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'We will fight until our last breath, because a sacred mission obliges us to do so'

On June 10, 2014, a modest-sized force of radical Muslim fighters representing the self-proclaimed Islamic State — ISIS or Daesh to use the common Arab term, meaning “brigands” — seized control of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq. Over the next two days, half a million inhabitants fled the sudden wave of bloodshed, including an estimated 100,000 Christians. Most literally ran for their lives into nearby Kurdistan with little more than the clothes on their back. Untold numbers died on the hot and rocky roads to the Kurdish city of Irbil. Those who remained in Mosul immediately faced beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and rape at the hands of ISIS fighters. Christian homes were seized and looted, and every Christian church was desecrated. The survivors were rounded up and given three choices: convert to Islam, pay the so-called jizya, the tax historically placed on non-Muslims, or die. Soon, ISIS captured the nearby Christian villages and towns across the so-called Nineveh Plains, home to Christians since the first century after Pentecost. Urging hope and faith A young Christian worshipper lights a candle during a 2015 Mass for peace at a church in Damascus, Syria. CNS photo/EPA On June 10, the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Mosul, Iraq, Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch, and Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch, released a statement to the faithful, which stated, in part: “We are with you in every moment, we urge you to remain the shining lamp in the darkness of this tribulation, for your return to your homes will be soon. We trust the promise of the Lord that He will remain in the midst of His Church and She will never fall. “Do not lose your faith, be encouraged and remain firm in the Lord Jesus Christ Who tells us not to be afraid, saying: ‘Take courage, I have conquered the world’ (Jn 16:33).” Mass had been said every day in Mosul for nearly two millennia. Today, the churches are either in ruins or have been converted to ISIS prisons and torture chambers. Tombs of Old Testament prophets, such as Jonah were blown up. The artistic, cultural and intellectual destruction is beyond imagining, with sacred and ancient texts burned or sold off to raise money for ISIS campaigns and ancient churches and monasteries bulldozed to eradicate them from memory. In nearby Syria, the Christian population has long honored the fact that St. Paul converted on the very road to Damascus and that Christians have been a part of Syrian life for 2,000 years. Christians were generally protected under the secular Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad and comprised some 10 percent of the population. All of that changed with the Arab Spring movement of 2011 that sparked one of the bloodiest civil wars in the region’s tortured history. Christians across Syria have witnessed the destruction of churches, kidnappings and slaughter caused by a war that has engulfed the whole of the country. Iraq and Syria are now horrifying examples of anti-Christian persecution and genocide and have given even further impetus to the flight of Christians from the whole of the Middle East. While the Christian populations have declined slowly over the last century because of war, political and economic instability and low birth rates, the pace of the Christian flight quickened sharply from 2003 and the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and reshaped the political and sectarian landscape of the Near East. The departure of Christians today is matched only by the flight of Christians after the Crusades at the end of the 13th century. Grim statistics The numbers tell a stark and grim tale. In 2003, there were 2 million Christians in Iraq, one of the oldest Christian populations in the world. Today, the decimated population is less than 200,000. Many have died or been killed by sectarian violence, ISIS, al-Qaida and civil strife. Many more have fled the country to Lebanon, Jordan and the West. Sadly, many sought refuge ...

Pope prays for victims of deadly attack at Istanbul airport

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday called for a moment of silent prayer for all those affected by a suicide attack in Istanbul’s international airport which killed dozens of people and injured some 150 others. “Yesterday evening, in Istanbul, a brutal terrorist attack was committed, which has killed and injured many people,” the Pope said during his 29 June Angelus address after celebrating Mass for the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. “We pray for the victims, for their families, and for the beloved people of Turkey. May the Lord convert the hearts of the violent, and sustain our feet on the way of peace.” The Pope invited everyone in St Peter’s Square to take a moment of silent prayer, before leading the crowds in the recitation of the Hail Mary. At least 36 people were killed Tuesday when suicide bombers struck the Ataturk Airport, and around 147 people were wounded. Officials say they believe Islamic State militants are behind the June 29 attack, which is the latest in a series of attacks in Turkey in recent months. (from Vatican Radio)...

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down regulations on Texas abortion clinics

