Pope at Jubilee Audience: ‘Be reconciled to God’

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Saturday held an extraordinary Jubilee Audience in St. Peter’s Square for thousands of eager pilgrims. The Audience also celebrated the Jubilee for members of the police and armed forces.

The Holy Father focused in his catechesis on a very important point of mercy: reconciliation, taking the apostle St. Paul’s words in the second letter to the Corinthians 5:20-21 as his guide: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

‘Be reconciled to God’

Pope Francis said St. Paul’s words ‘be reconciled to God’ are an invitation for all Christians, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. He said God constantly offers us his forgiveness, and our sins can never keep us from God’s mercy.

“Often we believe our sins push God away from us: in reality, by sinning we push ourselves away from Him, but He, seeing us in danger, keeps searching for us. God never accepts the possibility that someone could remain estranged from His love, as long as He finds in that person some sign of contrition for the evil committed.”

The Holy Father went on to say that, in our sinfulness, we can only return to God by freely accepting his grace.  For this, he has given us his Son Jesus, whose cross is a bridge leading us back to the Father.

“The sinner sees only himself and thus pretends to be self-sufficient; for this reason, sin distances us ever more from God, and this can become a barrier. However, Jesus comes to look for us like a good shepherd who is not content until he has not found the lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:4-6). He rebuilds the bridge which connects us to the Father and allows us to rediscover our dignity as sons and daughters. With the offer of his life, he has reconciled us to the Father and given us the gift of eternal life (cf. John 10:15). ‘Be reconciled to God!”

Reconciliation brings peace and contributes to society

He said this Holy Year of Mercy is a time for each of us to accept this offer of reconciliation and, in our communities, to bring it to the world around us.  Being reconciled with God not only brings inner healing and peace, but also impels us to work for reconciliation within society at every level, and thus contribute to the building of a global culture of peace, justice and solidarity.

“Let us accept, therefore, the invitation to be reconciled to God to become new creatures and to be able to radiate His mercy among our brothers and sisters.”

After the audience Pope Francis offered a special welcome to the members of the armed forces and police from throughout the world, especially those present at the audience from Canada, Kenya, Korea, the Philippines, and the United States of America.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope: No to Double lives: Christians are people of light

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis warned Christians against having double lives, displaying an outer facade of light but having darkness in their hearts. He urged them to walk in the light and not tread dark paths, saying God’s truth cannot be found there. The Pope’s remarks came during his homily at Mass celebrated on Friday morning in the Santa Marta residence.

Taking his cue from the reading of St John’s First Letter, Pope Francis reflected on the eternal struggle against sin, saying we must be pure like the Father but even if we sin we can count on his pardon and his tenderness. He stressed the Apostle’s warning to believers to tell the truth and not have double lives, saying one thing but doing another.    

Walk in the light

“If you say you are in communion with the Lord, then walk in the light.  But no to double lives!  Not that! That lie that we are so used to seeing and where we too sometimes fall (into temptation), don’t we?  To say one thing and do another, right?  It’s the never ending temptation.  And we know where that lie comes from: in the Bible, Jesus calls the devil ‘the father of lies’, the liar. It’s for this reason that this grandfather says with infinite tenderness and meekness to the ‘adolescent’ Church: ‘Don’t be a liar! You are in communion with God, walk in the light. Do works of light, don’t say one thing and do another. No to double lives and all that.”

Bigger than our sins

Noting how John began his Letter with the greeting, ‘children’, Pope Francis said this affectionate beginning is just like the tone of a grandfather towards his ‘young grandchildren’ and reveals the tenderness and light contained in this reading. It also recalls Jesus’ words when he promised “rest” to all those “who labour and are overburdened.” In the same way, the Pope continued, John urges his readers not to sin but if somebody does, to not be discouraged by this.

“We have a Paraclete, a word, an advocate, a defender at the Father’s side, it’s Jesus Christ, the Upright One. He makes us righteous. It is He who pardons us. A person may feel like saying to this grandfather who gives us this advice: ‘But is it such a bad thing to have sins?’ ‘No, a sin is a bad thing! But if you have sinned, look at who is waiting to pardon you.’ Always! That’s because He, our Lord, is greater than our sins.”

The Pope concluding by saying this is God’s Mercy and his greatness and it’s from Him alone that we can get our strength.   

