POPE FRANCIS: THERE IS A SPIRITUAL RIGHT TO WORD OF GOD – VALENTINE’S DAY: A BAN FOR MUSLIMS, DIVISIONS AMONG CHRISTIANS

Last year on February 14, I visited the church where the head of St. Valentine can be seen, and I posted the following blog with some photos – hope you can enjoy those photos again. https://joansrome.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/irish-bishop-blesses-engaged-couple-at-shrine-of-st-valentine/

As I write Pope Francis is about to start the traditional Ash Wednesday procession from the basilica of Sant’Anselmo to the basilica of Santa Sabina where he will celebrate Mass, receive ashes and deliver a homily. There is an embargo for that homily – it may be published the moment he gives it and not before.

Given that I’ll be gone when the Holy Father gives his homily, I will post that story when I return home from the evening Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Patrick’s church in downtown Rome, followed by a meeting of the Parish Council’s Finance Committee..

POPE FRANCIS: THERE IS A SPIRITUAL RIGHT TO WORD OF GOD

Today’s general audience took place in a rainy and very cold St. Peter’s Square but precisely because of that bad weather, Pope Francis first went to the Paul VI Hall where a group of sick people was waiting for his greeting and a blessing.

The Holy Father was in the square outside by about 9:45 and he did comment on the weather, saying “it is ugly.”

It seems that the Pope, however, did brighten up the day for two youngsters, giving them a lift in the papal vehicle –

Christopher Wells of Vatican Radio did this report for Vatican News:

“If the soul is always joyful, it is a good day.” The weather was “a little ugly,” as Pope Francis said Wednesday, but the Holy Father found a way to brighten everyone’s spirit at the weekly General Audience in St Peter’s Square.

He began his audience with a small group of sick people gathered in the Paul VI Hall, and then ventured out into the wind and rain, where he delivered his catechesis to a small crowd of pilgrims who braved the inclement Roman winter weather.

The teaching at Wednesday’s general audience was focused once again on the Mass, as Pope Francis reflected on the end of the Liturgy of the Word.

Hearing the Word of God, with the explanation in the homily that follows, is a right, “the spiritual right of the people of God to receive the treasure of the Word of God in abundance.” Everyone who goes to Mass, said the Pope, “has the right to receive abundantly the Word of God, read well, proclaimed well, and then explained well in the homily. It’s a right!”

After the homily, the Pope spoke about the moment of silence, which gives people time to reflect on what they have heard.

Pope Francis then spoke about the communal recitation of the Creed at the Mass, saying it “manifests the common response to what was heard by the community in the Word of God. He emphasized the “vital connection” between hearing and faith, recalling the words of Saint Paul, that is, “faith comes from hearing.” Faith then leads to the Sacrament, so that the Creed becomes a link between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After the Creed, the Mass continues with the Prayer of the Faithful, or the Universal Prayer – so called, the Pope said, because it embraces all of the needs of the Church and of the world. The Prayer of the Faithful, he said, echoing the General Instruction of the Missal, is an exercise of their baptismal priesthood by the People of God.

Reflecting on the words of Jesus – “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” – Pope Francis said we don’t believe this, “because we have little faith.” He encouraged us to have great faith when we pray together during the Mass.

“The intention for which the faithful are invited to pray should give voice to the concrete needs of the ecclesial community and of the world, avoiding having recourse to conventional and short-sighted formulas,” he said. “The Universal Prayer, which concludes the Liturgy of the Word, exhorts us to make our own the loving gaze of God, who cares for all His children.”

VALENTINE’S DAY: A BAN FOR MUSLIMS, DIVISIONS AMONG CHRISTIANS

A story to help you appreciate the freedoms we have:

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has banned TV channels from promoting Valentine’s Day-related activities, which falls tomorrow.

For most practising Muslims, the event known all over the world as the festival of romantic love is contrary to Islamic doctrine. Speaking to AsiaNews, Church leaders expressed conflicting opinions on the matter.

According to Rev Irfan Jamil, Anglican bishop of Lahore, the anniversary has no connection to Christianity. “The ban doesn’t matter. Love should not be celebrated one day a year only.”

Fr Nasir Williams, director of the Social Communications Commission of the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, has other ideas. “The ban is the ultimate [form of] of ignorance. Freedom of thought is already limited in our country.”
“What is next?” he wonders, “Confiscating mobile phones or banning TV dramas based on love stories? Nobody is forcing people to buy these gifts. The attempts to control people or blackout one part of media will make no difference,” he said.

Valentine’s Day is named after a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. The celebration has proven divisive among Muslims. Every year, groups of Islamic radicals organise protests and hand out leaflets urging people not to celebrate the day.

