VATICAN INSIDER, A TRIBUTE TO MOTHER ANGELICA – EGYPT, IN FESTIVE MODE, ON FULL ALERT, READY TO WELCOME POPE FRANCIS – THE MODERN DAY PLAGUES OF EGYPT

AsiaNews has a great number of very good journalists and guest authors who write for them about current events, noteworthy people and historical moments in Asia and the Middle East. I felt the two pieces I offer below were newsworthy because of the papal trip, of course, but also because of the historical role of Egypt in the Middle East and on the world scene.

You can follow the various moments of Pope Francis’ 27-hour visit to Cairo via EWTN television, radio reports and on www.ewtn.com

When I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the 1994 UN conference on population in Cairo, we had dinner one night at the residence of the nuncio to Egypt, where Pope Francis will spend the night tonight. I remember it as a large, older home with some lovely gardens, a very private and tranquil setting in a bustling city of so many millions. If I find my photos (no digital cameras then!) I’ll post them.

VATICAN INSIDER, A TRIBUTE TO MOTHER ANGELICA

Just a brief programming note as I am dedicating most of today’s column and various additional posts on Facebook to Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to Egypt. My “guest” this weekend, so to speak, is Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization who, on March 27 celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the first anniversary of Mother Angelica’s passing. I offer his reflections in his homily as well as a brief  interview we did with him after Mass.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

EGYPT, IN FESTIVE MODE, ON FULL ALERT, READY TO WELCOME POPE FRANCIS

by Loula Lahham

The President of the Republic al-Sisi personally supervising the security apparatus. Cairo wants to show itself as a tolerant, fraternal and welcoming country. Today, the intervention at al-Azhar peace conference. Over 35,000 people (accredited) for tomorrow’s Mass at the aeronautics academy. More extremist threats against Christians in Minya.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Today, Friday, April 28, an Alitalia plane will land at Cairo International Airport, with His Holiness Pope Francis, and dozens of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, interpreters and assistants.

For some days, security preparations have been at the highest level and are directly under the personal supervision of the President of the Republic. The goal is to show the world an Egypt characterized by tolerance, fraternity, solidarity, terms that run counter to those of all who perpetuate conspiracies and want to erode the nation, drowning it in religious obscurantism.

This goal has united everyone: the presidency, the army, the interior ministry and the local authorities. The streets that will be crossed by the papal cavalcade have been washed, the trees watered, parking banned in the neighborhood where the apostolic nunciature is located, which will host the Pope during his stay in Egypt. Tension is visibly growing. No mistakes will be allowed. Official Egypt wants to prove that it is up to an event of this magnitude.

Yesterday morning, the international peace conference, organized by al-Azhar, the highest instance in the Sunni Islamic world, began, in the presence of, among others, the spiritual leaders of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches.

Al-Azhar –

The main theme of the conference will be the challenges and dangers that today pose a threat to world peace. And also, and above all, the “false interpretation of religious texts,” as the great imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb has pointed out. Pope Frances speech is scheduled for this afternoon at the closing of the meeting.

Moreover, the spiritual leader of the Coptic orthodox expressed his joy in receiving the Holy Father for a very fraternal dialogue between “Catholics” and “Orthodox”. And at the end of this first day, Pope Francis will pronounce a special ecumenical prayer for the memory of all the victims who have died from terrorism of a religious matrix in Egypt.

On Saturday morning, April 29, at 10 am local time solemn mass will be celebrated at the Cairo military aeronautics stadium in the eastern suburbs of the Egyptian capital, which can hold up to 35,000 people. Priests have been called to participate in the liturgy and for the distribution of communion to the faithful; They will wear a stole bearing the official logo of the papal visit, with the slogan in English and Arabic: “The Pope of Peace visits an Egypt of Peace”.

The choirs of the six oriental Catholic rites (Coptic, Greek, Syro, Armenian, Maronite, Chaldean) have finished their preparations and the attendance of the faithful will only be admissible upon special invitations sent to some 237 Catholic churches as well as schools and religious institutes . There is a central altar dedicated to the Pope; the stadium stands are decorated with flags of the Vatican and Egypt. All or almost all preparations have been carried out by the Office of Religious Affairs and the Department of Egyptian Army Engineering. Several local and international television broadcasters will broadcast the event live.

The Pope will arrive half an hour before the scheduled start time for Mass and greet the crowd of the faithful who will have come from the four corners of the country from an open golf car. The Mass will last about 90 minutes and will be preceded by several documentaries on the Vatican and the Pope.

