POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JUNE – CANDLES, A PROCESSION AND THE ROSARY MARK FEAST OF THE VISITATION – VATICAN CRICKET TEAM PREPARES FOR BRITISH TOUR

It was a quiet day for Pope Francis – no public appearances – as he prepares for tomorrow’s general audience and also gets ready for the three-day Jubilee of Priests that starts tomorrow! The main event at the Vatican is taking place as I write (see story below) – the procession and rosary in the Vatican Gardens for the feast of the Visitation.

Following that I’ve posted an interesting story about the Vatican’s Cricket team! Enjoy!

A PAPAL TWEET FOR MAY 31: I join spiritually all those taking part in special devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary on this last day of the month of May.

POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JUNE

The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for June is: “That the aged, marginalized, and those who have no one may find, even within the huge cities of the world, opportunities for encounter and solidarity.”

His intention for evangelization is: “That seminarians and men and women entering religious life may have mentors who live the joy of the Gospel and prepare them wisely for their mission.”

A CANDLELIT PROCESSION AND THE ROSARY MARK FEAST OF THE VISITATION

It is a time-honored tradition in the Vatican to hold an evening candlelit procession, with the recitation of the rosary, in the Vatican Gardens on the May 31 feast of the Visitation. In past years the lay faithful were invited to join cardinals, including the Pope’s vicar for Vatican City, bishops, priests and men and women religious in the procession which started at the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians (named for St. Stephen Protomartyr, which means “first martyr”), located just behind the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, and ended at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

In past years, about 9 p.m., the Pope joined everyone at the Grotto and made a brief address. I have posted several columns in the years that I joined in the procession.

During his pontificate, Pope Saint John Paul II participated in the procession every year until 2002, when his poor health made it impossible.

In 2005, just six weeks after his election, Benedict XVI participated in this celebration for the first time as Pope. In remarks at the grotto at that time, he called attention to the Year of the Eucharist, pointing out that “Mary helps us to discover the mystery of Communion.” Noting that the procession always occurs on the feast of the Visitation, he said that Mary’s trip to see her cousin Elizabeth was, in a sense, “the first Eucharistic procession in history,” adding that the faithful have the same role as the Church “unceasingly welcomes Jesus in the holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world.”

Photos from Ein Karem, site of the Visitation, home of St. Elizabeth, John the Baptist:

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In 2008, that ceremony took place in St. Peter’s Square. It was believed the change was made by the then new papal master of liturgical ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, to allow more faithful to participate. Candles, with durable plastic shields against the wind and a small prayer and song booklet prepared by the Vicariate of Vatican City were placed on each chair for the thousands of religious and lay people, including entire families, who participated in this evocative ceremony.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, vicar for Vatican City, led the procession of cardinals, as he will again this year, 2016.

Pope Francis marked the feast of the Visitation in 2013, just months after his election, in St. Peter’s Square. In 2014 he participated in the procession in the Vatican gardens. I could find no record of his participation last year and he will not be present for tonight’s ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, once again led by Cardinal Comastri.

A note from a Vatican Radio news site states that “participation is reserved to Vatican staff and members of their family.” I do not remember seeing such a note in the past but that may simply be that there was a note and I overlooked it. However, in my experience, lay faithful from Rome did participate in the past, but the world has changed and so have security measures in many parts of the world, including the Vatican.

VATICAN CRICKET TEAM PREPARES FOR BRITISH TOUR

(Vatican Radio) St Peter’s Cricket Club, popularly known as the ‘Vatican XI’ is preparing for a second British tour with both ecumenical and interfaith objectives high on the agenda.

The team, comprised of Catholic priests and seminarians from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK, was founded in 2013 and challenged a Church of England cricket team in Canterbury the following year. Since then, the sporting friendships and spiritual experiences have grown, with the Anglican side coming to Rome for a return match in 2015.

CRICKET TEAM

From September 11th to 20th the Vatican team sets off on a second ‘Light of Faith’ tour, playing against Anglicans, a Muslim team from Yorkshire and an interfaith match against cricketers from Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities in the south east of England.

The Vatican XI, which enjoys the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will play in venues which have been offered free of charge, including the famous Edgbaston ground in Birmingham and the revered Headingley site which has been used for international test cricket since 1899.

The goals of St Peter’s team members include sharing their faith with others, building bridges across religious and cultural divides and furthering what Pope Francis calls ‘the culture of encounter. To find out more, Philippa Hitchen spoke with team manager,Fr Eamonn O’Higgins, spiritual director of the Maria Mater Ecclesiae seminary where many of the players are in training for the priesthood.

Fr Eamonn says that the tours are called ‘Light of Faith’ because “deep down, that is what we try to transmit. He notes that while the 2014 tour focused on establishing relations with the Church of England, this second event has a much broader interreligious dimension with Muslims and others who’ve become interested in the opportunities that such encounters can offer.

While cricket is the context in which the players meet, Fr Eamonn says the tour is also about going “to pray and to commune” with people in different ways. He notes that he’s been invited to speak at a mosque on the Friday that the team will be in Batley, Yorkshire with the local community. “It’s a pilgrimage”, he says, adding “that means not only praying ourselves, but understanding and praying with other faiths as well”.

Asked about the effect of these ecumenical and interreligious encounters on the seminarians training at the Mater Ecclesiae seminary, Fr Eamonn says that for “all of us, not just the lads”, it has “an extremely broadening effect”. While we sometimes have our own stereotypes, often influenced by the media’s depiction of other religious communities, he says “the fact of meeting members of other faiths, understanding their contexts, listening to their prayer, being with their families”, enables the team to understand other people and their traditions in a new way.

