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Pope extends "Ecclesiastica Communio" to new Patriarch

(Vatican Radio) The Holy Father has granted the “Ecclesiastica Communio” in accordance with canon 76 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches to His Beatitude Youssef Absi, canonically elected as Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkites on 21 June 2017 by the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church.

The following is the text that Pope Francis sent to the new Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkites for the concession of the “Ecclesiastica Communio”:

Message of the Holy Father
To His Beatitude YOUSSEF
Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkites

It is with great joy that I received the letter in which you informed me of your election as Patriarch of Antioch of the Greek Melkites by the Synod of Bishops, requesting the Ecclesiastica Communio.

I wish to congratulate you and assure you from now on of my prayer that Christ, Good Shepherd, will support you in the fulfilment of the mission entrusted to you and for the service required of you.

The election of Your Beatitude comes at the time of a delicate situation for the venerable Greco-Melkite Church and when many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to bear witness in a special way to their faith in the dead and risen Christ. In this particularly difficult time, Pastors are called upon to manifest communion, unity, closeness, solidarity and transparency before the suffering people of God.

I am certain that your Beatitude, in fraternal harmony with all the Synod Fathers, will know, in all evangelical wisdom, how to be not only “Pater et Caput” in the service of the faithful of the Greco-Melkite Church, but also a faithful and authentic witness to the Risen One.

Therefore, Beatitude, as the Successor of Peter called by Jesus to preserve in unity His one Church, I grant you with deep joy the Ecclesiastical Communion solicited in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

By commending you to the maternal protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, I willingly grant you the Apostolic Blessing which I extend to bishops, priests, religious and to all the faithful of the Greek Melkite Church.

From the Vatican, 22 June 2017


Pope Francis meets King and Queen of the Netherlands

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis received King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Máxima, of the Netherlands in a private audience at the Vatican on Thursday.

A communiqué from the Holy See Press Office said their discussions were “cordial” and touched on issues of shared interest, including “the protection of the environment and the fight against poverty, as well as on the specific contribution of the Holy See and the Catholic Church in these fields.”

They also paid “particular attention to the phenomenon of migration, underlining the importance of peaceful co-existence between different cultures, and joint commitment to promoting peace and global security, with special reference to various areas of conflict.”

The King, the Queen, and the Pope also reflected together “on the prospects of the European project”, according to the communiqué.

Afterwards, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and Arcbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

Pope Mass: Discern and denounce evil, care for others

(Vatican Radio) A shepherd must be passionate, must know how to discern and how to denounce evil. Those were Pope Francis’ words during Mass on Thursday at the Casa Santa Marta, where he focused on the figure of the Apostle Paul and then turned his attention to the example offered by Don Milani. Like the parish priest of Barbiana, the Pope said, one should take care of one’s neighbour.

"The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep," said Pope Francis during his homily, drawing inspiration from the readings of the day and dwelling on the characteristics that a shepherd should have. The Pope noted in Saint Paul, the figure of the "true shepherd", who does not abandon his sheep unlike a "mercenary". The first quality, therefore, the Holy Father indicated, is that St Paul  is "passionate". Passionate,  he added, "to the point of telling his people, 'I feel for you all a kind of divine jealousy'." He  is "divinely jealous," the Pope commented.

The true shepherd knows how to discern, on guard against at the seduction of evil

A passion therefore becomes almost "madness", "stupidity" for his people. "And this – the Pope added - is that which we call apostolic zeal: he cannot be a true shepherd without this fire." A second characteristic, he continued, the pastor must be "a man who knows how to discern":

"He knows what seduction in life is. The lying father is a seducer. The Shepherd, is not. The shepherd loves. Instead, the snake, the father of lies, is a seducer. He is a seducer trying to turn away from fidelity, because that divine jealousy of Paul was to bring the people to a single groom, to keep the people loyal to their bridegroom. In the history of salvation, in Scripture many times we turn away from God, disloyalty towards the Lord, idolatry as if it were a maternal infidelity. "