In an exclusive statement issued at the last moment, Msgr. Emmanuel Ayad, bishop of Luxor and head of the Egyptian organizing committee, said: “Everything is fine and the preparations are almost over. I am proud to see the participation of all the official bodies of Egypt in the context of this great event. Everyone is doing their best. The President of the Republic and the army did much more than we could have ever imagined. Moreover, we are faced with a visit not only to the local Church, but  one that has taken on a greater magnitude that embraces the entire Egyptian nation. The Pope is expected with great joy and excitment by all, all of Egypt loves him and sees in him a great builder of peace. ”

We should remember that while Egypt wants to portray a welcoming and tolerant image, yesterday the Christians in a village of the governorate of Minya (about 245 km south of Cairo) called Kom Al-loufi, could not pray in their church because of extremist threats.

THE MODERN DAY PLAGUES OF EGYPT

by Guy Djandji*

The country that Pope Francis will visit is afflicted by a failed economy, overpopulation, corruption, pollution, terrorism and fatalism. But it is home to a much bigger treasure than its millennial history: the joyous heart of its people.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – In the Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, God deals with Egypt with ten punishments to punish the Pharaoh who prevented the Jews from leaving the country and persuading him to let them go. Among the calamities that Yahweh inflicted upon the Egyptians, we notice the most extreme: the water of the Nile turn into a river of blood; a plague of locusts swarm all over the earth; The country falls into darkness and, in the end, the most terrible, the death of the firstborn of Egypt. The rigor of these harsh punishments are striking. Today, Egypt is facing scourges that are equally devastating and which leave those who visit her with a sense of sadness mixed with impotence.

Why is the Egyptian people afflicted by such plagues? Will she ever heal and recover her good health?

Demographics: no doubt one of the major sources of poverty and instability in the country. The population is close to one hundred million and has a growth rate of more than 2.5%. Cairo, the megalopolis whose population is estimated at between 20 and 23 million, attracts hundreds of thousands of new arrivals from rural areas every year. Alexandria, the second largest city, is crumbling under the weight of a population of nearly seven million, which has tripled in 50 years. Egypt is crushed everywhere, its infrastructures cannot meet the demand. Large families are still considered a blessing and their prosperity is measured by the number of children. Religious and cultural factors are difficult to change.

BRIEFING ON PAPAL TRIP TO EGYPT APRIL 28-29 – ITINERARY FOR HOLY FATHER’S TRIP TO EGYPT – THE LOGO – EXPECTATIONS FOR THE PAPAL VISIT – ARCHBISHOP AUZA AT U.N.: HOLY SEE CONCERNED FOR MIDDLE EAST

Pope Francis leaves tomorrow on a two day apostolic visit to Egypt that is fraught with both perils and promises. EWTN television will cover all live events in collaboration with CTV (Vatican Television Center) and media coverage in general is expected to be massive and intense. Below are some reports on this papal pilgrimage  – a press briefing, thje itinerary and the hopes and expectations.

BRIEFING ON PAPAL TRIP TO EGYPT APRIL 28-29

(CNS) — Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis plans to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

Heightened security is part of the “new normal” in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope’s desire “to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness” to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24.

At a Vatican briefing outlining some details of the pope’s trip to Cairo April 28-29, a reporter asked if there were any worries or concerns about the pope’s security.

Burke, speaking in Italian, said he wouldn’t use the word “worries” or concerns, but would say that, “we live in a world where it is now something that is part of life.” He added, “However, we move ahead with serenity.”

The pope has requested that a “normal car” — not an armored vehicle — be used when he is driven from one venue to another, Burke said. It will not be an open-topped vehicle, he added.

The pope will use a “golf cart,” however, rather than the open-air popemobile when he makes the rounds through the crowds at the air defense stadium, where Mass will be celebrated April 29.

He also will use the golf cart for circulating among the more than 1,000 seminarians, religious and clergy expected to attend an outdoor prayer service at the Coptic Catholic Church’s St. Leo’s Patriarchal Seminary in the Cairo suburb of Maadi April 28.

Burke said that after Pope Francis’ private meeting with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, at the patriarch’s residence April 28, the two leaders will go together to the nearby church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which had been bombed during a Sunday Mass in December 2016, killing 24 people and injuring at least 45 others.

They will pray “for all the victims from these past years and months, pray for Christians killed,” Burke said.

The two will leave flowers outside the church, light a candle and then have a moment of prayer for the victims from the December attack, the Vatican spokesman said.

Soon afterward, the pope will go to the apostolic nunciature, where he will be staying, and will greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo and later will greet more than 300 young people who made a pilgrimage to Cairo to see the pope, he added.

