Pope Francis joins prayers for victims of bloody weekend in U.S.

By Rhina Guidos
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Francis joined Catholic Church leaders expressing sorrow after back-to-back mass shootings in the United States left at least 29 dead and dozens injured in Texas and Ohio Aug. 3 and 4.
After the prayer called the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Aug. 4, the pope said he wanted to convey his spiritual closeness to the victims, the wounded and the families affected by the attacks. He also included those who died a weekend earlier during a shooting at a festival in Gilroy, California.
“I am spiritually close to the victims of the episodes of violence that these days have bloodied Texas, California and Ohio, in the United States, affecting defenseless people,” he said.
He joined bishops in Texas as well as national Catholic organizations and leaders reacting to a bloody first weekend of August, which produced the eighth deadliest gun violence attack in the country after a gunman opened fire in the morning of Aug. 3 at a mall in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 and injuring more than a dozen people.

Shoppers exit with their hands up after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, 2019. In Aug 3 tweets, the Catholic dioceses of El Paso, Texas and neighboring Las Cruces, New Mexico asked for prayers for everyone involved at this difficult time. (CNS photo/Jorge Salgado, Reuters)

Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting, authorities in Dayton, Ohio, reported at least nine dead and more than a dozen injured after a gunman opened fire on a crowd at or near a bar in the early hours of Aug. 4. The suspected gunman was fatally wounded and police later identified him as 24-year-old Connor Betts, of Bellbrook, Ohio.
On Aug. 4, after the second shooting become public, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee offered prayers, condolences and urged action.
“The lives lost this weekend confront us with a terrible truth. We can never again believe that mass shootings are an isolated exception. They are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, in a statement issued jointly with Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“God’s mercy and wisdom compel us to move toward preventative action. We encourage all Catholics to increased prayer and sacrifice for healing and the end of these shootings. We encourage Catholics to pray and raise their voices for needed changes to our national policy and national culture as well,” the statement continued.
In the shooting in El Paso, police arrested 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, of Allen, Texas. Several news organizations said local and federal authorities are investigating whether the shooting was a possible hate crime since the suspected gunman may be linked to a manifesto that speaks of the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.
On its website, the Diocese of El Paso announced Aug. 4 that Masses would take place as scheduled on Sunday but canceled “out of an abundance of caution” a festival-like celebration called a “kermess,” which is popular among Catholic Latino populations, that was scheduled to take place at Our Lady of the Light Church.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas posted a prayer on their website called “Let the shooting end.” They called on lawmakers to enact guns laws “to protect all in our society.”
Immediately after the news of the El Paso shooting, they tweeted: “Our hearts break for the families of those killed and wounded in today’s mass shooting in El Paso. A school, a movie theater, a church, a shopping mall: All places where we should feel safe, all places that have experienced senseless tragedy because of guns.”
Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Dewane said in their Aug. 4 statement that the bishops’ conference has long advocated for responsible gun laws and increased resources for addressing the root causes of violence and called upon the president and congress to set aside political interests “and find ways to better protect innocent life.”

Hush hour: spirituality of silence is a journey toward God, priest says

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis hung a bright red sign on his home-office door two summers ago that reads, “No Complaining Allowed.”
It was a succinct reminder to guests at his residence of one of his favorite invitations: drop the “sourpuss” scowl and radiate the true joy that comes from being loved by God.
Even his more formal visitors get a similar, more subtle, message as they enter the apostolic palace where the pope receives bishops and heads of state and holds other important gatherings.
Near the elevators people take to reach the papal study or meeting halls, the pope hung a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Silence — an image of Mary with her index finger poised gently in front of her closed lips.
“Just think how many Marian icons he gets (as gifts) and he decides to put this one there” as well as a smaller copy of one on his desk, said Capuchin Father Emiliano Antenucci, who commissioned the icon and gave a copy to the pope.

