AUDIENCE CATECHESIS: HOPING AGAINST HOPE – FRANCIS: PROFOUND SORROW FOR VICTIMS OF BLOODY CONFLICT IN IRAQ – POPE TO YOUNG PEOPLE: REFLECT ON CHALLENGES OF EVANGELIZATION – 25,000 JOIN LENTEN WALKING PILGRIMAGE IN INDIA

After reports on the weekly general audience, the papal appeal for Iraq and his meeting with religious leaders from that nation and the Holy Father’s Message to young people in Barcelona, I offer an interesting story about the Catholic Church in India. We know the word “catholic” means universal but on occasion we can forget about the faithful in nations other than the ones we live in, the believers around the world in the Universal Church.

POPE FRANCIS TWEETED TODAY: The peace that springs from faith is a gift: it is the grace of feeling that God loves us and that he is always beside us.

AUDIENCE CATECHESIS: HOPING AGAINST HOPE

Pope Francis at today’s general audience again focused the weekly catechesis on hope, this time linking that virtue to faith. Above all, he explained how the faithful should put their trust in God’s word, even at those times when hope seems humanly impossible, hoping against hope.

“In the chapter from the Letter to Romans that opened today’s audience,” said the Pope, referring to the reading that precedes the weekly catechesis in all languages, “Saint Paul presents Abraham not only as our father in faith, but also as our father in hope.  Paul tells us that Abraham put his faith in the God who gives life to the dead, who calls all things into being.  Hoping against hope, he trusted in God’s promise that, despite his old age and that of Sarah his wife, he would become the father of many nations.

“In Abraham, we see the close bond existing between faith and hope.  Abraham’s hope in God’s promises was fulfilled in the birth of his son Isaac, and, in the fullness of time, in the ‘many nations’ gathered into a new humanity set free from sin and death by the power of Christ’s resurrection.”

Francis explained that, “faith teaches us, in fact, to hope against hope by putting our own trust in God’s word even at those times when hope seems humanly impossible.  In our Lenten journey to Easter, may we be confirmed in faith and hope, and show ourselves children of Abraham by accepting the promise of new life given us in the Lord’s resurrection.”

“And now, said the Holy Father, “I would like to ask you a question: are we all convinced of this? Are we convinced that God wishes us well and that all that He promised us is able to bring it to fruition? But Father, how much do we have to pay for this? There is just one price: opening your hearts. Open your hearts and this strength of God will lead you ahead, it will do miraculous things and will teach you what hope is. This is the only price: open your heart to faith and He will do the rest. This is the paradox and, at the same time, the strongest, highest element of our hope! A hope based on a promise that from a human point of view seems uncertain and unpredictable, but which is no less even when faced with death, when it is the God of Resurrection and life Who promises. This is not a promise from anyone? He Who promises is the God of Resurrection and of life.

“Today we are all in the square, we praise the Lord, we will sing the Lord’s Prayer, then we will receive the blessing. But this passes. But this is also a promise of hope. If today we have an open heart, I assure you that all of us will meet in the square of Heaven that never comes to an end. This is God’s promise, and this is our hope, if we open our hearts. Thank you.”

FRANCIS: PROFOUND SORROW FOR VICTIMS OF BLOODY CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Before today’s weekly general audience in a sun-splashed St. Peter’s Square, in a room adjacent to the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis received participants in the meeting of the permanent Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Iraqi superintendents: Shiite, Sunni, and those for the Christians, Yazidis, Sabeans/Mandaeans.

At the end of the weekly catechesis in Italian, Pope Francis greeted that delegation of Iraqi superintendents, noting it was “composed of representatives of different religious groups, accompanied by His Eminence Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The richness of the dear Iraqi nation consists precisely in this mosaic that represents unity in diversity, strength in union, prosperity in harmony.

