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Pope: ‘a Church without martyrs breeds distrust’

(Vatican Radio) On the second anniversary of the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed in 1980 by military squadrons linked to the Regime in San Salvador as he defended the poor, Pope Francis recalled Romero’s religious fervor and passion for justice while warning the faithful against a ‘lukewarm’ Church. 

The Pope was speaking during Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.

Listen to Linda Bordoni's report: 

Pope Francis exhorted believers to leave comfort to the side and embrace an energetic lifestyle proclaiming Jesus with joy. 

He reflected on the liturgical reading of the day which tells the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi where they were followed by a slave girl with an oracular spirit who was shouting “These people are slaves of the Most High God”. This seemed like praise, the Pope said, but Paul became annoyed and cast out the spirit.  Paul understood, the Pope explained, that that was not the path to conversion of that city; it was not the Church of Christ. Everyone there accepted the doctrine, there were no conversions.

Similar situations, the Pope continued, have been repeated in the history of salvation: when the people of God are quiet, they do not take risks, but are servants of ‘worldliness’.

Then the Lord, he said, sent the prophets who – like Paul - were persecuted "because they made people uncomfortable." 

“In the Church when someone cries out against the many ways of worldliness, they are given ‘the crooked eye’ as if something were wrong with them, and then they are distanced” he said.

Francis spoke of personal memories from his own homeland recalling many men and women, whom he said, were not supporters of an ideology but  “were good consecrated people” who spoke out saying “No, the Church of Jesus is like this....: they were branded as communists and persecuted” he said.

“Think of the Blessed Romero.What happened to him for having told the truth? And so many others in the history of the Church, even here in Europe. Why? Because the evil spirit prefers a tranquil, risk-free Church, a business-like Church, a comfortable and lukewarm Church” he said.

In chapter 16 of the Acts it is also said that the slaves of the slave were angry: they had lost their hope of earning money because the slave could no longer divine. 

"The evil one, the Pope warned, always starts from the pocket. When the Church is lukewarm, quiet, organized, when there are no problems, look to where business is to be made" he said.

Pope Francis also focused his homily, on joy. In fact, he told of how Paul and Silas were dragged by the slaves to the magistrates who ordered them to be beaten and then thrown into jail. The jailer threw them into the innermost part of the jail where the two men broke into song. Towards midnight a tremendous earthquake flung all the gates of the prison open.  The jailer was about to take his life because he would have been killed if the prisoners had escaped but Paul urged him not to do so because, he said, “we are all here”. Then the jailer asked for explanations and converted. He washed their sores, was baptized, and “was filled with joy”. 

This, the Pope said, is the path of our daily conversion: “to move from a worldly, tranquil, safe, Catholic” lukewarm yes, to the true proclamation of Jesus Christ; to the joy of ' Christ's announcement. We must move, he said, from a religion that looks too much to earnings, to faith and to the proclamation that ‘Jesus is the Lord'.

This, Francis continued, is the miracle performed by the Holy Spirit, and he invited the faithful to read Chapter 16 of the Acts in order to see how the Lord “together with his martyrs” makes the Church move forward.

The Pope concluded his homily saying that a Church without martyrs breeds distrust; a Church that doesn’t take risks breeds distrust; a Church that is afraid of proclaiming Jesus Christ and of chasing out demons, idols and the lord of money is not Christ’s Church.

“Let us ask the Lord for the grace for renewed vigor in faith and conversion from a lukewarm way of life so we are able to make the joyful proclamation that Jesus is the Lord” he said.  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: condolences to Manchester victims

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a telegram expressing condolences to the victims of Monday night's bombing of a concert venue in Manchester, England, and condemning the attack, in which at least 22 people were killed and 59 thers injured. Please find the full text of the telegram, below... 

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His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the barbaric attack in Manchester, and he expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. He commends the generous efforts of the emergency and security personnel, and offers the assurance of his prayers for the injured, and for all who have died. Mindful in a particular way of those children and young people who have lost their lives, and of their grieving families, Pope Francis invokes God’s blessings of peace, healing and strength upon the nation.

