Pope: Jesus brings true change...

posted Dec 5, 2016, 8:33 PM by theresa orozco, ossm   [ updated Dec 5, 2016, 8:34 PM ]

Pope: Jesus brings true change,renewing the heart

(Vatican Radio) Let us allow ourselves to be transformed by Christ; let us allow ourselves to be able to be re-created, freeing us from our sins. That was the message of Pope Francis at the morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, centred on the theme of the renewal that the Lord brings. The Pope put us on guard about painting over our sins without truly being ashamed in our hearts. Only by calling sins by their name, he said, will we be able to allow God to make us new women and men.

The desert will bloom, the blind will see, the deaf will hear. The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, speaks to us about renewal, the Pope said. Everything will be changed, from ugly to beautiful, from wicked to good.” A change for the better: this, he said, is what the People of Israel were expecting from the Messiah.

The change that Jesus brings is not simply make-up

Turning then to the Gospel of the day, Pope Francis noted that Jesus went about healing people, helping them “to see a path of change” and this is why they followed Him. They didn’t follow Jesus because He was some sort of novelty; “they followed Him because the message of Jesus touched their hearts.” And “the people saw that Jesus healed, and they followed Him” for that reason as well:

But what Jesus did was not only change things from ugly to beautiful, from wicked to good: Jesus made a transformation. It’s not a problem of making something beautiful, it’s not a problem of cosmetics, of make-up: He changed everything from the inside! He made a change that was a re-creation: God had created the world; man fell into sin; Jesus came to re-create the world. And this is the message, the message of the Gospel, that we can clearly see: before healing that man, He forgave his sins. Go that way, to a re-creation, He re-creates that man, [changing him] from a sinner to a just man: He re-creates him as a just man. He makes him new, totally new. And this gives scandal: this gives scandal!

For this reason, the Pope said, the Doctors of the Law, “began to discuss, to murmur,” because they weren’t able to accept His authority. Jesus, he said, “is capable of making us – us sinners – new persons.” It is something, Pope Francis said, “that Mary Magdalen intuits.” She was healthy, “but she had a wound within: she was a sinner.” She had an intuition that Jesus was able to heal not only the body, “but the wounds of the soul. He could re-create it!” And for reason “great faith” is needed.

Opening the heart before the Lord: calling sin by its name

The Lord, the Pope said, “helps us to prepare ourselves for Christmas with great faith” because “for the healing of the soul, for the existential healing the re-creation that Jesus brings requires great faith in us.” Being transformed, he said “is the grace of salvation that Jesus brings.” We need to overcome the temptation to say “I can’t do it,” and to allow ourselves instead to be transformed, to be re-created by Jesus. “Courage” is the word of God:

We are all sinners, but look to the root of your sin, and that the Lord goes there and re-creates it; and that bitter root will flourish, flourish with works of justice; and you will be a new man, a new woman. But if we [say]: ‘Yes, yes, I have some sins; I go, I confess myself… two little words, and then I go on as before,” I don’t allow myself to be re-created by the Lord. Only two coats of paint, and we believe that with this the story’s over. No! Naming my sins, with name and surname: I’ve done this, and this, and this, and I am ashamed at heart. And I open my heart: ‘Lord, the only thing I have. Re-create me! Re-create me! And so we have the courage of going with true faith – as we asked – towards Christmas.’

The Pope said we always “seek to hide the gravity of our sins.” For example when we diminish envy. This, on the other hand, said Pope Francis, “is a very ugly thing. It is like the venom of a serpent” that seeks “to destroy the other!”