“Dear brothers,” continued the Holy Father, “I encourage you to go ahead on this road and I invite you to pray that Iraq may find peace, unity and prosperity in reconciliation and harmony between the various ethnic and religious groups. My thoughts go to the civil populations trapped in the western districts of Mosul and those displaced by war, to whom I feel united in suffering, through prayer and spiritual closeness. In expressing my profound sorrow for the victims of the bloody conflict, I renew to all my appeal for every effort to be made to protect civilians, an imperative and urgent obligation.”

POPE TO YOUNG PEOPLE: REFLECT ON CHALLENGES OF EVANGELIZATION

Pope Francis has sent a Message to a symposium for youth in Barcelona, Spain telling the young people they should reflect on the challenges of evangelization. The theme of the four-day meeting that began March 28 is “He walked by their side (Lk 24:15) – Accompanying young people to freely respond to Christ’s call.

The symposium was organized by the CCEE, Council of European Catholic Bishops’ Conferences, the Spanish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the archdiocese of Barcelona. Joining Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona are other church leaders including Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, and Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow.

The message was sent in the Pope’s name by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. The Holy Father urged youth “to conduct a reflection on the challenges of evangelization and on the accompaniment of young people, so that – through dialogue and encounter and as living members of the family of Christ – young people may be enthusiastic bearers of the joy of the Gospel in all areas.”

25,000 JOIN LENTEN WALKING PILGRIMAGE IN INDIA

About 25,000 people took part in the annual Lenten Walking Pilgrimage in the western Indian city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in which Catholics, members of other Christian Churches and other religions also participated. A large number of priests, religious, Catholic lay people and members of other confessions and religions participated in the overnight march led by the Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay.    The pilgrimage began at night on March 25 from Cross Maidan, wound its way to the Basilica of Mount Mary (some 20 kilometers distant) the following morning, Sunday, where it concluded with Holy Mass.

Cardinal Gracias, president of India’s Latin-rite bishops, began the pilgrimage with his blessings and reciting prayers to the Virgin, interceding for the city of Mumbai and the whole of India.  He prayed in particular for harmony and peaceful coexistence among the different components of Indian society, asking that,”Christians in India may live their faith in peace.”

More than 50 percent of the participants were boys and girls from remote villages of Goral, Uttan, Vasai Agassi, Korlai, Roha and from the suburbs of Maharashtra. Cardinal Gracias recited a special prayer for the young people: “Mary Seat of Wisdom guide our young people, and direct their steps towards mission, both for the country and for the Church, and intercede for the young people present, to contribute mission of the Church and the growth of the nation. We also pray for our young people for their faith and for their vocational discernment.”

The cardinal led the pilgrimage for a short distance, reuniting with the crowd at the time of recitation of the Holy Rosary. The pilgrims walked for seven hours at night, animated by prayers, songs and the many volunteers.  Felix Sequeira, one of the pilgrimage organizers told AsiaNews: “About 25,000 pilgrims carried four statues in procession decorated with flowers and lights: Mary Queen of Peace, Jesus carrying the Cross, Mary Mother of Sorrows and St. Joseph Patron of the pilgrimage.”

The pilgrimage is held every year in March, during the season of Lent. The first edition took place in the Marian Year 1988, when some devotees have decided to organize a Lenten march for peace. “Since then, the number of participants has grown from year to year with people of every creed and caste,” Francis Fernandes, president of Marian Seva Sangh, a main organizer, told AsiaNews. (Source: AsiaNews)

VATICAN INSIDER VISITS BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY – ORDER OF MALTA GRAND CHANCELLOR HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE – CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP ON SITUATION IN IRAQ, REFUGEES, ISIS AND TRUMP ORDER ON REFUGEES

Two good news stories:

Yesterday, February 2, technicians from the Vatican Museums were in Norcia to take a number of valuable works of art that had been damaged in the recent earthquakes back to the museums for restoration.

