Couples need help forming, following their consciences

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Marriage and family life are blessings for individuals and for society, but both are filled with difficult choices that Catholic couples must be helped to face prayerfully and in the light of their consciences, Pope Francis said.
Unfortunately, too many people today confuse a rightly formed conscience with personal preferences dominated by selfishness, the pope said in a video message to an Italian meeting on “Amoris Laetitia,” his exhortation on the family.
“The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which is always to be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of the individual” even when the individual’s decisions impact his or her marriage and family life, the pope said.
Repeating a remark he had made to the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis said, “There are those who even speak of ‘egolatry,’ that is, the true worship of the ego on whose altar everything, including the dearest affections, are sacrificed.”
Confusing conscience with selfishness “is not harmless,” the pope said. “This is a ‘pollution’ that corrodes souls and confounds minds and hearts, producing false illusions.”
The conference sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference was focused on “conscience and norm” in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation.
Diagnosing problems in the church’s outreach to married couples and families, Pope Francis had written, “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life.”
“We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations,” he wrote in “Amoris Laetitia.” “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
In his message to the meeting Nov. 11 in Rome, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must strengthen its programs “to respond to the desire for family that emerges in the soul of the young generations” and to help couples once they are married.
“Love between a man and a woman is obviously among the most generative human experiences; it is the leaven of a culture of encounter, and introduces to the present world an injection of sociality,” he said.
Marriage and family life are “the most effective antidote against the individualism that currently runs rampant,” he said, but it does not do one any good to pretend that marriage and family life are free from situations requiring difficult choices.
“In the domestic reality, sometimes there are concrete knots to be addressed with prudent conscience on the part of each,” he said. “It is important that spouses, parents, not be left alone, but accompanied in their commitment to applying the Gospel to the concreteness of life.”
Conscience, he said, always has God’s desire for the human person as its ultimate reference point.
“In the very depths of each one of us, there is a place wherein the ‘Mystery’ reveals itself, and illuminates the person, making the person the protagonist of his story,” he said. “Conscience, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, is this ‘most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths.’”
Each Christian, the pope said, must be “vigilant so that in this kind of tabernacle there is no lack of divine grace, which illuminates and strengthens married love and the parental mission.”

War brings only death, cruelty, pope says at U.S. military cemetery

By Carol Glatz
NETTUNO, Italy (CNS) – “No more, Lord, no more (war)” that shatters dreams and destroys lives, bringing a cold, cruel winter instead of some sought-after spring, Pope Francis said looking out at the people gathered for an outdoor Mass at a U.S. war memorial and cemetery.
“This is the fruit of war: death,” he said, as the bright Italian sun lowered in the sky on the feast of All Souls, Nov. 2.
On a day the church offers special prayers for the faithful departed with the hope of their meeting God in heaven, “here in this place, we pray in a special way for these young people,” he said, gesturing toward the rows of thousands of graves.
Christian hope can spring from great pain and suffering, he said, but it can also “make us look to heaven and say, ‘I believe in my Lord, the redeemer, but stop, Lord,” please, no more war, he said.
“With war, you lose everything,” he said.
Before the Mass, Pope Francis placed a white rose atop 10 white marble headstones; the majority of the stones were carved crosses, one was in the shape of the Jewish Star of David.
As he slowly walked alone over the green lawn and prayed among the thousands of simple grave markers, visitors recited the rosary at the World War II Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial site in Nettuno, a small coastal city south of Rome.
In previous years, the pope marked All Souls’ Day by visiting a Rome cemetery. This year, he chose to visit a U.S. military burial ground and, later in the day, the site of a Nazi massacre at the Ardeatine Caves in Rome to pray especially for all victims of war and violence.
“Wars produce nothing other than cemeteries and death,” he said after reciting the Angelus on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1. He explained he would visit the two World War II sites the next day because humanity “seems to have not learned that lesson or doesn’t want to learn it.”
In his homily at the late afternoon Mass Nov. 2, Pope Francis spoke off-the-cuff and said people do everything to go to war, but they end up doing nothing but destroying themselves.
“This is war: the destruction of ourselves,” he said.
He spoke of the particular pain women experience in war: receiving that letter or news of the death of their husband, child or grandchild.
So often people who want to go to war “are convinced they will usher in a new world, a new springtime. But it ends up as winter – ugly, cruel, a reign of terror and death,” the pope said.
Today, the world continues to head off fiercely to war and fight battles every day, he said.
“Let us pray for the dead today, dead from war, including innocent children,” and pray to God “for the grace to weep,” he said.
Among the more than 7,800 graves at the Nettuno cemetery, there are the remains of 16 women who served in the Women’s Army Corps, Red Cross or as nurses, as well as the graves of 29 Tuskegee airmen. Those buried or missing in action had taken part in attacks by U.S. Allies along Italy’s coast during World War II.

