(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the participants in the first-ever World Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World on Friday. The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University hosted the four-day event, which brought experts in child care, internet security, law enforcement, education, and a host of other fields together to share experiences and best practices, with a view to addressing the problem of the effective protection of the dignity of minors in the digital world.

Child dignity – a crisis and a response in context

In remarks prepared for the participants and delivered to them in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace shortly after noon on Friday, Pope Francis placed the challenges facing individuals and whole societies the world, over, in the context of the struggle not only to articulate, but effectively to guarantee, the rights and dignity of every person – especially the weakest and most vulnerable, and chief among these, children and young people – on which the human family has embarked and in which the Church has been engaged especially since the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

“As representatives of various scientific disciplines and the fields of digital communications, law and political life,” Pope Francis said, “you [participants in the World Congress] have come together precisely because you realize the gravity of these challenges linked to scientific and technical progress.” He went on to say, “With great foresight, you have concentrated on what is probably the most crucial challenge for the future of the human family: the protection of young people’s dignity, their healthy development, their joy and their hope.”

Speaking specifically of the danger the proliferation of pornographic material poses in the digital age, Pope Francis said, “The spread of printed pornography in the past was a relatively small phenomenon compared to the proliferation of pornography on the net.”

He went on to say, “[W]e must not let ourselves be overcome by fear, which is always a poor counsellor, nor let ourselves be paralyzed by the sense of powerlessness that overwhelms us before the difficulty of the task,” at hand.

“Rather,” he said, “we are called to join forces, realizing that we need one another in order to seek and find the right means and approaches needed for effective responses.”

Painful lessons – profound commitment

Pope Francis also spoke of the painful lessons the Church has learned through her recent experience with clerical sex abuse, saying that the Church has come to acknowledge her own failures in providing for the protection of children. “[E]xtremely grave facts have come to light,” he said, “for which we have to accept our responsibility before God, before the victims and before public opinion.” The Pope went on to say, “For this very reason, as a result of these painful experiences and the skills gained in the process of conversion and purification, the Church today feels especially bound to work strenuously and with foresight for the protection of minors and their dignity, not only within her own ranks, but in society as a whole and throughout the world.”

The pernicious effects of mainstreaming pornography

The Holy Father also discussed the pernicious effects that the so-called “mainstreaming” of pornography – not only its broad and ready availability, but also the acceptance of it by society – on adults. “We rightly insist on the gravity of these problems for minors,” he said, “but we can also underestimate or overlook the extent that they are also problems for adults.”

The Pope noted that the spread of ever more extreme pornography and other improper uses of the internet not only causes disorders, dependencies and grave harm among adults, but also has a real impact on the way we view love and relations between the sexes. “We would be seriously deluding ourselves,” he said, “were we to think that a society where an abnormal consumption of internet sex is rampant among adults could be capable of effectively protecting minors.”

Warning against a “technocratic” approach to the problem

“The second mistaken approach would be to think that automatic technical solutions, filters devised by ever more refined algorithms in order to identify and block the spread of abusive and harmful images, are sufficient to deal with these problems,” he said. “But there is also an urgent need, as part of the process of technological growth itself, for all those involved to acknowledge and address the ethical concerns that this growth raises, in all its breadth and its various consequences.”

What the internet is, and is not

A third risk of which we must be aware in our approach to the digital world is the deluded notion that “the net” is or should be a realm of unlimited freedom.

While the internet and other technologies that are part of the contours, content, and structures of this new digital world have opened vast new fora for free expression and free exchange of ideas and information, it has also offered new means for engaging in heinous illicit activities, including the abuse of minors and offences against their dignity, the corruption of their minds and violence against their bodies.

“This,” said Pope Francis, “has nothing to do with the exercise of freedom: it has to do with crimes that need to be fought with intelligence and determination, through a broader cooperation among governments and law enforcement agencies on the global level, even as the net itself is now global.”

Final Declaration

Toward this end, the participants produced a final document, The Declaration of Rome, which includes its own urgent call to action.