WASHINGTON (CNS) -– In a 5-3 vote June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, challenged a 2013 state law, H.B. 2, placing the requirements on the state's abortion clinics. Opponents of the law claimed the requirements were aimed at closing abortion clinics. But the state and many pro-life advocates maintained that the law protected women's health. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups submitted a joint friend of the court brief in the case supporting the Texas law, which was similar to other state laws regulating abortion clinics across the country. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the opinion, said the restrictions on the clinics "provide few if any health benefits for women, pose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitute an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so." "The court has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety," said Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. She said the Texas law "simply required abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers." McQuade, in a statement issued after the ruling, also said: "Abortion claims the lives of unborn children, and too often endangers their mothers as well. This ruling contradicts the consensus among medical groups that such measures protect women's lives." Dissenting votes in the case were from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. Thomas wrote that the court's decision "simultaneously transformed judicially created rights like the right to abortion into preferred constitutional rights, while disfavoring many of the rights actually enumerated in the Constitution." He added that the Constitution "renounces the notion that some constitutional rights are more equal than others. ... A law either infringes a constitutional right, or not; there is no room for the judiciary to invent tolerable degrees of encroachment." The U.S. Supreme Court's use of the words "undue burden" echoes its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, in which it upheld provisions in Pennsylvania law requiring parental consent for minors, a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, filing of detailed reports about each abortion and distribution of information about alternatives to abortion. It struck down a requirement that married women need to notify their husbands before having an abortion. In essence, the court said a state may enact abortion regulations that do not pose an "undue burden'' on pregnant women. The phrase was often cited during the March 2 oral arguments in the Texas abortion clinics case where opponents of the state regulations said they were aimed at stopping abortions, because they forced clinics to close, which in turn, they said, puts an undue burden on women seeking abortions who would have to travel farther to find an available clinic. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legal abortion, 25 states have laws or policies that regulate abortion providers and clinics that perform surgical abortions that it claims "go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients' safety." Five states currently require providers of either medication-induced abortion or surgical abortion to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and another 10 require the provider to have either admitting privileges or another type of relationship with a hospital. In 2015, Arkansas adopted a new restriction that requires only providers of medication-induced abortions to have an agreement with a physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital; ...

Saints Peter and Paul: why remember them on the same day?

(Vatican Radio) Veronica Scarisbrick asks scripture scholar Mark Benedict Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane in Australia, to shed light on on the figures of Saints Peter and Paul on the day ( the 29th of June) that the Church remembers them in a special way each year. Listen to Archbishop of Brisbane in Australia, Mark Benedict Coleridge in a programme produced by Veronica Scarisbrick : Archbishop Coleridge explains how Saints Peter and Paul fought mightily in their lifetime but eventually their stories converged and their paths crossed in the most decisive way. Both these apostles, he goes on to say, were among the Christian leaders in Rome to be swept away in the tide of blood that came with the persecution of the Emperor Nero. Both suffered a martyr's death, Paul was beheaded, Peter crucified. And in the moment of their death they found their way so completely and so profoundly to Jesus crucified and Risen that they found their way to one another (from Vatican Radio)...

'Brexit' vote concerns European church leaders that unity may be fractured

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- European Catholic leaders expressed concern that the decision by United Kingdom voters to leave the European Union threatened unity across the continent, but they also cautioned the EU bloc to rethink its values and priorities. The concerns arose after voters decided June 23 to exit the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent. The decision led Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his resignation and sent shock waves through world financial markets. In London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the vote must be respected and that the United Kingdom is setting out on a "new course that will be demanding on all." "Our prayer is that all will work in this task with respect and civility, despite deep differences of opinion," he said in a statement the morning after the vote. "We pray that in this process, the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employees and human traffickers. We pray that our nations will build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy. "We now must work hard to show ourselves to be good neighbors and resolute contributors in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems our world today," he added. Anglican Archbishops Justin Welby of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York said in a joint statement that citizens must "re-imagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others." They called for society to remain "hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers" while expressing concern that some immigrants and residents on non-British ethnicity "will feel a deep sense of insecurity." The leaders called for citizens to embrace diversity across the U.K. and affirm "the unique contribution of each and every one." The president of the Polish bishops' conference was similarly diplomatic. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan told the country's Catholic information agency, KAI, that while the conference respects the voters' decision, "we can't forget unity is better than division, and that European solidarity is an achievement of many generations." "For Christians, the building of unity between peoples, societies and nations is a key summons, ordained by Christ himself," he said. "We're convinced this Christ-like unity is the true source of hope for Europe and the world." Cautioning that the EU's "methods of functioning" included "many worrying features," the archbishop said he remained hopeful "the union of European nations, built on Christ" would still prevail in a "civilization of love." However, retired Archbishop Henryk Muszynski of Gniezno, the former primate of Poland, criticized the outcome, warning that the EU's "purely declaratory notion of solidarity" would have to be "rethought from the beginning." "'Brexit' is the outcome of separatist, populist and egotistic tendencies, shown at both personal and social level, which have been discernible for a long time in Europe. I fear this decision won't serve Great Britain, Europe or the world," the prelate told KAI. During his flight June 24 at the start of a three-day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis told journalists the referendum "expressed the will of the people," and said it imposed a "great responsibility" on everyone to "ensure the well-being and coexistence of the whole European continent." Meanwhile, the Brussels-based of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community marked the outcome by displaying a "Prayer for Europe" on its website, which invoked God's help "in committing ourselves to a Europe of the Spirit, founded not just on economic treaties but also on values which are human and eternal." In Germany, the Catholic Church's youngest ordinary, Archbishop Stefan Hesse of Hamburg, told KNA Catholic news agency ...

