Pope begins New Year with apology, prayers for peace

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis began the New Year with an apology for losing his patience the night before with a woman who grabbed his hand and yanked him closer to her while he was greeting people in St. Peter’s Square.
To get away, the pope had slapped her hand and gave her a very serious scowl. A video of the incident went viral on Twitter.
Reciting the midday Angelus prayer Jan. 1, Pope Francis was talking about how God’s offer of salvation in Jesus is “not magic, but patient, that is, it involves the patience of love, which takes on inequity and destroys its power.”

Pope Francis slaps a woman’s hand after she grabbed his hand while walking to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 31, 2019. At his Angelus Jan. 1 the pope apologized for the “bad example” he gave when he slapped the hand of the woman. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Then, briefly departing from his prepared text, the pope said that “love makes us patient. We often lose our patience; me, too, and I apologize for my bad example last night.”
Returning to his text, Pope Francis said that in gazing upon the Nativity scene with the eyes of faith, “we see the world renewed, freed from the dominion of evil and placed under the regal lordship of Christ, the baby lying in the manger.”
The church marks Jan. 1 as both the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, he said, urging Catholics to pray for peace and to recognize their responsibility to work for peace.
For the 2020 celebration of World Peace Day, he said, the focus was on peace as a “journey of hope, a journey which proceeds through dialogue, reconciliation and ecological conversion.”
“Jesus is the blessing of those oppressed by the yoke of slavery, both moral and material,” he said. “He frees with love.”
To those who are enslaved by vice and addiction, the pope said, Jesus bears the message that “the Father loves you, he will not abandon you, with unshakable patience he awaits your return.”
Jesus opens the doors of fraternity, welcome and love to those who are victims of injustice or exploitation; pours “the oil of consolation” on the sick and the discouraged; and opens windows of light for prisoners who feel they have no future, he said.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the people in the square, “let’s get down from the pedestals of our pride and ask for the blessing of the holy Mother of God. She will show us Jesus. Let’s let ourselves be blessed, let’s open our hearts to goodness and that way the year that is beginning will be a journey of hope and peace, not through words, but through daily gestures of dialogue, reconciliation and care for creation.”
Pope Francis used his midday address to thank and encourage all the initiatives Catholics, their parishes and dioceses around the world undertake to promote peace.
“My thoughts also go to the many volunteers who, in places where peace and justice are threatened, courageously choose to be present in a nonviolence and unarmed way, as well as to the military who carry out peacekeeping missions in many areas of conflict,” the pope said.
Addressing everyone, “believers and non-believers because we are all brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis urged people to “never stop hoping in a world of peace,” which must be built together, day by day.
 

Pope tells his elderly peers the prayers of the old are powerful

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – On the eve of his 83rd birthday, Pope Francis met with a group of his peers – although many were a few years younger – and told them that “old age is a time of grace.”
“Grandparents, who have received the blessing of seeing their children’s children, are entrusted with a great task: transmitting the experience of life and the history of the family, the community, the people,” the pope said Dec. 16 during an audience with members of the Italian National Association of Senior Workers.
The association represents workers with at least 20 years of seniority in a company, defending the rights of older workers and promoting volunteer service by older people.
Pope Francis, who was born Dec. 17, 1936, told association members that one’s later years should be a “season of dialogue,” because “the future of a people naturally presupposes a dialogue and encounter between the old and young to build a society that is more just, more beautiful, has more solidarity and is more Christian.”
As one grows older, he said, “the Lord renews his call to us. He calls us to preserve and hand on the faith; he calls us to pray, especially to intercede; he calls us to be alongside those who are in need.”