Let us allow the Lord to cancel our sins in order to make us truly new

And so the Pope encourages us “to get to the bottom of our sins and then give them to the Lord, so that He will cancel them and help us go forward with faith.” And he emphasized this passage, telling the story of a Saint, a great Bible scholar, who had a very strong character, who was often moved to anger, and who sought forgiveness from the Lord, doing so many acts of renunciation and penance:

The Saint, talking to the Lord said, ‘Are you content, O Lord’ – ‘No!’ – ‘But I have given you everything!’ – ‘No, there’s something missing…’ And this poor man did another penance, said another prayer, did another vigil: ‘I have done this for you, O Lord. Is everything ok? – ‘No! Something’s missing…’ – ‘But what is missing, Lord?’ – ‘Your sins are lacking! Give me your sins!’ This is what the Lord is asking of us today. ‘Courage! Give me your sins and I will make you a new man, a new woman.’ May the Lord give us faith, to believe this. 

Vatican Launches Sex Ed Website

posted Sep 11, 2016, 8:36 AM by Sue Weigand   [ updated Sep 11, 2016, 8:36 AM ]

Available in five languages, the site is entitled 'The meeting point, the adventure of love'
The Vatican has launched a new website focusing on sex education for young people.
Available in five languages, the site entitled “The meeting point, the adventure of love” offers an educational itinerary in love and sexuality that aims to assist young people to discover the beauty of the reciprocal gift of self and the search for it through the gift of body and soul.”
Drawing on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation,Amoris Laetitia, and developed by the Pontifical Council for the Family, its material was developed by the Spanish Bishops Conference’s sub-commission for the family and the defence of life, under Bishop Mario Iceta of Bilbao.
The project also aims to respond to needs identified by bishops during their ad limina visits as well as those of family movements and associations working for the evangelisation and pastoral care of families.
“This vocation to love is a fundamental task of parents,” said Bishop Vincent Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. However, parents can also count on assistance from various moral and educational communities, e.g. at school, from teachers, as well as the collaboration of other members of the ecclesial community including the parish with its priests and catechists as well as other Christian faithful.”
Based on the observation that sex education today is handicapped by “various means of social communication” such as virtual communities and social networks, young people today lack “useful criteria for distinguishing the truth about the good of human sexuality,” explained Bishop Paglia during the launch of the program at World Youth Day in Krakow.
Structured around five chapters, the lessons draws on the metaphor of a tent “at the point of departure and the objective” of the itinerary. The aim is to enable the young person to discover aspects of his or her own personality, including the body, sexuality, feelings, freedom, will as well as the moral dimension as elements comprising a tent with its roof, cords, pegs, as well as a door.

A star in white: But the pope is not, and does not want to be, a new idol by Dominique Quini

posted Mar 29, 2016, 8:36 AM by Sue Weigand

Today, a pope is one of the most photographed of all celebrities. Media professionals, not to mention thousands upon thousands of fans, delight in capturing the moment while attending a general audience or during a pastoral trip.

Of course, there is no red carpet, no Haute Couture: but a white robe, recognizable at a glance whether on St. Peter’s Square in Rome,or in an African or South American city. 

John-Paul II was an undeniably a photogenic pope. Early in his papacy, he appeared athletic, vibrant, speaking to WYD crowds, meditating on his cross, hood blowing in the wind.

Photos abound, making countless albums. Even more remarkable, he accepted, at the end of his life, to show his face as it was, haggard by sickness and old age, and his diminished, crippled body. Benedict XVI was more timid,more reserved,no doubt uncomfortable being constantly exposed. As for Francis, he has become another paparazzi’ favorite.

This pope’s austere face lights up when he smiles, and there is a bounce to his slightly heavy gait whenever he greets the men, women and children who come to him. We have observed all this during three years of papacy. It has been said that Francis is a builder of bridges rather than walls.

When the media greeted his election with enthusiasm, acclaiming this South American pope who, by his first words and gestures,demonstrated another way of inhabiting this function,of “doing the job”, everyone wondered how long this ambient goodwill could last vis-à-vis the head of a readily criticized and unpopular Catholic Church. When would Francis start losing points – like so many global leaders?

At what moment, at the end of an exhausting trip, would he answer journalists’ questions with an off-hand remark that would take off around the world, creating a buzz because the pope would have reaffirmed the Church’s teaching?