A second piece of good news for the earthquake-struck peoples and towns was that the drawing was held yesterday for the papal raffle, and the entire sum brought in by the sale of the 10 euro tickets will be given to Pope Francis who has designated the populations struck by the quakes, in particular the homeless, as recipients of the monies.

My final story of the day (see below) is a phone interview with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, northern Iraq, published by Crux. As you may know from reading my column,  Archbishop Warda and I are good friends: we met in Iraq in 2010 and I attended his episcopal ordination.  This is a very lengthy but very lucid and fascinating look at the situation of refugees, life in Erbil, ISIS, the work of the Church vis-à-vis migrants and refugees and a look at how the archbishop sees and understands President Trump’s executive order on refugees. A real eye-opener.

VATICAN INSIDER VISITS BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY

In a manner of speaking, I will visit the Holy Land and Bethlehem University this weekend when my guest on “Vatican Insider” is John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation. John and I have been friends for years, starting when he was a lawyer for the Military Ordinariate of the United States specializing in First Amendment rights. We had a long visit days ago when I was in Washington, and I asked John to speak of his new position as executive director of the Foundation.

We talk about Bethlehem University, the Foundation, John’s work and the situation in the Holy Land,oly among many fascinating topics. This is Part I of two parts. Next week I will post some photos of this great university.

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ORDER OF MALTA GRAND CHANCELLOR HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE

(Vatican Radio) The government of the Sovereign Order of Malta has outlined its priorities, following the resignation of Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing on Saturday 28 January.

The former Grand Master was asked to resign by Pope Francis, who expressed his “appreciation and gratitude to Fra’ Festing for his loyalty and devotion to the Successor of Peter, and his willingness to serve humbly the good of the Order and the Church.”

Fra’ Festing’s resignation followed a confrontation with the Holy See provoked by the Grand Master’s attempt to discipline the Grand Chancellor, Albrecht Boeselager. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the newly reinstated Grand Chancellor said: “Together with the Lieutenant ad interim we are governing the Order according to our constitution and in a united and efficient way,”

In a statement released in conjunction with the press conference, the Knights of Malta emphasized the importance of their humanitarian work around the globe, noting especially projects in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The Knights also drew attention to “the proliferation of discriminatory positions towards immigrants, not least, based on their national origin.”

Chancellor Boeselager spoke with Vatican Radio following Thursday’s Press Conference: “We have experienced an unprecedented crisis in the recent weeks. Now, as the elected government is back in place we will concentrate to bring back normality, and to reassure that the more than 2000 projects of the Order all over the globe on the five continents will be run smoothly,” he said. “We … appreciate the decisions of the Holy Father which helped to overcome the crisis swiftly, and to concentrate again on our mission to restore trustful relations with the Holy See and to strengthen our serenity.”

The election of a new Grand Master is expected to take place within the next three months, in accordance with the Constitution of the Order.

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP ON SITUATION IN IRAQ, REFUGEES, ISIS AND TRUMP ORDER ON REFUGEES

Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil, Iraq. Editor’s note: Archbishop Bashar Warda is the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil in Iraq, and has long been an outspoken voice on behalf of Middle East Christianity. He recently spoke to Crux from Erbil about the Trump administration’s controversial executive order on refugees, including the idea of giving special preference to Christians and other minorities who have been victims of ISIS genocide.

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CRUX: When the executive order was rolled out, your own upcoming trip to the United States was cancelled. What happened?

Warda: The main purpose for coming was for a Congressional hearing that was postponed. I hope to come soon and to testify on behalf of Christians in Iraq.

Do you agree that security concerns warrant the new U.S. refugee policy?

I don’t know what the president knows about security risks as they relate to the “countries of concern” and refugees from them.

I do know two things.

First, it is terrible to live with terrorism. My country lives with terrorism daily. And if the United States wants to have a strong vetting process, I can understand and appreciate that. Some people are quick to forget that Europe has tried to slow down the refugee flow too. The EU has done its best to keep the refugees in Turkey, and has paid Turkey to keep them there. Obviously, in the era of terrorism, people are concerned about who is entering their country and that is understandable.

