NEWS IN BRIEF – “VATICAN INSIDER” VISITS ST. MARY MAJOR BASILICA – POPE FRANCIS CELEBRATES VESPERS ON VIGIL OF NEW YEAR, SOLEMNITY OF MARY ON JANUARY 1

I hope everyone had a terrific New Year’s Eve celebration and a restful, fun-filled, college-football-bowl-game-filled New Year’s Day!  Some stunning upsets in the bowl games! Given the time difference between Rome and the states where games were played, I was only able to see a bit of the Rose Bowl online and none of the Sugar Bowl (big for most of my Alabama-based EWTN colleagues), given that it started at 2:30 am, Rome time. Congrats to the winners! Winners include my team, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame with its victory over LSU on December 30th !

It is already January 2, the Christmas season is almost over – officially, for the Church, we have through the January 6 feast of the Epiphany to celebrate Christmas – and so now, on we go with everyday, normal living and working….(actually, the Vatican traditionally leaves its Christmas tree and Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square until the February 2 feast of the Presentation!).

By the by, heartfelt thanks for your many emails and letters and postings on my Facebook page with your wishes for a happy, healthy, productive 2015!  Greatly appreciated!

NEWS IN BRIEF

FOLLOWING A 44-26 SENATE VOTE, Canada has designated April 2, the anniversary of St. John Paul II’s death, as “Pope John Paul II Day.” In reporting this news, L’Osservatore Romano newspaper commented that “This was established through a law that recognized in Karol Wojtyla (the late Pope’s birth name) an example of human dignity and freedom. It was also underscored that the first Polish Pope is considered as a figure who changed the history of the Catholic Church, playing a crucial role in the promotion of harmony and peace among nations.”

POPE FRANCIS INAUGURATES NEW ILLUMINATION OF RIO’S CHRIST THE REDEEMER STATUE:  On the occasion of festivities for the New Year 2015 and for the 450th anniversary of the founding of Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis sent a video message to the people of Brazil that was projected, shortly before midnight on December 31, on giant screens set up along Copacabana beach. At the same time the Pope inaugurated the new lighting for the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado.

“VATICAN INSIDER” VISITS ST. MARY MAJOR BASILICA

Since we are still in the Christmas season and that includes the January 1st celebration of the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, I am featuring a special visit to the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major. This basilica is known, among many things, for the crib said to be that of the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem, so stay tuned to learn more about that – and much more. (photo from Vatican website)

ST MARY MAJOR AERIAL VIEW

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

POPE FRANCIS CELEBRATES VESPERS ON VIGIL OF NEW YEAR, SOLEMNITY OF MARY ON JANUARY 1

On Wednesday, December 31, there was no weekly general audience but later that afternoon Pope Francis celebrated First Vespers for the Octave of Christmas and the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God in St. Peter’s Basilica. This end-of-the-year liturgy traditionally features the singing of the Te Deum and solemn exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In his homily, the Pope spoke about the meaning of time, noting that time is not something alien from God, Who has chosen to reveal Himself and to save us in history, in time. “The meaning of time, of temporality,” he said, “is the manifestation of the mystery God and of His concrete love for us.”

Francis explained that we are now in “the definitive time of salvation and of grace,” saying “this leads us to think about the end of our own journey. We are all born, and we will all someday die. With this truth, the Church teaches us to end the year, and in fact each day, with an examination of conscience. This devout practice leads us to thank God for the blessings and graces we have received, and to ask forgiveness for our weaknesses and sins.

He then spoke of the act of thanksgiving, of giving thanks, saying “the main reason for our thanksgiving is that God has made us His children. It is true … we are all created by God – but sin has separated us from the Father, and has wounded our filial relationship with Him. …(So) “God sent His Son to redeem us at the price of His Blood.”

As Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis spoke of his diocese, noting especially the recently revealed cases of corruption in Rome that he said “require a serious and conscious conversion of hearts.” True Christian freedom is necessary to have the courage to proclaim that “we must defend the poor, and not defend ourselves from the poor; that we must serve the weak, and not use the weak.” A society “that ignores the poor, persecutes them, makes them criminals, forces them into the mafia – such a society impoverishes itself to the point of misery, loses its freedom, and prefers the ‘garlic and onions’ of slavery, of slavery to its own selfishness, of slavery to its pusillanimity, and that society ceases to be Christian.”

After the liturgy, Francis went to St. Peter’s Square where he prayed at the Nativity after which, with the Swiss Guards marking the event with religious and secular Christmas music, he greeted the faithful gathered in the Square, amid shouts of “Happy New Year!” and “Long live the Pope!”

On Thursday morning, January 1, New Year’s Day, the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the 48th World Day of Peace, the Holy Father presided at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily he said that Christ is inseparable from Mary and from the Church. “No other creature has ever seen God’s face shine upon it as did Mary. She gave a human face to the eternal Word, so that all of us can contemplate him.”

“The two were together, just as they were together at Calvary, because Christ and His mother are inseparable: there is a very close relationship between them, as there is between every child and his or her mother. The flesh of Christ  … was knit together in the womb of Mary. This inseparability is also clear from the fact that Mary, chosen beforehand to be the Mother of the Redeemer, shared intimately in His entire mission, remaining at her Son’s side to the end on Calvary.”

Pope Francis said Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother and the Church cannot be understood without Jesus and His Mother.

He concluded: “May this gentle and loving Mother obtain for us the Lord’s blessing upon the entire human family. On this, the World Day of Peace, we especially implore her intercession that the Lord may grant peace in our day; peace in hearts, peace in families, peace among the nations. The message for the Day of Peace this year is ‘Slaves no more, but Brothers and Sisters’. All of us are called to be free, all are called to be sons and daughters, and each, according to his or her own responsibilities, is called to combat modern forms of enslavement. From every people, culture and religion, let us join our forces. May He guide and sustain us, He Who, in order to make us all brothers and sisters, became our servant.”

At the Angelus on New Year’s Day, Pope Francis addressed an almost-overflow crowd in St. Peter’s Square on a frigid but sunny morning and returned to the theme of his earlier homily, focusing on Mary, the Mother of God, and the “inseparability” of Mary and her Son Jesus.

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He also highlighted the importance of baptism, saying, “At the beginning of a new year, it is good to remember the day of our baptism: we rediscover the gift received in that sacrament that has regenerated us to new life, the divine life. And this is through Mother Church, which has as its model Mother Mary. Thanks to our baptism, we have been introduced to communion with God and are no longer at the mercy of evil and sin, but instead receive the love, tenderness, and mercy of the heavenly Father.”

The Pope asked the faithful to raise their hands if they knew the day of their baptism, and he did not seem entirely satisfied with the results. He urged everyone to discover the date of their baptism, asking that they repeat three times with him words about the importance of baptism.

Francis said his wish for the New Year was for the world to never see another war.  He said, “peace is always possible,” citing a big banner with those words in St. Peter’s Square, and added, “prayer is at the root of peace.”

He also announced that the faithful would soon see on the big screens in the square the tolling of the “Maria Dolens” bell in Trentino, which was made to honor  the fallen of all the wars and blessed by Pope Paul VI in 1965. “May there never again be wars, but always a desire for and commitment to peace and brotherhood among peoples.”

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