You must know how to report evil, not be naïve

The Shepherd’s first characteristic, then, "is to be passionate, zealous, zealous". The second feature is, "someone who knows how to discern: to discern where the dangers are, where the graces are... where the real road is". This, the Pope said, "means he always accompanies his sheep: in beautiful moments and even in bad moments, even in moments of seduction, with patience he brings them to the fold." And the third feature: is "the ability to denounce":

"An apostle cannot be naive: 'Ah, it's all right, let's go ahead, eh? It's all right ... Let's party, everyone ... everything is possible ...'. because there is the fidelity to the only groom, to Jesus Christ, to be defended. And he knows how to condemn it: that concreteness, to say ' no,' like the  parents say to the baby when he starts to clap and goes to the electric socket to put his fingers in : 'No, no! It's dangerous!'. But, I think so many times of that 'tuca nen' (do not touch anything ndr) that my parents and grandparents told me at those moments where there was a danger. "

Take care of others  as Don Milani did

 "The Good Shepherd – Pope Francis said - can denounce, by name and surname" as St. Paul did.

The Holy Father returned to his visit to Bozzolo and Barbiana, this week, referring, "to those two good shepherds of Italy." And speaking of Don Milani, he recalled his "motto" when he "taught his boys":

"I care. But what does it mean? They explained to me that he wanted to say 'I care'. He taught that things were to be taken seriously, against the fashion motto at that time that was 'I do not care,' but said in another language, which I dare not say here. And so he taught the kids to move on. Take care: take care of your life, and this no! '"

Paul's apostolic zeal, was passionate, zealous. Man, commented the Holy Father knows how to discern because he knows the power of seduction and knows the devil seduces.

The Pope then concluded with a prayer "for all the shepherds of the Church, for Saint Paul who intercede before the Lord, for all of us pastors in order to serve the Lord."

Pope to ROACO recalls suffering of Eastern-rite Christians

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with members of ROACO, (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches) who have been holding their 90th plenary assembly in Rome this week.

The meeting brings Church leaders from countries across the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe together with donor organisations which raise funds for Christians in the Eastern-rite Churches.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:

The four day meeting has been focused on the difficult situation of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the Holy Land, as well as reflecting on the training of priests and seminarians in all the Eastern-rite Churches.

In his message to participants, Pope Francis thanked them for their constant work of charity and solidarity over the past half century in support of Latin and Eastern-rite communities under the care of the Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches.

Persecution and emigration

These Churches of the Middle East, as well as in Eastern Europe, he said, have often suffered from “terrible waves of persecution and pain”. Emigration has also significantly weakened the presence of these Churches in places where they flourished for centuries.

Freedom has now returned to some of those regions, the Pope said, but others, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, are still devastated by “wars and absurd violence perpetrated by fundamentalist terrorism.” These experiences are a source of both suffering and salvation, he said, as we experience the Cross of Christ.

Temptations of social status

Speaking about the formation of priests and seminarians, Pope Francis noted the dedication and heroic witness of so many prelates. But he also warned about the temptations of seeking social status that is associated with the priesthood in some parts of the world.

The Congregation for Oriental Churches and donor agencies must continue to support projects and initiatives which build up the Church in an authentic way, the Pope said. We must remember we are living stones, built around Christ as our corner stone, he added.

Witness to the Gospel

Finally, the Pope remembered all those Christians – Catholics, Orthodox or Protestant – whose blood continues to be spilled because of their witness to the Gospel. When Eastern-rite Christians are forced to emigrate, he said, they must be welcomed in their new countries and allowed to continue their worship according to their own traditions

Pope appoints new president of Pontifical Academy of Sciences

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis appointed Professor Joachim von Braun as the new President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Wednesday.

Professor von Braun is Ordinary Professor of Economics and Technological Change, as well as Director of the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn in Germany.

He told Vatican Radio's Mario Galgano his goal as head of the Academy will be to seek solutions for inequality and the destruction of the environment.

