OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE… – POPE FRANCIS MEETS “SILENCE” DIRECTOR SCORSESE – HOLY FATHER CONCLUDES CATECHESES ON WORKS OF MERCY – PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR CRASH KILLING 71, INCLUDING BRAZILIAN SOCCER PLAYERS

OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE…

As I walked through St. Peter’s Square this morning to go to some Vatican offices, I took a few photos with my phone of the Nativity scene that is under construction near in the square near the obelisk.

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The tree has been up about a week but the building of the Nativity scene started only Monday. The tree will be lit and the nativity scene unveiled on Friday, December 9.

It was St. John Paul who started this tradition in the Christmas season of 1982 when he noticed that, with all the great Nativity scenes or presepe in the papal palace and apartments, in Roman Curia offices and in St. Peter’s Basilica, there was no such scene in the square. He asked that henceforth both a tree and presepe be placed in the square.

Trees in the past have come from countries like Austria, Switzerland and Germany and from various regions in Italy. This year features as a 25-meter (82 feet) tall red spruce from Trento, northern Italy. In its place, local schoolchildren have planted some 40 new spruce and larch seedlings to replace trees suffering from a parasite that had killed many of them. After the Christmas season, the wood from the Vatican tree will be used for charity.

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The ornaments for this year’s spruce are ceramic and were made by children in hospitals across Italy who are receiving treatment for cancer and other illnesses. The beautiful tree will be lit by 18,000 LED Christmas lights that were chosen to respect the environment. The LED technology allows for very low energy consumption.

Boxes of ornaments –

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The Nativity scene this year will pay tribute to the people who are forced to flee their countries and undertake dangerous journeys across the sea. In 2016 alone, says the International Organization of Migration, over 3000 people died in the Mediterranean, although many believe that number is higher as many vessels and sinkings go unrecorded.

As I studied the Christmas scene this morning, it seemed to be that the area enclosed by canvas where workers from Malta are building the presepe, was much larger than in the past, wider for sure. An earlier Vatican communique noted that the Nativity scene will measure 19 meters in width – just over 62 feet – and will feature 17 statues dressed in traditional Maltese costumes as well as a replica of a traditional “Luzzu” Maltese boat.

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That communique explained that the boat not only represents tradition – fish and life – but also, unfortunately the realities of migrants who in these same waters cross the sea on makeshift boats to Italy.

And these – if you remember my post on Monday – are the 8 men from the Maltese island of Gozo who are building the Nativity scene.:

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Both the Nativity and the Christmas tree will be lit on December 9, and will remain illuminated until Sunday, January 8.

POPE FRANCIS MEETS “SILENCE” DIRECTOR SCORSESE

(Vatican Radio) Wednesday morning, before holding the general audience, Pope Francis met the Italo-American movie director Martin Scorsese whose latest film “Silence” recounts the persecution of a group of Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan. Scorsese was accompanied at the audience in the Vatican by his wife, his two daughters, the producer of the “Silence” film and the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications Monsignor Dario Viganò. A Vatican statement said the meeting was very cordial and lasted 15 minutes.

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Pope Francis told those present that he had read the novel on which the film “Silence” was based, written by the late Japanese author Shusaku Endo.

Scorsese gave the Pope two paintings on the theme of “hidden Christians,” one of them a much-venerated image of the Madonna painted by a 17th century Japanese artist. Pope Francis gave his guests rosaries.

The audience in the Vatican came after a special screening of “Silence” in Rome on Tuesday night for more than 300 Jesuit priests. The movie is due to premiere in the United States this December.

HOLY FATHER CONCLUDES CATECHESES ON WORKS OF MERCY

In his weekly general audience held in the Paul VI Hall this morning, Pope Francis concluded his cycle of catecheses dedicated to the works of mercy, having looked at all 14 spiritual and corporal works of mercy. This also ends his series of weekly catecheses on mercy that began at last year’s opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The Holy Father told those present today that although the cycle has reached conclusion, we must continue to practice mercy in our lives. Many of his remarks during the general audience were off the cuff.

Speaking of the corporal work of mercy which invites us to bury the dead,  Pope Francis said it could appear a strange request. In fact, he said, it is sadly meaningful in the present day when we think of the many people who risk their lives in order to give decent burial to the victims of war who live in fear under constant fire and bombardment.  And for us Christians, he said, burial is an act of great faith because when we lower the bodies of our loved ones into the tomb, we do so in the hope of their resurrection.

He also underscored the importance of praying for the living and the dead which he said is part of the work of mercy of burying the dead, noting this is especially meaningful in this month of November when we commemorate all the faithful departed.

Even more, said Francis, praying for the living and the dead is an eloquent expression of the communion of saints and reminds us of how we are all united in God’s great family.

“This is why we pray for each other” he said.