But for the moment, he is still enjoying wide-spread indulgence (no doubt a poorly chosen word under the circumstances). The Laudato si’ encyclical, sent out not only to Catholics but to all well-intentioned men and women, published at the same time as the COP21 meeting on climate change, no doubt has something to do with it.While at the same time (but not exactly in parallel, because these lines eventually meet), Francis invited us to celebrate a Year of Mercy.

The pope, in his manner of being and speaking, manages to embody a Church that is both mater and magistra, teaching and maternal. He calls on conversion, on prayer, on reading of the Word, on the demands of Christian commitment, but he is also the spokesman for the goodness of God. His coherence in words and actions reach beyond religious boundaries, because the world needs these kinds of witnesses.

But the pope is not, and does not want to be, a new idol. We must avoid papolatry that would only annoy us with a different pope.

His person and his personality do not overshadow the message, do not eclipse the injunction to carry the joy of the Gospel to others; on the contrary, they guide our eyes towards Jesus Christ Superstar.


Pope Francis celebrates five hundred years of Reformation

posted Jan 27, 2016, 9:36 AM by Vidal Martinez

This is yet another challenge the pope has issued for the Holy Year

Pope Francis has decided to go Sweden next autumn to pray with Protestant faith leaders at an ecumenical liturgy that will begin a year of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The one-day gathering will take place on Oct. 31 in the southern city of Lund where the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded in 1947.

The liturgy will be based on a Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and LWF drafted together.

The Vatican made the announcement this past Monday, the final day of the Octave or Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Just hours later the 79-year-old pope led an ecumenical prayer service at the Papal Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, during which he offered a moving apology during his homily.

“As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values,” he said.

“At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians, “ he added.

Francis said it was impossible to “cancel out” faults of the past but he said these should not “continue to contaminate” relations between the various Christian communities.

“God’s mercy will renew our relationships,” he insisted.

During the liturgy at St Paul’s the pope did two other significant things that were specifically aimed at giving a boost to the ecumenical movement.

First, he had the personal representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury accompany him – shoulder-to-shoulder and as equals – through the basilica’s holy door, the only portal of the four papal basilicas he had not yet traversed.

Second, and more significantly, he asked these two non-Catholic delegates – Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios and Anglican Archbishop Sir David Moxon – to join him at the end of the liturgy in giving a joint blessing.

Both men were caught off guard when Francis motioned for them to come up to the imposing marble throne, used exclusively by the Roman pontiffs and their legates.

Papal servers actually had to fetch the Orthodox bishop after the man next to him – a momentarily confused Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s ecumenical chief – started towards the pope!

The two non-Catholic bishops eventually ascended the steps and took their places on either side of the ornate papal throne. But once more Francis surprised them by insisting that they “come up higher” and stand next to him – again shoulder-to-shoulder – on the very base of the throne.

They then offered the final blessing together.

No doubt, these are only gestures. But they are important ones. They further highlight the Jesuit pope’s desire to redefine what is essential to the exercise of papal primacy. This, in a sense, is jumpstarting a dormant invitation that John Paul II issued to all Christian bishops and theologians in his 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint.

Unfortunately, some Catholics (especially traditionalists) are not happy about any of these ecumenical developments. They, too, need God’s mercy and (if they offend us) our forgiveness.

This is yet another challenge the pope has issued for the Holy Year.

Peace and justice through inter-faith dialogue

posted Jan 5, 2016, 7:58 AM by Vidal Martinez

Dialogue means more than talking at each other, it means listening

Since Pope Paul VI instituted it in 1967, every new year begins with the World Day of Peace.

In a conversation with Japanese teachers and students, Pope Francis said:

“It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue. All the wars, all the strife, all the unsolved problems over which we clash are due to a lack of dialogue. When there is a problem, talk: this makes peace.”

But dialogue means more than talking at each other. It means listening. “And what is the deepest approach we should have in order to dialogue and not quarrel?

Meekness, the ability to encounter people, to encounter cultures peacefully; the ability to ask intelligent questions. Listening to others and then speaking. All this is meekness.”

