VATICAN INSIDER LOOKS AT ROME’S LENTEN STATION CHURCHES – PAPAL LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS FOR MARCH, APRIL – TWITTER DIPLOMACY AT THE HOLY SEE

Pope Francis tweeted today: Fasting is not only about abstaining from food. It also means sharing food with those who are hungry.

The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis will meet with European Union leaders a day before a special summit marking the 60th anniversary of the Union’s founding treaty.The audience will be held March 24, the eve of the summit marking the anniversary of the EU founding Treaty of Rome. The evening meeting is expected to be public.

VATICAN INSIDER LOOKS AT ROME’S LENTEN STATION CHURCHES

I have a special report instead of a guest this week on Vatican Insider. I explore the history and current story of Rome’s famed Lenten Station Churches, a beautiful, tradition born ever so many centuries ago. If you are in Rome for Lent and want to attend 7 am morning Mass at the church of the day, you can find the list here: https://www.pnac.org/station-churches/

Today’s Station Church is: Santi Giovanni e Paolo: https://www.pnac.org/station-churches/week-of-ash-wed/friday-after-ash-wednesday-santi-giovanni-e-paolo/

ALSO: https://www.romeartlover.it/Vasi53.htm

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=

PAPAL LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS FOR MARCH, APRIL

The Vatican Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff on Friday published the calendar of liturgical celebrations at which Pope Francis will preside during March and April of 2017.  The list includes the Masses to be celebrated during the Holy Father’s pastoral visits to Milan on March 25 and Carpi on April 2, as well as other events surrounding Holy Week and Easter.

MARCH

Friday 17: at 5 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, penitential celebration.

Saturday 25: Solemnity of the Annunciation.  Pastoral visit to Milan.

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Sunday 2: Fifth Sunday of Lent. Pastoral visit to Carpi.

Sunday 9: Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord: At 10 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square, commemoration of the entry of the Lord in Jerusalem, and Holy Mass.

Thursday 13: Holy Thursday. At 9.30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Chrism Mass.

Friday 14: Good Friday. At 5 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, celebration of the Passion of the Lord.

At 9.15 p.m. at the Colosseum, Rome: Via Crucis (Way of the Cross).

Saturday 15: Holy Saturday. At 8.30 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, Easter vigil.

Sunday 16: Easter Sunday. At 10 a.m., in the Vatican Basilica, Holy Mass.

At noon, from the central balcony or logia of the Vatican Basilica, “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.

The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis will meet with European Union leaders a day before a special summit marking the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding treaty.The audience will be held March 24, the eve of the summit marking the anniversary of the EU founding Treaty of Rome. The evening meeting is expected to be public.

TWITTER DIPLOMACY AT THE HOLY SEE

(Vatican Radio) A one-day workshop was held on Friday in the Vatican on “Twitter Diplomacy at the Holy See.” The event was hosted by the Vatican Secretariat for Communications (SPC), in conjunction with the British Embassy to the Holy See.

Participants in the workshop included Britain’s Ambassadors to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy and to Austria, Leigh Turner, along with Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg, and Professor Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis touches minds and hearts on social networks, said the Vatican release. “Where people are, the Church is, and this is why the Pope is present on Twitter and Instagram,” said SPC’s secretary, Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz.

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The event brought together diplomats and other personalities who, in the Vatican and the Church, seek to spread the message of the Gospel through social media, especially on Twitter.

Workshop participants shared their experiences and the ways in which communications have changed after the spread of social networks – even at the institutional level.

Participants gave particular attention to the positive role offered by Pope Francis daily through his account @Pontifex, which is followed by more than 32 million people in 9 languages.

They called the Pope a leader on social networks, because he knows how to touch minds and hearts through his interventions on important themes for all people, believers and non-believers alike.

Sally Axworthy, Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, told Alessandro Gisotti after the event that the digital dimension is assuming an ever greater role in diplomacy. She said there are many points on which, even via Twitter, that the Holy See and international diplomacy can find a way to collaborate.