In one of his off-the-cuff moments, Francis also recalled the story of a young business owner present at yesterday’s daily Mass in the Santa Marta residence. This man, he noted, had to close his company because they couldn’t sustain it anymore. This man, the Pope said, “cried, saying: ‘I don’t feel that I can leave more than 50 families without work. I could declare the company’s bankruptcy: I go home with my money, but my heart will cry my entire life for these 50 families’.”

“This is a good Christian who prays with the works: he came to Mass to pray so that the Lord would give him a way out, not only for him, but for the 50 families,” Francis said, pointing to him as a clear example of what it means to pray for one’s neighbor.

As he concluded, the Pope encouraged the faithful “to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who knows our deepest desires and hopes, and embrace in our prayer all those in any kind of need:” He also admonished to not forget to thank God for the good things in our lives.”

The catechesis “ends here,” he said. “We made this path of the 14 works of mercy, but mercy must continue and we must practice it in these 14 ways.”

PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR CRASH KILLING 71, INCLUDING BRAZILIAN SOCCER PLAYERS  

We all know that Pope Francis is a great soccer fan so we could easily imagine his grief when he learned that members of a Brazilian soccer team perished in a plane crash in Colombia minutes before the plane was due to land.

Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to the cardinal archbishop of Brasilia in Brazil following a plane crash that killed 71 people including members of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense. They were on their way to a South American cup final in Colombia when the accident happened. In the message signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis said he was dismayed by the tragic news of the plane crash in Colombia that caused numerous victims, and he sent his condolences to all those who are mouning and commended the deceased to God the Father of Mercy.

HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS – MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

Two post-Castro stories, a papal spokesman and a bishop….

HOW POPE JOHN PAUL II CONVINCED FIDEL TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS

(La Stampa newspaper) – The Polish Pope’s former spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the late Fidel Castro “wanted to know everything there was to know about John Paul II.”

“Fidel Castro kept me talking for six hours. He was fascinated by John Paul II and although he was jealous of his inner life. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper… I told him he was a lucky man because the Pope prayed for him every day. For once he was silent.”

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On the occasion of Pope Wojtyla’s visit to Cuba in January 1998, the role of Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul II’s spokesman, went far beyond his official duties as director of the Holy See Press Office. He talked about it with Andrea Tornielli in an interview with Italian daily La Stampa. (It is customary in Italian media to often use the family name of a Pope when referencing him, thus Pope Wojtyla).

How did the Pope’s visit to the island come about after he had helped bring down the Berlin Wall, one of the last bastions of communism? “John Paul II had been sending delegates to Cuba for a decade or so. The Vatican “minister for foreign affairs”, Jean Louis Tauran also went. The Pope was eager to visit the island but he still hadn’t received an invitation. Finally, in November 1996, Castro came to Rome for an FAO meeting, he was received in the Vatican and formally invited the Pope.”

How did you prepare for the visit? “We worked for the whole of 1997 to organise it. Three months prior to the visit, in October that year, I went to Havana and met Fidel. It was a long meeting that went on for six hours and ended at around three in the morning. Castro was fascinated by John Paul II, he wanted to know everything there was to know about him, who his family was, what his life had been like. He wanted to know more about Wojtyla as a man and gave away his admiration for him. I sensed he wanted to delve deeper. I said to him: “Mr. President, I envy you”. “Why?” “Because the Pope prays for you every day, he prays that a man of your education may find the way of the Lord again.” For once, the Cuban president was silent.”

What did you ask Castro on behalf of the Holy See? “I explained to him that now that the date of the visit was set – for 21 January 1998 – it would be interesting if it were a great success. ‘Cuba needs to surprise the word,” I told him. Fidel agreed. So I added something about the surprises the Pope was expecting. I asked Castro for Christmas, which was just around the corner, to be celebrated as an official holiday for the first time since the start of the Revolution.”

How did the Líder Máximo react? “He said it would be very difficult as Christmas fell right in the middle of the sugar cane harvesting season. To which I responded: ‘But the Holy Father would like to be able to publicly thank you for this gesture once he lands in Havana.’ After a long discussion, Castro finally said yes, although he did add; ‘But it could be for this year only.’ All I said was: ‘Great, the Pope will be grateful to you for this. And as for next year, we’ll see.’ As we know, to this day, Christmas is still celebrated as a public holiday in Cuba.”

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How did Pope Wojtyla view Castro? “On the flight to Havana, a journalist asked the Pope what advice he would give to the US president regarding the stance it should adopt towards Cuba: ‘To change!’ he replied. Then he was asked what he expected from Cuba’s president and this is how he responded: ‘I expect him to explain his true nature to me, as a man, as a leader and as a commander in chief’. I wasn’t on that flight, I was already in Havana. I received the text of that reply and I showed it to Castro while I was waiting for the Pope to land. That way there would be a written agenda for their meeting. The face-to-face meeting lasted quite a while and at the end of it they both came out smiling. I remember the mass in the Plaza de la Revolución with the Castro brothers in the front row and the crowd shouting ‘Libertad! Libertad!’ as the Pope pronounced his homily. And I remember the words with which Fidel bid John Paul II goodbye at the airport before he set off back to Rome: ‘Thank you for everything you said, even for those words I may not have liked.’ He had this human elegance about him as Wojtyla smiled: that visit marked the beginning of long but real process of opening up”.

