Pope: ‘no human condition grounds for exclusion from God’

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Sunday that “No human condition constitutes grounds for exclusion from the heart of the Father.”

The Pope was speaking during the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square on the day upon which we mark the International Day of Leprosy.

The only privilege in the eyes of God – Pope Francis told the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square – is to have no privileges and to be abandoned in His hands.” 

And calling on all men and women to guard themselves against the temptation of treating religion as a human investment and of thinking they can “bargain” with God seeking to obtain their own interests, the Pope urged the faithful to open their hearts to the Lord and to his Revelation.

Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel reading of the day in which Jesus, speaking at the Synagogue,  mentions great prophets like Elijah and Elisha who were not given credit, and then he himself is driven out of town “but  passed through the midst of them and went away”.

He said that the Scripture passage is fulfilled today as it was during the time of Jesus.

And he reminded the faithful that God the Father cares for all his creatures, even the smallest and the most insignificant in the eyes of men and that it is always He who takes the first step: “comes to visit us with his mercy, raises us from the dust of our sins”.

God – Pope Francis said – “holds out His hand to draw us back from the abyss into which we have been driven by our pride, and invites us to welcome the consoling truth of the Gospel and to walk on the right paths: He always comes to looking for us” and no human condition constitutes grounds for exclusion from His heart.

After the Marian prayer, the Pope turned his attention to the World Day of Leprosy. 

A “disease – he said – that while being in regression, unfortunately still affects the poorest and most marginalized.”

And stressing the fact that it is important to show solidarity to these brothers and sisters who are disabled as a result of this disease, the Pope assured them of his prayers and pledged his support to those who assist them.

Pope Francis also had a special greeting for a group of boys and girls of the Italian Catholic Action movement from the Diocese of Rome.

Commending them for having just passed through the Holy Door of Mercy, he encouraged them to be instruments of peace and mercy among their peers.

Finally, the launch of coloured balloons symbolizing peace and a request that has become customary from Pope Francis but that never fails to touch one’s heart: “Please do not forget to pray for me.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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The International Eucharistic Congress wraps up in Cebu

(Vatican Radio) The 51st International Eucharistic Congress has ended in Cebu, Philippines.

As Vatican Radio’s Seàn-Patrick Lovett reports from Cebu, the week long event that saw the participation of faithful and clergy from across the globe concluded in style with a personal video-message from Pope Francis himself who also announced that the next such Congress will take place in 2010 in Budapest, Hungary:

So what exactly do you have to do to get front page news coverage of your international Catholic spiritual festival that brings together over 15,000 delegates from over 70 countries in an exotic location and a context of impeccable organization and style in order to listen to some of the most inspired and inspiring speakers in the world today addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time and that includes a celebration during which 5,000 children receive their First Holy Communion as well as an evening torch-light procession stretching over 5 kilometres and witnessing  the participation of nearly 2 million people representing all ages and social groups and that culminates in an open-air Mass attended by approximately the same number of devout and devoted faithful and that concludes with a video message by no one less than the Pope himself?

Apart from using shorter sentences, you could start by avoiding any reference to the word “Eucharist”. In fact, if you were listening, you might have noticed my reference to the event as a “Catholic spiritual festival”, rather than an “International Eucharistic Congress” – which it was. But then, I’m only trying to help.

The fact is that, with numbers like those, any other political, sporting or entertainment event anywhere else in the world, would have attracted the kind of attention that it deserved. Evidently, the Eucharist doesn’t deserve it. At least as far as mainstream media is concerned. Fortunately, every single person who was here in Cebu (man, woman, child, secular or religious, Catholic and non) – would disagree.

To put it bluntly (and with no disrespect): we had a blast. And to be honest (with the utmost respect): it was more fun because it was in the Philippines. In the words of their own Pastors (and I quote): Filipinos do three things really well: sing, eat and enjoy celebrating their Faith. Of course they do so much more than that. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York publicly expressed his gratitude to the many Filipino priests who have taken over parishes in Europe and America that were in crisis due to a lack of local vocations. And what about the Filipino care-givers and computer programmers and artists and engineers who have brought the joyfully exuberant expression of their faith tradition to worn-out and lack-lustre Catholic communities on five continents?

So, by way of conclusion, and since I know you didn’t read or hear about it anywhere else, you need to know that for the past week here in Cebu we have been singing, eating, and celebrating the Catholic Faith the Filipino way: joyfully.

