“BEFORE SHARING HOPE WITH THOSE WHO MOURN, SHARE THEIR TEARS”

Today was a typically busy work day, including researching and writing some scripts for “At Home with Jim and Joy” and working on my weekend Vatican Radio show, “Joan Knows” which I’ll tape tomorrow at the radio instead of Friday as I usually do because that day, January 6, is the feast of the Epiphany and a big holiday, both solemn and yet festive, in Italy and the Vatican. Many VR employees will have the day off.

There was one unexpected addition to my agenda – time spent in attempts (so far fruitless) to contact the Vatican (which owns the building in which I live and to whom I pay my rent)) and its technical services offices to see about the damage done to my bathroom ceiling when the bathroom of the couple living above me flooded due to a broken pipe. This happened while I was away and I noticed it yesterday morning when I looked up at the water heater to see if the water had heated (I always turn it off when I am away) properly.

Our doorman gave me some numbers yesterday but there was no answer when I called. I tried again today to call these offices, but again, no answer. I even called the Vatican switchboard to ask the nuns to put me through to the person whose name had been given to me.

As the Italians say at such moments, “pazienza!” I’ll try again tomorrow, of course.

I am also fighting a cold that struck me like lightning in the middle of the afternoon yesterday. Have been at home all day, trying to improve for tomorrow’s radio and TV segments. Working at home has definite advantages!

Pazienza!

“BEFORE SHARING HOPE WITH THOSE WHO MOURN, SHARE THEIR TEARS”

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday continued his series of reflections on Christian hope, speaking of the inconsolable pain of a parent losing a child. He focused his words on the Old Testament figure of Rachel, wife of Jacob, who is described by the prophet Jeremiah as weeping bitter tears for her children in exile.

In the book of Genesis, we learn that Rachel died in childbirth, giving life to her second son, Benjamin. But the prophet Jeremiah talks about her inconsolable grief at the loss of her children who’ve been sent into exile.

There are no words or gestures, the Pope said, that can console a mother faced with the tragedy of losing a child.  (photo news.va)

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There are many mothers today, he went on, who are crying and inconsolable, unable to accept the senseless death of a child. Rachel’s pain, he said, encapsulates the suffering of all mothers and the tears of all people who weep for an irreparable loss.

This story, the Pope said, teaches us how delicate and difficult it is to console another person’s grief. Before speaking of hope, he said, we must share in their tears and if we can’t find words to do that, then it’s better to keep silent, offering only a gesture or a caress instead.

And yet God responds to Rachel’s tears, the Pope said, promising that her children will return to their homeland. The bitter tears of the woman who dies in childbirth become the seeds of new life and generate new hope.

In a similar way, he said, the death of Christ on the Cross offers life and hope to the innocent children of Bethlehem who are murdered by King Herod in the days following Jesus’ birth.

Pope Francis spoke of his own reaction to people who ask difficult questions about why children suffer. “I don’t know what to reply”, he said, “I simply say, ‘Look at the Cross: God gave us his Son, he suffered and perhaps you will find a reply there”.

The Son of God entered into our human suffering, the Pope concluded, sharing our pain and welcoming death. From the Cross, he gave new life to Mary, making her the mother of all believers. Through Mary’s and Rachel’s tears, he fulfills the words of the prophet and generates new hope.

At the end of the audience, Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his “sorrow and concern” upon hearing news of the prison riots that took place Monday in Brazil. More than 50 people were killed, making the riots the deadliest to hit Brazil in two decades.

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During his General Audience on Wednesday, the Holy Father called for prayer “for those who have died, for their families, for all the inmates of that prison, and for those who work there.” The Pope also renewed his appeal “that prisons might be places of re-education and re-integration into society; and that the conditions of life of prisoners might be worthy of human persons.”

In improvised remarks following the appeal, Pope Francis led the crowd in a prayer for the prisoners involved in the riots, both living and dead, and for all prisoners throughout the world. He prayed to Mary, the Mother of prisoners, that prisons might not be overcrowded, but might be places of rehabilitation.

Brazil’s justice minister on Tuesday proposed an overhaul of the penal system to tackle chronic prison overcrowding  The minister, Alexandre de Moraes, said his country needed to improve conditions in jails, which are home to an estimated 600,000 inmates, after visiting the prison in the jungle city of Manaus.

 

POPE WRITES LETTER TO ITALIAN PRISONERS – HONG KONG, CHRISTIANS PROTEST AGAINST DEMOLITION OF CROSSES

POPE FRANCIS TWEETED TODAY: All are called to love and cherish family life, for families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.

Today, April 25, is Toot Your Own Horn Day! (If it isn’t, it should be!) – so that’s what I’ll do!

I leave Thursday for the U.S. for what promises to be an amazing two weeks! I’ll be very briefly in Fox Point, Wisconsin for the First Communion of my great-nephew Emory, after which I fly to New York on May 2 where I will spend a week doing book promotions and signings, a bit of television and some radio (for starters). I’ll fly to Washington, D.C. on May 9, doing pretty much of the same, but including some very special events!