MIAMI ARCHBISHOP RECALLS CATHOLIC PERSECUTION IN CUBA, PRAYS FOR PEACE

MIAMI (CNS) — On the day the news of Fidel Castro’s death spread, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami was one of the first Catholic Church officials to respond early Nov. 26. “Fidel Castro is dead,” he wrote in a statement. “The death of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, calling for peace for Cuba and its people.”

Later that day at Ermita de la Caridad, a Miami shrine that honors Cuba’s patron Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and one built, he said in his homily, “with the sacrifices of the (Cuban) exiles,” he focused on the suffering of Catholic Cuba and the news of Castro’s death. The 90-year-old former leader of Cuba reportedly died late at night Nov. 25.

“The Cuban people are a noble people, but also a people who suffer,” Archbishop Wenski said. “And now, on the eve of this first Sunday of Advent, to emphasize the words of Christ ‘at the hour you least expect, the Son of Man will come,’ we have learned that Fidel Castro has died.” He continued: “Each human being, each of us, will die. We will all be judged one day. Today, it is his (Fidel Castro’s) turn. God’s judgment is merciful, but it doesn’t cease to be just.”

Archbishop Wenski asked those gathered to invoke Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and ask for her intercession. “She has accompanied the Cuban people for more than 400 years,” he said, including during the country’s battle for independence and she “suffered with the church when the Marxist obscurantism wounded and decimated (the church).” She has been there in good times and in times of turmoil, in the Cuban prisons and in the agricultural “forced labor camps” the Cuban government operated, he said.

Referencing recent moments in the history of the island when Catholics hid their faith fearing persecution by a government and a society that looked down on religion, he said the Virgin was present in the prayer cards people hid in their dressers, as church members were “forced to survive by publicly denying their devotion.” And Mary is there with those who, despite all the challenges they have faced, continue to pass on the gift of faith to their children and grandchildren on the island.

She remains on the island today, he said, and continues to lavish her motherly love “in prisons that still are not empty and in the midst of women who walk demanding freedom.”

Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is present, Archbishop Wenski said, with those inside and outside Cuba, who “fight for respect for human dignity and to establish a future of freedom, justice and peace.”

A NATIVITY SCENE FROM MALTA! – PAPAL GRATITUDE FOR ORGANIZERS OF JUBILEE OF MERCY – THERE’S ALSO THIS…

A NATIVITY SCENE FROM MALTA!

I had a fairly amazing evening last night but I should never really be surprised at what happens or whom I should meet when I go to La Vittoria restaurant!

At 7:30, I met a friend from the States who was in Rome for a few days of work at the Order of Malta. It was fairly quiet at La Vittoria but at one point, a bit late, a group of 8 men came in and sat down together. I was trying to understand what language they spoke but without success. They were enjoying dinner and conversing in low tones and I kept wondering about the dialect or language.

As Margaret and I were leaving, Valentino, one of the waiters told us these men were from the Maltese island of Gozo and were building the Vatican’s Nativity scene (It has a Malta theme)!! Well, I pivoted as fast as I could and went back into the main room to their table, introduced myself – they all knew EWTN! – and got the story and a few photos! We spoke in English. Manuel, who seemed to be the head builder or at least spokesperson, told me they start building today and the scene will be unveiled December 9th. They invited me to come ‘behind the scenes’, so to speak and I will do that as soon as possible. Of course I can’t do any photos before the 9th but what fun it would be in any case.

Shortly before I met the Maltese crew, a young man came to my table and introduced himself as a big fan of my work on EWTN, telling me in particular how his brief, 36 hours in Rome had benefited greatly by my book on the Holy Year. Paul is from Kansas City, MO., and when he learned of the Nativity scene builders, he took one of these photos.

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As I’ve written so many times on this page, “life in the fast lane!”

PAPAL GRATITUDE FOR ORGANIZERS OF JUBILEE OF MERCY

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Monday with religious and civil authorities who organized the recently concluded Jubilee Year of Mercy, including members of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, headed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, as well as police chiefs and Italian officials in charge of local and regional security.

Pope Francis spoke of the origin of his idea for a year of mercy, describing it as “a simple intuition” which the Lord transformed into a celebration of faith and joy for Christian communities throughout the world.

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The opening of doors of mercy in so many cathedrals and shrines, he went on, enabled people to freely experience the love of God in their lives. The fruits of this extraordinary event must now become part of our daily living, he said, so that mercy truly becomes a permanent lifestyle for all Christians.