Here in Cebu, singing, eating, and covering the 51st Eucharistic Congress I’m Seàn-Patrick Lovett

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope mourns Casa Santa Marta worker

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday spoke of his sadness at the death of one of the workers at his residence at the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

The Holy Father said the woman, whom he called Elvira, had been sick for some time.

He was speaking at the conclusion of his first Jubilee audience during this Year of Mercy in St Peter’s Square and he asked the pilgrims present to pray a Hail Mary for the woman and her family.

The Pope described the Casa Santa Marta as big house, where he said about forty priests, and some bishops who are working in the Curia live. There are also, he added, guests who stay, such as cardinals, bishops and lay people who come to Rome for meetings.

Elvira was just one of a group of men and women, who work at the residence cleaning and working in the kitchen and dining room.

Pope Francis said these people were not just employees, they formed part of a family in the house.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Jubilee audience: Mercy and mission

(Vatican Radio) In the first monthly Jubilee audience during this Year of Mercy, the Holy Father on Saturday spoke about the close relationship between mercy and mission. 

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II, the Pope said that his predecessor  “reminded us that the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy, and leads people to the source of mercy.”

As Christians, Pope Francis said, “we are called to be missionaries of the Gospel.”

He went on to say that just as we naturally seek to share with others the beautiful moments of our lives, we are called also and especially to share the joy of encountering Jesus Christ.

The Pope explained to those gathered in St Peter’s Square that to encounter Jesus was to experience his love, which transforms us and compels us, in turn, to share this love. 

The Holy Father stressed that every Christian was the “bearer of Christ” and said that the mercy we receive from the Father is not given solely for our benefit, but for the good of all, by transforming us into instruments, missionaries of mercy. 

The mercy that we receive from the Father, the Pope noted, was given to us as a private consolation, but it also makes us tools so that others can receive the same gift.

“Let us never tire of feeling the need of His forgiveness”, Pope Francis said, “because when we are weak, his proximity makes us strong and enables us to live with greater joy our faith.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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Get Formed and Reformed

            As we grew up, we were formed in our faith at home, at the Catholic school, and at faith formation programs.  Our formation consisted in learning what we believe, in experiencing the beauty of prayer, and in developing a Catholic mindset and outlook on life.
            As we grow older, we need to reform and reinforce our faith: appreciate it again, gain greater understanding, experience new forms of prayer.  Lent has been a traditional time to season our faith life and explore the depths of our faith.

            During Lent, Msgr. Aucoin will offer sessions.  The topics are listed below.  No registration is needed to participate.  You are not committed to attending all the sessions since each one is independent of the other.  Each session will last 60 – 75 minutes.  The format for each session will be: video, instruction, discussion, prayer.  Here’s the schedule:
Feb 15
9:00 am
St. Patrick’s Chapel
The Bible: God’s Love Letter to Humanity.
6:30 pm
Msgr. Sechi Hall
Feb 22
9:30 am
St. Patrick’s Chapel
6:30 pm
Msgr. Sechi Hall
Feb 29
9:00 am
St. Patrick’s Chapel
The Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.
6:30 pm
Msgr. Sechi Hall
Mar 7
9:00 am
St. Patrick’s Chapel
Why Do I Need the Church?
6:30 pm
Msgr. Sechi Hall
Parish Retreat – Week of March 14
Mar 21
9:00 am
St. Patrick’s Chapel
The Last Things: What Happens When We Die?
6:30 pm
Msgr. Sechi Hall

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Message for 63rd World Leprosy Day: ‘To live is to help to live’

(Vatican Radio)  Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, on Friday released his message for the 63rd World Leprosy Day

The theme of this year’s message is ‘To live is to help to live‘. 

World Leprosy Day is traditionally help around the world on the last Sunday of January. It was begun in 1954 by French philanthropist and writer, Raoul Follereau, as a way to raise awareness of this deadly ancient disease.

The full message is below:

Message of H.E. Msgr. Zygmunt Zimowski, the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care), on the Occasion of the Sixty-Third World Leprosy Day

To live is to help to live

(31 January 2016)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This sixty-third World Leprosy Day, which has the title ‘To Live is to Help to Live’, constitutes for everyone an opportunity to continue with the fight against this terrible infection, as well as to weaken the ostracism that often burdens the people who carry its unmistakable signs.

