A quote from Pope Francis:
Learn from the past to bring peaceful future to Middle East, pope says; by Junno Arocho Esteves by Catholic News Service
Vatican City — As war continues to threaten the land of Jesus’ birth and to undermine the existence of Christian communities there, the international community must learn from the errors of the past and do more to bring lasting peace to the Middle East, Pope Francis said.
“Do not forget the previous century; do not forget the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; do not let the land of the East, where the Word of peace arose, be transformed into a dark expanse of silence,” the pope said after a private meeting with the heads of Christian churches and communities in the Middle East.
Pope Francis traveled July 7 to the southern Italian Adriatic port city of Bari to host a day of reflection and ecumenical prayer for peace in the Middle East.
Arriving by helicopter in the early morning, the pope stood in front of the Basilica of St. Nicholas and greeted the patriarchs and other representatives of Christian churches.
Among them was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and all Africa.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, represented Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Flanked by the church leaders, the pope entered the basilica and walked down to the crypt, where he bowed deeply before the relics of St. Nicholas, who is venerated by both Catholics and Orthodox.
After remaining several minutes in prayer and lighting a candle on the altar, the pope and church leaders boarded a bus that took them to the seaside site of the ecumenical prayer service.
Thousands of men, women and children cheered and waved as the group made its way to the stage overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Behind the pope’s chair was a large statue of Christ crucified with the words “May peace be upon you” etched above it.
The pope began the service by welcoming the patriarchs and Christian leaders and thanking them for joining him in prayer for the Middle East, which he described as a source of “ever fresh streams of spirituality and monasticism.”
However, he added, the light of the region has been dimmed by the “dark clouds of war, violence and destruction,” which threaten to cast out Christians “amid the complicit silence of many.”
“There is also the danger that the presence of our brothers and sisters in the faith will disappear, disfiguring the very face of the region. For a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East,” the pope said.
While asking “the Lord of heaven for that peace which the powerful of our world have not yet been able to find,” the pope also prayed for peace in Jerusalem, “the holy city beloved of God and wounded by men for which the Lord continues to weep.”
After the prayer service, the pope and the Christian leaders returned to the basilica for a private meeting that lasted over two hours.
In a speech delivered to the faithful outside the basilica, the pope said members of the group were encouraged by their dialogue, which “was a sign that encounter and unity are always found without fear of differences.”
Peace, he said, can only be cultivated and nurtured through listening and engaging in dialogue and not by “truces guaranteed by walls and tests of strength.”
Pope Francis denounced arms dealers who have taken advantage of the conflicts by selling weaponry and called for an end to the “personal profit of a few on the skin of many.”
“Enough with the occupation of lands that tear people apart. Enough with the prevalence of half-truths over people’s hopes. Enough with using the Middle East for profits that are foreign to the Middle East,” he said.
Before ending the meeting with the release of two white doves, Pope Francis once again called for peace in Jerusalem whose “status quo demands to be respected.”
The Vatican supports a “two-state solution” for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.
Despite warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders, President Donald Trump went ahead with his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, overturning the United States’ long-standing policy and further complicating peace negotiations.
“Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians, firmly wanted and desired by the community of nations, can bring a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the co-existence of two states for two peoples,” Pope Francis said.
‘Sterile hypocrisy’ behind mistreatment of migrants, pope says; by Junno Arocho Esteves by Catholic News Service
Vatican City — Hearts that are closed to welcoming migrants and refugees are similar to those of the Pharisees, who often would preach sacrifice and following God’s law without exercising mercy to those in need, Pope Francis said.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees’ “insidious murmuring” is “a finger pointed at the sterile hypocrisy of those who do not want to ‘dirty their hands,’ like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan,” the pope said in his homily July 6 during a Mass commemorating the fifth anniversary of his visit to the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.
“This is a temptation powerfully present in our own day. It takes the form of closing our hearts to those who have the right — just as we do — to security and dignified living conditions. It builds walls, real or virtual, rather than bridges,” he said.