The Pope went on to thank all those individuals and organizations who worked hard to guarantee the safety and smooth running of the jubilee, which officially concluded on November 20th, the final Sunday of the liturgical year.

In particular, he mentioned Italy’s Home Affairs minister, the regional Lazio authorities and local chiefs of police who worked together with the Swiss Guards,  Vatican police and other offices of the Holy See to ensure a positive experience for the millions of pilgrims who travelled to Rome over the past year.

Last, but not least, he thanked members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and all the volunteers from different parts of the world who worked so hard to transform this event into a real moment of grace. “May your efforts,” he concluded, “be rewarded by the experience of mercy which the Lord will not fail to grant you.”

THERE’S ALSO THIS…

POPE FRANCIS HAS SENT A TELEGRAM TO the newly-elected superior general of the Jesuit Order, Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, upon learning of the death of Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, the former head of the Society of Jesus, who died in Beirut on Saturday, just days short of his 88th birthday. The Pope sent the telegram in his own name, recalling Father Kolbach’s career. His fidelity to the Gospel: Hearing the news of the pious death of the Reverend Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the former Superior General of the Company of Jesus, I desire to express to you and to the whole Jesuit family my heartfelt condolences. Recalling the integral fidelity of Father Kolvenbach to Christ and His Gospel, joined to a generous commitment in exercising his office with a spirit of service for the good of the Church, I lift up my prayers of suffrage, invoking, from the divine mercy, eternal peace for his soul. Spiritually present at the funeral rites, I cordially impart to you, to your brothers, and to those who share the sorrow for this loss, the Apostolic Blessing.

POPE FRANCIS RECEIVED IRELAND’S PRIME MINISTER Enda Kenny on Monday. A Vatican communiqué said the two “evoked the historical ties between the Holy See and Ireland, and underlined the continued contribution ensured by the Catholic Church in the fields of education and social service.” They also “spoke of the importance of the role of Christians in the public sphere, especially in promoting respect for the dignity of every person, beginning with the weakest and most defenseless.” Other topics included “an exchange of views on Europe, with particular reference to migration, youth employment and the main challenges that the continent has to deal with, from the political point of view and institutional.” Dublin, Ireland was chosen by Francis as the site of the next World Meeting of Families in 2018.

THE MIRACULOUS STORY OF THE FORGOTTEN CATHOLIC HERO OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

THE MIRACULOUS STORY OF THE FORGOTTEN CATHOLIC HERO OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING

(FROM Church POP editors)

Most people know the basic story of the first Thanksgiving: the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth rock, the Native Americans helped them grow food, and they all gathered together in a feast of thanksgiving.

But what most tellings of the story leave out is the crucial role played by Squanto, the English-speaking Catholic Native American hero.

Wait, what? Why was there an English-speaking Catholic Native American near Plymouth when the Pilgrims landed? Here’s the amazing story.

In the early 17th century, Squanto’s tribe came in contact with some of the earliest English colonist in the Americas. He was captured and taught English so he could serve as an interpreter. But in 1614, as he was being transported by John Smith (of Pocahontas fame), one of Smith’s lieutenants, Thomas Hunt, kidnapped him.

Hunt took Squanto to Spain to sell him as a slave. But some Franciscan friars saw what was happening and saved Squanto. The Franciscans taught Squanto the Catholic faith and he was apparently baptized.

A free man, Squanto wanted to return home, so he went to London to try to get a place aboard a ship going back to the Massachusetts colony. In the meantime, he worked as a shipbuilder and greatly improved his English.

In 1619, Squanto was finally able to return home on a ship led by John Smith. Tragically, upon arrival he discovered that most of his tribe had died of a plague the year before.

It was almost as though God had prepared him perfectly for what happened next: just a year later in 1620, the Pilgrims arrived. They were English Calvinists who were seeking to build a new religious community apart from the Church of England. Little did they know that they would end up being saved by a Catholic!

The Pilgrims had little food and were unprepared for survival in the Americas. Squanto, who spoke great English and had a lot of experience with English culture, reached out to help, teaching them how to grow food in the new landscape. It must have seemed like a miracle to the Pilgrims!

He befriended the Pilgrims and became an important part of their community. At one point, Squanto was kidnapped by another tribe and a team of Pilgrims saved him.

Unfortunately, less than two years after the landing of the Pilgrims, Squanto became sick and died suddenly. Governor William Bradford, one of the pilgrims’ leaders, wrote this about him:

“Here [Monomoyick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.”

DEAR LORD, HOW HAVE YOU BLESSED ME? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS….. – THE NORTH AMERICAN COLLEGE CELEBRATES THANKSGIVING

DEAR LORD, HOW HAVE YOU BLESSED ME? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS…..

Dear Lord, how have you blessed me? Let me count the ways…..

