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Pope meets Evangelical leaders to discuss religious freedom

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Thursday with leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance who were in Rome to discuss closer cooperation with the Catholic Church, especially regarding issues of religious freedom.

The WEA is a network of Protestant Churches in 129 nations representing more than 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide. Its secretary general, Bishop Efraim Tendero, was leading the delegation to the papal audience and for talks with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

He talked to Philippa Hitchen about his hopes for strengthening practical cooperation with Catholics in countries around the globe..

Bishop Efraim said he is bringing to the Pope a “call for closer partnership” in protecting religious freedom, promoting the distribution of bibles and addressing social justice issues. “We want to see this world to be a place where peace, justice and righteousness reign”, he says, “where everyone has a decent standard of living, and where Jesus Christ is recognised as Lord of all.”

Searching for common agenda

He notes that the WEA and the Pontifical Council have just completed seven years of dialogue, culminating in a joint document on Scripture and Tradition. While major theological differences remain, he says, it’s increasingly important to “look for a common agenda”, rather than “focus on what differs and what pulls us apart”.

Prior to his appointment as head of the WEA, Bishop Efraim served as for over 20 years as National Director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and as President of the Philippine Relief and Development Services, working to support the poor and needy.

Ecumenism in the Philippines

In the country which is 80 percent Roman Catholic, he says ecumenical relations are very good and he was recently asked to address a retreat for the Filipino bishops conference. There is also strong practical cooperation on issues including human trafficking, combating climate change, fighting corruption, promoting peace, and providing relief and development for victims of the many typhoons which affect the region.

Also attending the papal audience was Rev. Thomas K. Johnson, the WEA’s Religious Freedom Ambassasdor to the Vatican. He explains why there is an urgent need to join forces to combat the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Worsening persecution of Christians

Johnson notes the problem is not confined to one particular area of the globe but he says the last three years may have seen the worst persecution in the whole history of the Christian Church.

He recalls the important international consultation that took place two years ago in the Albanian capital, Tirana, on discrimination, persecution and martyrdom. Representatives of the WEA, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Pentecostal world discussed ways of responding to the problem “in a unified manner”.

Hopes for joint educational materials

While Johnson admits there are still problems of discrimination between Evangelicals and Catholics in some countries, he adds that Evangelicals have always been made to feel “very welcome in the Vatican”.

As a philosophy professor and human rights specialist, he is particularly interested in Catholics and Evangelicals publishing “education materials that we’ve developed together”. While no-one is expecting any major pronouncements from Thursday’s meeting, he says the small steps undertaken together can lead “to a broader coalition over years” and reinforce the message that, “Christians of all varieties need to be protecting each other in the public square”.

Pope at Mass: The tenderness of God is father and mother

(Vatican Radio) The tenderness of God, as his defining trait, was at the heart of the Pope’s homily this morning  at Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The theme was taken from the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the psalm where God says of himself: "... his tenderness expands over all creatures".

The image presented by Isaiah is that of a God who speaks to us as a father with his child, imitating his voice to make it as similar as possible to his. And first of all he reassures him by caressing him: "Do not be afraid, I will come to your aid".

“It seems that our God wants to sing us a lullaby. Our God is gifted at this. His tenderness is this: he is a father and a mother. Many times he said: "But if a mother forgets her son, I will not forget you. He carries us in his deep within. He is the God who with this dialogue makes himself small to make us understand, to make us trust in him and we can tell him with the courage of Paul who changes the word and says: ", Abba Father". Father ... It's the tenderness of God.”

The great that becomes small and the small that is great

It is true, said Pope Francis, sometimes God raps us over the knuckles, He is great, but with his tenderness he approaches us and saves us. And this is a mystery and one of the most beautiful things:

“He is the great God who makes himself small and in his smallness he does not stop being great. And in this great dialectic he is small: there is the tenderness of God. The great that makes himself small and the small  that is great. Christmas helps us to understand this: in that manger ... the little God. A phrase from St. Thomas comes to mind in the first part of Summa [Theologica]. Wanting to explain this: "What is divine? What is the most divine thing? ", He says:" “to the maximum tamen continents at the minimum divinum est", that is, do not be frightened of big things, but keep small things in mind. This is divine, both together.”

