GROWING IN LOVE THROUGH PRAYER, FASTING AND ALMSGIVING – FAITHFUL OF OTHER RELIGIONS INVITED TO JOIN DAY OF FAST AND PRAYER FOR PEACE

Just got back from a brief but wonderful visit and interview for Vatican Insider with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. He and the other Chaldean bishops are in Rome for their ad limina visit. We first met in 2010 on a visit I paid to Kurdistan for 8 days, met again in July of that year when he was consecrated archbishop of Erbil, We’ve met many other times in Rome, and have shared a meal at my home with Abp. Amel Nona, formerly of Mosul and now in Australia, and the late Cardinal Francis George.

Abp. Warda came to the EWTN offices to do a segment for News Nightly and we then taped an interview for my weekend radio program. More about that later.

I met another prelate last night, Archbishop Gintaras Gausas of Vilnius, Lithuania. He was dining with a mutual friend of ours at a restaurant we frequent. We spoke ever so briefly – his English is wonderful because he was born in Washington D.C.!  I went online to make sure how to spell his name and read this amazing fact about his family: His parents were separated by World War II and, after 16 years of being caught behind the Iron Curtain, his mother and 17-year-old sister were among just 200 families allowed to leave the Soviet Union to be reunited with family in the United States.

GROWING IN LOVE THROUGH PRAYER, FASTING AND ALMSGIVING

The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2018 whose title, as the Pope explains, comes from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12).
Francis starts the message by explaining that, “These words appear in Christ’s preaching about the end of time. They were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.”

In the section titled “False prophets,” Pope Francis says “let us try to understand the guise such false prophets can assume.”

He then explains how to discover false prophets:

“They can appear as ‘snake charmers’, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!

“False prophets can also be ‘charlatans’, who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.”

“What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?” asks the Pope.

He answers: “More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; …. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.”
The Pope points out that, “creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. … The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing His praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.”

Lastly, notes the Holy Father, “Love can also grow cold in our own communities.”

So, asks the Pope, “What are we to do?”

“The Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.

“Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”

“Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
Pope Francis extended his invitation to “all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!”

The Holy Father urged “the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.

“One such moment of grace will be, again this year, the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness”, this will take place from Friday, 9 March to Saturday, 10 March. In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, offering an opportunity for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession.

Francis ends his Lenten 2018 Message; “With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send you my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.”

FAITHFUL OF OTHER RELIGIONS INVITED TO JOIN DAY OF FAST AND PRAYER FOR PEACE

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a communiqué today, underscoring Pope Francis’ invitation, made Sunday at the Angelus, to the faithful to join him on February 23 in a Special Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace, in particular for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

The communiqué noted that the Pope, in his Sunday announcement at the Angelus, also invited members of other religions to join in this initiative in whatever form they consider to be opportune. The Council for Interreligious Dialogue therefore stated today that, “aware that religions con contribute in a great way to obtaining and consolidating peace, we will be grateful to our brothers and sisters of other religions who wish to welcome this appeal and live moments of prayer, fasting and reflection according to their own tradition and in their places of worship.”

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PENCE MEETS WITH IRAQI BISHOP AHEAD OF MIDEAST TRIP

I knew this meeting was taking place yesterday and emailed my friend Archbishop Warda to assure him of prayers! When we first met in 2010, he was then Fr. Bashar Warda, rector of the new Chaldean seminary that, because of the violence in Baghdad, had to move from that city to Erbil in Kurdistan, northern Iraq. Fr. Warda followed – and probably oversaw – every stage of the construction of the new seminary and it was just about two years old when I first visited for a week in February 2010.

My second visit was in July 2010 when Fr.Warda was ordained to the episcopacy – an incredible moment in his life (I met his entire family and travelled around Kurdistan with one brother), the life of the Chaldean Church and the diocese of Erbil as it had been without a bishop for five years. Another Iraqi Chaldean bishop visited occasionally to take care of business matters, preside at confirmations, etc. but the faith community here really needed their own head of family, their own bishop.

I am delighted at the news of the meeting with Vice President Pence and even more so, what Bashar Warda has accomplished as archbishop. The very day of his ordination he said his two priorities would be to build a university and to build a hospital – employing Christians and Muslims to build both, and then staffing them with Christians and Muslims – what a great way to work towards peace!

His hardest challenge was to find homes and jobs for the huge numbers of mainly Christians who were forced out of their homes and towns – IDP, Internally Displaced Peoples – by terrorists and constrained to move to Kurdistan.

How many wonderful stories I have about my visits to Iraq!

Lots of people are praying for you, my friend, and for the day that all of Iraq can live in peace.

PENCE MEETS WITH IRAQI BISHOP AHEAD OF MIDEAST TRIP

(CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil on Monday for a “substantial discussion” on the needs of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

“I updated him on the situation facing our people and expressed our hope that peace would soon come to Nineveh,” Warda said in a statement about the Dec. 4 meeting.

Since 2014, the Islamic State has forced thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes after telling them they must convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant tax, or be killed. Many of these Christians have resettled in or around Erbil.

Warda has often spoken out on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and was in the United States for “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians, an event that began on Nov. 26 and was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a tweet, Pence said his meeting with Warda was an “(i)mportant dialogue…about (President Trump’s) commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq. I’m heading to the Middle East this month to discuss U.S. plans to accelerate funding those impacted in the region.”

Warda said that “On behalf of our people, I expressed our gratitude for his promise of swift assistance to our communities who suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS.”

“I also mentioned to the Vice President the importance of the aid and support we have received from the Knights of Columbus in the United States, and Aid to the Church in Need in Europe,” he added.

Pence’s coming trip to the Middle East is part of a series of conferences he has attended regarding the plight of Christians in the region. In October, Pence addressed In Defense of Christians’ annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East. The vice president said groups such as the Islamic State have singled out Christians for persecution and noted that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East.

“Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are – vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ,” Pence said at the time.

Warda said that during their meeting, he gave Pence a crucifix from Karemlesh, a town near Mosul which was “targeted and badly damaged when ISIS invaded.”

“I also assured him of our prayers and told him that if he ever visits Iraq, he is most welcome in Erbil.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pence-meets-with-iraqi-archbishop-ahead-of-middle-east-trip-99245

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.

john-schlageter

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

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.

abp-wara

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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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 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)

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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.