My wonderful family, my beautiful faith, my ocean of friends, the friends throughout your great universe whom you have brought into my life.

Does a day pass that you do not bring some unique, new person into my life?

Does a day pass that I am not enriched ad blessed by some amazing event which you placed in my path as a learning moment, a time of prayer, a period of silent Thanksgiving?

You blessed me at my baptism when you brought me into your beautiful Catholic Church and a faith to which I have always tried to be faithful.

You have blessed me by enriching that faith over the years, allowing me to work for you every day, to bring your Word and your teachings and your Truth to so many.

My words, by comparison, are very insignificant but truly heartfelt. I am filled with both thanksgiving and joy as I write these words, as my mind’s eye overflows with images of each family member, of friends here in Rome and around the globe, of the magnificent events that daily fill my life.

I sign most emails and letters with “God bless,” and then on another line “Joan” – but I read it silently as “God bless Joan.”

And You HAVE blessed me! Heartfelt THANKS!

….. And Thank You FOR THE BEAUTY OF THE EARTH
For the beauty of the earth,

For the beauty of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour

Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flower,

Sun and moon and stars of light,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,

Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth, and friends above,

Pleasures pure and undefiled,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.

THE NORTH AMERICAN COLLEGE CELEBRATES THANKSGIVING

My friendship with the priests, seminarians, faculty and staff of the Pontifical North American College is another of my great blessings. Thanksgiving is one of the more special days at the College and it always begins, as Thanksgiving should, with Mass. The guest celebrant and homilist today was Bishop Jorge Carlos Patron Wong, secretary for seminaries of the Congregation for Clergy.

A full turkey lunch with Italian additions of antipasto and divine ravioli was on the menu, as you will see. Seminarians, priests and their guests gather at state tables, as you will also see in the following photos. I was at the Illinois table this morning, which was also the head table as NAC’s rector, Rev. Peter Harman is from Illinois. I sat next to and across from two priests and two seminarians from the diocese of Rockford.

Fifth year students (ordained priests who have returned to Rome for a fifth year of studies) served the meal. Before we ate, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett read the U.S. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Without further ado, here are some of the tables:

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You see the Australia table – there are seminarians from both Canada and Australia at NAC.

The Illinois table featured both the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building – and Abe Lincoln, of course!

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Ambassador Hackett –

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Our table

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CARDINAL D’ROZARIO AND MEMORIES OF A BANGLADESHI DINNER

Before I sign off for several days, I want to wish everyone reading this column, as well as all of you who listen to my radio program, Vatican Insider” and follow me on “Joan’s Rome and “At Home with Jim and Joy,” a very Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

I will be celebrating Thanksgiving by attending noon Mass tomorrow at the North American College and, after that, as usual, enjoying a magnificent turkey dinner Italian style, that is to say preceded by antipasto and even pasta! After a brief respite in the afternoon, I will be joining seven American friends, including Kelly Wahlquist (you know her as the founder of WINE, Women In the New Evangelization) for a late dinner at La Scaletta restaurant. Check my Facebook page for live posts, photos, etc.

CARDINAL D’ROZARIO AND MEMORIES OF A BANGLADESHI DINNER

And now, I’d like to tell you my favorite story of the 2016 consistory for new cardinals.

The afternoon of the consistory to name new cardinals, I attended the courtesy visits in the Paul VI Hall and went in search of an old friend, Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangaldesh. We had met a few years earlier in Rome and shared a great meal over conversation about the meeting he was in Rome to attend on the question of sexual abuse by clergy.

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We talked about many topics and I was curious to learn about his country as what I did know of Bangladesh could be written on the proverbial head of a pin.

To understand our reunion, here is my blog from the day we met:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The past 24 hours have been some of the more amazing of my already very amazing life. I wish I had been wearing some sort of a videocam because, as I look back on events, it is hard to believe what has transpired.

Several weeks ago I met a priest from Bangladesh, Fr. Francis D’Costa, who is assisting the pastor at my neighborhood Italian parish. I had gone to Saturday night Mass and confession and we spoke afterwards. Fr. Francis is studying in Rome for several years and resides at the St. Peter Apostle Pontifical Seminary on Via delle Fornaci, not far from my home (so I thought).

I learned this week that his bishop, Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh would be in Rome for the sex abuse symposium at the Gregorian University, and I told Fr. Francis I’d like to meet and interview him. Fr. Francis said there was a post-symposium Mass at Most Holy Apostles Church for participants and suggested we meet afterwards, around 8:30 or so, in our neighborhood. Father and the archbishop took the 64 bus and I met them at the San Pietro train station, a four-block walk from my house, a little before 9. I assumed we only had a brief walk to nearby Via delle Fornaci, but was in for a surprise.