Papal press conference touches a host of issues

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke on the Armenian genocide, the relation of the Church to homosexuals, and Britain’s vote last week to leave the European Union, as well as a host of other topics in a wide-ranging press conference on his flight back to Rome following his Apostolic Voyage to Armenia. Sunday’s in-flight press conference began with questions about the Apostolic Voyage to Armenia that Pope Francis had just concluded. Asked about his message for Armenia for the future, the Holy Father spoke about his hopes and prayers for justice and peace, and his encouragement that leaders are working to that end. In particular, he talked of the work of reconciliation with Turkey and with Azerbaijan. The Pope will be travelling to Azerbaijani later this year. Pope Francis also spoke about his use of the word ‘genocide,’ acknowledging the legal import of the expression, but explaining that this was the term commonly in use in Argentina for the massacre of Armenians during the first World War. During the press conference, Pope Francis also addressed a number of religious and ecumenical issues. Speaking about the controversy that arose from remarks by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who in a speech earlier this month had spoken of a shared “Petrine ministry,” Pope Francis insisted there was only one Pope, while praising the pope emeritus as a “great man of God.” About the Pan-Orthodox Council, which concluded Sunday in Crete, the Pope said, “A step was made forward . . . I think the result was positive.” In response to a question about upcoming commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation,” Pope Francis said, “I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides, but also to recognize the gifts of the Reformation.” He also had words of praise for Martin Luther. The Pope praying and working together are important for fostering unity. Pope Francis also answered a question about women deacons, and his decision to form a commission to study the issue. He said he was surprised and annoyed to hear that his remarks were interpreted to mean that the Church had opened the door to deaconesses. “This is not telling the truth of things,” he said. But, he continued, “women’s thought is important,” because they approach questions differently from men. “One cannot make a good decision without listening to women. Reporters also questioned the Pope about recent events, including the recent “Brexit” vote in Britain. He said he had not had time to study the reasons for the British vote to leave the European Union, but noted that the vote showed “divisions,” which could also be seen in other countries. “Fraternity is better, and bridges are better than walls,” he said, but he acknowledged that there are “different ways of unity.” Creativity and fruitfulness are two key words for the European Union as it faces new challenges. The secular press, meanwhile, latched onto remarks Pope Francis made concerning the Church’s relationship to homosexuals. Insisting once again that homosexuals must not be discriminated against, the Pope said that the Church should apologize to homosexuals and ask forgiveness for offending them – but he added, the Church should also ask forgiveness of any groups of persons who had been hurt by Christians who do not live up to the Gospel. There will always be good and bad Christians in the Church, he said, citing Christ’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. “All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, [and] I [am] the first.” Finally, answering a question from Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis reflected on his visit to the Memorial at Tzitzernakaberd, and his upcoming journey to Poland, which will include a visit to Auschwitz. The Pope said that in such places, he likes to reflect silently, “alone,” praying that the Lord might grant him “the grace of crying.” At the conclusion of the press conference, Pope Francis thanked the reporters for their hard work and goodness.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Prayer opens the door to closed hearts, Pope says

(Vatican Radio) On Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica for the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, during which he said prayer is the “way out” when we become closed in on ourselves. Pope Francis centred his June 29 homily on the day’s Gospel reading, and reflected on the themes of being opened and closed, as demonstrated by the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. Drawing from examples from the life of Peter, such as when he was imprisoned, the Holy Father said “prayer appears as the main way out. It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear.” “Prayer, as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming 'closed', as individuals and as a community.” Likewise, this theme of going out in service of the Gospel is seen in the writings of St Paul. “Paul’s life was utterly projected forward, in bringing Christ to those who did not know him, and then in rushing, as it were, into Christ’s arms, to be “saved for his heavenly kingdom,” the Pope said. Turning back to Peter, Pope Francis reflected on how he was set free by Christ’s “compassionate gaze” which “pierces the heart and brings tears of repentance.” The Pope referenced the scene in the Gospels in which Peter encounters Jesus after having denied him three times.   “At that moment, Simon Peter was set free from the prison of his selfish pride and fear, and overcame the temptation of closing his heart to Jesus’s call to follow him along the way of the cross.” Pope Francis also spoke of the “constant temptation for the Church” of “closing in on herself in the face of danger.”  “Prayer enable grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy.  And we can add: from division to unity.” During the Mass, the Pope conferred the Pallium to twenty-five prelates from eleven countries who were named metropolitan archbishops over the past year. Included among them were US Archbishop Bernard Anthony Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN, Archbishop Adam Szal of Przemyśl, Poland, and Archbishop Basilio Athaei of Taunggyi, Myanmar. The pallium is a woolen vestment conferred on a new archbishop by the Pope, traditionally on the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. (from Vatican Radio)...