This is the second year of a ban imposed on social media as well as online and print media. Last year, the Islamabad High Court ruled that “No event shall be held at official level and at any public place.”

PEMRA General Manager Operations Muhammad Tahir PEMRA said that all broadcast media and distribution services must “desist from promoting Valentine’s Day through their respective channels and networks.”

Yet, despite the ban, it is still very common to find stands in malls and shops selling heart-shaped stuffed toys and teddy bears, balloons and other red-coloured gadgets

This year, the Pauline Books and Media communications centre in Lahore is not selling Valentine’s Day greeting cards. “The tradition of exchanging cards is dead,” said Sister Irshad Maqsood. “Usually we order stock, but now people have turned to digital media.”

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POPE FRANCIS SAYS MASS WITH MELKITE GREEK PATRIARCH – CHINA CHURCH UNITY AT WHAT COST? – HONG KONG CATHOLICS TO THE BISHOPS OF THE WORLD: STOP THE POSSIBLE AGREEMENT BETWEEN CHINA AND THE HOLY SEE

POPE FRANCIS SAYS MASS WITH MELKITE GREEK PATRIARCH

At Mass on Tuesday morning in the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis concelebrated with the Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, calling it a sign of the Apostolic Communion between the Latin- and Eastern-rite Churches within the universal Church.


Pope Francis concelebrated Mass on Tuesday morning with the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Youssef Absi. Instead of delivering a homily, Pope Francis said a few words about the meaning of the day’s celebration, at which members of the Melkite Greek Synod participated.

“This Mass with our brother, Patriarch Absi,” the Pope said, “confirms our Apostolic Communion: He is the father of a very ancient Church, and he comes to embrace Peter and to say ‘I am in communion with Peter.’” The Holy Father said this was the meaning of the Eucharistic celebration.

He said the Melkite Greek Church is “a rich Church with its own theology within Catholic theology and with its own marvelous liturgy”.

Here are some photos I took of St. Paul’s Melkite Church in Harissa on one of my trips to Lebanon:

The Pope said, “at this moment a large part of the [Melkite] people is crucified, like Jesus.”

He said the Mass was being celebrated for the people of the Melkite Greek Church, “for the people who suffer, and for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who give up their lives, goods, and property because they are driven out.” Pope Francis said he also offered the Mass for the ministry of “our brother Youssef”.

Following the Mass, Patriarch Absi thanked the Pope for “this beautiful Mass of communion”. He said, “Personally, I am truly moved by your fraternal charity and the solidarity you have shown to our Church.”

Patriarch  Absi promised to keep Pope Francis in his heart and prayers. “I cannot describe the beauty,” the Patriarch said, of “this communion, which unites all the disciples of Christ.” (Vatican news, Vatican Radio, Devin Watkins)

CHINA CHURCH UNITY AT WHAT COST?

The following editorial from the National Catholic Register is a very thoughtful piece that culls the salient points from the articles the editors quote. “At what price?” asks the title. The answer seems to be that the price is the suffering, even the betrayal, of the faithful Catholics who have remained loyal to Rome and the papacy, even paying very high prices.

EDITORIAL: China’s persecuted Christians deserve hard answers to tough questions, and the Holy See has yet to provide them.

The Editors

How far will the Holy See go to secure an accord with the People’s Republic of China that preserves the Pope’s authority over the appointment of bishops?
Only the general outlines of the ongoing talks between Rome and Beijing have been confirmed. But the optics of a deal that is supposed to lay the groundwork for the unification of China’s 10-12 million Catholics have raised fears that it could actually hamper the Church’s independence and its freedom to speak out in defense of persecuted Christians and others caught in the crosshairs of a Chinese Communist Party that has tightened its grip on the nation.

Indeed, as Catholics wait for more details about the plan to be disclosed — with news reports suggesting that an accord could be signed in late March — Pope Francis’ comments during a private meeting with Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired archbishop of Hong Kong and a vocal critic of the Vatican’s rapprochement with Beijing, raised fresh questions about the negotiations.
According to Cardinal Zen, the Holy Father acknowledged the painful difficulties faced by Church leaders loyal to Rome and said he had warned his envoy that the talks should not “create another Mindszenty case.”

The reference to Cardinal József Mindszenty of Hungary, the towering Church leader who openly challenged totalitarian rule in his country, was a striking choice of words.