(from Vatican Radio)

Saint Gregory VII

<em>The great controversy between Christ and Satan during the Christian dispensation</em> | from a book by White, Ellen Gould Harmon
Image: The great controversy between Christ and Satan during the Christian dispensation | from a book by White, Ellen Gould Harmon

Saint Gregory VII

Saint of the Day for May 23

(c. 1025 – May 25, 1085)

 

Saint Gregory VII’s Story

The 10th century and the first half of the 11th were dark days for the Church, partly because the papacy was the pawn of various Roman families. In 1049, things began to change when Pope Leo IX, a reformer, was elected. He brought a young monk named Hildebrand to Rome as his counselor and special representative on important missions. Hildebrand was to become Gregory VII.

Three evils plagued the Church then: simony–the buying and selling of sacred offices and things; the unlawful marriage of the clergy; and lay investiture–kings and nobles controlling the appointment of Church officials. To all of these Hildebrand directed his reformer’s attention, first as counselor to the popes and later as pope himself.

Gregory’s papal letters stress the role of the bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ and the visible center of unity in the Church. He is well known for his long dispute with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who should control the selection of bishops and abbots.

Gregory fiercely resisted any attack on the liberty of the Church. For this he suffered and finally died in exile. He said, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore, I die in exile.” Thirty years later the Church finally won its struggle against lay investiture.


Reflection

The Gregorian Reform, a milestone in the history of Christ’s Church, was named after this man who tried to extricate the papacy and the whole Church from undue control by civil rulers. Against an unhealthy Church nationalism in some areas, Gregory reasserted the unity of the whole Church based on Christ, and expressed in the bishop of Rome, the successor of Saint Peter.


The Liturgical Feast of Saint Gregory VII is May 25.

AB Gallagher on Holy See's action to protect Christians and other minorities

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s ‘foreign minister’, Archbishop Paul Gallagher has highlighted the need to protect Christians and other religious minorities facing persecution in different parts of the globe.

The words of the Secretary for Relations with States came on Saturday during an international meeting organised by the ‘Centesimus Annus pro Pontifice’ Foundation.  

Participants at the meeting also met with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday morning.

Please find below the full address of Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, entitled “The Holy See’s Action to protect Christians and other religious minorities in different parts of the world”

Distinguished guests,

Dear Friends,

Following our meeting last year, it is a pleasure to be with you again this morning and to have the opportunity to present the Holy See’s action to protect Christian and other religious minorities in different parts of the world. As you know, in the global turmoil, the fate of the Christians, particularly in their ancestral territories in the Middle East, where Christianity was born, is a priority for the Holy See. In presenting you the situation, I hope not only to update you with a vision of the Holy See’s line of action, but above all, to encourage you to consider ways in which you might intervene, within your own spheres of activity and influence, to support and protect Christians and other religious minorities.

I would like to begin by recounting the recent meeting that I had here in the Vatican with Nadia Murad Basee Taha, the Yazidi survivor and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the victims of human trafficking. During our meeting, she recounted the barbarous evil that had been visited upon her family and the Yazidi people by the so-called Islamic State. After witnessing the murder of her six brothers and mother, she was, along with thousands of other Yazidi women and young girls, imprisoned and used as a sex-slave by ISIS terrorists. She came to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, not only to seek his spiritual support for the suffering of her people, but also to thank him and the Holy See for having spoken out about the atrocities, not just against Christians but also against the other ethnic and religious minorities, including the Yazidi, who were subjected to unspeakable and horrendous crimes after the invasion of the Nineveh plain, the heartland of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities, by the so-called Islamic State in early August 2014.  As you recall, within days of that invasion, the Holy Father wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations appealing to the International Community to take urgent action to end the humanitarian tragedy and the Permanent Observer of the Holy See in Geneva raised those concerns with the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. In this, as in many other cases, the Holy See sought to be the voice of the voiceless. Last Sunday, at the Regina Coeli prayer, upon his return from Fatima, Pope Francis entrusted to Mary, the Queen of Peace, all those who have been afflicted by wars and conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, specifically mentioning Muslims, Christians and minorities, such as the Yazidi, who have suffered tragically from violence and discrimination. In expressing his solidarity and prayers for them, he gave thanks for all those who have helped those in need of humanitarian aid.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing concern from the International Community and from many Christians in the West about the fate of Christianity in the Middle East. Unfortunately, such concern has arisen because of the atrocities that had forced hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minorities to abandon their homes and flee for their lives, seeking refuge in precarious conditions and with much suffering, both physical and moral. Many have been killed and kidnapped because of their religious faith. What is at stake are fundamental principles such as the right to life, human dignity, religious freedom, and the peaceful and harmonious coexistence between persons and peoples.