Homily for Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul: Full text

(Vatican Radio) In his homily for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul , Pope Francis focused on the themes of “closing” and “opening” in the lives of the two patrons of Rome. The Church must avoid the risk of closing in on itself out of persecution and fear, the Pope said. At the same time, she must be able to see “the small openings through which God can work.” Prayer, he said, “enables grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy.  And we can add: from division to unity .” Read the full text of Pope Francis’ prepared homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul: Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul 29 June 2016 The word of God in today’s liturgy presents a clear central contrast between closing and opening .  Together with this image we can consider the symbol of the keys that Jesus promises to Simon Peter so that he can open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not close it before people, like some of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reproached (cf. Mt 23:13). The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-11) shows us three examples of “closing” : Peter is cast into prison; the community gathers behind closed doors in prayer; and – in the continuation of our reading – Peter knocks at the closed door of the house of Mary, the mother of John called Mark, after being set free. In these three examples of “closing”, prayer appears as the main way out .  It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear.  It is a way out for Peter who, at the very beginning of the mission given him by the Lord, is cast into prison by Herod and risks execution.  While Peter was in prison, “the church prayed fervently to God for him” ( Acts 12:5).  The Lord responds to that prayer and sends his angel to liberate Peter, “rescuing him from the hand of Herod” (cf. v. 11).  Prayer, as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming “closed”, as individuals and as a community. Paul too, writing to Timothy, speaks of his experience of liberation, of finding a way out of his own impending execution.  He tells us that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength to carry out the work of evangelizing the nations (cf. 2 Tim 4:17).  But Paul speaks too of a much greater “opening”, towards an infinitely more vast horizon.  It is the horizon of eternal life, which awaits him at the end of his earthly “race”.  We can see the whole life of the Apostle in terms of “going out” in service to the Gospel .  Paul’s life was utterly projected forward, in bringing Christ to those who did not know him, and then in rushing, as it were, into Christ’s arms, to be “saved for his heavenly kingdom” (v. 18). Let us return to Peter .  The Gospel account ( Mt 16:13-19) of his confession of faith and the mission entrusted to him by Jesus shows us that the life of Simon, the fishermen of Galilee – like the life of each of us – opens , opens up fully, when it receives from God the Father the grace of faith.  Simon sets out on the journey – a long and difficult journey – that will lead him to go out of himself, leaving all his human supports behind, especially his pride tinged with courage and generous selflessness.  In this, his process of liberation, the prayer of Jesus is decisive: “I have prayed for you [Simon], that your own faith may not fail” ( Lk 22:32).  Likewise decisive is the compassionate gaze of the Lord after Peter had denied him three times: a gaze that pierces the heart and brings tears of repentance (cf. Lk  22:61-62).  At that moment, Simon Peter was set free from the prison of his selfish pride and fear , and overcame the temptation of closing his heart to Jesus’s call to follow him along the way of the cross. I mentioned that, in the continuation of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, there is a detail worthy of consideration (cf. 12:12-17).  When Peter finds himself miraculously freed from Herod’s prison, he goes to the home of the mother of John called Mark.  He knocks on the closed door and a servant by the name of Rhoda comes.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in disbelief and joy, instead of opening the door, she runs to tell her mistress.  The account, which can seem comical, makes us perceive the climate of fear that led the Christian community to stay behind closed doors, but also closed to God’s surprises.  This detail speaks to us of a constant temptation for the Church, that of closing in on herself in the face of danger.  But we also see the small openings through which God can work.  Saint Luke tells us that in that house “many had gathered and were praying ” (v. 12).  Prayer enables grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy.  And we can add: from division to unity .  Yes, we say this today with confidence, together with our brothers from the Delegation sent by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to take part in the celebration of the Holy Patrons of Rome.  Today is also a celebration of communion for the whole Church, as seen by the presence of the metropolitan archbishops who have come for the blessing of the pallia, which they will receive from my representatives in their respective sees. May Saints Peter and Paul intercede for us, so that we can joyfully advance on this journey, experience the liberating action of God, and bear witness to it before the world.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Vatican celebrates anniversary of Benedict's ordination

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday hosted a celebration for the 65th anniversary of the priestly ordination of his predecessor Benedict, the pope emeritus. Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI when he was elected to the papacy in 2005, attended the celebration in the Sala Clementina within the Apostolic Palace. More than thirty cardinals were also present, as well as a number of other invited guests. The event began with music from the Sistine Choir and a speech by Pope Francis. In his remarks, the Supreme Pontiff recalled St Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know that I love you,” answered the first Pope. And this, the current Pope said, “is the note that has dominated a life spent entirely in the service of the priesthood and of the true theology”. Pope Francis said that Benedict continues to serve the Church, “not ceasing to truly contribute to her growth with strength and wisdom.” “And you do this,” he said, “from that little Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, that is shown in that way to be anything but that forgotten little corner to which today’s culture of waste tends to relegate people when, with age, their strength diminishes.” He spoke, too, about the “Franciscan” dimension of the monastery, which recalls the Portiuncula, the “little portion” where St Francis founded his order, and laid down his life. Divine Providence, he said, “has willed that you, dear Brother, should reach a place one could truly call ‘Franciscan’, from which emanates a tranquillity, a peace, a strength, a confidence, a maturity, a faith, a dedication, and a fidelity that does so much good for me, and gives strength to me and to the whole Church.” At the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Francis offered best wishes to Pope emeritus Benedict on behalf of himself and of the whole Church, with the prayer for Benedict, “That you, Holiness, might continue to feel the hand of the merciful God who supports you; that you might continue to experience and witness to us the love of God; that, with Peter and Paul, you might continue to rejoice with great joy as you journey toward the goal of the faith.” Later, after more music and speeches by Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Angelo Sodano – respectively Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals – Benedict offered words of thanks to all his well-wishers, and in a particular way to Pope Francis. Speaking to the Holy Father, Benedict said, “Your kindness, from the first moment of the election, in every moment of my life here, strikes me, is a source of real inspiration for me. More than in the Vatican Gardens, with their beauty, your goodness is the place where I dwell: I feel protected.” The Pope emeritus also reflected on the concept of “thanksgiving,” reflecting on a word written, in Greek, on a remembrance card from his first Mass. That word, he said, suggests “not only human thanksgiving, but naturally hints at the more profound word that is hidden, which appears in the liturgy, in the Scriptures,” and in the words of consecration. The Greek word “eucharistomen,” he said, “brings us back to that reality of thanksgiving, to that new dimension that Christ has given it. He has transformed into thanksgiving, and so into blessing, the Cross, suffering, all the evil of the world. And thus He has fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world, and has given us, and gives us today the Bread of true life, which overcomes the world thanks to the strength of his love.” (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to Constantinople Patriarchate delegation: 'God's mercy is bond uniting us'