“You cannot understand another culture or another religion without getting into it from the inside, from somebody else’s point of view, the Vatican team manager insists, “and this is the privilege we’ve been able to experience”.

 

A MINI JUBILEE OF DEACONS – A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE

Today, Memorial Day, is a holiday for EWTN staff and I was going to take the day off but have postponed it in order to share with you the story of four permanent deacons, their wives and families. Today, for upcoming editions of “Vatican Insider,” I interviewed two of the four who graced my home last night, Deacon Dan Borné of Baton Rouge and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers of Portland. Below is a brief account of that mini Jubilee and a few photos.

A MINI JUBILEE OF DEACONS

When one of Lexington, Ohio’s own indicated that, as a permanent deacon, he would be in Rome for the Jubilee of Deacons, richlandsource.com did a story about the Jubilee, beginning with these words: In more than 2,000 years of its existence, the Catholic Church has never hosted an event specifically addressing deacons — the dispensers of charity for the Christian community.

That rather startled me and, as I looked back over the years I worked for the Vatican and these last years that I have covered the Vatican and papacy, I did not remember a single event focusing solely on deacons. That fact alone doubled my interest in the just-concluded Jubilee of Deacons, given that I know so many permanent deacons.

I decided to invite four deacons to my home to celebrate the final day of their Jubilee, a day that started with Mass in St. Peter’s Square presided over by Pope Francis.

Two of my four guests were deacons whom I’ve know some time: Dan Borné who was with his wife, Lissette (who did a beautiful second reading at the papal Mass) and Dom Pastore, Teresa Tomeo’s husband. The other two deacons were men I’d only “met” through the media – by reading their blogs and Facebook pages an learning of their travels and speeches and retreats and so much more: Greg Kandra and his wife Siobhain (pronounced Shevawn) and Harold Burke-Sivers (his wife Colleen was in Portland preparing for next weekend’s graduation of their oldest daughter Clare.

Dan, Lissette and Deacon Harold –

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I had prepared some snacks to enjoy with the magnum of champagne I’d received on my birthday last year but should have prepared a pasta dinner, tossed salad and some dessert! My guests arrived promptly at 6:30 and no one made a move to say good night until 9:30!

Greg and Siobhain

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The conversation was stimulating, enlightening and full of surprises – mainly for me, I am sure, but I could tell that, as each deacon shared part of their story or made comments about the diaconate that the others were learning as well. Four stories, but eight lives. Four dioceses, four bishops, four different ways of understanding and living the permanent diaconate.

Teresa and Dom

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I learned so very much last night about the permanent diaconate and about the wonderful men who dedicate their lives – every moment – to God – to the ministry of diaconate and also to their marriage, their wives, their families. A “vocation within a vocation” as Deacon Harold called it.

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If you look at Church statistics, this is a ministry that is growing by leaps and bounds around the world.

I was in the company of four enthusiastic men who love their ministry and love their wives, wives who share deeply in both vocations, the vocation of marriage and that of the diaconate.

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What we all shared last night were the stories of four men and how they felt called to the diaconate, how they lived the years leading up to ordination with their wives and families, the role of wives in this ministry, how the perception of the permanent diaconate has changed over the years (Deacon Harold has been a deacon the longest at 14 years), and the Jubilee experience in Rome (the talks they gave and attended, the Papal Mass, Francis’ homily, etc).

These topics and others were also the focus of the interviews I did today with Dan and Harold for Vatican Insider. It is not my intent here to re-live last evening – we’ll do that in a way in the interviews.

I have such admiration for these four men and there are tens of thousands like them around the world. Three thousand were in Rome for the Jubilee and Greg, Dom, Dan and Harold all said they are going home with a greater insight into the ministry of the diaconate, especially as it is experienced around the world.

I felt privileged at the end of the evening to have shared several hours with such amazing people, 4 deacons, 3 wives (I did not meet Deacon Harold’s wife but what he told me today was the story of a loving, caring, spiritually gifted, amazing woman – rather like what I saw last night!)

May God bless you all – the deacons I know but who were not in Rome and especially the four who graced my home.

Thanks for being in my life and for making a difference in so many lives!

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PERMANENT DIACONATE 

The following paragraphs are excerpts from the website of the Diocese of Fall River, Office of the Permanent Diaconate. They offer a brief, comprehensive and easy to read history of the diaconate. There are the orders of ordianed ministry: deacon, priest and bishop. (http://www.frpermanentdiaconate.com/the-permanent-diaconate/a-brief-history-of-the-perm.html)

“From the earliest days of the Christian Church the deacon has been intimately associated with the ministry of the Bishop and Priests. In the primitive Church of the Apostolic and Post Apostolic age, as witnessed to in the Christian Scriptures, the deacon was described as a minister in the liturgicalassembly and preacher of the word. The deacon prepared catechumens for entrance into the Church and was a dispenser of aid and food to the poor and distressed. The very term “Diakonia”announces the central characteristic of this Order, the deacon is called to service. …”

“After the fifth century there was a steady decline in the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church. From the early Middle Ages the diaconate remained only as a traditional order that men received as part of their preparation for ordination to the sacred priesthood. There were occasional exceptions to this rule hover, Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, was ordained a deacon but not a priest. In the sixteenth century the Council of Trent directed that the permanent diaconate should be restored to the Latin Church but this directive was not carried into effect. The reality was that the permanent character of this Order was abandoned by the Latin Church for many centuries.