ITINERARY FOR HOLY FATHER’S TRIP TO EGYPT

(CNS) Here is the pope’s schedule as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses. Friday, April 28 (Rome, Cairo) — 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.), Departure from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Cairo. — 2 p.m. (8 a.m.), Arrival at Cairo airport. Official welcoming ceremony at the Heliopolis presidential palace. Courtesy visits with el-Sissi and Sheik el-Tayeb. Speeches by the grand imam and the pope to participants in an international conference on peace. — 4:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m.), Meeting with local authorities. Speeches by el-Sissi and Pope Francis. Courtesy visit to Pope Tawadros. Speeches by Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis. Saturday, April 29 (Cairo, Rome) — 10:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m.), Mass in Cairo. Homily by pope. — 12:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m.), Lunch with Egypt’s bishops and the papal entourage. — 3:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.), Prayer gathering with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians. Speech by pope. Farewell ceremony. — 5 p.m. (11 a.m.), Departure from Cairo airport for Rome. — 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.), Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

THE LOGO

(Vatican Radio)  The logo for Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Egypt, which takes place April 28-29, has been released by the Egyptian Catholic Church.

The three main elements present in the logo are Egypt, Pope Francis, and Peace.

“Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace” are the words in Arabic and English at the base of the logo.

Egypt is represented by the Nile River – a symbol of life – as well as by the pyramids and the Sphinx, which highlight the long history of civilization in this African country.

The Cross and Crescent Moon at the center of the logo represent the coexistence between the various components of the Egyptian people.

A white dove signifies peace, which is both the highest gift to which every human being can aspire and the greeting of monotheistic religions.

Finally, the dove precedes Pope Francis to announce his arrival as the Pope of Peace in a country of peace.

EXPECTATIONS FOR THE PAPAL VISIT

(Vatican Radio) Preparations are in full swing for Pope Francis’ upcoming apostolic visit to Egypt.

The Pope is scheduled to fly to Cairo on Friday 28th for a 2-day pastoral journey during which he will celebrate Mass, participate in a Conference for peace, meet with clergy, encourage the small Egyptian Christian community in their faith and of course promote and deepen inter-religious dialogue in the predominantly Muslim nation.

One of the highlights of the visit is his meeting with the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch, Tawadros II.

The Pope’s presence in Egypt is seen as particularly poignant in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks on the Orthodox Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria.

Vatican Radio’s Stefano Leszjinsky spoke to missionary Sister Angela Colombi, Provincial of the Comboni Order in Egypt about her expectations for the Pope’s visit:

Sister Angela Colombi says all Egyptians are awaiting the Pope – not only the Christians!

“The Christians of course see in him not only a religious leader, but also a man of peace; the logo of the journey in fact says ‘The Pope of peace for Egypt – Egypt for peace’ – people see in him a person who is trying to tell the world we are children of the same God so why not live in peace?” she said.

Many of Sister Angela’s students will be present for the welcome ceremony for Pope Francis together with other school children and students from across Cairo.

She says they have been asked to wear their school uniforms and bring posters with the name of the school as well as Egyptian and Vatican flags.

“For me, she says, this will also teach the children to welcome – not only the Pope – but to have an attitude of welcome and to create an atmosphere of tolerance and welcome”.

ARCHBISHOP AUZA AT U.N.: HOLY SEE CONCERNED FOR MIDDLE EAST

(Vatican Radio)  The Holy See has expressed deep concern over the current situation in the Middle East and reiterated its support for a two-state solution in Palestine.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, made the comments in an address to the Security Council.

photo

Citing the “recent use of chemical agents in Syria” and the “Palm Sunday terrorist bombings in Egypt”, Archbishop Auza said, “The Holy See is deeply concerned with the current situation in the Middle East.”

He lauded Lebanon for “heroically” hosting millions of refugees from neighboring countries and territories in conflict.

In addition to this burden, he said Lebanon is also facing the threat of militias and armed groups operating within its territories.

Turning to the situation in Palestine, Archbishop Auza said, “Since 1947, the Holy See has constantly supported the two-state solution for the State of Israel and a Palestinian State to exist side by side in peace. The Holy See wishes to reiterate its belief that the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the Parties, with the strong and effective support of the international community.”

He warned against “unilateral decisions, acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric” and said, “Pope Francis calls on both parties to listen to the voices of dialogue, show goodwill and extend gestures of encounter to give their peoples that peace for which their hearts deeply long.”

Click here for the full text of Archbishop Auza’s address: http://www.news.va/en/news/holy-see-deeply-concerned-over-middle-east-situati

HOPES FOR HOLY FAMILY WAY PILGRIMAGES IN EGYPT

AFRICA/EGYPT – There are hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt may boost plans for ‘Holy Family Way’ pilgrimages

Cairo – Pope Francis’ imminent visit to Egypt could be an opportunity for this important north African country to become a centre of pilgrimage for Christians the world over in the footsteps of the Holy Family who, according to the Gospels, took refuge here to save the life of the Infant Jesus threatened by King Herod. This is the opinion of Egyptian tourism experts who have for some time tried to fit Egypt into the circuit of Christian religious tourism, as a means to counterbalance, at least in part, the enormous losses suffered by Egypt’s tourist industry due terrorism and the general situation of instability in the region.

