POPE IN UAE: “TOGETHER, WE BUILD OUR FUTURE” – CHRISTIANS IN UAE: A LITTLE TREE THAT RESTORES OXYGEN – SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SULTAN

Pope Francis has returned to Rome and, though I’ve not seen confirmation as I write, I’m sure he stopped off at St, Mary Major Basilica to pray, as he always does before and after a trip, before the image of Mary, noted to Romans as Salus populi romani.

He surely is tired after a hectic and very brief time in the UAE, the long flight back to Rome and the traditional on board press conference but Francis is scheduled to preside tomorrow morning at the weekly general audience.

POPE IN UAE: ‘TOGETHER, WE BUILD OUR FUTURE’

Pope Francis on Tuesday wrapped up his Apostolic Visit to the United Arab Emirates, and our correspondent in Abu Dhabi reflects on the historic occasion. (vaticannews)
By Linda Bordoni – Abu Dhabi

As soon as I looked at the programme for Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates, I categorized it as a two-fold affair: day one for meeting the Muslim world and pursuing inter-religious dialogue; day two for being with Catholics and affirming them in their faith.

That’s what it looked like on paper, with Monday unfolding in an Arabian Palace, a Mosque, and at an interfaith Conference. And Tuesday started with a visit to Abu Dhabi’s Catholic Cathedral and ended with the celebration of Holy Mass in the presence of 180,000 people.

But no sooner had Pope Francis boarded the papal plane taking him back home to the Vatican, my perception of this intense, whirlwind visit, began to change.

One plea for everyone’s ears
There was no division, I realised, between day one and day two. He was not speaking separately to Muslims and then to Catholics. His vision and his mission are – as always – for one human family, and his plea to build a future together “or there will be no future”, was for everyone’s ears.

Someone who never tires of condemning divisiveness, separation, and the erection of barriers of every kind would never perpetrate that kind of mistake!

In fact, at all moments and in all occasions, the first-ever meeting of a Pope with the peoples of the UAE took place in a joyful atmosphere of mutual respect.

The solemnity of the historic occasion was felt by all, as was a palpable gratitude towards the Crown Prince of the UAE for issuing the invitation and towards Pope Francis for accepting it.

The pledge and the message
Of course, many important words were spoken. A pledge of fraternity between a Pope and a Grand Imam was signed to work together in perpetuity and to reject violence and radicalism. The Pope’s own Catholic flock was reminded it is never alone with Jesus at its side.

But at the heart of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage was an urgent reminder to all – no one excluded – that we are called to look after each other as one human family.

The visit will undoubtedly go down in the books as a milestone in Catholic-Muslim relations. But I was in Abu Dhabi for the occasion, and will never forget that over-arching cry for justice, fraternity, and an end to human misery.

Click here for some video highlights of the papal trip: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-02/pope-francis-uae-highlights-video.html#play

CHRISTIANS IN UAE: A LITTLE TREE THAT RESTORES OXYGEN

Pope Francis offers a “re-reading” of the Beatitudes during the celebration of Mass at the conclusion of his brief visit to Abu Dhabi.
By Andrea Tornielli

Seeing them gathered together in the Zayed Sports City Stadium, the “little flock” of Emirati Christians did not seem so little, as Pope Francis told them that living the evangelical Beatitudes did not consist in grand gestures. Although Jesus left no writings of His own, and did not build anything imposing, His very life showed that the Christian faith plays out in the actions of everyday life, and in “littleness.”

Christians are not called to perform great works or accomplish striking, extraordinary, superhuman acts. It is in the extraordinariness of the ordinary that they bear witness. It is thanks to the holiness of everyday life, without extraordinary signs, that the most surprising miracles occur. Thus Christianity flourishes, is communicated by osmosis, without need of marketing strategies, media cleverness, torrents of words, or the abilities of supermen.

The Beatitudes, turning worldly criteria on their head, “invite us keep our hearts pure, to practice meekness and justice despite everything, to be merciful to all, to live affliction in union with God.” It is like a tree, Pope Francis explained, in dry land – like that of the desert that characterises this region of the world – which every day absorbs the polluted air and restores oxygen.

The invitation to this “little flock” of Christians in the UAE is to continue to be an oasis of peace, of meekness, and of mercy – because it is the person who responds to accusations with meekness, who is blessed, rather than the one that attacks or desires to oppress others. The one who considers others as brothers and sisters is blessed, and not the one who sees only enemies.