“The permanent character of the Order, however, was restored and renewed when the Second Vatican Council (October 30, 1963) called for the reestablishment of the ministry of the Permanent Deacon for the Universal Church. On 18 June 1967, Pope Paul VI carried out the desire of the Council when he published the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatuus ordinem in which he reestablished the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church.  The Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium 29), echoes the ancient image and concerns of the New Testament when it speaks of the ministry and nature of the diaconate:…”

VATICAN INSIDER: AN INSIDER’S STORY OF MOTHER TERESA – PAPAL CONDOLENCES FOR DEATH OF CARDINAL CAPOVILLA – CA’ MAITINO, MEMORIES OF A PONTIFICATE – REFUGEE BOAT IS ALTAR FOR CORPUS CHRISTI MASS – US BISHOPS CONCERN ABOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR EXPULSION OF IMMIGRANTS

VATICAN INSIDER: AN INSIDER’S STORY OF MOTHER TERESA

My special guest this week on Vatican Insider is Fr.. Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, the official postulator of the cause of canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity. We spoke when he was in Rome for the March 15 announcement by Pope Francis of the decrees of canonization for Blessed Mother Teresa and four others. The September 4 date for her canonization was also announced that day. Listen as Fr. Brian tells riveting stories about this future saint, and how he came to be the postulator for her cause.

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PAPAL CONDOLENCES FOR DEATH OF CARDINAL CAPOVILLA

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the Bishop of Bergamo, Italy for the death of Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla, the former private secretary of Pope John XXIII.

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Upon hearing of the Cardinal’s passing 26 May 2016 at the age of 100, Pope Francis wrote in a telegram to Bishop Francesco Beschi, in whose diocese Cardinal Capovilla lived the last years of his life:  “I think with affection of this dear brother who in his long and fruitful existence gave witness to the Gospel with joy and obediently served the Church, first in the diocese of Venice, then with attentive affection at the side of Pope John XXIII, of whose memory he was the zealous custodian and expert interpreter. In his episcopal ministry, especially in Chieti-Vasto and Loreto (Italy), he was always a pastor totally dedicated to the wellbeing of all priests and the faithful …with a solid fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.”

Pope Francis concluded his telegram with a prayer, “with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Mark the Evangelist,” so that the Lord will receive his soul “nel Gaudio” and “in eternal peace, ” and offered his apostolic blessing to all those who grieve his passing.

Cardinal Capovilla was born on 14 October 1915 in Pontelungo, northern Italy.

He was ordained a priest in Venice, Italy, in 1940; he was appointed and ordained Archbishop of Chieti, in 1967.  From 1971 to 1988, he served as prelate of Loreto, Italy.

On 22 February 2014, Pope Francis elevated him cardinal and, cardinal-priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome.

CA’ MAITINO, MEMORIES OF A PONTIFICATE

Ca’ Maitino is the residence in Sotto il Monte (the town where Pope St. John XXIII was born) where Cardinal Loris Capovilla, secretary to John XXIII lived in recent years, until his death yesterday, May 26, 2016, at the age of 100.

It was here that Angelo Roncalli, priest, bishop and Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, spent his annual vacation, together with his secretary, Msgr. Capovilla. In many ways, it was a second home to both men, and was thus a place that Msgr. Capovilla felt drawn to upon retirement. Today, it houses many mementoes and belongings of the late pontiff, and offers the visitors time to pray in the lovely, intimate chapel where Angelo Roncalli celebrated daily Mass when he was in residence.

The following slideshow photos depict both the grounds and the interior of Ca’ Maitino:

REFUGEE BOAT IS ALTAR FOR CORPUS CHRISTI MASS

“Someone who lets people drown in the Mediterranean also drowns God — every day, thousands of times.”

The archbishop of Cologne, Germany, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, spoke these striking words on Thursday to condemn Europe’s increasingly tough attitude toward refugees. He spoke during a Mass in one of the German city’s main squares.

Woelki also used a seven-meter-long former refugee boat as his altar for the service to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. The boat had previously been recovered by the Maltese military during a search-and-rescue operation.REFUGEE ALTAR

The cardinal emphasized the significance of choosing the boat, saying that altars had always symbolized Jesus Christ. “To see those in need and help them is the task the Lord has given to us as Christians,” said Woelki.

“Their cry for justice, for dignity and peace are also God’s cry,” the archbishop commented, according to a translation by Austria’s Catholic Press Agency.

Click here for entire story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/05/26/the-stunning-way-a-catholic-priest-marked-the-deaths-of-refugees-in-the-mediterranean/

US BISHOPS CONCERN ABOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR EXPULSION OF IMMIGRANTS

From Washington (FIDES, a news agency of the Congregation for Evangelization) –   Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration expressed deep concern over reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will soon begin a month-long series of immigrant deportation raids. Incoming committee chairman, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, also voiced such concern.

The letter sent to Fides by the USCCB, reports that the upcoming operations will cover in particular Central American undocumented mothers and children. “These operations spark panic among our parishes,” said Bishop Elizondo. “No person, migrant or otherwise, should have to fear leaving their home to attend church or school. No person should have to fear being torn away from their family and returned to danger.”

Bishop Elizondo and Archbishop Gomez remind the administration and ICE that enforcement actions that cause families to live in constant fear run contrary to long-standing American values and challenge the God-given dignity of every person. (CE)

I have an imminent appointment and am trying to post this column before that – photos and all, although I intend to post a lot more pictures tomorrow as time is my enemy right now. If some of the video links do not work, I will try to rectify that later.

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RIP: PAPAL SECRETARY, CARDINAL CAPOVILLA DIES AT 100

Cardinal Loris Capovilla, secretary to Pope Saint John XXIII died today at the age of 100. He turned 100 October 14 of last year. Here is what I posted that day:

HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY, CARDINAL CAPOVILLA!

Today marks the 100th birthday of Cardinal Loris Capovilla, former secretary to Cardinal Angelo Roncalli when he was archbishop of Venice and later, in 1958, elected to the See of Peter, talking the name John XXIII. He is now, of course, St. John XXIII.