Capuchin Father Emiliano Antenucci presents an image of Our Lady of Silence to Pope Francis at the Vatican March 22, 2019. Father Antenucci said that silence “is the womb where words that are true are born.” (CNS photo/courtesy Father Emiliano Antenucci)

The preferential treatment, the priest told Catholic News Service, shows the pope’s deep understanding of the importance of holy and humble silence.
Father Antenucci has spent the past 10 years developing and offering special courses on silence, which is an important part of Christian spirituality and mental wellbeing, but, he said, is increasingly scarce in a busy, noisy, media-saturated world.
Together with a number of books he has authored, Father Antenucci’s three-day weekend retreats teach people how to carve out a moment each day of inner peace and outer quiet in order to better perceive and embrace God’s presence.
“Silence is a revolution,” he said. Silence “is the womb where words that are true are born.”
While his books and courses are currently available only in Italian and Spanish, he said he has been getting the materials translated into English and finding a publisher for North America.
Father Antenucci said Pope Francis was quite moved when he saw the icon of Our Lady of Silence the priest had first brought with him to be blessed in 2016.
The pope even wrote on the back of the wooden panel in gold pen, “Do not bad-mouth others!” which ended up being the title and cover picture of Father Antenucci’s most recent booklet, which the Vatican newspaper reviewed in late July.
The booklet is not a scolding lecture, he said, but explains what drives people to cut others down and offers techniques for “a conversion of heart.” It lists pertinent quotes from the pope and suggests a 12-step remedial program for kicking the habit of gossip, “a sport practiced all over the world,” the priest said.
The pope’s appeal for people to stop, think and not “drop bombs with their tongues” reflects the Christian understanding that people are created by God in his image, Father Antenucci said, so smearing a person’s reputation also “sullies the face of God” and makes the world a more polluted place.
Father Antenucci explained that silence asks people to suspend their judgment and be more merciful, “because we don’t know what is going on with the other person, what wounds they carry,” and that ignorance can lead to criticism.
However, not every critique or accusation is calumny or a hit job and biting one’s tongue is not an absolute rule of thumb.
Silence, like words, can be weaponized, Father Antenucci said, like the Mafia’s restrictive code of “omerta’” or the corrosive, manipulative silence among families, friends and coworkers, when needs, problems or concerns are shunned, denied or ignored.
Speaking up and out against injustice, illegality and sin comes from “Christ the liberator,” said the priest who ministers to Mafiosi in maximum security prisons and encourages young adults to fight against such evil.
Because both words and silence can be used as “medicine or poison,” he said, it comes down to properly discerning when it is best to speak and when it is best to be silent.
Make sure love is the motive, he said, as St. Augustine taught, be “silent out of love” and “speak out of love” always.
Another tip comes from Socrates, he said, who advised “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”
Backstabbing, envy and slander are all rooted in the same philosophy: “Mors tua vita mea,” (“Your death, my life”) which means, “we want to put down the other in order to glorify ourselves,” he said.
That is why speaking up about something to someone requires “it not be about judgment but be about correction,” he said.
“If we judge the person, we abandon them. Whoever corrects, loves. You do it together, saying, ‘I will support you. I am here.’ This is mercy. This is the Christian way,” said the priest, who served as a papal Missionary of Mercy during the Year of Mercy.
“Condemn the sin, save the sinner,” he added.
Father Antenucci said, “in a world bombarded by noise,” everyone should experience at least 30 minutes of silence each day. “It’s good for your head, clearing your mind, and purifies your heart.”
“Christian silence” is not about seeking a sense of emptiness or nothingness, but “is about presence. It is an encounter with Jesus,” he said.
The spirituality of silence, Father Antenucci added, can be summed up best by “a very wise girl,” appropriately named Sofia, who told her mother, “who then told me, ‘If Our Lady asks us to be quiet, it’s because her son has something to tell us.’”

Love of God, love of neighbor are tied together

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Praying that Catholics would understand and act on “the inseparable bond” between love of God and love of neighbor, Pope Francis again appealed for a solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
“We pray that the Lord will inspire and enlighten the parties in conflict so that as soon as possible they arrive at an agreement that puts an end to the suffering of the people for the good of the country and the entire region,” the pope said July 14 after reciting the Angelus prayer.
In early June, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported that the number of Venezuelans who had fled the violence, extreme poverty and lack of medicines in their country had reached 4 million since 2015.
In his main Angelus talk, commenting on the Sunday Gospel reading of the story of the good Samaritan, Pope Francis said it teaches that “compassion is the benchmark” of Christianity.

