Beware of those who want God to live up to their standards

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Too many Christians today are “as long as” Christians, obeying God “as long as” God and the church meet their conditions and criteria for what is acceptable, just and righteous, Pope Francis said.
The “conditions Christian,” Pope Francis said, says things like: “‘I am a Christian as long as things are done this way.’ ‘No, no, these changes aren’t Christian.’ ‘This is heresy.’ ‘This won’t do.’ Christians who place conditions on God, who place conditions on the faith and the action of God.”
Celebrating an early morning Mass Oct. 8 in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the pope focused on the day’s first reading from Jonah, noting how the prophet first refused to do God’s bidding, was swallowed by a whale, obeyed God when given a second chance and ended up angry with God because God did not destroy the city of Ninevah.
Jonah was “stubborn” about what he thought faith was, the pope said. But “the Lord was stubborn in his mercy. He never leaves us. He knocks at the door of our hearts until the end.”
Jonah, the pope said, “is the model of those ‘as long as’ Christians, those Christians with conditions.”
Placing conditions on God and on the church, he said, encloses Christians “in their own ideas and ends up in ideology. It’s the awful journey from faith to ideology. And today there are many people like this.”
Such Christians, he said, are afraid “of growth, of the challenges of life, the challenges of the Lord, the challenges of history” and instead stick to “their first convictions.”

Pope Francis and bishops leave the morning session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 8, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“They prefer the ideology to faith,” he said, and they move away from the community because “they are afraid to put themselves in God’s hands and prefer to judge everything from the smallness of their hearts.”
The Vatican News report on the pope’s homily included no mention of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon or the controversy surrounding it, including accusations that some of the statements in the synod working document are heretical.
Pope Francis said God’s decision not to carry out his threatened punishment of Ninevah reveals “the Lord who draws near to all realities, who is not disgusted. Things don’t disgust the Lord. Our sins don’t disgust him. He draws near just as he drew near to the lepers and the sick because he came to heal and to save, not to condemn.”

Synod is a time to listen, discern, not despise

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Synod of Bishops for the Amazon is a time of reflection, dialogue and listening to the needs and sufferings of indigenous people, Pope Francis said.
“The Holy Spirit is the primary actor in the synod. Please, do not kick him out of the room,” the pope said, opening the gathering’s first working session Oct. 7.
Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope said he was saddened to hear a “sarcastic” remark from a synod participant about an indigenous man wearing a feathered headdress who presented the offertory gifts at the synod’s opening Mass Oct. 6.
“Tell me: What difference is there between having feathers on your head and the three-cornered hat worn by some officials of our dicasteries?” he asked, eliciting applause from synod participants.
Instead of becoming a series of reductive discussions that only undermine “the poetry” of indigenous people and their cultures, he said, the synod is a way for the church to walk with them “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
The synod was not called to “invent social development programs or museum-like cultural guardianships or pastoral actions in the same noncontemplative style that leads to actions that give counter signs,” the pope said.
“We come to contemplate, to understand, to serve the people, and we do it by following a synodal path,” he said. “We do it within the synod, not in roundtables, not in conferences and hidden discussions. We do it within the synod because a synod is not a parliament.”
The first full day of the synod began with a prayer service in front of the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica with members of indigenous communities standing arm-in-arm with cardinals and bishops singing as they waited for Pope Francis.

People participate in a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the start of the first session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

When the pope arrived, he led the invocation of the Holy Spirit’s assistance with the chanting of “Veni, Creator Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”) before processing with the large group from the basilica to the synod hall.
In his speech, the pope said it was important that the church stand with the people of the Amazon and steer clear of ideologies and “ready-made programs that attempt to ‘discipline’ the Amazonian peoples, discipline their history and their culture.”
Ideologies, he said, are a “dangerous weapon” that can lead the church toward a pretentious attitude that reduces the understanding of indigenous people and their cultures to “categories of ‘isms'” and prejudiced name-calling.
The pope also encouraged synod participants to reflect, to listen with humility and to speak with courage, “even if you are embarrassed.”
Like at the Synod of Bishops on young people last year, he said, there will be a time of silent reflection after every four speeches in the synod hall.
“Someone told me, ‘It’s dangerous, father, because they are going to fall asleep.’ The experience at the synod on young people, where we did this, was the contrary. They usually fell asleep during some of the interventions and would wake up in the silence,” he said, drawing laughter from participants.
Highlighting the importance of responsible journalism in reporting the synod accurately, the pope urged participants to act with prudence when speaking to the press, adding that the synod “can be ruined a bit” by members speaking too freely with reporters.
Pope Francis said this often leads to forming two synods: one inside the Vatican and one outside.
“There is the inside synod that follows the path of Mother Church, of caring for the processes, and the outside synod that, due to information given flippantly and given with imprudence, causes those who inform to commit errors,” the pope said.

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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.

Christ’s love gives hope to forgotten ones, cardinal says

By Elizabeth Bachmann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – In a world where many are often marginalized and discriminated against, the message of Jesus’ love must continue to be proclaimed, a Vatican official wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.
In a message sent Aug. 16 to the 40th Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said that countless men, women and children, especially those fleeing war and poverty, “are often treated as statistics and numbers” rather than as human beings with faces, names and stories.
The theme of the Aug. 18-24 meeting – “Your name was born from what you gazed upon” – was inspired by a poem written by St. John Paul II which referred to St. Veronica who, according to legend, wiped the face of Christ on his way toward Calvary.
“In an age where people are often faceless, anonymous figures because they have no one to look at, the poetry of St. John Paul II reminds us that we exist because we are connected,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.
Reflecting on the event’s theme, the Vatican secretary of state said that only by “fixing one’s gaze upon Jesus’ face and attaining familiarity with him” can Christians be purified and prepared “to look at everything with new eyes.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, is pictured at the Vatican May 11, 2018. In a world where many are often marginalized and discriminated against, the message of Jesus’ love must continue to be proclaimed, Cardinal Parolin wrote on behalf of Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See PAROLIN-RIMINI-MESSAGE Aug. 19, 2019.

“By meeting Jesus, by looking at the son of man, the poor and the simple found themselves, they felt profoundly loved by an immeasurable love,” the cardinal wrote.
This experience, he added, is what makes Christians “a presence in the world that is different from all others” because of their calling to be mirror images of Christ in the world.
“This is the origin of the profound joy that nothing and no one can take away from us: our name is written in the heavens, and not for our merits, but rather because of a gift that each of us has received through baptism. It is a gift that we are called to share with everyone, without exception. This means being missionary disciples,” he wrote.
Conveying Pope Francis’ best wishes for the annual event, Cardinal Parolin expressed the pope’s desire that in celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Rimini meeting “will always be a hospitable place where people can talk face to face.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”