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis addressed a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, with whom he held a private audience on Tuesday in the Vatican, calling the mercy of God ‘the bond uniting us’. The delegation came to Rome following the conclusion of the week-long Pan-Orthodox Council, which was held on the Greek island of Crete. Listen to Devin Watkins' report:   The mercy of God is the bond uniting the Churches, a fruit of the Holy Spirit which produces communion but never uniformity. That was at the heart of Pope Francis’ message to the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in a private audience. Recalling that June 29th marks the Feast of St. Peter and Paul, the Holy Father said that the Church in every age has proclaimed their same message of divine mercy. “Saints Peter and Paul both experienced great sin and, subsequently, the power of God’s mercy. As a result of this experience, Peter, who had denied his Master, and Paul, who persecuted the nascent Church, became tireless evangelizers and fearless witnesses to the salvation offered by God in Christ to every man and woman.” The Pope noted that from the earliest centuries there have been many differences between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, including liturgical practices, ecclesiastical discipline, and “in the manner of formulating the one revealed truth”. “Acknowledging that the experience of God’s mercy is the bond uniting us means that we must increasingly make mercy the criterion and measure of our relationship. If, as Catholics and Orthodox, we wish to proclaim together the marvels of God’s mercy to the whole world, we cannot continue to harbour sentiments and attitudes of rivalry, mistrust and rancour. For divine mercy frees us of the burden of past conflicts and lets us be open to the future to which the Spirit is guiding us.” “One contribution to surmounting the obstacles to our recovery of the unity we shared in the first millennium – a unity that was never uniformity but always communion with respect for legitimate diversities – is provided by theological dialogue .” Pope Francis went on to recall the “powerful spiritual and human closeness” he experienced on his recent visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in the accompaniment of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. “Seeing the despair on the faces of men, women and children uncertain of their future, listening helplessly as they related their experiences, and praying on the shore of the sea that has claimed the lives of so many innocent persons, was a tremendously moving experience. It made clear how much still needs to be done to ensure dignity and justice for so many of our brothers and sisters.” The Holy Father concluded his remarks with assurances to the delegation of his prayers for the recently-concluded Pan-Orthodox Council. “Together with many of our Catholic brothers and sisters and other Christians, I accompanied with my prayers the immediate preparation and the unfolding of the Council. […] May the Holy Spirit bring forth from this event abundant fruits for the good of the Church.” Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's address: 28 June 2016 With joy and affection I offer you a heartfelt welcome on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Holy Patrons of the Church of Rome, the Apostles Peter and Paul.  I thank you for your presence and I ask you to convey my deep gratitude to His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and to the Holy Synod for sending a distinguished Delegation to share our joy on this Solemnity. This year’s meeting takes place in the context of the Catholic Church’s celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  I desired to proclaim the Jubilee as a favourable time for contemplating the mystery of the Father’s infinite love revealed in Christ, and for strengthening and rendering more effective our witness to this mystery (cf. Bull Misericordiae Vultus , 2-3).  In their own lives and in rather different ways, Saints Peter and Paul both experienced great sin and, subsequently, the power of God’s mercy.  As a result of this experience, Peter, who had denied his Master, and Paul, who persecuted the nascent Church, became tireless evangelizers and fearless witnesses to the salvation offered by God in Christ to every man and woman.  Following the example of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the other Apostles, the Church, made up of sinners redeemed through Baptism, has continued in every age to proclaim that same message of divine mercy. In celebrating the Solemnity of the Apostles, we recall to mind the experience of forgiveness and grace uniting all those who believe in Christ.  From the earliest centuries, there have been many differences between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople, in the liturgical sphere, in ecclesiastical discipline and also in the manner of formulating the one revealed truth.  However, beyond the concrete shapes that our Churches have taken on over time, there has always been the same experience of God’s infinite love for our smallness and frailty, and the same calling to bear witness to this love before the world.  Acknowledging that the experience of God’s mercy is the bond uniting us means that we must increasingly make mercy the criterion and measure of our relationship.  If, as Catholics and Orthodox, we wish to proclaim together the marvels of God’s mercy to the whole world, we cannot continue to harbour sentiments and attitudes of rivalry, mistrust and rancour.  For divine mercy frees us of the burden of past conflicts and lets us be open to the future to which the Spirit is guiding us. One contribution to surmounting the obstacles to our recovery of the unity we shared in the first millennium – a unity that was never uniformity but always communion with respect for legitimate diversities – is provided by theological dialogue.  Dear Metropolitan Methodius, I wish to express to you my appreciation for the fruitful work accomplished by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation of which Your Eminence is Co-President.  Instituted more than fifty years ago, this Consultation has proposed significant reflections on central theological issues for our Churches, thus fostering the development of excellent relations between Catholics and Orthodox on that continent.  In this regard, I rejoice that this coming September the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will meet once again.  The task of this Commission is indeed precious; let us pray the Lord for the fruitfulness of its work.  I also offer a special remembrance in my prayers for you, dear Archbishop Job, appointed the Orthodox Co-President of the Commission, and I express my profound gratitude to Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamum, who has long carried out this delicate task with dedication and competence. I thank the Lord that this past April I was able to meet my beloved brother Bartholomew when, together with the Archbishop of Athens and of All Greece, His Beatitude Ieronymos II, we visited the Isle of Lesvos, to be with the refugees and migrants.  Seeing the despair on the faces of men, women and children uncertain of their future, listening helplessly as they related their experiences, and praying on the shore of the sea that has claimed the lives of so many innocent persons, was a tremendously moving experience.  It made clear how much still needs to be done to ensure dignity and justice for so many of our brothers and sisters.  A great consolation in that sad experience was the powerful spiritual and human closeness that I shared with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos.  Led by the Holy Spirit, we are coming to realize ever more clearly that we, Catholics and Orthodox, have a shared responsibility towards those in need, based on our obedience to the one Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Taking up this task together is a duty linked to the very credibility of our Christian identity.  Consequently, I encourage every form of cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox in concrete undertakings in service to suffering humanity.  Your Eminence, dear brothers, the celebration of the Pan-Orthodox Council has recently concluded at Crete.  Together with many of our Catholic brothers and sisters, and other Christians, I accompanied with my prayers the immediate preparation and the unfolding of the Council.  Cardinal Koch and Bishop Farrell, who participated in the historic event as fraternal observers of the Catholic Church, have just returned from Crete; they will be able to inform me about the Council and the resolutions it adopted.  May the Holy Spirit bring forth from this event abundant fruits for the good of the Church.   At the conclusion of this meeting, I renew my heartfelt gratitude to you for your presence and I assure you of my fraternal love and respect for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Let us entrust our prayers and intentions to the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Andrew, the brother of Peter.  And I ask you, please, to pray for me and for my ministry. (from Vatican Radio)...