But where, in particular, is the tenderness of God shown?

God not only helps us, but he also makes us promises of joy, of a great harvest, to help us move forward. God, repeated Pope Francis, is not just father but a Dad:

“Am I able to speak with the Lord like this or am I afraid? Everyone answers. But someone can say, he can ask: "But what is the theological place of God's tenderness? Where can the tenderness of God be found? What is the place where God's tenderness is best manifested? "-" The wounds ". My wounds, your sores, when you meet my wound with his wound. We have been healed in their wounds.

And the Pope recalled the parable of the Good Samaritan: there, someone bent over the man who had stumbled upon brigands and helped him by cleaning his wounds and paying for his recovery. Here is "the theological place of God's tenderness: our wounds". And the Pope concludes by exhorting us to think about the Lord's invitation during the day: "Come on, come on: show me your wounds. I want to heal them ".

Pope urges new ambassadors to Holy See to foster dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has received a group of new Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See encouraging them to foster dialogue and cooperation in our increasingly globalized society.

To the Non-Resident Ambassadors of  Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, Liechtenstein and India, the Pope said this cooperation is necessary to assist “the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all” and he reminded them that they are all charged with the pursuit of the common good.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ address to the new Non-Resident Ambassadors:
 
Your Excellencies,

I extend a warm welcome to all of you for this presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See on the part of your respective countries: Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, Liechtenstein and India.  I would ask you to convey to the Heads of State of your respective countries my sentiments of appreciation and esteem, and to assure them of my prayers for them and the people they serve.

At the beginning of your new mission, I am conscious of the diverse countries you represent, and of the various cultural and religious traditions that characterize the history of each of your nations.  This gives me the opportunity to emphasize the positive and constructive role that such diversity plays in the concert of nations.  The international community faces a series of complex threats to the sustainability of the environment and of the world’s social and human ecology, as well as risks to peace and concord stemming from violent fundamentalist ideologies and regional conflicts, which often appear under the guise of opposing interests and values.  Yet it is important to remember that the diversity of the human family is not itself a cause of these challenges to peaceful coexistence.  Indeed the centrifugal forces that would drive peoples apart are not found in their differences but in the failure to set out on the path of dialogue and understanding as the most effective means of responding to these challenges.

Your very presence here is a reminder of the key role that dialogue plays in enabling diversity to be lived in an authentic and mutually enhancing way in our increasingly globalized society.  Respectful communication leads to cooperation, especially in fostering reconciliation where it is most needed.  This cooperation in turn assists the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all.  A commitment to dialogue and cooperation must be the hallmark of every institution of the international community, as well as of every national and local institution, for all are charged with the pursuit of the common good.

The promotion of dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation cannot be taken for granted.  The delicate art of diplomacy and the arduous craft of nation-building need to be learned afresh with each new generation.  We share the collective responsibility to educate our young people about the importance of these principles that sustain the social order.  Passing this precious legacy on to our children and grandchildren will not only secure a peaceful and prosperous future but will also meet the demands of intergenerational justice and of that integral human development that is the right of every man, woman and child.

Dear Ambassadors, as you take up your high responsibilities in the service of your nations, I assure you of the support of the various offices of the Holy See.  I offer you my prayerful best wishes for your important work, and upon you, your families, and all your fellow citizens, I willingly invoke an abundance of divine blessings.
 

Pope tells Christians that Mass gives meaning to Sundays

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis told the faithful on Wednesday that missing out on Mass on Sundays means missing out an encounter with the Lord.

Speaking to those present in the Paul VI Hall for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on the question: “why go to Mass on Sunday?”

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Continuing his catechesis on the Eucharist Pope Francis reminded Christians that we go to Mass on Sunday to meet the resurrected Lord – or better still – “to let ourselves be welcomed by Him, to hear His word, eat at His table, and by his grace fulfil our mission as members of the Mystical Body of the Church.”      

Sunday is a holy day

He said Sunday is a holy day for Christians, and it is rendered holy by the celebration of the eucharist which is the living presence of the Lord amongst us.

“Thus, it is the Mass that defines Sunday for Christians” he said: “what sort of Sunday can it be if it is lacking an encounter with the Lord?”.