Pope Francis received the Declaration from a young girl participating in the Congress, who gave it to him “on behalf of millions of young people around the world who need information and far more protection from the risks of sexual and other forms of abuse on the internet.”

CLICK HERE FOR FULL SPEECH: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-speech-to-world-congress-on-child-dig


Yesterday, I spent a fascinating afternoon and early evening at the Pontifical Gregorian University for an updated presentation for the press, and later for the public, of the CCP, the Center for Child Protection. Established in 2012 by the Gregorian, the archdiocese of Munich und Freising and the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology of the State University Clinic of Ulm, the CCP was first located in Munich but now has found a new and permanent home at the Jesuit-run Roman university where it is part of the Institute of Psychology.

In February 2012, an international symposium of bishops and Church personnel was held at the Gregorian on the sex abuse crisis. Entitled, “Towards Healing and Renewal,” it had the support of the Holy Father (then Pope Benedict) and numerous offices of the Roman Curia, most notably the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that has been overseeing sex abuse cases. The aim of the 2012 symposium was to inform Catholic bishops and religious superiors on the global, cross-cultural resources available in responding to sexual abuse within the Church and society. They learned that the Center for Child Protection, previously set up and running in Munich, would be one such resource tool, as would an e-learning center – now fully operational – at the Gregorian, to help safeguard children and the victims of molestation.

Yesterday’s two-part conference, again entitled “Towards Healing and Renewal,” focused on the renewed commitment of everyone involved in the CCP as well as an update on the Center three years after the 2012 symposium.

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley spoke at both events yesterday. He is one of the C9 cardinals – the papal advisory council that consists of nine cardinals – and is also the head of the Vatican’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors, though that Commission and the CCP are separate entities. The CCP is not a Vatican body.

Members of both the CCP and the Vatican Commission spoke, as did the president of the Gregorian University and other guests. I want to write more in-depth about the speeches given yesterday, the progress made by the CCP, and the programs offered relative to this at the Greg (as the Gregorian University is affectionately called in Rome) and will do so in a special profile of this Center next week.

FYI: In another vein: You’ve been hearing for some time now, in this column and elsewhere, about the showers that the Vatican has built for the homeless and the barber service that began yesterday in the same area just off the right hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. My colleagues at CNA wrote a story about yesterday’s inaugural haircuts (which I also posted on facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/unexpected-friendships-bloom-as-vatican-rolls-out-haircuts-for-homeless-35710/

I began to wonder if there was a patron saint for the homeless. This thought had never occurred to me!  Indeed, there is one – Benedict Joseph Labre!  Here is his story:

Benedict Joseph Labre was truly eccentric, one of God’s special little ones. Born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at 16 years of age, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood, much to the consternation of his relatives.

He became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. He wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the poor. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called “the poor man of the Forty Hours Devotion” and “the beggar of Rome.” The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that “our comfort is not in this world.”

On the last day of his life, April 16, 1783, Benedict Joseph dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death the people proclaimed him a saint. (Source: www.americancatholic.org)

THE NEWS: Two stories today: The first reflects Pope Francis’ soul and the second his heart. The first, a papal homily, should be read slowly and thoughtfully, almost as a pre-Lenten meditation. The second story tends to be more joyful  – but also meditative – as Pope Francis talks to young people in his message for the 2015 World Youth Day that will mark the 30th anniversary of WYD, established by St. John Paul in 1985.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered Mass Tuesday morning for the repose of the souls of the 21 Coptic Christians martyred for their faith in Christ. The Mass was attended by the Pope’s personal secretary, Father Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, who is Coptic Catholic. (Photo: news.va)


As he prepared to begin Mass in the Santa Marta Chapel, the Pope invited the congregation to join him in prayer for “our brother Copts, whose throats were slit for the sole reason of being Christian, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, for my brother Tawadros, who is suffering greatly.”