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Ms. Axworthy also underlined that, as Pope Francis has eloquently shown, social networks can help reach an extremely wide public on themes of common interest.

The British Ambassador published this communiqué after the meeting:

Monsignor Lucío Adrian Ruiz, secretary at the Secretariat for Communications and Leigh Turner, British Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Vienna, opened the proceedings. The editor of L’Osservatore Romano, Professor Giovanni M. Vian, gave an overview on newspaper’s global reach on Twitter and Eduard Habsburg, Hungary’s Ambassador to the Holy See, shared his tips and experience.

The workshop looked at how the Holy See, Cardinals, Vatican Dicasteries and Ambassadors are increasingly explaining their work and initiatives through Twitter. It also gave insights into how to use Twitter to promote campaigns and establish a true dialogue with the public.

Representatives from the Pontifical Council for Culture, Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Cor Unum, Caritas Internationalis , the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See participated in the discussion, which was held under the Chatham House Rule.**

Speaking after the event, the British Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy said:

“Today we had a lively discussion on Twitter diplomacy at the Holy See. I learned a great deal about Pope Francis’ approach to social media. I look forward to working with colleagues to promote the issues we all care about through Twitter, using some of the ideas we discussed today.”

“The workshop showed how digital has become an integral part of today’s diplomacy, and how this tool can be a real asset to modern diplomats, in engaging directly with their audience and reaching out to a wider public.“

Note for editors: Twitter is an increasingly popular means of communication within the Holy See community. The Pope is the world’s most influential leader, with over 32 million followers for his Twitter account in 9 languages.

** I did not know what the Chatham House Rule was so looked it up: The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion.

The Chatham House Rule reads as follows: When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.   (https://www.chathamhouse.org/about/chatham-house-rule)

VATICAN INSIDER: AN INSIDER’S LOOK AT THE LIFE OF NORMA MCCORVEY – PAPAL ALMONER SUPPORTS FARMERS, PRODUCERS FROM EARTHQUAKE-STRUCK TOWNS – COULD ONE BISHOP’S IDEA HELP THE WORLD’S DIOCESES?

Pope Francis on Twitter today: The Christian heart is always full of joy. Always. Joy received as a gift and kept in order to be shared with everyone.

Shall we all try to share a moment of joy with one new person this weekend!

If you follow events in the Holy Land, having perhaps made several pilgrimages to Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon (yes, all are the Holy Land), there are two websites you really might want to visit to keep well informed on all that is happening in the area, especially vis-à-vis the Catholic Church.

The first is http://en.lpj.org/

The LPJ stands for Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and it is a fact-filled site with daily news stories (such as “Don’t Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Bishops Ask Secretary of State), videos, upcoming events, a look at the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (to which I belong) and information for visitors and pilgrims. You might already be familiar with this site: if not, it is a must-visit site if you love the Holy Land, or are simply curious to know more.

A second site will probably be less familiar: http://en.abouna.org/

The “en” in the site refers to the English version, as you probably guessed: the original is in Arabic (abouna.org). “Abouna” is Arabic for Father. A good friend of mine in Amman, Jordan, Fr. Rifat Bader, put this together a few years ago and he and his team (a fairly small one) are doing a great job. He is the founder and director of the Amman-based Catholic Center for Studies and Media.

Father is pointing at me – we are at the Beirut Airport in September 2012 for the arrival of Pope Benedict:

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I saw a story here this morning (also on lpj.org) about the arrival in Amman today of another friend, Bishop William Shomali, as the new patriarchal vicar of Jordan (for the Latin Patriarchate). He succeeds Bishop Maroun Lahham whom I interviewed in 2014 on my trip to Jordan. When Bishop Shomali and I first met, he was rector of the Patriarchate seminary in Beit Sahour, not far from Bethlehem.. I had lunch with then-Father Shomali, the seminarians and staff just before they all left on Christmas vacation.

He is on the right on this photo –

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…and on the top of the group photo, wearing a gray scarf.

