“I SAW SO MUCH SORROW,” SAYS FRANCIS OF VISIT TO LESBOS – POPE FRANCIS’ IN-FLIGHT PRESS CONFERENCE

I rarely write a “Joan’s Rome” column over the weekend and this weekend was no exception. However, the news from Lesbos about the papal visit to a refugee camp on that Greek island, including the papal in-flight interview with media, was so important that I did take some time to post stories on Facebook (facebook.com(joan.lewis.10420).

The in-flight conversation was important enough that I am including it in today’s column. There was other news yesterday, including the Regina Coeli (see below) and a beautiful papal Mass yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica during which the Pope ordained 11 new priests, including twin brothers from Italy.

“I SAW SO MUCH SORROW,” SAYS FRANCIS OF VISIT TO LESBOS

Sunday, after reciting the Regina Coeli with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke movingly of his lightning quick trip the day before to the Greek island of Lesbos to visit a refugee center. He said, “I brought the solidarity of the Church to the refugees and to the Greek people,” He noted that, “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Hieronymous of Athens and of All Greece were with me to signify the unity in charity of all the disciples of the Lord.”

The Holy Father thanked all who accompanied him and who had helped arrange this trip in a very quick fashion, and especially thanked everyone who had prayed for the visit. He explained that the three religious leaders visited with more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world. “So many of them were children!” the Pope exclaimed. He noted, with great emotion, how some of the children had witnessed the deaths of parents or companions. “I saw so much sorrow!” (photo news.va)

REGINA COELI

After a slight pause, Francis said he had a special story to tell the faithful. He then recounted the case of a young Muslim man with two young children whose Christian fiancée was killed by terrorists because she would not deny Christ and renounce her faith. “She is a martyr!” the Pope stated.

(Saturday, after his five-hour visit, Pope Francis invited three Muslim refugee families to accompany him on the plane to Rome. He later told the media on the plane that no Christian families were selected as none had their documents in order, speaking of the papers needed to legally exit Greece and legally enter Italy.

(Sunday evening, ANSA news agency reported that the refugees who were at risk of deportation from the Greek island of Lesbos that Pope Francis brought back to Italy had their first Italian class on April 17. The first day of the three Syrian families hosted by Sant’Egidio Community was spent trying to adjust to the new environment. On Sunday evening a celebratory dinner was held in the Trastevere neighborhood for the six adults, four children and two adolescents. Sant’Egidio staff said all have warmly thanked Pope Francis who brought them back to Rome from Lesbos Saturday on the papal plane.)

POPE FRANCIS’ IN-FLIGHT PRESS CONFERENCE

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis gave a 30-minute press conference on the flight back from Lesbos to Rome on Saturday, sharing thoughts on a wide range of subjects including his opinion regarding the deal between the EU and Turkey, his meeting with Bernie Sanders, the closure of European borders and his recent apostolic exhortation.

The Pope began his traditional conversation with journalists aboard the papal plane reflecting on the fact that the visit to Lesbos had had a very strong emotional impact on him. Asked what he thinks about the recent deal between Brussels and Ankara, the Pope highlighted the fact that his visit to Lesbos was undertaken in a purely humanitarian spirit.

LESBOS PRESSER

Regarding the fact that he has brought three refugee families back to Rome with him, he said the decision was the fruit of a ‘last-minute’ inspiration one of his collaborators had a week ago.

“Everything was arranged according to the rules. They have their documents. The Holy See, the Greek government and the Italian government have checked everything. They have been welcomed by the Vatican and with the collaboration of the Saint Egidio community they will be searching for work” he said.

Asked about a reported meeting on Saturday morning in the Vatican with the American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis acknowledged it had taken place but specified that it had been a purely ‘polite’ encounter.

“This morning when I was leaving Senator Sanders was there. He had come to participate in the ‘Centesimus Annus’ Conference and greeted me politely together with his wife (…) It is called ‘manners’ and has nothing to do with politics” he said.

Another journalist asked why the three families of refugees chosen to be brought back to the Vatican are all Muslim. The Pope said the choice was not between Christians and Muslims and that those who were selected all had their papers in order.

One journalist asked the Pope whether he thinks that the closing of European borders marks the end of a European dream. Francis said that while he understands there are some governments and peoples who are afraid, he said he believes we have the responsibility of welcome.

“I have always said that building walls is not a solution. We saw walls during the last century and they did not resolve anything. We must build bridges. Bridges are built with intelligence, with dialogue, with integration” he said.