Pope Tawadros II is the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Monday afternoon, Pope Francis called the Coptic leader to express sincere condolences to the Coptic Church for the recent barbaric assassination by beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by militants of the fundamentalist Islamic State. The beheadings took place in Libya. The Holy Father promised his prayers on Monday and also Tuesday, the day of the funeral celebrations for the victims. He told the patriarch he unites himself spiritually to the prayers and the sorrow of the Coptic Church in his morning Mass Tuesday.

During his homily the Pope spoke of man’s capability for evil and destruction and condemned what he termed ‘merchants of death’, business people who sell arms to those at war, furthering a cycle of hate, fratricide and violence.

Pope Francis was reflecting on the passage from Genesis that speaks of God’s wrath at man’s wickedness that is a prelude to the great flood. The Pope noted with regret that man, “seems to be more powerful than God,” because he is capable of destroying the good things that God has made.

Man is capable of destroying fraternity

Pope Francis pointed out that in the first chapters of the Bible we find many examples – Sodom and Gomorrah, the Tower of Babel – in which man reveals his wickedness. “An evil that lurks in the depths of the heart.” The Pope noted some people would urge him not to be so negative, but – he continued – “this is the truth. We are also capable of destroying fraternity: Cain and Abel in the first pages of the Bible. They destroy fraternity. This is where wars begin. Jealousy, envy, so much greed for power, to have more power. Yes, this sounds negative, but it is realistic. You only have to pick up a newspaper, any newspaper – left-wing, center, right-ring … whatever. And you will see that more than 90% of the news is news of destruction. More than 90%. We see this every day”. Pope Francis then asked the question: “What is happening in man’s heart?” He said Jesus reminds us that, “from within, out of the heart of man, comes evil. … (Our) weak heart is wounded.”

Merchants of death sell arms to those who are at war

Pope Francis observed that man always “desires autonomy”: “I do what I want and if I want to do something, I will! So, if I want to make war, I will!” “Why are we like this? Because we are capable of destruction, that’s the problem.  There are wars, arms trafficking … ‘But, we are businessmen!’ Yes, but of what? Of death? And there are countries that sell weapons, are at war with one side but also selling weapons to them, so that the war continues. A capacity for destruction.  It’s not coming from our neighbors: it’s coming from us! ‘Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’. Everyone has this seed within, this possibility, but we also have the Holy Spirit who saves us! We must choose, in the little things.”

Pope Francis went on to warn against using gossip or slander against our neighbor: “Even in parishes and associations,” “jealousy” and “envy” can push people to go to their pastor to speak ill of others.

He warned: “This is evil and we all have this ability to destroy.” As Lent begins, the Church “invites us to reflect on this.”

Pointing to today’s Gospel where Jesus rebukes the disciples who are arguing among themselves about having forgotten to bring bread, the Lord tells them to “watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  He gives the example of two people: Herod who “is bad, a murderer, and the Pharisees who are hypocrites.” In doing so, Jesus reminds them of when he broke the five loaves and urges them to think of salvation, of what God has done for all of us. Pope Francis went on to note that, “they did not understand, because their hearts were hardened by this passion, by this evil need to argue among each other and see who was guilty of having forgotten the bread”.

Choosing to do good, thanks to the strength Jesus gives us

Pope Francis said we have to take the Lord’s message “seriously.” “There is nothing strange in this, these are not the words of a Martian,” “man is able to do so much good,” he continued citing the example of Mother Teresa, “a woman of our time.”  All of us, he said, “are capable of doing good, but we are also all capable of destruction; destruction great and small and even within our own family.  [We are capable of destroying] our children,” not allowing them to grow “in freedom, not helping them to mature; canceling out our children.”  We are capable of this and this means that we need to constantly “meditate, pray, discuss things with each other, so as not to fall into this evil that destroys everything.”

“And we have the strength, Jesus reminds us. Remember. He says to us today: ‘Remember. Remember Me, I shed my blood for you; remember Me, I have saved you, I have saved you all; Remember Me, I have the strength to accompany you on the journey of life, not on the path of evil, but on the path of goodness, of doing good to others; not the path of destruction, but the path that builds: builds a family, builds a city, builds a culture, builds a home and much, much more”.