We are well aware that Christians are not the only ones who suffer persecution in the world. There are many religious communities, including minority groups who experience persecution or repression, that may be state sponsored or societal in nature. There is a case, however, to focus on the persecution of Christians because, unfortunately, it seems to be on the rise. A number of studies have suggested that Christians are the victims of 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world. 

However, given the existential threat to their continued survival, in dealing with our topic this morning, I would like to focus on the situation of Christians and other ethnic religious minorities in the Middle East. The very fact that several countries and international bodies have passed resolutions describing the threats against Christians and other ethnic religious minorities by the so-called Islamic State as genocide prioritises our attention and concern for the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, but not only. In Egypt, the recent terrorist attacks against Christians that were carried out by returning ISIS fighters underline the global reach and phenomenon of ISIS. Such events are a worrying indicator that the retaking of the principal cities under ISIS control, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, will not defeat terrorism but merely displace it as Islamic State ‘foreign fighters’ return to their countries of origin in Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, this is one of the challenges already facing the international community, particularly in light of the terrorism in Europe and elsewhere in the past few years.

In focussing on the Middle East region, I begin by stressing that the Holy See’s efforts in that region are guided by the principle of defending the human rights of all people, regardless of race, religion or ethnic identity. While a particular concern and affinity for our Christian co-religionists is perfectly understandable and, indeed, is necessary for spiritual solidarity, it should not blind us to concern for the suffering and persecution of other groups. Threats to one or another group are a threat to all ethnic and religious minorities. Thus, I want to speak firstly about Christians in the Middle East; secondly, about the actions of the Holy See, both diplomatic and humanitarian, and thirdly, on the challenges for the future of ethnic and religious minorities of the Middle East.

I.  Christians in the Middle East

For centuries, Christians have lived side-by-side with various diverse ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East. This diversity has constituted a distinctive feature of the social fabric of the region – a mosaic of different peoples and religions – even if at times there were sporadic episodes of conflict and tensions between them. What we have seen in recent years, however, threatens the survival of a Middle East that is a place of peaceful coexistence of peoples with diverse religious and ethnic identities. The ideology unleashed by the so-called Islamic State seeks not only to change the borders of the Middle East but its very nature by eradicating Christians and other minorities who are an intrinsic part of its identity. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, “a Middle East without Christians, or with only a few Christians, would no longer be the Middle East, since Christians, together with other believers, are part of the distinctive identity of the region.”  Indeed, Pope Benedict acknowledged that the distinctive identity of the region is formed by Christians together with other believers, thus acknowledging that religious pluralism is not something to be imported into or imposed on the Middle East from outside, but a reality that already has a millennial existence there and which is intrinsic to its identity. This is the truth, the reality of the Middle East. The atrocities of the past few years, however, underline the heroism and courage required to give witness to this truth. When I met with Nadia Murad Basee Taha recently I saw at first hand such heroism and courage but I have seen it also in countless others who, despite their suffering, remain steadfast in their desire to defend the ethnic and religious pluralism of the Middle East.

The situation of Christians in the Middle East has been particularly desperate since the proclamation of the Caliphate of the Islamic State in Mosul in June 2014. In his letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, in August 2014, the Holy Father called upon the international community to help Christians and others who had fled the barbarism of ISIS to return safely “to their cities and their homes”. Since last autumn, most of the territory in Northern Iraq occupied by ISIS has been retaken, including the Christian villages of the Nineveh plain. Unfortunately, despite their desire to return, very few Christians or other groups have been able to do so.  Homes, schools and churches that would receive them continue to lie in ruins. Although liberated from the enemy, much still needs to be done to help Christians and other minorities to return safely “to their cities and their homes”. Constructing new buildings is perhaps the easier part; rebuilding Iraqi society and laying once again the foundations for harmonious and peaceful coexistence is the more difficult task.

An important and significant intervention of Pope Francis, motivated in part by the events of the summer of 2014, was his letter to the Christians in the Middle East shortly before Christmas 2014.  I think that it is worth reflecting a little on this letter. On the one hand, the Holy Father writes as a religious leader to the Christian communities of the Middle East, while on the other, he also uses the letter to make an appeal to the international community to address the needs of Christians and “those of other suffering minorities, above all by promoting peace through negotiation and diplomacy”. Even though only one paragraph of the letter is explicitly addressed to the international community, the remaining paragraphs of the letter reflect the principles at the heart of the Holy See’s diplomacy in defending Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East by affirming that they are integral members of those societies who have the right, and the duty, to contribute to the common good.  Thus, he reminds Christians of their unique and specific vocation to be the leaven in the dough of the societies and communities to which they belong: “Your very presence is precious for the Middle East. You are a small flock, but one with a great responsibility in the land where Christianity was born and first spread. You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence.” 