Jesus described his heart as meek and humble. As we ask him to make our hearts like his, we are asking to have the meekness that is the basis for encounter and dialogue — the way to peace.

When he visited Turkey, Pope Francis spoke of the “sacred character” of “human life, a gift of God the Creator.” He said: “Fanaticism and fundamentalism need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers. This solidarity must rest on the following pillars: respect for human life and for religious freedom.”

And he gave us the challenge that is behind our prayer this month: “The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences.”

— Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for January: That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice.

Pope Francis Says World Nearing Climate-Change ‘Suicide’

posted Dec 1, 2015, 6:12 PM by Vidal Martinez

Its "now or never," the Pontiff says

Pope Francis said the U.N.’s conference on climate changetaking place in Paris may be one of the last opportunities for countries to take steps toward avoiding an environmental catastrophe.

“I am not sure, but I can say to you ‘now or never,’” he said when asked if he thought the Paris summit would be a turning point aboard the papal plane on Monday, “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”

Pope Francis, who pushed for Catholics to pay attention to climate change last year, pointed to rising sea levels and Greenland’s melting glaciers as evidence of a need for nations to act during a conference with reporters on a flight back to Rome after his six-day visit to Africa.

“I am sure that the [Paris delegates] have goodwill to do something. I hope it turns out this way and I am praying that it will,” Francis said.


posted Nov 27, 2015, 9:53 AM by Vidal Martinez


Speaking in a church surrounded by corrugated cardboard homes in a moving visit to one of the notorious and long-lasting slum neighborhoods here, Pope Francis on Friday cried out against a global economic system that he said gives a wealthy minority license to let the majority suffer poverty.

In a second meeting later in the day with Kenyan young people, the pontiff also poignantly spoke out against societal and personal corruption -- saying it exists "including in the Vatican" and eats away at our values like poison in our blood.

The pope first met with some of the estimated 100,000 people who live in Nairobi’s Kangemi slum. He identified with their concrete struggles, thanked them for the witness they give the world, and intensely called on Christians to do something about the vast numbers of people in need.

And, with words that were biting in their strength, the pontiff said people living in such situations suffer "wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries."

"This is what happens when we forget that 'God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone,'" he forcefully said, quoting Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus.

Francis was speaking in the first meeting Friday in a special visit to the western outskirts of Nairobi, where people in Kangemi live a life marked by uncertainty. There is little infrastructure and basics needs such as access to drinking water or ability to use toilets are not guaranteed.

The slum is one of many in Nairobi, which have persisted for generations and strike a stark contrast to other well-developed areas of the city. Many who in the slums -- the majority of the city’s population -- live in small shacks, covered by cardboard or other temporary materials.

Opening his short but powerful talk to people in Kangemi, the pope said he felt a need to visit them "because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me."

"I realize the difficulties which you experience daily!" he cried out. "How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?"

Francis also that there is a wisdom found in poorer neighborhoods "that the language of exclusion often disregards or seems to ignore."

He said it is a wisdom of "stubborn resistance" and of caring for one another -- giving examples such as helping bury a dead person, finding a home for someone who is sick, or sharing what little you have with those even hungrier.

The pope said that their wisdom is "grounded in the fact each human being is more important than the god of money."

"Thank you for reminding us that another type of culture is possible," he told those present.

In the later meeting with young people at a local sports stadium, Francis spoke quite personally during a some-45-minute, off-the-cuff discourse to tens of thousands of youth. There, he spoke most forcefully about corruption and tribalism.

"Corruption is something that eats from the inside," said the pope. "It’s like sugar. It’s easy. We like it. And then we end up in a bad way."

"So much sugar we either end up being diabetic or our country ends up being diabetic," he said. "Every time we accept a bribe and we put it in our pockets we destroy our hearts, we destroy our personalities and we destroy our country."

"Please, don’t develop that taste for that sugar that is called corruption," he asked.