I visited Cardinal Capovilla (and wrote about it on my blog) on March 19 last year, 18 days after he received the red hat in Sotto il Monte, not far from Bergamo in northern Italy, where he lives. This was just weeks before his former “boss” would be canonized, together with John Paul II!

At one point, I asked Cardinal Capovilla if I could record two special questions I had for him on my iPad. First, I asked him to imagine what John XXIII would say about the much-changed world we live in today. I then noted how “Good” Pope John loved children, asking what he might say if there were 20 children in the room, instead of the three of us. We spoke only in Italian, so I’m afraid that might limit the audience for this video but it is just sheer fun to watch his amazing energy at 98 and a half!

And here is what I wrote Friday, March 21, 2014, just two days after my visit to Sotto il Monte.

A VISIT TO REMEMBER, THE LAND OF JOHN XXIII

I returned late last night from very beautiful and very historical Bergamo in northern Italy, about an hour from Milan by train. I made this brief trip because I wanted to see all the places in Bergamo associated with the future Saint John XXIII, and to visit Sotto il Monte, a 20-minute drive from Bergamo, where he was born and raised.

I was on the go from morning to very late at night on Tuesday and Wednesday, and even yesterday I never stopped exploring right up to my 5 pm train departure for Milan, then Rome. I had a very small window of time on Wednesday between talking to Teresa Tomeo in our weekly slot on “Catholic Connection,” and being picked up at 4 pm by my new friend, Mimma Forlani, author of a book about John XXIII. I hoped to use that time wisely and so I wrote a column about my visit up to that point, 24 hours filled with amazing new friends and places and events.

I only had my iPad with me and I wrote a long column, hit POST – and everything disappeared because my “session” had timed out!

I won’t try to re-write that column here. However, I have posted 3 videos from my time in Sotto il Monte so perhaps you can enjoy those for now (I record and post the videos you see on my Youtube page with my iPad). Here are links to two of those:

<a href=”http://youtu.be/xsUoS89SDAE”>http://youtu.be/xsUoS89SDAE</a>

<a href=”http://youtu.be/m0I8foBNkwE”>http://youtu.be/m0I8foBNkwE</a&gt;

And now, to the big story of my Sotto il Monte visit!

PAPAL SECRETARY REMEMBERS THE PAST, LIVES THE PRESENT AND LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

I had a totally unexpected and very wonderful visit in Sotto il Monte with Cardinal Loris Capovilla who for many years was Blessed John XXIII’s secretary, and was made a cardinal only a month ago in the February 22 consistory. I had not contacted the cardinal before I left Rome and only got his direct line the night I arrived. I phoned Wednesday morning at 9, the cardinal himself answered and we had a delightful conversation. I told him I was in Bergamo and that a friend would be accompanying me to John XXIII’s birthplace that morning.

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I told him I had worked for many years at the Vatican and that we shared the experience of being secretary to a cardinal. He asked me for whom I had been a secretary, and I told Cardinal John Wright, prefect for 10 years (1969 to 1979) of the Congregation for the Clergy. I was his secretary from 1975 to his death in 1979. His priest secretary at the Vatican at that time was one Fr. Donald Wuerl!

After other brief words, Cardinal Capovilla asked when I would be in Sotto il Monte, I replied about 10:15 and he said to come to Ca Maitino where he lives as soon as we arrived.

Sr. Anna welcomed us and, after showing us around while another person was with the cardinal, ushered us into his large, sunny office. Cardinal Capovilla was seated at a broad table – a mere desk would never have been big enough to accommodate the books, agendasand letters and the stack of his newly minted stationary and envelopes with his cardinalatial crest.

I introduced Mimma who told the cardinal how delighted she was to meet him, having written a book about his “boss,” Pope John XXIII.

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I told the cardinal what a delight it was to meet the man who had so faithfully served the first Pope I’d ever met – John XXIII. And I gave him copies of the photos I took at my first ever audience with a Pope – with John XXIII – on March 22, 1961. Cardinal Capovilla was absolutely delighted, and said they were great photos, and rare ones in that there are relatively few pictures of Pope John in color.

I also told Cardinal Capovilla – an amazing, energetic 98 and a half, with a memory as long as his years and a mind like a trap! – that I had visited the nunciature in Istanbul where Bishop Angelo Roncalli was nuncio from 1935 to 1944. I explained that I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Human Settlements that took place in Istanbul for several weeks in June 1996. The then nuncio offered a beautiful dinner for the delegation in the residence where John XXIII lived all those years.

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One of the most astonishing aspects about the building was that nothing had been changed or replaced or moved since Angelo Roncall left in 1944! The damask-covered walls, the heavy drapes in the dining room and reception roms, even every single furnishing in the chapel – everything was the same!  We could sit in the bishop’s chair and kneel on his kneeler in the chapel but were asked not to move the chair or prie-dieu as that is how they were in December 1944 when the future Pope left Turkey. I promised the cardinal I would send him copies of the photos I took that evening.

Our conversation was so stimulating. The cardinal spoke of the past, the present and the future, and says he does not truly feel old or consider himself to be old. Here are a few photos from that March 19 morning with Cardinal Capovilla, a wonderful, uplifting, surprising one-hour visit! I have audio and video we well, but I must first translate some of the latter before I share that with you.

Cardinal Capovilla dedicates a copy of his book to me, “Preach the Gospel to all People” – in Latin – “with joy and hope!”

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GOD LISTENS TO, ANSWERS THOSE WHO PERSEVERE IN PRAYER – HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE ON IOR BOARD RESIGNATIONS – IOR ACCOUNTS OF ITALIAN ENTREPRENEUR SEIZED

I laughed out loud today when I realized the focus of the Pope’s catechesis on perseverance in prayer came from the Gospel story in Luke 18 that Francis described as “the parable of the unjust judge and the widow (Lk 18:1-8)…. (where) even an unscrupulous judge will finally render justice to a poor woman because of her persistence.”