In his letter, the Holy Father described the unique role and vocation of Christians in the Middle East: “Dear brothers and sisters, almost all of you are native citizens of your respective countries, and as such you have the duty and the right to take full part in the life and progress of your nations. Within the region you are called to be artisans of peace, reconciliation and development, to promote dialogue, to build bridges in the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3:12), and to proclaim the Gospel of peace, in a spirit of ready cooperation with all national and international authorities.”

Although the letter was addressed to Christians, the Holy Father was not silent about the suffering of other religious and ethnic groups: “Nor, in writing to you, can I remain silent about the members of other religions and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution and effects of these conflicts”. This illustrates perfectly the unique character and voice of the Holy Father in the international forum as the Church’s Supreme Pastor and Diplomat par excellence.

II.  The actions of the Holy See: diplomatic and humanitarian

The primary diplomatic actor of the Holy See is the Holy Father. It is to the Holy Father that the world turns to, and it is his words and actions that inspire and animate the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. The Holy Father has various means at his disposal to exercise his unique and diplomatic role in the world. It is unique, primarily because the Holy Father speaks not simply as a world leader, but primarily as a religious leader. Indeed, his principal interventions come in the context of his Urbi et Orbi Messages at Christmas and Easter, the Sunday Angelus and his weekly Wednesday audiences with pilgrims who come to Rome, where he regularly appeals to the international community on the most pressing issues of the day. The Message for the World Day of Peace, on 1st January, and the annual New Year’s address of the Holy Father to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, are privileged occasions for the Holy Father to speak to the international community and set forth the Holy See’s principal concerns and priorities.

The Holy Father’s international trips abroad are also privileged moments of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See because they allow the Holy Father to speak to the world of politics and the leaders of civil society, which was particularly evident during his recent visit to Egypt. These are some of the primary means through which the Holy Father exercises his unique mission to the world. All other diplomatic activity of the Holy See flows from the ministry of the Holy Father and is exercised primarily by the Secretariat of State and the network of Papal Representatives throughout the world, some of whom are in countries at war and in conflict, literally on the frontlines, giving witness to the Holy Father’s concern for the suffering of peoples afflicted by wars. In recognition of such dedicated service, the Holy Father raised Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, to the rank of Cardinal.

Priorities and actions of the Holy See’s diplomacy

The priorities of the Holy See, which are grounded in the dignity of the human person, include the common good of society, promoting peace and justice, so that the followers of different faiths may live together in peace and harmony. With regard to the protection of Christians and minorities in the Middle East, the Holy See’s primary response has been to raise awareness about the humanitarian emergencies and crises that inevitably arise from wars and conflicts, including direct appeals to the parties of such conflicts to respect international humanitarian law by ensuring all necessary humanitarian relief is given to those who need it.

Similarly, the immediate appeals of the Holy See, in the summer of 2014, for example in the abovementioned letter of the Holy Father to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and constantly renewed since then, included calls to the international community to guarantee the right of refugees and internally displaced persons to return in safety to their homes. As I have already mentioned, the persons displaced by ISIS in the summer of 2014 are still waiting to return to their homes.

In these last few years, the gravest threat to Christians and to the survival of Christianity in the Middle East has been terrorism, particularly, terrorism motivated by religious extremism. Thus, the Holy See, in the various spheres of its diplomatic activity has not tired in highlighting this particular heinous evil and the specific responsibility of religious leaders to confront it and to affirm constantly that there can be no religious justification for any form of violence. Being both religious leader and diplomatic actor par excellence, the Holy Father has a unique voice on the world’s stage and thus he is singularly placed to bridge the gap between religious leaders and civil authorities on that stage.

