainly women, who to pass on the faith? Simply because the one who brought us Jesus is a woman. It is the path chosen by Jesus. He wanted to have a mother: the gift of faith comes to us through women, as Jesus came to us through Mary.

Cherish the gift of faith  – don’t let it become watered down

“We need,” said Pope Francis, “in our own day to consider whether women really are aware of the duty they have to transmit the faith.” Paul invites Timothy to guard the Faith, the deposit of Faith, avoiding “empty pagan chatter, empty chatter of the world.” He went on to say, “We have – all of us – received the gift of faith: we have to keep it, at least in order that it not become watered down, so that it remains strong, with the power of the Holy Spirit who gave it to us.” We keep the faith by cherishing and nurturing it every day:

If we do not have this care, every day, to revive this gift of God which is Faith, but rather let faith weaken, become diluted, Faith ends up being a culture: ‘Yes, but, yes, yes, I am a Christian, yes yes,’ – a mere culture – or a gnosis, [a specialized kind of] knowledge: ‘Yes, I know well all the matters of Faith, I know the catechism’. But how do you live your faith? This, then, is the importance of reviving every day this gift: to bring it to life.”

Timidity and shame do not increase the faith

Saint Paul says that there are two things in particular that contrast with a living Faith: “the spirits of timidity and of shame”:

God has not given us a spirit of timidity. The spirit of timidity goes against the gift of faith: it does not let faith grow, advance, be great. Shame, in turn, is the following sin, [which says]: ‘Yes, I have faith, but I cover it up, that it not be seen too much’. It’s a little bit here, a little bit there – it is, as our forebears called it, a “rosewater” faith – because I am ashamed to live it powerfully. No: this is not the faith: [Faith knows] neither timidity nor shame. What is it, then? It is a spirit of power and of love and of prudence: that is what faith is This is the faith.”

Faith is not negotiable

Pope Francis explained that the spirit of prudence is knowing that we cannot do everything we want: it means looking for the ways, the path, the manners by which to carry the faith forward, cautiously. “We ask the Lord’s grace,” he concluded, “that we might have a sincere faith, a faith that is not negotiable depending on the opportunities that come, a faith that every day I try to revive or at least ask the Holy Spirit to revive it, and make it bear much fruit.”

“COMMUNICATING THE FAMILY, A PRIVILEGED PLACE OF ENCOUNTER WITH THE GIFT OF LOVE” – BEING A CARDINAL IS A VOCATION, NOT A PRIZE, SAYS POPE FRANCIS – PHILIPPINE CONGRESS TO PASS RESOLUTION THANKING POPE FRANCIS

DUE TO TECHNICAL PROBLEMS ON FRIDAY (NOW RESOLVED), I WAS UNABLE TO POST THIS COLUMN AT “JOAN’S ROME” AT EWTN.COM BUT I DID POST IT TO MY FACEBOOK PAGE (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) SO ALWAYS CHECK THERE.

A FUTURE AMERICAN SAINT: Thursday afternoon, January 22 the Holy Father received in a private audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during which he authorized the Congregation to promulgate 11 decrees – 1 for a miracle, 3 for martyrdom and 7 for heroic virtues, including Servant of God Aloysius Schwartz, American diocesan priest, founder of the Sisters of Mary of Banneux and the Brothers of Christ (1930-1992).

VATICAN INSIDER TO FEATURE SPECIAL ON THE CATACOMBS:  This week we again feature a “BEST OF” on Vatican Insider when I bring you on a visit to the catacombs. The technical issues with at least one of my three recorders have been solved, and things should be back to normal next week. In the meantime, enjoy your visit to “underground” Rome, to the burial places of the first Christians.

And I hope you enjoy the Pope’s Message for World Communications Day, released this morning (see below). It is wonderful and will not long to read at all!

Pope Francis has a Message for all of us: communications between individuals, especially in a family setting, was around long before radio, television, telephones, cell phones or tablets, Facebook or Twitter. He writes, “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.”