“We must walk in the light because God is Light.  Don’t walk with one foot in the light and the other in darkness.  Do not be liars.  And one other thing: we have all sinned. Nobody can say: ‘This man is a sinner, this woman is a sinner.’  I, thanks to God, am upright.’ No, only one is Upright, He who paid for us. And if somebody sins, He is waiting for us and pardons us because He is merciful and knows very well what we are shaped from and remembers that we are but dust. May the joy that this Letter gives us, carry us forward in the simplicity and the transparency of the Christian life, above all when we turn to the Lord… with truth.”

(from Vatican Radio)

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Financial Information Authority presents Annual Report

(Vatican Radio) A press briefing was held on Thursday morning, in the John Paul II Hall of the Press Office of the Holy See, for the presentation of the Annual Report of the Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria (the Financial Information Authority, AIF), on the activities of financial reporting and supervision, both with regard to prudential decisions and for the prevention and combatting of money laundering and the financing of terrorism during Year IV, 2015.

Present at the briefing, in addition to the Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, were the President of the AIF, Dr René Brülhart, and the Director of the AIF, Dr Tommaso Di Ruzza.

Below, please find the official Press Release regarding the 2015 Annual Report of the Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria:

AIF press release | Annual Report 2015 | Effective regulatory framework

The Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria(AIF) of the Holy See and the Vatican City State has presented its Annual Report for 2015. The report reviews the activities and statistics of AIF for the year  2015.

2015 has seen an effective implementation and application of the regulatory framework of the  Holy See and the Vatican City State. Furthermore, international cooperation of the Vatican competent authority with its foreign counterparts to fight illicit financial activities has been intensified.

“The full implementation and application of Regulation No. 1 has shown the effectiveness of the regulatory framework of the Holy See and Vatican City State,” said René Brülhart, President of AIF. “International cooperation remains a key commitment of AIF. Additional Memoranda of Understandings with competent authorities of other jurisdictions were signed and the exchange of information on a bilateral level has increased significantly.”

The reporting system has been consolidated and in the last three years, 893 Suspicious Transaction Reports (STR) (202 in 2013, 147 in 2014 and 544 in 2015) have been filed with AIF.

“The  increase of STRs was not due to higher potential illicit financial activities, but to a number of different  factors, namely the finalization of the closure of client relationships no longer compliant with Vatican legislation and policies adopted by supervised entities, the monitoring of clients’ activities under foreign countries’ voluntary tax compliance programs as well as the general strengthening of the reporting system and the increased awareness of the supervised entities,” said Tommaso Di Ruzza, Director of AIF. In 2015, 17 reports were submitted to the Vatican Promoter of Justice for further investigation by judicial authorities.

The number of cases of bilateral cooperation between AIF and foreign competent authorities increased from 4 in 2012 to 81 in 2013 to113 in 2014 and 380 in 2015.

Since 2012, the number of declarations of outgoing cash above the amount of EUR 10,000 decreased steadily from 1,782 (2012) to 1,557 (2013) and 1,111 in2014 and remained stable in 2015 (1,196). Declarations for incoming cash also decreased from 598 (2012) to 550 (2013) to 429 in 2014 and 367 in 2015. This is due to an increased monitoring by the competent authorities and the introduction of reinforced procedures at the supervised entities.

About AIF

The Financial Information Authority is the competent authority of the Holy See and Vatican City State for supervision and financial intelligence for the prevention and countering of money laundering and financing of terrorism as well as prudential supervision.

Established by Pope Benedict XVI with the Apostolic Letter in form of Motu Proprio of 30 December 2010, AIF carries out its institutional activities in accordance with its new Statute introduced by Pope Francis with Motu Proprio of 15 November 2013 and Law No. XVIII of 8 October 2013.

In 2015, AIF signed MOUs with the financial intelligence units (FIUs) of Albania, Cuba, Luxemburg, Norway, Paraguay and Hungary. In previous years, AIF had already signed MOUs with the Authorities of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom, United States of America, South Africa and Switzerland. AIF became a member of the Egmont Group in 2013. 

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope addresses conference on regenerative medicine

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday addressed participants of an International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact. The Conference is being sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Stem for Life Foundation, and the STOQ Foundation.

The 2016 conference focused on pediatric cancers and rare diseases, as well as diseases that occur with aging. It featured talks and discussions with leading cell therapy scientists, physicians, patient advocates, ethicists, philanthropists, leaders of faith and government officials.

In his address, Pope Francis focused on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the institutions working with it.

“It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society,” the Pope said, “and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease.” Pope Francis described this aspect of their work as “increasing sensitivity.”

The Holy Father also emphasized the importance of research, in terms of “education and genuine scientific study.” Education, he said, is necessary not only to develop students’ intellectual abilities, but also to ensure “human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree.” Research, meanwhile, “requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person.”