During his meeting, on 9 January last, with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis devoted his speech to the theme of security and peace, underlining and renewing his personal firm conviction “that every expression of religion is called to promote peace.”  Unfortunately, in the times in which we live, there has been no shortage of religiously motivated acts of violence that have caused countless innocent victims in various parts of the world. When we consider the great number of religiously inspired works that contribute to the common good through education and social assistance, especially in areas of poverty and conflict, it is particularly repugnant and offensive to all sincere religious believers that religion can be used to foster hatred, violence and death. For this reason, Pope Francis renewed his appeal “to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”  A message reaffirmed during his recent Apostolic Visit to Egypt and in his meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayyeb. On that occasion, he invited religious leaders: “Let us say once more a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.”

Understanding the motivations that lie at the root of terrorism and religiously motivated acts of violence is complex and requires careful reflection and analysis, all the more so when there is a religious dimension to it. Religious leaders are uniquely placed to offer such reflection. Pope Francis has helped to open up spaces for this reflection to occur so that religious leaders are able to contribute to the sensitive debate about religiously motivated terrorism. In this context, it is important to acknowledge the many initiatives and declarations of Muslim religious leaders to condemn those who use the teachings of Islam to justify violence and terrorism. For example, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, the University of Al-Azhar, has on many occasions, organised seminars and conferences in which it has condemned the use of religion to justify violence. Some recent examples include the seminar in Cairo last February, at which the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, participated and, more recently, the International Conference for Peace organised on the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to the University of Al-Azhar last month.

Acknowledging explicitly the religious dimension of violent extremism is fraught with danger, and we can understand the reluctance of governments and international bodies to do so. Thus, the most important contribution of religious leaders to this debate is to help people understand that acknowledging the religious dimension of violent extremism, or rather the manipulation of religion for violent ends, does not mean equating religion, or a particular religion, or an entire religious community, with violence.

An essential element of eradicating terrorism is addressing the root causes, whether they be social, political or economic. Indeed, social poverty has been identified as a driver of terrorism. However, there are many forms of poverty. Indeed, Pope Francis has noted that religiously motivated fundamentalist terrorism “is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty. It can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders. The former are charged with transmitting those religious values which do not separate fear of God from love of neighbour. The latter are charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society that sees no opposition between social belonging, sanctioned by the principle of citizenship, and the spiritual dimension of life. Government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism. This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty; such policies cannot prescind from a clear appreciation of the importance of the family as the privileged place for growth in human maturity, and from a major investment in the areas of education and culture.”

In citing the aforementioned remarks of Pope Francis, I wish to underscore the importance that the Catholic Church gives to the role of religion and education in preventing radicalization that leads to terrorism and extremist violence in contributing to the debate about terrorism and how to confront it. A better understanding of the role of religion and education can bring about the authentic social harmony needed for coexistence in a multicultural society.

As I mentioned above, the diplomatic activity of the Holy See flows from the person of the Holy Father and it is exercised on a daily basis by the Secretariat of State through the network of papal representatives throughout the world. The Missions of the Holy See at the United Nations, particularly in New York and Geneva, are particularly engaged in the diplomatic efforts to support Christians and other persecuted minorities. The Holy See also participates in many international conferences. I mention just a few as a way of illustration.

Paris, 8 September 2015: International Conference on the Victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East.

United Nations – Geneva, 7 March 2017: the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in Geneva organised a high level parallel event on the occasion of the 34th Session of the Council for Human Rights. The event, entitled “Mutual Respect and Peaceful Coexistence as a Condition of Interreligious Peace and Stability: Supporting Christians and other Communities” was organised by the Holy See Mission, together with the Missions of the Russian Federation, Lebanon and Armenia and was co-sponsored by Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Serbia. Moreover, numerous other delegations attended the event, including Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Brussels, 5 April 2017: The “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” Conference took place with its twofold aim to reconfirm the humanitarian commitments that the international community made in London in 2016 and to look at the best ways to support a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Madrid, 24 May 2017: Follow-up Conference to Paris Conference on the Victims on ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East: “Protecting and promoting pluralism and diversity.”

Humanitarian activity of the Holy See

            From the very beginning of the humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria, the Church, through its various structures and entities, has been playing its role in responding to the humanitarian needs of all the people affected.  Dioceses, religious congregations and the various Catholic charitable agencies on the ground have distributed this humanitarian aid without regard to religious or ethnic background. This humanitarian assistance depends not just on the generosity of donors but also on the many volunteers who so generously give of their time. In support of this activity of the local church, I would like to mention the annual meetings on the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, organised since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, and coordinated, up to last year, by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. In September 2014, the “Catholic Aid Agencies Information Focal Point for the Iraqi-Syrian Humanitarian Crisis” was established as a means to facilitate greater cooperation and exchange of information among the various Catholic agencies involved in delivering humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria.

