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.

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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)

THREE DAYS AT THE VATICAN: POPE FRANCIS’ AGENDA AT A GLANCE

A year ago yesterday, Sunday, was November 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King and the end of the Year of Faith. That occasion was a very special moment in my life for a number of reasons but most especially because I received the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii gaudium” – the Joy of Faith” – from the hands of the author, Pope Francis!

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Over the years I have met and spoken to a number of Popes but for me, just being in the presence of a Pope, the Successor of Peter, our Holy Father, fills me with a great sense of awe. In 1961 I attended an audience with Pope John XXIII and in the years since I have met and spoken to Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis on a previous occasion when he met the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums on October 19, 2013.

Receiving the Exhortation personally from the Pope was naturally an immensely personal moment and highlight for each of us, the 36 faithful, lay and religious, to whom the Holy Father gave his work.

A year ago was also unique for another reason. As I wrote then:

“Sunday, November 24, 2013, Feast of Christ the King and final day of the Year of Faith, the Vatican, in a momentous, historical, first-time-in-two-millennia occasion, offered the world a glimpse of relics – bone fragments – of St. Peter! Had nothing else happened yeterday morning, just being in the presence of these relics would have been worth the hours spent in St. Peter’s Square under gray, threatening skies and very cold temperatures. We had had a week of rain, so no rain was one of the big blessings of the morning.”

NOTE: Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 25, Pope Francis travels to the French city of Strasbourg where he is scheduled to address the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. He returns to Rome tomorrow afternoon. The last Pope to visit was St. John Paul II on October 8, 1988.

 THREE DAYS AT THE VATICAN: POPE FRANCIS’ AGENDA AT A GLANCE

SATURDAY: Over the weekend, I posted several stories on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) about Pope Francis’ meeting Saturday in the Paul VI Hall with 7,000 participants in the 29th International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Workers. The conference was dedicated to autism and included persons affected by this disorder and their families. By all accounts of those present, it was an amazing meeting, especially for the parents of autistic children or relatives of adults living with autism. I was delighte by the responses to those postings.

I had a nephew who was diagnosed with an “autism-like” disability and was thus moved by this conference theme and by the Pope’s reaction to and embrace of – literally and figuratively – of autistic children. Christopher, my nephew, died November 30, 2001, of double pneumonia at the age of 20. He was a twin. His sister Andrea had no health problems and today is married with two little girls.

Pope Francis Saturday thanked the organizers of the conference for having chosen such a complex theme, “which appeals directly to the responsibility of governments and institutions, without forgetting, of course, Christian communities.” He also emphasized the need for common efforts to promote “acceptance, encounter and solidarity … to break through the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma that burdens people affected by autism spectrum disorders, and frequently also their families.”

The Holy Father “encouraged scholars and researchers in the arduous task of discovering therapies and support mechanisms in the treatment and above all the prevention of these disorders.” He concluded, “All this is to be done with the necessary attention to the rights of those affected, considering their needs and their potential, and always safeguarding the dignity of every person.”

Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis had an 80-minute private, previously unannounced meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano that papal spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, defined as “very cordial.”

SUNDAY, the feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis canonized four Italians – Amato Ronconi, Giovanni Antonio Farina, Nicola da Longobardi, and Ludovico da Casoria – and a priest and a nun from Kerala, India – Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Eufrasia Eluvathingal – during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. About 5,000 pilgrims came from India to witness the canonization of the nation’s second and third saints and, according to the blog of one priest accompanying some pilgrims, many of whom arrived at St. Peter’s Square at 5 a.m, even though Vatican did not open security check until 8 a.m.

He said, “The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom.  The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity.  In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters.

“Today,” said Francis, “the Church places before us the example of these new saints.  Each in his or her own way served the kingdom of God, of which they became heirs, precisely through works of generous devotion to God and their brothers and sisters.  They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour.  They dedicated themselves, without holding back, to serving the least and assisting the destitute, sick, elderly and pilgrims.  Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God.  In fact, they sought and discovered love in a strong and personal relationship with God, from whence springs forth true love for one’s neighbour.  In the hour of judgement, therefore, they heard that tender invitation: ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’.”

MONDAY: At 9 this morning, the Holy Father met in St. Petetr’s Basilica with a group of faithful of the Syro-Malabar rite who had come to Rome for the canonization on Sunday of Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family, and Euphrasia Eluvathingal of the Sacred Heart. He thanked the Church in India, and specifically in Kerala, for “all its apostolic strength and for the witness of faith you have. Continue in this way! Kerala is a land that is very fertile in religious and priestly vocations. Carry on working in this way, with your witness.”

The Pope noted that !Father Kuriakose Elias was a religious, both active and contemplative, who generously gave his life for the Syro-Malabar Church, putting into action the maxim ‘sanctification of oneself and the salvation of others’. For her part, Sister Euphrasia lived in profound union with God so much so that her life of holiness was an example and an encouragement to the people, who called her ‘Praying Mother’.”

At 9:30 Monday morning, Pope Francis presided at a three-hour meeting of the ranking officials of the Roman Curia, including the prefects of the 9 congregations and presidents of the 12 pontifical councils to further discuss proposals for reform of the Roman Curia.

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, reminded journalists that these meetings are routinely held about every six months or so.  He said that the secretary of the so-called “C9” Council of Cardinals examining the issue of reform, Bishop Marcello Semeraro gave a brief presentation of the subjects under consideration.  Those present were then given time to contribute their opinions which will be taken into account in future meetings of the C9. The next scheduled meeting is December 9-11. Two officials could not be present, Cardinals Antonio Vegliò and Zenon Grocholewski.

Though no statement was made on the appointment today by the Pope of Cardinal Robert Sarah as the new prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, it is believed that the council he led up to today, “Cor Unum” will possibly be merged with another pontifical council (most likely Justice and Peace) as part of the curia reform.

 Monday afternoon Pope Francis had two appointments: an audience with Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, president of the Arab Republic of Egypt and entourage and, at 3 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica, he gave the final commendation and farewell at the end of the funeral of Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini who died Saturday at the age of 98. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College og Cardinals, presided the funeral Mass. Cardinal Angelini was born in Rome in 1916 – the last native of the city to be made a cardinal – and served the Church under seven different Popes.