According to the Vatican, an estimated 200 migrants, refugees and rescue volunteers attended the Mass, which was celebrated at the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis greeted each person present after the Mass ended.
In his homily, the pope recalled his visit to Lampedusa and repeated “that timeless appeal to human responsibility, ‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me.’ ”
Sadly, he said, “the response to this appeal, even if at times generous, has not been enough, and we continue to grieve thousands of deaths.”
The pope said that Jesus’ invitation to those “who labor” to find rest in him is a promise of freedom for all who are oppressed. However, “he needs us to fulfill his promise.”
“He needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. He needs our voice to protest the injustices committed thanks to the silence, often complicit, of so many,” he said.
Solidarity and mercy, the pope continued, are the only components of a reasonable response to the migration crisis that is “less concerned with calculations than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management.”
Speaking in Spanish to representatives of rescue teams stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, Pope Francis thanked them “for embodying in our day the parable of the good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits.”
He also encouraged those who have been rescued to be “witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing.”
“With respect for the culture and laws of the country that receives you, may you work out together the path of integration,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis teaches discernment for coping with spiritual battles; by Thomas Reese by Religion News Service
Spirituality, whether Christian or Muslim, frequently uses the language of battle, so it is not surprising that Pope Francis promotes the Christian equivalent of a spiritual jihad. Many in the West think jihad only means warfare, whereas it can also mean the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. In the final chapter of “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Francis uses similar language when he writes that “the Christian life is a constant battle.” For him, this battle is not just against the world and our human weakness but also against the devil himself.
(In earlier columns, I discussed chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4.)
For Francis, the devil is not a mythical figure but real. “It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force,” he writes. “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”
Francis is not talking about diabolic possession. Rather, he believes the devil “poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities.”
In this spiritual combat, Christians have weapons given by the Lord, writes Francis: “faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach.”
In short, he argues, “the cultivation of all that is good, progress in the spiritual life and growth in love are the best counterbalance to evil.”
The Christian struggle, according to Francis, is not just against sin but also against lethargy, where the spiritual life gradually turns lukewarm and “everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness.”
For this reason, Francis writes, we need to “know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil.” This lead Francis to his favorite topic: discernment, a gift we must pray for and develop “through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel.”
For Francis, discernment is reflection and prayer that leads to decisions in keeping with God”s plan for us.
“Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend,” he writes. Are we chasing after novelty or are we resistant to change? Christ wants his followers to be free, and in order to be truly free, Francis explains, “he asks us to examine what is within us — our desires, anxieties, fears and questions — and what takes place all around us — “the signs of the times” — and thus to recognize the paths that lead to complete freedom.”
Francis believes that discernment is not just for extraordinary, life-changing decisions. “We need it at all times,” he teaches, “lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow.”
“Often discernment is exercised in small and apparently irrelevant things,” Francis continues, “since greatness of spirit is manifested in simple everyday realities. It involves striving untrammeled for all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments.”
Francis acknowledges the importance of psychological and sociological insights in decision-making. But discernment is more than that. It is a grace nourished in prayer. “It seeks a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us, which takes shape amid so many varied situations and limitations,” he writes. “It involves more than my temporal well-being, my satisfaction at having accomplished something useful, or even my desire for peace of mind.”
For a Christian, according to Francis, discernment “has to do with the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he.”
This is why Francis calls discernment a gift and argues that we must therefore be willing to listen to the Lord and others. “Only if we are prepared to listen,” writes Francis, “do we have the freedom to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual habits and ways of seeing things.”
Discernment requires obedience to the gospel and the church teaching, but, “It is not a matter of applying rules or repeating what was done in the past,” he advises, “since the same solutions are not valid in all circumstances and what was useful in one context may not prove so in another.” In fact, “the discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord,” according to Francis.