The Pope expressed his belief that Europe must urgently implement policies that welcome people, integrate them with work, create policies that foresee growth and a push forward a reform of the economy.

“All these things – he said – are bridges”, and he highlighted the suffering and pain witnessed during his visit to the camp in Lesbos.

The children there, he said, had given him drawings (which he showed those present) in which they asked for peace and expressed their pain and fear after having seen terrible things like other children drowning.

Asked whether Europe can open its arms to all the misery in the world the Pope reflected on the many faces of human suffering. He mentioned war and hunger, both of these – he said – an effect of the exploitation of the planet. He spoke of deforestation and of trafficking and of how fighting factions in Syria have been armed by others.

“I would invite the producers of arms to spend a day in the camp (in Lesbos): I believe that would be good” he said.

Turning to the Pope’s recently released Apostolic Exhortation on the family, one journalist asked for clarification saying there are discussions going on between those who maintain that nothing has changed when it comes to the question of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried while others argue that much has changed on this front.

In his reply, Pope Francis said a lot has changed but he urged the journalists to read the presentation made by Cardinal Schonborn, describing him as a great theologian who was also secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and whom, he said, has a thorough knowledge of the faith.

“The answer to your question, he declared, is contained in that presentation.”

Pope Francis confessed that he was somewhat annoyed and saddened by the media’s fixation during and after the Synod  on the single issue of whether the divorced and remarried would be allowed to take communion.

He said the media didn’t realize that this was not the important question and they fail to notice that the family unit, the cornerstone of our society throughout the world, is in a state of crisis.

“They don’t realize, he went on, that young people don’t want to marry, that the falling birthrate in Europe should make us weep, that there is a lack of jobs, there are fathers and mothers taking on two jobs and children are growing up on their own without having their parents around”.

A “VATICAN INSIDER” CONVERSATION WITH FR. JEFF KIRBY – POPE PRAYS AT MARIAN ICON FOR TRIP TO LESBOS – CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS AND REFUGEES IN GREECE – A POPE, AN ISLAND, A CATHOLIC PASTOR – U.S. SENATOR ATTENDS VATICAN ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

TODAY’S PAPAL TWEET: In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus can help avoid a breakup.

There’s a lot of material today, so just take it easy, have some more coffee and a doughnut (or, if you read this later, enjoy a Chardonnay), and read at your leisure.

A “VATICAN INSIDER” CONVERSATION WITH FR. JEFF KIRBY

Here’s a heads up on my guest this weekend on “Vatican Insider,” Fr. Jeff Kirby. He was born in Texas and briefly lived in what was then West Germany as his Dad was in the military, He attended the Pontifical North American College and Roman pontifical universities in Rome, and was ordained in South Carolina where he began his priestly ministry. While still in Rome, Kirby was appointed Vicar of Vocations for the Diocese of Charleston.

FR JEFF KIRBY

Fr. Jeff has also led a number of parish missions and retreats, and authored a number of books, including two on St. Peter’s Basilica. One is called “101 Surprising Facts About St. Peter’s and The Vatican.” In 2011 he became the founding director of the Drexel House, a Catholic residence for men in downtown Charleston, SC. He is back in Rome to complete his Doctoral Degree in Moral Theology. We talk about all of this – and a lot more – in our conversation.

JEFF JOAN LA S

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=

POPE PRAYS AT MARIAN ICON FOR TRIP TO LESBOS

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis made his customary visit to the papal basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Thursday evening, ahead of his Apostolic journey to the Greek island of Lesbos tomorrow, April 16. During the course of his 30-minute visit before Salus populi Romani, the Holy Father presented a bouquet of white and blue roses – the colors of the Greek flag – to the ancient Marian icon before pausing for a moment of silent prayer. The Vatican released the official program of the Holy Father’s visit to Lesbos on Thursday.

CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS AND REFUGEES IN GREECE

Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Hellas released a report prior to the visit Saturday by Pope Francis to the Greek island of Lesbosl, where he will meet with refugees and migrants who have made the trip by sea from Turkey.

Over a million people crossed into Greece last year and 150,000 so far in 2016. Nearly half of those refugees came to Lesbos, with most fleeing war and poverty. Over 55 percent were women and children, says the report.

The papal visit comes at a difficult moment for refugees because, under a contested plan, the European Union began returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

The main camp for the refugees and migrants is now a “closed center,” which means that refugees and migrants are not permitted to leave. Caritas has been providing emergency aid on the island through Caritas Hellas (Caritas Greece) and in other hotspots in Greece since the start of the crisis last year.

