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Pope expands scope of John Paul II institute on marriage, family

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To better prepare priests and pastoral workers to help meet the challenges families face today, Pope Francis is strengthening the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and changing its name to the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family.

The new institution is to expand and deepen the types of courses offered as well as take "an analytical and diversified approach" that allows students to study all aspects and concerns of today's families while remaining "faithful to the teaching of Christ," the pope wrote.

The re-foundation of the institute was issued "motu proprio," on the pope's own accord, in an apostolic letter, "Summa Familiae Cura" ("Great Care for the Family"). Dated Sept. 8, the feast of the nativity of Mary, the letter was released at the Vatican Sept. 19.

The original institute for studies on marriage and the family was established by St. John Paul II in 1982, after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family called for the creation of centers devoted to the study of the church's teaching on marriage and the family. While the central institute is based in Rome, there are branches around the world, including in the United States, Australia, Mexico and India.

Given the newer gatherings of the Synod of Bishops on the family, those held in 2014 and 2015, and their call for a more pastoral and missionary approach to modern family life, Pope Francis wrote there is a need for greater reflection and academic formation in a "pastoral perspective and attention to the wounds of humanity" while keeping the original inspiration for the old institute alive.

By amplifying the institute's scope in making it a "theological" institute that is also dedicated to human "sciences," the pope said, the institute's work will study -- in a "deeper and more rigorous way -- the truth of revelation and the wisdom of the tradition of faith."

The anthropological and cultural changes underway affect every aspect of human life, he wrote, and that calls for a new approach that is not limited to pastoral practices and mission "that reflect forms and models of the past."

"We must be informed and passionate interpreters of the wisdom of faith" in a context in which individuals find less support than they had in the past from social structures, relationships and family.

"In the clear proposal of remaining faithful to the teaching of Christ, we must, therefore, look with the intelligence of love and with wise realism, at the reality of families today in all of their complexity, in their light and darkness," the pope wrote.

Meeting with reporters the same day, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, chancellor of institute, and Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, president, said the pope's mandate to revitalize and strengthen the institute is a sign of how much he supports its work and wants it to make a greater contribution to the church and have a greater impact on society.

All new statutes, structures and programs will be needed to help the institute fulfill its expanded mission, they said. Current personnel and faculty will remain, but there will be new positions and new hires to offer the expanded course work necessary to better prepare students, said Archbishop Paglia.

For example, Msgr. Sequeri said, a course that addresses "the family and economics" is critical when so many family problems stem from financial difficulties.

"There has to be a theology for the family that exists," rather than just a theology of the ideal family, he said. The church must respond to all the contemporary issues people struggle with.

The church has such a long, rich patrimony of teachings that need to be "relaunched" to provide answers to new questions, he said, including gender theories and women's issues.

"Mustn't the church participate in some way with its reflections" by being positive and proactive and "not just pull back," he asked.

When asked whether having a more expanded approach to human sciences meant the institute would be hiring or collaborating with experts who have views not in line with church teaching, Archbishop Paglia said scientific reflection requires dialogue, including with those who are not Catholic.

"It's obvious a scientific institute, precisely because of its nature, cannot be closed up in itself," he said.

"Marriage is not a 'Catholic' question," he said; it concerns all of humanity. "And we cannot responsibly not enter into dialogue" with all those who hold dear the whole human family.

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Pope cites St. Frances Cabrini as exemplar of ministry to immigrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although she died 100 years ago, St. Frances Cabrini is a shining example of "love and intelligence" in ministering to the needs of immigrants and helping them become integral members of their new homelands, Pope Francis said.

Responding to "the great migrations underway today" the same way Mother Cabrini did "will enrich all and generate union and dialogue, not separation and hostility," Pope Francis said in a letter to Sister Barbara Louise Staley, superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the saint founded.

Mother Cabrini arrived in New York in 1889 to work with Italian immigrants, setting up orphanages, schools and hospitals in nine U.S. cities. Naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1909, she died in Chicago Dec. 22, 1917.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were holding their general assembly Sept. 17-23 at the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Chicago.