Pope urges Christians to think about what they say in the Our Father

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – To pray the Lord’s Prayer and believe what one is reciting takes real courage, Pope Francis said.
One must be bold “to truly believe that God is the father who accompanies me, forgives me, gives me bread, is attentive to everything I ask,” Pope Francis said in a filmed conversation about the Our Father.
The Italian bishops’ television station, TV2000, was to begin airing a nine-part series Oct. 25 featuring Pope Francis’ conversation with Father Marco Pozza, an Italian prison chaplain and theologian. A long trailer for the program was released Oct. 18.
The original idea for the project was that Father Pozza would explain the Our Father phrase by phrase and discuss its meaning and implications with a handful of famous Italians from the world of culture and entertainment.
But, the priest told reporters at a news conference, when he told one of the prisoners in Padua about it, the man said, “If he knew about it, Pope Francis would participate, too.”
“At first, I didn’t take it that seriously,” Father Pozza said, “but then I wrote to the pope.” A few days later the pope phoned him and the project was transformed.
In the program’s trailer, Pope Francis ponders whether most people who recite the Our Father really believe any of it.
“We say that we are Christians, that we have a father, but we live – I won’t say like animals – but like people who don’t believe either in God or in humanity,” the pope says. Not only do people act as if they have no faith, but “we live not in love, but in hatred, competition and wars.”
Pope Francis asked if believers really could say that God’s name is “hallowed” in “Christians who battle each other for power” or who “don’t care for their own children?”
Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer and do so together – saying “our” even when they pray alone – because they know the effort required to truly believe and to try again each day to demonstrate their belief, the pope said. “That is why it is so beautiful to pray together, because we help each other to try.”
In addition to the television program, Pope Francis’ conversation with Father Pozza will be published as a book, which will be released in Italian in late November.
In the preface, the pope writes that Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer not simply as a formula for addressing God, but also so they would learn how to live as God’s children and as brothers and sisters to one another.
“Jesus shows us what it means to be loved by the Father and reveals to us that the Father wants to pour out on us the same lo

Youth invited to pre-synod meeting

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has invited Christian and non-Christian young people from around the world to a meeting in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on youth in 2018.
Before concluding his weekly general audience, the pope said the March 19-24, 2018, pre-synod meeting will be an opportunity for the church to listen to the hopes and concerns of young men and women.
“Through this journey, the church wants to listen to the voices, the sensibilities, the faith as well as the doubts and criticisms of young people. We must listen to young people,” Pope Francis said Oct. 4.
The theme chosen by the pope for the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2018, is: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.”
The general secretariat of the synod said the initiative “will allow young people to express their expectations and desires as well as their uncertainties and concerns in the complex affairs of today’s world.”
Young people attending the meeting will represent bishops’ conferences, the Eastern Catholic churches, men and women in consecrated life and seminarians preparing for the priesthood, the general secretariat said.
The gathering also will include representatives from other Christian communities and other religions and experts in the fields of education, culture, sports and arts.
“The pre-synod meeting will enrich the consultation phase, which began with the publication of the preparatory document and its questionnaire, along with the launch of an online website containing a specific questionnaire for young people,” the synod office said in a statement.
Conclusions drawn from the meeting, the general secretariat added, will be given to members of the Synod of Bishops “to encourage their reflection and in-depth study.” Young people attending the meeting also will take part in the Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 25, coinciding with local celebrations of World Youth Day.
(Editor’s note: Young people from the Diocese of Jackson are encouraged to take the synod survey: youth.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/it.html)

Pope defends traditional marriage in French book

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – By virtue of its very definition, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, Pope Francis said in a new book-length interview.
“We cannot change it. This is the nature of things,” not just in the church, but in human history, he said in a series of interviews with Dominique Wolton, a 70-year-old French sociologist and expert in media and political communication.
Published in French, the 417-page book, “Politique et Societe” (“Politics and Society”) was to be released Sept. 6. Catholic News Service obtained an advance copy, and excerpts appeared online.
When it comes to the true nature of marriage as well as gender, there is “critical confusion at the moment,” the pope said.
When asked about marriage for same-sex couples, the pope said, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”
Teaching children that they can choose their gender, he said, also plays a part in fostering such mistakes about the truth or facts of nature.
The pope said he wondered whether these new ideas about gender and marriage were somehow based on a fear of differences, and he encouraged researchers to study the subject.
Pope Francis also said his decision to give all priests permanent permission to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion was not mean to trivialize this serious and grave sin.
Abortion continues to be “murder of an innocent person. But if there is sin, forgiveness must be facilitated,” he said. So often a woman who never forgets her aborted child “cries for years without having the courage to go see a priest.”
“Do you have any idea the number of people who can finally breathe?” he asked, adding how important it was these women can find the Lord’s forgiveness and never commit this sin again.
Pope Francis said the biggest threat in the world is money. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus talked about people’s love and loyalty being torn between two things, he didn’t say it was between “your wife or God,” it was choosing between God or money.
“It’s clear. They are two things opposed to each other,” he said.
When asked why people do not listen to this message even though it has been clearly condemned by the church since the time of the Gospels, the pope said it is because some people prefer to speak only about morality.
“There is a great danger for preachers, lecturers, to fall into mediocrity,” which is condemning only those forms of immorality that fall “below the belt,” he said.
“But the other sins that are the most serious: hatred, envy, pride, vanity, killing another, taking away a life … these are really not talked about that much,” he said.
When asked about the church’s “just-war” theory, the pope said the issue should be looked into because “no war is just. The only just thing is peace.”