“The refugees and migrants are very excited about the visit of Pope Francis. They’re making bouquets of flowers and they want to meet him,” said Tonia Patrikiadou, Caritas Hellas Field Manager for a Caritas-run hotel on Lesbos.

“The Pope’s visit is a symbol of hope and solidarity for the refugees. It’s a sign that the world has not forgotten them and help is a possibility,” she said.

Caritas Hellas – supported by sister Caritas – opened the hotel in Lesbos for refugees and migrants with 220 beds and 88 rooms. The hotel is for very vulnerable cases, such as pregnant women. It works with a local hospital, so there are doctors on call 24 hours a day. All the refugees and migrants in the hotel are part of relocation programs, family reunification programs or are asylum cases. They’re waiting to be transferred to Athens.

Working in Greece on the islands, Athens and the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Caritas has provided food to 80,000 people, basic aid to 78,000 people, hygiene to 40,000 people, information to 2,200 and counselling to 1000.

Pope Francis will travel together with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Hieronimus II.

Caritas Hellas agreed this month on closer cooperation with Apostoli, the charitable arm of the Orthodox Church in Athens. “Together we will be able to help the refugees and migrants more,” said Maristella Tsamatropoulou, communications officer of Caritas Hellas, “while strengthening relations between the two churches.”

A POPE, AN ISLAND, A CATHOLIC PASTOR

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis’s journey Saturday 16 April to the Greek island of Lesbos is a show of solidarity for migrants “who are people; they have a history, they have dreams, they have names,” according to Fr. Leon Kiskinis, the only Catholic parish priest on the island.

He told Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli that migrants need “to be treated with dignity, as human beings.”

The International Migration Organization estimates that since the beginning of this year, more than 170,000 migrants and refugees have made the treacherous journey by sea to Greece and Italy.

Since Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, says Fr. Kiskinis, he has always shown his closeness to “those on the margins, those deprived of their dignity.”  He recalls that the Pope’s first journey at the start of his pontificate was to the Italian island of Lampedusa in solidarity with the tens of thousands of refugees arriving on its shores.

Saturday, Pope Francis will be visiting the Greek island of Lesbos at a time when many European countries are closing their borders to refugees.  It also comes amid growing criticism of the March 18 EU-Turkey deal, which stipulates anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

Lesbos community did not “close doors or raise barriers”

Fr. Kiskinis says he thinks the Pope’s choice to visit Lesbos was not by chance.

“Lesbos is an island of call for these people who come from the Turkish coast; I do not think that this decision is random. Because, despite the presence of the authorities, institutions, non-governmental organizations, the local people, simple people, have shown a brotherhood, a humanity never seen before in these parts.”

The citizens of Lesbos “did not close the door, did not close their hearts, did not create borders or barriers,” he continues.  Rather, they “welcomed these people in the hope that they can receive warmth and welcome in Europe, this Europe that it is the home of human rights.”

He expresses his conviction that migrants making the risky journey to Lesbos from Turkey are looking for a better future for themselves and their families and should “experience this European hospitality of human rights.”

Ecumenical dimension: unity of Churches to respond to migrant crisisFr. Kiskinis explains that besides the humanitarian dimension of the papal visit, there is also the ecumenical aspect,  “I believe that to solve this…migration crisis we should not work alone – we must collaborate; we must work together.”  And that means not just European governments “but also the churches: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of Greece” should “collaborate and give witness to unity in the migration crisis.”

“We are here as Christians, without distinction of race, culture, language, religion, to give a little relief to these people, and also to raise awareness in the European community, among governments, that they need to work together…not separately, each on his own,” says Fr. Kiskinis

“It’s not by constructing borders and barriers that one can stop these people escaping from war; they have no alternative but to get to Europe hoping for a better future. In this sense, the Pope’s visit has a great Christian ecumenical dimension.”

Small Catholic community sees Jesus in the faces of migrants

When he learned that the Pope was planning to visit the island, Fr. Kiskinis says he “was really surprised; I really didn’t believe it because I’m a parish priest, and I was not ready for a possible visit by the Pope. It’s true that the local Catholic Church is a small community, and perhaps that’s also why I am the only pastor on the island.  There is only one Catholic church on this island, but it’s a community of very committed believers in welcoming these people, because our faith is not abstract, it’s real. We think we see Jesus, who was hungry, naked, a stranger, in the faces of these people. Regardless of where they come from, we try to see Christ, giving them a glass of water or a shirt to cover themselves.  We want to believe that we are doing it for Jesus himself.”