Like many bishops in China’s underground Church who have been loyal to Rome, Cardinal Mindszenty endured imprisonment and torture at the hands of the communist regime that controlled Hungary after the Second World War. Later, he lived under voluntary house arrest in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest until agreeing in 1971 to leave his homeland and settle in Vienna.
He remained a beacon of religious resistance to Soviet-era communism, and as Pope Paul VI sought to improve relations with regimes in Eastern Europe, the cardinal became a thorn in his side. In 1973, the Pope stripped him of his title of archbishop of Esztergom, and the see was declared vacant.

The Holy See’s treaties with Eastern Bloc governments “were intended to provide for the sacramental life of the Church by facilitating the appointment of bishops,” explained George Weigel in a harsh assessment of the Vatican’s past efforts to engage totalitarian regimes published in National Review. “The Catholic hierarchy in Hungary became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hungarian Communist Party. In … Czechoslovakia, regime-friendly Catholics became prominent in the Church while the underground Czechoslovak Church of faithful Catholics struggled to survive under conditions exacerbated by what its leaders regarded as misguided Roman appeasement of a bloody-minded regime.”

Entire editorial is here: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/china-church-unity-at-what-cost

HONG KONG CATHOLICS TO THE BISHOPS OF THE WORLD: STOP THE POSSIBLE AGREEMENT BETWEEN CHINA AND THE HOLY SEE

Academics, lawyers, human rights activists ask the Holy See to demand greater guarantees of freedom in the appointment of bishops and religious freedom in the country. Xi Jinping scepticism towards China. ” Rushing for a quick achievement, taking a wrong step, can result in total failure”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – “An irreversible and regrettable mistake “: this is how a group of Catholic personalities in Hong Kong and in the world defines the possible agreement between China and the Holy See on bishops’ nominations, reported by some media as “imminent.” In an open letter addressed to the bishops of the world they ask them to ask the Holy See to stop the agreement and to re-set it with precise guarantees on the pontiff’s freedom to appoint bishops and with guarantees of true religious freedom for Christians and society. Among the signatories are academics, lawyers, human rights activists. Here is the text of the petition sent to AsiaNews, also found on the site http://www.freecatholicsinchina.org / and open to signatures.

An Open Letter to Conferences of Catholic Bishops Across the World Regarding the Possible Agreement Between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of China

Your Eminence and Most Reverend,

We are a group of Catholics. Recently there has been news reports indicating that the Holy See and the government of the People’s Republic of China will soon reach an agreement over the issue of bishop appointment, as well as recognition of seven illicit “bishops”. We are deeply shocked and disappointed. With our love and allegiance to the Holy Mother Church, we hope you and the bishops conferences would pay attention to such development.

According to the teachings of the Holy Mother Church, bishops are the successors of the Apostles, bearing the duties of leading and tending the flock: “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” ( Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.”(Catechism, 869) All bishops must therefore be appointed by the Successor of Peter — the Holy Father, the Pope. And they must be men of moral principles and wisdom. The government must play no role in the selection process:

“[T]he right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority. Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities.” (Christus Dominus, para. 20)

Yet, the seven illicit “bishops” were not appointed by the Pope, and their moral integrity is questionable. They do not have the trust of the faithful, and have never repented publicly. If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in Greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.

We fully understand that the Holy See is eager to be able to evangelize in China more effectively. However, we are deeply worried that the deal would create damages that cannot be remedied. The Communist Party in China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has repeatedly destroyed crosses and churches, and the Patriotic Association maintains its heavy-handed control over the Church. Religious persecution has never stopped. Xi has also made it clear that the Party will strengthen its control over religions. So there is no possibility that the Church can enjoy more freedom. In addition, the Communist Party has a long history of breaking promises. We are worried that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the limited freedom desired by the Church, but also damage the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and deal a blow to the Church’s moral power. The Church would no longer be able to have the trust of people, and “serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God’s family.” (Gaudium et Spes, 40)

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, our beloved Pope Francis writes: “Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness… The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.” (224-225) The Spirit of God sometimes does not allow us to proceed. (ref. Act 16:6) Though the force of evil is growing, time belongs to God. By putting our trust in the Lord, the dark night will eventually pass. Rushing for a quick achievement, taking a wrong step, can result in total failure.

Continue reading here: http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Hong-Kong-Catholics-to-the-bishops-of-the-world:-Stop-the-possible-agreement-between-China-and-the-Holy-See-43079.html

POPE FRANCIS REGISTERS ONLINE FOR WYD 2019 – POPE FRANCIS: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY

Papal Tweets, Yesterday and Today:

February 12: I feel deep pain for the many children torn from their families and forced to become child soldiers. This is a tragedy!

February 11: To serve human life is to serve God and life at every stage: from the womb of the mother, to the suffering and sickness of old age.