In her work, particularly among Italian immigrants to the United States, Mother Cabrini "focused attention on situations of greatest poverty and fragility, such as the needs of orphans and miners," the pope wrote in his letter, which was released at the Vatican Sept. 19.

Mother Cabrini also demonstrated "a lucid cultural sensitivity" by making sure she was in constant contact with local authorities, the pope said.

"She undertook to conserve and revive in the immigrants the Christian tradition they knew in their country of origin, a religiosity which was sometimes superficial and often imbued with authentic popular mysticism," he wrote. "At the same time, she offered ways to fully integrate with the culture of the new countries so that the Missionary Mothers accompanied the Italian immigrants in becoming fully Italian and fully American."

With dialogue and help integrating, he said, "the human and Christian vitality of the immigrants thus became a gift to the churches and to the peoples who welcomed them."

While Mother Cabrini and the sisters had a specific mission to assist the immigrants and strengthen their faith, he said, Catholics today cannot forget "that is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus."

On a more personal note, Pope Francis told the sisters, "I assure you of my remembrance and prayers with deep affection, both because I have always known the figure of Mother Cabrini and because of the special concern I devote to the cause of immigrants."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope sets up new Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has set up a new Pontifical institute for the study of marriage and the family, replacing the organisation set up by his predecessor in 1981.

In a Motu Proprio, published on Tuesday, the Vatican announced that the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences is being established to carry forward the work of the two recent Synods of Bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

New pastoral challenges

Noting the important work that has been carried out by the original institute, founded in the wake of the 1980 Synod on the Family, Pope Francis says the Synods of 2014 and 2015 have brought a renewed awareness of “the new pastoral challenges to which the Christian community is called to respond”.

Contemporary anthropological and cultural changes, the pope says, require “a diversified and analytical approach” which cannot be “limited to pastoral and missionary practices” of the past.

Complex realities of family life

Instead, he says, we must be able to interpret our faith in a context in which individuals are less supported than before as they deal with the complex realities of family life. Faithful to the teachings of Christ, the pope says, we must explore these “lights and shadows of family life” with realism, wisdom and love.

Like its predecessor, the new institute will continue to work as part of the Pontifical Lateran University. It will also be closely connected to the Holy See through the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Academy for Life and the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

The institute, which comes into effect immediately, will offer students courses leading to a diploma, a license and a doctorate in marriage and family sciences.

Please find below the original Latin text of the new Motu Proprio

LITTERAE APOSTOLICAE MOTU PROPRIO DATAE SUMMA FAMILIAE CURA

Quibus Pontificium Institutum Theologicum pro Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia Sancto Ioanni Paulo II dicatum constituitur FRANCISCUS

          Summa familiae cura sanctus Ioannes Paulus II animatus, post Coetum Synodi Episcoporum anno MCMLXXX de familia celebratum necnon Adhortatione Apostolica Familiaris consortio anno MCMLXXXI exarata, Constitutione apostolica Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum iuridicam formam tribuit Pontificio Instituto Studiorum Matrimonii ac Familiae, apud Pontificiam Universitatem Lateranensem operanti. Ab illo tempore Institutum proficuum opus pervestigationis theologicae et formationis pastoralis tum in Sede praecipua Romae explevit tum in sedibus extra Urbem, adstantibus in omnibus continentibus.

          Recentius Ecclesia ulterius iter synodale effecit, in medium considerationis iterum matrimonium et familiam ponens, primum quidem in Coetu extraordinario Synodi Episcoporum anno MMXIV acto de “Provocationibus pastoralibus familiae in contextu evangelizationis”, et deinde in illo ordinario anno MMXV habito de “Vocatione et missione familiae in Ecclesia et in mundo”. Fructum istius intensi itineris constituit Adhortatio apostolica post-synodalis Amoris laetitia, die XIX mensis Martii anno MMXVI publici iuris facta.