The Pope turned his thoughts to persecuted Christian communities are not able to celebrate Mass every Sunday and who do their best to gather in prayer on this holy day.

He also mentioned some swarthes of secularized society “that have lost that Christian sense of Sunday that is illuminated by the Eucharist: ‘this is a real shame’  he said reflecting on the need to recuperate this need.

2nd Vatican Council 

He recalled how the Second Vatican Council asked us to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy and rest from servile work as a sign of our dignity as children of God.  

“Without Christ we are condemned to be weighed down by the fatigue of everyday life, with its worries and fear of tomorrow” he said.

Our Sunday meeting with the Lord, he continued, gives us the strength to live today with trust and courage and to go forth with hope.

He explained that in the eucharist we receive a foretaste of the eternal bliss and repose to which we are called in which there will be no more fatigue, nor pain, nor grief nor tears; only the joy of living fully and for ever with the Lord.

Eucharist: source of grace and energy for Christians

The Pope finally acknowledged that the quality of Christian life is measured by our capacity to love the other, but, he said “how can we practice the Gospel without drawing from the energy provided by the inexhaustable source of the Eucharist?”

We go to Mass, he concluded, not to give something to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, to follow his commandments and, through his living presence within us, to be witnesses of his goodness and love before the world.

Pope Francis holds General Audience: English summary

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Eucharist at the Wednesday General Audience, saying Sunday is the Christian holy day par excellence.

Please find below the official English-language summary of the Pope's catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:  Our continuing catechesis on the Eucharist today centres on the importance of Sunday Mass.  As Christians, we celebrate the Eucharist in order to encounter the Lord, to hear his word, eat at his table and, by his grace to fulfil our mission in the world as members of his Mystical Body the Church.  As the day of the resurrection and the pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Sunday is the Christian holy day par excellence.  How could we pass this day without encountering the Lord?  Sadly, in many secularized societies, we have lost the sense of Sunday.  The Second Vatican Council asked us to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy and rest from servile work, precisely as a sign of our dignity as children of God.  Each Sunday is meant to be a foretaste of the eternal bliss and repose to which we are called and which we share, even now, in Holy Communion.  In the end, we go to Mass not to givesomething to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, to follow his commandments and, through his living presence within us, to be witnesses of his goodness and love before the world.

Pope urges defence and promotion of Latin American, Caribbean richness and diversity

by Robin Gomes

The mother of God is a figure of the Church from whom we want to learn ‎to be a Church that embraces all the richness and cultural diversity of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, where no one  feels ashamed or small. Pope Francis’ exhortation came in his homily at an evening Mass on Tuesday to commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image is enshrined in Mexico City and is venerated all over the world, especially in the Americas.     

Elizabeth's sterility

Reflecting on the Gospel episode of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth after the Annunciation, the Pope drew attention to the sterility and fertility of Elizabeth.  In her sterility, the Pope explained, she felt stigmatized and belittled by a mentality that considered her condition as a punishment for her or her husband’s sins

Juan Diego, the indigenous Mexican to whom the Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531, also felt the same.  The Argentinian Pope noted that it is the same with the indigenous and Afro-American communities.  Often they are not treated with dignity and don’t have a level playing field; many women are excluded for reasons of gender, race and socio-economic situation; young people receive a low-quality education and do not have the opportunity to continue their studies, or find a job to start a family; many poor, unemployed, migrants are expelled from their land; landless peasants try to survive in the informal economy, and children and girls are subjected to child prostitution, frequently linked to sex tourism.  

Elizabeth's fertility

‎On the other hand, the Pope said, when we contemplate Elizabeth’s fertility we see her as a fruitful-astonished ‎woman. “In her we understand that the dream of God is neither ‎sterility, stigma or shaming his children, but to make a song of blessing flow in  and from them.”   Likewise, the mantle of Juan Diego was imprinted with image of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe with the face of a mixed race, to show that the Mother is capable of assuming the ‎traits of her children to make them feel part of her blessing.‎ 

Richness, diversity of Latin America, Caribbean

The Holy Father said that the fertility-sterility dialectic draws our attention to richness and cultural diversity of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, which he said should not only to be cultivated but also defended courageously from any attempt at homogenization that ends up imposing a single way of thinking, being, feeling and living that ends up in sterility.   “Our fruitfulness ,” Pope Francis said, “asks us to defend our peoples from an ideological colonization that cancels what is richer in them, whether indigenous, Afro-American, mixed race, peasants or people in the suburbs.