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VATICAN INSIDER: AN INSIDER’S LOOK AT THE LIFE OF NORMA MCCORVEY

My guest this week on “Vatican Insider” in the interview segment is Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life. As I wrote last weekend on these pages, she was in Rome last week with Fr. Frank Pavone and I had interviewed her about their work at Priests for Life, the March for Life in DC, etc. She suggested that we do a separate interview about someone big in the prolife movement and a good friend to Janet and Father Frank who was in failing health – that is, Norma McCorvey, the Roe of Roe v Wade in the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion.

It was Norma’s courageous decision later in life, to renounce abortion – the goal she had espoused as the plaintiff in Roe v Wade – and to denounce it as the deliberate killing of a human being in its mother’s womb that led her to spend successive decades trying to overturn the law she had been instrumental in creating – even though she never set foot in court.

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Listen as Janet tells the inside story of Norma McCorvey who died one hour after we did our interview!

PAPAL ALMONER SUPPORTS FARMERS, PRODUCERS FROM EARTHQUAKE- STRUCK TOWNS

(Vatican Radio)  The Office of Papal Charities this week helped out the earthquake-hit regions of central Italy at the express wish of Pope Francis, buying typical food products from local producers and distributing it to several soup kitchens in Rome.

Central Italy was hit by a powerful 6.3 magnitude quake in August 2016, which killed nearly 300 people. Other earthquakes have since caused major damage to the area.

Farmers and merchants in the affected areas have since suffered a drastic reduction in their revenues.

A communique from the Office of Papal Charities said the organization selected “several groups of farmers and producers at risk of closure because of the damages provoked by the earthquake” from which to buy alimentary products.

Papal Almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, is standing on the right:

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It said vendors were chosen in conjunction with Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole of Ascoli Piceno, Archbishop Francesco Giovanni Brugnaro of Camerino-San Severino Marche, and Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia.

“The Office of Papal Charities bought a large quantity of their products with the intention, expressed by the Holy Father, to help and encourage them in their activities. It is a gesture in line with the Magisterium of Pope Francis, who in his meetings has often said that ‘when a person does not earn their bread, their dignity is lost’”.

The food products bought in the name of the Pope were distributed to several soup kitchens in Rome to make meals for homeless people in need.

The Vatican supermarket currently sells products from the earthquake hit zones of central Italy, in an effort to help out the local economy.

COULD ONE BISHOP’S IDEA HELP THE WORLD’S DIOCESES?

(Vatican Radio) A bishop in Scotland has high hopes for his diocese as a new fundraising initiative was recently launched at his cathedral.

Bishop John Keenan is encouraging the faithful of the Diocese of Paisley to become ‘Friends’ of certain diocesan projects in a bid to combat a £3 million (€3.5 million) deficit. Bishop Keenan explained in a letter read out at all Masses in St Mirin’s Cathedral that the cause for the deficit is not surprising. “It is the same deadly combination of rising costs and falling income that you know all too well from your own home finances.” (photo: news.va)

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The bishop emphasised that a change in culture is needed. In his letter, he tells the lay faithful that he would rather put his trust in his own people than in professional fundraisers. If his desire for a deficit-free diocese is to be realised, then annual savings worth £300,000 must be found. He added that the “bulk of our efforts to eradicate the deficit will come from fundraising.”

He has appointed Fr Oliver Freney, administrator of St Mirin’s Cathedral, as the new diocesan Director of Fundraising and has challenged him to raise £100,000 annually. He said that the ‘Friends Project’ will be the “heart and soul of his fundraising campaign.”

Fr Freney was joined by several young people from the diocese for the launch at St Mirin’s. His fellow priests will be launching it in their parishes over the coming weeks. He said after the launch: “If every member of our diocese signed up to give just £5 a year, we would be in surplus.” He added that he encourages parishioners to “think about our situation and give thoughtfully and generously.”

The diocesan treasurer attended the launch. Fr Stephen Bailey explained that the faithful could opt to become ‘Friends’ of particular projects like ‘vocations’, ‘education’ and ‘youth’.  He added that Bishop Keenan wants to let people know how their money is being spent.