The third aspect highlighted by Pope Francis was “ensuring access to care.” A desire for profit should never prevail over the value of human life. This, the Pope said, “is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.” By drawing attention to and educating people about rare diseases, by increasing funds for research, and by promoting “necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift,” he continued, “the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered.”

Pope Francis concluded his address with a word of encouragement for those participating in the Conference. “During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy.”

Below, please find the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ remarks:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis

to Participants of the International Conference

on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact

Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican City


Friday 29 April 2016


Dear Friends,

            I am pleased to welcome all of you. I thank Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi for his words and, above all, for having organized this meeting on the challenging problem of rare diseases within today’s social and cultural context. During your discussions, you have offered your professionalism and high-level expertise in the area of researching new treatments. At the same time, you have not ignored ethical, anthropological, social and cultural questions, as well as the complex problem of access to care for those afflicted by rare conditions. These patients are often not given sufficient attention, because investing in them is not expected to produce substantial economic returns. In my ministry I frequently meet people affected by so called “rare” diseases. These illnesses affect millions of people throughout the world, and cause suffering and anxiety for all those who care for them, starting with family members.

            Your meeting takes on greater significance in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy; mercy is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2). Your work is a sign of hope, as it brings together people and institutions from diverse cultures, societies and religions, all united in their deep concern for the sick.

            I wish to reflect, albeit briefly, on three aspects of the commitment of the Pontifical Council for Culture and institutions working with it: the Vatican Science and Faith Foundation–STOQ, the Stem for Life Foundation, and many others who are cooperating in this cultural initiative.

The first is “increasing sensitivity”. It is fundamentally important that we promote greater empathy in society, and not remain indifferent to our neighbour’s cry for help, including when he or she is suffering from a rare disease. We know that we cannot always find fast cures to complex illnesses, but we can be prompt in caring for these persons, who often feel abandoned and ignored. We should be sensitive towards all, regardless of religious belief, social standing or culture.

            The second aspect that guides your efforts is “research”, seen in two inseparable actions: education and genuine scientific study. Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree. From this pedagogical perspective, it is necessary in medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses which provide ample room for a human formation supported by ethical criteria. Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person. Formation and research, therefore, aspire to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love.

The third aspect I wish to mention is “ensuring access to care”. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I highlighted the value of human progress today, citing “areas such as health care, education and communications” (52). I also strongly emphasized, however, the need to oppose “an economy of exclusion and inequality” (53) that victimizes people when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life. This is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy. We are called to make known throughout the world the issue of rare diseases, to invest in appropriate education, to increase funds for research, and to promote necessary legislation as well as an economic paradigm shift. In this way, the centrality of the human person will be rediscovered. Thanks to coordinated efforts at various levels and in different sectors, it is becoming possible not only to find solutions to the sufferings which afflict our sick brothers and sisters, but also to secure access to care for them.

            I encourage you to nurture these values which are already a part of your academic and cultural programme, begun some years ago. So too I urge you to continue to integrate more people and institutions throughout the world into your work. During this Jubilee Year, may you be capable and generous co-operators with the Father’s mercy. I accompany you and bless you on this journey; and I ask you, please, pray for me. Thank you.

(from Vatican Radio)

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​‘Annuario 2016’ and ‘Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014’ are in bookstores-The living Church in a changing world

The Annuario 2016 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2014, edited by the Central Statistics Office, is has become available in book stores. Both volumes are printed by the Vatican Printing Press.

The data reveal several new aspects that emerged between 15 February and 31 December 2015 in the life of the Catholic Church in the world. During that period one eparchy was elevated to metropolitan status, three new dioceses, three eparchies and two apostolic exarchates were created, and one apostolic exarchate was elevated to eparchy.

The statistics presented in the Annuarium Statisticum, relevant to the year 2014, provide a brief analysis of the chief dynamics regarding the Catholic Church in the 2,998 ecclesiastic circumscriptions throughout the world.

Over the past nine years the number of baptized Catholics worldwide grew by 14.1%, exceeding the growth rate of the world’s population for the same period (10.8%). The presence of Catholics in the world, therefore, increased to 17.8% in 2014, from 17.3% in 2005. In absolute terms this amounts to approximately 1.272 billion Catholics in 2014 as compared to 1.115 billion in 2005. Since the statistics varied considerably in the various geographical areas, this explains the heterogeneous overall figure.