Pope Francis speaks to members of the Italian National Association of Senior Workers during an audience at the Vatican Dec. 16, 2019, the day before his 83rd birthday. The pope told the group “old age is a time of grace” when God “calls us to preserve and hand on the faith; he calls us to pray, especially to intercede; he calls us to be alongside those who are in need.” (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“The elderly, grandparents, have a unique and special ability to understand the most problematic situations,” the pope continued. “And when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong, it’s potent.”
By living one’s senior years as a gift and a time for dialogue, he said, the elderly show the lie of “the traditional stereotype of the elderly: ill, handicapped, dependent, isolated, besieged by fear, left out, having a weak identity after losing their social role.”
Active seniors, he said, also fight a system that focuses more on “costs and risks” than on “resources and potential.”
“The future – and this is not an exaggeration – will be found in dialogue between the young and the old,” he said. “We are all called to fight this poisonous throwaway culture. With tenacity we are called to build a different society, one that is more welcoming, more human, more inclusive,” and one where the young aren’t ignored because they aren’t working yet and the old aren’t ignored because people think their financially productive years are over.
“Remember,” the pope told them, “talk to young people, not to clobber them, no. To listen to them, to sow something. This dialogue is the future.”

Pope asks Catholics to set up, be enchanted by a Nativity scene

By Carol Glatz
ROME (CNS) – A Nativity scene is a simple reminder of something astonishing: God became human to reveal the greatness of his love “by smiling and opening his arms to all,” Pope Francis said in a letter on the meaning and importance of setting up Christmas cribs.
“Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas creche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition,” the pope wrote in his apostolic letter, “Admirabile Signum” (“Enchanting Image”).
Pope Francis signed the short letter Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent, during an afternoon visit to Greccio, Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi set up the first Nativity scene in 1223.
When St. Francis had a cave prepared with a hay-filled manger, an ox and a donkey, he “carried out a great work of evangelization,” Pope Francis said, and Catholics must continue that work today.
“With this letter,” he wrote, “I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the Nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares.”
At the heart of even the simplest Nativity scene, he said, there is a reminder of “God’s tender love.”
Then, he said, there is the fact that this baby is “the source and sustenance of all life. In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend ever at our side. He gave us his son who forgives us and frees us from our sins.”

Pope Francis prays during a visit to the Nativity scene of Greccio, Italy, Dec. 1, 2019. The first Nativity scene was assembled in Greccio by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)


“To our astonishment, we see God acting exactly as we do: He sleeps, takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like every other child! As always, God baffles us. He is unpredictable, constantly doing what we least expect,” Pope Francis wrote. “The Nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life.”
The simple shepherds, who were the first to go to the stable to see the newborn Jesus, are reminders that “the humble and the poor” are the first to welcome the good news, the pope said. “In a particular way, from the time of its Franciscan origins, the Nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that God’s son took upon himself in the incarnation.”
That, in turn, calls Jesus’ disciples “to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross,” the pope wrote. “It asks us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need.”
Mary is a model of discipleship, faithfully accepting God’s will for her life and sharing him with others, inviting them to obey him. Joseph, too, accepts the role God assigned him, protecting the baby Jesus, teaching him and raising him.
And, of course, the pope wrote, “when, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the Nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms.”
The whole scene, he said, reminds adult Catholics of their childhood and of learning the faith from their parents and grandparents. Each year, it should be a reminder that the faith needs to be passed on to one’s children and grandchildren.

Music, art are a gateway to discover God’s greatness

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Liturgical musicians have the unique calling to interpret God’s will and love through song and praise, Pope Francis said.
“Every Christian, in fact, is an interpreter of the will of God in his or her own life, and by his or her life sings a joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God,” the pope said Nov. 9 during a meeting with participants at a Vatican conference on interpreting sacred music.
The conference, titled “Church, Music, Interpreters: A Necessary Dialogue,” was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music and the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm.
Reflecting on the conference theme, the pope said most people think of interpreters as a kind of translator who conveys what “he or she has received in such a way that another person can understand it.”
Although good interpreters in the field of music essentially “translate” what a composer has written, they also should feel “great humility before a work of art that is not their property,” and to “bring out the beauty of the music.”