Bishop Keenan recently led the diocesan community through a synod, during which the important role of the lay faithful within the Church was highlighted.

VATICAN INSIDER: ELIYO, AN ASSYRIAN VOICE FOR THE PERSECUTED – FRANCIS IS FIRST POPE TO VISIT A STATE-RUN UNIVERSITY – SANTA MARIA IN COSMEDIN

Pope Francis tweeted today: A youthful heart does not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference.

VATICAN INSIDER: ELIYO, AN ASSYRIAN VOICE FOR THE PERSECUTED

Last December I attended an ecumenical Christmas concert in the Vatican in support of Christian refugees from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The guest of honor was Eliyo – the professional name of Sarah Ego, an Assyrian Orthodox singer who was born in Augsburg, Germany. Sarah sang traditional German Christian chorals, several songs in Aramaic, Schubert’s Ave Maria in Latin and several Christmas carols in English. Sarah speaks Aramaic, in fact, at home, as you will hear her explain in this conversation we had when she returned to Rome recently for a quick visit. We talk about her background, her origins, her grasp of five languages, and her aspirations. So stay tuned ….

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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=

FRANCIS IS FIRST POPE TO VISIT A STATE-RUN UNIVERSITY

This morning, Pope Francis visited Università Roma Tre, a state-run university, the first Pope ever to do so. The 25-year old university has a reputation for its teaching and research, but is also known for its so called “third mission,” that is, attention to the social problems of Italy’s capital city. Pope Francis principally spoke off the cuff and answered questions from students. He meeting was televised and carried by Vatican Radio. One student and her husband were brought to Italy from the island of Lesbos on the papal plane when Pope Francis made a one day visit last year to refugees on this Greek island.

The Vatican Radio summary of that talk is here: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-to-university-students-keep-hope-aliv

SANTA MARIA IN COSMEDIN

My visit to this lovely, ancient and rather small basilica on February 14 was so impromptu that I did not think of going online to first research a bit of history. I remembered to bring my camera, of course, as you will see from the photos that follow, but knowing some history would have been helpful for the Facebook Live video that I did while visiting the chapel containing the head (skull) of St. Valentine was on a a whim as well.

I did go online today and present the following brief history, as well as my own photos of the basilica.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin is the Byzantine Rite church for Melkite Catholics in Rome, as well as a minor basilica of the 9th century. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is located at Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18. It is no longer a parish church, and although officially titular it has not had a resident cardinal for some time.

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The name Cosmedin comes from the Greek word “kosmidion,” meaning ornamented, thanks to its beautifully decorated interior. Nowadays, the church is practically bare, although it still has some magnificent elements such as the floor mosaics, the bishop’s chair, the baldachin and the medieval choir enclosure.

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Another treasure worth discovering is the glass shrine with the skull of St Valentine, patron saint of love, located on the left side of the church.

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The restored Medieval façade has a portico with seven arches, in which visitors queue to place their hand in the mouth of the legendary Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth). Legend has it that if a person places his or her hand in the mouth of the statue and lies, the mouth will close and cut their hand off.

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Next to the church’s porch is an impressive Romanesque bell tower built during the twelfth century.

Crypt: The crypt, constructed in the eighth century, is located beneath the altar and was built to store the relics taken from the catacombs by Pope Adrian I. The crypt is shaped like a small basilica. The sidewalls have several niches, each with shelves made of marble, where the different relics are displayed.
https://www.rome.net/santa-maria-cosmedin

The marble-workers of Rome (marmorarii Romani) active in the 12th and 13th centuries produced, among other things, stunning floors in Roman basilicas (perhaps you noticed them if you’ve been to Rome). In fact, I mention the words cosmatesque and cosmati often in my book, A Holy Year in Rome, because these are the terms used to describe the characteristic use of polychrome marble and mosaic inlay by these Roman artists. Those terms, I have been told, refer to the Cosma family, the “first family” of marble cutters who invented this style of flooring. I learned from research that the Cosmatus (Cosma) was a Roman family, seven members of which, for four generations, were skilful architects, sculptors and workers in decorative geometric mosaic, mostly for church floors.