Pope Francis points to the example of St. Francis of Assisi who, instructing the friars who were leaving for Arab lands, asked them not to quarrel or argue, but to be “subject to every human creature for love of God”, confessing to being Christians. In an age, like today, in which many people clothe themselves in armour (perhaps only virtual), the Pope recalled that Christians set out “armed only with their humble faith and concrete love.” Because the Christian lives only on these, and knows that today it is only by means of this witness that the Gospel is proclaimed. (Analysis by vaticannews)

SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SULTAN

Andrea Tornielli in his last paragraph in the previous article, speaks of St. Francis and his friars in Arab lands, and I found a fascinating story precisely about that visit 800 years ago by Fr. Jack Wintz, OFM on the Franciscan webpage:

FRANCISCANS AND MUSLIMS: EIGHT CENTURIES OF SEEKING GOD

Franciscans and Muslims encountered one another during the lifetime of Saint Francis (1181-1226). Indeed, he sent friars to the Holy Land in 1217. Two years later, Crusaders fought Muslim soldiers at Damietta, Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile. At considerable risk, Saint Francis engaged Sultan Malik al-Kamil, their leader, in peaceful dialogue.

What follows is a brief description of that encounter, based on accounts written soon afterward. The Christian and Muslim armies stood opposite each other at close quarters. The sultan had decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian should be rewarded with a gold piece. Francis, however, the knight of Christ, was unafraid and hoped to realize his ambition of dying as a martyr for Christ. Friar Illuminatus accompanied him.

The Muslim soldiers seized them fiercely and dragged them before the sultan. When he asked why they were sent and by whom, Francis replied courageously that they had been sent by God, not by man, to show him and his subjects the way of salvation and to proclaim the truth of the gospel message. Francis proclaimed the triune God and Jesus Christ, the savior of all, with steadfastness, courage and spirit.

When the sultan saw the little friar’s enthusiasm and courage, he listened to him willingly and pressed him to stay with him. Then he offered Francis a number of valuable gifts, but the saint was anxious only for the salvation of souls and refused the sultan’s gifts. The sultan, astonished at Francis’ utter disregard for worldly wealth, felt greater respect than ever for the saint. (In fact, Francis accepted an ivory horn that is displayed in Assisi’s Basilica of St. Francis.)

Bishop Jacques de Vitry, who was a contemporary of Francis, wrote that the sultan “had Francis led back to [the Christian] camp with many signs of honor and with security precautions, but not without saying to him: ‘Pray to God for me, that God may reveal to me the law and the faith that is more pleasing to him.’” (These texts are from Saint Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis and from Jacques de Vitry’s History of the Orient in St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008.)

To continue reading: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/franciscans-and-muslims-eight-centuries-of-seeking-god/

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THE INDULGENCE OF PORZIUNCULA, “THE MOST SACRED PLACE OF FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY”

The Franciscans and Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi announced today, July 4 that Pope Francis will visit the Umbrian village on Thursday August 4. During the afternoon visit to the Porziuncola inside the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, the Pope will officially mark the 8th centenary of the event known as the Pardon of Assisi.”According to Vatican Radio, the papal trip to Assisi is being described as a private pilgrimage to the tiny chapel which St Francis built and where he founded the Franciscan order at the beginning of the 13th century.

The following is a story I did about the Porziuncula and the Pardon after a visit to Assisi.

THE INDULGENCE OF PORZIUNCULA, “THE MOST SACRED PLACE OF FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY”

The story of the “Pardon of Assisi” and the Indulgence of Porziuncula is a wonderful story, all the more so if you have a great love for the saint of Assisi or bear his name – Francis (my middle name is Frances).

That Porziuncula website tells us that a small abandoned chapel, situated in an area known in Latin as “Portiuncula” – which means “small piece of land” – was given by Benedictine monks to St. Francis who, having promised the abbot to make it the mother house of his new order, promptly restored it with his own hands.

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It was here that he came to understand his vocation clearly and here he founded the Order of the Friars Minor in 1209, entrusting it to the protection of the Virgin Mother of Christ, to whom the little church is dedicated.

One night in 1216, while Francis was immersed in prayer, a radiant light spread through the little church and he saw above the altar Christ and his Holy Mother, surrounded by a multitude of Angels. They asked him what he wanted for the salvation of souls. Francis’ reply was immediate; “I ask that all those persons who have repented and confessed their sins who will come to this church, may obtain a full and generous pardon, and a complete remission of all their faults.”

