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Pope meets Ecuadoran president

Pope Francis, Saturday morning, received in the Vatican President ‎Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés of Ecuador, who later held talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

In a brief communique, the Holy See’s Press Office said that “during the cordial discussions, the special role of Christianity in the formation of the identity of the country was evoked, and appreciation was expressed for the contribution of the Church.” The Holy See and Ecuador highlighted the “importance of dialogue in facing the fundamental challenges of society.” 

“Attention then turned to themes of mutual interest such as respect for indigenous populations and their culture, and the protection of the environment,”  the Press Office noted, adding that during the talks, “there was a fruitful exchange of views on the political and social situation of the region, focusing on the efforts made to favour development and to promote legality.”

Pope greets artists of Christmas Concert in the Vatican

by Robin Gomes

Christmas is a feast that is heart-felt, participatory and capable of warming the coldest of hearts, that removes barriers of indifference towards neighbours and encourages openness towards others and free giving.”  “This is why we need even today to spread the message of peace and brotherhood of Christmas,” Pope Francis said on Friday.  He was speaking to some 180 artistes of “Christmas Concert” who will be performing in the Vatican, Saturday evening.

Listen to our report:

Concert for children

The charity concert is marking its 25 years this year.  Funds raised by the concert in the Vatican will support two children’s projects: the Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurrentes, headquartered in Argentina and a programme to free children enslaved in the coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Sensitive to the needy

The Pope thanked the promoters, artists and those who will be attending the concert, manifesting their sensitiveness to the most needy and those in difficulty who call for our help and solidarity.  Explaining that art is a formidable means to open the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas, the Holy Father said “the creativity and genius of artists, with their work, music and singing are able to reach the innermost depths of the conscience.” 

Tenderness

The Pope wished that Christmas Concert in the Vatican be an occasion for spreading “tenderness, peace and welcome” that gushes forth from the grotto of Bethlehem. He said that ‘tenderness’, the much forgotten word today amidst “violence and war”, needs to be spread. 

Pope meets Evangelical leaders to discuss religious freedom

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Thursday with leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance who were in Rome to discuss closer cooperation with the Catholic Church, especially regarding issues of religious freedom.

The WEA is a network of Protestant Churches in 129 nations representing more than 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide. Its secretary general, Bishop Efraim Tendero, was leading the delegation to the papal audience and for talks with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

He talked to Philippa Hitchen about his hopes for strengthening practical cooperation with Catholics in countries around the globe..

Bishop Efraim said he is bringing to the Pope a “call for closer partnership” in protecting religious freedom, promoting the distribution of bibles and addressing social justice issues. “We want to see this world to be a place where peace, justice and righteousness reign”, he says, “where everyone has a decent standard of living, and where Jesus Christ is recognised as Lord of all.”

Searching for common agenda

He notes that the WEA and the Pontifical Council have just completed seven years of dialogue, culminating in a joint document on Scripture and Tradition. While major theological differences remain, he says, it’s increasingly important to “look for a common agenda”, rather than “focus on what differs and what pulls us apart”.

Prior to his appointment as head of the WEA, Bishop Efraim served as for over 20 years as National Director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and as President of the Philippine Relief and Development Services, working to support the poor and needy.

Ecumenism in the Philippines

In the country which is 80 percent Roman Catholic, he says ecumenical relations are very good and he was recently asked to address a retreat for the Filipino bishops conference. There is also strong practical cooperation on issues including human trafficking, combating climate change, fighting corruption, promoting peace, and providing relief and development for victims of the many typhoons which affect the region.

Also attending the papal audience was Rev. Thomas K. Johnson, the WEA’s Religious Freedom Ambassasdor to the Vatican. He explains why there is an urgent need to join forces to combat the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Worsening persecution of Christians

Johnson notes the problem is not confined to one particular area of the globe but he says the last three years may have seen the worst persecution in the whole history of the Christian Church.

He recalls the important international consultation that took place two years ago in the Albanian capital, Tirana, on discrimination, persecution and martyrdom. Representatives of the WEA, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Pentecostal world discussed ways of responding to the problem “in a unified manner”.