This is a marginalisation that can be traced back to a natural sense of self-defence in relation to a disease which at one time was incurable, and to an almost ‘ancestral’ fear which, however, today no longer has any reason to exist given that leprosy can be defeated and those who have been cured of it can go back to living.

The distancing, like the exclusion from of social life, of those who carry its signs are, therefore, totally unreasonable and indeed they provoke further and unjustified sufferings in totally innocent people who already suffer as a result of the lesions – which are often also accompanied by disability – that are provoked by this disease. In this sense, those who have good health are called to help those who still today are the victims of an unjustified social stigma to live in a dignified way.

This constitutes a concrete sign of solidarity, of authentic fraternity, and of mercy, in line with what – during this Jubilee Year – we are taught by Pope Francis, who points out to us that we must manage to help them, ‘looking them in the eye’, without being ‘afraid to touch them’, so that ‘this gesture of help may also be a gesture of communication…a gesture of tenderness’. [1]

This commitment, in addition, forms a part of that concern that the Holy Father himself emphasised in his Message for the forthcoming World Day of the Sick which will be celebrated on 11 February in the Holy Land: ‘In Mary’s concern we see reflected the tenderness of God. This same tenderness is present in the lives of all those persons who attend the sick and understand their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love’. In this concrete and disinterested gesture one can truly recognise in action the theme chosen for this event: to live is to help to live.

Making its own the commitment of the Church to caring for people with leprosy and supporting those who have been cured of it, and in order to increase the sensitivity of men and women of good will, our Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, cooperating, respectively, with the Sasakawa Foundation and the Raoul Follereau Foundation, has organised two study days which will be held on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 June 2016 in the Vatican.

At that event, those taking part will be able to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday 12 June, on the occasion of the Jubilee for the Sick and Disabled.

I take this opportunity to send my greetings to those with leprosy and to thank dutifully those who do all they can for all those people who have to be treated and cared for, or who are relegated to the margins of society because of this disease, which is still endemic in various countries of Asia, South America and Africa. Equally, we must feel ourselves committed to finding a new impetus against this disease, broadening activities involving information and prevention, but above all fostering, as a gesture of true ‘com-passion’, the social and occupational reintegration of those who have been cured of it and who – despite the fact that they carry the marks of this disease on their bodies – have maintained intact their dignity as persons.

In this work let us take as an example, and be inspired by, many Saints and Blesseds, as well as by men and women of good will, who have dedicated, and at times sacrificed, their lives to be at the side of people with Hansen’s disease, even at a time when leprosy was clinically incurable and a source of innumerable deaths. Amongst the most representative we can but remember St. Damien de Veuster, St. Marianne Cope, the Blessed Jan Beyzym, and Albert Schweitzer.

In expressing by this Message the gospel nearness that the Church still and always intends to bear witness to, both with people who are afflicted by leprosy and with those who take care of them, I entrust the celebration of this World Leprosy Day to the maternal care of the Most Holy Mary, in whose steps we may follow in order to cross – with care and joy – the threshold of the Holy Door of Mercy and meet He who is true Life.

[1] Pope Francis, Angelus (15 February 2015).

(from Vatican Radio)

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ABP Fisichella holds press conference on Jubilee events

(Vatican Radio)  Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, held a press conference on Friday (29 Jan) to discuss the Missionaries of Mercy to be sent out into the world by Pope Francis for the Jubilee of Mercy and the temporary exposition of the body of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Lenten season.

Archbishop Fisichella also gave some statistics on the number of pilgrims participating in Jubilee Year events taking place in Rome, saying that “as of today 1,392,000 people have participated in Jubilee events,” of which some 40% come from abroad, mostly from French or Spanish speaking countries.

Yet he reminded all the most important element of the Jubilee Year is not numbers, but an experience of God’s mercy. “A Holy Year of mercy goes well beyond numbers, for it is intended to touch the hearts and the minds of people in order to assist them in coming to understand the ways in which God’s great love manifests itself in their daily lives. It is a time during which to assess our lives of faith and to understand how we are capable of conversion and renewal, both of which come from recognizing the importance of remaining focused upon what is essential.”

Archbishop Fisichella also related the life stories of the two saints whose relics are in Rome for the Jubilee Year, Saint Leopold Mandić and Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, giving the details of where and when their remains will be exposed.