This focal point has also enabled us to have a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the humanitarian response of the Holy See and the Catholic Church. In 2016, according to the most recent data compiled by Cor Unum, the Holy See and the Catholic Church, through its network of charitable agencies, contributed to providing USD 200 million of humanitarian assistance of direct benefit to more than 4.6 million people in Syria and the region. In distributing aid, Catholic agencies and entities make no distinction regarding the religious or ethnic identity of those requiring assistance, and seek always to give priority to the most vulnerable and to those most in need. This approach was demonstrated also through the opening in January of a Caritas point in the Muslim area of East Aleppo and the “Open hospitals” project that seeks to open the Catholic hospitals in Aleppo and Damascus and render them fully operative for the needs of the local populations, especially the poor and disadvantaged. Such an approach is essential to Catholic charitable giving but it also bears remembering that, for many people in need of assistance, their first contact with the Church and Christianity is through the humanitarian assistance that they receive.

III. Challenges for the future of ethnic and religious minorities of the Middle East.

At the diplomatic level, the Holy See has always insisted upon the fundamental right of Christians and other religious minorities to be in the Middle East. The conflicts, wars and extremist terrorism, however, have contributed to the mass displacement and immigration of such minorities to other parts of the world for many decades. Indeed, it has been a constant preoccupation for the Holy See during all that time. The barbarity and cruelty of ISIS sponsored terrorism has only brought that worry into sharper relief. Can Christianity survive in the Middle East without Christians? We are facing a profound existential crisis and no effort must be spared in addressing this crisis. This crisis is not new; it existed long before a self-proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State installed itself in June 2014. Even though much of the ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria have been retaken, Christians and other minorities have yet to return, not least because their homes still lie in ruins or it is not yet safe to go back. And yet, even if those homes and towns were miraculously rebuilt overnight, given the traumatic experiences of these past three years, would Christians and other minorities, who genuinely fear that what has happened to them may happen again, return to those homes?   Christians do desire to return to their homes and villages because their identity is deeply rooted in their ancestral lands. The greatest challenge, therefore, is creating the conditions – social, political, economic – that will bring about a new social cohesion that favours reconciliation and peace and give Christians and other minorities the confidence to overcome such fears. As I mentioned earlier, constructing new buildings is perhaps the easiest part; the more difficult task is rebuilding society and laying once again the foundations for harmonious and peaceful coexistence.

So what are the foundations necessary for guaranteeing the future of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East? In the west, we take such concepts of the ‘rule of law’, ‘law and order’, ‘peace and security’ for granted, but the experience of what has happened in Iraq and Syria, where a terrorist organisation succeeded in taking control of large swathes of territory and declaring itself to be State.  In the coming weeks, it is expected that the so-called Islamic State will be finally vanquished. But what will replace it?  Will the root causes for its rise be addressed? The international community and diplomacy needs to help broken countries of the Middle East to answer these questions by insisting on some fundamental principles. Hand in hand with the ‘rule of law’ is the unequivocal respect of human rights, in particular freedom of religion and of conscience. In this regard, it is important to insist on religious freedom, including the right to follow one’s conscience regarding religious matters. In many countries of the Middle East, there are limits on the right of religious freedom. In expanding religious freedom, members of the various religious communities, regardless of their relative size in the overall population, will be able to recognise themselves as equal partners with their fellow citizens contributing to the common good. Christians and other minorities do not want to be ‘protected minorities’ who are benevolently tolerated. They want to be equal citizens whose rights, including the right to religious freedom, are defended and guaranteed through guaranteeing and defending the rights of all citizens.

Some concerted State-building is required in the Middle East in cooperation with the populations of those countries concerned. A proper functioning State that works for the common good is the ultimate prerequisite for protecting Christians and minorities in the Middle East and guaranteeing them a future there. However, more than that is required. Given the theme of your meeting “Constructive alternatives in an era of global turmoil: Job creation and human integrity in the digital space – Incentives for solidarity and civic virtue”, I would like to recall that one of the final conclusions of the last meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq, held under the auspices of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum last September, concerned the urgent need to promote initiatives for job creation in the Christian communities throughout the Middle East.