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With my visit Tuesday to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, I think I’ve found my favorite church for cosmatesque art, almost a kaleidoscope of colors, as you will see in my photos:

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

Two good news stories:

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

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

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

VATICAN INSIDER VISITS BETHLEHEM UNIVERSITY

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

I do know two things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do your people need most from the American government?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your impression of President Trump so far?

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

 

VATICAN INSIDER, PART II: ARCHBISHOP GARCIA SILLER ON V ENCUENTRO – POPE TO YOUTH: WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR VOICE FOR 2018 SYNOD

Pope Francis tweeted today: Children forced to flee, especially if fleeing alone, are most defenseless and vulnerable. Let’s pray for them and help them. @M_RSection

VATICAN INSIDER, PART II: ARCHBISHOP GARCIA SILLER ON V ENCUENTRO

Vatican Insider’s interview segment offers Part II of my conversation with San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller as we talk about the V Encuentro and other topics during a visit he made to Rome.

garcia-siller

The V Encuentro is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of best ministerial practices in the spirit of the New Evangelization. It is part of the priority activity of the USCCB’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2020. The V Encuentro (5th Encounter) started this very month at the grass roots level and calls for the development of resources and initiatives to better serve the fast growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions in light of its theme Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.

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=

POPE TO YOUTH: WE WANT TO HEAR YOUR VOICE FOR 2018 SYNOD

In view of the 2018 synod on on the theme: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” Pope Francis has written a letter to young people. It was revealed Friday ahead of a press conference at the Holy See Press Office to present the preparatory document for the Synod.

The Vatican document focuses far more on getting input from young people, learning who they are and what they want as they grow up and live in an era so different from their parents and pastors. And that is what the Pope says in his Letter to young people: the Church wants “to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith, even your doubts and your criticism.” He wants youth to tell him, the bishops and pastors about their hopes and struggles. “Make your voice heard. Let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”

He starts the Letter by teling youth, “I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart. Today, the (synod) Preparatory Document is being presented, a document which I am also entrusting to you as your “compass” on this synodal journey.”

“I would also,” said the Pope, “remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: ‘Teacher […] where are you staying’ He replied, ‘Come and see’.  Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.”

The Pope noted that, “In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: ‘Can we change things?’ And you shouted: ‘yes!’ That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a ‘throw-away culture’ nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves!”

“A better world,” continued Francis, “can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”

“Such is the case,” Pope Francis ended his letter to young people, “even in the journey of this Synod. My brother bishops and I want even more to “work with you for your joy” I entrust you to Mary of Nazareth, a young person like yourselves, whom God beheld lovingly, so she might take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: ‘Here I am’.”

THE EPIPHANY: THREE KINGS AND A LONGING FOR GOD – LET US CLOTHE OURSELVES IN LIGHT AND FOLLOW THE STAR OF JESUS – VATICAN INSIDER LOOKS AT THE V ENCUENTRO WITH ARCHBISHOP GUSTAVO GARCIA SILLER

THE EPIPHANY: THREE KINGS AND A LONGING FOR GOD

Today, the feast of the Epiphany, is both a holy day and holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. As is traditional, it is marked by the Holy Father presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and praying the Angelus afterwards from his study window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Epiphany is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land. What takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with the joyous festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent.

In addition to tens of thousands of faithful and tourists, the square is traditionally filled with scores of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy, troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers and flag throwers. Costumed horse riders – including the Three Magi, of course! – strut their finery and groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners march through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands play and spectators applaud.

Although today’s festivities took place under a delft-blue sky, temperatures were rigid and the winds challenged those of the so-called Windy City of Chicago. As I’m still fighting a cold, I thought it wise to remain at home and thus missed one of my favorite celebrations of the year – but isn’t that why we have television to bring us events we cannot attend in person.