February 11: May the sick always be shown love in their fragility and respected in their inviolable dignity.

It was a big day at the Vatican yesterday as the Church marked the World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 89th anniversary of the creation of Vatican City State via the Lateran Pacts of 1929.

In addition, February 11 also marked the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s announcement that he would resign the papacy at the end of February 2013!

None of us who were in Rome that day will ever forget that announcement – words that Benedict himself said would “be important for the life of the Church.”

I look back at February 11, 2013 with amazement, with gratitude for being here during an historical period and during a remarkable and rich pontificate, with awe at the events of the months that followed, and once again with gratitude for a Church that could so beautifully transition from one papacy to another.

I posted a lengthy column yesterday about this anniversary in which I also looked back at the courage and humility and love of the Church that prompted Pope Benedict to resign as he feared, sensed, realized that he could not, with diminishing physical capabilities, serve the Church he loved as she deserved.

POPE FRANCIS REGISTERS ONLINE FOR WYD 2019

At the Sunday Angelus in the presence of an estimated 30,000 faithful, Pope Francis spoke of the World Day of the Sick, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Chinese New Year.

Francis said today “we contemplate Jesus as the true physician of our bodies and souls ….. whom God the Father sent into the world to heal humanity, marked by sin and its consequences.” The Pope said it was not sickness or illness that made us unclean – referring to the Gospel story of the leper that Jesus healed – rather, “It is sin that makes us unclean! Selfishness, pride, entering the world of corruption, these are diseases of the heart from which we need to be cleansed, turning to Jesus like the leper did: ‘If you wish, you can cleanse me!’”

Then, completely changing the subject, the Holy Father noted that, “registration opens today for World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama in January 2019. Right now, along with two young people, I too will register on the internet.”

And so, with the aid of two young people flanking him in his study, the Holy Father touched the screen of a tablet, enrolled as a pilgrim to World Youth Day and invited the world’s youth do the same – either by going to Panama or by participating in their communities.

If WYD in Panama is on your agenda for January 22-27, 2019, you can follow the example of Pope Francis and register online here!

Pope Francis then sent cordial greetings to the “millions of men and women who will celebrate the Lunar New Year” on 15 February. “My cordial greeting goes out to all their families, with the hope that they may live ever more solidarity, brotherhood and the desire for goodness, and so contributing to the creation of a society in which everyone is accepted, protected, promoted and integrated. I invite everyone to pray for the gift of peace, a precious treasure that must be sought with compassion, foresight, and courage. I accompany and bless everyone.”

Francis also greeted Rome’s Congolese community, and reminded the faithful that a day of prayer and fasting for peace will be celebrated on February 23rd, especially for the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan

POPE FRANCIS: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY

On Monday, in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican, Pope Francis met with participants in the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking.

For the first time in the history of the event, Pope Francis met with approximately 110 persons representing survivors, young people, and members of the committee organizing the International Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking. The theme for this year focused on the role of young people in view of the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

Pope Francis fielded four questions from young people. Two came from victims and two came from young people who participated in events prepared for them by the organizational team. The questions from the victims prompted the Pope to point out the problems in society that make modern-day slavery possible: ignorance, unwillingness to admit the issue, and hypocrisy.

He underlined several times that he has “never lost an occasion to denounce human trafficking as a crime against humanity.” The Pope took the opportunity to encourage the young people present to “meet with the survivors of human trafficking,” and to learn the signs that someone might be living in slavery. He said that because young people are so open, they might have the courage to say what they see happening around them.

Finally, in response to a question regarding whether the voices of young people from the peripheries would be heard at the synod, he asked them to contact Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who heads the synod of Bishops: “Do me a favor—call him on my behalf—this way you make the work easier.”

Pope Francis and his guests concluded by reciting together a prayer to St Josephine Bakhita, the patron of the victims of human trafficking.

On Friday, Pope Francis had addressed members of the Santa Marta Group as they held their fifth meeting. This is a group of senior law enforcement officers, bishops, religious women and key international organizations whose focus is to update and share best practices in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery. It was founded in 2014 in the UK, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster heads the group. (Vaticannews.va) – Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp)

AD MULTOS ANNOS, BENEDICT XVI! – THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY….A LOOK BACK: POPE BENEDICT STUNS THE WORLD WITH HIS RESIGNATION

AD MULTOS ANNOS, BENEDICT XVI!

Today, February 11 is a twofold holiday here as Vatican City State celebrates the 89th anniversary of its institution as a sovereign state after signing a treaty with Italy on that date in 1929, and the Church also marks the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick.

And, while not a holiday, the Church also marks the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s resignation as Supreme Pontiff!