          Hoc tempus synodale Ecclesiam adduxit ad renovatam Evangelii familiae conscientiam novarumque pastoralium provocationum quibus oportet christiana communitas respondeat. Praecipuum familiae locum in itineribus “conversionis pastoralis”[1] nostrarum communitatum nec non “commutationis missionalis Ecclesiae”[2] postulat ut – etiam in provincia formationis academicae – in consideratione de matrimonio familiaque numquam desint prospectus pastorales et sollicitudo de vulneribus humani generis. Si fructuosum altum studium theologiae pastoralis agi non potest neglecto peculiari aspectu ecclesiali familiae,[3] altera ex parte ipse sensus pastoralis Ecclesiae non parum curat pretiosum tributum cogitationis et investigationis quae perscrutantur admodum alte et accurate revelationis veritatem et  traditionis fidei sapientiam, ut aptius aetate nostra intellegantur. “Decretorium eventuro pro mundo Ecclesiaque est familiae bonum. […]  Salubre est certis rebus vacare, quandoquidem postulationes impulsionesque Spiritus in eventibus historiae animadvertuntur per quos Ecclesia altius perspicere valet inexhaustum mysterium matrimonii ac familiae”.[4]

          Mutatio anthropologica et culturalis, quae hodie omnes vitae provincias movet atque interpretationem postulat analyticam et multiplicem, nobis non consentit coërcere nos tantummodo operibus navitatis pastoralis et missionis quae formas et exempla temporis praeteriti referunt. Oportet interpretes simus conscii et ardentes  fidei sapientiae in rerum adiunctis in quibus singulae personae structuris socialibus minus quam praeterito tempore sustentantur, earum in affectuum et familiari vita. In claro proposito fidelitatis erga doctrinam Christi oportet igitur inspiciamus hodie familiam, cum intellectu amoris et cum sapienti rerum veritate, tota in eius varietate, in eius lucibus et umbris.[5]

Has ob rationes opportunum cogitavimus novam iuridicam rationem Instituto Ioannis Pauli II tribuere, ut “praevidens intuitio sancti Ioannis Pauli II, quae firmiter hanc academicam voluit institutionem, hodie adhuc melius agnosci et aestimari [possit] sua in fecunditate et actualitate”.[6] Deliberavimus igitur Pontificium Institutum Theologicum pro Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia instituere, augentes eius rationem inquisitionis, tum quod pertinet ad novas provincias navitatis pastoralis et missionis ecclesialis, tum quod pertinet ad progressiones scientiarum humanarum et culturae anthropologicae in provincia tam praecipua pro vitae cultura.

Art. 1

        His Litteris Apostolicis motu proprio datis instituimus Pontificium Institutum Theologicum pro Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia sancto Ioanni Paulo II dicatum, quod, cum Pontificia Universitate Lateranensi coniunctum, in locum subvenit Pontificii Instituti Ioannis Pauli II Studiorum Matrimonii ac Familiae, conditi per Constitutionem Apostolicam Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum, quod idcirco exstinguitur. Attamen necesse est ut primigenia inspiratio, quae exstinctum Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Matrimonii ac Familiae genuerat, novi Instituti Theologici operis ampliorem campum usque fecundet, efficaciter contribuens quo Ecclesiae pastoralis missionis hodiernis necessitatibus plene respondeat.

Art. 2

        Novum Institutum Theologicum, inter institutiones pontificias, ad servitium missionis Ecclesiae universalis, erit centrum academicum ad quod est referendum in provincia scientiarum quae pertinent ad matrimonium et familiam necnon quoad argumenta coniuncta cum fundamentali foedere viri et mulieris pro generationis et creati cura.

Art. 3

        Peculiaris nexus novi Instituti Theologici cum ministerio et magisterio Sanctae Sedis deinde firmabitur peculiari relatione, quam illud statuet, in modis qui vicissim concordabuntur, cum Congregatione de Institutione Catholica, cum Dicasterio pro Laicis, Familia et Vita atque cum Pontificia Academia pro Vita.

Art. 4

        § 1. Pontificium Institutum Theologicum, ita renovatum, aptabit suas structuras instrumentaque necessaria disponet – cathedras, docentes, rationes, ministros administrationis – ad perficiendam missionem scientificam et ecclesialem sibi assignatam.

        § 2. Auctoritates academicae Instituti Theologici sunt Magnus Cancellarius, Praeses et Consilium Instituti.

