(FIDES: Aden, Yemen) Four Missionary Sisters of Charity, the community founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were shot dead by gunmen in a raid on their convent early this morning in the Yemenite city of Aden. The news was confirmed to Fides by sources at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia. Besides the Sisters, the driver and at least two other Ethiopian community helpers were killed.

The Convent Superior and old people or disabled persons living at the community were unharmed. However so far there is no news of Indian Salesian priest Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, who has been staying at the sisters house since the Holy Family church in a Aden was sacked and torched by unidentified gunmen last September.

Two of the sisters killed were Rwandan, one was Indian and the fourth was from Kenya. At the moment the convent Superior is giving information to the local police who are keeping the bodies of the poor sisters and the other victims in custody. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, but it is known that in this Yemenite port-city, retaken some months ago by troops faithful to president Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in conflict with Houthi rebels, there are deeply rooted bands in connection with the network of al Qaida. .





As I write, it is Ash Wednesday and Pope Francis is presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica during which there will be a penitential act and the imposition of ashes. This is a rite that normally takes place every year on Rome’s Aventine Hill, following a procession by the Holy Father, cardinals and bishops, priests and lay faithful from Saint Anselm to the basilica of Saint Sabina.

This Ash Wednesday, however, is a bit different as takes place in the Year of Mercy, and tonight the Pope will give the mandate to 1,000 Missionaries of Mercy who will be asked, when they return to their home countries, to be holy confessors, having received the special faculty, the authority, today to pardon sins normally reserved to the Holy See. Bishops around the world may give this faculty to priests in their dioceses, and have done so in many cases. Today is significant in that Pope Francis has singled out these 1000 missionaries – chosen by their bishops – to receive this special faculty during the Jubilee of Mercy.


The Pope received the Missionaries in a special audience last night and reminded them that, “in this ministry you are called to express the maternal nature of the Church. The Church is a Mother because she always creates new children in faith; the Church is a Mother because she nourishes this faith; and the Church is a Mother because she offers the forgiveness of God, regenerating to a new life, the fruit of conversion,” he continued.

“You must know,” he said, “how to look into the desire of the heart of the penitent,” as this, through grace, is the beginning of conversion. “The heart turns to God acknowledging the evil which has been done, but with the hope of obtaining pardon. This desire is reinforced when the person decides in his heart to change his life and does not want to sin again. It is the moment when we trust the mercy of God, and you have complete confidence you will be understood, forgiven and supported by Him.”

The Holy Father closed his remarks by commenting on an aspect “not often spoken about, that is, shame. It is not easy to accuse yourself before another man, knowing that he represents God, and to confess your sin. A person feels shame both for what he has done, and for having to confess it to another person.”

Francis asked confessors to have “an attitude of respect and encouragement. … Do not forget: in front of us there is no sin, just the repentant sinner, a person who feels the desire to be accepted and forgiven… Therefore, we are not called to judge, with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin; on the contrary, we are called to act as Shem and Japheth, the sons of Noah, who took a blanket and put it over their father and hid his shame.”

The Pope emphasized that “it is, therefore, not with the club of judgment that we will bring back the lost sheep to the fold, but with the holiness of life which is the principle of renewal and reform in the Church.”


At this week’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis focused his catechesis on the significance of a Jubilee Year, an ancient institution that calls on us to practice pardon, combat poverty and inequality, promote an equitable distribution of the earth’s goods for all.

He began by saying, “It is fitting and meaningful to hold this Audience on Ash Wednesday. We begin the Lenten journey, and today we stop to consider the ancient institution of the ‘jubilee’, an ancient custom attested to in Sacred Scripture. We find it in particular in the Book of Leviticus, who presents it as a culminating moment in the religious and social life of the people of Israel.

Recalling that according to the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee Year is a heightened moment of religious and social life, a time of “general pardon” for all people to return to their original state – the freedom proper to the holy people of God – the Pope pointed out that the earth belongs to God and has been entrusted to us.

He said that as stewards of the Lord we are called to render the world we have received human and habitable, and that “no one should claim exclusive possession creating situations of inequality.

“May each of us look into our hearts and ask himself whether he has too many things. Why not give some to those who have none? Ten percent, fifty percent… may the Holy Spirit inspire each of you” he said, in off the cuff remarks.

He added that he recently heard that some eighty percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of only twenty percent of the world’s population, and said, “if the Jubilee does not come out of your pockets it’s not a true Jubilee.”

“This in the Bible. It’s not this Pope inventing it. In the Bible the scope of a Jubilee was to create a society based on equality and solidarity, where freedom, land and money would benefit all and not just a few” he said. We can say – he continued – that the Biblical Jubilee was a ‘Jubilee of Mercy’ because it was to be lived for the good of our needy brothers and sisters.

In this context, Pope Francis mentioned the phenomenon of loansharking and of how so many desperate people have ended up taking their own lives because they don’t find a helping hand, but only the hand that demands the payment of interests.

“The Lord blesses he who opens his hand with generosity. He will give you twice as much back, perhaps not in money, but in other things”.

And telling those present that if they want to receive mercy from God, they must start by being merciful to those close to them, thus contributing to building a society based on solidarity, fraternity and justice.

Before the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haydar al-Abadi. The meeting took place in the studio of the Paul VI Audience Hall. Afterwards, the Prime Minister met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. A statement from the Holy See Press Office called the talks “cordial,” adding that reference was made to the good state of bilateral relations between Iraq and the Holy See, the life of the Church in the country, as well as the situation of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities living in Iraq, with particular reference to the importance of their presence and the need to protect their rights. (Vatican Radio)

After the audience, Pope Francis asked for prayers for his meeting with his “dear brother,” the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church. They will meet Friday, February 12 at Cuba’s international airport as the Pope travels to Mexico for an apostolic journey.