Normally, the Roman Curia and Vatican City personnel have the day off, but that holiday this year falls on a Sunday, a normal day off.

It was a Monday five years ago when the Holy Father, in the course of a morning meeting that had been on his agenda for sometime, stunned the world with the announcement of his resignation! No matter where we were when we heard the news – in the Vatican, on vacation, at home or in the office somewhere on this great planet – we had a collective intake of breath and knew intuitively that we were living a moment in history.

That moment of history became a week, a month, and now five years of history as Benedict ended his eight-year reign as pontiff, cardinals gathered for the conclave and a Latin American, a Jesuit and the first-ever Pope to take the name Francis, ascended to the Chair of Peter.

It was a surprise five years ago, a shock actually, and it has been a surprise-a-day time since then.

How do I feel today?

I look back at February 11, 2013 with amazement, with gratitude for being here during an historical period, with awe at the events of the months that followed, and once again with gratitude for a Church that could so beautifully transition from one papacy to another.

I look back at the courage and humility and love of the Church that prompted Pope Benedict to resign as he feared, sensed, realized he could not serve the Church he loved as she deserved.

Benedict XVI had become a role model for so many people, for millions of Catholics – and others – who miss him terribly today and wish him well and pray for him on a daily basis. I know because, throughout these five years, and in a special way, in recent days, I receive so many letters to this effect!

I vividly remember telling FoxNews the very night of Benedict’s announcement that Pope John Paul II, in his long suffering, taught us how to die and Pope Benedict, in his humility, courage and love, was teaching us how to live!

What did I mean? Too often we live and make decisions based on what others might think of us. We want to “look good,” we need approval before we act. We rarely look inside ourselves to see – even pray – what is the right thing to do. That is what Benedict XVI did. He looked inside himself and, with great honesty, unbelievable courage and his noted humility, he knew he had to leave the papacy.

In my mind’s eye today I’ve relived every encounter I had with Pope Benedict over the years – the brief exchanges, his soft smile, his wonderful blue eyes, his total sincerity. My Mass intention today was for Benedict, out of love, respect and gratitude.

I end today’s “Joan’s Rome” with the very column I wrote one year ago – an amazing look back!

THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY….A LOOK BACK: POPE BENEDICT STUNS THE WORLD WITH HIS RESIGNATION

(February 11, 2013) – Where does one start to write about a day that is historical, stunning, amazing, sad – there are so many reactions and emotions. Having lived in Rome for over 30 years (this very month) and having worked for or covered the Vatican and the papacy for all but two of those years, all of the above emotions have been part of my day.

Over the years, from my first visit to Rome as a college student to this very day, I have met or been in the presence of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and have actually spoken to the last three.

The whole world knew that the death of a Pope was the only way the papacy was vacated, that there could be a “sede vacante,” literally, a vacant chair.

No one is alive on this earth today who ever heard a Pope say what Pope Benedict XVI did this morning: “…Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

The idea that by Easter we will have a new Pope AND the former Pope will be alive and living in a monastery in Vatican City is something I am still trying to wrap my mind around, as I am sure everyone is.

Today’s stunning announcement caught everyone by surprise – a lightning bolt out of the blue! No one knew. It may have been the best-kept secret of the century! Everyone, from members of the College of Cardinals to members of the Roman Curia to the papal spokesman was caught off guard.

The last such well-kept secret of this Holy Father was his announcement of six new cardinals last October with the consistory a month later. And now those six cardinals will enter into conclave next month, including the two youngest in the College of Cardinals (of the 117 electors who will go into conclave) – Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, the Philippines (born June 1957) and His Beatitude Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of India (born June 1959).

We do not know today but will soon know the date of the start of the conclave. Pope John Paul, in his 1996 Apostolic Constitution “’Universi Dominici Gregis,’ On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff,” predicated most of the time frame for a conclave on the fact it would follow a pontiff’s death, and would include the preparation for a funeral and the novendiales (9 days of Masses of mourning). Assuredly there will be no such period this time: cardinals will gather in Rome, there will be some preparation and they will enter into conclave.

We are all in a new learning curve – the media, the Vatican, the College of Cardinals, the protocol and liturgical offices, etc. This is a new experience for everyone and decisions will be made, slowly but surely, in the usual manner of the Apostolic See.

Did Benedict – in his extraordinarily surprising announcement that left the very cardinals who heard the news so astonished they could not speak – do a favor for the cardinals? When a Pope dies, cardinals have to suddenly drop everything and rush to Rome to enter into conclave and start thinking about a successor. Will the cardinals, though astonished by the Pope’s move, now have more time to think about a successor?