During Lent, we pray not to be misled by temptations

The Pope concluded: “We ask the Lord, today, before the beginning of Lent for this grace: to always choose the right path with his help and not be misled by temptations down the wrong path.”


The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for World Youth Day 2015 in which he urges young people to “have the courage to be happy.” WYD will be celebrated around the world on a diocesan level on Palm Sunday, the last celebration before the international youth day to be held in Krakow, Poland in July 2016. The Message also marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of this world day by Pope John Paul II. (logo of WYD Krakow)


Continuing his focus on the Beatitudes in World Youth Day messages, Pope Francis this year underscores “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5: 8).

He writes that, “God has placed in the heart of every man and woman an irrepressible desire for happiness, for fulfillment,” and he tells young people in particular it is in Christ that “you will find fulfilled your every desire for goodness and happiness. He alone can satisfy your deepest longings, which are so often clouded by deceptive worldly promises.”

He encouraged youth “to rediscover the beauty of the human vocation to love, I also urge you to rebel against the widespread tendency to reduce love to something banal, reducing it to its sexual aspect alone, deprived of its essential characteristics of beauty, communion, fidelity and responsibility.” As he highlighted the “precious treasure” of “the ability to love and be loved,” he emphasized “Do not let this precious treasure be debased, destroyed or spoiled.”

“In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral,” he tells his young friends, “many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.  I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; Yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.”

The Pope asks: “In what, then, does the happiness born of a pure heart consist?  From Jesus’ list of the evils which make someone impure, we see that the question has to do above all with the area of our relationships.  Each one of us must learn to discern what can “defile” his or her heart and to form his or her conscience rightly and sensibly, so as to be capable of ‘discerning the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:2).  We need to show a healthy concern for creation, for the purity of our air, water and food, but how much more do we need to protect the purity of what is most precious of all: our heart and our relationships.  This ‘human ecology’ will help us to breathe the pure air that comes from beauty, from true love, and from holiness.”

Francis notes that, “Our hearts can be attached to true or false treasures, they can find genuine rest or they can simply slumber, becoming lazy and lethargic.  The greatest good we can have in life is our relationship with God.  Are you convinced of this?  Do you realize how much you are worth in the eyes of God?  Do you know that you are loved and welcomed by him unconditionally, as indeed you are?  Once we lose our sense of this, we human beings become an incomprehensible enigma, for it is the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God which gives meaning to our lives.”

The Pope pointed out that, “Saint Teresa of Avila, born in Spain five hundred years ago, even as a young girl, said to her parents, ‘I want to see God’.  She subsequently discovered the way of prayer as ‘an intimate friendship with the One who makes us feel loved’ (Autobiography, 8,5).  So my question to you is this: Are you praying?  Do you know that you can speak with Jesus, with the Father, with the Holy Spirit, as you speak to a friend?”  And he urged daily reading of Scripture to realize this friendship and get to know God.

In the section of his message entitled “On the way to Krakow,” Pope Francis says: “Dear young men and women, as you see, this beatitude speaks directly to your lives and is a guarantee of your happiness.  So once more I urge you: Have the courage to be happy!

“This year’s World Youth Day,” he continues, “begins the final stage of preparations for the great gathering of young people from around the world in Krakow in 2016. Thirty years ago Saint John Paul II instituted World Youth Days in the Church.  This pilgrimage of young people from every continent under the guidance of the Successor of Peter has truly been a providential and prophetic initiative.  Together let us thank the Lord for the precious fruits which these World Youth Days have produced in the lives of countless young people in every part of the globe!

“How many amazing discoveries have been made, especially the discovery that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life!  How many people have realized that the Church is a big and welcoming family!  How many conversions, how many vocations have these gatherings produced!  May the saintly Pope, the Patron of World Youth Day, intercede on behalf of our pilgrimage toward his beloved Krakow.  And may the maternal gaze of the Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace, all-beautiful and all-pure, accompany us at every step along the way.”