He went on to speak of the Missionaries of Mercy who Pope Francis will send out into the world on Ash Wednesday, recalling the words of the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae vultus. “The Missionaries of Mercy are a select number of priests who have received from the Pope the charge to be privileged witnesses in their respective Churches of the extraordinariness of this Jubilee event. It is only the Pope who nominates these Missionaries, not the Bishops, and it is he who entrusts them with the mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional. The Missionaries, who come from every continent, number over 1,000.”

The full text of Archbishop Fisichella’s speech is below:

“It is has been almost two months now since Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St. Peter’s. Since that moment, the Doors of Mercy have been opened all around the world. The incredible number of people who have registered for these events allows us to acknowledge how this insight of Pope Francis, his idea of having this Extraordinary Jubilee, has answered a true need of the people of God who are receiving this event of grace with great joy and enthusiasm. We can conclude from this participation that the Jubilee is being intensely lived in all the world and in every local Church, where this time of grace is being organized as a genuine form of renewal for the Church and as a particular moment of the new evangelization.

Every day we receive thousands of pictures and documents from around the world attesting to the commitment and the faith of believers. Yet all of this activity has not stopped a substantial number of pilgrims from arriving in Rome during this period. According to the data available to us on a daily basis, as of today 1,392,000 people have participated in Jubilee events. An interesting detail is that 40% of those who have attended come from abroad, speaking largely Spanish and French. We have registered pilgrims from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Korea, Kenya, Mozambique, El Salvador, New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico, the Fiji Islands, Russia, Belarus, the Seychelles, the Ivory Coast, Chad, Kuwait, the U.S.A., Albania and from many other countries. I would like to reiterate that this is not the criteria by which to judge the actual outcome of the Jubilee. A Holy Year of mercy goes well beyond numbers, for it is intended to touch the hearts and the minds of people in order to assist them in coming to understand the ways in which God’s great love manifests itself in their daily lives. It is a time during which to assess our lives of faith and to understand how we are capable of conversion and renewal, both of which come from recognizing the importance of remaining focused upon what is essential. In any case, a general evaluation of the Jubilee cannot be made after only two months but must be done at its conclusion. All of the other considerations at the moment are incomplete and temporary and, thus, do not merit particular attention.

During this period, Pope Francis has carried out two particular signs of his concrete witness of mercy. On Friday, December 18, he opened the Door of Charity in the homeless shelter, “Don Luigi di Liegro”, where he celebrated Holy Mass in the refectory. On January 15, he visited the nursing home for the aged, “Bruno Buozzi” in Torrespaccata, after which he went to Casa Iride where he spent time with those in vegetative states who are being assisted by their families. These signs possess a symbolic value before all of the many needs that are present in society today. They are, however, intended to stir in all of us a greater awareness of the many situations of need in our cities and to offer a small response of caring and aid.

There are two particular events that now merit our attention. The first pertains to the presence in Rome of the urns containing the relics of Saint Leopold Mandić and Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Such an occasion is of great significance for it is an unprecedented event, given the stories of these two saints who spent their lives in the service of the mercy of God. Padre Leopold (1866-1942) was canonized by John Paul II on December 16, 1983 and is less well known than Padre Pio. Yet, his hunger for holiness spread beyond the Church of Padua, where he lived the major part of his life and where his memory and his relics remain. Originally from Croatia, this Capuchin father dedicated all of his life to the confessional. For almost thirty years, he spent from ten to fifteen hours a day in the secrecy of his cell, the very place which became a confessional for thousands of people who found in their relationships with him the privileged witness of forgiveness and of mercy. Some of his brothers noted that he was “ignorant and too lenient in forgiving everyone without discernment.” Yet, his simple and humble response to this charge leaves one speechless: “Should the Crucified blame me for being lenient, I would answer Him: Lord, you gave me this bad example. I have not yet reached the folly of your having died for souls.” Padre Pio (1887-1968), who was canonized in 2002 and also by John Paul II, does not require lengthy presentations. This simple Capuchin friar spent his entire life at San Giovanni Rotondo without ever leaving that town. Certainly, during his life, some in Rome caused him to suffer, but his holiness always prevailed. In the silence of obedience, he also became a privileged witness of mercy, dedicating all of his life to the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are grateful to the Capuchin Fathers and to the Bishops of the Dioceses of Padoa and Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo for having responded so graciously to the wish of the Pope that the relics of these two saints remain in Rome for a period of time during the Jubilee.

