Pope leads prayers for an end to ‘inhuman violence’ of terrorism

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – “Let us beg the Lord, God of mercy and peace, to free the world from this inhuman violence,” Pope Francis prayed after a week of deadly terrorist attacks in Africa and Europe.
Reciting the Angelus prayer at midday, the pope asked an estimated 10,000 people in St. Peter’s Square to pray in silence and then to join him in reciting the Hail Mary for the victims of the attacks the previous week in Burkina Faso, Spain and Finland.
At a restaurant in Ouagadougou Aug. 13, gunmen opened fire on people eating outside. Authorities in Burkina Faso said 18 people died and 20 were injured. The gunmen were believed to be part of a group known as “al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.”
In Spain, 13 people died after a van mowed down pedestrians Aug. 17 on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas street and another woman died in a vehicle attack the next day in Cambrils. Five suspects were killed by police and other members of what authorities described as a 12-man terrorist cell were being sought.
In Turku, Finland, Aug. 18, two women were stabbed to death and eight other people were injured in what police described as a terrorist attack.
Among the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for the midday prayer were the 50 first-year students of the Pontifical North American College, the seminary in Rome sponsored by the U.S. bishops. Pope Francis gave them a shoutout before wishing everyone in the square a happy Sunday.
In his main Angelus talk, the pope spoke about the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew about the Canaanite woman who persistently asks Jesus to heal her daughter.
“This woman’s interior strength, which allows her to overcome every obstacle, can be found in her maternal love and in her trust that Jesus can fulfill her request,” the pope said. “This makes me think of the strength of women. With their strength they are able to obtain great things. We’ve know many women like this.”
In the Gospel story, when the woman first cries out, Jesus seems to ignore her, the pope noted. But she is not discouraged and continues to call out to him.
In the end, Jesus recognizes her great faith and answers her request, the pope said. “Her insistence in invoking Christ’s intervention stimulates us never to be discouraged and not to despair when we are oppressed by the harsh trials of life.”
“The Lord does not turn away from our needs and, if sometimes he seems indifferent to our requests for help, it is to test us and strengthen our faith,” Pope Francis said. “We must continue to cry, like this woman: ‘Lord, help me. Lord, help me.’”

Vatican to bishops: check your hosts, wine

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Vatican recently published a circular letter, “On the bread and wine for the Eucharist,” sent to diocesan bishops at the request of Pope Francis. Dated June 15 – the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ – the letter was made public by the Vatican July 8.
Because bread and wine for the Eucharist are no longer supplied just by religious communities, but “are also sold in supermarkets and other stores and even over the internet,” bishops should set up guidelines, an oversight body and/or even a form of certification to help “remove any doubt about the validity of the matter for the Eucharist,” the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said.
In response to the Vatican statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Divine Worship has answered some of these frequently asked questions.
Q: Why is the Vatican worried about what makes up a Communion host? Doesn’t it have more important things to focus on?
A: To say that the Eucharist is important to Catholics is an understatement; the bishops at the Second Vatican Council referred to it as the “source of and summit of the Christian life.” On the night before he died, Jesus considered it important enough to spend time with his apostles at the Last Supper, telling them to continue to celebrate the Eucharist, instructing them to “do this in memory of me.” So the Vatican is naturally interested in making sure that this instruction is carried out properly, and this requires not only a priest who says the correct words, but also the use of the correct material. Therefore, the Catholic Church has strict requirements for the bread and wine used at Mass.
Q: Has the validity of the materials used for the Eucharist been a problem in the United States?
A: The circular letter is addressed to the entire church, to bishops all over the world. Circumstances are very different in various places around the globe, so it’s difficult to know whether the Holy See’s letter is a response to particular problems in certain places. It’s important to note that the letter does not introduce any new teachings or regulations – it simply reminds bishops of their important duty to ensure that the correct materials are used in the celebration of the Mass. We’re fortunate in our country, insofar as it’s not difficult to find bread and wine that are clearly suitable for the Mass.
Q: Concerning low-gluten hosts, how much gluten is in them? Are they safe for someone with celiac disease?
A: The gluten content in low-gluten hosts can vary by producer, but they typically contain less than 0.32 percent gluten. Foods with less than 20 parts per million gluten can be marketed as “gluten-free,” and some low-gluten hosts – while containing enough gluten to satisfy the church’s requirements for Mass – would even fall into that category. The amount of gluten present in low-gluten hosts is considered safe for the vast majority of people with gluten-related health difficulties.
Q: For someone who does not want any exposure to gluten, the church says that Communion may be received under the species of wine alone. What happens if a diocese does not offer Communion under both species?
A: Parishes are more than willing to make special arrangements to assist people who need to receive the Precious Blood instead of the host for medical reasons, even if the parish doesn’t normally offer Communion under both kinds. It can take a little advanced planning to organize the procedures, but pastors are happy to do this. If for some reason a person in this situation runs into difficulties at the parish level, he or she should contact the bishop’s office for assistance.
Q: What about someone, especially a priest, who has alcoholism? Is grape juice allowed?
A: Grape juice is not allowed for the Catholic Mass, but the use of “mustum” can be permitted. Mustum is a kind of wine that has an extremely low alcohol content. It’s made by beginning the fermentation process in grape juice, but then suspending the process such that the alcohol content generally remains below 1 percent, far lower than the levels found in most table wines.
Q: Who do I talk with if these issues are a concern of mine? Must my pastor accommodate my needs?
A: Someone who suffers in this way should talk to his or her pastor. Naturally, if someone arrives with this kind of request at the last second before Mass is set to begin, the pastor might not be able to accommodate his or her needs. But if someone reaches out in a reasonable manner, pastors are happy to help. Again, if someone runs into difficulties in this regard, he or she should contact the bishop’s office for assistance. One of the greatest duties and privileges of bishops and priests is making the Eucharist available to the Catholic faithful, and they do their best to make this possible.