        § 3. Institutum Theologicum pollet facultate conferendi iure proprio suis studentibus sequentes gradus: Doctoratum in Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia; Licentiam in Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia; Diploma in Scientiis de Matrimonio et Familia.

Art. 5

        Quae praesentis Litteris sunt statuta, pressius explicabuntur et definientur propriis Statutis, a Sancta Sede approbatis. Praesertim providebitur ut aptiores modi inveniantur qui cooperationi et comparationi faveant, in provincia didacticae et inquisitionis, inter auctoritates Instituti Theologici atque Pontificiae Universitatis Lateranensis.

Art. 6

        Donec nova Statuta approbentur, Institutum Theologicum pro tempore regetur normis hucusque vigentibus Statutorum Pontificii Instituti Ioannis Pauli II Studiorum  Matrimonii et Familiae, inclusis ibi structuratione in Sectiones et normis ad eandem pertinentibus, dummodo praesentibus Litteris non obsistant.

          Omnia quae his Litteris Apostolicis motu proprio datis consideravimus, iubemus ut cunctis suis in partibus observentur, contrariis rebus quibuslibet non obstantibus, etiamsi peculiari mentione dignis, atque statuimus ut promulgentur per publicationem in actis diurnis L’Osservatore Romano, die ipso promulgationis in vigorem intrando, proindeque Actis Apostolicae Sedis inserantur.

 Datum Romae, apud Sanctum Petrum, die VIII mensis Septembris, in Festo Nativitatis Beatae Mariae Virginis, anno Domini MMXVII, Pontificatus Nostri quinto.

                                         FRANCISCUS PP.

 [1] Cfr Adhort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, 26-32.

[2] Cfr ibid., cap. I.

[3] Cfr Conc. Oecum. Vat. II, Const. dogm. Lumen gentium, 11.

[4] Adhort. ap. post-synodalis Amoris laetitia, 31; cfr Ioannes Paulus II, Adhort. ap. post-synodalis Familiaris consortio, 4.

[5] Cfr Adhort. ap. post-synodalis Amoris laetitia, 32.

[6] Sermo ad communitatem academicam Pontificii Instituti  Studiorum Matrimonii et Familiae (27  Octobris 2016): L’Osservatore Romano, 28 Octobris 2016, p. 8.

(from Vatican Radio)

Bishop defends Jesuit priest after seminary withdraws invitation

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. bishop vigorously defended Jesuit Father James Martin when a prominent U.S. seminary canceled an invitation it had extended to the well-known author, who was to speak about Jesus at an October event, after fringe groups unhappy with the priest's recent book about the church and the gay community mounted a series of attacks.

Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said the cancellation, first made public Sept. 15, came after it "experienced increasing negative feedback from various social media sites regarding the seminary's invitation" to Father Martin. It did not name the groups associated with the attacks.

"This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is -- not primarily for Father Martin's sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church," said San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy in a vigorous defense published by America magazine Sept. 18.

"The concerted attack on Father Martin's work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology, and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church," wrote Bishop McElroy.

The cancellation of the speech was not the first, Father Martin noted, even though that speech and others he was to give were about Jesus and not the book.

In a Sept. 15 Facebook post, the priest wrote about the incident and said the attacks included "a storm of phone calls, emails and messages to Theological College, which included, I was told, people screaming at the receptionists who answered the phone. In the end, they felt that the expected protests and negative publicity would distract from Alumni Day." 

Father Martin was to speak at an Oct. 4 symposium celebrating the 100th anniversary of the seminary's founding.

"The organizers were all apologetic and in some cases more upset than I was. I know that they were under extreme pressure, and in some cases were overwhelmed by the rage that can be generated by social media: ill will based on misrepresentations, innuendos, homophobia and especially fear. Perfect love drives out fear, as 1 John says. But perfect fear also drives out love," Father Martin wrote.

"Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity," the book that has driven the controversy, grabbed the No. 1 spot on Amazon's Roman Catholicism category Sept. 18. 

It has been endorsed by Bishop McElroy, U.S. Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and has a long list of endorsements from other notable Catholics. However, it also was recently criticized by Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor of America magazine, where Father Martin is editor at large, defended the priest and the book, which has been approved by the Jesuits as being in line with church teaching, in a Sept. 16 statement.