While Europe hosted nearly 23% of the world’s Catholic community in 2014, it now appears to be the least dynamic area overall, with an increase in the number of Catholics for the entire period of only slightly over 2%. The Catholic presence in the territory remained fixed at roughly 40%, with a minor correction with respect to 2005. This takes into account the fact that the demographic dynamic in the same period is several decimal points below that of the number of Catholics.

With reference to the entire 2005-2014 period, the number of baptized Catholics in Oceania increased at a slower rate than the population (15.9% and 18.2%, respectively), while the contrary was seen in the Americas (11.7% versus 9.6%) and in Asia (20% versus 9.6%). The African continent undoubtedly showed the most growth: the number of baptized (about 215 million in 2014), increased at a pace more than double that of Asian countries (nearly 41%) and is far higher than the population growth rate for the same period (23.8%).

Thus, apart from different demographic dynamics there was obvious confirmation of the increased percentage in Africa (where the number of baptized faithful rose from 13.8% to almost 17% of the worldwide population) and of the net drop of that in Europe, falling from 25.2% in 2005 to 22.6% in 2014. Although 2014 marked a minimal fall, the American continents continue to be home to almost half of baptized Catholics.

Asia, with over 60% of the global population, showed moderate growth in the incidence of Catholics, with approximately 11% of Catholics in the world. In Oceania the incidence of baptized faithful remained stable at less than 0.8% of the worldwide Catholic population.

Between 2005 and 2014 the number of bishops rose from 4,841 to 5,237, an increase of 8.2%. This increase was marked in Asia (over 14.3%) and Africa (over 12.9%), while in the Americas (over 6.9%), in Europe (over 5.4%) and in Oceania (over 4%) the figures were below the worldwide average. Regarding these varied trends, however, the distribution of bishops by continent remained substantially stable throughout the period studied, with a higher concentration of the total in the Americas and Europe. Also in Asia, where the number of bishops grew considerably, the overall demographic statistics showed limited growth, from 14.3% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2014.

There was a more homogenous and balanced distribution by continent in the number of baptized faithful per bishop, passing from 230,300 to 242,900 between 2005 and 2014; except for the singular case of Oceania (where the low population density in the fragmented territory of numerous islands and archipelagos creates completely unique situations), the trend in Africa and Asia, continents where the spread of Catholicism is more dynamic, is converging toward the global average.

From the statistics regarding diocesan and religious priests, the first striking figure is that the overall consistency in the number of priests increased by 9,381 between 2005 and 2014, from 406,411 to 415,792, and seems to have been consistent in recent years. This applies globally, since the figures vary widely among individual continents. In contrast with the notable increases in Africa (more than 32.6%) and Asia (more than 27.1%), Europe showed a fall of over 8%, and Oceania less than 1.7%. Different growth rates were recorded worldwide over time in the number of priests: the increase was stronger in the first six years of the period under study, but practically null in the last three years. In particular, the growth in the figures shows that, following the steady rise up to 2011 in the number of ordinations to the priesthood, there has been a steady, gradual decrease to date. The negative aspects of the trend show that defections have progressively decreased in number, while the death of priests, after a period of annual fluctuation, has risen in recent years. In particular, the trends of diocesan priests show overall growth in comparison to priests of the religious orders; moreover, while the initial data showed a growing trend in Africa, in the South and Central America, in Asia and Oceania, they reveal, by contrast, a declining trend in the remaining areas, Europe in particular. Religious priests, on the contrary, registered a downward trend in the Americas as well as in Europe and in Oceania.

The data regarding diocesan and religious priests demonstrate favourable trends overall in the areas previously studied, while the remaining areas show a downward trend. Thus, when viewed in relative terms, trends in the overall number of priests showed changes in the following geographical areas: from 2005 to 2014, an increase was seen in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America; numbers in the Middle East and Oceania remained virtually unchanged; lastly, downward trends were recorded in North America and Europe — the latter, in particular, showed a drop from 48.8% in 2005 to 43.7% in 2014.

The pastoral work of bishops and priests is supported by other pastoral figures: permanent deacons, professed men and women religious. The composition of these three groups of pastoral workers is quite diverse. At the end of 2014, there were, worldwide, 44,566 permanent deacons, 54,559 professed men religious who are not priests, and roughly 683,000 professed women religious. The evolutionary trends also presented different characteristics.