Here are verses 1-8: “Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, 2 There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 4For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” 6 The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. 7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Why did I laugh? Because Luke 18 was my defender in July 2004 when, for nth time I visited the Vatican office at APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See) in charge of rental apartments to inquire how my application for a Vatican-owned apartment was proceeding.

To back up a bit: I arrived in Rome in August of 1990 to take up the position I had been offered at the Vatican Information Service the preceding May when I was in Rome on vacation. I had arranged temporary lodgings starting in late August but had to look for something more permanent.

The head of the Holy See Press Office at the time, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told me I should put in an application at APSA for one of the apartments they owned, many of which were set aside at somewhat subsidized rents for Vatican employees whose salaries were notoriously low. Private Rome rents were usually so high as to be prohibitive on a Vatican salary.

In January 1991 I filled out an APSA application for rental. I well remember the gentleman who accepted that application, telling me “it will be at least five years before you may be called.” Astonished, I replied, somewhat jokingly, that I hoped to still be alive then.

If you want to know what perseverance is – the perseverance that St. Luke and Pope Francis spoke about – mine was biblical in breadth and depth.

By July of 2004, having moved several times in Rome, I had seen so many Vatican-owned apartments that my head was spinning. Only one met my requirements and the monthly rent was well above my monthly salary. With one exception, all the rest were in terrible shape and required work that went well beyond what I could have afforded. The very first one shown to me was in a sub-basement and so small that it almost defied description.

My house-hunting adventures became the stuff of lore. Friends were constantly asking, “What’s the latest?” and they couldn’t wait for the story.

I know the Vatican had reasonable apartments because I saw the homes of my friends. However, they had also put a lot of money into them as most were fixer-uppers. The really beautiful homes – already fixed up – were priced beyond our salaries.

July 2004: I made yet another appointment to see about an apartment. The night before the appointment I thought of the Gospel story of the widow but could not remember where to find it. I did a Google search and found Luke 18 and that was my sole weapon when I went to APSA.

I told the monsignor that, notwithstanding the amazingly long time that had passed since my application and notwithstanding the fact I had to say ‘no’ to a number of apartments, “I will be exactly like the widow in Luke 18 and will persevere until the very end.”

Two weeks later I was shown the apartment that I live in today!

GOD LISTENS TO, ANSWERS THOSE WHO PERSEVERE IN PRAYER

In what was another first for Pope Francis, he began his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday by greeting people in sign language, according to Vatican Radio.

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The message of greeting – which involves raising one’s arms, and then turning your hand with the palms out – was for a pilgrimage group from the National Board for the Deaf, which is based in Florence. There was also a group of pilgrims from the Italian Union of the Blind, based in Latina.

Pope Francis’ catechesis today focuse on perseverance in prayer.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he began. “In our continuing catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy, we now turn to the parable of the unjust judge and the widow (Lk 18:1-8).  In telling us that even an unscrupulous judge will finally render justice to a poor woman because of her persistence, Jesus encourages us to persevere in prayer to our heavenly Father, who is infinitely just and loving.  He also assures us that God will not only hear our prayers, but will not delay in answering them (vv. 7-8).

The Pope noted that, “the Gospels tell us that Jesus himself prayed constantly.  His own intense prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a model for our own: it teaches us to present our petitions with complete trust in Father’s gracious will.  The parable of the unjust judge and the widow ends with a pointed question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth”? (v. 8).

“Perseverance in prayer,” concluded Francis, “keeps our faith alive and strong.  For in that prayer, we experience the compassion of God who, like a Father filled with love and mercy, is ever ready to come to the aid of his children. (photo: news.va)

Ag May 25

At the end of the general audience, the Holy Father prayed for the victims of the atrocious coordinated terrorist attacks that took place in the Syrian cities of Jableh and Tartus on Monday, killing over 160 people.

“I exhort everyone to pray to the merciful Father, to pray to the Madonna, that [God] might give eternal rest to the victims, and consolation to their families, and might convert the hearts of those who sow death and destruction.” The Pope and pilgrims then prayed the Hail Mary together.

Funerals for the victims began on Tuesday in Syria.

Francis also noted that today is International Missing Children’s Day at his General Audience on Wednesday. This day was established by U.S. President Ronalòd Reagan in 1983, following the disappearance four years earlier of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City. He was last seen on May 25, 1979 and that day was chosen for the annual commemoration, which is now also celebrated internationally.

The Pope said, “It is everyone’s duty to protect children, especially those exposed to elevated risk of exploitation, trafficking, and deviant conduct.” He also expressed the hope that “civil and religious authorities might stir consciences and raise awareness, in order to avoid indifference in the face of children on their own, exploited children, and children far from their families and their social context, children who cannot grow-up peacefully or look with hope to the future. … Pray that each of them might be restored to the affection of their loved ones.”

In special words for the sick and suffering, Francis noted that Wednesday was the feast of Pope St. Gregory VII. “May he encourage you, dear sick people, to confront your moments of suffering with faith.”

HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE ON IOR BOARD RESIGNATIONS

“With the recent approval and publication of the Annual Report of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) having been completed in a positive manner, two members of the Board of Superintendence, Clemens Börsig and Carlo Salvatori, in accordance with current rules, recently presented their resignations to the President of the Cardinals’ Commission of the IOR. The decision can be seen in light of legitimate reflections and opinions concerning the management of an Institute whose nature and purpose are as particular as those of the IOR.

“The two board members made a competent and qualified contribution in this important phase for the stability and integrity of the Institute, and its conformity not only to internal Vatican regulations, but also obligations taken by the Holy See on a European level.