He is basically urging us all to communicate face to face, parents as a couple, children with each other, everyone in a family setting, surrounded perhaps by several generations of family members. Francis says: “In the family, we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one other yet are so important to each other. This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness. When we lessen distances by growing closer and accepting one another, we experience gratitude and joy.”

The Pope doesn’t explicitly say that families should be together at dinner time, for example, to share each other’s daily adventures, trials and joys but you can sense it in between the lines.

“COMMUNICATING THE FAMILY, A PRIVILEGED PLACE OF ENCOUNTER WITH THE GIFT OF LOVE”

Every year, on the January 24 feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of Catholic journalists, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications offers a Mass for those who work in the Vatican’s media offices – the council itself, radio, CTV, the press office and L’Osservatore Romano –and those from the world’s media who report on the Vatican.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Cell, council president, was the main celebrant this morning of a concelebrated Mass at 9:30 in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina on Via della Conciliazione, close to all Vatican offices. Later this morning, in the Holy See Press Office, he presented the Holy Father’s Message for the World Day of Social Communications on the theme “Communicating the  Family – a Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.”

The papal Message is traditionally published on the feast of St. Francis de Sales and Communications Day is celebrated in most countries on the Sunday before Pentecost, thus, May 17, 2015.

“This year’s message,” says a communique from the council, “calls on the faithful to see families as “a resource rather than as a problem for society” and invites families to be examples of Christ’s love, kindness and fellowship.

“In a world where people often curse, use foul language, speak badly of others, sow discord and poison our human environment by gossip, the family can teach us to understand communication as a blessing,” the Pope writes.  “In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where families are separated by stone walls or the no less impenetrable walls of prejudice and resentment, where there seem to be good reasons for saying “enough is enough”, it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting, that we can break the spiral of evil, show that goodness is always possible, and educate our children to fellowship.”

“From this text,” explained the archbishop, “there emerges a positive overall message, given that the Pope affirms that the family continues to be a great resource and not merely a problem or an institution in crisis. As we can see, the Pope is not interested principally in the problem between the family and communication linked to new technologies. He instead focuses on the most profoundly true and human dimension of communication.”

The message affirms, he added, that the family “has the capacity to communicate itself and to communicate, by virtue of the bond that links its various members.” He noted that “a paragraph is dedicated to prayer, defined as a fundamental form of communication that finds in the family its truest environment of discovery and experience.”

“In this context,” said the council president, forgiveness is understood “as a dynamic of communication because, when contrition is expressed and accepted, it becomes possible to restore and rebuild the communication which broke down.” He also remarked that a long paragraph is devoted to the most modern media and their influence on communication in and among families, both as a help and a hindrance.

He noted that the text clearly restates what has already been underlined in the teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. “But it is important to rediscover yet again that the parents are the first educators of their children, who are increasingly present in the digital sphere. The presence of parents does not have a primarily technological dimension – generally children know more than their parents in this field – but is important on account of the wisdom they contribute.”

“It is well-known that one of the great risks is that children or teenagers may isolate themselves in a ‘virtual world’, significantly reducing their necessary integration in real everyday life and in the interrelationships of friendship. This is not to say that the relationships of affection or friendship that develop in the context of the web are not real. It must also be remembered that the young – and the not so young – are called upon to give witness to Christ in the digital world too, in the social networks we all inhabit.”

Click here to read Pope Francis’ Message for World Commnications Day in English: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20150123_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html

Click here for Spanish: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20150123_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html

BEING A CARDINAL IS A VOCATION, NOT A PRIZE, SAYS POPE FRANCIS

Pope Francis has sent a letter to each of the 20 prelates who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals during the consistory on February 14th in the Vatican. In his letter, the Pope reminded the prelates that being a Cardinal is a vocation to serve and stressed the need to be humble.