Small community “on outskirts of Church” feels “pampered” by papal visit

For this reason too, the priest stresses, the Pope’s visit brings no small satisfation to “this small community that is just on the outskirts of the Church.”   Pope Francis, he adds, “is very sensitive to this condition. We are in Europe, we are also close to Italy, but in these islands where the Catholic community is just a small minority, we feel ‘pampered,’ if I may say so, by the presence of the Pope. It means showing us his affection, his appreciation for this small community that strives not only to stay alive, but also to be useful, speaking as a Christian, to these people who come from the Turkish coast.”

He notes that up until “three or four years ago” there was no permanent presence of a Catholic priest on the island but “these faithful were able to get along virtually alone, without a continuous ministry.”  Four years ago, he notes, the bishop decided to place a permanent parish priest on the island “and then after four years comes the Pope! So we really feel pampered!”

People feel less involved since EU-Turkey accord

He says the islanders’ “fraternal welcoming” of the migrants has not faltered since the EU-Turkey accord. But there is some perceptible change …. A few months ago, he explains, people went out to help migrants who were arriving in small boats.  Now, he notes, ships from the EU’s border management agency, Frontex and the Turkish coast guard go out to meet the boats so “people feel less involved …in providing assistance.  It’s not that they don’t help, but they help less. But the relationship between the Islanders and migrants has not changed; the solidarity is still there though it’s less evident compared to some months ago.”

U.S. SENATOR ATTENDS VATICAN ECONOMIC CONFERENCE

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders arrived in Rome this morning to attend a Vatican conference co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. The conference invited about three dozen economists, academics, church leaders and politicians to reflect on St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on social and economic justice, “Centesimus Annus.”

Sanders’ arrival – along with his wife and 10 members of their family, according to media at the airport – was greeted in Rome and just outside the Vatican by great fanfare, perhaps even more so than two South American heads of State, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Morales was received this morning by Pope Francis. He sat next to Sanders at the conference.

Sanders and his wife arrived in Vatican City by the Perugino entrance, a broad gate on the south wall of Vatican City that leads cars past the papal residence, the Santa Marta, on the right, and is only about 100 yards from the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica known as the diplomatic entrance.

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The road leading to the pontifical academy winds around the west end of the basilica and through the Vatican gardens to the architectural jewel, the Casina Pio IV, that houses the academy.

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The academy has been criticized by some for inviting a presidential candidate in the midst of an election period. Critics say the invitation had clear political overtones, although Sanders told a left leaning Italian daily, La Repubblica, when asked if the invitation to speak was an endorsement of his politics, “the Vatican isn’t involved in that. The conference isn’t a political event.”

The possibility of a Sanders meeting with Pope Francis upset many but the Holy Father penned a note to conference attendees. saying he had foreseen coming to the conference at 7pm, but realized that his attendance would be “very complicated” because of his trip to Lesbos set for tomorrow morning, Saturday.

Sanders’ talk was titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of ‘Centesimus Annus’.”

He did praise the Catholic Church, saying, “there are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.”

 

VATICAN BRIEFING ON PAPAL VISIT TO LESBOS APRIL 16

PAPAL TWEET: April 14: Love is the only light which can constantly illuminate a world grown dim.

VATICAN BRIEFING ON PAPAL VISIT TO LESBOS APRIL 16

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will spend six hours on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, April 16, where – together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymus II – he will spend time with refugees. (photo news.va – Syrian refugees arrive Lesbos)

REFUGEES  LESBOS

“Lesbos … is very close to the Turkish coast, just a few kilometers,” explained Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, at a press briefing on Thursday. “This is the reason so many migrants go to the island of Lesbos.”

Father Lombardi said the visit will have a humanitarian and ecumenical perspective.

“It does not directly touch on political positions, or other such things, but their focus is fundamentally humanitarian, experienced in an ecumenical key,” Father Lombardi said.

After arriving by plane on the island, Pope Francis meet briefly with the Prime Minister of Greece, and then travel to the Mòria refugee camp, which is home to about 2,500 people.

The three religious leaders will have a special meeting with minors at the camp, as well as 250 selected asylum-seekers.

“The presence of minors, children, orphans – even those on their own – is very typical in these situations,” – Father Lombardi said – “Therefore, it is right to give them particular attention.”