Discernment also requires understanding God”s patience and timetable. Citing the Gospels, Francis notes that “God does not pour down fire upon those who are unfaithful (cf. Luke 9:54), or allow the zealous to uproot the tares growing among the wheat (cf. Matthew 13:29).” Discernment also requires generosity, understanding that it is more blessed to give than receive. Discernment, like all of Christianity, must embrace the full gospel, including the cross.
In this spiritual battle, we are not alone. “We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives,” Francis concludes. “God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us.” The God of Francis “does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfillment.”
As a result, discernment, according to Francis, “is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.”[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.]
In This Series
May 17, 2018 Francis does not see holiness as a simple prospect
May 10, 2018 Pope Francis warns of two paths to holiness
Apr 27, 2018 Pope Francis, the spiritual guide
Apr 13, 2018 NCR Podcast: ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’
Apr 13, 2018 New papal document provides practical help for parishes
Pope’s quotes: Mercy has a youthful face; by NCR Staff
A quote from Pope Francis:
“Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word ‘mercy’ along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams. But are you able to dream? When the heart is open and able to dream, there is room for mercy, there is room to caress those who suffer, there is room to draw close to those who have no peace of heart or who do not have the bare necessities to live, or who do not have the most beautiful thing of all: the faith. Mercy. Let us together repeat this word: mercy. All of you! And once more, so the whole world can hear you!”
Faith is lived with joyous gratitude, not slave like duty, pope says, by Carol Glatz by Catholic News Service
Vatican City — God always loves and generously gives first before asking for fidelity to his commandments — which are the words of a loving father showing people the right way to live, Pope Francis said.
“Christian life is above all the grateful response to a generous father,” not a forced, joyless compliance to a series of obligations, the pope said June 27 at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square. It was to be the last general audience before a brief suspension for the month of July.
Before riding through the square in his pope mobile, greeting visitors, the pope met with the ill and infirm, who were offered seating in the air-conditioned Paul VI audience hall, where they could comfortably follow the catechesis in the square on large video screens.
Greeting the crowd, he told a group on pilgrimage to Rome offered by Deaf Catholic Youth Initiative for the Americas that every pope and “the Lord has a special place in his heart for whoever has any kind of disability.”
He also greeted representatives of the Special Olympics and lit a torch from the Special Olympics flame, saying: “I pray that this Olympic flame may be a sign of joy and hope in the Lord, who bestows the gifts unity and peace on his children.”
Later in the square, the pope continued his new series of audience talks on the Ten Commandments by reflecting on how God first liberated his people from slavery in Egypt, then revealed the commandments to Moses.
“God never asks without giving first. Never. He saves first, then asks” for fidelity to his commandments, which are the “loving words of a father” to his children so they can journey on the right path through life.
This is “the secret” to the Christian approach, which is Jesus’ approach — to know one is loved by a father and to love others in turn, the pope said. Jesus “doesn’t start with himself, but with the father,” he added.
Projects or efforts fail when they are rooted in selfishness, not in “gratitude” to the Lord, the pope said.
The foundation of everything a Christian does isn’t based on a sense of obligation: “I must do this, this, this …” he said.
“No. The foundation of this duty is the love of God, the father, who gives first and then commands,” he said; it’s a situation based on a relationship and personal experience between father and child.
“To put the law before the relationship does not help the journey of faith. How can a young person want to be Christian if we start with obligations, tasks, consistency and not with liberation?”
“To be Christian is a journey of liberation. The commandments liberate you from your own self-centeredness, and they liberate you because there is God’s love to carry you forward.”
Christian formation is not about willpower, but about opening one’s arms to salvation and letting oneself be loved, he said.
Francis said it is important for people to ask themselves, “How many beautiful things has God done for me?” Recognizing all these gifts “liberates us,” he said.
But it can also happen, he said, that people have not had this liberating experience, and they still live their faith from a sense of obligation — a spirituality that is lived “slavelike” not like sons and daughters of God.
When this is the case, the pope said, people must cry out to God for their own exodus.
“We are not saved by ourselves, but we can start with a cry for help, ‘Lord, save me. Lord, teach me the way. Lord, caress me. Lord, give me a little joy.'”