Venezuelan children in La Paz, Bolivia, play with toys next to the Chilean consulate July 1, 2019, while their parents wait for migration documents. Praying that Catholics would understand and act on “the inseparable bond” between love of God and love of neighbor, Pope Francis again appealed for a solution to the crisis in Venezuela after reciting the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican July 14. (CNS photo/David Mercado, Reuters)


Jesus’ story about the Samaritan stopping to help a man who had been robbed and beaten after a priest and Levite just walked by, “makes us understand that we, without our criteria, are not the ones who decide who is our neighbor and who isn’t,” the pope said.
Rather, he said, it is the person in need who identifies the neighbor, finding it in the person who has compassion and stops to help.
“Being able to have compassion; this is the key,” the pope said. “If you stand before a person in need and don’t feel compassion, if your heart is not moved, that means something is wrong. Be attentive.”
“If you are walking down the street and see a homeless person lying there and you pass without looking at him or you think, ‘That’s the wine. He’s a drunk,’ ask yourself if your heart has not become rigid, if your heart has not become ice,” the pope said.
Jesus’ command to be like the good Samaritan, he said, “indicates that mercy toward a human being in need is the true face of love. And that is how you become true disciples of Jesus and show others the Father’s face.”

World becoming more elitist, cruel toward excluded

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN (CNS) – The excluded, especially migrants and refugees, are the ones who ultimately pay the price for humanity’s greed, Pope Francis said.
In a new video message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Vatican will celebrate Sept. 29, the pope warned that “today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel toward the excluded.” “Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the crumbs of the banquet,” the pope said in the message released July 2.
The message, according to the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is part of a campaign that “will offer reflections, insights and resources for the promotion of pastoral activities” for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

Migrants from Afghanistan are seen at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants in Samos, Greece, June 25, 2019. Pope Francis said in a July 2 video message that the excluded, especially migrants and refugees, are the ones who ultimately pay the price for humanity’s greed. (CNS photo/Giorgos Moutafis, Reuters)


Reflecting on the theme, “It’s not just about migrants; it’s about not excluding anyone,” the pope lamented the exploitation of natural and human resources in developing countries “for the benefit of a few privileged markets.”
He also called out countries that foment war through arms sales while closing their doors to innocent men, women and children escaping violence.
“Wars only affect some regions of the world,” the pope said, “yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions, which then refuse to accept the refugees produced by these conflicts.”
Pope Francis said the church must take the initiative and seek “those who have fallen away.”
The Catholic Church should “stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast whom we ourselves as a society are excluding,” the pope said. “Real development is fruitful and inclusive, oriented toward the future.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Holy Spirit conducts symphony of communion

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN (CNS) – Like an orchestra conductor leading a symphony of different sounds and harmonies, the Holy Spirit creates a masterpiece of unity and communion that extols God’s love, Pope Francis said.
In creating this harmony, the Holy Spirit “makes the church grow by helping it go beyond human limits, sins and scandal,” the pope said June 19 during his weekly general audience.
“The Holy Spirit is the creator of communion, he is the artist of reconciliation who knows how to remove the barriers between Jews and Greeks, between slaves and free people, to make them one body,” he said.
Continuing his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles, the pope reflected on the gift of the Holy Spirit received, which the apostles received on Pentecost and was manifested in gusts of wind and tongues of fire descending upon them.

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up to the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 19, 2019. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)


The wind that blew through the cenacle was “an eruption that does not tolerate” closed doors, but instead bursts them wide open, he said.
Fire, which throughout biblical tradition is a symbol of God’s presence, immediately descends upon the apostles, thus “purifying and revitalizing them,” he added.
“The church is therefore born of the fire of love, a fire that burns at Pentecost and manifests the power of the word of the Risen One imbued with the Holy Spirit,” the pope said. “The new and definitive covenant is no longer based on a law written on tablets of stone, but on the action of the Spirit of God who makes all things new and is engraved in the hearts of the flesh.”
Pope Francis said that God continues to pour his Spirit upon Christians today, drawing the faithful to him through “divine attraction,” and he “seduces us with his love” so that all may receive a new life through him.
“Let us ask the Lord to make us experience a new Pentecost, which will open our hearts and tune our feelings with those of Christ,” the pope said, “so that we may announce without shame his transforming word and bear witness to the power of love that calls to life all who encounter him.”

(Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju)

Teens must break addiction to phones

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis told high school students to break their phone addiction and spend more time on real communication with others and in moments of quiet, personal reflection.
Young people need to learn about “healthy introspection” so they can listen to their conscience and be able to distinguish it “from the voices of selfishness and hedonism,” he said.
The pope made his remarks April 13 during an audience with teachers, students and their family members from Rome’s oldest classical lyceum – the Ennio Quirino Visconti Lyceum-Gymnasium. Some notable alumni include Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, and Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci.
The pope told the high school students to “please, free yourselves from your phone addiction!”
Looking up at his audience as they applauded, the pope said he knew they were aware of the many forms and problems of addiction. But, he warned, an addiction to one’s mobile phone was something “very subtle.”
“Mobile phones are a great help, it marks great progress. It should be used, and it is wonderful everyone knows how to use it” for the “wonderful” activity of communication, he said.
“But when you become a slave to your phone, you lose your freedom,” he said.
“Be careful because there is danger that this drug – when the phone is a drug – the danger of communication being reduced to simple ‘contacts’” and not true communication with others, he said to more applause.
He told them to not be afraid of silence and to learn to listen to or write down what is going on inside their heart and head.
“It is more than a science, it is wisdom, so as to not become a piece of paper” that moves in whatever direction the wind blows, he said.
The pope also told the teenagers that God gave everyone the ability to love.
“Don’t dirty it” with shameful behavior, but rather, love “cleanly” with modesty, fidelity, respect and a big generous heart.
“Love is not a game. Love is the most beautiful thing God gave us,” he told them, so be vigilant, protect people’s dignity and defend “authentic love, so as not to trivialize the language of the body.”
He asked them to help their school remain free from all forms of bullying and aggression, which are “the seeds of war.”
And he encouraged them to reject mediocrity and indifference, and instead, “dream big,” living with passion and embracing diversity.
“Dialogue among different cultures, different people, enriches a nation, enriches one’s homeland,” he said. It helps people move forward in mutual respect and be able to see the world is “for everyone, not just for some.”

At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.
“Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside,” the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.
The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, “fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change.”
Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope’s candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world’s largest Catholic church.
During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.
In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.
“At times,” he said, “it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people.”
“In the history of the church and in our own personal history,” he said, it may seem that “the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life.”
But, he said, “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness.”
The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, “and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment.”
When the women entered Jesus’ tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”
Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming “cynical, negative and despondent.”
The “stone of sin” also seals human hearts, he said. “Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away.”
“Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God’s light from entering in?” the pope asked people at Mass. “Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?”
Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, “for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty,” Pope Francis said. “In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived.”
“Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing,” he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a “Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus.”

Pope Francis holds a candle as he celebrates the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 20, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


“At times,” he said, “it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people.”
“In the history of the church and in our own personal history,” he said, it may seem that “the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life.”
But, he said, “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness.”
The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, “and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment.”
When the women entered Jesus’ tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”
Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming “cynical, negative and despondent.”
The “stone of sin” also seals human hearts, he said. “Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away.”
“Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God’s light from entering in?” the pope asked people at Mass. “Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?”
Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, “for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty,” Pope Francis said. “In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived.”
“Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing,” he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a “Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus.”