Second, the Catholic Church is fundamentally on the side of immigrants, regardless of their faith or origin. This is a core part of who we are. So these are complex times in a brutal world. The real question is what is the obligation of the world community, not just the U.S., to all the innocent victims of this brutality. As the Church, especially here in Iraq, we are shepherds to the innocents, all of them – those who are migrating and those who are not.

I fear that all the media discussion on this travel issue will place the focus completely on those who are in the migration process, and forget those who are still attempting to live and survive in their legitimate homeland.

One other thing: Christians and other minorities have been largely ignored by the American government before now, so even if this step had a bumpy start and required clarification, we in Iraq appreciate that an American administration understands that we are here and wants to help the minorities here who have suffered so much.

Do you think this order will make it harder for Christians from Iraq?

Someone quoted me out of context on this in another article, so let me clarify it.

Obviously in certain individual cases in the short term, this could change the plans of those who were in the process of immigrating or traveling, but I understand several of our families with new immigrant visas have now been approved for travel just this week.

As long as this is understood as something available to all the minority communities of Iraq, and not just to the Christians, I do not think this will make it harder for us Christians here in Iraq. Obviously in the long run, it will make it easier for those from our community who wish to move to the West. And while I hope most of our people will stay, I must respect the decision they make for themselves, especially after what they have endured.

What do you make of the protests against President Trump’s refugee order?

Everyone, including the administration, seems to agree that this should have been implemented with more clarity. There was much confusion about what the order meant and many people were very upset.

From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria.

I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.

I would also say this, all those who cry out that this is a “Muslim Ban” – especially now that it has been clarified that it is not – should understand clearly that when they do this, they are hurting we Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk. The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others as well as Muslims.

Here in Iraq we Christians cannot afford to throw out words carelessly as the media in the West can do. I would ask those in the media who use every issue to stir up division to think about this. For the media these things become an issue of ratings, but for us the danger is real.

Most Americans have no concept of what it was like to live as a Yazidi or Christian or other minority as ISIS invaded. Our people had the option to flee, to convert, or to be killed, and many were killed in the most brutal ways imaginable. But there were none of these protests then of ISIS’s religious test.

Our people lost everything because of their faith – they were targeted for their faith, just like the Yazidis and others too. Now these protesters are saying that religion should not matter at all, even though someone was persecuted for their faith, even though persecution based on religion is one of the grounds for refugee status in the UN treaty on refugees.

From here I have to say, it is really unbelievable.

It is exactly this reasoning, that religion should not be a factor at all in American policy, that has resulted in Christians and other minority communities being overlooked by U.S. and UN aid programs. We are too small to matter, our communities are disappearing from constant persecution, and for years the American government didn’t care. Now when someone tries to help us, we have protesters telling us that there can be no religious basis for refugee status – even though the UN treaty and American law say that religious persecution is a major reason for granting the status, and even though ISIS targeted people primarily on the basis of religion.

I am not saying that any group should have a blanket preference when it comes to being admitted as a refugee in the United States. Such a policy would not be right, and would clearly be against our Catholic faith and teaching. And that is not the policy as I understand it.

But it is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?

Do you think your people will take advantage of this priority status?

Clearly, I don’t want our Christian people to leave Iraq, because I hope our community will stay and thrive in its homeland, and contribute to the pluralism of a land Christians have called home for almost 2000 years. I think that a real Christian presence is critical to any future peace and reconciliation efforts here.

But that does not mean that I do not appreciate the effort and gesture the American government is making by giving priority to the most vulnerable people here. Remember, we have many thousands of Iraqi Christians, victims of ISIS, now trapped in other countries in the Middle East trying to get out to safety who do not even exist for the UN because they are afraid to enter the official refugee camps. This is a real problem.