While at the camp, a joint declaration will be signed, and Pope Francis and the other religious leaders will have lunch with some of the refugees.

Pope Francis will also have a meeting with the small local Catholic community. There are about 100 Catholics on Lesbos, and other Catholics in Greece will travel to the island to attend the encounter.

“Keep in mind that there is also a presence of the Catholic Church in Greece. Although very small in quantitative terms, it is still present,” Father Lombardi said.

At the end of the visit, the three religious leaders will hold a memorial for all the victims of the migration crisis, and observe a moment of silence for those who have died.

Returning to the airport, Pope Francis will meet privately with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymus and have a second private meeting with the prime minister before leaving for Rome. (Pope and Patriarch in Vatican)

Francis and Bartholomew

THE FULL SCHEDULE OF POPE FRANCIS’ VISIT TO THE ISLAND OF LESBOS IN GREECE (ALL TIMES LOCAL)

07:00  Departure from Rome-Fiumicino International airport for Mytilene (capital of Lesbos)

10:20 Arrival at the international airport of Mytilene

WELCOMING CEREMONY

The Holy Father is received by the Prime Minister; and is then welcomed by His Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Beatitude Hieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and after this, by  Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis, O.F.M. Cap., Chairman of the Greek Episcopal Conference.

10:35  PRIVATE MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER (at the airport)

10:55  Transfer by minibus with His Holiness Bartholomew and his Beatitude Hieronymos to Mòria refugee camp (16 Km).

11:15 Arrival at Mòria refugee camp(home to around 2.500 asylum-seekers)

VISIT WITH REFUGEES

Along the barricades will be gathered about 150 minors who are guests of the center. The religious leaders will go across the courtyard dedicated to the registration of refugees and will arrive at the big tent to individually greet about 250 asylum seekers.

12.25:  Speech by Archbishop Hieronymos; by Patriarch Bartholemew;  and by Pope Francis at the podium of the courtyard for refugee registration.

12.40:  Signing of the joint declaration.

12.45:  Lunch with the three religious leaders with the some of the refugees in the space behind the podium.

13.30  transfer by minibus to the port (8 Km)

13.45  arrival at the headquarters of the Coast Guard.

MEETING WITH CITIZENS AND THE CATHOLIC COMMUNITY.

MEMORIAL FOR THE VICTIMS OF MIGRATION.

SPEECH BY THE HOLY FATHER

At the end, the three religious leaders will each recite a brief prayer for the victims of migration.

After a minute of silence is called for, the three leaders will receive from three children laurel wreaths, which will be thrown into the sea.

14:15  transfer by minibus to the airport (3 Km).

14:30 In the airport:

PRIVATE MEETING WITH THE ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND ALL GREECE

PRIVATE MEETING WITH THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH

PRIVATE MEETING WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

15:00  DEPARTURE CEREMONY

15:15  Departure by plane from the international airport of Mytilene for Rome.

16:30 Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

(Flight time is 2 hour, 20 minutes – Greece is one hour ahead of Rome)

THERE IS NO SAINT WITHOUT A PAST AND NO SINNER WITHOUT A FUTURE! – POPE ASKS PRAYERS FOR APRIL 16 TRIP TO LESBOS, GREECE – ONE PHOTOGRAPHER’S STORY

PAPAL TWEET – April 13, 2016: The Lord’s presence dwells in families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.

As you know, Pope Francis will travel to the Greek island of Lesbos this Saturday to assess the situation of the huge numbers of migrants and refugees who have arrived there and are taxing not only the local economy but the reserves of hospitality of the people. I will bring you more in coming days about that trip, including input from Caritas, which is present on the ground.

THERE IS NO SAINT WITHOUT A PAST AND NO SINNER WITHOUT A FUTURE!

Pope Francis told the tens of thousands of faithful at today’s general audience that, “in our catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy, we now consider the Gospel account of the calling of Saint Matthew.  Jesus not only invites a tax-collector, a public sinner, to be his disciple, but also sits at table with him, thus scandalizing the Pharisees.  The Lord then explains that he has come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The Pope went on to say that, “the calling of Matthew reminds us that when Christ makes us his disciples, he does not look to our past but to the future.”

The Holy Father then interrupted his own catechesis by quoting what he said was “a wonderful saying I heard long ago: ‘There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future!’” In fact, he repeated these words several times, to great applause from the faithful.