Francis also spoke personally in trying to respond to a young man who had greeted him at the meeting and asked how people in Kenya and Africa can better face daily tragedies they encounter.

"How can I see the hand of God in tragedy?" he asked aloud. "There’s no response. There is a path. Look at the son of God."

"God entrusted him to save all of us," he said. "God became a tragedy. God allowed himself to be destroyed on the cross. When you don’t understand something, when desperation hits you, then look at the Cross."

The pontiff then said he carries two things in his pockets at all times: A rosary and a small version of the way of the cross -- with little images of Jesus being condemned, suffering, "right up to when he was buried."

"With these two things, I do the best I can," said Francis. "Thanks to these two things I do not lose hope."

The pope also called on the young people to seek out friends who may be lonely in order to stop them from making decisions out of desperation, and even becoming radicalized into terrorism.

"If you receive love, then love others," he said. "If you felt pain of loneliness, come close to those who are alone."

"Flesh is cured by flesh," he continued. "And God became flesh in order to cure us. Let’s do the same ourselves."

In the Kangemi slum, the pope called on Christians everywhere to do something about people the global economic system is leaving in poverty.

"I wish to call all Christians … to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbors’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, to protect the fruits of their communitarian labor and to celebrate together each victory, large or small," said the pope.

“I ask you to remember this is not just another task; it may instead be the most important task of all, because ‘the Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor,’” he continued, quoting Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis made his visits Friday morning as his last public events during his two-day tour of Kenya, part of a Nov. 25-30 trip to Africa which will take the pope on to Uganda later on Friday before heading to the Central African Republic on Sunday.

At the meeting in the slum, the pontiff spoke in Italian; with the young people in Spanish. During both events a monsignor translated the remarks into English for the participants. The pope spoke in Kangemi at St. Joseph the Worker church, a Catholic parish run by Jesuits that serves the community.

Before his own remarks in the slum, Francis heard personal testimony from a woman who lives there and from a Catholic woman religious who directs a center that provides childhood develop services for its inhabitants.

Mercy Sr. Mary Killeen, director of Makuru Promotion Centre, explained how fires break out easily at the slum because of the materials used to construct the simple homes and how it is also often floods with drainage.

Citing statistics indicating that more than half of Nairobi’s population lives in slums, Killeen said that only four percent of local church personnel minister there. “Why is this when so many congregations were founded to work among the poor?” she asked.

“Sometimes the challenges … almost cause us to despair,” said Killeen. “Your visit has given us new courage and hope. By your very coming you shine a spotlight on these challenges.”

“We hope that when you have challenges of your own you will be inspired by the people of Nairobi slums who have endured repeated setbacks, yet live courageously with good humor,” she said.

After landing in Uganda Friday afternoon, Francis will visit president Yoweri Museveni at the country’s State House and both leaders will offer remarks.

Francis is to continue his Uganda trip Saturday with visits to separate Catholic and Anglican shrines to 19th century martyrs, and is to celebrate a Mass expected to attract tens of thousands from the country and from around east Africa.

The pope is scheduled to leave for the Central African Republic on Sunday.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]


Francis thunders against abuse of workers, corruption in Naples

posted Mar 23, 2015, 2:00 PM by Vidal Martinez   [ updated Mar 24, 2015, 1:09 PM by theresa orozco, ossm ]

Pope Francis has made what appear to be among his strongest remarks yet against the global economic system, emphatically crying out in this historic but economically depressed city Saturday for those who have been left without the dignity of work.

Speaking in an area of this southern Italian city known for unemployment and crime, Francis spoke particularly on behalf of young people who are unable to find work and are liable then to choose crime or other unethical means of making ends meet.

Citing statistics that some 40 percent of people aged 25 and below in Naples do not have work, the pontiff said: "This is grave."

"What to do, a young person without work?" he asked. "What future do they have? What path of life to choose?"

"This is a responsibility not only of the city, not only of the country, but of the world," the pontiff continued. "Because -- because there is an economic system that throws away people and now touches the young people, namely, without work."