Of those who are still here, I truly hope most of our people won’t seek asylum outside of Iraq, but I cannot stop them if they believe this is the only way they can have a life. The hardship and hopelessness, especially among the displaced people, is incredible. These people have lost everything on earth because of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is that simple.

They have kept their faith, but everything else has been taken from them. Everything.

What would you like to see changed in this executive order?

There needs to be a proper understanding and perception of what this means. Obviously there has been confusion about this and that isn’t good for anyone, including the administration. As other Christian leaders have noted, it is not good if people think there is priority only for the Christians. That could make us a target, but clearly we now know this is not the actual case with this policy.

This priority status was announced for all religious minorities in my country. That would include Yazidis and Mandaeans as well as Christians. It would have included Jews also, but Iraq already expelled almost all of its Jewish community decades ago.

In Syria, Shiite Muslims are a minority, and they were targeted by ISIS. So this isn’t only about the Christians. But there have been many injustices to the Christians and other minorities before now, especially with those from Syria having been largely excluded from entry to the United States since 2011.

I am happy an American president finally realizes there are Christians – and other religious minority groups – here who need help. This is an important step forward, and it means a good deal to the displaced people here. We have felt like we were forgotten by the United States until now.

What do your people need most from the American government?

The Christians of Iraq desperately need American government humanitarian aid now, and we need it to be delivered in a manner to ensure it actually reaches us and does not get absorbed and redirected in the existing aid structures.

My archdiocese hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in my country, and since 2014, we have received no money from the United States government and no money from the UN. We have hosted and cared for all of these displaced people on our own, with funds we raised privately on our own, nearly all of it from private Christian charitable groups. We are talking about housing, food, medicine, and schools. We have done all of this, and are continuing to do so.

I should say also that we are not just taking care of Christian IDPs. We have taken in many Yazidi families in our programs, and our medical clinics serve large numbers of Muslim IDP patients. As of today, we will run out of money for many of these programs in three months. For medicines, we have only two months’ reserve left, and we are serving many thousands of IDPs – Christians, Muslims and Yazidis. Our small staff is busy night and day working to find these funds, but we have been doing this for almost three years and many of our private donors are reaching their limits.

While the U.S. has donated generously to the overall humanitarian aid effort in Iraq, almost none of this aid reached the Christians. We are told by some that they cannot give us money because we are a Church. I have two things to say about this.

First, we have been advised by members of U.S. Congress that U.S. law does not prohibit Church organizations from receiving humanitarian funds, it only prohibits the use of proselytizing with those funds. As I just stated, we serve Yazidis and Muslims already and treat them with dignity and respect for who they are. And as Catholics, we are always respecting of all faiths.

Second, I think we have also delivered aid to the IDPs in a way that is far more efficient and effective than these other “official” aid organizations. Our staff are members of the Church, missionaries and volunteers, doing this work because we believe we are called to it. But under the previous administration, the Americans, and the UN, were applying a rigid formula that blocked the Church from receiving aid to help take care of our IDPs, while also denying aid to our IDPs directly because, in the view of the UN, we the Church were already taking care of them.

Imagine the frustration we have felt about this! And there was no outrage about this. Iraqi Christians celebrated when Trump won, because they hoped the American government would finally care about them after years of neglect by your government.

Why is it that Americans only use a religious test to prevent minority groups who are genocide survivors from getting aid, or to prevent them from getting any kind of priority assistance based on the needs of their communities? Here, we do not understand this.

Beyond this, because they are still displaced and will be for many more months, perhaps years, our people need aid to survive. Because their homes and villages were often destroyed by ISIS, they desperately need U.S. financial assistance to rebuild. Because the security situation is so complicated, they need meaningful security guarantees. And they need the U.S. government to insist that religious minorities get the same rights as citizens that every other citizen in Iraq gets, because right now, we do not get those same rights.

What is your impression of President Trump so far?