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.’”

Christians oriented toward light, hope

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The ancient practice of orienting church buildings East to West — with the entrance facing West and the altar toward the East — was symbolic of the connection that exists between light and hope, Pope Francis said.
“What does it mean to be a Christian? It means looking toward the light, continuing to make a profession of faith in the light, even when the world is wrapped in the night and darkness,” Pope Francis said Aug. 2 at his weekly general audience.
With temperatures moving toward a forecasted 100 degrees, the pope resumed his audiences indoors after a month’s hiatus. He also resumed his series of audience talks about Christian hope.
He began by explaining how in ancient times the physical setting of a church building held symbolic importance for believers because the sun sets in the West, “where the light dies,” but rises in the East, where “the dawn reminds us of Christ, the sun risen from on high.”
In fact, he said, using the “language of the cosmos,” it was customary to have those about to be baptized proclaim their renunciation of Satan facing West and their profession of faith in God facing East.
Pope Francis did not touch on the debate about whether priests should celebrate Mass facing East, with their backs to the people, but focused on light as a symbol of Christian hope.
“Christians are not exempt from the darkness, either external or even internal,” he said. “They do not live outside the world, but because of the grace of Christ received though baptism, they are men and women who are ‘oriented’: they do not believe in the darkness, but in the light of day; they do not succumb to the night, but hope in the dawn; they are not defeated by death, but long for resurrection; they are not crushed by evil because they always trust in the infinite possibilities of goodness.”
Receiving the light of Christ at baptism, he said, Christians are called to be true “Christophers” or Christ-bearers, “especially to those who are going through situations of mourning, desperation, darkness and hatred.”
Christians who truly bear the light of Christ’s hope, he said, can be identified by the light in their eyes and by their serenity “even on the most complicated days.”

Catechesis is a vocation of service, not a job

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Catechists are called to live their mission as a service, by preaching the Gospel through concrete actions rather than treating it as just a job, Pope Francis said.
Like St. Francis, who preached through his deeds, the “vocation and task of the catechist” is found when “we visit the poor, helping children and giving food to the poor,” the pope told participants of a conference on catechesis in his native Argentina.
“In fact, to be a catechist is a vocation of service in the church; what has been received as a gift from God must in turn be transmitted,” he said in the message published by the Vatican July 12.
The message was addressed to Archbishop Ramon Dus of Resistencia, Argentina, president of the Argentine bishops’ commission on catechesis and biblical ministry.
The commission sponsored the July 11-14 international symposium on catechesis taking place in the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.
In his letter, the pope said that for catechists to effectively preach the Gospel, they must “constantly return to that first announcement or ‘kerygma,’ which is the gift that changed their lives.”
“Kerygma” a Greek word that means “preaching of the Gospel,” must “not only resonate again and again in Christian life, but even moreso on those called to announce and teach the faith,” the pope said.
“This announcement must accompany the faith already present in the religiosity of our people,” the pope said. In doing so, the gift of faith can be nourished so that “actions and words reflect the grace of being disciples of Jesus.”
A catechist, he continued, does not “start from his or her own ideas and tastes” but rather “walks from and with Christ.”
“The more we make Jesus the center of our life, the more he makes us come out of ourselves, de-centers us and makes us close to others,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also said that catechists must also be “creative” and look for different ways to proclaim Christ and transmit the faith, like Jesus, who “adapted himself to the people in front of him to make them closer to God’s love.”
Adapting to others, he added, does not change the message “because God does not change; instead, he renews all things in him.”
“In the creative quest to make Jesus known, we should not be afraid because he precedes us in this task. He is already in the people of today, and there he is waiting for us,” the pope said.
(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Pope envisions Cardinals as grandfathers