Listen to the full interview:

Professor von Braun said the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has a unique role to play in the world of science because it is a "global academy" and not linked to any specific nation.

He said the 80 members composing the Academy are from different countries and religious backgrounds and many hold Nobel Prizes for their contribution to science.

This, he said, means the Academy "has become a very influential body in the world of science".

Professor von Braun said the Academy focuses on "the big issues with which humanity is confronted". 

"I find it particularly important that we find solutions to the two major problems of inequality - lack of justice, hunger, and poverty - on the one hand and the destruction of the environment and nature."

He said that, because these two themes are interrelated, "academicians from diverse science backgrounds can view these problems in new ways and offer solutions to overcome them."

Pope donates funds to support aid projects in South Sudan

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has pledged to donate about half a million dollars to support Church-run education, healthcare and agricultural projects in South Sudan.

At a press conference in the Vatican on Wednesday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the office for Integral Human Development, led a panel of speakers giving details of those humanitarian projects, run by Caritas and by missionaries from different religious institutes. The cardinal also outlined numerous initiatives that the Holy See has taken to stop the war, which flared across the country in 2013.

Listen to Philippa HItchen's report:

Pope Francis may have postponed a planned visit to war-torn South Sudan this year, but he’s clearly more determined than ever to raise awareness about the need to support those suffering from conflict and starvation.

Over half the population doesn’t have enough food to eat, a million and a half people have fled their homes, thousands are suffering from a cholera epidemic and untold numbers are victims of killings, rapes and other violent crimes.

Faces behind the statistics

But beyond the shocking statistics of this largely forgotten war, it’s vital to remember the individual victims – that’s why aid workers have started a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #southsudanwecare

Among those speaking at the Vatican press conference was Sr Yudith Pereira-Rico, from Solidarity with South Sudan, an organisation founded by male and female religious congregations over a decade ago:

We don’t talk about numbers, we talk about individuals who are suffering….any time a young man or woman in South Sudan clicks this hashtag they will know how many people care.....this moral support is very important"

Part of the pope’s donation will go to support a college in Yambio run by Solidarity with South Sudan to train teachers, nurses, midwives, farmers and community leaders. As well as learning vital job skills, the students from many different ethnic groups learn about the values of diversity and collaboration, an important sign of hope for the country which gained independence in 2011.

Caritas and Comboni missionaries

Other beneficiaries of the initiative entitled ‘The Pope for South Sudan’ include two hospitals run by Comboni missionaries and an agricultural project, run by Caritas, to provide livelihoods for 2.500 families in the dioceses of Yei, Yambio and Torit. Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, told journalists that while peace must be the priority for South Sudan, the international community must also do more to save lives of those dying from hunger and disease

The UN has launched an appeal, right now it is half funded, there’s a real need for the international community to engage more, much more. This cannot be just another forgotten conflict, like Darfur…”

Holy See mediation efforts

Asked about Vatican initiatives to try and stop the fighting, Cardinal Peter Turkson said he had been personally involved in two mediation efforts to bring together warring leaders President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Amid concerns that the conflict was spreading across the region, the nuncio in Kenya also met with Machar last December to urge the parties to come to the negotiating table.

Planned peace pilgrimage

So far, these attempts have failed to bring peace, but Cardinal Turkson stressed the Holy See continues to do all it can to stop the fighting in South Sudan. That’s a key condition before a planned visit to the region by the pope and by Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, can take place. While they had hoped to travel together in October to endorse peace efforts of all Christians in the region, that trip has been postponed until at least 2018.

Pope Francis at General Audience: ‘Saints are sign of Christian hope’

(Vatican Radio)  We are called to be saints, just like the multitude of witnesses before us, so as to be heralds of hope for the world. That was Pope Francis’ message during the catechesis portion of his Wednesday General Audience, in which he reflected on the Saints as witnesses and companions of Hope.

Listen to Devin Watkins’ report:

Pope Francis at his General Audience in a sunny St. Peter’s Square said the Saints who have gone before us show us the path of Christian hope and teach us to follow in their footsteps.