"The problem is not [about] eating," he continued, raising his voice and shaking his hand. "The most grave problem is not to have the possibility to bring bread home, to earn it."

"And when you do not earn bread, you lose dignity," the pope said, his voice nearly shrill. "And this lacking of work robs us of dignity!"

"We must defend our dignity, as citizens, as men, as women, as young people!" he cried out. "This is grave!"

Francis was making his emphatic comments Saturday as part of a visit to the Italian cities of Pompeii and Naples, both about 150 miles south of Rome. He was speaking in Naples just after landing in that city, in a meeting with people in a neighborhood known as Scampia.

The neighborhood, located in the north of Naples, is known for a some 67 percent unemployment rate and high crime from the mafia and drug traffic through the port city.

A historic city that is among the oldest and most visited in Europe, Naples has also been plagued by violence and political influence from the local Camorra mafia. Where Francis spoke is known particularly as a place of violence, where rival gangs fight for control.

"Those who voluntarily take the road of evil rob a piece of hope," Francis told those in the area, speaking with children around his feet.

"They rob it from themselves and from everybody, from society, from so many honest and hard-working people, they rob it from good name of the city and from its economy."

Later in the day at an open-air Mass with thousands of people in one of the city's central squares, Francis poignantly addressed those in in the mob, calling on them to convert their ways.

Speaking softly towards the end of his homily, the pontiff said: "To the criminals and all their accomplices, today, I humbly, like a brother, repeat: Convert to love and to justice! Let yourself be found by God’s mercy. Know that Jesus is looking for you to embrace you, kiss you and love you.”

"The tears of the mothers of Naples, mixed with those of Mary, also ask you for it," said Francis.

Earlier in the day in the Scampia neighborhood, the pontiff was responding in his remarks to three testimonies presented by residents of the area -- one from a homeless Filipina migrant, another from a man who has not been able to find work, and the last from a local magistrate.

Indirectly addressing problems of corruption in Naples, Francis tied such corruption to mistreatment of immigrants and "stealing" of work from young people. He also said that all people have the possibility to be corrupted, through daily choices of life.

But linking the word "corruption" to its roots of an animal that is dead and corrupting, the pontiff exhorted: "Corruption stinks! And the corrupt society stinks!"

"A Christian who lets it enter inside of themselves," the pope started, before finishing: "Corruption is not Christian! Stinks! Understood?"

Speaking also against mistreatment of workers, Francis related how he had met a woman some weeks ago who works 11 hours a day to make around 600 Euros a month, without having any money for pension or healthcare.

"This is called slavery," said the pope. "This is called exploitation! This is not human. This is not Christian."

"We must retake the fight for our dignity," he continued later. "That is the fight for find, to search, to re-find the possibility to bring bread home."

Responding to the immigrant woman, Francis deviated entirely from his prepared text to directly reply to what she had said. The woman, who said she spoke on behalf of many immigrants in the area without homes, said the pope in his work had legitimized that they are also children of God.

"But is it necessary to arrive at this?" Francis asked, referring to her desire to be recognized as a child of God. "Are immigrants humans of second class?" he then continued, as children seated around him said: "No!"

"We have to make it felt to our immigrant brothers and sisters that they are citizens, that they are like us, children of God -- that they are immigrants like us," the pontiff continued. "Because all of us are immigrants."

"All are immigrants," he emphasized. "All are on the path. All. This word is not written in a book ... it is written in our flesh -- our path of life."

"We are all children of God, loved children, wanted," said the pope.

Francis continued by saying that no one on the Earth has a fixed place of living, as all eventually die. "All must go to find God, one first, the other later," said the pontiff.

Besides his morning meeting and the outdoor Mass, Francis is holding four other meetings in Naples Saturday -- with prisoners, with clergy and religious of the city, with sick persons, and with young people.

He will meet with the prisoners during a lunch with about 90 detainees from two local institutions, including 10 from a prison ward for transgender and gay prisoners and those who suffer from AIDS.