The program is quite simple. The urns containing the relics will arrive in Rome on February 3 where they will be placed in the Church of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura. The church will be open to the faithful starting at 15:00 with a celebration of reception. The relics will remain in San Lorenzo until 20:30 the following day, during which time there will be a number of celebrations reserved for the vast extended Franciscan Family. An all-night vigil is being organized in the Jubilee Church of San Salvatore in Lauro, which will begin at 22:00 on February 4. The prayer will continue until the following day, February 5, with various celebrations and will conclude with Holy Mass at 14:00 presided by His Excellency Michele Castoro, the Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo. At 16:00, a procession with the two urns containing the relics will begin from San Salvatore in Lauro and then proceed the entire length of Via della Conciliazione in order to arrive at the sagrato of St. Peter’s Basilica. There on the sagrato, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, will receive the relics and after a moment of prayer, will then accompany the relics into the Basilica where they will be placed in the central nave before the Altar of the Confession for people to venerate. The relics will remain in St. Peter’s for veneration until the morning of February 11 when, after the Holy Mass of thanksgiving at 7:30 am at the Altar of the Chair, they will be returned to their original homes. It is opportune to note that on February 10, Ash Wednesday, the Basilica will remain closed in the morning for the General Audience and then, in the afternoon, Holy Mass will be celebrated in the Basilica to mark the beginning of Lent. Thus, those who wish to venerate the relics are kindly asked to choose to do so on one of the previous days and to follow along the Jubilee reserved walkway in order to enter through the security check point as rapidly as possible.

As previously noted, the second event pertains to the celebration that will take place on Ash Wednesday when the Holy Father will give the mandate to the Missionaries of Mercy. As attested to in the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae vultus, the Missionaries are to be a “sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again. They will be led in their mission by the words of the Apostle: ‘For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all’” (Rom 11:32).

Thus, the Missionaries of Mercy are a select number of priests who have received from the Pope the charge to be privileged witnesses in their respective Churches of the extraordinariness of this Jubilee event. It is only the Pope who nominates these Missionaries, not the Bishops, and it is he who entrusts them with the mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional. The Missionaries, who come from every continent, number over 1,000. I am delighted to announce that there are Missionaries coming from many distant countries and, among these, some of which have a uniquely significant importance such as: Burma, Lebanon, China, South Korea, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Burundi, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Latvia, East Timor, Indonesia, Thailand, and Egypt. There will also be Oriental Rite priests.

We have received a great response for participation but must place a limit on the large number of requests in order to ensure that the specific sign value, one which expresses how truly special the initiative is, be maintained. All of the Missionaries have received the permission of their respective diocesan Bishops or Religious Superiors and will make themselves available to those requesting their services throughout the entirety of the Jubilee but, most especially, during the Lenten Season.

There will be 700 Missionaries arriving in Rome. Pope Francis will meet with them on February 9 in order to express his feelings regarding this initiative which will certainly be one of the most touching and significant of the Jubilee of Mercy. On the following day, only the Missionaries of Mercy will concelebrate with the Holy Father, during which time they will receive the “mandate”, as well as the faculty to absolve those sins reserved to the Holy See. An interesting story may help to capture the pastoral interest that this initiative has garnered around the world. Father Richard from Australia will visit 27 communities in his rural Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle where there is only one church and no priests in residence. Traveling in a camper, he will journey from community to community as a “Missionary of Mercy on Wheels”! This is but an example of the way in which the Jubilee is meant to reach all, allowing everyone to touch the closeness and the tenderness of God.

Finally, regarding other Jubilee events, the first Jubilee Audience will be held in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday, January 30. Pope Francis has responded generously to the many requests he has received from pilgrims who wish to meet him. Consequently, one Saturday a month has been added to the official calendar for a special audience, one which will be in addition to the regular Wednesday Audiences. This first audience already has 20,000 people registered. Another event of particular interest is the Jubilee for the Curia, the Governorate, and Institutions connected to the Holy See to be held on February 22. This celebration will begin with a reflection given by Father Marco Rupnik at 8:30 am in the Paul VI Hall. After this meditation, there will be a procession through St. Peter’s Square which will pass through the Holy Door. Holy Mass will then be celebrated by Pope Francis at 10:00.

The Jubilee continues to following its course and we are certain that, in accord with the desires of Pope Francis, it will be an important occasion “to live out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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