Pope describes how to discover one’s vocation

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Within the universal Christian vocation of serving God and serving others, God handcrafts a specific calling for each person, a vocation that fits his or her personality and abilities, Pope Francis said.
“To discern our personal vocation, we have to realize that it is a calling from a friend, who is Jesus. When we give something to our friends, we give them the best we have. It will not necessarily be what is most expensive or hard to obtain, but what we know will make them happy,” the pope wrote in “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”).
The document, his apostolic exhortation reflecting on the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, was released at the Vatican April 2.
Much of the document is a summary of the discussion at the 2018 synod and a presynod meeting of young adults about ways to improve youth and young adult ministry and create more space in the church for the contributions of young people.
But the most original part of the 35,000-word document is its explanation of what a vocation is – strongly moving away from seeing vocation only as a reference to priesthood or religious life – and practical ways for a person to discern his or her vocation.
A Christian’s first vocation is a call to friendship with Jesus, he said. And closely related to that is the call to serve others.
“Your own personal vocation does not consist only in the work you do, though that is an expression of it,” the pope said. “Your vocation is something more: It is a path guiding your many efforts and actions toward service to others.”
Finding one’s vocation “has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.”
God’s personalized gift of a vocation “will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you,” Pope Francis wrote. “It will be a perfect fit for your entire life.”
Following a vocation, he said, “is a very personal decision that others cannot make for us,” which is why it requires “solitude and silence,” as well as serious discussions with friends and wise guides.
Pope Francis offered basic questions each person should ask him- or herself: “Do I know what brings joy or sorrow to my heart? What are my strengths and weaknesses?”
But since a vocation isn’t about serving oneself, he said, those questions lead to others: “How can I serve people better and prove most helpful to our world and to the church? What is my real place in this world? What can I offer to society?”
And, then, he said, one must ask: “Do I have the abilities needed to offer this kind of service? Could I develop those abilities?”
Discovering one’s vocation, even in the deepest prayer, is not like finding the exact road map for one’s life with all the stops and starts and obstacles and detours clearly marked, he said. Instead, it is more like being invited on an adventure.
That sense of adventure, even as a person ages and slows down, is what keeps them young at heart, he said. “When I began my ministry as pope, the Lord broadened my horizons and granted me renewed youth. The same thing can happen to a couple married for many years, or to a monk in his monastery. There are things we need to ‘let go of’ as the years pass, but growth in maturity can coexist with a fire constantly rekindled, with a heart ever young.”
Most young people will discover their vocation is to marry and form a family, he said, and that requires preparation to grow in self-knowledge and in virtue, “particularly love, patience, openness to dialogue and helping others.”
“It also involves maturing in your own sexuality, so that it can become less and less a means of using others, and increasingly a capacity to entrust yourself fully to another person in an exclusive and generous way,” the pope wrote.
And while most young people will marry, he said, Catholics must believe that God continues to call men to the priesthood and men and women to religious life.
“The Lord cannot fail in his promise to provide the church with shepherds, for without them she would not be able to live and carry out her mission,” he said. And “if it is true that some priests do not give good witness, that does not mean that the Lord stops calling. On the contrary, he doubles the stakes, for he never ceases to care for his beloved church.”
The key qualification for helping someone in their vocational discernment is an ability to listen, the pope said. The helper may be a priest, religious, layperson or even another young person.
“The other person must sense that I am listening unconditionally, without being offended or shocked, tired or bored,” he said. And while listening, “I need to ask myself what is it that the other person is trying to tell me, what they want me to realize is happening in their lives.”
Assistance also means having such respect for the work God is doing in the life of the other, that the guide would never dare to try to dictate the way forward, he said. “In the end, good discernment is a path of freedom that brings to full fruit what is unique in each person, something so personal that only God knows it. Others cannot fully understand or predict from the outside how it will develop.”
(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_WoodenA)

Pope signs letter to young people at popular Marian sanctuary

By Carol Glatz Catholic
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The place Pope Francis chose to sign his letter to young people is an important and popular sanctuary housing the Holy House of Loreto.
According to tradition, the tiny stone house is considered to be the home where the Mary was born and raised and also the house in which the Holy Family was thought to live when Jesus was a boy. It also is held to be the place where Mary received the angel’s annunciation and conceived the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.
With his visit, the pope will encourage young people and pray that Mary “takes them by the hand and guides them with joy” to their own generous declaration of “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word,” Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin of Loreto told Vatican News March 21.
By signing a document based on a synod’s discussions about young people, faith and vocational discernment, the pope also is making a symbolic gesture, connecting the place venerated to be the home of “a very special family” with all the world’s families and the family of the universal church, the archbishop said in a video interview posted on the sanctuary’s website, www.santuarioloreto.it.
The pope signed the document – titled in Spanish, “Vive Cristo, esperanza nuestra,” (“Christ, Our Hope, Lives”) – in the basilica housing the shrine March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.
The gesture at the sanctuary, like the document itself, is a renewed call to focus on “accompanying the younger generations,” Archbishop Dal Cin told Vatican News.
This reflects a similar historic visit, he said, when St. John XXIII went to the shrine of Loreto in 1962 to entrust to Mary the Second Vatican Council, which began a week later.
In Loreto, St. John prayed that Mary, “as ‘Help of Bishops,’ to intercede for me as bishop of Rome and for all the bishops of the world, to obtain for us the grace to enter the council … with one heart, one heartbeat of love for Christ and for souls.”
On the 50th anniversary of St. John’s visit to Loreto, Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine in 2012 to entrust to Mary the Year of Faith, which began a week later, and the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.
Archbishop Dal Cin said Pope Francis entrusting to Mary the letter to young people at the same shrine shows a similar desire that she help the world’s bishops so the document would have a fruitful pastoral outcome.
Millions of people visit Italy’s most important Marian shrine each year. It was even popular with St. John Paul II, who went to this eastern seaside town five times during his pontificate.
The small house, which is surrounded by a large, intricately carved marble structure inside the main basilica, is actually made of three stone walls. The shrine’s caretakers say research has shown the brown and tan stones came from Palestine. The stones, now smooth from the touch of centuries of pious hands, were hand cut in the shape of bricks – a technique used by the Nabatei tribe, which was then also present in Palestine.
According to tradition, the Holy House was carried by angels from Nazareth, Israel, to this hillside town the night of Dec. 9-10, 1294, after making a three-year stop in Croatia. The shrine’s custodians say the stones were actually removed from the Holy Land and carried by ship by a member of the Angeli family.
The family name is also the Italian word for “angels,” thus being the probable reason for the more popular notion of winged angels flying the house to Italy.