In conclusion, I renew my opening invitation to you to consider ways in which you might intervene, within your own spheres of activity and influence, to support and protect Christians and other religious minorities who are in need of protection.

Thank you for your kind attention.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope kicks off Italian Bishops' Assembly with frank and open dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday afternoon met with Italian Church leaders who are holding the 70th General Assembly of their bishops’ conference.

The meeting began with a brief introduction from the outgoing President of the conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. After that, the Pope greeted the bishops during a session, open to journalists, in the Vatican Synod Hall, before continuing the meeting behind closed doors.

On Tuesday the bishops will elect three names which will be forwarded to the Pope to select a new president for the conference. They will then proceed with discussions on the main theme for this assembly, which is focused on an effective evangelization of young people. 

On Wednesday the bishops will celebrate Mass in St Peter’s Basilica and on Thursday they will hold a concluding press conference in the Paul VI audience hall.

After a brief speech of greeting during which Pope Francis thanked Cardinal Bagnasco for his ten years of service and for  his patience as, he said “it is not easy to work with this pope,” the bishops were handed prepared remarks by the Pope who, as he often does in such occasions, made it immediately clear he wanted a frank and open exchange with them behind closed doors.

Apologizing to all the others present Pope Francis said his face-to-face with his brother bishops represented an important and private moment of encounter, and he pointed out that “when dialogue is stifled, gossip is sown” so, he said, it is important to enter into true dialogue even when it means listening to opinions that one may not agree with, but, he stressed “it’s important to be able to speak in freedom”. 

Cardinal Bagnasco reflected briefly on one of the fundamental themes of the Assembly: young people’s formation.

“Their conditions of life, Bagnasco said, their capacity for sharing and building a future are an urgent reminder to us of our educational responsibility and witness; meeting them helps us to rediscover, every day, the primacy of God in our lives to be able to think and take action in freedom that is born from truth.”

And regarding the choice of his successor, Cardinal Bagnasco made assurances regarding the firm will of every one present to support and sustain whoever is chosen for the benefit of our Churches.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to Sister Disciples of the Divine Master: 'be prophets of hope'

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday greeted the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM) and encouraged them to go forward in their mission to bring the Gospel to the men and women of today with joy in unity, giving voice to plurality and respecting each other’s differences.

The Pope words came as he addressed the Sisters who are holding their 9th General Chapter in Rome (10 April-28 May) on the theme “New wine in new wineskins.”

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

First of all, Pope Francis said to the Sisters, always be open the Holy Spirit, Master of diversity, Master of unity within differences.

“Walk together in communion, he said, respecting plurality and tirelessly weaving your legitimate differences into unity, taking into account you are present in different Countries and cultures”.

Basing his discourse on the many fruits yielded by communion, the Pope encouraged the Sisters to allow each other to express themselves freely, to be accepted with their own special gifts, and to become fully co-responsible.

He urged them to cultivate mutual attention and practice sisterly correction and respect the weakest members.

“Grow in the spirit of living together, banish divisions, envy, and gossip from your communities, speak frankly and with charity” he said.

The Pope noted that the Disciples of the Divine Master share Fr. Giacomo Alberione as father and founder with the Pauline family, as well as the mission to bring the Gospel to the men and women of our time.

He spoke of the fruits of communion born from collaboration with other charisms saying it is the time for synergy between all consecrated persons who are called to welcome the riches of other charisms and put them all in the service of evangelization, remaining faithful to their identity.

“No one, he said, builds the future by isolating themselves or on their own strength alone” and he invited them to cultivate dialogue and communion with other charisms, and to combat self-referentialism in every way.

The Pope also mentioned the importance of the fruits produced by communion with the men and women of our time: “Our God is the God of history and our faith is a faith that works in history. In the questions and expectations of today's men and women, there are important indications for our pursuit of Christ”.

Pope Francis said the Chapter is a time to listen to the Lord who speaks to us through the signs of the times.

He said it is also a time for peaceful and unbiased confrontation which requires the opening of mind and heart, and he urged those present never to tire of the practice of listening and sharing with the men and women of today.

“In this time of great challenges, which require devoted creative fidelity and passionate research, listening and sharing are more than ever necessary if we want our lives to be fully meaningful to ourselves and to the people we meet” he said.

Pope Francis then told the Sisters that to this end it is necessary to maintain a climate of discernment, to recognize what belongs to the Spirit and what is contrary to it. 