Hopes for joint educational materials

While Johnson admits there are still problems of discrimination between Evangelicals and Catholics in some countries, he adds that Evangelicals have always been made to feel “very welcome in the Vatican”.

As a philosophy professor and human rights specialist, he is particularly interested in Catholics and Evangelicals publishing “education materials that we’ve developed together”. While no-one is expecting any major pronouncements from Thursday’s meeting, he says the small steps undertaken together can lead “to a broader coalition over years” and reinforce the message that, “Christians of all varieties need to be protecting each other in the public square”.

Pope at Mass: The tenderness of God is father and mother

(Vatican Radio) The tenderness of God, as his defining trait, was at the heart of the Pope’s homily this morning  at Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The theme was taken from the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the psalm where God says of himself: "... his tenderness expands over all creatures".

The image presented by Isaiah is that of a God who speaks to us as a father with his child, imitating his voice to make it as similar as possible to his. And first of all he reassures him by caressing him: "Do not be afraid, I will come to your aid".

“It seems that our God wants to sing us a lullaby. Our God is gifted at this. His tenderness is this: he is a father and a mother. Many times he said: "But if a mother forgets her son, I will not forget you. He carries us in his deep within. He is the God who with this dialogue makes himself small to make us understand, to make us trust in him and we can tell him with the courage of Paul who changes the word and says: ", Abba Father". Father ... It's the tenderness of God.”

The great that becomes small and the small that is great

It is true, said Pope Francis, sometimes God raps us over the knuckles, He is great, but with his tenderness he approaches us and saves us. And this is a mystery and one of the most beautiful things:

“He is the great God who makes himself small and in his smallness he does not stop being great. And in this great dialectic he is small: there is the tenderness of God. The great that makes himself small and the small  that is great. Christmas helps us to understand this: in that manger ... the little God. A phrase from St. Thomas comes to mind in the first part of Summa [Theologica]. Wanting to explain this: "What is divine? What is the most divine thing? ", He says:" “to the maximum tamen continents at the minimum divinum est", that is, do not be frightened of big things, but keep small things in mind. This is divine, both together.”

But where, in particular, is the tenderness of God shown?

God not only helps us, but he also makes us promises of joy, of a great harvest, to help us move forward. God, repeated Pope Francis, is not just father but a Dad:

“Am I able to speak with the Lord like this or am I afraid? Everyone answers. But someone can say, he can ask: "But what is the theological place of God's tenderness? Where can the tenderness of God be found? What is the place where God's tenderness is best manifested? "-" The wounds ". My wounds, your sores, when you meet my wound with his wound. We have been healed in their wounds.

And the Pope recalled the parable of the Good Samaritan: there, someone bent over the man who had stumbled upon brigands and helped him by cleaning his wounds and paying for his recovery. Here is "the theological place of God's tenderness: our wounds". And the Pope concludes by exhorting us to think about the Lord's invitation during the day: "Come on, come on: show me your wounds. I want to heal them ".

Pope urges new ambassadors to Holy See to foster dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has received a group of new Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See encouraging them to foster dialogue and cooperation in our increasingly globalized society.

To the Non-Resident Ambassadors of  Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, Liechtenstein and India, the Pope said this cooperation is necessary to assist “the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all” and he reminded them that they are all charged with the pursuit of the common good.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ address to the new Non-Resident Ambassadors:
 
Your Excellencies,

I extend a warm welcome to all of you for this presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See on the part of your respective countries: Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, Liechtenstein and India.  I would ask you to convey to the Heads of State of your respective countries my sentiments of appreciation and esteem, and to assure them of my prayers for them and the people they serve.

At the beginning of your new mission, I am conscious of the diverse countries you represent, and of the various cultural and religious traditions that characterize the history of each of your nations.  This gives me the opportunity to emphasize the positive and constructive role that such diversity plays in the concert of nations.  The international community faces a series of complex threats to the sustainability of the environment and of the world’s social and human ecology, as well as risks to peace and concord stemming from violent fundamentalist ideologies and regional conflicts, which often appear under the guise of opposing interests and values.  Yet it is important to remember that the diversity of the human family is not itself a cause of these challenges to peaceful coexistence.  Indeed the centrifugal forces that would drive peoples apart are not found in their differences but in the failure to set out on the path of dialogue and understanding as the most effective means of responding to these challenges.