Behind hatred, violence: an unloved heart

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Violence and hatred often are signs that a person is unhappy and feels unloved and unwanted, Pope Francis said.
In today’s world, people – especially children and youths – often feel that unless “we are strong, attractive and beautiful, no one will care about us,” the pope said June 14 during his weekly general audience.
“When an adolescent is not or does not feel loved, violence can arise. Behind so many forms of social hate and hooliganism, there is often a heart that has not been recognized,” he said.
Despite a heat wave that brought temperatures close to 90 degrees, an estimated 12,000 pilgrims donning colorful hats and umbrellas cheered and waved as the pope entered St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis took a moment to greet the sick who were watching the audience from indoors because of the hot Roman weather.
“They are in the Paul VI hall and we are here,” the pope told the crowd in the square. “But we are all together; we are connected by the Holy Spirit who always unites us.”
In his talk, the pope focused on the certainty of hope that comes from feeling loved as children of God.
When men and women do not feel loved, he said, they run the risk of succumbing to the “awful slavery” of believing that love is based solely on one’s appearance or merits.
“Imagine a world where everyone begs for reasons to attract the attention of others and no one is willing to love another person freely,” he said. “It seems like a human world but, in reality, it is a hell.”
Feelings of loneliness, he added, often lead to “man’s many narcissisms” and can be conquered only by an “experience of love that has been given and received.”
God, who never needs a reason to love his children, has that kind of unconditional love for each person, the pope said. “God does not even bind his benevolence to our conversion; if anything that is a consequence of God’s love.”
Recalling his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the pope said he saw God’s unconditional love reflected on the faces of mothers who went to the local prison to visit their children.
“I remember so many mothers in my diocese who would get in line to enter the prison. So many mothers who were not ashamed. Their child was in prison, but it was their child and they suffered so many humiliations, “the pope recalled.
“Only this love of a mother and father can help us understand God’s love,” he said, adding that “no sin, no wrong choice can ever erase it.”
Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis asked the crowd, “What is the medicine that can change an unhappy person?”
“Love!” the crowd exclaimed.
“Very good, very good,” the pope said. Christian hope comes from knowing “God the father who loves us as we are. He always loves us, everyone, good and bad.”
    (Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)