I have a feeling this is not the first time you’ve heard of my book – but just in case…!  Here are some reviews of my book, “A Holy Year in Rome, The Complete Pilgrim’s Guide to the Jubilee of Mercy” (I may have posted the Vatican Radio story previously). The second review was written by Monica Knudsen, one of my former French students with whom I had a reunion in Rome (and about which I wrote in early March)!

As I travel, I’ll keep you posted daily on events, offer some photos, etc – will do what I can to keep you informed about any breaking news in Rome. In particular, for those of you who live in or near NCY and DC, I’ll let you know where we can meet – and I’ll sign your book!

http://catholicnewslive.com/story/573760

http://www.archokc.org/news/6602-review-a-holy-year-in-rome

https://www.catholiccompany.com/a-holy-year-in-rome-and-the-holy-year-of-mercy-a-faith-sharing-guide-2-book-set-i119501/

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/03/21/joan%E2%80%99s_vatican_and_rome_for_jubilee_year_of_mercy/1216928

And now some news from Pope Francis in Rome and from the Church in China.

POPE WRITES LETTER TO ITALIAN PRISONERS

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to prisoners detained in a prison in the Italian city of Velletri, a short distance from Rome.

Prisoners at the facility had written to the Holy Father earlier this year, entrusting their letter to Bishop Marcello Semeraro, the Bishop of Albano, during a pastoral visit to the facility. In his response, Pope Francis thanked the detainees for thinking of him, and assured them that they, and others in similar situations, were often in his thoughts as well. He noted that during his Apostolic Voyages, he always tries to make a visit to local prisons. (photo from a previous prison visit)

POPE FRANCIS PRISONERS

The Pope noted that during the Holy Year of Mercy, there will also be a jubilee for prisoners, and he assured them that on that day he would be “in communion” with all prisoners “spiritually and in reciprocal prayer.”

Pope Francis also expressed his sympathy, noting that prisoners “are living an experience in which time seems both to be stopped, and to never end.” But, he said, “the true measure of time is not that of the clock”; rather, “the true measure of time is called hope.” He expressed his desire that all those incarcerated might “always keep lit the light of the hope of faith to illuminate” their lives.

“Always be certain that God loves you personally,” the Pope wrote to the prisoners. He encouraged them to never allow themselves to be closed in by their past, but rather to transform the past “into a journey of growth, of faith and charity.” He called on them to “give God the possibility” of making them “to shine” through their experience, recalling that many saints throughout history “have achieved sanctity” in harsh and difficult situations. “With Christ,” he said, “all this is possible.”

HONG KONG, CHRISTIANS PROTEST AGAINST DEMOLITION OF CROSSES

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – A group of dozens of Christians led by Cardinal Joseph Zen has asked the Chinese government to stop demolishing crosses on mainland China and to release religious leaders from jail. The retired bishop of Hong Kong pointed out that freedom is declining even in the former British colony: “We need to speak out, to take action to prevent this from spreading”.

CARDINAL ZEN

The protests were held yesterday in front of the Hong Kong Liaison Office with China. The Hong Kong Christian Institute, Christians for Hong Kong Society, Christian Social Concern Fellowship and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Hong Kong were the four groups that protested yesterday. Participants chanted, “respect for religious freedom” as they left flowers in memory of those who have died to affirm this right in China.

The group reminded those gathered that more than 2,000 crosses were removed or demolished in the province of Zhejiang alone since the end of 2013, when the campaign against Christian religious symbols was started by the local Party. In addition, the protesters asked the central government in Beijing to release pastors and priests imprisoned for opposing these demolitions.

Cardinal Zen he was worried the anti- Christian campaign could spread to Hong Kong. “The freedom is less and less. So we have to speak out because we, in Hong Kong, can see the possibility of the anti- Christian campaign spreading from the mainland,” he said.

CARDINAL ZEN  2

The Hong Kong protests come one day after the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and representatives of the United Front (which gathers together all “non-communist” social groups in modern-day China).

During his address, Xi stressed that religious groups must obey the Party: ” Religious groups must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China”. But party members must be “unyielding Marxist atheists,” Xi said, calling on them to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means.”

POPE FRANCIS ASKS FOR END TO DEATH PENALTY, LIFE SENTENCES AND INHUMAN TREATMENT IN PRISONS

What a day this has been! To say I am floored and delighted about what has happened since mid-morning is an understatement! I received an email, a news alert, with the article that AP did last week after interviewing me about the video I took last April at the Rector’s Dinner at the North American College of the dancing seminarians. I had posted that video on youtube.com/joansrome and the response has been exceptional. As the article said, “Video of the dancing seminarians has gone viral!”

I posted a link to the story by AP on Facebook (they naturally also interviewed Fathers David and John) and life has not been the same since. The AP story has travelled far and wide and requests from media organizations wanting to feature the video have come in to me nonstop. It has been gratifying to know that two wonderful young men – David Rider, now an ordained priest for the archdiocese of New York, and John Gibson, ordained a priest for the diocese of Milwaukee – have brought and will bring so much joy into the lives of so many!