Your very presence here is a reminder of the key role that dialogue plays in enabling diversity to be lived in an authentic and mutually enhancing way in our increasingly globalized society.  Respectful communication leads to cooperation, especially in fostering reconciliation where it is most needed.  This cooperation in turn assists the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all.  A commitment to dialogue and cooperation must be the hallmark of every institution of the international community, as well as of every national and local institution, for all are charged with the pursuit of the common good.

The promotion of dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation cannot be taken for granted.  The delicate art of diplomacy and the arduous craft of nation-building need to be learned afresh with each new generation.  We share the collective responsibility to educate our young people about the importance of these principles that sustain the social order.  Passing this precious legacy on to our children and grandchildren will not only secure a peaceful and prosperous future but will also meet the demands of intergenerational justice and of that integral human development that is the right of every man, woman and child.

Dear Ambassadors, as you take up your high responsibilities in the service of your nations, I assure you of the support of the various offices of the Holy See.  I offer you my prayerful best wishes for your important work, and upon you, your families, and all your fellow citizens, I willingly invoke an abundance of divine blessings.
 

Pope urges precise and complete news reporting

Pope Francis has urged that "news be communicated with serenity, precision and completeness, using a calm ‎language in favour of a fruitful reflection; thoughtful and clear words, which reject the tempers of ‎allusive, clamorous and ambiguous speech,  Pope Francis told representatives of Italian periodicals on Saturday.  “It is important that the criteria of judgment and information are offered patiently and methodically so that ‎public opinion is able to understand and discern, and is not stunned and disoriented,” the was some 350 members of the Union of  Italian Periodical Press (USPI) and the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies (FISC) who met him in the Vatican. 

Reliable information close to reality

The Pope told them that they have a mission to inform properly, to offer everyone a version of the facts as close as possible to reality.  “Your free and responsible voice,” he said, “is fundamental for the growth of any society that wants to be called democratic, so that a continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported data are assured.

The Pope observed that in our time that is often dominated by the anxiety for speed, by the urge for sensationalism lacking in precision and completeness, by overheated emotions in the place of thoughtful reflection, ‎the need for reliable information is urgently felt, with verified data and news, that does not aim to ‎amaze and excite, but rather aims to create in readers a healthy critical sense, which allows ‎them to make appropriate questions and reach justified conclusions.‎

Respect for dignity of persons

The Holy father also urged that the right to information and the dignity of every single human person be “scrupulously respected” so no one risks being damaged in the absence of real and responsible circumstantial evidence. He said, “There is no need to fall into the ‘sins of communications’: misinformation, that is saying only a part which is calumny and which is sensational, or defamation that seeks out things past and old and bringing them to light today.”  “They are very grave sins that damage the heart of the journalist and damage the people,”  the Pope added.

Pope tells Christians that Mass gives meaning to Sundays

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis told the faithful on Wednesday that missing out on Mass on Sundays means missing out an encounter with the Lord.

Speaking to those present in the Paul VI Hall for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on the question: “why go to Mass on Sunday?”

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Continuing his catechesis on the Eucharist Pope Francis reminded Christians that we go to Mass on Sunday to meet the resurrected Lord – or better still – “to let ourselves be welcomed by Him, to hear His word, eat at His table, and by his grace fulfil our mission as members of the Mystical Body of the Church.”      

Sunday is a holy day

He said Sunday is a holy day for Christians, and it is rendered holy by the celebration of the eucharist which is the living presence of the Lord amongst us.

“Thus, it is the Mass that defines Sunday for Christians” he said: “what sort of Sunday can it be if it is lacking an encounter with the Lord?”.

The Pope turned his thoughts to persecuted Christian communities are not able to celebrate Mass every Sunday and who do their best to gather in prayer on this holy day.

He also mentioned some swarthes of secularized society “that have lost that Christian sense of Sunday that is illuminated by the Eucharist: ‘this is a real shame’  he said reflecting on the need to recuperate this need.