Pope Francis names bishop for Pensacola-Tallahassee

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) –  Pope Francis has named Holy Cross Father William A. Wack, who is a pastor in Texas, to be the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee.
Bishop-designate Wack, 49, has been pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, Texas, since 2009. He succeeds Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, who was named last November to head the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The appointment was announced in Washington May 29 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
The date of Bishop-designate Wack’s episcopal ordination has not yet been determined.
“Now I know for sure that God is merciful, having called this sinner to serve in this capacity,” Bishop-designate Wack said May 29 in a statement about his appointment. “The first words which came to mind when I heard of the appointment were, ‘Lord I am not worthy … but only say the Word … .’ With joy and zeal, I accept this appointment, and I am thrilled to begin service to God’s people as a bishop.”
“While I am very sad to be leaving the parish of St. Ignatius Martyr in Austin … I couldn’t be more excited to move in and get to work here in the diocese,” he added.
He said he has always loved being a priest. “For me there is nothing higher than the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments,” Bishop-designate Wack said. “Over the past 23 years I have grown tremendously in my faith, through the very mysteries I have served.”
As a Holy Cross priest, he continued, “I know of the power of the cross of Christ, and the hope that it brings to all creation. We in Holy Cross strive to be ‘educators in the faith’ wherever we go, and I am happy to continue to do this in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.
Bishop-designate Wack added: “While I embrace a leadership position in the church once again, I believe that I stand to learn much from the very people I will serve. We are all God’s children, for we have been given God’s Spirit. It is our sacred duty to celebrate and practice our faith together, and to make God known, loved and served in all that we do.”
“Father Wack is an exemplary priest who is well respected by his brother priests and loved by those he serves,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin said in a statement. “Father Wack has been of great help to me, and I express my deep appreciation to him for his years of service in the Diocese of Austin.”
“As the people of Pensacola-Tallahassee come to know him, they will see his love for the church and his desire to serve his flock with warmth and compassion,” he added.
Holy Cross Father Thomas O’ Hara, provincial superior of the U. S. province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, called Bishop-designate Wack “a gifted pastor and administrator who possesses an extremely welcoming personality.”
“He is quick to reach out to all, is strong enough to lead and humble enough to listen. Above all, he is an outstanding priest who is passionate in his faith and absolutely dedicated to serving the people of God,” Father O’Hara said.
Bishop Parkes said he shared in the joy of Catholics of Pensacola-Tallahassee getting a new shepherd, who with the diocese “will be in my prayers during this time of transition.”
Since Bishop Parkes’ appointment to St. Petersburg, Msgr. James Flaherty has served as Pensacola-Tallahassee’s diocesan administrator.
Born June 28, 1967, in South Bend, Indiana, Bishop designate-Wack is the second-youngest of 10 children. His younger brother also is a Holy Cross priest, Father Neil Wack.
William A. Wack entered the novitiate for the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1989. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in government and international relations from the University of Notre Dame in 1989. He earned a master of divinity degree in 1993, also from Notre Dame.
He professed his final vows in 1993 and was ordained a priest April 9, 1994. His assignments after ordination included associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1994-1997. He was associate director of vocations for his congregation from 1997-2002 at Notre Dame; at that time, he also was with the Holy Cross Associates, 1998-2002.
He then spent six years, from 2002 to 2008, as director of Andre House of Hospitality in downtown Phoenix, which is ministers to the city’s poor and homeless. It runs a soup kitchen, which serves more than 200,000 meals per year, and provides a small transition shelter for men and women; clothing and blanket distribution; and showers and lockers for its clients.
The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee covers about 14,000 square miles in Florida’s panhandle. Out of a total population of 1.46 million people, about 5 percent, or 67,316 people, are Catholic.

God dreams big, wants to transform world, defeat evil, pope says

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – God is right by the side of each person on earth, seeing each individual’s pain and wanting to bring hope and joy, Pope Francis said.
“He calls us by name and tells us, ‘Rise up, stop weeping, because I have come to free you,’” the pope said May 17 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The pope continued his series of talks on Christian hope by looking at the Gospel of John’s account of St. Mary Magdalene visiting Jesus’ tomb.
She was the first to go to the tomb after his burial, he said, pointing out that the same love and loyalty can be seen today in the many women who head to the cemetery, visiting their dearly departed for years, showing how not even death can break the bonds of love.
In Mary Magdalene’s case, however, she experienced not only the sadness of Christ’s death, but also the discovery that his body had disappeared, the pope said.
Just as she is weeping near the tomb, “God surprises her in the most unexpected way,” the pope said, even though she is stubbornly “blind” to recognizing the two angels and the Risen Christ.
Eventually, he said, “she discovers the most earth-shattering event in human history when she is finally called by name.”
“How beautiful it is to think that the first appearance of the Risen One, according to the Gospels, happened in such a personal way. That there is someone who knows us, who sees our suffering and disappointment,” whose heart breaks “for us and who calls us by name,” he said.
Reading the Gospels, one can see how many people seek God, he said, “but the most extraordinary fact is that God was there in the first place,” long before, watching, worrying and wanting to bring relief.
Each and every person “is a story of love that God has written on this earth,” the pope said. “Each one of us is a story of God’s love” and he patiently waits and forgives each person.
Hearing God call her name revolutionized Mary Magdalene’s life just as it will revolutionize and transform the life of every man and woman, he said.
Christ’s resurrection brings a joy that does not come in dribs and drabs “with an eyedropper,” he said, but as “a waterfall” that will envelop one’s whole life.
The life of a Christian isn’t pervaded by “soft bliss, but by waves that knock everything over,” Pope Francis said. Think about it right now, he told the 15,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square. “With the baggage of disappointments and defeat that each one of us carries in our heart, there is a God near us, calling us by name,” he                      said.
This God is not “inert,” he doesn’t bend to the whims of the world, and he will not let death, sadness, hatred and the moral destruction of people have the last word.
“Our God,” the pope said, “is a dreamer, who dreams of the transformation of the world and achieved it with the mystery of the resurrection.”
The pope prayed that St. Mary Magdalene would help people listen to Jesus calling their name as they weep and mourn, and that they then venture forth with hearts filled with joy, proclaiming his living presence to others.
Having witnessed the Lord, “is our strength and our hope,” he said.