"Some elements in the American church," Father Malone said, "have taken it upon themselves to organize a campaign, not only against the contents of the book, but against Father Martin himself. In recent weeks, Father Martin has been subjected to repeated, calumnious attacks in social media and in print, involving invective that is as appalling as it is toxic. It is one thing to engage in spirited debate. It is another thing to seek to stymie such debate through fear, misinformation, or blunt censorship."

Though Theological College, with the cancellation of the invitation made more than a year ago, was seeking to avoid controversy, it invited more attention. The news of the cancellation ended up appearing in the pages of major U.S. newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post over the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17.

John Garvey, Catholic university's president, issued a statement saying the institution regretted any implication that the university supported the decision by the seminary, adding that "universities and their related entities should be places of free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea."

Garvey said it was "problematic" that groups within the Catholic Church demonstrate an "inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity."

In his Facebook post, Father Martin, a consultor to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, said the only thing he asked of the organizations that canceled his talks is that they be honest about the reasons for the cancellations.

"Also, I want to say that none of these cancellations disturbs me," he said. "I've not lost any sleep over them. ... I want to say that Jesus is close to me in prayer. So I am at total peace."

Thousands on social media, including high profile Catholics, voiced support for the Jesuit.

After the Theological College invitation was rescinded, Holy Trinity Church, in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, asked Father Martin if he could instead visit their Jesuit parish around the same time.

"So I look forward to seeing you all in Washington," he said.

Whether by coincidence or on purpose, on Sept. 18 hackers briefly took down the international Catholic daily LaCroix International after it ran the commentary "Catholic Cyber-Militias and the New Censorship" about the incident.

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North Miami parish serves up a post-hurricane luxury: A hot meal

By Marlene Quaroni

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. (CNS) -- Thanks to Father Fritz Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Church in North Miami, many people in the area around the church had hot meals after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the community.

"The stores and restaurants are closed," he said. "People are eating potato chips, peanut butter, crackers, canned food, snacks, whatever nonperishables that you don't have to cook. A hot meal, right now, is a welcome luxury."

Father Bellonce learned from a previous hurricane-related experience. As a seminarian in 2005 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary near Boynton Beach, he saw long lines of hungry, tired people waiting outside the few open restaurants in Palm Beach County after Hurricane Wilma struck.

Before Hurricane Irma arrived, he got ready: He bought 200 pounds of rice, lots of beans, pork, chicken, turkey and cooking ingredients -- dishes that are popular in Holy Family's predominantly Haitian-American community.

"I knew the first place people in need come to is the church," he told the Florida Catholic newspaper. "We share what we have. We practice what we preach."

He prepared to serve even as Holy Family's circular church building suffered severe roof damage.

"There's a hole in the ceiling, and a puddle of water was inside the gift shop," Father Bellonce said. "One of the seven air-conditioning units on the church roof blew completely apart."

Volunteers arrived on Monday to help clean up debris on church and school grounds. In the Holy Family schoolyard, a group of young men from a parish organization, TAF-The Atoma (Greek for "unbreakable") Family, cleared heavy tree branches.

Also clearing debris around the school were Holy Family School principal Doreen Roberts and her two granddaughters. So was assistant principal Casey McCoy.

Father Bellonce, with the help of seminarian Alix Sylien from St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, rounded up volunteers to cook meals in the parish hall kitchen.

Serving Holy Family was a natural for Sylien: It's his home parish, and he was assigned there during the summer. He delivered meals in his SUV throughout the neighborhood.

"Many people don't have transportation to get to the church," Father Bellonce said. "Alix has been a great help."

Those who did have cars, like Jean Beaubrun, picked up the hot food from the parish hall's kitchen take-out window.

"This is a blessing," said Beaubrun, who carried three take-out boxes: for himself, his wife and their 9-year-old son.

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Quaroni is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

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Governing requires prayer, wisdom, counsel, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Those who govern or are in positions of authority are called to be humble and serve the good of the people God entrusts to them rather than the interests of their party or themselves, Pope Francis said.