He said that a world of possibilities is open before us and that “the culture in which we are immersed presents them all as valid and good, but if we do not want to fall victim to the culture of zapping and sometimes to a culture of death”, we must always be discerning and never tire of asking the Lord “What do you want me to do?”

The Chapter, the Pope said, is also a time in which to renew our docility towards the Spirit that animates prophecy. This, he said, is an indispensable value for consecrated life which itself is a special form of participation in the prophetic mission of Christ. 

“As consecrated women, you live the prophecy of joy, that joy that comes from your encounter with Christ through a life of personal and communal prayer” he said, as well as in a joyful life of fraternity within the community and in your embrace of Christ’s flesh when you minister to the poor.

Joy, the Pope said, is a beautiful reality in the lives of many consecrated persons, but it is also a great challenge for all of us because joy must be of the authentic kind, never self-referential or self-satisfied.

“This joy, Francis continued, which fills your hearts and shows on your faces will lead you to go out to the peripheries and participate in the joy of the Church that is evangelization, convinced that Jesus is the Good News and is joy for all. This joy distances you from the cancer of resignation, the fruit of sloth that withers the soul”.

Pope Francis concluded his address encouraging the Sisters to be prophets of hope with eyes turned to the future, and to let themselves be guided by the Spirit in order to continue to do great things.

Trusting in Christian hope and in the strength it gives you, he said: “fortify your vocation of morning sentinels in order to announce the coming of the dawn: Wake up the world, light up the future”.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Open your heart to the Holy Spirit

It is only the Holy Spirit Who can teach us to say: “Jesus is the Lord.” That was the focus of Pope Francis’ reflections during the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta on Monday. The Holy Father emphasized that we must open our hearts in order to hear the Holy Spirit, and thus be able to bear witness to Christ.

Listen:

“Be calm, I will not leave you orphans; I will send you an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to defend you before the Father.” Pope Francis based his homily on the long discourse of Jesus to His disciples at the Last Supper. The Pope dwelt especially on the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who accompanies us and “gives us the assurance of being saved by Jesus.”

The Holy Spirit, the gift of Jesus, is the travelling companion of the Church

It is only the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, Who teaches us to say, “Jesus is the Lord”:

“Without the Holy Spirit, none of us is able to say it, to perceive it, to live it. Jesus, in other places in this long discourse, said of Him [the Holy Spirit]: ‘He will lead you into all truth,’ He will accompany you towards the full truth. ‘He will bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you; He will teach you all things.’ That is, the Holy Spirit is the travelling companion of every Christian, and also the travelling companion of the Church. And this is the gift that Jesus gives us.”

We must open our hearts to the Holy Spirit; otherwise, He cannot enter in

The Holy Spirit, he continued, is “a gift, the great gift of Jesus,” Who does not lead us astray. But where does the Spirit dwell? the Pope asked. He looked to the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, where we see the figure of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, someone who “knew how to do things.” The Lord opened her heart, so that she might follow the Word of God:

“The Lord opened her heart so that the Holy Spirit could enter, and she became a disciple. It is precisely within our hearts that we carry the Holy Spirit. The Church calls the Spirit ‘the sweet guest of the heart’: He is there. But He cannot enter a closed heart. ‘Ah, but where can one buy the keys to open the heart?’ No! That too is a gift. It is a gift of God: ‘Lord, open my heart so that the Spirit can enter it, and I can understand that Jesus is the Lord.’”

This, the Pope said, is a prayer that we should say every day: “Lord, open my heart so that I can understand what You have taught us; so that I can remember Your words; so that I can follow Your words; so that I can come to the fullness of the truth.”

Let us ask ourselves if our hearts are truly open to the Spirit

Our hearts must be open, then, so that the Holy Spirit can enter, and so that we can hear the Spirit. Pope Francis said the readings of the Mass suggest two questions we can ask ourselves:

“The first: Do I ask the Lord for the grace that my heart might be opened? The second question: Do I seek to hear the Holy Spirit, His inspirations, the things He tells my heart that I might advance in the Christian life, and that I too might bear witness that Jesus is the Lord? Think about these two things today: Is my heart open? Do I make an effort to listen to the Holy Spirit, to what He tells me? And so we advance in the Christian life, and we too bear witness to Jesus Christ.”

(from Vatican Radio)