Pope announces five new cardinals hailing from around the world

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis announced he will create five new cardinals June 28; the new cardinals-designate come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador.
Unusually, the group of prelates announced by the pope May 21 includes an auxiliary bishop whose archbishop is not a cardinal; he is Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, the current auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.
The five new cardinals coming from “different parts of the world demonstrates the catholicity of the church spread across the globe,” Pope Francis said. And the practice of assigning to each of them a church in Rome “expresses that the cardinals belong to the Diocese of Rome,” which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch explained, “presides in charity over all the churches.”
With five new cardinals, the College of Cardinals will have 227 members, 121 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. The number of electors exceeds by one the limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI. The next cardinal to turn 80 will be Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, who will celebrate his birthday Feb. 3.
The Vatican released brief biographical notes about the five who will be inducted into the college in June:
– Cardinal-designate Zerbo was born Dec. 27, 1943, in Segou and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1971. He earned a license in Scripture studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and then returned to Mali as a pastor and professor at the seminary in Bamako.
Ordained a bishop in 1988, he served first as auxiliary bishop of Bamako and then was named bishop of Mopti. He has led the Archdiocese of Bamako since 1998. According to the Vatican, “he played an active role in the Mali peace negotiations” and has worked for solidarity and reconciliation among the nation’s citizens.
– Cardinal-designate Omella was born in the small town of Cretas April 21, 1946, and did his seminary studies in Zaragoza as well as Louvain, Belgium, and Jerusalem. He was ordained in 1970. In addition to parish work in Spain, he spent a year as a missionary in then-Zaire, now Congo.
Ordained a bishop in 1996, he served as auxiliary bishop of Zaragoza and later as bishop of Barbastro-Monzon, then bishop of Calahorra and La Calzada-Logrorio. Pope Francis named him archbishop of Barcelona in 2015.
– Cardinal-designate Arborelius hosted Pope Francis’ visit to Sweden in October as part of an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Born in Sweden Sept. 24, 1949, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 20. A few years later, he entered the Discalced Carmelites, took vows in 1977 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1979. Ordained bishop of Stockholm in 1998, he became the first native Swedish bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, according to the Vatican.
– Cardinal-designate Mangkhanekhoun was born April 8, 1944, in Laos. The Vatican did not say in what city, but did say he was educated and did seminary studies in Laos and Canada.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1972 by the apostolic vicar of Vientiane, he was instrumental in training catechists and was known for his pastoral visits to remote mountain villages. In October 2000, he was named apostolic vicar of Pakse and was ordained a bishop six months later. Since February, he also has served as apostolic administrator of Vientiane, which currently is without a bishop.
– Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez was born Sept. 3, 1942, in Sociedad, El Salvador. He studied at San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, earned a degree in social communications and studied at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 in San Miguel and served overlapping – and sometimes simultaneous – terms as the bishop’s secretary, pastor of a parish and director of the diocesan radio station. From 1977 to 1982, he served as rector of San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, a position that brought him into regular contact and close collaboration with Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.
He was named auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982. Currently, in addition to his duties as auxiliary bishop, he serves as pastor of the Church of St. Francis in the capital, president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A tender gaze: Fatima trip shows pope’s respect for pilgrims’ faith