Without prayer, a leader risks serving his own selfish desires or political party, closing himself or herself in a "circle from which there is no escape," the pope said Sept. 18 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"Who has more power than a ruler? The people, who have given him the power, and God, from whom power comes through the people," the pope said. "When he has this awareness of being subordinate, he prays."

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's reading from St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy in which he asks that "supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority."

The pope also spoke about the day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, which recounted Jesus' healing of a slave at the behest of his master, a Roman centurion.

"This man felt the need for prayer" not because it was a last resort but because he knew that "there was someone above him, there is another who is in charge," the pope said.

Praying for politicians and those who lead, the pope continued, is important "because it is the prayer for the common good of the people who are entrusted to him."

Leaders also must pray and ask the Lord for wisdom so that they find their true strength in God and in the people and not "in small groups or in myself," he said.

And leaders who claim they cannot pray because they are agnostic or atheist, he said, at least must examine their consciences and seek counsel from those their people consider wise.

Christians "cannot leave rulers alone, we must accompany them with prayer," the pope said. And when a leader does "awful things," he added, they need even more prayers.

"Pray, do penance for those who govern," the pope said. "The prayer of intercession -- it is beautiful what Paul says -- is for all leaders, for all those in power. Why? So 'that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life.' When a leader is free and can govern in peace, all people benefit from this."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope at Mass: ‘Pray for leaders despite their mistakes’

(Vatican Radio) As Christians we must pray for our elected leaders, even if we don’t agree with their politics. That was Pope Francis’ message during Mass in the Casa Santa Marta on Monday, as he reflected on the readings for the day.

Listen to Devin Watkins' report:

Pope Francis took as his starting point the First Reading from St Paul’s Letter to Timothy, where he asks that “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings” be offered “for kings and for all in authority”. In the day’s Gospel, a Roman leader, the centurion, prays that his servant be healed.

Recognize one’s subordinate position

“This man felt the need to pray,” the Pope noted, because “he was aware that he did not have everything under his control”. He knew that above him was another who was really in charge. The centurion had soldiers as subordinates but he was also aware of being a subordinate. This awareness led him to pray.

“If leaders do not pray, they close themselves off in a self-referential circle or in that of their party, a circle from which they cannot escape”, said Pope Francis. It is important to be aware that we are all subordinate to someone more powerful. And those who are more powerful than political leaders, he suggested, are both the people who gave those leaders their power, “and God from whom their power comes through the people”. Political leaders pray, said the Pope, when they are aware of being a subordinate.

Leaders must pray

Pope Francis went on to talk about the importance of prayer for a leader. “It is the prayer for the common good of the people with whom they have been entrusted.”

He then recalled a conversation with a political leader who spent two hours before God every day, despite being tremendously busy. A leader must ask God, said the Pope, for the grace to govern well like Solomon, who asked not for riches and gold but for the wisdom to govern.

The Holy Father said political leaders must ask the Lord for the same wisdom. “It is very important for leaders to pray, asking the Lord not to take away the awareness of being subordinate and not to find strength in a little group or in myself.”

To those who would object on grounds of agnosticism or atheism, Pope Francis said: “If you cannot pray, confront yourself with your conscience, with the wisdom of your people, but do not remain isolated with the small group of your political party.” This is what leads to becoming self-referential.

Prayer for leaders

In the First Reading, St Paul invites us to pray for kings, “so that we can live a calm and peaceful life,” the Pope said. He pointed out that when political leaders do something we don’t approve of, they are either criticized or praised, but often we simply claim we didn’t vote for them and pretend we don’t really care what they do. But Pope Francis said we must not leave abandon our leaders.

“We need to accompany them with our prayer”, he said. “Christians must pray for their leaders”, even if they do “bad things”. In this case, the Pope continued, they need prayer even more: “Pray, and do penance for leaders. Intercessory prayer is such a wonderful thing, as Paul says. It is to be done for all kings, for all persons in positions of power. Why? ‘So that we can live a calm and peaceful life.’ When a leader is free and can govern in peace, the whole population benefits.”

Examination of conscience

Pope Francis concluded by asking those present to make an examination of conscience regarding their prayer for leaders.