That’s when our trek began. And that’s when I learned how long a street Via delle Fornaci is! It was uphill all the way, not steep, but uphill nonetheless, for at least a kilometer. The street at this point is narrow, not well lit and, fortunately, not many cars were about at that hour. I think both Archbishop D’Rozario and I felt we’d never arrive, walking in what seemed to be no man’s land in the midst of frigid temperatures. We chattted away, getting to know each other and that helped keep our thoughts (somewhat) off of the cold and the distance.

The walk was worth it in the end because warmth and dinner awaited us. I was stunned to see the immense grounds of the seminary which hosts 179 priests from 40 countries in Asia and Africa, and is part of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

I interviewed the archbishop in one of the rooms while a priest from India, a friend of Father Francis’, prepared a very tasty Bangladeshi dinner for us as the seminary dinner hour was long over! He prepared dinner in his bedroom on a hotplate and we shared that dish on paper plates and toasted with local wine in plastic cups and sat where we could on two chairs and the edge of the bed.

(By way, you will hear that interview on “Vatican Insider.” It is a fascinating insight on the sex abuse crisis from an Asian perspective, and the archbishop gave me a copy of his talk on sexuality from an Asian perspective.)

I Ieft about 10:30 p.m. and walked back home, accompanied half way by the priest from India (whose name I failed to write down). The return walk home was about a mile, all told.

FAST FORWARD: Paul VI Hall, November 19, 2016:

As I stood in line and it was my turn to shake the cardinal’s hand, I could see a light of recognition. I said my name and reminded him of a dinner at the seminary where we shared a Bangladeshi meal, some laughs and great coversation. He hugged me and said several times, with a broad smile, how well he remembered that dinner!

Laughing, he said, “I have been waiting for you! Where have you been?”

You see, four years ago he invited me to Bangladesh, to get to know his country and his people. I guess he has been waiting for four years!

Cardinal D’Rozario was much in demand at the courtesy visits and I did not have time for a lengthy conversation as other people, especially the media, were waiting to greet him. He did tell me, however, that the work that Pope Francis had assigned to the cardinals in the morning was really the work of all Catholics in Bangladesh.

And now I want to go and see that work for myself! And enjoy another Bangadesh dinner!

Here is Cardinal D’Rozario with Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Rai (on the right) –

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And with Archbishop Paul Gallagher of the Secretariat of State –

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POPE HIGHLIGHTS TWO SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY IN GENERAL AUDIENCE – HOLY FATHER GREETS MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS

Today’s papal tweet: May the Holy Spirit help us to be patient when enduring, and to be humble and simple when advising.

From 5 to 6 pm today, Pope Francis will meet with President Trần Đại Quang of Vietnam, president of this Asian nation since April 2, 2016. The press office will be open until 7 this evening as journalists await a Vatican statement on the late afternoon meeting.

POPE HIGHLIGHTS TWO SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY IN GENERAL AUDIENCE

Pope Francis held the weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall and continued his recent series of catecheses on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He told the faithful, “among the spiritual works of mercy, we now consider those of counselling the doubtful and instructing the ignorant.  These two works are related and both can be practised daily in our families and communities.

On counselling the doubtful, Francis said, “It is a true work of mercy to counsel those troubled by doubts about the meaning of life or shaken in their faith.  Let us be grateful to all who devote themselves to this work through catechesis and religious education.  All of us are called to support one another by our witness of living faith and generous concern, for these are eloquent signs of the love of God which gives meaning and direction to our lives.

He noted that, “Some might ask me: ‘Father, I have many doubts about my faith, what should I do? Don’t you ever have doubts?’ I have so many, so many… Everyone has doubts every once in a while! Doubts which concern the faith, in a positive sense, are a sign that we want to deepen our knowledge of God, Jesus, and the mystery of His love for us.”

“We should not make faith an abstract theory where doubts are multiplied,” added the Pope. “ Let’s make faith our life. Let’s seek to practice it in service to our brothers, especially those who are most in need. All these doubts disappear, because we feel God’s presence and the truth of the Gospel in the love that lives in us and we share with others.”

On education, the Holy Father explained that, “the Church’s mission of evangelization has always been accompanied by teaching and the founding of schools, since education promotes the dignity of the person and provides for the full development of his or her God-given gifts.  Illiteracy and lack of access to education are in fact a form of poverty and injustice.  Education develops our ability to think critically about ourselves and the world around us.  By raising questions it also helps us to find satisfying answers.”

Continuing on this topic, he said, “It is a condition of great injustice which stains the dignity of people. Without education, one easily becomes vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It is unthinkable that, in a world where scientific and technological progress has reached such heights, there are still illiterate children. It is an injustice.”

HOLY FATHER GREETS MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met in the Vatican on Wednesday with participants at a colloquium organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization from Teheran.

In brief words of greeting to the group, the Pope said he greatly appreciated the presence of those who had travelled from Iran to attend the meeting. He recalled with joy his meeting last January with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as well as an encounter he had with the country’s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, who visited the Vatican with a group of female professors in February 2015. That visit, he said left him with a very positive impression of Iranian culture.