Permanent deacons constitute the most rapidly changing group over the course of the period: they grew from approximately 33,000 in 2005 to almost 45,000 in 2014, with a relative variation of over 33.5%. Although the increase is manifest everywhere, its pace varied among the continents: in Europe the number of permanent deacons increased significantly over nine years, rising from less than 11,000 to 15,000. The American continents also showed an increase: in 2014 the number rose to nearly 29,000 from approximately 22,000 in 2005. There are no significant changes to report in the territorial distribution of permanent deacons during the period examined: only a slight decrease was shown in the relative number of deacons in America and a growth in Asia. It is of interest to note that permanent deacons are well represented in the Americas (North America in particular) with 64.9% of all deacons in the world, and also in Europe (32.6%). This category, however, is scarce in Africa and Asia: these continents hold barely 1.7% of the worldwide figure.

The practical ability of permanent deacons to assist priests in performing pastoral work effectively in the territory, however, is still limited. In the world, the distribution of deacons per 100 resident priests, in fact, was just 10.7 in 2014, with a minimum of 0.48 in Asia and a maximum of 23.5 in America. In Europe the quotient is about 8%, while in Africa, 1.1 deacons serve alongside 100 priests. Therefore, the dimension of the phenomenon is still rather modest for their work to have a significant effect on the balance between the demand and offer of ministry to the baptized faithful residing in the area. In terms of development, however, it should be noted that there tend to be a greater number in the territory precisely where the ratio between baptized faithful and priests is reduced.

Instead, a slight decrease was reported in the number of professed men religious who are not priests. In 2005 there were 54,708 worldwide, decreasing thereafter to 54,559 in 2014. It is also noteworthy that the drop was concentrated in the Americas (less than 5%), in Europe (less than 14.2%) and in Oceania (less than 6.8%). On the contrary there was an increase in Africa (over 10.2%) and in Asia (more than 30.1%). Overall, in 2014, Africa and Asia represented almost 38% of the total (up from 31% in 2005). Conversely, the group comprised of Europe, the Americas and Oceania decreased to almost 10% over the period under examination.

Professed women religious in 2014 represented a population of 682,729, with almost 38% in Europe, followed by the American continents with over 177,000 consecrated women and Asia with 170,000. In comparison to 2005, this group showed a decrease of 10.2% which likewise involved the Americas, Europe and Oceania, with significant negative variations (around 18-20%). On the contrary, there was a decidedly steady increase of approximately 20% in Africa and of approximately 11% in Asia. In light of these greatly varied trends, the portion of the worldwide total of women religious grew in Africa and Asia from 27.8% to 35.3%, as compared to Europe and America, where the combined figure dropped from 70.8% to 63.5%.

The temporal development observed in the world between 2005 and 2014 for the number of major seminarians (diocesan and religious) showed an initial growth that continued until 2011, when the total recorded was equal to 105.4% of the 2005 total. This was followed by a slow but steady decline, which brought the 2014 figure down to 102.2%. With regard to consistency, the number of candidates to the priesthood worldwide rose from 114,429 in 2005 to 120,616 in 2011, and then dropped to 116,939 in 2014. The decrease observed in the overall number of major seminarians between 2001 and 2014 involved all the continents except Africa, where the number of seminarians increased by 3.8% (from 27,483 to 28,528). However, when the entire period from 2005 to 2014 is considered, the differences between the territorial areas appear more evident. While Africa, Asia and Oceania show dynamic upward trends (with growth rates of 21%, 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively), Europe registered a 17.5% reduction over the same period, and the Americas (particularly due to the negative trend in the southern hemisphere) showed a drop of 7.9% compared to the start of the period. As a result, a general re-evaluation of the role of the European and American continents in the potential growth and renewal of priestly figures is observed, with Europe’s share falling from 20.2% to 16.2%, and the Americas’ from 32.2% to 29.1%, in contrast with the expansion in Africa and Asia which represents an overall percentage of 53.9 of the worldwide total for 2014 (24.4% and 29.5%, respectively).

Also in relative terms with respect to the number of Catholics, the greatest movement was shown in Africa and Asia, with 133 candidates to the priesthood per one million Catholics in Africa in 2014, and about 247 in Asia. European and American figures (66 and 55, respectively, which are far less significant and in decline in comparison with 2005, would suggest a reduced offering of pastoral services. Lastly, from the number of major seminarians per 100 priests, one can form an idea of the generational replacement in the effective exercise of pastoral ministry. Thus, also in this context, Africa and Asia retain their primacy with 66 and 54 candidates per 100 priests respectively, while in Europe the figure is 10, confirming an ongoing stagnation in priestly vocations. The Americas and Oceania maintain an intermediate position with 28 and 22 candidates to the priesthood per 100 priests in 2014. Overall, however, thanks to the upturn in Africa and Asia, the total has gone from 28.16 to 28.12 major seminarians per 100 priests.