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis is not shy about showing his love for Mary in public and, like many Latin American bishops, he strongly has resisted attempts to dismiss as superstitious or “simple,” in a negative sense, popular devotion to the mother of God.
The pope’s devotion and his respect for those who turn to Mary in their hour of need was on display May 12-13 when he and some 500,000 people gathered at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three Fatima seers, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, May 13. The Mass marked the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Marian apparitions, which began on May 13, 1917. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Canonizing two of the illiterate shepherd children to whom Mary appeared in 1917, Pope Francis made it clear he sees no need for people to be “sophisticated” in explaining their devotion.
But he also made it clear that, as in any area of faith and spirituality, there is room in their understanding of Mary for people to grow as Catholics and Christians.
Calling himself a pilgrim with the pilgrims, Pope Francis asked “which Mary” did the crowds come to honor? The Mary who is “a teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the ‘narrow way’ of the cross by giving us an example, or a lady ‘unapproachable’ and impossible to imitate?”
For the pilgrims, he asked, is she “a woman ‘blessed because she believed’ always and everywhere in God’s words or a ‘plaster statue’ from whom we beg favors at little cost?”
Pope Francis said many people would want to have a vision of Mary and to receive direct messages from her like Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin, Sister Lucia dos Santos, did at Fatima in 1917.

Pilgrims wait for Pope Francis to arrive for a visit at the Little Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

However, he said, “the Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven.”
Mary appeared at Fatima, he said, so that people would listen to her pleas that they pray more, do penance and follow Jesus more closely.
Like retired Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II before him, Pope Francis teaches that Marian devotion is an important part of Catholic life, but always because she leads people to a deeper relationship with Christ.
Pope Francis sees a role for priests and bishops in challenging pilgrims to grow in their faith, but not to control how they express it.
In a letter to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America in 2016, Pope Francis said popular piety – including Marian devotion – is “one of the few areas in which the people of God are free from the influence of clericalism.”
“It has been one of the few areas in which the people (including its pastors) and the Holy Spirit have been able to meet without the clericalism that seeks to control and restrain God’s anointing of his own,” the pope wrote. “Let us trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell.’ Let us trust that the Holy Spirit acts in and with our people and that this Spirit is not merely the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy.”
Pope Francis is convinced that devotion to Mary and other popular expressions of faith are a largely uncultivated seedbed of evangelization. His conviction is so strong that April 1 he formally transferred responsibility for Catholic shrines from the Congregation for Clergy to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
“Despite the crisis of faith impacting the modern world, these places still are perceived as sacred spaces where pilgrims go to find moments of rest, silence and contemplation in the midst of a life that is often frenetic,” Pope Francis wrote.
The enduring popularity of Catholic shrines, “the humble and simple prayer of the people of God” and the Catholic liturgies celebrated in the shrines offer “a unique opportunity for evangelization in our time,” he said.
Many people today, he said, have a longing for God, and shrines “can be a true refuge” where people can be honest about themselves and “find the strength necessary for their conversion.”
The decision to transfer responsibility for the shrines seems a natural consequence of what Pope Francis wrote in his first exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which has an entire section on “the evangelizing power of popular piety.”
Popular piety, he wrote in 2013, is a “true expression of the spontaneous missionary activity of the people of God,” inspired and led by the Holy Spirit.
In the exhortation and at Fatima, Pope Francis celebrated the fact that Marian devotion and other forms of popular piety are particularly strong among the poor and humble, the very people with whom Mary identifies in the “Magnificat,” her hymn of praise for how God lifts the lowly, fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
Think, the pope wrote, “of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified.”

Risen Christ calls all to follow him on path to life, pope says

By Cindy Wooden and Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Jesus is the risen shepherd who takes upon his shoulders “our brothers and sisters crushed by evil in all its varied forms,” Pope Francis said before giving his solemn Easter blessing.

With tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 16, the pope called on Christians to be instruments of Christ’s outreach to refugees and migrants, victims of war and exploitation, famine and loneliness.

For the 30th year in a row, Dutch farmers and florists blanketed the area around the altar with grass and 35,000 flowers and plants: lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, birch and linden.

Preaching without a prepared text, Pope Francis began — as he did the night before at the Easter Vigil — imagining the disciples desolate because “the one they loved so much was executed. He died.”

While they are huddling in fear, the angel tells them, “He is risen.” And, the pope said, the church continues to proclaim that message always and everywhere, including to those whose lives are truly, unfairly difficult.