I am not a politician and I do not offer political endorsements, but on the issues that affect my people directly, I can say that I am pleased that an American president is focused on the plight of small religious communities – including the Christians – in Iraq. In many ways, this gives us a renewed hope for the future that we are not alone and abandoned by the West and by the United States, which was the common belief here up until now.

 

POPE FRANCIS AT THE ANGELUS: COURAGE IN MISSION, HEARTBREAK FOR IRAQ

POPE FRANCIS AT THE ANGELUS: COURAGE IN MISSION, HEARTBREAK FOR IRAQ

Sunday the Church marked both World Mission Day and, in the context of the Holy Year of Mercy, the Jubilee of Choirs and Liturgical Animators. At noon Pope Francis appeared at the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace and reflected on the life of St. Paul, his dedication to the mission, his courage in proclaiming the Gospel and the courage needed today by the faithful as they share in the mission.

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Francis reflected on the day’s second reading taken from the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy, and said, “Today is a time of mission and it is time of courage: courage to strengthen hesitant steps, to rediscover the delight of spending ourselves for the Gospel, to regain confidence in the strength that mission brings with itself.”

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“What is required of us today,” said the Holy Father, “is courage to be an alternative in the world, without ever becoming argumentative or aggressive. What is required of us is the courage to be open to all, without ever diminishing the absoluteness and uniqueness of Christ, the one Savior of all. … Courage is required of us to stand up to unbelief, without becoming arrogant.”

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Departing from his prepared text, Francis said, “There is also required of us in this day the courage of the publican in today’s Gospel,”according to St. Luke, with the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector who averts his eyes from heaven and begs the Lord forgiveness – the parable that concludes with the admonition “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. “

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After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis, in a voice marked by sadness, called for prayers for Iraq. “At such a tragic time, we are close to the people of Iraq as a whole, especially to the people of the city of Mosul. Our hearts are shocked by the heinous acts of violence that have been committed for far too long against innocent citizens, be they Muslim, Christian or members of other ethnic groups and religions. I was saddened to hear news of the cold-blooded killing of many people of that beloved land, including many children. Such cruelty makes us weep, leaving us speechless! To these words of solidarity, I add the assurance that I shall remember in prayer so that Iraq, while suffering, may be both strong and firm in the hope of moving towards a future of security, reconciliation and peace.”

The Pope and the pilgrims in the square prayed silently for a moment and then together prayed the Hail Mary.

 

POPE CALLS TERROR ATTACKS “CRUEL ABOMINATIONS,” LEADS PRAYERS FOR VICTIMS – “DO NOT FORGET TRAGEDY OF PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS”

POPE CALLS TERROR ATTACKS “CRUEL ABOMINATIONS,” LEADS PRAYERS FOR VICTIMS

As happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week, the Pope dedicated the general audience to the Paschal Triduum in this Holy Year of Mercy, noting how “we are invited in a special way to contemplate the revelation of God’s infinite mercy in the events of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.”

“Holy Thursday,” said Francis, “Jesus gives himself to us as food and, in the washing of feet, teaches us the need to serve others.  On Good Friday, in the mystery of Christ’s death on the cross, we contemplate that undying divine love which embraces all mankind and summons us in turn to love one another in the power of the Spirit.  Holy Saturday, the day of God’s silence, invites us not only to solidarity with all who are abandoned and alone, but also to trust in that faithful love which turns death into life.”

During the weekly audience, Pope Francis spoke of the Brussels terrorist attacks and appealed “to all people of good will to unite in unanimous condemnation of these cruel abominations that are causing only death, terror and horror. I ask everyone to persevere in prayer and in asking the Lord in this Holy Week to comfort the afflicted hearts and convert the hearts of these people who are blinded by cruel fundamentalism.”

The Holy Father said he followed “with an aching heart the sad news of yesterday’s attacks in Brussels, which caused many victims and injured.” The toll stands at 31 dead and 270 injured and may rise.

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis led thousands of people in silent prayer for the victims of the attacks at Brussels’ airport and in its metro.