“Staying humble, while serving is not easy,” he wrote, especially when people consider the cardinalate “as a prize, or the peak of one’s career,” a dignified position of power or of superior distinction.  The Pope urged them to strive every day to stay away from such considerations.  And when celebrating the elevation to your new vocation, he continued, do so with humility and ensure that these celebrations are not contaminated by the spirit of worldliness which can intoxicate more than drinking brandy on an empty stomach, and can separate one from Christ’s Cross. (Vatican Radio)

PHILIPPINE CONGRESS TO PASS RESOLUTION THANKING POPE FRANCIS

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives will immediately pass various resolutions filed by lawmakers thanking Pope Francis for inspiring and bringing hope to Filipinos during his historic five-day visit last week, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday.

Belmonte is among those who filed resolutions expressing the Filipinos’ gratitude to the pope, whose recent visit centered on the universal message of “mercy and compassion.”

The Speaker and other legislators filed House Resolution 1816, which stressed that Pope Francis “provided inspiration and encouragement to millions of Filipinos to make Jesus Christ the center of their lives.”

“Despite the harsh weather conditions brought about by (Tropical Storm) Amang, Pope Francis proceeded to the Province of Leyte to hold mass for 150 thousand pilgrims and survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, braving the strong winds and rains to personally bring his message of hope and renewal to our countrymen,” the proposed bill read.

To read rest of story, click here: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/01/24/1416140/house-pass-resolutions-gratitude-pope-francis

 

THE WORLD NEEDS A SHARED CHRISTIAN WITNESS – POPE THANKS POLICE FOR PROTECTING PLACES OF FAITH, PILGRIMS – IOR ISSUES NOTE ON STATUTE CHANGES – NIGER: CHURCHES AND CONVENTS BURNED, SCHOOLS, CLINICS CLOSED

THE WORLD NEEDS A SHARED CHRISTIAN WITNESS

The Holy Father Thursday welcomed an ecumenical delegation of the Lutheran Church from Finland on its annual visit to Rome during the January 18 to 25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the feast of St. Henry of Uppsala, patron saint of Finland.

He quoted from St. John Paul who, thirty years ago, welcomed the first such delegation and said, “The fact that you come here together is itself a witness to the importance of efforts for unity. The fact that you pray together is a witness to our belief that only through the grace of God can that unity be achieved. The fact that you recite the Creed together is a witness to the one common faith of the whole of Christianity.”

Reiterating the words of Bishop Vikstrom, in Rome with the delegation, Francis said, “there is so much that Catholics and Lutherans can do together to bear witness to God’s mercy in our societies. A shared Christian witness is very much needed in the face of the mistrust, insecurity, persecution, pain and suffering experienced so widely in today’s world.”

The Pope said, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine on Justification which was solemnly signed some fifteen years ago between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, can produce further fruits of reconciliation and cooperation between us. …Let us hope that further convergence will emerge from that dialogue on the concept of the Church, the sign and instrument of the salvation brought to us in Jesus Christ.”

POPE THANKS POLICE FOR PROTECTING PLACES OF FAITH, PILGRIMS

Thursday morning Pope Francis received a group of agents from the General Inspectorate for Public Security in the Vatican as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of the presence of the Italian forces of order in the Vatican. He thanked the officials and members of their families for the work they carry out on a daily basis “with professionalism and dedication.” The officers work normally in and around St. Peter’s Square and they staff the airport-style security maches for people entering St. Peter’s Basilica or entering the square for a papal general audience.

As we start a new year, he said, “we have many hopes and expectations, and we also see on the horizon the shadows and dangers that trouble humanity. As Christians we are called upon not to lose heart or to be discouraged. Our hope rests upon an immovable rock: God’s love, revealed and given in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

Francis explained that, “In the light of this firm hope, your work assumes a different meaning that brings human and Christian values into play. Indeed, you have the task of protecting and supervising places of the utmost importance for the faith, and of guaranteeing the security of millions of pilgrims. Many people who come to visit the heart of Christian Rome frequently turn to you.”