Pope thanks his envoy to UN for promoting Vatican viewpoint

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday thanked his envoy to the United Nations in New York for all the hard work he is doing to raise the Holy See’s concerns regarding urgent issues and policies that have a direct impact on mankind.

He was receiving in audience Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who was in the Vatican to update the Pope on ongoing work.

Speaking to Vatican Radio immediately after the audience, Archbishop Auza told Linda Bordoni that it was really him thanking the Pope “for making his work easy: I just have to cite him and then elaborate on what he says to make our position clear!”

Listen

The Archbishop said that during their conversation the Pope expressed appreciation for the work of the Holy See Mission at the UN and said he is aware of the demanding kind of work it is and of the challenges faced in certain questions.

Treaty on Nuclear Weapons

“I thanked him for having not only signed, but ratified the new treaty on nuclear weapons, he said, I told him how he played a major role in pushing forward the treaty and inspiring countries who are the leaders of this process to go forward”.

Auza explained how the Pope’s message calling for a treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons was read at the opening of the negotiations and of how the Holy See had a delegation of experts pushing forward its agenda on all fronts.

He said that they were very united in pushing for the “final objective of trying to move forward the question of the prohibition of nuclear weapons towards total elimination.”

“I thanked the Pope for that, and he said it is a moral imperative of our time” he said.

Global Compact for Migration

Secondly, Auza said, “I updated him on where we stand on the Global Compact for Migration” as we work towards the summit for the adoption of the Global Compact next year.

He said they also spoke of  questions related to the respect for life, for religious freedom – some of them with strong moral and ethical implications like sexual and reproductive rights, “ and then the question of gender”.

2017 difficult year

Auza said there have been many specific issues this year that have made it a difficult year for our negotiations but, overall he said, “We try to maintain good relations with everybody”.

The Archbishop revealed they also chatted about his family as the Pope met his parents in New York and asked about his mother whom, he said, “is turning 96 and about his father who is 95 as they prepare to celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary – all very exciting!”

“I was very happy about the audience, he concluded, and I think the Holy Father was also pleased to hear this little update about all the things we do in New York!”  

 

Holy See at WTO urges for multilateral inclusive trade

by Robin Gomes

According to the Holy See, an unbalanced and unjust trade creates social exclusion and inequality, offends human dignity  and neglects the common good of humanity.  A healthy world economy needs a more efficient way of interacting which ensures the economic and well-being of all countries, not just a few, said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday. 

He was addressing the 11th Session of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that is taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 1-13.   WTO’s goal is to ensure that global trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible for the benefit of all.

Unequal distribution of benefits

While commending that fact that trade over recent decades has helped lift over a billion people out of poverty in developing countries leading to a decline in global extreme poverty, Arch. Jurkovic however noted that these benefits have not be shared equally, especially among the Least Developed Countries (LDC).  According to Holy See, what is needed is a multilateral and inclusive trade system guided by a spirit of solidarity that avoids being a closed economy seeking to defend privileged positions.   This will safeguard weaker and smaller countries, Arch. Jurkovic said, recalling that the aim of multilateral institutions is to seek the common good by respecting the dignity of every single person.  In this perspective of international  trade, the Holy See official talked about issues such as agriculture, women’s role, e-commerce and fisheries.  

Food security

The archbishop noted that despite the generally fast growth of agricultural trade, the problem of ensuring food security remains an enduring challenge, especially for developing countries, with more than 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world. According to the Holy See, tackling the problem of food insecurity requires eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries, especially small-scale agriculture, the mainstay of the rural economy in the LDCs. 

Women

The Holy See also noted the crucial role of women in the development not only of the family but also the entire economic system.  Studies have revealed that a higher participation of women is associated with stronger economic growth and with more equitable societies.  Yet women are often discriminated against and marginalized, particularly in education, Arch. Jurkovic said, encouraging among things training and skills development for them.  