The word epiphany, by the way, refers not only to today’s religious feast but comes from the late Greek word meaning an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being, and/or a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essence or essential nature or meaning of something.

In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis began by quoting Matthew’s Gospel: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (photo: news.va)

epiphany-2017

“With these words,” he continued, “the Magi, come from afar, tell us the reason for their long journey: they came to worship the newborn King. To see and to worship. These two actions stand out in the Gospel account. We saw a star and we want to worship.

Francis explained that “these men saw a star that made them set out. The discovery of something unusual in the heavens sparked a whole series of events.  The star did not shine just for them, nor did they have special DNA to be able to see it.  As one of the Church Fathers rightly noted, the Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out (cf. Saint John Chrysostom).  Their hearts were open to the horizon, … They were open to something new. Thus, the Magi personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland.  They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts become anesthetized.”

“A holy longing for God,” stated Francis, “wells up in the heart of believers because they know that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present.  A holy longing for God helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life.  A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom.  That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: “Come, Lord Jesus”.

The Holy Father noted that “longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change.  Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need.   Longing for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future.  Believers who feel this longing are led by faith to seek God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, for they know that there the Lord awaits them.  They go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelized, to encounter their Lord.  Nor do they do this out of a sense of superiority, but rather as beggars who cannot ignore the eyes of those who for whom the Good News is still uncharted territory.”

Referring then to Herod, whose place was a short distance from Bethlehem, the Pope said, “he slept, anesthetized by a cauterized conscience.  He was bewildered, afraid.  It is the bewilderment which, when faced with the newness that revolutionizes history, closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes.  The bewilderment of one who sits atop his wealth yet cannot see beyond it.  The bewilderment lodged in the hearts of those who want to control everything and everyone.  The bewilderment of those immersed in the culture of winning at any cost, in that culture where there is only room for ‘winners’, whatever the price.  A bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life.  Herod was afraid, and that fear led him to seek security in crime.

“Herod is unable to worship,” continued Pope Francis, “because he could not or would not change his own way of looking at things. He did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him.  He was unable to worship, because his aim was to make others worship him. Nor could the priests worship, because although they had great knowledge, and knew the prophecies, they were not ready to make the journey or to change their ways.

The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuitousness. There something new was taking place. The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable Infant, the unexpected and unknown Child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God.”

LET US CLOTHE OURSELVES IN LIGHT AND FOLLOW THE STAR OF JESUS

At today’s Angelus, in a sunny but bitter cold St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis again highlighted the meaning of the feast of the Epiphany, saying, “like the Magi, let us set out, clothe ourselves in the light following the star of Jesus, and love the Lord with all our might.”

He told the multitude of faithful in the square, “As the Magi chose to be guided by the star of Jesus, even in our life there are several stars. It’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are flashing lights that come and go, like the small pleasures of life: although good, they are not enough.”

Francis said, “the Magi invite us to follow the true light that is Lord, a light that does not dazzle, but accompanies and gives a unique joy. Follow today, among the many shooting stars in the world, the bright star of Jesus! Following it, we will have the joy, like  that of the Magi. ”

As he concluded his Angelus reflections, the Holy Father announced that he had a gift for those in square, and he held up a small booklet called “Icons of Mercy.”

“The Magi offered their gifts to Jesus, And speaking of gifts, I thought I’d give you a little gift: The “Icons of Mercy” booklet. The gift of God is Jesus, the Father’s mercy; and so, to remember this gift of God, I will give this gift that will be distributed by the poor, the homeless and refugees along with many volunteers and religious whom I cordially greet and thank you wholeheartedly.”

He especially pointed out that “the booklet is pocket size, so you can always have it with you”

Three hundred poor and homeless passed the booklets out and were later treated to lunch, another gift from Pope Francis.