“May every person,” said the Holy Father, “feel helped and protected by your presence and your care. … We are all called to be our neighbor’s guardians. The Lord will call us to account for the responsibilities entrusted to us, for the good and the bad we have brought upon our neighbors.”

IOR ISSUES NOTE ON STATUTE CHANGES

Vatican City, January 22, 2015 – The Holy Father declared on 10 January 2015 by way of a Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi presented to the President of the IOR Supervisory Commission of Cardinals that the Statute of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) has been changed to elevate the number of members in the IOR Supervisory Commission of Cardinals and the IOR Board of Superintendence from five to six respectively. The Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi has come into effect on 10 January 2015 and will be published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in due course. In addition, the nomination of a non-voting Secretary General to the IOR Board of Superintendence has been formalized by the President of the Supervisory Commission of Cardinals.

The full Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi as well as information on the IOR governance structure and its key personnel can be found on the Institute’s website at www.ior.va.

About the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR):

The “Istituto per le Opere di Religione” (IOR) is an institute founded on 27 June 1942 by Papal Decree. Its origins date back to the “Commissione Cardinalizia ad Pias Causas” established in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII. The purpose of the IOR is to serve the global mission of the Catholic Church by providing for the custody and administration of its customers’ assets, and rendering dedicated worldwide payment services to its customers. The Institute’s mission was confirmed by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on 7 April 2014. The IOR operates from a single location – its headquarters in the Vatican City State – and is regulated by the “Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria” (AIF), the financial supervisory body for the Vatican City State. The IOR serves approximately 15,500 customers. As of 31 December 2013, the Institute was entrusted with customers’ assets totalling €5.9 billion.

NIGER: CHURCHES AND CONVENTS BURNED, SCHOOLS, CLINICS CLOSED

When Pope Francis appealed for peace in Niger yesterday at the general audience, he was referring to events in that country that have received little coverage in the secular media. The following reports, datelined Niamey, Niger, are from Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples:

(Fides) – “Between Friday 16 and Saturday 17 January, various churches and religious communities in Niger suffered extensive damage because of demonstrators protesting against the publication of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo. In the Diocese of Maradi and Niamey, several churches were burned, along with some religious houses. Other Protestant churches were also affected by the protesters.” Fr. Nicolas Ayouba, superior of the Redemptorists of Niger, confirmed the news to Fides, adding: “According to the latest news, our Community of St. Clement of Niamey was not attacked, while the church of St. Gabriel yes. All the Redemptorists are still in good condition.”

The churches of St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Gabriel, St. John, St. Teresa and St. Joseph were burned and looted in Niamey, as well as two convents of nuns. Because of the situation, all Sunday celebrations were suspended.

The Apostolic Administrator of Niamey, Archbishop Michel Cartatéguy told Vatican Radio: “As a Christian community, we are still under shock. All our churches – 12 out of 14 – have been completely looted: there is nothing left … everything is burned. The cathedral was not touched, because of my request to monitor it. We have suspended all activities of the Catholic mission; we have closed our schools, our dispensaries … We are not able to understand what is going on. I summoned all the priests and community leaders to pray in silence, and we meditated on love for enemies. Many of our religious, who today have lost everything, were protected, and still are, by Muslim families. I said to the highest authorities: ‘We have nothing against the Muslim community, on the contrary’. Indeed, we must further strengthen the bonds of unity and brotherhood that we have built.”

In another report, Fides said, quoting a statement sent to the agency, “The bishops of Niger have suspended “until further notice” all the activities of the Catholic Church (schools, health centers, charitable activities), “following the looting of churches and infrastructure of our institutions, and the desecration of our places of worship. The measure will allow us to pray and to read, in serenity, the painful events that we have suffered.” The bishops “thank very warmly all those who have expressed their solidarity in these difficult times.”