“The President of the Cardinals’ Commission thanked the two members of the board, and accepted the resignations. A phase now begins, fully respecting the procedures in place, to find and evaluate new candidates suitable to fill the positions on the Board of Superintendence.”

IOR ACCOUNTS OF ITALIAN ENTREPRENEUR SEIZED

From the Holy See Press Office today: With regard to reports that have appeared in the Italian press in recent days on the bankruptcy of the company “Edil Ars” and the proceedings against the entrepreneur Mr. Angelo Proietti, it is to be noted that:

1)  The competent Authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State initiated the investigation established by the Vatican legislation in 2013, taking action on the basis of Suspicious Transaction Reports relating to Mr. Proietti, seizing all the relevant financial resources.

2)  Since the start of the investigation the competent Authorities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State requested the cooperation and exchanged information with the competent Italian Authorities, as required by the respective legislation and the Memoranda of Understanding in force.

3)  A criminal investigation is currently going on in the Vatican City State and the competent Authorities are assessing the existence of potential offences against entities of the Holy See and the Vatican City State.

INTERVIEW WITH THE GRAND IMAM OF AL-AZHAR

Credit for the photos goes to L’Osservatore Romano/EWTN

INTERVIEW WITH THE GRAND IMAM OF AL-AZHAR

Yesterday, after the audience in the Apostolic Palace, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Professor Ahmad Al-Tayyib, granted an interview to the Vatican media. It took place at the residence of the Egyptian ambassador to the Holy See, and two reporters from the Vatican Radio participated: Fr. Jean-Pierre Yammine, head of the Arabic Section, and Cyprien Viet, from the French Section, along with Maurizio Fontana of L’Osservatore Romano. The interview was recorded in audio and video by Radio Vaticana and the Vatican Television Centre, and took place entirely in Arabic. It was translated into Italian by the Arabic Section of Vatican Radio.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

1)  John Paul II was the first Pope to visit the Grand Imam of al-Azhar during his visit to Egypt as part of the Great Jubilee of 2000. Today the Grand Imam is the first to visit the Pope in the Vatican on the occasion of the Jubilee of Mercy. What is the meaning of these important events?

In the name of Clement and Merciful God, I would first like to convey my thanks to His Holiness Pope Francis, for having welcomed me with my delegation from Al-Azhar, and for the warm welcome and affection reserved to me. Today we pay this visit as part of an Al-Azhar initiative, and the agreement between Al-Azhar and the Vatican to continue our holy mission, which is the mission of religions: “to make human beings joyful everywhere”. Al-Azhar has a dialogue, or rather a commission for interreligious dialogue with the Vatican, which was suspended in specific circumstances, but now those circumstances no longer exist, we resume the path of dialogue and hope that it will be better than before. And I am happy to be the first Sheikh of Al-Azhar to visit the Vatican and to sit alongside the Pope in an encounter of discussion and understanding.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

2)  A short while ago the Grand Imam met Pope Francis in the Vatican. What can we say about this encounter and the atmosphere in which it took place? 

The first impression, which was very strong, is that this man is a man of peace, a man who follows the teaching of Christianity, which is a religion of love and peace, and following His Holiness we have seen that he is a man who respects other religions and shows consideration for their followers; he is man who also consecrates his life to serve the poor and the destitute, and who takes responsibility for people in general; he is an ascetic man, who has renounced the ephemeral pleasures of worldly life. All these are qualities that we share with him, and therefore we wish to encounter this man in order to work together for humanity in this vast field we have in common.

3)   What are the duties of the great religious authorities and religious leaders in today’s world? 

These responsibilities are heavy and grave at the same time, because we are aware, as we said also to His Holiness, that all the philosophies and modern social ideologies that have taken the lead of humanity, far from religion and far from heaven, have failed to make man happy or to take him far from wars and bloodshed. I believe that the moment has arrived for the representatives of the Divine Religions to participate strongly and in a concrete way to give humanity a new direction, towards mercy and peace, so that humanity can avoid the great crisis we are suffering now. Man without religion constitutes a danger to his fellow man, and I believe that people now, in the twenty-first century, have started to look around and to seek out wise guides to lead them in the right direction. And all this has led us to this meeting and this discussion, and to the agreement to begin to take a step in the right direction.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

4)  The University of Al-Azhar is engaged in important work in renewing scholastic texts. Can you tell us something about this project?

Yes, we renew them in the sense that we clarify the Muslim concepts that have been deviated by those who use violence and terrorism, and by armed movements that claim to work for peace. We have identified these erroneous concepts, and we have offered this as part of a curriculum to our students in middle and high schools, we have shown them the deviant side and the deviant understanding, and at the same time we have tried to make our students understand the correct concepts, from which these extremists and terrorists have deviated. We have established a world observatory that monitors in eight languages the material disseminated by these extremist movements, and the distorted ideas that deviate youth. And today this material is corrected and then translated into other languages. Through the “Home of the Egyptian Family” – which reunites Muslims with all the Christian confessions in Egypt, and is a joint project between Al-Azhar and the Churches – we seek to offer an answer to those who take opportunities and wait in ambush to sow disorder, divisions and conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

We also have the Muslim Council of Elders, chaired by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, and this Council sends peace delegations to the various world capitals and carries out important activity in favour of peace and to promote genuine Islam. We held in the past, around a year ago, a conference in Florence, right here in Italy, on the theme “East and West”, or rather “The Collaboration between East and West”. In addition, we receive at Al-Azhar imams from mosques in Europe, as part of a two-month programme offering formation in dialogue, exposing erroneous concepts and dealing with the integration of Muslims in European societies and nations, so that they may be a resource for the security, prosperity and strength of those countries.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

5)   The Middle East is experiencing great difficulties. What messages would you like to give us in this regard, on the occasion of this visit to the Vatican?