“It is the mystery of the cornerstone that was discarded, but has become the foundation of our existence,” he said. And those who follow Jesus, “we pebbles,” find meaning even in the midst of suffering because of sure hope in the resurrection.

Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, “I don’t know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen.”

Almost immediately after the homily, a brief but intense rain began to fall on the crowd, leading people to scramble to find umbrellas, jackets or plastic bags to keep themselves dry.

After celebrating the morning Easter Mass, Pope Francis gave his blessing “urbi et orbi,” to the city of Rome and the world.

Before reciting the blessing, he told the crowd that “in every age the risen shepherd tirelessly seeks us, his brothers and sisters, wandering in the deserts of this world. With the marks of the passion — the wounds of his merciful love — he draws us to follow him on his way, the way of life.”

Christ seeks out all those in need, he said. “He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness and help them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”

Pope Francis mentioned a long list of those for whom the Lord gives special attention, including victims of human trafficking, abused children, victims of terrorism and people forced to flee their homes because of war, famine and poverty.

“In the complex and often dramatic situations of today’s world, may the risen Lord guide the steps of all those who work for justice and peace,” Pope Francis said. “May he grant the leaders of nations the courage they need to prevent the spread of conflicts and to put a halt to the arms trade.”

The pope also offered special prayers for peace in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo and Ukraine, and for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Latin America.

The pope’s celebration of Easter got underway the night before in a packed St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the fire and Easter candle in the atrium of the basilica. Walking behind the Easter candle and carrying a candle of his own, Pope Francis entered the basilica in darkness.

The basilica was gently illuminated only by candlelight and the low light emanating from cellphones capturing the solemn procession.

The bells of St. Peter’s pealed in the night, the sound echoing through nearby Roman streets, announcing the joy of the Resurrection.

During the vigil, Pope Francis baptized 11 people: five women and six men from Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, the United States, Albania, Malta, Malaysia and China.

One by one, the catechumens approached the pope who asked them if they wished to receive baptism. After responding, “Yes, I do,” they lowered their heads as the pope poured water over their foreheads.

Among them was Ali Acacius Damavandy from the United States who smiled brightly as the baptismal waters streamed down his head.

In his homily, reflecting on the Easter account from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the pope recalled the women who went “with uncertain and weary steps” to Christ’s tomb.

The pope said the faces of those women, full of sorrow and despair, reflect the faces of mothers, grandmothers, children and young people who carry the “burden of injustice and brutality.”

The poor and the exploited, the lonely and the abandoned, and “immigrants deprived of country, house and family” suffer the heartbreak reflected on the faces of the women at the tomb who have seen “human dignity crucified,” he said.

However, the pope added, in the silence of death, Jesus’ heartbeat resounds and his resurrection comes as a gift and as “a transforming force” to a humanity broken by greed and war.

“In the Resurrection, Christ rolled back the stone of the tomb, but he wants also to break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others,” he said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the woman who, upon learning of Christ’s victory over death, ran to the city and proclaimed the good news in those places “where death seems the only way out.”

Presiding over the Stations of the Cross Good Friday, April 14, at Rome’s Colosseum, Pope Francis offered a prayer expressing both shame for the sins of humanity and hope in God’s mercy.

A crowd of about 20,000 people joined the pope at the Rome landmark. They had passed through two security checks and were watched over by a heavy police presence given recent terrorist attacks in Europe.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis recited a prayer to Jesus that he had composed. “Oh Christ, our only savior, we turn to you again this year with eyes lowered in shame and with hearts full of hope.”

The shame comes from all the “devastation, destruction and shipwrecks that have become normal in our lives,” he said, hours after some 2,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. The shame comes from wars, discrimination and the failure to denounce injustice.

Turning to the sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis expressed “shame for all the times we bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have scandalized and injured your body, the church.”

But the pope also prayed that Christians would be filled with the hope that comes from knowing that “you do not treat us according to our merits, but only according to the abundance of your mercy.”

Christian hope, he said, means trusting that Jesus’ cross can “transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh capable of dreaming, forgiving and loving.”

Pope Francis carries a candle as he arrives to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 15. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-EASTER-ROUNDUP April 16, 2017.

Papal nuncio: Pay close attention to pope’s words, actions

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, gets plenty of questions about Pope Francis.

A March 27 discussion at Georgetown University, sponsored by the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, was no exception. The nuncio, who sat onstage with John Carr, the initiative’s director, was asked about the pope’s key issues and his impact in the four years since his election.