The pontiff's visit to Pompeii Saturday morning was very brief, with him spending only a few moments in prayer at a Marian shrine before continuing on to Naples.

Speaking during his homily at the open-air Mass there, Francis said he had come to the city with one mission: "To proclaim together with you: Jesus is the Lord!"

"The word of Christ is powerful," said the pontiff. "It does not have the power of the world but that of God -- that is strong in humility, also, also in weakness."

"Its power is that of love ... a love that knows no confines, a love that makes us love the other before ourselves," he continued. "The word of Jesus, the holy Gospel, teaches that the real blessed are those poor in spirit, the non-violent, the meek, the makers of peace and justice."

"This is the force that changes the world," said Francis. "There is no other way to change the world."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

Francis announces new global jubilee, the Holy Year of Mercy

posted Mar 14, 2015, 4:26 PM by Vidal Martinez

Symbolically calling on the entire global Roman Catholic church to take up his papacy's central message of compassion and pardon, Pope Francis on Friday announced that he is convoking a jubilee year to be called the Holy Year of Mercy.

Saying he has "thought often about how the church can make more evident its mission of being a witness of mercy," the pope announced the new jubilee year during a Lenten penitential service in St. Peter's Basilica.

"I am convinced that the whole church -- that has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time," Francis said in announcing the year.

"Let us not forget that God pardons and God pardons always," the pope continued. "Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness."

"We entrust it as of now to the Mother of Mercy, because she looks to us with her gaze and watches over our way," Francis said. "Our penitential way, our way of open hearts, during a year to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God."

The pope also said he wants the church to live the upcoming holy year "in the light" of Jesus' words in the Gospel of Luke: "Be merciful, just as your father is merciful."

A jubilee year is a special year called by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God and remission of sins. The Catholic church has called jubilee years every 25 or 50 years since the year 1300 and has also called special jubilee years from time to time, known as extraordinary jubilee years.

The last jubilee year was held in 2000 during the papacy of Pope John Paul II and was known as "the Great Jubilee." The last extraordinary jubilee year was held in 1983 to celebrate 1,950 years since the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Francis on Friday said the new jubilee would begin on this year's Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated Dec. 8. It will close on Nov. 20, 2016, the day celebrated that year as the feast of Christ the King.

Announcing the closing date, the pope added a new term to the title of Christ celebrated that day, also calling Jesus "the living face of the mercy of the father."

Francis said he has entrusted the organization of the jubilee year to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization "so that that they may animate it as a new stage of the journey of the church in its mission to bring to every person the gospel of mercy."

The jubilee year will formally open Dec. 8 with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. The other holy doors of basilicas around the world will then be opened as a sign of God's opening a new pathway to salvation.

Francis has made mercy a central theme of his papacy, speaking of it often in homilies and in his texts. His apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel"), uses the word 32 times.

The pope has also called two global meetings of Catholic bishops at the Vatican -- known as synods, with one being held last year and the next this October -- which have focused on issues of family life.

Those meetings are known to have discussed how the church might use its teachings on mercy to address sometimes difficult contemporary family situations, such as divorce and remarriage and same-sex unions.

In his homily at the penitential service Friday, Francis gave another wide-ranging reflection on the role of mercy and pardon in church teaching.

Recounting the Gospel reading of the day -- in which a woman described as sinful washes Jesus with her hair and tears -- Francis said, "Every gesture of this woman speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven."

"And Jesus gives this certainty, welcoming her and demonstrating to her the love of God for her, truly for her," the pope said.

Continuing the story to talk about Simon, the Pharisee who owned the house, Francis said he was a "lord" who "cannot find the path of love."

For him, the pope said, "all is calculated, all [is] thought. He stands at the threshold of formality."

"It is an ugly thing, formal love," Francis continued. "It cannot be understood."

"The call of Jesus pushes each of us to never stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person," the pope said later. "We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see of how much generosity everyone is capable.