VATICAN INSIDER LOOKS AT THE V ENCUENTRO WITH ARCHBISHOP GUSTAVO GARCIA SILLER

Notwithstanding the fact that a huge snow storm has blanketed the EWTN Irondale campus and large areas of Alabama, creating hazardous travel conditions, and notwithstanding an employee alert that the Irondale offices will be closed today, a number of employees in engineering, operations, production, safety and security and radio are present to assure that “the show will go on” (in most cases).

My stalwart colleague Jeff Burson put together the elements of “Vatican Insider,” thus assuring that you will hear a new show this first weekend of the New Year.

The interview segment will feature my conversation with San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller as we talk about the V Encuentro and other topics during a visit he made to Rome.

garcia-siller

The V Encuentro, as its website explains, is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of best ministerial practices in

the spirit of the New Evangelization. The process has been proposed as a priority activity of the USCCB’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2020.

The V Encuentro (Encounter) starts this very month of January 2017 at the grass roots level and calls for the development of resources and initiatives to better serve the fast growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions in light of its theme Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.

The main goal of the V Encuentro is to discern ways in which the Church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church.

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=

VATICAN INSIDER WELCOMES GEORGE WEIGEL – POPE RECEIVES COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT AND OPPOSITION LEADER – A TSUNAMI OF WISHES FOR POPE FRANCIS 80TH BIRTHDAY

Pope Francis tweeted today: Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life.

VATICAN INSIDER WELCOMES GEORGE WEIGEL

My special guest this week on Vatican Insider is George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and prolific author, including “Witness to Hope,” the biography of Pope John Paul II. George recently gave a lecture at the North American College entitled “Catholics in the New America: The Evangelical Challenge After Election 2016” – a fascinating topic and you’ll want to stay tun

weigel

As you know, 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. 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 9:00am (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 is a link to VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

And a link to automatically download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml

POPE RECEIVES COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT AND OPPOSITION LEADER

This morning in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Frances received in audience President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of the Republic of Colombia, who subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

Pope Francis (L) meets Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos (R) and former president Alvaro Uribe (C) at the Vatican December 16, 2016. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS

The discussions took place in an atmosphere of great cordiality, confirming the existing good relations between the Holy See and Colombia. Appreciation was expressed for the Pope’s support during the peace process, along with the hope that such peace will be stable and lasting. In this regard, the parties highlighted the importance of encounter and unity between the Colombian political parties and the commitment of FARC-EP, while the local Church will be able to offer her contribution in favour of national reconciliation and education in forgiveness and harmony. Some issues relating to regional current affairs were then addressed.

The Holy Father went on to meet His Excellency Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, first in private audience and then together with President Santos. The Pope spoke about the “culture of encounter” and emphasized the importance of sincere dialogue between all members of Colombian society at this historical moment (Holy See Press Office).

 

A TSUNAMI OF WISHES FOR POPE FRANCIS 80TH BIRTHDAY

(Vatican Radio) Birthday wishes have been pouring in from across the globe in celebration of Pope Francis’ 80th on Saturday, 17 December.

Among those toasting the Pope in an especially ‘personal’ way, are the impoverished residents of the villas miserias – or shanty towns – in Buenos Aires who always looked to the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, as their pastor.

Francis’ ‘right-hand-man’ in the field was Father ‘Pepe’ Di Paola, who continues to carry out his mission with the poorest of the poor in Argentina’s capital city. He spoke by telephone to Vatican Radio about Jorge Bergoglio and ‘his’ people.

First of all, Father Pepe says, I would like to wish Pope Francis the possibility of continuing to pursue his priestly vocation in solidarity and in communion with the poor and in deep union with the Church and the Gospel.

“May he go ahead in his mission to walk in the spirit of the Gospel which is what the Church is in need of” he says.

As for his birthday, Father Pepe reveals, Francis does not particularly like being made a fuss of. For example, he says, when the children and young people here in our vocational school used to make gifts for him, they knew he would give them away… but that was ok! It’s not that he didn’t appreciate the gift, what was important for him was that it was made by the children themselves and that they would want to be with him.

And exactly because they know him, Father Pepe says, what the poor people here in Argentina are doing for his birthday is praying for him. Because they love him very much.