The most recent to view in this key the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis is Nader Guirguis, a member of the departmental Commission for promoting the Holy Family Way, who, referring to historical references based on the Gospel account, affirmed that ‘Flight into Egypt’ of Jesus and the Holy Family could possibly have lasted several years. Attacks on churches have obviously not affected the intention to propose Egypt as a land of pilgrimage for Christians all over the world, to visit places connected with Jesus and the Holy Family, preaching in the time of the Apostles and the earliest centres of Christian monasticism.

How to promote the “the Holy Family Way” – a pilgrim itinerary in places which according millenary traditions were visited by the Holy Family in Egypt – has for some time been a central issue for politicians and Egyptian tourist operators. At the beginning of 2017 Al Abdel Aal, speaker of the House of Representatives, during a visit to the Copt Patriarch offices, said the valorisation of the tourist project for an itinerary according to the path followed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, was of interest and importance for all Egyptians, not only Christians .

The first proposals to promote also in a touristic key a Holy Family Way were made twenty years ago. At the end of 2016 – local sources told Fides – a Commission to promote the Holy Family Way chaired by Hisham el Demeiri was constituted at Egypt’s Tourism Ministry. More than two years ago an itinerary was born in the footsteps of the Holy Family in Egypt, which would start at Al-Arish – largest city of the Egyptian governorate of North Sinai and the scene of recent Jihadist violence against Copt Christians – and continue on to the Wadi Natrun delta, and reach the Asyut Holy Mary Virgin Monastery, known as Deir Al-Muharraq.

POPE’S DAILY MASS FOR INTENTIONS OF COPTIC POPE TAWADROS II – PAPAL VIDEO MESSAGE ON THE EVE OF TRIP TO EGYPT – THE HOLY FAMILY AND THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

When I got up this morning I wondered why it was so delightfully quiet outside and then I realized that it’s April 25, Italy’s Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the end of the Fascist regime and the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy This is the 72nd such celebration of the Festa della Liberazione. In Rome this holiday starts with a ceremony at the Altare della Patria, commonly known as the Victor Emanauel monument or Vittoriano, in the presence of the Italian president.  State schools, some private schools, offices and many stores are closed and transportation is reduced. Many places also closed yesterday, Monday, the ponte or bridge, between the two-day weekend and today’s holiday.

Yesterday afternoon in St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Francis celebrated the funeral rites for Cardinal Attilio Nicora, the former president of the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), who died on Saturday at the age of 80. The funeral rites and homily were delivered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals. The Holy Father presided at the rites of Commendatio and Valedictio. There are now 221 members of the College of Cardinals, 117 of whom are cardinal electors (those under the age of 80) (photo: news.va)

Today the Holy Father received in audience 22 prelates of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario on their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit. Canadian bishops are fulfilling the ad limina obligation by region.

POPE’S DAILY MASS FOR INTENTIONS OF COPTIC POPE TAWADROS II

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Tuesday for the intentions of his “brother,” Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, whom he will be meeting in three days’ time as he makes an apostolic voyage to Egypt.

The day’s Mass commemorates Saint Mark the Evangelist, who is recognized as the founder of the patriarchate of Alexandria. “I offer this Mass for my brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts,” Pope Francis said. He prayed for “the grace that the Lord might bless our two churches with the abundance of the Holy Spirit.

The Cardinal counsellors who make up the C-9 advisory group were among the faithful taking part in the Pope’s daily Mass.

In his homily during the liturgy, Pope Francis said the Gospel must be proclaimed with humility, overcoming the temptation of pride. He spoke about the necessity for Christians to “go out to proclaim” the Good News. A preacher, he said, must always be on a journey, and not seek “an insurance policy,” seeking safety by remaining in one place.

PAPAL VIDEO MESSAGE ON THE EVE OF TRIP TO EGYPT

Following is the text of Pope Francis’ video message to the people of Egypt on the vigil of his April 28-29 apostolic voyage:

Dear people of Egypt! Al Salamò Alaikum! Peace be with you!

With a joyful and grateful heart I will come in a few days’ time to visit your dear homeland: cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where Patriarchs and Prophets lived and where God, Clement and Merciful, the One and Almighty, made His voice heard.

I am truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the Country that gave, more than two thousand years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod (cfr. Mt 2:1-26). I am honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family!

I greet you cordially and thank you for having invited me to visit Egypt, which you call “Umm il Dugna” / Mother of the Universe!