C9 Cardinals updated on the ongoing Curial reform

(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Greg Burke, briefed reporters at the Sala Stampa on Wednesday, regarding the work of the “C9” small council of Cardinals studying the reform of the Roman Curia. The members met for three days this week, starting Monday, to discuss specific issues related to the ongoing process of Curial reform.

Listen to the report by Christopher Altieri:

Vatican Media reform

At the center of the meetings were topics including the imminent launch of the new VaticanNews multimedia portal, which the Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication of the Holy See, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, presented to the council members during the course of the three days of working sessions.

Following the briefing, Press Office Director Greg Burke told Vatican Media this latest round of meetings was essentially a look at the progress of the work accomplished, and a chance to make any adjustments needed. “The C9 meeting these three days has been, in a way, a kind of ‘check up’ – the kind of thing you do with a car: you check up after 10 thousand miles, or 20 thousand miles,” Burke explained.

Curia: instrument of evangelization and service 

This week’s meetings were also in part dedicated to a reflection on the Curia as an instrument of evangelization and service for the Pope and for local churches. The Cardinal-members participating examined in great detail four dicasteries: the Congregations for Clergy, for the Evangelization of Peoples, and for Catholic Education; the Pontifical Council for Culture.

New Dicasteries

A significant portion of the work was devoted to the examination of a report from the head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, and another from the two priests responsible for day-to-day operations at the Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Fr. Michael Czerny and Fr. Fabio Baggio.

The over-arching concern, according to Burke, is to inculcate a spirit of service in the various departments of the Roman Curia.

Reforming mentality

“For the Pope, the reform is not only a reform of structures, and changing documents,” he said. “It is above all, creating a mentality – and that is a mentality of service: that the Holy See is at the service of the local Churches.” Burke went on to say this mentality must be, “a spirit of service and of evangelization.” 

The meetings this week, which took place with the participation of Pope Francis, were the 22nd of the C9 working sessions, and the last of 2017. The next round of meetings will be held February 26-28, 2018.

 

Laudato Si' Challenge inspires solutions to environmental problems

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, published in 2015, was hailed as a heartfelt appeal for the future of planet earth, or, as the pope puts it, a call to all people to take “care of our common home”.

Among the many responses to that call is an initiative by private investors inviting entrepreneurs and start-up companies to develop ideas responding to the challenges spelt out in 'Laudato Si’. From renewable energy and recycling, to clean water, food security or supporting refugees, young businessmen and women have been asked to come up with innovative solutions to some the most pressing problems facing our world today.

The project is called the Laudato Si’ Challenge and it has the support of Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican office for Integral Human Development. From thousands of entries, the heads of nine companies have been selected as finalists to receive mentoring, both from Silicon Valley professionals and from Vatican officials.  

Among them is Steve Katsaros, CEO of a company called Nokero (short for No Kerosene) that produces pocket-size solar lamps using the sun’s rays to charge a battery-powered LED light. After presenting his company to Vatican officials, Steve dropped in to Vatican Radio and talked to Philippa Hitchen about the ideas motivating his business venture..

Listen: 

Steven says he started Nokero in 2010 to address the problem of over a billion people worldwide who have no access to electricity, relying instead on Kerosene lamps which are inefficient, dangerous and damaging to their health.

As an inventor, he created the small solar bulb which is light and portable, waterproof and durable, providing 15 hours of light from each charge out in the sunshine. So far, Steve says, the company has shipped 1.7 million units to 120 countries across the globe.

Impact on lives and communities

Describing the impact his product has had, he tells the personal story of a young Kenyan man who got in touch via Facebook to say how he had been able to study by the light of a Nokero lamp, becoming the first person in his family to go on to college. The man told Steve his younger siblings are still using the same lamp to further their own education, something that was unthinkable for them just a few years earlier.

Steve says he belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, while the companies represent a non-denominational group of entrepreneurs, all inspired by the Pope’s encyclical letter.

Overcome economic injustices

He says he feels it’s time “we all acknowledge that we have been over consuming and not taking fair advantage of the resources we have at the top of the economic pyramid”. Noting that “8 white men have as much wealth as bottom half of humanity”, he says it’s up to his generation to overcome that injustice. “I’m 44 years old guy with 2 young kids”, he concludes “and I don't want them to inherit my trash pile. I want [the world] to be a garden that thrives and supports them, and their children, and their children’s children”.