Msgr Viganò on one year into the Vatican Communications reform

(Vatican Radio) One year from the publication of the “Motu Proprio” with which Pope Francis established the new Vatican Secretariat for Communication charged with reforming Vatican communications, the Prefect of the Secretariat, Msgr. Dario Eduardo Viganò, gives a run-down of the work accomplished in the past 12 months and looks ahead to a new vision. In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Alessandro Gisotti, Msgr. Viganò points out that clear indications in the Pope’s “Motu Proprio” place the current digital culture at the center of the reform and change the perspective into a “User first” one that challenges us to “stop navel-gazing in the assumption that others are listening and looking at us”. The media reform regards all the Vatican media outlets including the daily newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano”, Vatican Radio, CTV, the LEV publishing house, the typography and the Vatican Press Office.   Msgr. Viganò points out that some 85% of the population use mobile devices to connect to media. The Pope’s “Motu Proprio”, he says, is “an invitation to leave behind the arrogance of a unidirectional mode of communication” and to realize that we are called to bring the message of the Gospel to men and women of today who are immersed in new media. Speaking of the past year of work, Msgr. Viganò says it has been an intense but “fascinating” time that has seen some 400 people involved in over 140 meetings in an effort to understand the existing potential and to draw up new projects. Some of these, he says, have resulted in investing in professional training and some staff members have been given the opportunity to “grow” by doing master degrees in business administration and communications. Msgr. Viganò says the Pope himself and the C9 Council of Cardinals were extremely interested in their last meeting at the beginning of June to be updated on how the reform is proceeding. He says numbers were specifically spoken about because “the Cardinals will have to take responsibility for some of the decisions” to be made.  Regarding the technical aspects of the reform and the presentation of the new multi-media internet portal, Msgr. Viganò points out that “it’s all very well to have a new portal with better software, more options, etc., but the real reform takes place behind the scenes”. He describes the portal as the tip of an iceberg of a system in which everything will be produced by a concerted team effort:  “we must learn to put our personal experience aside and put ourselves humbly in the position of learning because humility is the necessary way to approach the reform”. And regarding the new portal itself, Msgr. Viganò explains it will feature videos, podcasts, images, print articles and live radio. He says the advantages for those who listen/watch/read us is that they will no longer be confused or “cannibalized” by turning to us. Claiming that “we have been inexistent for the public”, he says that when Francis was elected Pope most people consulted Wikipedia to discover who Jorge Mario Bergoglio was and says there is much work to be done regarding web reputation and positioning.  “We must become ‘the source’ for Vatican and Papal news – not the official source (that’s the Press Office) but an important source’, he says. Following an in depth analysis of the organizations that make up Vatican media, Msgr. Viganò says the Secretariat has come to the conclusion that it is the work of the people which is ultimately penalized: “it’s like a motor that has everything and yet does not work efficiently; instead of producing energy it produces only heat and ends up overheating and stalling. Here we have a motor; we want it to function properly so that it can go fast, so that it can put on the breaks, so that it can overtake when needed”.  Regarding the unification of Vatican Radio and CTV, Msgr. Viganò says a ‘repositioning’ and an ‘empowerment’ of the Radio’s “105 Live” local radio broadcasts will soon be a reality because, he says, it is important for the radio dimension to remain and  people will be able to continue to listen to Vatican Radio in Italian. However he says it will possibly feature news broadcasts in other languages as well. “As Fr Lombardi mentioned on the occasion of the Radio’s 80th anniversary, Vatican Radio is no longer a radio station” he said.  The different language programmes, Msgr. Viganò explains, will be the ‘beating heart’, the protagonists of the ‘hub content’ of the new portal with a slew of  multi-linguistic and multi-cultural programmes with text content and audio that will be offered via podcasts. (from Vatican Radio)...