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“What you ask is very for is a very great favor,” the Lord said to him, “but of greater things you are worthy and greater things you shall have. I accept your prayer therefore on condition that you ask my vicar on earth, on my behalf, for this indulgence.” Francis immediately presented himself before Pope Honorius III who listened attentively to him and gave his approval. To the question “Francis, for how many years do you wish this indulgence?” the saint replied, “Holy Father, I am not asking for years but for souls.” On August 2, 1216, together with the bishops of Umbria, he happily announced to the people gathered at the Porziuncola, “My brothers and sisters, I want to send all of you to Paradise.”

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The great basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Holy Mary of the Angels), was constructed between 1569 and 1679 in accordance with the wishes of Pope St. Pius V, (1566-72), in order to contain the chapels of the Porziuncola, the original cell where Francis lived and died, the Rose Garden, and the Passing, as well as other places sacred to the memory of St. Francis, and to welcome the visitors from all around the world who came to visit them.

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The powerful earthquakes that struck Umbria in 1832 caused serious damage to the basilica. At the end of a long and complex restoration, directed by the architect, Luigi Poletti, it was reopened for religious celebrations on September 8, 1840. The façade was radically restructured by Cesare Bazzani, with the intention of conferring a majesty worthy of the importance of the Shrine. It was officially inaugurated on June 8, 1930 and an imposing gilded bronze statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of it.

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Upon entering the Porziuncola, one is immediately struck by the light and the colors of the Altar Screen of Prete Ilario da Viterbo (1393). The story of the Indulgence of Assisi is recounted in a series of five paintings: Francis throws himself amongst the thorns in order to overcome temptation; he is accompanied by two angels while going towards the Porziuncula;  he contemplates the apparition of Jesus and the Virgin and asks for the plenary indulgence; he asks for confirmation of this from the Pope and finally declares to all the great gift received from Christ and the Church.

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Millions of souls have crossed the threshold of the Porziuncula chapel’s “door to eternal life” and have knelt here in order to rediscover the peace and forgiveness of the great Indulgence. On the threshold of this little church are written the words “hic locus sanctus est,” this is a holy place, because God descended here to meet Francis and whoever enters here in faith.

The Chapel of the Passing is a simple stone building that served as the infirmary for the first friary. St. Francis passed the last days of his life here, and being placed naked on the bare earth, died here on the evening of October 3, 1226, after having composed the final verses of his Canticle of the Creatures:

“Praised be you my Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death from whom no living man can escape: woe to those who die in mortal sin; blessed are those whom she finds doing Your Most Holy Will, because the Second Death will do them no harm.”

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The Rose garden area of the Sanctuary is what remains of the old forest where the friars lived. Here the rose garden is situated amongst whose thorns Francis rolled himself one night in order to overcome doubt and temptation. According to a tradition, already attested to in the thirteenth century, the briars on contact with the Poor Man’s body turned into roses without thorns, and this is the origin of the “Rosa Canina Assisiensis,” which continues to flower only at the Porziuncola.

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TO OBTAIN THE INDULGENCE:

1) Visit the Sanctuary and say an Our Father and the Creed; 2) Make a sacramental Confession and receive Communion at Mass; 3) Say a prayer for the intentions of the Pope.

 

POPE FRANCIS TO SHARE MONTHLY PRAYER INTENTIONS ON VIDEO – FRANCIS AND GRECCIO: SIMPLICITY, AUSTERITY, SPIRITUALITY

I arrived back in Rome yesterday after a fabulous Christmas and New Year break in Wisconsin and Illinois with several friends and a ton of relatives, mostly the young and very small kind! I finally met Harry, 15 months-old, the only one of my 20 great-nieces and –nephews that I had not met! And he will have a sibling in early March! I cherish every minute with family and always wish I could spend more time, although I’d have to zigzag across America – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oregon and California – if I wanted to do it all in one trip!

It portends to be a quiet week for Pope Francis, with the exception of his visit yesterday afternoon to Greccio and Mass tomorrow morning in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany, a holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. The weekly papal schedule I check at Vatican Radio indicated no planned activities for today, Thursday or Friday.

However, I do have two stories for today: the papal visit to Greccio (including some photos I took there on a visit a while back), and announcement about Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions.

POPE FRANCIS TO SHARE MONTHLY PRAYER INTENTIONS ON VIDEO

(Vatican Radio) – Starting Wednesday January 6, the traditional monthly prayer intentions of Pope Francis will be available on video, thanks to a new initiative launched by the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer.

