A “VATICAN INSIDER” CONVERSATION WITH FR. JEFF KIRBY – POPE PRAYS AT MARIAN ICON FOR TRIP TO LESBOS – CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS AND REFUGEES IN GREECE – A POPE, AN ISLAND, A CATHOLIC PASTOR – U.S. SENATOR ATTENDS VATICAN ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

TODAY’S PAPAL TWEET: In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus can help avoid a breakup.

There’s a lot of material today, so just take it easy, have some more coffee and a doughnut (or, if you read this later, enjoy a Chardonnay), and read at your leisure.

A “VATICAN INSIDER” CONVERSATION WITH FR. JEFF KIRBY

Here’s a heads up on my guest this weekend on “Vatican Insider,” Fr. Jeff Kirby. He was born in Texas and briefly lived in what was then West Germany as his Dad was in the military, He attended the Pontifical North American College and Roman pontifical universities in Rome, and was ordained in South Carolina where he began his priestly ministry. While still in Rome, Kirby was appointed Vicar of Vocations for the Diocese of Charleston.

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Fr. Jeff has also led a number of parish missions and retreats, and authored a number of books, including two on St. Peter’s Basilica. One is called “101 Surprising Facts About St. Peter’s and The Vatican.” In 2011 he became the founding director of the Drexel House, a Catholic residence for men in downtown Charleston, SC. He is back in Rome to complete his Doctoral Degree in Moral Theology. We talk about all of this – and a lot more – in our conversation.

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As you know, 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 PRAYS AT MARIAN ICON FOR TRIP TO LESBOS

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis made his customary visit to the papal basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Thursday evening, ahead of his Apostolic journey to the Greek island of Lesbos tomorrow, April 16. During the course of his 30-minute visit before Salus populi Romani, the Holy Father presented a bouquet of white and blue roses – the colors of the Greek flag – to the ancient Marian icon before pausing for a moment of silent prayer. The Vatican released the official program of the Holy Father’s visit to Lesbos on Thursday.

CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS AND REFUGEES IN GREECE

Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Hellas released a report prior to the visit Saturday by Pope Francis to the Greek island of Lesbosl, where he will meet with refugees and migrants who have made the trip by sea from Turkey.

Over a million people crossed into Greece last year and 150,000 so far in 2016. Nearly half of those refugees came to Lesbos, with most fleeing war and poverty. Over 55 percent were women and children, says the report.

The papal visit comes at a difficult moment for refugees because, under a contested plan, the European Union began returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

The main camp for the refugees and migrants is now a “closed center,” which means that refugees and migrants are not permitted to leave. Caritas has been providing emergency aid on the island through Caritas Hellas (Caritas Greece) and in other hotspots in Greece since the start of the crisis last year.

“The refugees and migrants are very excited about the visit of Pope Francis. They’re making bouquets of flowers and they want to meet him,” said Tonia Patrikiadou, Caritas Hellas Field Manager for a Caritas-run hotel on Lesbos.

“The Pope’s visit is a symbol of hope and solidarity for the refugees. It’s a sign that the world has not forgotten them and help is a possibility,” she said.

Caritas Hellas – supported by sister Caritas – opened the hotel in Lesbos for refugees and migrants with 220 beds and 88 rooms. The hotel is for very vulnerable cases, such as pregnant women. It works with a local hospital, so there are doctors on call 24 hours a day. All the refugees and migrants in the hotel are part of relocation programs, family reunification programs or are asylum cases. They’re waiting to be transferred to Athens.

Working in Greece on the islands, Athens and the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Caritas has provided food to 80,000 people, basic aid to 78,000 people, hygiene to 40,000 people, information to 2,200 and counselling to 1000.

Pope Francis will travel together with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Hieronimus II.

Caritas Hellas agreed this month on closer cooperation with Apostoli, the charitable arm of the Orthodox Church in Athens. “Together we will be able to help the refugees and migrants more,” said Maristella Tsamatropoulou, communications officer of Caritas Hellas, “while strengthening relations between the two churches.”

A POPE, AN ISLAND, A CATHOLIC PASTOR

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis’s journey Saturday 16 April to the Greek island of Lesbos is a show of solidarity for migrants “who are people; they have a history, they have dreams, they have names,” according to Fr. Leon Kiskinis, the only Catholic parish priest on the island.

He told Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli that migrants need “to be treated with dignity, as human beings.”

The International Migration Organization estimates that since the beginning of this year, more than 170,000 migrants and refugees have made the treacherous journey by sea to Greece and Italy.

Since Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, says Fr. Kiskinis, he has always shown his closeness to “those on the margins, those deprived of their dignity.”  He recalls that the Pope’s first journey at the start of his pontificate was to the Italian island of Lampedusa in solidarity with the tens of thousands of refugees arriving on its shores.

Saturday, Pope Francis will be visiting the Greek island of Lesbos at a time when many European countries are closing their borders to refugees.  It also comes amid growing criticism of the March 18 EU-Turkey deal, which stipulates anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

Lesbos community did not “close doors or raise barriers”

Fr. Kiskinis says he thinks the Pope’s choice to visit Lesbos was not by chance.