At the end of the quantitative survey conducted overall and for large geographical areas both in terms of consistency and of variations, one can draw approximate conclusions regarding the most obvious phenomena regarding current trends.

Firstly one can note from most of the phenomena analyzed, a certain dichotomy between the dynamics of the emerging continents, Africa and Asia, and those of Europe, which is progressively losing its centrality as the model of reference. This is not surprising. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the development of the Church in the world cannot ignore the major trends underlying worldwide development, especially for demographics. Thus, Europe has become the most static continent, hindered by the net aging of its population and by its low birth rate. The Americas as a whole are in an intermediate position, but were the analysis to distinguish between North and Latin America, divergences would likely arise, enabling at least a partial comparison, first to Europe and second to Africa and Asia. Oceania constitutes a reality unto itself, also due to its far more limited demographics.

In the 2005-2014 period, the number of priests increased overall, even if the significant increase of diocesan priests and the marked decrease of religious priests should be noted.

Europe registered a heavy loss, which was largely compensated by the lively trend shown by Africa and Asia regarding diocesan priests. The Americas presented, for the same period, a 1.6% growth: they have addressed the loss of 4,000 religious with just over 6,000 diocesan priests.

The average pastoral figure worldwide, expressed by the number of Catholics per priest, grew noticeably and is higher in Africa and the Americas, while in Europe it has been far more limited. The situation may plausibly be modified in the coming years, since the European clergy is older and weakened by lower renewal rates, while in Africa and Asia the number of candidates to the priesthood is clearly growing.

The relatively recent phenomenon of the considerable increase in the number of permanent deacons is of great importance. The dynamic trend shown by these workers is certainly not attributable to temporary or contingent motivations, but seems to express new and different choices in performing the work of spreading the faith. Indeed, the increase of deacons is seen generally in Europe and the Americas, less positive continents in terms of development in other categories of pastoral workers.

Candidates to the priesthood present a positive trend overall, however in this case as well, there are several reasons for concern in Europe and the Americas, where a decline has been clearly shown in recent years. Conversely, Africa and Asia show great vitality.

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Vatican cell conference opens with focus on kids, rare disease

(Vatican Radio)  For a child to be born sick is a “scandalous” problem for humanity.  That was one of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s reflections Thursday as he opened in the Vatican day one of the Third International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact.  The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture partnered with the Stem For Life Foundation to organize what has been described as a “historic” three day event 28-30 April to look at the complex cultural and social framework of illnesses and at cutting edge research into cellular therapies.

In her opening remarks, the President of Stem For Life, Dr. Robin Smith, pointed to the growing range of therapies currently under study for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune disorders and rare diseases.  The first in the series of conferences was launched five years ago, she noted, to foster a dialogue about the importance of stem cell therapy.  Since then, the sector has progressed exponentially as scientists became increasingly aware of their ability to be “taught” to transform into a wide variety of tissue, cells and even organs.

Saving lives or playing God?

“Cellular cures are the light in front of us,” she said, but they need to be made more rapidly available to patients.  Super computers and ever-more powerful diagnostic tools are making it easier to identify the right treatment for the right patient at the right time.  The advances in cellular therapy are happening so quickly, she suggested, it will not be long before people begin to ask: can we design our own child?  Choose its hair and eye colour, its height and intelligence?  Can we turn back time and reverse aging?  Are we playing God?  The philosophical and ethical questions abound.

Smith invited us to have tissues at the ready for the heart-wrenching stories we were about to hear.  Stories like Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts’ exhausting battle with breast cancer which evolved into any doctor’s worst nightmare: Mylodisplastic  Syndrome (MDS) or pre-Leukemia. She was told she had less than two years to live. But thanks to her sister, Sally, Robin received a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant that saved her life.

Transplants and “Reengineering” can transform lives

We heard that more than 70 disorders can be treated with bone marrow transplants.  Nearly half of the 50,000 such transplants performed around the world each year require a donor.

Though national registries have made matching up donors to patients easier in recent years, finding the right fit can take months. That, even though there are more than 20 million voluntary bone marrow donors worldwide.  Scientists are finding ways to train bone marrow cells to adapt to new hosts so they won’t be rejected by the body’s immune system.  They’re also finding promising new techniques by taking a patient’s own cells and re-programming them to fight off “bad” cells.  One such technique is called “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy,” a revolutionary but experimental treatment which reengineers the patient’s cells to kill off all cancerous cells.