Taking the Letter to the Hebrews (11:40-12:12a) as his guide, the Pope said the saints are “those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”.

He spoke about three important moments in the life of the Church in which the “great cloud of witnesses” is evoked: in the liturgies of Baptism, Matrimony, and Holy Orders.

He said the saints are called upon in these moments because “they have passed along our same path, have known the same toil, and live forever in the embrace of God.”

“God never abandons us,” he said. “Whenever we are in need, one of His angels will come to pick us up and console us. ‘Angels’ sometimes have a human face and heart, because the saints of God are always here, hidden in our midst.”

Pope Francis went on to assure his audience that the Christian ideal is attainable, as the lives of the saints have shown.

He said, “It is possible to be saints because the Lord helps us.” Being a saint, he said, means doing your daily duties, like “praying, working, taking care of the kids”, but “doing all with a heart open to God”.

In conclusion, the Holy Father said living a saintly life is “the great gift that each of us can offer to the world.”

“Our history needs ‘mystics’, that is, people who reject every dominion and aspire to charity and solidarity: Men and women who live by accepting even a portion of suffering, because they take upon themselves the difficulties of their neighbor. Without these men and women, the world would be without hope.”

World population to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 - UN

The population of India, which currently ranks as the world’s 2nd most populous country with 1.3 billion inhabitants, is expected to surpass China's 1.4 billion by 2024; and Nigeria, which ranks 7th, is expected to replace the United States as the 3rd most populous country by 2050, according to a new report by the United Nations published on Wednesday. 

The current world population of nearly 7.6 billion will increase to 8.6 billion by 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, said the report titled, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision.” Published by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs' Population Division, the study said the growth will be spurred by the relatively high levels of fertility in developing countries – despite an overall drop in the number of children people have around the globe.  Roughly 83 million people are added to the world's population every year and the upward trend is expected to continue even with a continuing decline in fertility rates, which have fallen steadily since the 1960s.

African scenario

John Wilmoth, director of the Population Division, said that the report includes information on the populations of 233 countries or areas of the world.  `The population in Africa is notable for its rapid rate of growth, and it is anticipated that over half of global population growth between now and 2050 will take place in that region,'' he said at a news conference at the UN in New York, June 21.  “At the other extreme, it is expected that the population of Europe will, in fact, decline somewhat in the coming decades,'' he said

The U.N. agency forecasts that from now through 2050 half the world's population growth will be concentrated in just nine countries - India, Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, United States, Uganda and Indonesia. Those nations are listed in the order of their ``expected contribution to total growth,'' the report said.   During the same period, it added, the populations of 26 African countries are expected to at least double.

Declining fertility rates

The report said fertility has been declining in nearly all regions in recent years.  Between 2010 and 2015, Wilmoth said, ``the world's women had 2 1/2 births per woman over a lifetime - but this number varies widely around the world.''  “Europe has the lowest fertility level, estimated at 1.6 births per woman in the most recent period, while Africa has the highest fertility, with around 4.7 births per woman,'' he said.  More and more countries now have fertility rates below the level of roughly 2.1 births per woman needed to replace the current generation, the report said. During the 2010-2015 period, fertility was below the replacement level in 83 countries comprising 46 percent of the world's population, it said.  The 10 most populous countries with low fertility levels are China, United States, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Vietnam, Germany, Iran, Thailand and United Kingdom, the report said.

Ageing population

In addition to slowing population growth, low fertility levels lead to an older population, the report noted. It forecasts that the number of people aged 60 or above will more than double from the current 962 million to 2.1 billion in 2050 and more than triple to 3.1 billion in 2100.  A quarter of Europe's population is already aged 60 or over, and that share is projected to reach 35 percent in 2050 then remain around that level for the rest of the century.