“We need but respond to (Jesus’) call with a humble and sincere heart,” explained Francis. “Jesus invites us to sit with him at the table of the Eucharist, in which he purifies us by the power of his word and by the sacrament unites us ever more deeply to himself.  Citing the prophet Hosea, he tells us that what God desires is ‘mercy, not sacrifice’, true conversion of heart and not merely formal acts of religion.

“May all of us,” urged the Pope, “in acknowledging our sins, respond more generously to the Lord’s invitation to sit at table with him, and with one another, with immense gratitude for his infinite mercy and saving love.”

At the end of the catechesis, Pope Francis remarked that he was united with the Church in Poland in marking the 1050th anniversary of the “baptism of the nation” an he asked God to bless the Polish people both at home and abroad.

“Together with the pastors and faithful, I give thanks to God for this historic event, which over the centuries has formed the faith, the spirituality, and the culture of your country, in the community of peoples  whom Christ has invited to participate in the mystery of His death and resurrection,” he told Polish pilgrims, many of whom wore traditional dress.

“Give thanks to the Lord – according to the words of Saint John Paul II – for the gift of having been – over 1000 years ago – baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to be baptized in the water which, through grace, perfect in us the image of the living God; the water which is a wave of eternity: a spring of water welling up to eternal life. I ask God that the present generation and future generations of Poles remain faithful to the grace of baptism, giving witness to the love of Christ and the Church.,”

According to a note by Vatican Radio, a joint session of both chambers of the Polish Parliament will meet in Poznań on Friday to mark the acceptance by Polish ruler Mieszko I of Christianity in 966, which is considered the foundational event of the nation.

POPE ASKS PRAYERS FOR APRIL 16 TRIP TO LESBOS, GREECE

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday issued an appeal for prayers for his upcoming trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, where he will meet with some of the tens of thousands of refugees who have passed through the island. (photo news.va)

LESBOS

“Next Saturday I will go to the island of Lesbos, where many refugees have passed in recent months,” the Pope said, speaking during his 13 April general audience at the Vatican. “I will go, together with my brothers, Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and of all Greece, to express my closeness and solidarity to the refugees and citizens of Lesbos, and all the Greek people – who are very generous in their welcoming.”

“I ask you to please accompany me with prayer, invoking the light and strength of the Holy Spirit and the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary.”

Pope Francis will travel to Lesbos Saturday, 16 April at the invitations of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and of Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the Vatican announced 7 April.

One million refugees have made their way to Greece over the past year. Lesbos is a major entry point for refugees, which has received tens of thousands of people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria.

ONE PHOTOGRAPHER’S STORY

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ appeal to pray for his upcoming journey to Lesbos on Saturday shines a spotlight on the plight of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants fleeing conflict and poverty.

Internationally acclaimed photojournalist Aris Messinis, the chief photographer for Agence France Presse in Athens, is currently on assignment in Lesbos. Messinis recently gained attention in the media not for a photo he captured, but rather for an image taken of him in which he set his camera aside to help a refugee child struggling to get out of the water. (photo: news.va)

LESBOS PHOTOGRAPHER

Messinis has been on assignment in Lesbos for over a year now. Vatican Radio’s Antonella Palermo speaks with him about the situation there and his thoughts on the upcoming papal visit.

“Lesbos is only one part of a difficult journey,” Messinis explains. There are many risks involved with travelling by ocean. Many refugees do not know how to swim. The dinghies they are using are designed for lakes and made to hold a maximum of 18 people, though they try to fit up to 80 in one. Because they are so overcrowded, the risk for drowning or going missing is much higher.

As a photojournalist, Messinis feels it is his job to show people the reason why there is a migrant crisis. “We need to understand that it is not the migrants’ fault,” he says. “Someone else created this war, and it is just a survival instinct for them to escape the danger.”

When asked about the now iconic photo of himself, he said it was a “natural instinct” to help the refugee. “When you see someone in danger asking for help, what will you do – take their picture? No way.”

Messinis is thrilled to be present for Pope Francis’ visit, calling it a “big step.” He hopes it will inspire people to take action in aiding the thousands of suffering migrants risking their lives for the pursuit of a better future.

POPE FRANCIS WILL GO TO GREEK ISLAND OF LESBOS APRIL 16

POPE FRANCIS WILL GO TO GREEK ISLAND OF LESBOS APRIL 16

A communiqué from the Vatican Press Office has confirmed next week’s papal visit which aims to show support and solidarity for refugees in the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis. Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi says the visit also has a strong ecumenical dimension. (photo news.va)

MIGRANTS

The press release says the Pope has accepted the invitations of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew, and of the Greek president.