17 year old Nicholas Wilkins was diagnosed with the most common childhood cancer, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at age 4.  After repeated relapses, he received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. But even that didn’t work. In 2013, his desperate parents enrolled Nicholas in a trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where doctors reinfused reengineered T-cells back into his body to attack the cancer.  Three years later, he is cancer free and doctors are hopeful he will stay that way because the “good” T-cells are continuing to fight the cancer.

Researchers are hopeful this technique can be just as promising in the treatment of other diseases, such as rare and autoimmune disorders.

90% of kids with cancer die in developing nations

Georgetown University Health Care Ethics Professor Fr. Kevin Fitzgerald, sj told us that some 80-90% of children with cancer in industrialized countries are cured while 90% die in poor countries.  The moral imperative, then, is to ensure adequate medical care in developing countries: an invitation to policy makers, businesses, the pharmaceutical sector and medical and research communities to collaborate to make this a reality.  And, he reminded us that as the largest health care provider in the world, the Catholic Church is ready to partner with them.

Eugene Gasana Jr was 13 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011 and after intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy in New York, he has been in remission. But Eugene wasn’t satisfied with just getting better himself.  He wanted kids in his home country of Rwanda to have access to similar, high quality medical care.  Thanks to a Foundation set up in his name and donors, his paediatric oncologist, Dr. Tanya Trippett of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is heading up a program to provide a hospital and cancer care for children in Kigali for the east African region.

According to Trippett, serving cancer patients in Rwanda and other parts of Africa is a challenge because of the lack of quality diagnostic equipment and in some cases, the absence of chemotherapy and cancer drugs.  The infrastructure is poor and oncologists are few.  Patients go hungry in hospitals which also struggle to provide follow-up care for families who live far away.  She wants to see more cooperation between Western hospitals and clinical professionals to provide training to Rwandan and other African doctors, nurses and hospital staff and greater access to funding.

Dr. Raphael Rousseau, Medical director of Genentech, a member of the Roche pharmaceutical group, would like to see more clinical trials in developing countries, using the same rigorous standards as Western trials.  He says he’s frustrated that drugs are not getting soon enough to children with cancer and appealed to drug companies to develop new therapies for cancer, especially in developing countries “where cancer is lethal.” This not an area of competition, he said, “we’re all in it for a good cause.”

Cord blood’s life-saving stem cells

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University Medical Center works with cord blood stem cells to find cures for brain diseases like cerebral palsy, or autism, and in some cases, with remarkable results.  Not long ago, after a woman gave birth, the placenta used to be thrown out in the trash, she said.  But now, the stem cell-rich material can be frozen and stored, perhaps for decades, in the some 700,000 public cord blood banks around the world until it is needed for therapy. Some four million banks preserve cord blood for private use. Cord blood can be an alternative source, she said, for patients who can’t find a matching donor.

Dr. Yong Zhao of Hackensack University Medical Center is finding encouraging results using cord blood cells for multiple autoimmune and inflammation-related diseases.

The rare disease challenge

The new treatments evolving are many: “nano technology,” “nano chips,” “gene therapy” and “gene editing” were some of the terms thrown out by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s Dr. Stephen Groft who said 4-8% of the population suffers from a rare disorder. Some 8,000 rare diseases have been identified, and most have a genetic origin, but more diseases are occurring and mutating. Multiply that by family and friends, he said, “and you have a big population affected by rare diseases.”  A lack of information on such disorders, misdiagnosis and lack of treatments are the real challenges facing patients with rare diseases.

But Dr. Groft is among a number of health experts worldwide who are compiling data bases of patients, doctors, symptoms, and treatment protocols so that the global health community can study these rare diseases and communicate with each other about them.  Social media plays a big part here, he said, as patients exchange their stories and search for clinical trials in which to participate and doctors looking for colleagues who have come across similar patient cases.

We heard about 14 year old Johnathan who suffers from a disorder known as “Butterfly disease,” a frightfully painful condition that makes his skin as fragile as powdery butterfly wings but has nothing to do with the beauty of the delicate creature.  Johnathan and his mom spend hours each day dressing him, bathing and changing the bandages covering the sores on much of his frail body. Here was one of the many times  I reached for a tissue on Thursday.   Johnathan knows he probably won’t survive past his mid- 20’s.

Then, there were the children with Batten disease, which one father described as a “thief” which comes in the night to steal away your small child’s vision, his brain, his ability to walk and talk.  And, the kids suffering childhood blindness who are receiving encouraging help with gene therapy.

Dr. Neil Warma of Opexa Therapeutics, is working with personalized T-cell vaccines to fit each individual’s patient’s profile to treat an array of autoimmune disorders including Multiple Schlerosis and NMO so the body can repair itself. New therapies are also evolving in the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes or juvenile diabetes giving fresh hope to patients suffering from this debilitating disorder too.