The Pope also underlined the importance of this 10th round of interfaith dialogue and fraternal encounter. He asked his guests to remember to pray for him and asked God to bless all members of the group.

During the two-day meeting, which concludes Wednesday, the Muslim and Christian scholars have been sharing perspectives on “Extremism and violence in the name of religion: the reasons of the supporters and perpetrators,” “Rational approach to religion: the sign of hope for wounded humanity”, and “Humanity and its common home; the contribution of religion for having a better world”.

The 9th round of this dialogue between the Pontifical Council and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization was held in December 2014 in Tehran on the theme “Constructive Dialogue between Muslims and Christians for the Good of Society”

 

MARY IS THE FOCUS OF NEXT THREE WORLD YOUTH DAYS – THE YEAR OF MERCY CONTINUES WITH WWW.PETERSPENCE.VA

Pope Frances tweeted today: How much I desire that the years to come will be full of mercy, so that every person can experience the goodness and tenderness of God!

MARY IS THE FOCUS OF NEXT THREE WORLD YOUTH DAYS

The Vatican, through the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, today announced the themes for the next three World Youth Days as chosen by Pope Francis. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the focus of all three celebrations, the first two in 2017 and 2018 at the diocesan level and the third at the international in 2019 in Panama. Pope Francis presided at the last international WYD in July of this year in Krakow, Poland.

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The three themes are taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke:

32nd World Youth Day, 2017: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” (Lk 1:49)

33rd World Youth Day, 2018: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30)

34th World Youth Day, 2019: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)

Noting that the themes are a continuation of the reflections begun by Pope Francis for the last three World Youth Days on the Beatitudes, the dicastery communique recalled Pope Francis’ remarks at World Youth Day in Krakow, when he invited young people to have “memory of the past, courage for the present and to have/be hope for the future.” The themes “are intended to give a clear Marian tone to the spiritual journey of the next three WYDs” and at the same time “give a picture of young people on a journey between the past (2017), present (2018), and future (2019), inspired by the three theological virtues of faith, charity, and hope.”

The Dicastery note says the “path that is being proposed to young people can also be seen to be in harmony with the reflection that Pope Francis has entrusted to the next Synod of Bishops: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

THE YEAR OF MERCY CONTINUES WITH WWW.PETERSPENCE.VA

The annual collection taken up around the world for the Pope’s charities, known in the United States and many other countries as Peter’s Pence and in Italy as the “obolo di San Pietro” now has its own page on the Vatican website – www.peterspence.va

The announcement was made this morning by the Secretariat of State as it unveiled  the new website. It went online on yesterday, November 21 and is currently available in English, Italian, and Spanish, though it will soon be translated into other languages.

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This annual collection usually occurs on or around the June 29th Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Funds are given to the Holy Father who then chooses the recipients whom he feels are most in need.

The dicastery communique notes that faithful throughout the world will now have the opportunity to “reflect on the significance of their acts and offer, also online, their concrete support for the works of mercy, Christian charity, peace, and aid to the Holy See.” It adds that, “created by desire of the Holy See, the site is the fruit of an important synergy between the Governorate of the Vatican City State, the Secretariat for Communications, and the Institute for the Works of Religion” (i.e. the Vatican Bank).

The site presents papal messages, the history of Peter’s Pence, lists various works of mercy and, of course, offers the chance to donate online.

 

A YEAR OF MERCY ENDS, A HOLY DOOR IS CLOSED, THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS GROWS

A YEAR OF MERCY ENDS, A HOLY DOOR IS CLOSED, THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS GROWS

This past weekend was jam-packed with important ecclesial moments: the consistory Saturday to create 17 new cardinals, the closing on Sunday of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica and the end of the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy and the signing by Pope Francis’ of his post Jubilee Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, (“Mercy and Misery”) at the end of Mass.

With the new cardinals, there are now 228 members of the College of Cardinals: 121 cardinal electors, that is, cardinals under the age of 80 who can vote in a future conclave and 107 non electors, those over the age of 80 who, though they may not vote in a conclave could theoretically be elected Pope.

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SATURDAY: “A MYSTAGOGY OF MERCY: LOVE, DO GOOD, BLESS AND PRAY

In his homily at Saturday’s consistory for the creation of new cardinals, Pope Francis told the new Eminences that, “The Gospel passage we have just heard (cf. Lk 6:27-36) is often referred to as the ‘Sermon on the Plain’.  After choosing the Twelve, Jesus came down with his disciples to a great multitude of people who were waiting to hear him and to be healed.  The call of the Apostles is linked to this ‘setting out’, descending to the plain to encounter the multitudes who, as the Gospel says, were ‘troubled’.