Migrants and refugees

The report also noted the impacts of the flows of migrants and refugees between countries, in particular noting the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis and the estimated outflow of 4.2 million people in 2010-2015.  In terms of migration, “although international migration at or around current levels will be insufficient to compensate fully for the expected loss of population tied to low levels of fertility, especially in the European region, the movement of people between countries can help attenuate some of the adverse consequences of population ageing,” the authors of the report wrote.

Belgium foils terror attack: Suspect killed

(Vatican Radio) Belgian authorities say they have foiled a "terror attack" as soldiers shot and killed a suspect after a small explosion at a busy Brussels train station. The incident continued a week of attacks in capitals of Europe.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

Police were seen rushing to the Brussels Central Station as it became apparent that deadly violence once again rocked the Belgian capital.

Soon after, authorities confirmed that a man, believed to be in his 30s, was in their soldiers immediately after the explosion there on Tuesday night.

The male suspect was reportedly agitated, yelling about jihadists and then "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "Allah is great,"
before blowing up something on a baggage trolley.

Remy Bonnaffe was among those witnessing the attack. "I was heading from work on my way home and was waiting in the central hall when all of a sudden I could hear a very loud explosion," he recalled. "And it was at that point that I started looking around and then I saw something burning just in front of me. Then people started to run away. But then shortly after there was a second explosion," Bonnaffe explained.

"And then people started to run away more in panic. It was then at that point that I could also hear rapid bangs. I was not sure what it was, but to me, it sounded like gun shots. And then I run away to the Hilton [hotel] because I thought that was the safest place to be," he added.         


The suspect lay still for several hours while a bomb squad checked whether he was armed with more explosives.

No other explosives were found on his body, though several Belgian media had reported earlier that the suspect was wearing a bomb belt.

Federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt told reporters that authorities are now investigating the terror attack. "About 8.30 pm there was a small explosion at the central station here in Brussels. The suspect has been neutralized by the military that was present at the scene after the explosion," he said. "There were no other victims. This incident is considered as a terrorist attack," the spokesman added.

Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people on the Brussels subway and at an airport in March 2016.
There have been attacks in Paris and London in recent days, including the assault by a van driver who tried to run down worshippers outside a London mosque.

In Brussels, extra police and soldiers in camouflage gear have become a common sight in crowded areas.

Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia join hands to fight extremists

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia plan to closely cooperate to halt the flow of militants, weapons, funds and extremist propaganda across their borders as they expressed alarm over recent attacks in their region.  Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts gathered in Manila with top security officials Thursday to discuss a joint plan of action amid a disastrous siege of southern Marawi city by militants aligned with the Islamic State group that has left about 369 combatants and civilians dead.

As the IS loses territory in Syria and Iraq, Southeast Asian governments worry that battle-hardened Asian fighters, including those from Indonesia and Malaysia, may return to exploit social restiveness, weak law enforcement, a surfeit of illegal arms and raging insurgencies to establish a foothold.  Many worry that the month-long siege in Marawi could draw in the returning jihadis.

``We expect that those who will be displaced there will go to Asia and because of the Marawi uprising, the Philippines is like a magnet,'' said Philippine military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, who took part in the closed-door security conference.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the attack in Marawi and said her government was ready to help.  ``Your challenges are Indonesia's challenges and your challenges are also the challenges of the region,'' she said in her opening speech, adding that the threat of terrorism is imminent and that ``no action is not an option.''

The three neighbours expressed concern over the recent incidents of terrorism and violent extremism in their countries'' and their desire to plot joint strategies to combat it.

On May 23, about 500 militants, including about 40 Indonesian, Malaysian and other foreigners, stormed the business district of Marawi, a lakeside center of the Islamic faith in the largely Roman Catholic country's south, taking a Roman Catholic priest and other hostages, occupying buildings and installing IS-style black flags.

Of the 276 militants who have been killed, at least three were Malaysians and one came from Indonesia, Ano said, adding that the arrest in Malaysia last week of an unspecified number of militants who were suspected to be bound for Marawi showcases the crossborder cooperation needed to secure the region.  (Source: AP)