I warmly thank Mr. President of the Republic, His Holiness the Patriarch Tawadros II, the Great Imam of Al-Azhar and the Coptic Catholic Patriarch who have invited me; and I thank each one of you, who make space for me in your hearts. I also thank all those people who have worked, and are working, to make this trip possible.

I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position. I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world, and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.

Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land – needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity.

Dear Egyptian brothers, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor … I embrace you warmly and ask God Almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil.

Please, pray for me! Shukran wa Tahiaì Misr! / Thank you, and long live Egypt!

THE HOLY FAMILY AND THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

I bought this parchment years ago in Egypt when I visited the site of this celebrated church, Abu Sargah, which is the oldest church in Egypt dating back to the 5th century A.D. In Coptic Cairo, this church (also spelled Abu Sarga) was constructed upon the crypt of the Holy Family during their sojourn in Egypt. On our visit, we could not descend into the crypt as there had been water damage and it was flooded. I framed the parchment between two pieces of glass as this show the details of the work.

The church is dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus who served as soldiers in the Roman Army. They were faithful followers of Jesus, and were martyred in Syria in 296 for refusing to worship the Roman gods.

The Abu Sargah website notes that the church once housed Egypt’s oldest altar which was transferred to the Coptic Museum. The roof is one of the most interesting features of the church and said to have been constructed in the shape of Noah’s Ark.

We read in Matthew 2 about the Flight into Egypt when St. Joseph was warned in a dream after the visit of the Three Magi:

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared  8 and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, ‘Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’

9 Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. 10 The sight of the star filled them with delight, 11 and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

12 But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

13 After they had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’

14 So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I called my son out of Egypt.

POPE FRANCIS TO CANONIZE FATIMA SHEPHERD SIBLINGS MAY 13 – POPE FRANCIS, PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW TO MEET IN CAIRO

I’m in New York as I write but will be back in Rome on Monday, April 24.

I was invited to attend an event this evening at the residence of the Vatican’s nuncio and Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza. He is hosting a reception for the Bethlehem University Foundation, headed by my good friend, John Schlageter. John and I and other members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre will be there, as will friends of the Order and supporters of the university in an effort to help raise both awareness and funds for this Christian Brothers-run University. I’m also scheduled to interview Abp. Auza for “Vatican Insider.”

I’ll dedicate an entire column in the future to the university as it does amazing work not just in the educational field but in Christian-Muslim relations, in helping to build lives for young people as professionals in many fields who hope to bring peace to their part of the world.

POPE FRANCIS TO CANONIZE FATIMA SHEPHERD SIBLINGS MAY 13

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday announced that the two young shepherd children from Fatima, Francisco and Jacinta Marto will be canonised during his forthcoming pastoral visit to the Portuguese town on May 13th.

During an ordinary public consistory in the Vatican, the Pope announced the canonization of  35 people, the majority of whom were 16th and 17th century Latin American martyrs. They include 30 Brazilian priests and lay people killed by Dutch soldiers for their refusal to convert to Calvinism during the colonization of north eastern Brazil in 1645. Three other martyrs were young Mexican boys, educated by Franciscan missionaries and murdered for their refusal to follow the local indigenous religion.

The new saints also include a Spanish priest, who founded an institute for abandoned children at the turn of the 20th century, as well as a Capuchin friar from Naples who defended the rights of the poor of his day, in the early 18th century.

Centenary of Marian apparitions

But undoubtedly the best known names on Thursday’s list of newly proclaimed saints are those of Portuguese brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the shepherd children who, along with their cousin Lucia Santos, saw the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima exactly one hundred years ago.

Beatified by Pope John Paul II

Unlike Lucia, who became a nun and lived to the age of 98, Francisco and Jacinta died in childhood, aged just 9 and 11, as a result of the great flu epidemic that swept through Europe in 1918. On May 13, 2000 they were beatified by Pope John Paul II during his pastoral visit to Portugal.

Sr. Lucia’s cause for beatification

Meanwhile the case for Sr Lucia’s beatification concluded its first phase in Portugal earlier this year and is now being examined at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican.

POPE FRANCIS, PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW TO MEET IN CAIRO

(Vatican Radio) On April 28, Pope Francis will journey to the Egyptian capital Cairo, where he will visit the prestigious al-Azhar center of Islamic studies.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world, is also expected to join the Holy Father, together with Coptic Pope Tawadros II.

Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have been invited by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb to attend an international peace conference there.

During the brief April 28-29 visit, the Pope will meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as celebrate Mass for the local Catholic community.