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“Instead of keeping the Apostles at the top of the mountain, their being chosen leads them to the heart of the crowd; it sets them in the midst of those who are troubled, on the “plain” of their daily lives.  The Lord thus shows the Apostles, and ourselves, that the true heights are reached on the plain, while the plain reminds us that the heights are found in a gaze and above all in a call: ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’.”

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The Holy Father explained that, “there are four actions that will shape, embody and make tangible the path of discipleship.  We could say that they represent four stages of a mystagogy of mercy: love, do good, bless and pray.  I think we can all agree on these, and see them as something reasonable.”

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Then he noted that “the problem comes when Jesus tells us for whom we have do these things.  Here he is very clear.  He minces no words, he uses no euphemisms.  He tells us: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you (cf. vv. 27-28).

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“Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues,” continued Francis. “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts.  We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith.  An enemy because…

“And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act.  Everything and everyone then begins to savour of animosity.  Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence.  How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!  How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us!  Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings.

“The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting.  We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals. We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin color, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites.  None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.”

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SUNDAY: A HOLY DOOR OF MERCY IS CLOSED BUT NOT THE HEART OF JESUS

In his homily at Mass on Sunday, Solemnity of Christ the King, after closing the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said, “even if the Holy Door is closed, the true door of mercy, which is the heart of Christ, always remains open wide for us.” And he explained that the power of Christ the King “is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things.”

“In order to receive the kingship of Jesus,” said the Holy Father, “we are called to struggle against this temptation, called to fix our gaze on the Crucified One, to become ever more faithful to him.  How many times, even among ourselves, do we seek out the comforts and certainties offered by the world.  How many times are we tempted to come down from the Cross.  The lure of power and success seem an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel; we soon forget how the Kingdom of God works.

“This Year of Mercy,” he continued, “invites us to rediscover the core, to return to what is essential.  This time of mercy calls us to look to the true face of our King, the one that shines out at Easter, and to rediscover the youthful, beautiful face of the Church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission.  Mercy, which takes us to the heart of the Gospel, urges us to give up habits and practices which may be obstacles to serving the Kingdom of God; mercy urges us to orient ourselves only in the perennial and humble kingship of Jesus, not in submission to the precarious regalities and changing powers of every age.”

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MONDAY: POST JUBILEE APOSTOLIC LETTER, MISERICORDIA ET MISERA.

Pope Francis signed his Post Jubilee Year Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera, at the end of Mass Sunday and it was made public Monday morning, November 21. In this 7,400-word letter the Pope wrote: “In light of the ‘great graces of mercy’ we have received during the Jubilee, our first response is to give thanks to the Lord for His gifts. But in going forward, we must also continue to celebrate mercy, especially in the liturgical celebrations of the Church, including in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the other Sacraments, especially in Reconciliation and in Anointing of the Sick, the two ‘sacraments of healing’.”

The breaking news of that document was Pope Francis’ decision to extend indefinitely the permission he gave to priests at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy to absolve those who have committed the sin of abortion, an excommunicable offense.

In the Apostolic Letter he wrote: “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life.” And he also said: “There is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled” with God.

Because abortion has always been a very grave sin, punishable by excommunication, the possibility of granting forgiveness always rested under the authority of a bishop. A bishop could hear the woman’s confession himself or delegate that to a priest who had been specifically trained in this area. However, in 2015, Pope Francis had said he was allowing all priests to grant absolution for an abortion for the duration of the Holy Year, which ran from December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016.

Now, with a view to carrying out Francis’ vision of a merciful Church, priests may, on a permanent basis, absolve the sin of abortion, an act the Pope has called “this agonizing and painful decision.” Francis asked priests “to be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation” for faithful who had abortions.

Here is what he wrote, in part in the Apostolic Letter:

The Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life. This requires priests capable of putting their lives at the service of the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), in such a way that, while no sincerely repentant sinner is prevented from drawing near to the love of the Father who awaits his return, everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness.

“A favorable occasion for this could be the 24 Hours for the Lord, a celebration held in proximity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This initiative, already in place in many dioceses, has great pastoral value in encouraging a more fervent experience of the sacrament of Confession.

  1. Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year,[14] is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.

“For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.[15] For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

Pope Francis also invites the Church to Celebrate a World Day of the Poor:

“During the ‘Jubilee for Socially Excluded People’, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Click here for the complete Apostolic Letter: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20161120_misericordia-et-misera.html

POPE FRANCIS INVITES CHURCH TO CELEBRATE A WORLD DAY OF THE POOR

POPE FRANCIS INVITES CHURCH TO CELEBRATE A WORLD DAY OF THE POOR

In his post Jubilee of Mercy Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, released today by the Vatican, Pope Francis invites the Church to celebrate an annual Day of the Poor:

“During the ‘Jubilee for Socially Excluded People’, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Click here for the complete Apostolic Letter: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20161120_misericordia-et-misera.html