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN LETTER (CNS) – The Catholic Church is not a “gerontocracy” ruled by old men, 80-year-old Pope Francis said; “we aren’t old men, we are grandfathers.”
“We are grandfathers called to dream and to give our dreams to the young people of today. They need it so that from our dreams, they can draw the strength to prophesy and carry out their task,” the pope told about 50 members of the College of Cardinals.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop June 27, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
Most of the cardinals present were officials of the Roman Curia or retired curial officials living in Rome. Many of them needed assistance up and down the small steps to the altar at Communion time.
The Mass was celebrated the day before Pope Francis was to create five new cardinals: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73; and Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74.
With an average age of 71.6 years, the new cardinals would lower by two months the average age of the entire College of Cardinals. However, the new members would increase slightly the average age of the cardinal electors, the group of those under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.
On the day of the pope’s anniversary Mass, the average age of the 116 cardinal electors was 71 years, four months and 15 days; the five new members would raise the average by 11 days.
Before the new members were added, the entire College of Cardinals had 220 members and an average age of 78 years, five months and 23 days. The five new members would lower the average to 78 years, three months and one day.
None of the new cardinals, though, are as old as the patriarch Abraham was when God called him to leave his home and set out for a new land.
The Bible says Abraham was 75 years old when he got the call, the pope noted at his anniversary Mass. “He was more or less our age. He was about to retire.”
At 75, “with the weight of old age, that old age that brings aches, illness,” Abraham heard God call him “as if he were a scout,” the pope said. God tells him, “Go. Look. And hope.”
God says the same thing to the pope and the cardinals, he said. “He tells us that now is not the time to shut down our lives or to end our stories.”
Instead, the pope told the cardinals, God continues to call each of them to keep moving forward and continues to give each of them a mission.
And every mission, he said, involves the three imperatives God gave Abraham: “Get up. Look. Hope.”
God tells Abraham, “Get up. Walk. Don’t stay still. You have a task, a mission, and you must carry it out walking. Don’t stay seated,” the pope said.
Abraham’s tent is a key symbol in the story, he said. The only thing Abraham built solidly was an altar “to adore the one who ordered him to get up and to set out.” His tent was his mobile shelter.
“Someone who does not like us would say that we are the gerontocracy of the church,” the pope told the cardinals. “He doesn’t understand what he is saying.”
The cardinals are not just old men, but are grandfathers in the church, the pope said. “If we don’t feel like we are, we must ask for that grace.”
As grandfathers, the cardinals should know that their grandchildren are watching them and looking to them, he continued. They must help young people find meaning in their lives by sharing their experiences.
For that to happen, the pope said, the cardinals cannot be focused on “the melancholy of our story,” but must be dreamers who continue to look to the future with hope, knowing that God continues to act in human history.    
(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.)

Pope: make sure heart pulsates with Holy Spirit

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) –  Never speak, act or make a decision without first listening to the Holy Spirit, who moves, troubles and inspires the heart, Pope Francis advised.
A cold and calculating heart that is closed to the Holy Spirit results in a faith that is “ideological,” he said May 29 during a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
Knowing God and his commandments, and being good are not enough, the pope said. One must also receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and let him “trouble” the heart.
If people were to get a “spiritual electrocardiogram,” the pope asked, would it be flatlined because the heart is hardened, unmoved and emotionless or would it be pulsating with the prompting and prods of the Spirit?  
“Am I able to listen him? Am I able to ask for his inspiration before making a decision or saying something or doing something? Or is my heart serene, without emotion, an immobile heart,” much like the doctors of the law had, he asked.
“They believed in God, they knew all the commandments, but the heart was closed, immobile, they didn’t let it become troubled,” the pope said.
A Christian cannot just listen to their head and calculated reason, he said. They must learn to listen and discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to their hearts, too, “because the Holy Spirit is the master of discernment.”
“A person who does not have this movement in the heart, who doesn’t discern what is happening, is a person who has a cold faith, an ideological faith,” he said.
The pope asked people to reflect on their relationship with the Holy Spirit and pray that the Spirit guide them in the choices they make. “I ask that he give me the grace to distinguish the good from the less good because good can be distinguished from evil easily,” the pope said.
At morning Mass the next day, May 30, Pope Francis reflected on how pastors and bishops must be ready to leave their flock and follow God’s call to head somewhere completely unknown.
A real pastor, he said, knows how to let go of the church he once served because he knows he is not the protagonist or “central focus of the story.”
He must see his life as having no importance to himself, and do everything to serve God and his people “without compromise” and with courage, the pope said.
Priests and bishops must be open to and obey the Holy Spirit because “the pastor knows that he is on a journey.”
Ministers will be like Paul, who was called to leave the church at Ephesus and head to Jerusalem, where “what will happen there I do not know,” except that he had been warned hardships and trouble would await him.
Every apostle of Christ must guide his flock without compromise, being ready to leave everything behind and head into the unknown, the pope said. He always must serve the people without ever misleading or improperly using them by making them think he is the “central focus of the story.”
A pastor who does not learn to leave his post well does not have a good relationship with his flock and has formed “a bond that is not purified by the cross of Jesus,” the pope said.