What questions will the cardinal electors have? Surely, they will talk about age, a papabile’s health, his language skills, his teachings and writings and orthodoxy, his life as a man of prayer and deep spiritual values. He will have to be energetic and will be expected to travel widely, meet countless groups, write speeches and encyclicals and so many other documents. Oh yes, and tweet!!

A thousand things went through my head upon hearing the news. As a journalist covering the Vatican, responsible for getting the story out – the truth, not the spins or rumors – that challenge is greatly multiplied. I spent the day, either commenting on radio or TV or preparing for it and researching like mad.

I will be on “The World Over” at 2 a.m. Rome time with Raymond Arroyo and I was on FoxNews this morning and was interviewed for “Special Report” tonight.
When I first heard the news, my visceral reaction was the same shock I felt on May 13, 1981 when I was entered St. Peter’s Square just minutes after 5 pm. for the weekly general audience and I heard a person shout in Italian, “they’ve shot the Pope!” My mind was paralyzed, my feet were as nailed to the sidewalk. In such moments, the brain has an electrical short and cannot process such contradictory words. Today was like that.

I had intended to devote today’s column to a very happy, historic and uplifting event that took place this weekend in Rome and at the Vatican to which I had been invited – the 900th anniversary of the Order of Malta. I will bring you that story and those photos some day as it was an important occasion for the Knights and Dames of the Order, as well as for the thousands of volunteers, doctors, etc who are associated with the Order.

I did post a number of videos on YouTube – including several with the Holy Father – so do visit that page.

As I work through this momentous day I am constantly making notes and I’ll eventually bring you those thoughts and observations and analyses. Questions such as canon law on a Pope’s resignation, how would I address Pope Benedict were I to meet him on March 1st?

It struck me this morning that Pope Benedict made this announcement on a date that has three meanings for the Church. It is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (and 155 years since the first apparition to Bernadette Soubirous), it is the 84th anniversary of the Lateran Treaty that created an independent Vatican City State and – most significantly for me – it is the World Day of the Sick.

Did Benedict XVI have this day in mind when he wrote: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” No indication was given by the pontiff of a specific illness – just the fatigue of his years – but I was impressed that he chose this day to announce his resignation.

His act was one of courage and extraordinary humility.

All day I have pondered the thought that Blessed John Paul, in the very visible throes of an agonizing and prolonged illness, taught the world how to die. And now I think: Surely Pope Benedict, in the humility of his self-revelation, is teaching us how to live!

Two magnificent pontiffs – two beautiful lessons about life.

Lots more to come tomorrow so stay here for news, commentary and analysis.

Following is today’s edition of the Vatican Information Service, which includes the Pope’s words this morning:

(VIS) – The Holy Father, at the end of today’s consistory for causes for canonization, announced his resignation from ministry as Bishop of Rome to the College of Cardinals. Following is the Holy Father’s complete declaration, which he read in Latin:

“I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

“Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

VATICAN INSIDER: A FOCUS ON CHINA

VATICAN INSIDER: A FOCUS ON CHINA

The interview segment of “Vatican Insider” this weekend is my must-not-miss conversation with a special guest and friend of over 20 years, Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, a PIME missionary online publication. We talk about the very troubling situation in mainland China and the issues between China and the Vatican.

Father Bernardo has been to China many times and is an expert on China and Church affairs. Though I have nowhere near his expertise in all things China, I did spend 3 weeks in Beijing as a member of the Holy See delegation to the September 1995 United Nations Conference on Women and learned a great deal about China at the time, especially on matters of religious freedom. I learned even more six years later when I spent 12 days in Taiwan, devoted to visiting churches and schools, meeting priests and nuns and the late Cardinal Paul Shan whom I visited in Kaoshiung.

And I have followed all things China ever since!

Our conversation this weekend in Part I of our meeting is of vital importance, especially because we talk about the seemingly great differences in the stories about China that are coming from the Vatican and also from a very respected, retired Chinese cardinal – Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

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 http://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=

CARDINAL NICHOLS: “THERE ARE 42 MILLION VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING, THE MOST EVER” – CARDINAL THANKS POPE FOR LEADERSHIP IN FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SLAVE LABOR – POPE FRANCIS: WE MUST EXAMINE HOW SOCIETY IS COMPLICIT IN, TOLERATES OR ENCOURAGES TRAFFICKING – COMMUNIQUE FROM SANTA MARTA GROUP

CARDINAL NICHOLS: “THERE ARE 42 MILLION VICTIMS OF TRAFFICKING, THE MOST EVER”

Trafficking in humans has been the focus of the last two days in the Vatican as the Santa Marta Group met Thursday and again this morning in Vatican City and then at noon attended an audience with Pope Francis.