“Lesbos is an island of call for these people who come from the Turkish coast; I do not think that this decision is random. Because, despite the presence of the authorities, institutions, non-governmental organizations, the local people, simple people, have shown a brotherhood, a humanity never seen before in these parts.”

The citizens of Lesbos “did not close the door, did not close their hearts, did not create borders or barriers,” he continues.  Rather, they “welcomed these people in the hope that they can receive warmth and welcome in Europe, this Europe that it is the home of human rights.”

He expresses his conviction that migrants making the risky journey to Lesbos from Turkey are looking for a better future for themselves and their families and should “experience this European hospitality of human rights.”

Ecumenical dimension: unity of Churches to respond to migrant crisisFr. Kiskinis explains that besides the humanitarian dimension of the papal visit, there is also the ecumenical aspect,  “I believe that to solve this…migration crisis we should not work alone – we must collaborate; we must work together.”  And that means not just European governments “but also the churches: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of Greece” should “collaborate and give witness to unity in the migration crisis.”

“We are here as Christians, without distinction of race, culture, language, religion, to give a little relief to these people, and also to raise awareness in the European community, among governments, that they need to work together…not separately, each on his own,” says Fr. Kiskinis

“It’s not by constructing borders and barriers that one can stop these people escaping from war; they have no alternative but to get to Europe hoping for a better future. In this sense, the Pope’s visit has a great Christian ecumenical dimension.”

Small Catholic community sees Jesus in the faces of migrants

When he learned that the Pope was planning to visit the island, Fr. Kiskinis says he “was really surprised; I really didn’t believe it because I’m a parish priest, and I was not ready for a possible visit by the Pope. It’s true that the local Catholic Church is a small community, and perhaps that’s also why I am the only pastor on the island.  There is only one Catholic church on this island, but it’s a community of very committed believers in welcoming these people, because our faith is not abstract, it’s real. We think we see Jesus, who was hungry, naked, a stranger, in the faces of these people. Regardless of where they come from, we try to see Christ, giving them a glass of water or a shirt to cover themselves.  We want to believe that we are doing it for Jesus himself.”

Small community “on outskirts of Church” feels “pampered” by papal visit

For this reason too, the priest stresses, the Pope’s visit brings no small satisfation to “this small community that is just on the outskirts of the Church.”   Pope Francis, he adds, “is very sensitive to this condition. We are in Europe, we are also close to Italy, but in these islands where the Catholic community is just a small minority, we feel ‘pampered,’ if I may say so, by the presence of the Pope. It means showing us his affection, his appreciation for this small community that strives not only to stay alive, but also to be useful, speaking as a Christian, to these people who come from the Turkish coast.”

He notes that up until “three or four years ago” there was no permanent presence of a Catholic priest on the island but “these faithful were able to get along virtually alone, without a continuous ministry.”  Four years ago, he notes, the bishop decided to place a permanent parish priest on the island “and then after four years comes the Pope! So we really feel pampered!”

People feel less involved since EU-Turkey accord

He says the islanders’ “fraternal welcoming” of the migrants has not faltered since the EU-Turkey accord. But there is some perceptible change …. A few months ago, he explains, people went out to help migrants who were arriving in small boats.  Now, he notes, ships from the EU’s border management agency, Frontex and the Turkish coast guard go out to meet the boats so “people feel less involved …in providing assistance.  It’s not that they don’t help, but they help less. But the relationship between the Islanders and migrants has not changed; the solidarity is still there though it’s less evident compared to some months ago.”

U.S. SENATOR ATTENDS VATICAN ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders arrived in Rome this morning to attend a Vatican conference co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. The conference invited about three dozen economists, academics, church leaders and politicians to reflect on St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on social and economic justice, “Centesimus Annus.”

Sanders’ arrival – along with his wife and 10 members of their family, according to media at the airport – was greeted in Rome and just outside the Vatican by great fanfare, perhaps even more so than two South American heads of State, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Morales was received this morning by Pope Francis. He sat next to Sanders at the conference.

Sanders and his wife arrived in Vatican City by the Perugino entrance, a broad gate on the south wall of Vatican City that leads cars past the papal residence, the Santa Marta, on the right, and is only about 100 yards from the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica known as the diplomatic entrance.

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The road leading to the pontifical academy winds around the west end of the basilica and through the Vatican gardens to the architectural jewel, the Casina Pio IV, that houses the academy.

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The academy has been criticized by some for inviting a presidential candidate in the midst of an election period. Critics say the invitation had clear political overtones, although Sanders told a left leaning Italian daily, La Repubblica, when asked if the invitation to speak was an endorsement of his politics, “the Vatican isn’t involved in that. The conference isn’t a political event.”

The possibility of a Sanders meeting with Pope Francis upset many but the Holy Father penned a note to conference attendees. saying he had foreseen coming to the conference at 7pm, but realized that his attendance would be “very complicated” because of his trip to Lesbos set for tomorrow morning, Saturday.

Sanders’ talk was titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of ‘Centesimus Annus’.”

He did praise the Catholic Church, saying, “there are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.”

 

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