It is up to the individual to cry for help, cry for liberation from selfishness, sin and the bonds of slavery, the pope said. “This cry is important; it is prayer, it is awareness of what is still oppressed and not freed within us.”
God is waiting to hear people’s cry for liberation and salvation; “he wants to break our chains. God did not call us to life in order to remain oppressed, but to be free and live in gratitude, obeying with joy” the Lord who gave more than anyone could ever give back, he said.
At last, bad news is good news in the Catholic sex abuse scandal, by Thomas Reese by Religion News Service
In the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals, what seems like bad news for the church — seemingly daily headlines about clergy being disciplined — is actually good news.
The truly bad news of the scandal, of course, has been the horrible abuse of children, which will have negative effects on them for the rest of their lives. The good news is that perpetrators have been caught and exposed. Accusations are being investigated and the guilty are being punished. When the abuse scandal was first uncovered in the United States some 30 years ago, bishops in other countries denied they had a problem. What is clearly a worldwide problem is now getting attention at the highest level in the church, thanks to Pope Francis.
In this sense, we should be happy to see more bad headlines because it means more bad actors are being caught.
Some of the cases that have received media attention in recent months include:
— Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, has been accused of sexually abusing a teenager almost 50 years ago. He cannot be tried under New York state law because of the statute of limitations, but the Archdiocese of New York found the accusation “credible and substantiated.” Francis has told the 87-year-old cardinal he can no longer exercise publicly his priestly ministry. Whether additional penalties will be imposed is unclear. This case shows that in the future no one in the church can expect to continue as a priest after abuse.
— Msgr. Carlo Alberto Capella, a 50-year-old official of the Vatican nunciature in Washington, was accused last August by the U.S. State Department of possible violation of laws relating to child pornography. Because he had diplomatic immunity, he could not be tried under U.S. laws. Instead, he was tried and found guilty in a Vatican City State court of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to five years in jail and fined 5,000 euros ($5,833). His case will also be examined by the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, which can also impose ecclesiastical penalties, including dismissal from the priesthood.
— Cardinal George Pell, on leave as secretary of finances in the Vatican, is facing trial in Australia over alleged sexual abuse 40 years ago. The details have not been made public by Australian authorities. The church is waiting until the state legal process is completed before initiating a process of its own.
— All the bishops of Chile have submitted their resignations at the request of the pope because of the bishops’ failure to deal with abusive priests. The pope has accepted five of the resignations and may accept more. While at first defending the bishops during his January visit to Chile, the pope subsequently sent Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate the situation. After reading his report, the pope acknowledged his mistake, apologized and began meeting with Chilean victims of abuse.
— Archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, of Adelaide was found guilty by an Australian court of not reporting to the police the abuse of two boys by a priest in the 1970s. An apostolic administrator has been appointed to govern his archdiocese.
— A Pennsylvania grand jury has prepared a report on the church’s handling of abuse in six dioceses in the state. Its publication has been temporarily held up by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In a letter to Catholics in Chile, Francis has decried the “culture of abuse and cover-up” that has existed in the church. He acknowledges that the church did not listen to the victims of abuse. “With shame, I must say that we did not hear and react in time,” he wrote.
Back in January, I acknowledged that Francis had a blind spot on sexual abuse and that there was no good process for dealing with bishops who failed to protect children. While the process for dealing with bishops is still unclear, I can no longer accuse the pope of having a blind spot. He now gets it because he listened to victims and to Scicluna. Francis should continue meeting with abuse survivors for the rest of his papacy because they need his pastoral attention and he needs to model what other bishops should do. He also needs to continue removing bishops who don’t deal with abusive priests.
The church must continue to be vigilant, listen to victims, report abuse to civil authorities and deal with abuse even if that means more bad stories in the media. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if more cases appear in the future. That abuses and cover-ups happened is tragic, but that they are now being exposed and dealt with is good news.[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a columnist for Religion News Service and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.]
Text from NCR