Francis also asked for prayers for the sick before tomorrow’s celebration of the World Day of the Sick. He recalled that this Day takes place annually on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and this year will be celebrated in Nazareth. Francis mentioned his Message for this World Day where he reflected on the irreplaceable role of Mary at the wedding in Cana and said that Mary’s concern and attention reflects the tenderness of God and the immense mercy of Jesus. “May that same tenderness be present in the life of so many people who are close to the sick and help them to be attentive to all of their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look at them with eyes full of love.”   (Press office, Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano)


As you will read below, Pope Francis celebrated Mass early this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Altar of the Chair for the world’s Capuchin community. Later this afternoon – as I write – the Holy Father will receive in audience the priests whom he has named Missionaries of Mercy. I’m thrilled to know a number of these missionaries, including EWTN’s own Fr. John Paul! A profile of these missionaries is on the offical Vatican Jubilee site, and I present that as well today (see second story).

I was delighted this morning to read that a longtime friend of mine in the Roman Curia, Msgr. Peter Wells, was named today by Pope Francis as the Holy See’s new Apostolic Nuncio, or ambassador, in South Africa and Botswana.  Peter is currently Assessor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, The Holy Father elevated Msgr. Wells to the titular see of Marcianopolis, with the dignity of archbishop (an apostolic nuncio is always an archbishop). The Tulsa, Oklahoma native and archbishop-designate entered the Holy See diplomatic service in July 1999 and was named Assessor at the Secretariat of State in 2009.

May the Lord bless you abundantly in your new ministry, Peter!

May God sit on your shoulder!


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis was the principal celebrant at a Mass offered for the worldwide Capuchin community on Tuesday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass was offered in connection with the presence in Rome and at St. Peter’s of the relics of two great Capuchin saints, who were renowned in their earthly lives as priest-confessors: St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold of Mandic. (photo Reuters /


“I speak to you as a brother,” said Francis, “and through you I would like to speak to all confessors, especially in the Year of Mercy: The confessional is for pardon – and [even] if you cannot give absolution – let me say hypothetically – please, do not beat up on the penitent; one who comes [to the confessional], comes seeking comfort, pardon, peace in his soul; let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does.”

The Holy Father went on to express a desire to see confessors everywhere with broad minds and open hearts, who never tire of being vehicles of divine pardon, and who understand the suffering of penitents because they know themselves to be sinners and the first to be in need of God’s saving mercy.

“Either you perform the office of Jesus, who forgives, giving His [whole] life in prayer – so many hours there [in the confessional], seated as were those two, “ said the Pope, pointing to the remains of Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic, “or, you perform the office of the devil who condemns, who accuses – I do not know – I can tell you nothing else.”

(JFL – A NOTE ON THE CAPUCHINS, one of three branches of the Franciscan order:

The Order of Friars Minor, the parent stem, if you will, was founded by St. Francis in 1209. They generally wear a chestnut brown habit.

The Friars Minor Conventuals: Since 1517 Conventuals has been used to designate that branch of the Franciscans that has accepted certain dispensations from the substantial observance of the rule in regard to poverty.  The name “Conventual” was first given to the religious residing in convents. Conventuals have worn black but are returning to gray

Friars Minor Capuchins are also from the 16th century reform of the Franciscan Order founded by Saint Francis. The Capuchin reform started when a group of friars wanted to live a more radical life of prayer and contemplation. Capuchins are missionaries and hard workers in the Lord’s vineyard, but Capuchins are also a contemplative Order and it is a Capuchin’s duty and identity to spend significant time alone in silence with God. The word “Capuchin” apparently came from the Italian word for “hood.” The first Capuchins were mocked for their long pointed hoods, being called “Scappuccini”; eventually, it became “Cappuccini,” which was “Capucin” in French and came into English as “Capuchin.” They are called Grayfriars in Britain. They wear brown or gray.)


On Ash Wednesday, the Missionaries of Mercy will be sent forth by Pope Francis during a celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. The figure of the Missionary is described in the (Holy Year’s) Bull of Indication Misericordiae Vultus, number 18. The Jubilee website notes the following:



The Missionaries are to be:

  1. a living sign of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness;
  2. facilitators for all, with no one excluded, of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again;
  3. guided by the words, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all;
  4. inspiring preachers of Mercy;
  5. heralds of the joy of forgiveness;
  6. welcoming, loving, and compassionate Confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person.


The Missionaries will be invited by individual Diocesan Bishops within their particular country to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Holy Father will grant these Missionaries the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.

Letter from the Bishop

Every Missionary must have a letter of recommendation from his local Ordinary or Religious Superior which testifies to the suitability of the priest for this particular mission.

Candidacy for the Missionaries of Mercy closed November 2015.

Since the number of Missionaries of Mercy who have been accepted – who will come to Rome next Ash Wednesday to receive the special mandate from the Holy Father for their mission of preaching and confessions – has already greatly surpassed the hoped-for number, on November 25, 2015 the application process was closed.

The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization extends heartfelt thanks to all the priests who offered themselves for this service, including all those whose desire must desire remain only in their hearts.  To these latter in particular comes the encouragement to work as witnesses of Mercy in their own daily missions, in the parishes, institutes, and other communities where they offer their service with love.