“I ask you this favor: every one of you take five minutes, no more. If you are a leader, ask yourself: ‘Do I pray to the One who gave me power through the people?’ If you are not a leader, ‘Do I pray for my leaders? Yes, for this one and that one, yes, because I like them; but for that one, no.’ They need it so much more for this reason! ‘Do I pray for all leaders?’ And if you find in your examination of conscience before Confession that you have not prayed for your leaders, bring it to Confession. Because not to pray for leaders is a sin.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope urges Japanese Bishops to build on the memory of their martyrs

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged Christians in Japan to face current challenges bearing in mind the witness of their many martyrs.

In a letter addressed to the Bishops of Japan, on the occasion of Cardinal Fernando Filoni’s pastoral journey to the Land of the Rising Sun, the Pope held up the memory of Japan’s many martyrs and ‘hidden Christians’ whom, he said, from the 17th to the mid-19th centuries lived clandestinely so as not to have to repudiate their faith.

Cardinal Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has undertaken a pastoral journey to Japan lasting from 17 to 26 September. 

Japanese Christians facing current challenges

In the letter, the Pope pointed out that Japanese Christians are facing “the challenges that current times pose” and he invited them not to be “resigned”, nor to resort to “an irenic or paralyzing dialogue even although there are problematic situations that raise not few concerns.”   

Amongst the situations that arouse concern the Pope mentioned the “high rate of divorce” in Japan, “the number of suicides, even among young people”, the phenomenon of the ‘hikikomori’ – people who choose to live completely disconnected from society, “religious and spiritual formalism, moral relativism, indifference towards religion, an obsession for work and earning”.
    
It is also true, the Pope continued, that a society that is a frontrunner in economic development leaves many behind: the poor, the marginalized, the excluded – not only those who are excluded in a material sense, but also those who are spiritually and morally in need.

Need for constant renewal in the Church

Within this particular context, Francis pointed out that it is necessary and urgent that the Church in Japan be constantly renewed, always bearing in mind “Jesus’ mission which is salt and light”.

The Pope concluded pointing out that the true evangelical force of the Japanese Church stems from the fact that it has been a Church of martyrs and confessors of the faith, and this “is a great asset to be safe-guarded and developed.” 
   

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope at Angelus: ‘open your hearts to forgiveness'

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged all Christians to open their hearts to forgiveness.

Speaking to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, the Pope said that to be able to build peace one must be able to forgive.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

“Forgiveness does not deny the injustice one has been subjected to, but it acknowledges the fact that the human being, created in the image of God, is always superior to the wrong that is committed” he said.

The Pope was reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day which narrates the “Parable of the unforgiving servant.”

Commenting on Jesus’ invitation to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Francis said this means that Christians are called always to show forgiveness.

God wants to forgive us

“From the day of our Baptism, he said, God has forgiven us, remitting a terrible debt: the original sin. And then, with infinite mercy, he forgives all of our sins as soon as we show the smallest sign of repentance.”

Anyone – the Pope continued – who has experienced the joy of peace and interior freedom that comes from having been forgiven, can open himself to the possibility of forgiving.

And he pointed out that this teaching is also contained in “The Lord’s Prayer” which says:  ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

God’s infinite love for us

God’s forgiveness, Francis said, is a sign of “His overflowing love for each of us”:  that love that gives us the freedom to stray – like the prodigal son – but that every day awaits our return with open arms; it is the love of the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; it is the tenderness with which each sinner is welcomed when he knocks at His door.

“The Lord is full of love and He wants to offer it to us, but he cannot do so if we close our hearts to loving others” he said.  

A special greeting for participants in a ‘Run for Peace’

Following the Angelus prayer Pope Francis had special greetings for participants of a just-ended “Run for Peace” with an itinerary that touched symbolic venues for the different religious confessions present in Rome.

“My hope is that this initiative of culture and sport may favour dialogue, cohabitation and peace” he concluded.    

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Salesian priest recounts harrowing tale of his capture, liberation

IMAGE: CNS/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location -- one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment -- when he received some unexpected news.

"Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), 'I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly!'" Father Uzhunnalil told reporters Sept. 16 at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

The Salesian priest from India was kidnapped March 4, 2016, from a home for the aged and disabled run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. On that day, four Missionaries of Charity and 12 others were murdered in the attack by uniformed gunmen.

Seeing a group of Missionaries of Charity sisters seated at the news conference in Rome, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences. However, the memory of the four sisters' martyrdom still proved too difficult to bear.

Silence filled the room as the Salesian priest covered his eyes, tears streaming down his face while doing his utmost to hold back emotions that he thought he could contain.

"I thank God Almighty for this day, for keeping me safe, healthy, clear minded; my emotions were in control until now," he said after regaining his composure. 

"I don't want to speak too much about the sisters because I get too emotional," he said.

Although reports following his kidnapping suggested the attack was carried out by the so-called Islamic State, Father Uzhunnalil said his captors never identified themselves.

Knowing very little Arabic, Father Uzhunnalil said he spoke to the militants with the few words he knew: "Ana hindiin" ("I am Indian"). To this day, the Indian priest still wonders why he was the only one spared in the slaughter.

"Why they did not kill me, why they didn't tie my hands, I don't know," he said. "Perhaps they wanted some ransom or whatever it is. I only believe that maybe God had put that into their heads when I said, 'I am Indian,' and they made me sit there while they killed the others, the sisters."

After leaving him in the trunk of the car, the militants ransacked the chapel taking the tabernacle, wrapping it with the altar linen and placing it near the kidnapped priest. With his hands unbound, Father Uzhunnalil carefully moved the linen and found "four or five small hosts," which he kept to celebrate the Eucharist the first few days of his capture.

After his short supply ran out, he said, he continued reciting the Mass prayers when alone despite not having bread and wine.

"I peacefully was able to say my Eucharist all from memory, although bread and wine wasn't available. But I prayed to God to give me those items spiritually," Father Uzhunnalil said.

He spent most of his days praying for the pope, his bishop, his Salesian brothers, and "certainly those sisters, all those persons whom God had called" on the day of his abduction.

Father Uzhunnalil said he found consolation in the words of a hymn, "One day at a time, sweet Jesus."

"Just give me the strength to do every day what I have to do. Yesterday's gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today, show me the way, one day at a time," he would sing to himself in the solitude of his room.

On Sept. 11, Father Uzhunnalil was given the news of his liberation. After traveling for hours blindfolded, the priest along with two of his captors waited in the car.

Several hours later, his captors told him "some arrangements weren't done" and they headed back.

Not understanding the church's teaching on the Holy Trinity and the "unity of God in three persons," Father Uzhunnalil recalled, one of his captors said, "You might have prayed to the third God, now you must pray to the second God so tomorrow can go well."

Returning to his cell, he slept briefly when he was rustled out of bed in the middle of the night Sept. 12 and taken on the same long ride, his head once again covered. He was then moved to another vehicle where a person pulled up his picture on a cell phone and asked the priest, "Is this you?"

After confirming his identity, the driver drove for more than a day through the desert and told him: "Now you are free, now you are safe."

Father Uzhunnalil was then taken to the Omani capital of Moscat where he received medical treatment, fresh clothes, and a shaving kit.

While he knows few details about arrangements for his release, Father Uzhunnalil expressed his gratitude to those who helped secure his liberation, including Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, the government authorities of India, and the Vatican, including Pope Francis whom he met the day after his release.

As Pope Francis entered the room Sept. 13, the Salesian knelt before him and kissed his feet. Visibly moved by the gesture, the pope helped him up and kissed his hands.

Before blessing Father Uzhunnalil, the pope embraced him and said he would continue to pray for him as he had done during his imprisonment.

"In that meeting, the pope kissed my hand. I never deserved it," he said. "I'm only grateful to God for his blessings, I'm sure he prayed much for me."

Even his captors, Father Uzhunnalil said, knew of the pope's efforts and inadvertently gave him a reason to hope.

"One of the captors told me, 'The pope has said you will be freed soon but nothing is happening still.' From that, I knew that the whole world was there, the whole church was there, the world was worried for me. So, I am grateful," he said.

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