Shared faith should lead to joint action, pope and patriarch say

YEREVAN, Armenia (CNS) -- Applying the common faith they professed publicly earlier in the day, Pope Francis and Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II urged common action on behalf of persecuted Christians, welcome for refugees and defense of the family. The pope and the Oriental Orthodox patriarch signed their joint declaration at the end of Pope Francis' June 24-26 visit to Armenia. Earlier in the day, at an Armenian Divine Liturgy, both had spoken of their unity as believers in Christ and of their conviction that Christians are called by God to assist the poor, the persecuted and the needy. While their joint declaration mentioned the progress made in the official Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue and their hopes for its continuation, the heart of the text focused on common Christian action to relieve suffering. "We are witnessing an immense tragedy unfolding before our eyes," the two leaders said. "Countless innocent people" are "being killed, displaced or forced into a painful and uncertain exile by continuing conflicts on ethnic, economic, political and religious grounds in the Middle East and other parts of the world." "Religious and ethnic minorities have become the target of persecution and cruel treatment to the point that suffering for one's religious belief has become a daily reality," they said. The Christians being martyred for their faith belong to different churches and their suffering "is an 'ecumenism of blood,' which transcends the historical divisions between Christians." The two leaders prayed that the terrorists waging war on Christians and other minorities would convert, and they also prayed that "those who are in a position to stop the violence" would hasten to do so. "We implore the leaders of nations to listen to the plea of millions of human beings who long for peace and justice in the world, who demand respect for their God-given rights, who have urgent need of bread, not guns," the declaration said. The two denounced the use of a religion "to justify the spread of hatred, discrimination and violence." While focused on the headline-grabbing war in Syria, the two leaders did not ignore the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan where the majority of people are ethnic Armenians and had voted for independence. The joint declaration urged "a peaceful resolution" of the conflict. "We ask the faithful of our churches to open their hearts and hands to the victims of war and terrorism, to refugees and their families," they said. The Christian faith demands concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin insisted. Looking at the spread of secularization, the pope and patriarch noted how heavily cultural change is impacting the family. "The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church share the same vision of the family, based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between man and woman," they said.

Pope Francis: Saints Peter, Paul are 2 pillars of faith linking East to West

(Vatican Radio)  The Church of Rome was founded on the faith of Saints Peter and Paul , the two Apostles from the Holy Land whose feast day is celebrated 29 June:  that’s what Pope Francis recalled during his midday Angelus address on this Rome holiday.  The entire universal Church, he said, considers the two patron saints of Rome “two pillars and two great lights which shine not only in the Rome sky, but in the hearts of believers of the Orient and the West.” In his catechesis, Pope Francis pointed out that the two apostles were very different: Peter, a humble fisherman and Paul, sophisticated and highly educated.  The courageous decision of the two Near Eastern saints to embark on a difficult and dangerous journey to Rome gave this territory the Christian spiritual and cultural patrimony that has formed its very foundation, the Pope affirmed. Both came to Rome to give witness to the Gospel among people and they sealed their mission of faith and charity with martyrdom, he added. Today, Peter and Paul return among us in a symbolic way, the Pope said, traveling the streets of this city, knocking “at the doors of our homes, and above all, of our hearts.”  They still desire to bring Jesus to us: “his merciful love, his consolation, his peace; Let us welcome their message!” Referring to the celebration of Holy Mass which he had just concluded in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said he blessed the Pallia for the new Metropolitan Archbishops who had been appointed this year. He renewed his best wishes to them and their families and encouraged them to “pursue with joy their mission in service to the Gospel, in communion with the entire Church and especially with the Seat of Peter” as symbolized in the Pallium. Pope Francis said he welcomed with joy and affection Members of a delegation sent by his “dear brother,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Their presence, he added, “is sign of the existing fraternal bonds between our Churches.  Let us pray so that the bonds of communion and common witness will strengthen.” The Holy Father then entrusted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Salus Populi Romani” the entire world, and “in particular this city of Rome” so that it will always refer back to its rich foundation of spiritual and moral values “in its social life, its mission in Italy, in Europe and in the world.” In his comments following the Angelus Prayer, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of Monday’s horrific terrorist attack at Istanbul’s main international airport, for their families and the “dear Turkish people.”  He prayed for the conversion of “violent hearts” and asked the Lord to “sustain our steps on the path to peace.” (from Vatican Radio)...