Answering God’s call demands courage to take a risk

By Carol Glatz Catholic
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Answering the Lord’s call demands the courage to take a risk, but it is an invitation to become part of an important mission, Pope Francis said.
God “wants us to discover that each of us is called – in a variety of ways – to something grand, and that our lives should not grow entangled in the nets of an ennui that dulls the heart,” the pope said.
“Every vocation is a summons not to stand on the shore, nets in hand, but to follow Jesus on the path he has marked out for us, for our own happiness and for the good of those around us,” he said in his message for the 2019 World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Vatican released the pope’s message March 9.
The day, which was to be celebrated May 12, was dedicated to the theme: “The courage to take a risk for God’s promise.”
That kind of risk-taking can be seen when Jesus was at Sea of Galilee and called his first disciples, who were fishermen going about their daily lives, dedicated to their demanding work, the pope said in his message.
“As with every call, the Gospel speaks of an encounter. Jesus walks by, sees those fishermen, and walks up to them,” the pope said. “The same thing happened when we met the person we wanted to marry or when we first felt the attraction of a life of consecration: we were surprised by an encounter, and at that moment we glimpsed the promise of a joy capable of bringing fulfilment to our lives.”
Jesus drew near the four fishermen and broke through the “paralysis of routine,” making them the promise, “I will make you fishers of men,” he said.
Pope Francis acknowledged in his message that totally consecrating one’s life to service in the church could be difficult in the current climate. But, he said, “the church is our mother because she brings us to new life and leads us to Christ. So we must love her, even when we see her face marred by human frailty and sin, and we must help to make her ever more beautiful and radiant, so that she can bear witness to God’s love in the world.”
“The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or a burden to be borne,” the pope said. On the contrary, it is God extending a loving invitation to be part of a great undertaking, opening “before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”
“God in fact desires that our lives not become banal and predictable, imprisoned by daily routine, or unresponsive before decisions that could give it meaning,” he said. “The Lord does not want us to live from day to day, thinking that nothing is worth fighting for, slowly losing our desire to set out on new and exciting paths.”
But embracing God’s invitation to be part of something greater demands the courage to risk making a decision, just as the first disciples did when they “immediately left their nets and followed him,” he said.
“Responding to the Lord’s call involves putting ourselves on the line and facing a great challenge. It means being ready to leave behind whatever would keep us tied to our little boat and prevent us from making a definitive choice.”
People are called to be bold and decisive in seeking God’s plan for their lives, looking out onto the vast “ocean” of vocations, he said.
In order to help people better discern their vocation, the pope asked the church to provide young people with special opportunities for listening and discernment, a renewed commitment to youth ministry and the promotion of vocations through prayer, reflecting on God’s word, eucharistic adoration and spiritual accompaniment.  
Pope Francis urged everyone, especially young people, to not be “deaf to the Lord’s call.”
“If he calls you to follow this path, do not pull your oars into the boat, but trust him. Do not yield to fear, which paralyzes us before the great heights to which the Lord points us.”
“Always remember that to those who leave their nets and boat behind, and follow him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can fill our hearts and enliven our journey,” he said.

(Contributing to this story was Liam McIntyre in Rome.)