“DO NOT FORGET TRAGEDY OF PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS”

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called on people to “not forget the tragedy of persecution” in a letter sent Iraq Christians in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Erbil has been hosting thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, which was overrun by the so-called Islamic State in 2014.

The letter – along with a gift of liturgical vestments and monetary support – was brought to the city by a delegation of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, led by the Bishop of Carpi, Francesco Cavina. “As soon as the Holy Father learned about  my journey with Aid to the Church in Need,  he called me and expressed a desire to send a gift to our Iraqi brothers in faith,” Bishop Cavina said.

The letter sent by the Holy Father expressed his “friendship, Ecclesial communion, and spiritual closeness” to Iraqi Christians, adding their suffering “grieves me deeply, and invites us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess their faith.”

Pope Francis also asked people “not to forget the tragedy of persecution,” and noted “the witness of courageous faith and patience of so many disciples of Christ represents for the entire Church a call to rediscover the fertile source of the Pascal Mystery from which we draw energy, strength, and light for a new humanism.”

“Mercy calls us to bend down to our brothers and sisters so we may dry their tears; cure their wounds, physical and moral; and console their hearts, which have been broken, and perhaps lost” – Pope Francis writes  – “This is not only an appropriate act of charity, but a succour to your own body, because all Christians, by virtue of their  common baptism, are ‘one’ in Christ. ”

The delegation from Aid to the Church in Need was scheduled to visit refugee centres in Kurdistan, as well as a school donated by the organization which is allowing seven-thousand Iraqi children to continue their studies.

 

“VATICAN INSIDER” FEATURES CHANTAL GOETZ, VOICES OF FAITH – POPE FRANCIS ATTENDS FOURTH LENTEN SERMON – POPE SENDS CURIAL CARDINAL TO IRAQ IN HOLY WEEK – VATICAN CONFIRMS TWO PAPAL EVENTS

“VATICAN INSIDER” FEATURES CHANTAL GOETZ, VOICES OF FAITH

Join me on “Vatican Insider” this weekend for my conversation with Chantal Goetz, executive director of the Fidel Goetz Foundation and founder of the Voices of Faith, an event that took place in the Vatican on March 8, International Women’s Day. Voices of Faith brought together talented, inspiring Catholic women of faith – lay and religious –from around the world – as well as a Jesuit priest from Nigeria – to talk about their experiences in reaching out to the world’s poor and marginalized, to the un-schooled, to those living in countries where they are threatened by terror groups, to women especially who are victims of human trafficking in so many places in the world. (JFL photos)

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The Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

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POPE FRANCIS ATTENDS FOURTH LENTEN SERMON

This morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican, Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, delivered his fourth Lenten sermon, continuing his reflections entitled ‘East and West Before the Mystery of Salvation’. Sermons are held in this chapel on Fridays during Lent and Advent for the Holy Father and senior members of the Roman Curia. (news.va photo)

FR. CANTALAMESSA

Click here for full text of Fr. Cantalamessa’s talk: http://www.news.va/en/news/fr-cantalamessa-gives-his-fourth-lenten-sermon-in

POPE SENDS CURIAL CARDINAL TO IRAQ IN HOLY WEEK

A statement released today by the Holy See Press Office, speaking of the Pope’s concern for the plight of Christian families in Iraq, notes that Francis is sending a curial cardinal to Iraq to express the Pope’s solidarity with these people. Cardinal Filoni, before becoming prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had been named apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan by Pope John Paul in 2001. He received episcopal ordination from John Paul shortly afterwards. He served in Iraq and Jordan until February 25, 2006.

The communique says, “Pope Francis has a constant concern for the situation of Christian families and other groups of victims who have been expelled from their homes and villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plains, many of whom have taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Pope prays for them and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where they have lived and built good relationships for hundreds of years.

