I feel certain that when Pope Francis boards the plane for his 7 pm this evening – just moments from now as I write – for his trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, he will want to relax a bit after a busy weekend, including the baptism on Sunday of 33 infants followed by the Angelus, and his talk this morning to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. But then again, he may also feel like visiting the media aboard the papal plane. At some point during this January 12-19 journey, journalists will have a fascinating press conference with the Holy Father (reporting such a conference with the date line “on board the papal plane” is on my bucket list!).
Now let’s look back at Sunday’s baptism (don’t you just love the last photo!) and then at this morning’s talk to the diplomatic corps on the lights and shadows in the world this past year. Italics used for emphasis in the speech to the diplomatic corps (a lengthy one!) are mine.
NOURISH YOUR CHILDREN WITH THE WORD OF GOD
Sunday morning in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis baptized 33 babies, children of Vatican employees, and in his homily told the parents and godparents, grandparents and aunts and uncles of the newborns to see that the children are nourished by and grow up with the Word of God.
He said, “God, like a good father or a good mother, wishes to give good things to his children. And what is this nourishment that God gives us? It is His Word … that enables us to grow and to be fruitful in life, like the rain and the snow are good for the earth and make it fecund.” He suggested they teach “by example! Every day, get used to reading a passage from the Gospel, a short one, and always carry a copy of the Gospel in your pocket, in your bag, so you can read it.” (Photos from NEWS.VA)
Francis, speaking in the inspirational, Biblical beauty of the Sistine Chapel, added, “You mothers give your children milk – and even now, if they cry with hunger, feel free to feed them. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the gift of milk and pray for those mothers – there are many, unfortunately – who are not able to give their children food to eat. Let us pray and try to help these mothers. So, what milk does for the body, the Word of God does for the spirit: the Word of God enables faith to grow.” He explained that, “Today it is your faith, dear parents and godparents. It is the faith of the Church, in which these little ones will receive Baptism. But tomorrow, but the grace of God, it will be their faith, their personal ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ, who gives us the love of the Father.”
He continued, “Baptism brings us within the body of the Church, as part of God’s holy people. And in this body, in this journeying people, faith is transmitted from generation to generation: it is the faith of the Church. It is the faith of Mary, our mother, the faith of St. Joseph, of St. Peter, of St. Andrew, of St. John, of the apostles and the martyrs, that has arrived with us through Baptism: a chain that transmits faith.”
“The candle of faith is passed from one hand to another,” noted the Pope. “You, families, take from (Christ) this light of faith to transmit to your children. ,,. Teach your children that it is not possible to be Christian outside the Church, and it is not possible to follow Christ outside the Church, as the Church is our mother, and lets us grow in the love of Jesus Christ”.
Francis explained that “The word ‘Christian’ means consecrated like Jesus, in the same Spirit in which Jesus was immersed in all his earthly existence. He is the ‘Christ’, the anointed, the consecrated, and the baptised are Christians, that is, consecrated, anointed.” He closed by asking families and friends to help the newly baptized “to grow ‘immersed’ in the Holy Spirit, that is, in the warmth of God’s love, in the light of His Word.”
POPE FRANCIS ADDRESSES DIPLOMATS ON LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF THE WORLD
This morning n the Sala Regia, or Royal Hall, Pope Francis met with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the annual papal address at the beginning of the New Year. He gave his address on the lights and shadows of the world after remarks the dean of the diplomatic corps, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel of the Principality of Monaco to the Holy See.
The Pope said he wanted to focus on the word ‘peace’, calling it “a precious gift of God, while at the same time … a personal and social responsibility which calls for our commitment and concern.”
The Holy Father began by noting that, while the nativity scene of this Christmas season speaks to us of peace, it also speaks of rejection. He said, “The Christmas stories themselves show us the hardened heart of a humanity that finds it difficult to accept the Child. From the very start, he is cast aside, left out in the cold, forced to be born in a stable since there was no room in the inn. If this is how the Son of God was treated, how much more so is it the case with so many of our brothers and sisters! Rejection is an attitude we all share; it makes us see our neighbor not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival, or someone to be bent to our will. This is the mindset that fosters that “throwaway culture” which spares nothing and no one: nature, human beings, even God himself. It gives rise to a humanity filled with pain and constantly torn by tensions and conflicts of every sort.”
The Pope noted how King Herod felt his authority threatened by the Child Jesus and thus “ordered all the children of Bethlehem to be killed. We think immediately of Pakistan, where a month ago, more than a hundred children were slaughtered with unspeakable brutality. To their families I wish to renew my personal condolences and the assurance of my continued prayers for the many innocents who lost their lives.
He said, “the personal dimension of rejection is inevitably accompanied by a social dimension, a culture of rejection that severs the deepest and most authentic human bonds, leading to the breakdown of society and spawning violence and death. We see painful evidence of this in the events reported daily in the news, not least the tragic slayings that took place in Paris a few days ago. Other people ‘are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects’. (Peace Day message) Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads, or to power, money, or even deviant forms of religion.”