It says Pope Francis will meet with the refugees on the island together with the Ecumenical Patriarch and with His Holiness Jerome II, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing the war in Syria, have poured onto the Aegean island over the past year.

This is a particularly delicate moment for them as, under a contested plan, the European Union started returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for support for migrants and refugees.

His first journey, after his election as Pope in 2013, was to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which, like Lesbos, has received hundreds of thousands of migrants.

 

POSSIBLE PAPAL TRIP TO GREECE?

POSSIBLE PAPAL TRIP TO GREECE?

A Vatican statement today said the Orthodox Church of Greece on Tuesday said it would welcome a visit of Pope Francis to the island of Lesbos to meet with migrants and refugees arriving across the Mediterranean sea. A statement from the Holy Synod, or ruling body of the Orthodox Church in Athens, said the Pope had expressed a desire to visit one of the islands in order to draw attention to the humanitarian problems of the migrants, as well as the need for “an immediate cessation of hostilities in the wider Mediterranean region”.

The head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said there have been discussions about a possible papal visit, but he could not confirm any dates or details. The statement from the Orthodox Church proposed a visit to the island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have arrived in recent months. Many of them are fleeing from conflicts or persecution in the Middle East and Africa, while many so-called economic migrants are seeking better living conditions in Europe or other Western countries.

A communique from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on Tuesday confirmed he would also be visiting the island of Lesbos to highlight the plight of the refugees and migrants throughout the region.

AP HAD THIS:

Discussions are underway about a possible trip by Pope Francis to Greece as early as next week as the country begins deporting migrants back to Turkey.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that no decision had been made but in an email to The Associated Press he said “I don’t deny that there are contacts about a possible trip.”

A Greek ecclesiastic website, Dogma, reported Tuesday that Francis was planning to visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 15 along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, the decision-making body of the Greek church, said Francis had asked to come and the request had been accepted as it was a humanitarian visit of just a few hours.

A controversial European Union plan to stem the flow of refugees began Monday with more than 200 people deported from Lesbos and Chios back to Turkey. Human rights organizations have denounced the deportations as the undoing of Europe’s obligations to protect refugees.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has been outspoken about the need for Europe and other countries to open their doors and hearts to people fleeing persecution and poverty.

In his first trip outside Rome, he visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has seen thousands of migrants arriving on smugglers’ boats from Libya. And recently he celebrated a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border to pray for Central and South American migrants who died trying to reach the United States.

The Church of Greece said Tuesday that Francis had proposed visiting Greece to raise awareness about the plight of refugees “searching for a better future in the European continent.”

It said it had extended an invitation to Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to visit at the same time. It said the visit of the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches would send a “very strong signal” about the need to help refugees and protect Christians “who are cruelly suffering” in the Middle East.

PAPAL PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JULY – POPE FRANCIS’ JULY JOURNEY TO LATIN AMERICA – FR. LOMBARDI ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL SITUATION IN GREECE

July is traditionally one of the two hottest months here and one of two months, August being the other, when a fair number of Vatican employees take their vacation. The normal work load occupies many offices, is reduced for some but continues to be quite heavy in the Secretariat of State where staffers work on proof-reading and translating papal speeches and homilies for both his July 5 to 12 trip to Latin America, and his September 19 to 28 apostolic trip to Cuba and the United States.

I was hoping for a quiet Wednesday as there was no general audience this morning but a number of tasks – regular and special – filled my agenda, including taping some segments for “At Home with Jim and Joy.”  As is usual on a Wednesday, I was to join Teresa Tomeo on “Catholic Connection” but it seems there was an avalanche of calls about a segment and that ate up our time.

I’m now working on this short post-birthday column, preparing my weekly show on Vatican Radio, “Joan Knows” and trying to finish both early enough to attend the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See’s annual July 4th party tonight.

My birthday celebration last night was one of the loveliest nights of my life – filled with friends and love and joy and laughter and terrific food and beautiful decorations and a cake that took our collective breath away!

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Friends took photos and videos and I’ll post a few of those as they arrive. My home looks like a florist shop  – in fact, I am sure that some florist shops do not have the selection I have of floral arrangements, bouquets, plants, etc.  I had to leave some flowers at La Vittoria as, even with all the help I had bringing flowers and gifts home after the party, our arms could not carry everything. I’ll get those later today.