“In this coming Holy Week, these families are sharing together with Christ the unjust violence of which they have been made victims, participating in the suffering of Christ himself. In a desire to be close to these families, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is returning to Iraq as a sign of nearness, affection, and unity in prayer with them.

“The families of the Diocese of Rome, united with their bishop in the feeling of nearness and solidarity with these families, through a special collection in the parishes, are sending the traditional Easter cakes in the shape of a dove (the celebrated “colomba”) to share the joy of Easter and as a herald of good based on the faith in the Resurrection of Christ.

“The Holy Father, moreover, makes himself present in a concrete way with a tangible sign of solidarity. Not wanting to forget the suffering of the families in northern Nigeria either, he has also sent a similar sign of solidarity through the local Bishops’ Conference.”

VATICAN CONFIRMS TWO PAPAL EVENTS

The Vatican Friday confirmed two events on Pope Francis’ agenda in coming months. On April 18, he will receive Italian President Sergio Mattarella for the first time in an official visit to the Vatican. President Mattarella was elected on February 3.

The Holy See Press Office also confirmed the pastoral visits that the Holy Father will make to the Italian cities of Prato and Florence on November 10 on the occasion of the 5th National Ecclesial Congress of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) that will be held from November 9 to 13 on the theme, “A New Humanism through Jesus Christ.

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP FROM MOSUL, IRAQ APPOINTED TO AUSTRALIA

CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP FROM MOSUL, IRAQ APPOINTED TO AUSTRALIA

Pope Francis today appointed Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona as bishop of the Chaldean eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Sydney, Australia. Formerly Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, he retains the dignity of archbishop and succeeds Msgr. Djibrail Kassab, whose resignation was accepted. (VIS).

More to come on the story of Abp. Nona, a friend since my first trip to Iraq in February 2010. Since ISIS overran Mosul and forced Catholics and other Christians to flee, including this intrepid shepherd, Abp. Nona has been living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan at the Chaldean seminary, which is where I stayed the two times I visited Iraq. Abp. Nona and I met a number of times in February 2010, visiting a shrine, several churches and religious institutes and some schoos in the diocese of Mosul.

His best friend, Abp. Bashar Warda of Erbil, was at one time the rector of this Chaldean seminary but was named archbishop in July 2010 and consecrated on July 3, 2010 He then moved into the building that houses the bishop’s residence and diocesan offices.

In the first photo, Abp. Nona is seen with children, both Muslim and Christian, at a Catholic kindergarten in the diocese of Mosul. The second shows the archbishop as he cuts the cake at a reception for four sisters who had just taken their vows, and the entire community was celebrating. In the final photo, Abp.Nona is behind Fr. Bashar Warda who is walking to the altar, set up outside at the seminary, for his consecration as archbishop.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

Together with Pope Francis I am, in my prayers, thoughts and heart, with my brothers and sisters in Kurdistan, so many of whom I met and got to know on my two visits. We prayed together, shared meals, and had long conversations. I visited churches, convents, schools, kindergartens and homes – many memories, many friends, all of whom have been in my heart since the day I first set foot on Iraqi soil. Archbishops Bashar Warda of Erbil and Amel Nona of Mosul, two very good friends, are especially in my prayers tonight, the birth of Our Lord and Savior. God sit on your shoulders, my dear friends! May He bless you abundantly and preserve you in faith and hope! Merry Christmas!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis this evening telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.

Christmas - IRAQ

The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.

Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul.

Over the telephone line, the Pope told refugees that he is “close to them with all of his heart” and assured him he praying for them.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you”.

“Dear brothers – Pope Francis said – I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness”

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-refugees-in-kurdistan-you-are-like-jesus-t

Bishops, patriarchs, teachers, seminarians, nuns taking their final vows, kindergarten classes, Masses in churches throughout Kurdistan – today, now, where are these many friends with whom I shared so much?!

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And these friends – the nuns, but especially the little children – where are they? How are they? So many were from Mosul!