Here is another of the many links:

http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/dancing-priests-steal-the-show-with-tap-duel-near-vatican/story-fnh81p7g-1227100424063

Among those who asked for permission to feature the video online and/or in their TV news are ABC (as well as an ABC15 News affiliate in Phoenix where I have friends and family), SKY news in the UK, Telemundo, TIME online, TheMail online, CBS, the Press Association (UK’s biggest newswire) – and the beat goes on.

And now, a truly serious issue and strong papal speech – it is a long report by Vatican Radio on Pope Francis’ talk this morning to jurists because it includes his many off-the-cuff remarks.

POPE FRANCIS ASKS FOR END TO DEATH PENALTY, LIFE SENTENCES AND INHUMAN TREATMENT IN PRISONS

(Vatican Radio) – In an address to members of the International Association of Criminal Law, Pope Francis on Thursday called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.

He also addressed the need to combat the phenomena of human trafficking and corruption, and stressed that the fact that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.

In a dense and impassioned discourse to the jurists assembled in the Vatican for a private audience, Pope Francis said that the “life sentence” is really a “concealed death sentence,” and that is why – he explained – he had it annulled in the Vatican Penal Code.

Many of the off-the-cuff comments during the Pope’s speech shone the light on how politics and media all too often act as triggers enflaming “violence and private and public acts of vengeance” that are always in search of a scape-goat.

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II who condemned the death penalty, as does the Catechism of the Cathoic Church, Francis decried the practice and denounced  “so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions,” calling them “deliberate homicides” committed by public officials behind the screen of the Law:

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom. I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed..

And Pope Francis had words of harsh criticism for all forms of criminality that undermine human dignity, saying there are forms of this even within the criminal law system which too often does not respect that dignity when criminal law is applied.

“In the last decades,” the Pope said, “there has been a growing conviction that through public punishment it is possible to solve different and disparate social problems, as if for different diseases one could prescribe the same medicine.”

He said this conviction has pushed the criminal law system beyond its sanctioning boundaries, and into the “realm of freedom and the rights of persons” without real effectiveness.

“There is the risk of losing sight of the proportionality of penalties that historically reflect the scale of values upheld by the State. The very conception of criminal law and the enforcement of sanctions as an ‘ultima ratio’ in the cases of serious offenses against individual and collective interests have weakened. As has the debate regarding the use of alternative penal sanctions to be used instead of imprisonment.”

Pope Francis spoke of remand or detention of a suspect as a “contemporary form of illicit hidden punishment” concealed by a “patina of legality” as it enforces “an anticipation of punishment” upon a suspect who has not been convicted. From this – the Pope points out – derives the risk of multiplying the number of detainees still awaiting trial, who are thus convicted without benefiting from the protective rules of a trial. In some countries – he says – this happens in some 50% of all cases with the trickledown effect of terribly overcrowded detention centers:

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning. In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.”

Pope Francis also spoke of what he called “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and sanctions,” and compared detention in maximum-security prisons to a “form of torture.” The isolation imposed in these places – he says – causes “mental and physical” suffering that result in an “increased tendency towards suicide.” Torture – the Pope pointed out – is used not only as a means to obtain “confession or information”:

“It is an authentic ‘surplus’ of pain that is added to the woes of detention. In this way torture is used not only in illegal centers of detention or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, in rehabilitation centers for minors, in psychiatric hospitals, in police stations and in other institutions for detention or punishment.”

The Pope said children must be spared the harshness of imprisonment – as must, at least in a limited way – older people, sick people, pregnant women, disabled people as well as parents if they are the sole guardians of minors or persons with disabilities.

He also highlighted one of the criminal phenomena he has always spoken out against vehemently: human trafficking which – he says – is the result of that “cycle of dire poverty” that traps “a billion people” and forces at least 45 million to flee from conflict:

“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit such a complex crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or of omission of action of the State, it is evident that, when the efforts to prevent and combat this phenomenon are not sufficient, we find ourselves before a crime against humanity. This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and the safeguard of their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in human beings; in those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community.”

Pope Francis dedicated an ample part of his discourse to corruption. The corrupt person – according to the Pope – is a person who takes the “short-cuts of opportunism” that lead him to think of himself as a “winner” who insults and persecutes whoever contradicts him. “Corruption” – he said – “is a greater evil than sin,” and more than “be forgiven, must be cured.”

“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean. The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example grave fraud against public administration or the dishonest use of administration.”

Concluding, Pope Francis exhorted the jurists to use the criteria of “cautiousness” in the enforcement of criminal sanctions. This – he affirmed – must be the principle that upholds criminal law:

“The respect for human dignity must operate not only to  limit the arbitrariness and the excesses of State officials, but as a criteria of orientation for the persecution and the repression of those behaviors that represent grave attacks against the dignity and the integrity of the human person.”