Certainly. I come from the Middle East where I live and I suffer, along with others, the consequences of the rivers of blood and cadavers, and there is no logical reason for this catastrophe that we are living day and night. Certainly there are internal and external motivations, whose convergence has inflamed these wars. Today I am in the heart of Europe and I would like to make the most of my presence in this institution, so great for Catholics – the Vatican – to launch an appeal to the entire world so that it can unite and close ranks to confront and put an end to terrorism, because I believe that if this terrorism is neglected, the price will be paid not only in the east; both east and west could suffer together, as we have seen. Therefore this is my appeal to the world and to the free men of the world: to come to an agreement immediately and to intervene to put an end to these rivers of blood.

Allow me to say something in this declaration: yes, terrorism exists, but Islam has nothing to do with this terrorism, and this applies to Ulama Muslims and to Christians and Muslims in the East. And those who kill Muslims, and who also kill Christians, have misunderstood the texts of Islam either intentionally or by negligence. A year ago Al-Azhar held a General Conference for Ulama Muslims, Sunni and Shiite, and invited the leaders of the Eastern Churches, of various religions and confessions, and even the Yazidi sent a representative to this conference under the aegis of Al-Azhar. Among the most salient points of the joint declaration, it was said that Islam and Christianity have nothing to do with those who kill, and we asked the West not to confuse this deviant and misled group with Muslims. We said with one voice, Muslims and Christians, that we are the masters of this land and we are partners, and each one of us has a right to this land.

We have rejected forced emigration, slavery and the trade in women in the name of Islam. Here I would like to say that the issue must not be presented as persecution of Christians in the East, but on the contrary there are more Muslim than Christian victims, and we all suffer this catastrophe together. In summary, I would like to conclude on this matter by saying that we must not blame religions because of the deviations of some of their followers, because in every religion there exists a deviant faction that raises the flag of religion to kill in its name.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

6)  Before concluding, would you like to add anything?

I again express my heartfelt thanks, my appreciation and my hope – that I will carry with me – of working together, Muslims and Christians, Al-Azhar and the Vatican, to relieve human beings wherever they are, regardless of their religion and belief, and to save them from destructive wars, poverty, ignorance and disease.

SS. Papa Francesco - Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib 23-05-2016 @Servizio Fotografico - L'Osservatore Romano

 

POPE, IMAM EMBRACE IN HISTORIC ENCOUNTER – BACKGROUND ON THE HISTORY-MAKING MEETING BETWEEN POPE FRANCIS AND THE GRAN IMAM OF AL-AZHAR

POPE, IMAM EMBRACE IN HISTORIC ENCOUNTER

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis received in audience in the Vatican on Monday the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib.

POPE IMAM   2

In a note, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi. said the approximately 30-minute meeting was “very cordial” and that the Grand Imam of Egypt “was accompanied by an important delegation, which included: Dr. Abbas Shouman, Undersecretary of Al-Azhar; Dr. Mahmaoud Hamdi Zakzouk, member of the Council of Senior Scholars of Al-Azhar University and Director of the Center for Dialogue of Al-Azhar; Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, Advisor to the Great Imam; Dr. Mohie Afifi Afifi Ahmed, secretary-general of the Islamic Research Academy; Ambassador Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, Diplomatic Advisor to the Grand Imam; Mr. Tamer Tawfik, Advisor; and Mr Ahmad Alshourbagy, Second Secretary. The delegation was accompanied by the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, Mr. Hatem Seif Elnasr.

Upon his arrival in the Vatican, the Grand Imam was welcomed, and then accompanied to his audience with the Pope, by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and by the secretary of the same dicastery, Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot.

Fr. Lombardi further stated that the Pope and Grand Imam noted “the great significance of this new meeting in the framework of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.” The two then mainly “discussed the common commitment of the authorities and the faithful of the great religions for peace in the world, the rejection of violence and terrorism, the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East and their protection.” As a gift, Pope Francis gave the Grand Imam the medallion of the olive tree of peace and a copy of his Encyclical Letter Laudato si’.

Al-Azhar mosque (CNA photo) –

al-azhar Mosque - CNA

Following his audience with the Holy Father, the Grand Imam and his delegation met briefly with Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Guixot Ayuso in another audience hall in the Apostolic Palace.

BACKGROUND ON THE HISTORY-MAKING MEETING BETWEEN POPE FRANCIS AND THE GRAN IMAM OF AL-AZHAR

Pope Francis told the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib, this morning that “the meeting was the message.”

And, in a subtle but significant way, the Holy See Press Office underlined that by calling the meeting “very cordial,” adding the word “very” to its usual description of a papal meeting as “cordial.”

To know why today was historic, let’s take another look – a fairly long one – at some recent Church history, starting with Pope Benedict XVI’s September 12 speech in Regensburg, Germany during a visit to his home country and region of Bavaria. In that speech, Pope Benedict used some quotations that riled up the Muslim world for months afterwards.

It was the third Paragraph that caused all the furor when the Pope used a quote from a conversation between the “erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam.” Benedict quoted the emperor who said to “his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general: ‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached’.”

At the time, I studied the various language texts and noted one difference – a difference that was for me an interesting, almost startling one: of the six language versions of the papal talk, only one, English, does not use the word jihad in that paragraph. We see German – Djihād, des heiligen Krieges; French – djihad, de la guerre sainte; Italian – jihād, della guerra santa; English – holy war; Portuguese jihād, da guerra santa, and Spanish: yihad, la guerra santa.

