OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE… – POPE FRANCIS MEETS “SILENCE” DIRECTOR SCORSESE – HOLY FATHER CONCLUDES CATECHESES ON WORKS OF MERCY – PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR CRASH KILLING 71, INCLUDING BRAZILIAN SOCCER PLAYERS

OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE…

As I walked through St. Peter’s Square this morning to go to some Vatican offices, I took a few photos with my phone of the Nativity scene that is under construction near in the square near the obelisk.

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The tree has been up about a week but the building of the Nativity scene started only Monday. The tree will be lit and the nativity scene unveiled on Friday, December 9.

It was St. John Paul who started this tradition in the Christmas season of 1982 when he noticed that, with all the great Nativity scenes or presepe in the papal palace and apartments, in Roman Curia offices and in St. Peter’s Basilica, there was no such scene in the square. He asked that henceforth both a tree and presepe be placed in the square.

Trees in the past have come from countries like Austria, Switzerland and Germany and from various regions in Italy. This year features as a 25-meter (82 feet) tall red spruce from Trento, northern Italy. In its place, local schoolchildren have planted some 40 new spruce and larch seedlings to replace trees suffering from a parasite that had killed many of them. After the Christmas season, the wood from the Vatican tree will be used for charity.

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The ornaments for this year’s spruce are ceramic and were made by children in hospitals across Italy who are receiving treatment for cancer and other illnesses. The beautiful tree will be lit by 18,000 LED Christmas lights that were chosen to respect the environment. The LED technology allows for very low energy consumption.

Boxes of ornaments –

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The Nativity scene this year will pay tribute to the people who are forced to flee their countries and undertake dangerous journeys across the sea. In 2016 alone, says the International Organization of Migration, over 3000 people died in the Mediterranean, although many believe that number is higher as many vessels and sinkings go unrecorded.

As I studied the Christmas scene this morning, it seemed to be that the area enclosed by canvas where workers from Malta are building the presepe, was much larger than in the past, wider for sure. An earlier Vatican communique noted that the Nativity scene will measure 19 meters in width – just over 62 feet – and will feature 17 statues dressed in traditional Maltese costumes as well as a replica of a traditional “Luzzu” Maltese boat.

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That communique explained that the boat not only represents tradition – fish and life – but also, unfortunately the realities of migrants who in these same waters cross the sea on makeshift boats to Italy.

And these – if you remember my post on Monday – are the 8 men from the Maltese island of Gozo who are building the Nativity scene.:

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Both the Nativity and the Christmas tree will be lit on December 9, and will remain illuminated until Sunday, January 8.

POPE FRANCIS MEETS “SILENCE” DIRECTOR SCORSESE

(Vatican Radio) Wednesday morning, before holding the general audience, Pope Francis met the Italo-American movie director Martin Scorsese whose latest film “Silence” recounts the persecution of a group of Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan. Scorsese was accompanied at the audience in the Vatican by his wife, his two daughters, the producer of the “Silence” film and the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications Monsignor Dario Viganò. A Vatican statement said the meeting was very cordial and lasted 15 minutes.

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Pope Francis told those present that he had read the novel on which the film “Silence” was based, written by the late Japanese author Shusaku Endo.

Scorsese gave the Pope two paintings on the theme of “hidden Christians,” one of them a much-venerated image of the Madonna painted by a 17th century Japanese artist. Pope Francis gave his guests rosaries.

The audience in the Vatican came after a special screening of “Silence” in Rome on Tuesday night for more than 300 Jesuit priests. The movie is due to premiere in the United States this December.

HOLY FATHER CONCLUDES CATECHESES ON WORKS OF MERCY

In his weekly general audience held in the Paul VI Hall this morning, Pope Francis concluded his cycle of catecheses dedicated to the works of mercy, having looked at all 14 spiritual and corporal works of mercy. This also ends his series of weekly catecheses on mercy that began at last year’s opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The Holy Father told those present today that although the cycle has reached conclusion, we must continue to practice mercy in our lives. Many of his remarks during the general audience were off the cuff.

Speaking of the corporal work of mercy which invites us to bury the dead,  Pope Francis said it could appear a strange request. In fact, he said, it is sadly meaningful in the present day when we think of the many people who risk their lives in order to give decent burial to the victims of war who live in fear under constant fire and bombardment.  And for us Christians, he said, burial is an act of great faith because when we lower the bodies of our loved ones into the tomb, we do so in the hope of their resurrection.

He also underscored the importance of praying for the living and the dead which he said is part of the work of mercy of burying the dead, noting this is especially meaningful in this month of November when we commemorate all the faithful departed.

Even more, said Francis, praying for the living and the dead is an eloquent expression of the communion of saints and reminds us of how we are all united in God’s great family.

“This is why we pray for each other” he said.