"No one can be excluded from the mercy of God," Francis continued, repeating: "No one can be excluded from the mercy of God!"

"The church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one," the pope said. "Its doors remain wide open, so that those touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness."

"Better must be the love of the church expressed toward those who convert," he said.

After listening to the readings of the day and giving the homily at Friday's penitential service, the pope also heard some individual confessions, spending about 45 minutes in a confessional in St. Peter's with individuals.

The pontifical council, with Francis' backing, has called on all parishes around the world to remain open for confessions for 24 hours Friday through Saturday as possible.

Joshua J. McElwee, NCR Vatican correspondent.

Francis tells cardinals not to be 'closed caste,' seek contact with marginalized

posted Feb 15, 2015, 9:58 AM by Vidal Martinez

Forcefully repeating his message of engagement and of reaching out to those marginalized by society, Pope Francis on Sunday told the world's Catholic cardinals they cannot become a "closed caste" of prelates who do not turn to the outcast or to those in need.

Speaking during a homily at a Mass Sunday with some 160 cardinals from around the world, Francis again outlined for the high prelates a powerful vision of a church marked first by seeking out others and by welcoming them, no matter their situation in life.

The credibility of the church and on the Christian message, the pontiff said, rests entirely on how Christians serve those marginalized by society.

"Dear brothers," Francis told the cardinals, "I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians -- edified by our witness -- will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it."

Saying he urged the prelates "to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized," the pope said they must "see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or who have declared themselves to be atheists."

"We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized!" the pope exhorted. "Truly, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is found and is revealed!'

Francis was speaking Sunday at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark his creation of 20 new cardinals from around the world on Saturday. His words during the homily seemed to portray a significantly new vision for how he wants cardinals -- historically called the "princes of the church" -- to go about their work.

Reflecting on Sunday's Gospel reading -- a section from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus touches a leper and heals him -- Francis spoke for an unusually long 15 minutes on the need to be compassionate, to seek to "reintegrate" the marginalized, and to "respond immediately" to those left most in need by society.

The pope outlined what he said were two ways "of thinking and of having faith."

"We can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost," said Francis. "Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking."

"The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person," he continued. "And the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation."

"These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church's history: Casting off and reintegrating," said Francis.

"The Church's way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reintegration," he said.

"This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold," said the pope. "But welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world."

"The way of the Church is not condemning anyone eternally; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart," said Francis. "The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the 'outskirts' of life."

"In a word: charity cannot be neutral, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial!" Francis exhorted. "Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous!"

"Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable," said the pope. "Contact is the true language of communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper."

"How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language!" he said. "The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that 'he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word.'"

Addressing directly the 20 prelates he named as cardinals Saturday, Francis said that the curing of the leper is the "logic, the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church."

"Not only to welcome and reintegrate with evangelical courage all those knock at our door, but to go out and to seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received," said the pope.

He continued: "Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honor!"

Earlier in his homily, Francis meditated directly on Jesus' action in the Gospel story, saying he had wanted to touch the leper in order to "restore him to the community without being 'hemmed in' by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected."

"Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences!" said the pope. "For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!"

"And this is scandalous to some people!" Francis said. "Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal!"

Jesus, said the pope, "does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity."

Jesus, Francis said, "wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp."

Cardinals are usually senior Catholic prelates who serve either as archbishops in the world's largest dioceses or in the Vatican's central bureaucracy. Their principal role is to gather in secret conclave after the death or resignation of a pope to elect his successor.

While historically cardinals have come from certain larger cities known for their Catholic populations or global importance, Francis has sought to diversify representation in the group -- choosing men from places long underrepresented or even not represented in the College of Cardinals.

During Saturday's ceremony, Francis again diversified representation in the College -- adding 20 prelates from 18 different countries, several from places never before included in the elite group.

Beginning his homily during the Saturday ceremony, the pope bluntly told the assembled cardinals that they should not consider their title an honorific, saying: "The cardinalate is certainly an honor, but it is not honorific."

(Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent.)

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