His visit comes less than a month after two bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt by so-called Islamic State militants left 45 people dead and dozens of others injured.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is the former nuncio to Egypt and former head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He talked to Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen about expectations ahead of this short but highly significant papal visit…

Archbishop Fitzgerald says it’s significant that the Pope is going to Egypt where there are so many difficulties and uncertainties, with “extremists who are against the institutions and against Christians in a particular way”. He notes it’s not the first papal visit, since Pope John Paul II travelled there in the year 2000 and was “received remarkably well”.

Friendship between two Popes

He says the significance lies also in the relationship between Pope Francis and the head of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros, whose first journey after being elected patriarch of Alexandria was to visit the Vatican. This trip, he says, “will be another moment consolidating this friendship between the two Popes”.

Personal relations and theological dialogue

Archbishop Fitzgerald says the dialogue with the Oriental Churches about the role of the Pope as bishop of Rome is ongoing and this theological dialogue is important, but it will be personal relationships, rather than theological discussions, that will be at the heart of the Cairo visit.

Reciprocal visit to Grand Imam

Regarding relations with the Muslim world, the archbishop says that one of the main motives for the visit is also to consolidate progress in the relationship between the Vatican and al-Azhar. He recalls that the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb came to see the Pope in Rome and this reciprocal visit will be “highly appreciated”.

Meeting of leaders “a sacrament”

Archbishop Fitzgerald says that while Pope Francis is known as a man of surprises, it’s unrealistic to expect any big changes as a result of this trip. But in itself the meeting between the two leaders is important: he says “let’s call it a sacrament”, because “it’s not just a symbol” but rather it’s “producing something which goes beyond their own persons”.

Muslims and Christians combating extremism

Commenting on the most recent round of talks between the Vatican and al Azhar, Archbishop Fitzgerald notes that “extremism has been condemned by the majority of Muslim leaders around the world”. He stresses the importance of monitoring social media since so many young people are radicalized through the Internet. He notes that al-Azhar is also working with the Dominicans in Cairo, forming a group to study extremism together.

Finally, Archbishop Fitzgerald recalls that, just as not all Christians see Pope Francis as a figure of authority, in the same way al-Azhar has “a prestigious role within the Islamic world, but it is not followed by all Muslims around the world. So while “we pray for miracles”, he concludes, “we don’t always expect them”.

 

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.”

 

VATICAN INSIDER VISITS CRIS GANGEMI AND THE KAIROS FORUM – PAPAL TELEGRAM OF CONDOLENCES TO EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT – POPE URGES SOCCER PLAYERS TO BE CHAMPIONS IN THEIR LIVES – NEW FRANCISCAN CUSTOS OF HOLY LAND IS NAMED

VATICAN INSIDER VISITS CRIS GANGEMI AND THE KAIROS FORUM

In this week’s interview segment, I talk to Cris Gangemi, executive director of the KAIROS FORUM, an organization that seeks to highlight and respond to the spiritual and religious needs of people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities. The aim of Kairos is to facilitate the crafting and empowerment of ‘communities of belonging’ within both religious and secular settings. Kairos is partnering with the Pontifical Council for Culture for a three-day conference in Rome June 24 to 26 that is entitled LIVING FULLY 2016.  Don’t miss this wonderful and informative conversation.

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Here are some links to Kairos and to the June 2016 conference in Rome:

http://www.livingfully2016.com

http://thekairosforum.com

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00 am (Eastern time). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. Check for your time zone. Past shows are in VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

PAPAL TELEGRAM OF CONDOLENCES TO EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT

Following is the telegram of condolences sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in the name of Pope Francis, to Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, president of Egypt for the loss of EgyptAir Flight MS-804, which crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in the night between Wednesday and Thursday, claiming the lives of 66 people – 56 passengers and 10 crew members:

“Having learned with sadness of the tragic crash of the Egyptian passenger airliner, Pope Francis wishes to assure you of his prayers and solidarity at this difficult time and commends the souls of the deceased of various nationalities to the mercy of the Almighty. Upon the relatives of the passengers and all those involved in the search and rescue efforts, His Holiness invokes the divine blessings of strength and peace.”

POPE URGES SOCCER PLAYERS TO BE CHAMPIONS IN THEIR LIVES

Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Friday urged Italian football (soccer) players to not just be champions in their sport but above all champions in their lives, by displaying key moral values such as brotherhood, mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness. His remarks came during an audience at the Vatican with top representatives of Italy’s Seria A Football League as well as players from the Juventus and AC Milan teams. The two Seria A teams play each other at the weekend in the final of the Italian cup (Coppa Italia) in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

A keen football fan himself, Pope Francis reminded the players, that as role models for many fans, especially the young, their behaviour should always reflect “the authentic values of sport.” He said the success of a team depends on a fusion of human and moral virtues such as “harmony, loyalty, friendship, dialogue and solidarity.” By being a witness of those moral virtues, he continued, you can emphasize even more the real purpose of the world of sport that is “sometimes marred by negative episodes.”