Benedict XVI was merely quoting, not expressing his own thoughts on Islam vis-à-vis “holy war.” In fact, Benedict defined the emperor’s words as being said with “a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable.”

Click here to read entire speech: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg.html

Eight days later, September 20, back in Rome, Benedict XVI spoke of the September 12 Regensburg address, entitled “Faith, Reason and the University – Memories and Reflections,” in the general audience. Here is what he said:

“On that day it was a particularly beautiful experience for me to deliver a conference to a large audience of teachers and students at the University of Regensburg, where I taught as professor for many years.

“With joy, I was able to meet once again the university world that was my spiritual homeland for a long period of my life. As a theme I had chosen the issue of the relationship between faith and reason.

“To introduce my audience to the drama and timeliness of the topic, I cited some words from a 14th-century Christian-Islamic dialogue, with which the Christian interlocutor, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus – in an incomprehensibly brusque way for us – presented to his Islamic interlocutor the problem of relations between religion and violence.

“This citation, unfortunately, lent itself to misinterpretation. For the attentive reader of my text, however, it is clear that in no way did I want to make my own the negative words spoken by the Medieval Emperor in this dialogue, and that their polemical content does not express my personal conviction. My intention was quite different:  starting with what Manuel II subsequently said in a positive manner, with very beautiful words, about rationality that must guide us in the transmission of faith, I wanted to explain that it is not religion and violence but rather religion and reason that go together.

“The topic of my lecture – responding to the mission of the University – was therefore the relationship between faith and reason: I wished to invite [people] to the dialogue of the Christian faith with the modern world and to the dialogue of all the cultures and religions.

“I hope that in the various circumstances during my visit – for example, when in Munich I emphasized how important it is to respect what is sacred to others – that my deep respect for the great religions, and especially for Muslims, who “worship God, who is one” and with whom we are engaged in preserving and promoting together, for the benefit of all men, “peace, liberty, social justice and moral values” (Nostra Aetate, n. 3), appeared quite clear.

“Therefore, I trust that after the immediate reactions, my words at the University of Regensburg will serve as an incentive and an encouragement for a positive, even self-critical dialogue, both between religions and between modern reason and the Christian faith.”

For months, reaction to the Pope’s speech was called “the Regensburg effect.” On September 25, the Pope held a meeting with ambassadors from Muslim countries. In October, a little over a month after the Regensburg address, Benedict XVI received an “open letter” signed by 38 Muslim personalities from various countries that discussed the views on Islam expressed by the Holy Father in Regensburg. The complete English text of that letter was published on Sunday, October 15, 2006 on the website of “Islamica Magazine,” a periodical published in the United States that holds the copyright to this document.

Over the years, the reaction to the papal words in 2006 became less and less virulent but another eruption occurred in 2011.

Here is the story I posted on January 20, 2011, concerning the suspension of dialogue between the Vatican and Al-Azhar university in Cairo, a break that would last five years:

MUSLIM UNIVERSITY SUSPENDS DIALOGUE WITH VATICAN

In breaking news coming today from Egypt we learn that Al-Azhar university in Cairo, the foremost institution of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, is suspending its dialogue with the Vatican, saying in a statement that its decision was made during an emergency meeting Thursday and the suspension is “indefinite.” Officials said such a freeze in dialogue with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue is due to Pope Benedict’s remarks in his January 10 speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See when he said Christians must be protected in Egypt. The Pope’s remarks came on the heels of a New Year Day bombing on a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 people.

Egypt was not the only country mentioned by the Holy Father when he addressed the diplomats and urged the protection of Christians and other religious minorities.

Holy See Press Office director, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists Thursday that, “the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, is gathering the necessary information to assess the situation, since it had not received any prior communication on the part of Al Azhar University in reference to the problem.” He also stated that, “the position of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and of the Holy See, even now remains the same as always, and that is an attitude of openness and readiness for dialogue.”

AsiaNews, in its report from Cairo, quoted academy member Abdel Muti al-Bayoumi as saying, “this decision was made in response to the position taken by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam.” In this regard, said AsiaNews, al-Bayoumi recalled the Pope’s controversial Regensburg address of 2006. The Al-Azhar academic added that the decision also takes into account, ” the recent unacceptable interference (by the Pope), who sought protection for Coptic Christians,” after the massacre in Alexandria.”

AsiaNews reported that the Al Azhar decision comes just days after the Egyptian government’s criticism of the Vatican sparked by Benedict XVI mentioning the tragedy of the Alexandria to the diplomats. In fact, Egypt recalled its ambassador, demanding that the Vatican not intervene in the country’s internal affairs.

Benedict XVI was also criticized by the Imam of Al-Azhar University on January 1st. According to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Pope, in his New Year’s address, only appealed for the defense of Christians, failing to concern himself with the Muslims in Iraq. Even Arab leaders, who met yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, while condemning the “terrorist” attacks on Christians in Egypt and Iraq, warned against “foreign interference on the issue of minority rights.”

And today the doors to dialogue were once again opened.

Post scriptum: Interestingly enough, during the 2015 synod of bishops, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, commented in his blog on the fact that, during a general audience, “I thought (Pope Francis) might say something about the Synod, but he didn’t. Perhaps he thought it would be premature or that his words, whatever they were, would be pounced upon and misinterpreted in a way that wouldn’t be helpful at this delicate midpoint of the Synod process.”

And then he added; “Benedict XVI learnt the hard way how the words of a Pope can be misread: think of his Regensburg address which would have been perfectly OK in an academic common room but which really stirred the pot given it was the Pope who was speaking. When I was working in the Vatican Secretariat of State, helping to prepare and finalize texts for the Pope, the golden rule was: “When in doubt, leave it out.” In other words, if there’s any chance that this or that text may be misread or turned against the Pope, “drop it.”