Organist Johann Vexo of Paris rehearses April 25, 2019, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Liturgical musicians have the unique calling to interpret God’s will and love through song and praise, Pope Francis said Nov. 9 during a meeting with participants at a Vatican conference on interpreting sacred music. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Within the context of the liturgy, he added, music is a way for Christians “to serve others through the works they perform.”
“Every interpreter is called to develop a distinctive sensibility and genius in the service of art which refreshes the human spirit and in service to the community,” the pope said. “This is especially the case if the interpreter carries out a liturgical ministry.”
Pope Francis thanked the participants for their commitment and – citing the words of his predecessor St. Paul VI – said that music ministers have the great task of “grasping treasures from the heavenly realm of the spirit and clothing them in words, colors and forms, thus making them accessible.”
“The artist, the interpreter and – in the case of music – the listener, all have the same desire,” the pope said: “To understand what beauty, music and art allow us to know of God’s grandeur. Now perhaps more than ever, men and women have need of this. Interpreting that reality is essential for today’s world.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Holy Spirit guides church efforts to evangelize

Holy Spirit guides church efforts to evangelize

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church’s mission, pointing the way to evangelize new lands and opening people’s hearts to be transformed by Christ, Pope Francis said.
Pray to the Holy Spirit “for a heart that is open, sensitive to God and welcoming” toward others, the pope encouraged Catholics Oct. 30 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The pope continued his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles by looking at the Apostle Paul’s journey to Macedonia, which was inspired by a vision, guided by the Holy Spirit.
“The apostle does not hesitate, he leaves for Macedonia, sure that it is God who is inviting him,” the pope said.
There, Paul preaches to a group of women, he said, and Lydia, whose heart has been opened by God, listens, receives baptism with her family and offers Paul hospitality.
It marks the start of evangelizing Europe, “a process of inculturation that continues still today,” the pope said.
However, Paul and Silas are eventually thrown into prison on charges of public disorder.
But something surprising happens, the pope said. Instead of complaining about their circumstances, they praise God, which “unleashes a power that frees them”: An earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison, throwing open the doors and loosening the prisoners’ chains.
Their jailer, who asks how he may be saved, also listens to the word of God, receives baptism with his family and offers his evangelizers hospitality.
“In the dead of night for this unnamed jailer, the light of Christ radiates and conquers the darkness, the chains of the heart fall and a joy never felt before opens up in him and his family,” he said.

Pope Francis looks at statues held by Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Military Ordinariate in Argentina, and Bishop Paul Mason of the Military Ordinariate of Great Britain, during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 30, 2019. The two bishops exchanged a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Lujan, which was taken to the United Kingdom by British troops during the Falkland War in 1982, Vatican News reported. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

This shows how the Holy Spirit is guiding the church’s mission, Pope Francis said. “He leads us onward, he wants us to be faithful to our vocation” and helps the people of God bring the Gospel to others.
At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis met with Bishop Paul Mason of the United Kingdom armed forces and Bishop Santiago Olivera of Argentina’s military.
According to Vatican News, the two bishops exchanged a replica of the statue of Our Lady of Lujan, which was taken to the United Kingdom by British troops during the Falkland War in 1982.
The statue of the Mary, patroness of Argentina, was to be returned to its native country and a replica, blessed by the pope, was to be presented to the Catholic Military Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Aldershot, England.

Jesus does not tolerate hypocrisy

The Pope’s Corner

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Jesus enjoys unmasking hypocrisy, which is the work of the devil, Pope Francis said.
Christians, in fact, must learn to avoid hypocrisy by scrutinizing and acknowledging their own personal faults, failings and sins, he said Oct. 15 during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
“A Christian who does not know how to accuse himself is not a good Christian,” he said.
The pope focused his homily on the day’s Gospel reading (Lk 11:37-41) in which Jesus criticizes his host for being concerned only with outward appearances and superficial rituals, saying, “although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.”
Pope Francis said the reading shows how much Jesus does not tolerate hypocrisy, which, the pope said, “is appearing one way but being something else” or hiding what one really thinks.
When Jesus calls the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and hypocrites, these words are not insults but the truth, the pope said.
“On the outside you are perfect, strait-laced actually, with decorum, but inside you are something else,” he said.
“Hypocritical behavior comes from the great liar, the devil,” who is a huge hypocrite himself, the pope said, and he makes those like him on earth his “heirs.”

Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican Oct. 15, 2019. The pope, in his homily, said Christians must avoid hypocrisy by scrutinizing and acknowledging their own faults and sins. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Hypocrisy is the language of the devil; it is the language of evil that enters our heart and is sown by the devil. You can’t live with hypocritical people, but they exist,” the pope said.
“Jesus likes to unmask hypocrisy,” he said. “He knows it will be precisely this behavior that leads to his death because the hypocrite does not think about using legitimate means or not, he plows ahead: slander? ‘Let’s use slander.’ False witness? ‘Let’s look for an untruthful witness.’”  
Hypocrisy, the pope said, is common “in the battle for power, for example, (with) envy, jealousies that make you appear to be one way and inside there is poison for killing because hypocrisy always kills, sooner or later, it kills.”
The only “medicine” to cure hypocritical behavior is to tell the truth before God and take responsibility for oneself, the pope said.
“We have to learn to accuse ourselves, ‘I did this, I think this way, badly. I am envious. I want to destroy that one,’” he said.
People need to reflect on “what is inside of us” to see the sin, hypocrisy and “the wickedness that is in our heart” and “to say it before God” with humility, he said.
Pope Francis asked people to learn from St. Peter, who implored, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
“May we learn to accuse ourselves, us, our own self,” he said.

Christians have ‘moral duty’ to help migrants, refugees

By Paige Hanley
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis will highlight the important role of memory and storytelling across generations as a way to bring people together in a world marked by discord and division, the Vatican said.
The pope believes that memory – far from being a static, inflexible recollection of the past – has dynamic and transformative power that can influence and foster unity, a Vatican press release said Sept. 29 when it announced the theme of World Communication Day 2020.
The Vatican and many dioceses mark World Communication Day on the Sunday before Pentecost; in 2020 that will be May 24. The Vatican publishes the full message Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists.

Family members from different generations attend an encounter and Mass for the elderly led by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 28, 2014, file photo. The pope will highlight the role of memory and storytelling across generations in his message for World Communications Day 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

For next year’s message, the pope chose the theme, “So that you can tell your children and grandchildren. Life creates history.”
The passage, based on the Book of Exodus, highlights the importance of sharing meaningful memories, stories and experiences, so that they may live on and transform the present, the Vatican statement said.
The theme “reminds us that every story is born out of life, from interacting with others,” it said.
Stories are valuable resources which offer “great riches” to their listeners, it said. The insight, knowledge and human connection fostered through effective storytelling is an invaluable asset to the audience.
“Communications is, therefore, called to connect memory with life through stories,” it said, explaining how Jesus used parables to convey “the vital power of the Kingdom of God, leaving his audience free to welcome these narratives and apply them to themselves.”
“These stories are not only alive in the past but continue to guide the lives and beliefs of Catholics today,” it said, adding, “The ability to generate change expresses how powerful a story is.”
The Vatican announcement said the message will call for ongoing dialogue with each other and with the past and will ask everyone to make communications be “an instrument to build bridges, to unite and to share the beauty of being brothers and sisters in a moment of history marked by discord and division.”

Despite human sinfulness, God’s projects will endure

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church will endure, despite the frailty and sins of its members, because it is God’s project, Pope Francis said.
Continuing his series of audience talks about the Acts of the Apostles and the early Christian community Sept. 18, Pope Francis looked at the story of Gamaliel, a Pharisee who tried to teach members of the Sanhedrin a key aspect of “discernment,” which is not to rush to judgment, but rather to allow time for something to show itself as worthy or not.
As recounted in Acts 5, Gamaliel told the Sanhedrin not to execute the apostles for preaching Christ, “for if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
“Every human project can initially drum up consensus, but then go down in flames,” the pope said. But “everything that comes from on high and bears God’s signature is destined to endure.”
“Human projects always fail, they have a (limited) time, like we do,” he said. “Think of the great empires. Think of the dictatorships of the past century; they thought they were so powerful and dominated the world, and then they all crumbled.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims as he arrives for his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 18, 2019. The Catholic Church will endure, despite the frailty and sins of its members, because it is God’s project, Pope Francis said during the audience. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