The Pope reminded the players that they are not just footballers but first and foremost a human being, each with their own conscience, and urged them to always show “brotherhood, mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness.” “Be champions in sport but above all champions in your life,” he stressed.

Pope Francis concluded by encouraging the players to always highlight whatever is “truly good and beautiful” and to not be afraid to share and display with their fans “the moral and religious principles” on which they wish to base their life.

NEW FRANCISCAN CUSTOS OF HOLY LAND IS NAMED

(L’Osservatore Romano) – Br Francesco Patton is the new Custos of the Holy Land, succeeding Br Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who led the Custody for the past ten years. The nomination by the General Council of the Order of Friars Minor was ratified by the Holy See, according to the Pontifical Statutes dealing with this entity of the Franciscan Order.

The new Custos was born in Vigo Meano, Italy in the Archdiocese of Trent on 23 December 1963, and belongs to the Province of St Anthony of the Friars Minor of northern Italy. He made his first religious profession on 7 September 1983 and his solemn profession on 4 October 1986. He was ordained a priest on 26 May 1989. In 1993 he earned a Licentiate in Communication Sciences at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.

He has served in various capacities in his province and also within the Order. He was twice Secretary General of the General Chapters in 2003 and 2009; Visitator General in 2003; Minister Provincial of St Vigilium of Trent from 2008 to 2016; and President of the Conference of Provincial Ministers of Italy and Albania (COMPI) from 2010 to 2013.

Br Francesco has also served in many capacities outside of the Order, including: as member of the Diocesan Presbyteral Council and secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese of Trent; professor of Social Communications at the Studio Teologico Accademico Tridentino; collaborator of the Diocesan Weekly, of Diocesan Radio and of Telepace Trento. He has also been enrolled with the journalists of Trentino-Alto Adige as a publicist since 1991.

JFL: He succeeds Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, a native of Bergamo, Italy, who has been the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land since 2004. As such, Br. Patton is the Minister Provincial, the superior, of the Friars Minor living in the Middle East. He has jurisdiction over the territories of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt (partially), Cyprus and Rhodes without counting the numerous houses known as commissariats in various parts of the world such as Rome, Madrid, and Washington.

VATICAN INSIDER AND A TULSA PASTOR – FRANCIS ASKS: DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE WORD ‘LOVE’ MEANS? – EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT TO CHRISTIAN: WE WILL REBUILD YOUR TORCHED CHURCHES – AMBASSADOR LAYS WREATH AT TOMB OF STUARTS IN ST. PETER’S BASILICA

There were no public engagements on Pope Francis’ agenda today but there are a number of interesting stories to report: a beautiful papal homily on the true meaning of love, a good news story from Egypt about Christians and a special moment for the British Ambassador to the Holy See and invited guests at a special wreath-laying ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica.

VATICAN INSIDER AND A TULSA PASTOR

In this week’s interview segment, you will meet Msgr. Dan Mueggenborg, pastor since 2011 at Christ the King parish in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We became friends during the six years that he was in Rome at the North American College as vice rector and director of admissions. Over the years we broke bread together many times, at NAC and at my home and recently we met serendipitously at a favorite restaurant when he arrived in Rome for a visit. I asked Msgr. Dan about life in a parish and the conversation was riveting and I asked him to tell his story. So be sure to tune in this week for an inspiring conversation.

DAN MUEGGENBORG

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

FRANCIS ASKS: DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE WORD ‘LOVE’ MEANS?

This morning, in his homily during morning Mass in the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis focused on the Gospel reading from the letter of John the Apostle, and meditated on the different meanings of the word ‘love’ , emphasizing that the two most important commandments for a Christian are to love God and our neighbor.

Vatican Radio records the morning papal homilies and transcribves them for the news.va website. Today’s was the second daily Mass since the end of the Christmas break on the January 6 feast of the Epiphany.

“This word ‘love’,” said the Holy Father, “is a word that is used so many times and when we use it we don’t know exactly what it means. What is love? Sometimes we can think of the love in the soap operas but that doesn’t appear to be love. Or else love can seem like having a crush on a person but then it fades away. Where does true love come from? Whoever loves has been created by God because God is love. Don’t say: ‘Every love is God,’ No, God is love.”

The Pope said the Apostle John underlines how God loves us first and there are many examples of this in the Gospel, such as during the multiplication of the loaves of bread by Jesus or in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“When we have something on our mind and we want to ask God to forgive us, it’s He who is waiting for us – to forgive us.  This Jubilee Year of Mercy, to some extent, is also this: that we may know that our Lord is waiting for us, each one of us.  Why? To embrace us.  Nothing more.  To say to us: son, daughter, I love you. I let my Son be crucified for you: this is the price of my love, this is the gift of my love.”