Tracey McClure

(from Vatican Radio)

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Pope: There is always resistance in the Church to surprises of the Spirit

(Vatican Radio) There is always resistance to the surprises of the Spirit, but it’s the Spirit who continues to lead the Church forward. That was Pope Francis’ message at Mass on Thursday at the Santa Marta chapel as he reflected on the reading about division and resistance within the early Church in Jerusalem.

Commenting on today’s reading from Acts about the Council of Jerusalem, Pope Francis said the protagonist in the Church is always the Holy Spirit. It’s the Spirit who, from the very beginning, gives strength to the apostles to proclaim the Gospel and it’s the Spirit who carries the Church forward despite its problems.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report

Even when there is an outbreak of persecution, the Pope said, it’s the Spirit who gives believers the strength to stand firm in the faith, even if they face resistance and anger from the doctors of the law. In the passage from Acts, the Pope noted, there was a double resistance to the Spirit, from those who believed that Jesus came only for the chosen people and from those who wanted to impose the law of Moses, including the practice of circumcision, on those who had converted.

There was great confusion over all this, the Pope said, but the Spirit led their hearts in a new direction. The apostles were surprised by the Spirit, he said, as they found themselves in new and unthinkable situations. But how were they to manage these circumstances? Pope Francis said the passage begins by noting that ‘much debate had taken place’: no doubt heated debate, because on the one hand they were pushed on and on by the Spirit, but on the other, they were facing new situations that they had never seen or even imagined, such as pagans receiving the Holy Spirit.

The disciples were holding a ‘hot potato’ in their hands and didn’t know what to do, the Pope said. Thus they called a meeting in Jerusalem where each one could recount their experiences of how the Holy Spirit had been received by the Gentiles. And in the end they came to an agreement. But first , the Pope noted, “The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.” Never be afraid to listen with humility, the Pope said. When you are afraid to listen, you don’t have the Spirit in your heart. When the apostles had listened, they decided to send several of the disciples to the Greeks, the pagan communities, that had become Christians to reassure them.

Those who converted, the Pope continued, were not obliged to be circumcised. The decision was communicated to them in a letter in which the disciples say that “The Holy Spirit and we have decided….” This is the way of the Church when faced with novelties, the Pope said. Not the worldly novelties of fashion, but the novelties of the Spirit who always surprises us. How does the Church resolve these problems? Through meetings and discussions, listening and praying, before making a final decision. This is the way of the Church when the Spirit surprises us, Pope Francis said, recalling the resistance that emerged in recent times during the Second Vatican Council.

That resistance continues today in one way or another, he said, yet the Spirit moves ahead. And the way the Church expresses its communion is through synodality, by meeting, listening, debating, praying and deciding. The Spirit is always the protagonist and the Lord asks us not to be afraid when the Spirit calls us. Just as the Spirit stopped St Paul and set him on the right road, so the Spirit will give us the courage and the patience to win over adversity and stand firm in the face of martyrdom. Let us ask the Lord for grace, the Pope concluded, to understand how the Church can face the surprises of the Spirit, to be docile and to follow the path which Christ wants for us and for the whole Church.

(from Vatican Radio)

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Vatican media reform must ‘open windows’

(Vatican Radio) The head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, Mgr Dario Viganò spoke about the ongoing reform of the Holy See’s media operations on Wednesday at a seminar for Catholic communicators which is taking place this week at the ‘Holy Cross’ Pontifical University.

Beyond simply reforming structures, Mgr Viganò stressed the need to renew the process of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to all people. Every euro spent in this field, he said, must be used to ensure that the Gospel and the teaching of the Pope reaches the hearts of all people. The goal, he said, is not to substitute for local churches but to support those communities that have the greatest needs.

Mgr. Viganò spoke of the reform ‘timeline’, which focuses this year on a closer integration of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Centre, of which he is the former director. The reform process, he stressed, must go beyond a mere makeover and a change of names.  Instead it must lead to a greater efficiency and interactivity through the use of new technologies, yet without forgetting those facing serious communications challenges.

Above all, he said, it is essential to “open the windows” and make sure we are responding to the questions of our users, rather than engaging in a navel-gazing exercise. In this effort, he said the keys are to be found in formation, reorganization, team building, participation and sharing. Finally he stressed that instead of a hierarchical leadership, the new Secretariat is placing the emphasis on a wide network which makes best use of the resource of all its members. 

(from Vatican Radio)

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