I wrote of the Santa Marta Group yesterday, noting that this is the fifth meeting of the senior law enforcement officers, bishops, religious women and key international organizations who comprise this group and whose focus is to update and share best practices in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.

Founded in 2014 in the UK, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster heads the group and led the press conference in the Holy See Press Office this afternoon. Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar was also present and Cardinal Nichols said his testimony was the most moving of all the stories told about trafficking in various nations.

The conference was actually very brief, with the two cardinals and other Santa Marta Group members available to the press afterwards for individual interviews for TV, radio or the print media.

However, in introductory remarks, Cardinal Nichols stated that during the two days of meetings, “we heard from every continent, from 30 nations. We heard their stories and learned about the interaction in the fight against the scourge of trafficking.”

The cardinal explained that there are 42 million victims of trafficking and slavery, stressing that never before in history has it been so widespread – “the most ever,” he said. He said he was astonished to learn that there are 4.4 million fishing vessels in the world, many of which are used in human trafficking.

Cardinal Nichols said he was impressed during the meetings to hear members speak of their failures as well as of their successes. “That is not always the case when an organization or institution meets. Often it is only the bright outlook, the successes that are mentioned.”

Looking out at the media and around the table at which he was seated, he said that “all of us, each one of us, is from a country that is a country of origin (of trafficking) as well as destination.”

In closing remarks, Cardinal Nichols stressed the importance of a partnership with the media to help create awareness on local, regional and national levels in order to combat this scourge.

CARDINAL THANKS POPE FOR LEADERSHIP IN FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SLAVE LABOR

Following are Cardinal Nichols’ remarks to Pope Francis today, February 9:

Holy Father, we thank you for this gift of a meeting and for the privilege of greeting you, so as to express our respect and regard for you in your ministry at the helm of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

Our Santa Marta Group meeting has been a hard look at one of the dark faces of globalisation: the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. In contrast, Holy Father, we thank you for the many ways in which you make visible the truly human face of our world. Constantly in your actions and words, you remind us that the well-being of the human person must always be at the centre of every endeavour. You constantly point to the face of our true humanity, a face reflecting the infinite goodness and compassion of God, made visible in Jesus.

We thank you for your leadership and encouragement in the fight against human trafficking. In these last two days, this meeting of the Santa Marta Group, the fifth we have held, has heard of this work from every continent of the growing cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the resources of the Catholic Church. Achievements are considerable. The challenge is great. In all our efforts we try to keep before our eyes the faces of those who are enslaved, those who are rescued, those who are making the long road of recovery. It is they, our brothers and sisters, whom we wish to serve, as well as striving wholeheartedly to find, stop and prosecute the perpetrators of these evil and brutal crimes.

Holy Father, we are very conscious of so many who are involved in this world-wide campaign. Yesterday many of those people, present in Rome, gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass in the Basilica of St Peter, including many religious sisters, who are so often on the front-line of this work against modern slavery. We thanked God for their courage and we dedicated our work to the glory of God and to the service of the dignity which God gives to every person.

We have committed ourselves to deepen our cooperation, to promote truly local awareness and responsibility, to develop not only national partnerships, but also development them regionally in centres such as Argentina, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

We ask you, Holy Father, to continue to call Governments to a truly humane response to the victims and survivors of human trafficking in the support and protection they provide; to urge financial and business institutions to do all they can to eliminate slavery and its profits from their transactions; and to encourage all people of good will to become more alert to the presence of slave-labour.

Holy Father, we thank you from the depth of our hearts for the ministry and leadership you give in our world today. We assure you of our wholehearted support and promise you our prayers and prayers for all victims of human trafficking. We ask you to bless our work, our families and each one of us today.

POPE FRANCIS: WE MUST EXAMINE HOW SOCIETY IS COMPLICIT IN, TOLERATES OR ENCOURAGES TRAFFICKING

Dear Brother Bishops, Dear Friends,

I am happy to greet you, the members of the Santa Marta Group, at the conclusion of your Conference, which is devoted this year to providing a worldwide perspective on human trafficking and modern slavery. As leaders in law enforcement, research and public policy, and pastoral assistance, you offer an essential contribution to addressing the causes and effects of this modern-day scourge, which continues to cause untold human suffering.

It is my hope that these days of reflection and shared experiences have brought into clearer light the interplay between the global and local aspects of human trafficking.