Retired Pope Benedict XVI says he 'feels protected' by Pope Francis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his first public address in almost a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness "from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply." "More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected," Pope Benedict said June 28. Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would continue to "lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path of Jesus, to Jesus and to God." Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict's priestly ordination. The two were joined by the heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope's chair. A few minutes later, Pope Francis entered the hall and made a beeline for his predecessor, who respectfully removed his zucchetto before greeting him. Pope Francis has made no secret of his admiration for the retired pontiff, often comparing him to a "wise grandfather at home." During his return flight to Rome from Armenia June 26, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict for "protecting me and having my back with his prayers." Recalling Pope Benedict's promise of obedience to his successor in the days leading up to the conclave, Pope Francis said he had heard that some people have been "sent away" by the retired pontiff after complaining "about this new pope." "If (the report) isn't true, it is well-founded, because this man is like that: a man of his word, a righteous man!" Pope Francis exclaimed. Speaking at the anniversary celebration, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict's life of priestly service to the church and recalled his writings on Simon Peter's response to "Jesus' definitive call: 'Do you love me?'" "This is the hallmark dominating an entire life spent in priestly service and of the true theology that you have defined -- not by chance -- as 'the search for the beloved.' It is this that you have always given witness to and continue to give witness to today," he said. Even in retirement, he said, Pope Benedict continues to serve the church and "truly contributes with vigor and wisdom to its growth" from the "little 'Mater Ecclesiae' monastery in the Vatican." The monastery, Pope Francis continued, is the complete opposite of those "forgotten corners" society often assigns to those who have reached old age. Instead, like the Porziuncola where St. Francis spent his final days in prayer, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery "has become a 'Franciscan' place that emanates tranquility, peace, strength, faithfulness, maturity, faith, dedication and loyalty which does so much good for me and gives strength to me and to the whole church," Pope Francis said. Congratulating his predecessor, Pope Francis expressed his hope that Pope Benedict "would continue to feel the hand of the merciful God that sustains him" and that he may "experience and give witness to God's love." When Pope Francis finished speaking, Pope Benedict clasped his hands together and signaled his thanks to the pope. With a bit of effort, he rose to his feet and stretched out his arms to embrace Pope Francis. After short speeches by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, the retired pontiff slowly stood up once again to express his gratitude. Despite his frailty, Pope Benedict vividly recalled his ordination 65 years ago, remembering a Greek word a priest ordained with him wrote on the remembrance card of his first Mass: "Eucharistomen" ("We give you thanks"). "I am convinced that this word, in its many dimensions, has already said everything that can be said in this moment," the retired ...

Christians should apologize for helping to marginalize gays, pope says

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM ARMENIA (CNS) -- Catholics and other Christians not only must apologize to the gay community, they must ask forgiveness of God for ways they have discriminated against homosexual persons or fostered hostility toward them, Pope Francis said. "I think the church not only must say it is sorry to the gay person it has offended, but also to the poor, to exploited women" and anyone whom the church did not defend when it could, he told reporters June 26. Spending close to an hour answering questions from reporters traveling with him, Pope Francis was asked to comment on remarks reportedly made a few days previously by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops' conference, that the Catholic Church must apologize to gay people for contributing to their marginalization. At the mention of the massacre in early June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Pope Francis closed his eyes as if in pain and shook his head in dismay. "The church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times, many times -- when I say the 'church,' I mean we Christians because the church is holy; we are the sinners," the pope said. "We Christians must say we are sorry." Changing what he had said in the past to the plural "we," Pope Francis said that a gay person, "who has good will and is seeking God, who are we to judge him?" The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear, he said. "They must not be discriminated against. They must be respected, pastorally accompanied." The pope said people have a right to complain about certain gay-pride demonstrations that purposefully offend the faith or sensitivities of others, but that is not what Cardinal Marx was talking about, he said. Pope Francis said when he was growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, part of a "closed Catholic culture," good Catholics would not even enter the house of a person who was divorced. "The culture has changed and thanks be to God!" "We Christians have much to apologize for and not just in this area," he said, referring again to its treatment of homosexual persons. "Ask forgiveness and not just say we're sorry. Forgive us, Lord." Too often, he said, priests act as lords rather than fathers, "a priest who clubs people rather than embraces them and is good, consoles." Pope Francis insisted there are many good priests in the world and "many Mother Teresas," but people often do not see them because "holiness is modest." Like any other community of human beings, the Catholic Church is made up of "good people and bad people," he said. "The grain and the weeds -- Jesus says the kingdom is that way. We should not be scandalized by that," but pray that God makes the wheat grow more and the weeds less. Pope Francis also was asked about his agreeing to a request by the women's International Union of Superiors General to set up a commission to study the historic role of female deacons with a view toward considering the possibility of instituting such a ministry today. Both Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the sisters' group, and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have sent him lists of names of people to serve on the commission, the pope said. But he has not yet chosen the members. As he did at the meeting with the superiors, Pope Francis told the reporters that his understanding was that women deacons in the early church assisted bishops with the baptism and anointing of women, but did not have a role like Catholic deacons do today. The pope also joked about a president who once said that the best way to bury someone's request for action was to name a commission to study it. Turning serious, though, Pope Francis insisted the role of women in the Catholic Church goes well beyond any offices they hold and he said about 18 months ago he had named a commission of female theologians to discuss women's contributions to the life of the church. "Women think differently than we men do," he said, ...

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