The most powerful governments and forces today also “will crumble if God is not with them because the strength human beings have on their own is not lasting,” the pope said. “Only the strength of God endures.”
The history of Christianity and of the Catholic Church, even “with so many sins and so many scandals, with so many ugly things,” illustrates the same point, the pope said. “Why hasn’t it crumbled? Because God is there. We are sinners and often, often, we give scandal,” but “the Lord always saves. The strength is God with us.”
The story also shows just how much courage the presence of the Holy Spirit brings, the pope said. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples “all ran away, they fled,” but after the Resurrection, when he sent the Spirit upon them, they became courageous.
Pointing to the 21 Coptic Orthodox beheaded on a beach in Libya in 2015, Pope Francis said the same courage is still seen today in martyrs, who continued to repeat the name of Jesus even as their fate becomes clear. “They did not sell out their faith because the Holy Spirit was with them.”
In the Acts of the Apostles, Gamaliel tells the Sanhedrin that if Jesus was an imposter, his followers eventually would “disappear,” the pope said, but “if, on the other hand, they were following one who was sent by God, then it would be better not to fight them.”
The “wait and see” attitude of Gamaliel is a key part of discernment, Pope Francis said.
“His are calm and farsighted words,” part of a process that urges people to “judge a tree by its fruits” rather than acting hastily, the pope said.
Pope Francis asked people at the audience to join him in praying that the Holy Spirit would “act in us so that, both personally and as a community, we can acquire the habit of discernment” and learn to notice God acting in history and in our brothers and sisters.

Climbers exist inside the church

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People who race to get top positions often feel superior to others, an attitude that destroys the possibility for fellowship and communion, Pope Francis said.
“We all know these people: climbers, always trying to climb up, up. They hurt brotherhood, they damage brotherhood,” the pope said Sept. 1 during his Sunday Angelus address.
Thousands of pilgrims waited outside St. Peter’s Square to listen to and pray with the pope. However, the pope was late, which is unusual for his Angelus appointment.
Excusing himself for the delay, the pope explained that he was stuck in an elevator for almost a half-hour.
“Thank God the firefighters came – I thank them very much – and after 25 minutes of work they were able to get (the elevator) working. An applause to the firefighters,” he said.
In his address, the pope focused on the Sunday Gospel reading in which Jesus recounts two parables while dining at the house of a leading Pharisee.
Noticing how many guests rushed to take the place of honor at the table, Jesus exhorted them to be humble and take the last place because “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The pope said that the desire to rise to the top in both “civil and ecclesial” circles happens even today “and not just when someone is invited to lunch.”
Instead of seeking to be first, the pope added, Christians are called to follow Christ who “always shows us the way of humility” because it is “the most authentic one that also allows us to have authentic relationships.”
In the Gospel reading, Jesus also encourages his host to invite the poor, the lame and the blind to his banquet so that he may receive “a divine reward that is much greater” than giving and receiving favors from others, which “usually distorts relationships and commercializes them,” the pope said.
“Humble generosity is Christian,” Pope Francis said. “Jesus invites us to selfless generosity, to open the way for a much greater joy, the joy of being part of the very love of God that awaits us, all of us, in the heavenly banquet.”
After praying the Angelus prayer, the pope announced that he will create 13 new cardinals from around the world Oct. 5, including Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Pope Francis also commemorated the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, an observance begun by the Orthodox Church and now celebrated by many Christians.
The ecumenical day of prayer, he said, “is a favorable time to praise God for all his creatures and the assumption of responsibility in front of the cry of the earth.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Pope calls on nations to protect lives, dignity of war victims

By Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY – Marking the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, Pope Francis urged nations to recall the need to protect the life and dignity of the victims of war and armed conflict.
“Everyone is required to observe the limits imposed by international humanitarian law, protecting unarmed populations and civil structures, especially hospitals, schools, places of worship, refugee camps,” he said, after praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 11.
The pope reminded people that Aug. 12 marked the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which, he said, were “important international legal instruments that impose limits on the use of force and are aimed at protecting civilians and prisoners in time of war.”
“May this anniversary make states increasingly aware of the indispensable need to protect the life and dignity of victims of armed conflicts,” he said.
“And let us not forget that war and terrorism are always a serious loss for all of humanity. They are the great human defeat!”
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 expanded previous international agreements for the humane treatment of military personnel who were wounded or captured, medical personnel and civilians, by including rules protecting prisoners of war from torture and mistreatment, and providing them with suitable housing, sustenance and oversight by the International Red Cross.
New articles also called for protecting wounded, sick and pregnant civilians as well as mothers and children. Civilians should have access to adequate medical care and must not be collectively deported or made to work by occupying forces without pay.