Pope Francis went on to stress how “the Lord is waiting for me, the Lord wants me to open the door of my heart” and we must have this certainty that He will wait for us just as we are and not as we are told to be.

“We must go to the Lord and say: ‘You know, Lord, how much I love you.’ Or, if you don’t feel able to say it in that way: ‘You know, Lord, that I would like to love you but I am such a bad sinner.’ And He will do the same as he did with the prodigal son who squandered all his money on vices: he won’t let you finish your speech and with an embrace will silence you. The embrace of God’s love.”

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT TO CHRISTIAN: WE WILL REBUILD YOUR TORCHED CHURCHES

The following is a story I read in the daily bulletin I receive via email from AINA, the Assyrian International News Agency. If you are an avid follower of events in the Middle East, as I am, this is a fascinating news site. Many stories are written by local journalists while others are written by members of the international media and carried by AINA.

Finally, a good news story from Egypt:

We Will Rebuild Your Torched Churches, Egyptian President Tells Christians – By Ruth Gledhill (http://www.christiantoday.com)

EGYPT CHURCHES

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi greets Christians during Egypt’s Coptic Christmas eve mass led by Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, at St Mark’s Cathedral, in Cairo, Egypt.The president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has pledged to rebuild every single one of the dozens of churches, Christian institutions and homes destroyed during the last two years of anti-Christian violence in his troubled nation.

President al-Sisi, a Muslim who has spoken in the past of the need to “revolutionise” Islam, was addressing Christians during a Coptic Christmas Eve mass yesterday at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbassiya. Mass was celebrated by the head of the church, Pope Tawadros II. Orthodox churches, which follow the traditional Julian calendar, mark Christmas two weeks later than the Western Christian churches which follow the Gregorian calendar.

Extremist Islamic groups are still influential in Egypt in spite of the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Shortly after former President Morsi was ousted, there was an increase in violence against Coptic Christians and at least 65 churches, Christian bookshops, schools and convents were burned down, looted or destroyed, according to Open Doors.

President al-Sisi, who last year became the first Egyptian President to attend a Christmas mass, greeted the Coptic Christian community and, while emphasising the diversity of Egyptians, said that the way to overcome hardships was to remain united as a nation.

“On this occasion, I want to exhort you all, let no one come between us. Nothing can harm us, not our economic conditions or political conditions. Unless we diverge, we can overcome anything.”

He continued: “God Has created us different, in religion, manner, colour, language, habit, tradition, and no one can make us the all same.”

He admitted the government should have acted sooner to help the Christians.

“We have taken too long to fix and renovate churches that were burned. This year everything will be fixed. Please accept our apologies for what happened. God willing, by next year there won’t be a single church or house that is not restored.

“We will never forget the stance you and the Pope took during this period…thank you all. Merry Christmas.”

AMBASSADOR LAYS WREATH AT TOMB OF STUARTS IN ST. PETER’S BASILICA

This afternoon, having received permission from Queen Elizabeth, the British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker laid a wreath at the tomb of James Francis Edward Stuart at St. Peter’s Basilica, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his State funeral.

STUART TOMB

James Francis Edward Stuart was the son of King James II of England and Ireland, VII of Scotland and Queen Mary of Modena, explains a note from the British embassy. He was also known as “the Old Pretender” and claimed the throne as “James III of England and Ireland, VIII of Scotland.” He died in exile in Rome on January 1, 1766 and was given the unprecedented honor of a State funeral by the Pope on January 8 in St. Peter’s Basilica, where he lies. The Pope recognized him as King, but did not extend that title to his sons in tacit, and later explicit recognition of the Hanoverian succession.

James Francis Edward Stewart was the father of “Bonnie” Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict, Cardinal York. Born at St James’s Palace, London, on June 10, 1688, he was taken into exile in December 1688 following the deposition of James II. He lived in the Palazzo Muti in Rome from 1719 until his death.

The commemoration ceremony consisted of a simple wreath-laying by Ambassador Baker and the reading of the Rite of Commendation (in Latin) by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica, and the singing of the Antiphon In Paradisum Deducant Te Angeli.

The Stuart tomb at St. Peter’s was restored in the 1940’s, including with money donated by Queen Elizabeth (wife of George VI). In 2012, the Duke of Gloucester unveiled a restored coat of arms of Cardinal York at the Pontifical Scots College, and viewed the original Stuart gravestones which were transferred there in the 1940s.

(FYI: http://stpetersbasilica.info/Grottoes/Stuarts/Tomb%20of%20the%20Stuarts.htm)