My friend Claudio and his wife Palmerina and their staff (including a son, Leonardo, who is a budding chef!) pulled out all the stops. The restaurant was decorated in white and yellow – Vatican colors – flowers and balloons and banners proclaiming “Happy Birthday Joan.”

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A magnificent, unforgettable time spent with very special people – the wonderful friends that God has brought into my life over the years. I made a few remarks and said that, as I looked around the room and saw friends from the Vatican, from Santa Susanna, from NAC, from Chicago, I saw in each face memories of the good times we have also shared in the past – meals, laughter, great conversation, trips, Masses and other spiritual moments.

Chicago and Milwaukee friends:

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There were seven of us at the head table and Claudio arranged all the seats so that no one sat with their back to the head table. I was joined by Bishop Baker of Birmingham, Msgr. Keith Newton, ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Jack and Linda Del Rio and Julie and Joe Helow. (More photos later as they arrive from the guests.)

As the old song goes, “Thanks for the memories….!!”

PAPAL PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JULY

(VIS) – The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for July is: “That political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity.”

His intention for evangelization is: “That, amid social inequalities, Latin American Christians may bear witness to love for the poor and contribute to a more fraternal society.”

POPE FRANCIS’ JULY JOURNEY TO LATIN AMERICA

(Vatican Radio) For the second time since his election on March 13, 2013 Pope Francis is returning to the continent of his birth – Latin America – on a journey which will see him interact and communicate in his own language – Spanish.  The Pope was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day.

The journey to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is scheduled to last from July 5 to 13, was presented Tuesday at the Vatican Press Office by Father Federico Lombardi.

The underlying theme of the journey to all three counties, ravaged by conquest, exploitation and conflict in years not so long gone by is that of reconciliation and renewal.

Linda Bordoni reports: Pointing out that this is the first time Pope Francis will visit three different nations during a single journey, Fr. Lombardi also noted that, just as he did in Europe by choosing Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first nations to reach out to at the beginning of his pontificate, here too he is starting with the “peripheries” as far as the Latin American and global scenarios are concerned.

It will also be the first journey – F. Lombardi observed – in which Spanish – the Pope’s mother-tongue – is spoken throughout, giving him plenty of occasions to set aside prepared texts (including 22 official discourses) and to talk and converse freely with his audiences.

Lombardi also said that in just seven days Pope Francis will be experiencing enormous changes in temperature and in altitude: from 3 degrees to 40 degrees centigrade, from sea level to over 4,100 meters above sea level as he travels from the Atlantic to the Andes and in between.

A swift glance at the Pope’s schedule highlights the fact that the journey will be intense for other reasons as well!

All in all, Pope Francis is to spend 48 hours in each country, and each time he will be involved in a number of “common” events such as an audience with each President; a “sit-down” with the bishops, an encounter with civil society (representatives of business, indigenous people, the world of education, culture); a meeting with consecrated people.

Of course in each country he will also be involved in other events and situations as he is scheduled to visit a home for the aged run by the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Ecuador, a prison (one of the largest in Latin America) and a meeting with members of the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia; a children’s hospital and a slum area in Paraguay.

Another important feature of the journey will be a Marian one as Pope Francis will gather in prayer before the “Virgen Dolorosa” in Quito and before Our Lady of Caacupé 40 km from Asuncion.

One important characteristic of the whole journey – Father Lombardi pointed out – has to do with the wealth of traditions, cultures and languages that are present on the territory. The Pope’s respect for the diversity and value of each of these is also reflected in all of the liturgies and celebrations.

The Holy See Press Office director recalled that Pope Saint John Paul II travelled to all three nations: Ecuador in 1985, Bolivia and Paraguay in 1988 where he had a memorable meeting with minors, canonized Rocco Gonzales and was witness to the last days of General Alfredo Stroessner’s cruel dictatorship.

Fr. Lombardi concluded a detailed account of the Pope’s day-to-day schedule, pointing out that this journey is Francis’ “homecoming” in the sense that it is the second time he will be back in his own continent since travelling to Rome for the conclave in 2013, and that he will finally be speaking his own language. “All this – he said – should make for a particularly intense occasion for communication

FR. LOMBARDI ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL SITUATION IN GREECE

Fr. Lombard said today, “The news from Greece regarding the economic and social situation of the country is worrying. The Holy Father wishes to convey his closeness to all the Greek people, with a special thought for the many families gravely beset by such a complex and keenly felt human and social crisis. The dignity of the human person must remain at the center of any political and technical debate, as well as in the taking of responsible decisions. Pope Francis invites all the faithful to unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”