The Apostleship of Prayer, set up in 1844 by a group of Jesuit seminarians in France, is also launching a new international website and app aimed at facilitating collaboration and sharing of resources between teams from the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

Click To Pray is an App launched in November 2014 by the Apostleship of Prayer in Portugal to help young people to pray. In August 2015, the app was presented to Pope Francis during a private audience and the latest version will go live in January in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

The production of a video with Pope Francis sharing his monthly prayer intentions was done in collaboration with CTV, the Vatican Television Centre. The video, in 10 langauges, will be available on YouTube as well as on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, encouraging people all over the world to pray with the Pope each month. The first video will feature the Pope’s prayer intention for January: “That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice”.

FRANCIS AND GRECCIO: SIMPLICITY, AUSTERITY, SPIRITUALITY

The “Francis” in the title could easily refer to St. Francis or Pope Francis, although similarities might end with the beds: I imagine the 21st papal bed is more than the 13th century “bed” used by the saintly Francis – a wood floor with a rock for a pillow!

Pope Francis made a private visit to the Italian hilltown of Greccio in the Lazio region north of Rome on Monday afternoon. Greccio is celebrated as the place where, in December 1223, St. Francis set up the first nativity scene, using local animals and a carved image of the Christ Child in a manger to recreate the events of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem.

The tradition continues in the same hillside cave which has become a popular local shrine, and visitors can also see the monastic cell in the nearby convent where St Francis slept.

Pope Francis, in late morning, first went by car to Rieti, where he met privately with Bishop Domenico Pompili with whom he had lunch. Afterwards, accompanied by the bishop, he left for Greccio, arriving shortly before 3 p.m. He greeted a group of young participants in the diocesan meeting “Giovani Greccio 2016.” He also visited the adjacent church.

Upon arrival at the shrine he was welcomed by the Franciscan friars, and paused to pray before the fresco depicting the first creche realized in Greccio by St. Francis of Assisi. He then greeted the Franciscan community and, after a brief visit, departed by car for Rome. (Vatican Radio, VIS)

I have a special place in my heart for Greccio, especially after a visit a couple of years ago with Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.

Before we visit the shrine, here are some pictures of the countryside around Greccio and at the shrine.

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As a tourist officer told us about Greccio, “Francis is everywhere at Greccio — in the impossibly small cell where he slept; in the equally cramped, five-foot-wide stone corridor ’dormitory’ for his early followers with crosses carved in the wall, apparently to mark individual ‘beds’; in another rough-rock cell outside where the bulging mountain forms a wall.”

Those “rooms” are reached by these stairs.

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Saint Francis, we are told, was very fond of the inhabitants of Greccio for their piety and austerity of life and he was close friends with one Giovanni Velina who, many say, was a landowner who supported Francis in his project to represent the birth of Christ.

The founding of the hermitage is steeped in legend. According to one local myth, Francis asked a young boy from the village to throw a chunk of coal in order to establish where the convent was to rise. From the doors of the city, the coal landed on the spur of rock where the sanctuary stands today.

Another legend has it that Francis asked a young man who had a bow and arrow to shoot one arrow and wherever it landed, the hermitage would be built. That arrow traveled what should have been an impossibly long distance and landed very high on the hills of Rieti where today we visit the Greccio shrine.

The antechamber to the room where the first living nativity scene was in 1223, and the “nativity” room. The 1223 living presepe scene is re-created every year.

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Over the years the sanctuary expanded from just a few rooms, and in the last years of Francis’ life, a small community was established there and Greccio was the only Rieti valley settlement that built structures dedicated exclusively to the friars during Saint Francis’ life.

Our visit to various rooms used by Francis, his followers and those who came after him brings us to the church that Saint Francis built in the early 13th century. It is covered by a barrel vault ceiling decorated with a star-speckled sky and the image of Saint John of Parma. The furnishings are quite interesting: the stalls in the choir, the lectern, and the rotating wooden support of the lantern that illuminates the pages of the choir book.

The choir room.

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The shrine also houses the Saint Bonaventure Dormitory. Legend says that it was erected during the period Bonaventure was Minister General of the Order (1260-1270). A narrow hallway in wood leads to fifteen small cells that are also in wood. The friars lived in these simple yet evocative spaces for centuries until 1915 when they moved into the upper floors of the building.

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According to legend, the first cell on the right sheltered two extraordinary friars: Saint Bonaventure, whom the structure was named after, and Saint Bernardine of Siena.

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The church adjacent to the shrine:

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