In one of his off-the-cuff moments, Francis also recalled the story of a young business owner present at yesterday’s daily Mass in the Santa Marta residence. This man, he noted, had to close his company because they couldn’t sustain it anymore. This man, the Pope said, “cried, saying: ‘I don’t feel that I can leave more than 50 families without work. I could declare the company’s bankruptcy: I go home with my money, but my heart will cry my entire life for these 50 families’.”

“This is a good Christian who prays with the works: he came to Mass to pray so that the Lord would give him a way out, not only for him, but for the 50 families,” Francis said, pointing to him as a clear example of what it means to pray for one’s neighbor.

As he concluded, the Pope encouraged the faithful “to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who knows our deepest desires and hopes, and embrace in our prayer all those in any kind of need:” He also admonished to not forget to thank God for the good things in our lives.”

The catechesis “ends here,” he said. “We made this path of the 14 works of mercy, but mercy must continue and we must practice it in these 14 ways.”

PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR CRASH KILLING 71, INCLUDING BRAZILIAN SOCCER PLAYERS  

We all know that Pope Francis is a great soccer fan so we could easily imagine his grief when he learned that members of a Brazilian soccer team perished in a plane crash in Colombia minutes before the plane was due to land.

Vatican Radio reported that Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to the cardinal archbishop of Brasilia in Brazil following a plane crash that killed 71 people including members of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense. They were on their way to a South American cup final in Colombia when the accident happened. In the message signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis said he was dismayed by the tragic news of the plane crash in Colombia that caused numerous victims, and he sent his condolences to all those who are mouning and commended the deceased to God the Father of Mercy.

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POPE HIGHLIGHTS TWO SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY IN GENERAL AUDIENCE – HOLY FATHER GREETS MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS

Today’s papal tweet: May the Holy Spirit help us to be patient when enduring, and to be humble and simple when advising.

From 5 to 6 pm today, Pope Francis will meet with President Trần Đại Quang of Vietnam, president of this Asian nation since April 2, 2016. The press office will be open until 7 this evening as journalists await a Vatican statement on the late afternoon meeting.

POPE HIGHLIGHTS TWO SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY IN GENERAL AUDIENCE

Pope Francis held the weekly general audience in the Paul VI Hall and continued his recent series of catecheses on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He told the faithful, “among the spiritual works of mercy, we now consider those of counselling the doubtful and instructing the ignorant.  These two works are related and both can be practised daily in our families and communities.

On counselling the doubtful, Francis said, “It is a true work of mercy to counsel those troubled by doubts about the meaning of life or shaken in their faith.  Let us be grateful to all who devote themselves to this work through catechesis and religious education.  All of us are called to support one another by our witness of living faith and generous concern, for these are eloquent signs of the love of God which gives meaning and direction to our lives.

He noted that, “Some might ask me: ‘Father, I have many doubts about my faith, what should I do? Don’t you ever have doubts?’ I have so many, so many… Everyone has doubts every once in a while! Doubts which concern the faith, in a positive sense, are a sign that we want to deepen our knowledge of God, Jesus, and the mystery of His love for us.”

“We should not make faith an abstract theory where doubts are multiplied,” added the Pope. “ Let’s make faith our life. Let’s seek to practice it in service to our brothers, especially those who are most in need. All these doubts disappear, because we feel God’s presence and the truth of the Gospel in the love that lives in us and we share with others.”

On education, the Holy Father explained that, “the Church’s mission of evangelization has always been accompanied by teaching and the founding of schools, since education promotes the dignity of the person and provides for the full development of his or her God-given gifts.  Illiteracy and lack of access to education are in fact a form of poverty and injustice.  Education develops our ability to think critically about ourselves and the world around us.  By raising questions it also helps us to find satisfying answers.”

Continuing on this topic, he said, “It is a condition of great injustice which stains the dignity of people. Without education, one easily becomes vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. It is unthinkable that, in a world where scientific and technological progress has reached such heights, there are still illiterate children. It is an injustice.”

HOLY FATHER GREETS MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met in the Vatican on Wednesday with participants at a colloquium organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization from Teheran.

In brief words of greeting to the group, the Pope said he greatly appreciated the presence of those who had travelled from Iran to attend the meeting. He recalled with joy his meeting last January with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as well as an encounter he had with the country’s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, who visited the Vatican with a group of female professors in February 2015. That visit, he said left him with a very positive impression of Iranian culture.

The Pope also underlined the importance of this 10th round of interfaith dialogue and fraternal encounter. He asked his guests to remember to pray for him and asked God to bless all members of the group.

During the two-day meeting, which concludes Wednesday, the Muslim and Christian scholars have been sharing perspectives on “Extremism and violence in the name of religion: the reasons of the supporters and perpetrators,” “Rational approach to religion: the sign of hope for wounded humanity”, and “Humanity and its common home; the contribution of religion for having a better world”.

The 9th round of this dialogue between the Pontifical Council and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization was held in December 2014 in Tehran on the theme “Constructive Dialogue between Muslims and Christians for the Good of Society”