“It saddens us,” said Francis, “to see the tragic consequences of this mentality of rejection and this “culture of enslavement” (ibid.2) in the never-ending spread of conflicts. Like a true world war fought piecemeal, they affect, albeit in different forms and degrees of intensity, a number of areas in our world, beginning with nearby Ukraine, which has become a dramatic theatre of combat.”
Turning to the Middle East, Pope Francis recalled his trip to the Holy Land in May, how he and the presidents of Israel and Palestine prayed in June in the Vatican for peace. He said negotiations must resume “for the sake of ending violence and reaching a solution that can enable Palestinians and Israelis alike to live at last in peace within clearly established and internationally recognized borders, thus implementing the ‘two state solution’.”
Then, in specific terms, the Holy Father noted how the Middle East is tragically embroiled in other conflicts that have lasted far too long, with chilling repercussions, due also to the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in Syria and in Iraq. This phenomenon is a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God. Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext. In the face of such unjust aggression, which also strikes Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in the region – the Yazidis for example – a unanimous response is needed, one which, within the framework of international law, can end the spread of acts of violence, restore harmony and heal the deep wounds which the ongoing conflicts have caused. Here, in your presence, I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution, driven from their homes and their homeland.
Citing his pre-Christmas letter to Christians in the region, he said, “theirs is a precious testimony of faith and courage, for they play a fundamental role as artisans of peace, reconciliation and development in the civil societies of which they are a part. A Middle East without Christians would be a marred and mutilated Middle East!”
Pope Francis then explained his hope “that religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence”
Francis mentioned “comparable acts of brutality …that not infrequently reap victims from among the poor and the most vulnerable,” are found elsewhere, such as Nigeria, and he mentioned kidnappings, heinous murders, trafficking in humans, saying this “is an abominable trade that must not continue! It is a scourge that needs to be eradicated, since it strikes all of us, from individual families to the entire international community.”
Pope Francis decried “another horrendous crime, the crime of rape. This is a most grave offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body but also in spirit, resulting in a trauma hard to erase and with effects on society as well. Sadly, even apart from situations of war, all too many women even today are victims of violence.”
“Every conflict and war is emblematic,” said the Pope, “of the throwaway culture, since people’s lives are deliberately crushed by those in power. Yet that culture is also fuelled by more subtle and insidious forms of rejection. I think in the first place of the way the sick are treated; often they are cast aside and marginalized like the lepers in the Gospel.”
He spoke of refugees and displaced persons, saying, “One consequence of the situations of conflict just described is the flight of thousands of persons from their homeland. At times they leave not so much in search of a better future, but any future at all, since remaining at home can mean certain death. How many persons lose their lives during these cruel journeys, the victims of unscrupulous and greedy thugs?”
The Holy Father continued, saying, “together with immigrants, displaced people and refugees, there are many other ‘hidden exiles’ living in our homes and in our families. I think especially of the elderly, the handicapped and young people. The elderly encounter rejection when they are considered a ‘burdensome presence’ while the young are thrown away when they are denied concrete prospects of employment to build their future. Indeed, there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work, or which turns work into a form of enslavement.”
“Then too,” he said, “the family itself is not infrequently considered disposable, thanks to the spread of an individualistic and self-centered culture that severs human bonds and leads to a dramatic fall in birth rates, as well as legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole.”
Pope Francis spoke of his August trip to Korea for Asian Youth Day when he “spoke of the need to treasure our young, seeking to pass on the legacy of the past and to apply it to the challenges of the present,” And he highlighted his trip these days to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
Turning to the “lights” of the year just ended, the Pope said, “at the beginning of a new year, though, we do not wish our outlook to be dominated by pessimism, or the defects and deficiencies of the present time. We also want to thank God for the gifts and blessings he has bestowed upon us, for the occasions of dialogue and encounter which he has granted us, and for the fruits of peace which he has enabled us to savor.
And here he mentioned his trips of the past year to Albania, the Holy Land, Turkey and to Strasbourg to the European Parliament. In Turkey, “a historic bridge between East and West, I was able to see the fruits of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, as well as efforts made to assist refugees from other countries of the Middle East.”
Cherishing the concept of dialogue over division, Francis said, “One example close to my heart of how dialogue can build bridges comes from the recent decision of the United States of America and Cuba to end a lack of communication which has endured for more than half a century, and to initiate a rapprochement for the benefit of their respective citizens.” He said he “notes with satisfaction the intention of the United States to close the Guantanamo detention facilities, while acknowledging the generous willingness of several countries to receive the detainees. I heartily thank those countries.”
In the “positive” column, the Pope encouraged, “the efforts made to ensure a stable peace in Colombia, as well as the initiatives taken to restore political and social harmony in Venezuela” and “expressed the hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the 5+1 Group regarding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
The Holy Father closed his remarks to the diplomatic corps with “prayerful good wishes that this new year of 2015 will be one of hope and peace” for the diplomats, their families and their peoples.