Experience shows that such modern forms of slavery are far more widespread than previously imagined, even – to our scandal and shame –within the most prosperous of our societies. God’s cry to Cain, found in the first pages of the Bible – “Where is your brother?” – challenges us to examine seriously the various forms of complicity by which society tolerates, and encourages, particularly with regard to the sex trade, the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 211).

Initiatives to combat human trafficking, while concretely aimed at dismantling criminal structures, must increasingly consider broader issues associated, for example, with the responsible use of technology and the communications media, to say nothing of exploring the ethical implications of models of economic growth that privilege profit over persons. I trust that your discussions in these days will also help to raise awareness of the growing need to support victims of these crimes by accompanying them on a path of reintegration into society and the recovery of their human dignity.

The Church is grateful for every effort made to bring the balm of God’s mercy to the suffering, for this also represents an essential step in the healing and renewal of society as a whole. Dear friends, with gratitude for your commitment and cooperation in this vital area, I offer my prayerful best wishes for your continued work.

Upon you and your families, and upon all those whom you serve, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace. And I ask you, please, to remember to pray for me.

COMMUNIQUE FROM SANTA MARTA GROUP

Law enforcement officers, Bishops, religious sisters and international organisations from across the world gathered in the Vatican for the fifth Santa Marta Group conference to update and share good practice in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.

This year’s conference focused on regional realities with tailored solutions to human trafficking in each continent. With input from every continent, each region discussed their experiences, both the successes and challenges they face, with growing collaboration identified as a priority in neighbouring countries where the challenges are similar.

Education and economic opportunity is the focus on the supply side from countries of origin and the need for a strong legal framework, accountability and active citizenship on the demand side in countries of destination. While there are significant similarities in approaches to combating human trafficking across regions, the need for local action was emphasised, recognising the significant levels of internal trafficking taking place.

The conference also featured contributions from international agencies, introducing the role of the private sector and the importance of transparency in supply chains. Practical ways to address difficult to track human trafficking, such as slavery within seafaring, were also discussed.

A challenge to the group was to increase their accountability through greater transparency with the media, both on work done and long term strategy. An example was shared from the UK, where Church and Law Enforcement partnered with a media outlet (the Evening Standard) to raise awareness of human trafficking, investigate cases of modern slavery and propose solutions through a round table chaired by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

Cardinal Nichols, President of the Santa Marta Group, in his address to Pope Francis, drew attention to the need to always remember the victim at the centre of this evil crime; the enslaved person who demands our action in combating trafficking. Cardinal Nichols said:

“Our Santa Marta Group meeting has been a hard look at one of the dark faces of globalisation: the scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. In contrast, Holy Father, we thank you for the many ways in which you make visible the truly human face of our world. Constantly in your actions and words, you remind us that the well-being of the human person must always be at the centre of every endeavour.”

SANTA MARTA ANTI-TRAFFICKING GROUP MEETS IN VATICAN

SANTA MARTA ANTI-TRAFFICKING GROUP MEETS IN VATICAN

Senior law enforcement officers, bishops, religious women and key international organizations are meeting together for the fifth Santa Marta Group conference this week in the Vatican to update and share best practise in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery.

At this year’s conference over 30 countries are represented, including delegates from Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific, North and South America. The conference will have a regional focus enabling delegates to share tailored solutions to human trafficking within their geographical context. They will discuss the challenges they face and showcase the collaborative work the Church and law enforcement is doing to eradicate human trafficking.

Speakers are comprised of law enforcement officials from around the world, including Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick and General Commissioner Nestor Roncaglia of the Argentine Federal Police. Cardinal Charles Bo from Myanmar, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Santa Marta Group and other Church leaders. The conference will also hear from key international organizations such as Jean Baderschneider of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. The conference ends with a papal audience on Friday.

This year the conference coincides with the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking and who herself was a survivor of slavery. Cardinal Pietro Parolin will celebrate the feast with a mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

Launched in 2014 by Pope Francis and led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols the Santa Marta Group is a unique global partnership between law enforcement and the Catholic Church. Since 2014 the group has grown to become a worldwide network covering 35 countries.

Santa Marta Group President Cardinal Vincent Nichols says:
“Slavery continues to affect the most vulnerable in our communities and the latest UN figures suggests over forty million people are now potential victims. This year’s conference hopes to build on the hard work produced by SMG partners since the group was established in 2014.The conference is an opportunity for law enforcement and the Church to share evidence of practical cooperation and effective responses driven by the importance of supporting survivors of human trafficking.

“Slavery is an affront to human dignity and we all have a responsibility to fight against it. This conference is a unique opportunity to strengthen our global response as we move to specific and accountable actions.”

For more information go to http://santamartagroup.com/