Instead of emphasizing the pope’s special qualities or accomplishments, Archbishop Pierre, who has been in the Vatican diplomatic corps for almost 40 years, stressed how Catholics are called to view the pope and essentially work with him in the mission of spreading the Gospel.

He told the audience, nearly filling a campus auditorium, that it is not a question of whether the pope is good or bad or if one agrees with him or not. The issue, for Catholics, is to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying through the pope.

“We have to pay a lot of attention to the person of the pope and to his message and to his testimony because the pope is not just words but he is also actions and actions that are powerful words,” the nuncio said.

Archbishop Pierre, who was appointed to the U.S. post by Pope Francis last April, would not comment on the pope’s approval ratings compared to politicians nor would he address the current political climate, but he stressed that one’s personal faith can’t be separated from daily life and that people need to use discernment even in civic duties like voting.

When asked about care for migrants in today’s world, he said Christians should be the “soul of this country” and Catholics should follow the example of Pope Francis who goes out to the borders and reaches out to those who are broken and those who suffer.

“The church is in the business of evangelization,” he added, saying this works best when the church “goes outside herself” to meet people where they are. And in a pointed statement to this country, he added: If America is the center of the world then it has “a huge responsibility to help others.”

When the nuncio was joined on stage by other panelists, they reiterated the importance of the pope’s message that has come across just as much from his actions as his words.

To sum up the pope’s message to Catholics today, Ken Hackett, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, looks to the example of the pope’s visit to the United States in 2015 where the pope’s presence, in front of Congress and with the poor, and his words at each stop made Catholics proud of their faith.

Kim Daniels, a member of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, said the pope’s message has resonated not just with Catholics but also with those who have heard him even through social media. She said he has made the call to live out one’s faith “something that’s concrete and not abstract” and something “we can do right here, right now, where we are.”

For Maria Teresa Gaston, managing director of the Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at the Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, the pope has been clearest on his message of community, telling people, including “those who are undocumented: You are loved and valued.”

She also points to his message to youths at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 as something that still resonates with her. He told the crowd “not to be afraid, to take risks and to be courageous” stressing they should prepare for “courageous and prophetic action in solidarity with the earth and with the poor.”

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Bible, like cellphone, should be carried always

By Junno Arocho Estaves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians should care about reading God’s messages in the Bible as much as they care about checking messages on their cellphones, Pope Francis said.
As Christ did in the desert when tempted by Satan, men and women can defend themselves from temptation with the word of God if they “read it often, meditate on it and assimilate it” into their lives, he said before praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square March 5.
“What would happen if we turned back when we forget it, if we opened it more times a day, if we read the messages of God contained in the Bible the way we read messages on our cellphones?” the pope asked the crowd.
The pope’s reflection centered on the day’s Gospel reading (Mt. 4:1-11) in which Jesus is tempted by the devil while fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights before beginning his ministry.
Satan, he said, attempts to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling his message and to undermine his divinity by tempting him twice to perform miracles like “a magician” and lastly, by adoring “the devil in order to have dominion over the world.”
“Through this triple temptation, Satan wants to divert Jesus from the path of obedience and humiliation – because he knows that through that path evil will be defeated – and take him on the false shortcut of success and glory,” the pope said.
However, Jesus deflects “the poisonous arrows of the devil” not with his own words but “only with the Word of God.”
Christians, the pope continued, are called to follow Jesus’ footsteps and “confront the spiritual combat against the evil one” through the power of God’s word which has the “strength to defeat Satan.”
“The Bible contains the word of God, which is always relevant and effective. Someone once said: What would happen if we treated the Bible like we treated our cellphones? What would happen if we always brought it with us, or at least a small pocket-sized Gospel?” he asked.
While the comparison between the Bible and a cellphone is “paradoxical,” he added, it is something that all Christians are called to reflect on during the Lenten season.
“If we have the Word of God always in our hearts, no temptation could separate us from God and no obstacle would deviate us from the path of good,” the pope said.
After praying the Angelus prayer with the faithful in the square, Pope Francis asked for prayers before departing for a weeklong Lenten retreat with members of the Roman Curia.
Lent, he said, “is the path of the people of God toward Easter, a path of conversion, of fighting evil with the weapons of prayer, fasting and works of charity,” Pope Francis said. “I wish everyone a fruitful Lenten journey,” he said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.)