2nd Vatican Council 

He recalled how the Second Vatican Council asked us to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy and rest from servile work as a sign of our dignity as children of God.  

“Without Christ we are condemned to be weighed down by the fatigue of everyday life, with its worries and fear of tomorrow” he said.

Our Sunday meeting with the Lord, he continued, gives us the strength to live today with trust and courage and to go forth with hope.

He explained that in the eucharist we receive a foretaste of the eternal bliss and repose to which we are called in which there will be no more fatigue, nor pain, nor grief nor tears; only the joy of living fully and for ever with the Lord.

Eucharist: source of grace and energy for Christians

The Pope finally acknowledged that the quality of Christian life is measured by our capacity to love the other, but, he said “how can we practice the Gospel without drawing from the energy provided by the inexhaustable source of the Eucharist?”

We go to Mass, he concluded, not to give something to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, to follow his commandments and, through his living presence within us, to be witnesses of his goodness and love before the world.

Maiduguri Diocese moans 3 Catechists killed by Boko Haram

(Vatican Radio) In Nigeria, three Catechists of the Diocese of Maiduguri died, this week on Monday, when two female suicide bombers detonated their vests outside a Church in Pulka. The bombs killed the three Catechists and injured several Catechumens waiting inside a Church. The Catechumens were waiting to be interviewed in readiness for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Maiduguri’s Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme was due to visit the Church in Pulka on Wednesday, 13 December.

Catechists Joseph Naga, 56 years had worked as a Catechist for 36 yrs; John Manye 38 for 11 years and a student-Catechist identified as Patrick was 27years.

According to Fr. Gideon Obasogie of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, two young women accosted and hugged Joseph, the Catechist. The other two Catechists, John and Patrick, in the vicinity became concerned with what was happening.  They rushed to rescue Joseph. As they drew near, the women detonated their bombs.

“One of our priests, Fr. Emmanuel Jatua, a priest appointed to assist the returnees in Pulka, narrated to us how two suicide bombers- young women of  between 19 and 29 years old- rushed to hug the Head-Catechist Joseph, as he was about to enter the local Church to interview some Catechumens preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Bishop of Maiduguri was scheduled to visit the Pulka community this week on Wednesday, 13 December,” Fr. Gideon told the Africa Service of Vatican Radio. He added, “Little did the Catechists know that the women were suicide bombers. As soon as the other two Catechists drew close, the bombers detonated their devices, killing themselves and the three catechists. Also injured in the explosion were dozens of Catechumens who were inside the Church. Many were rushed to nearby clinics. So far no further deaths have been recorded from this tragic incident,” said Fr. Obasogie.

The Head-Catechist, Joseph was married and with eleven children while John is survived by a wife and five children. The younger of the three, Patrick was unmarried.

“The Pulka community was joyfully preparing for the pastoral visit of the Bishop but have now been thrown into this sadness. They are scared, but they say they will stand for Christ and that the death of their Catechists shall not be in vain,” Fr. Obasaogie said.

Bishop Doeme of Maiduguri Diocese has asked the faithful in the Diocese to pray for the repose of the deceased servants of the Church. He has also appealed for more security to the Pulka Church community, particularly during this Christmas season. 

The Catholic community in Pulka consists of about 9,680 Catholics. Many Churches in the Diocese of Maiduguri now hold prayers and Holy Mass under the watchful eyes of vigilantes looking out for suicide bombers.

Gwoza Local Government Authority (LGA) of Borno State in north-east Nigeria is a border town which is about 135 kilometres south-east of Maiduguri. According to reliefweb.int, the large-scale forced displacement of populations has devastated livelihoods in Pulka.

With the Nigerian army re-gaining control of most of the north-east, populations are slowly starting to return, especially since the start of 2017. Nevertheless, returnees, some of them from neighbouring Cameroon refugee camps, are coming back to a precarious humanitarian and tenuous security situation.

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)

Vatican and WCC plan world conference on combating xenophobia

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican and the World Council of Churches on Friday concluded a three day meeting exploring ways of combating xenophobia that is often provoked and exploited by populist policies.

A recent UNHCR report spoke of responses to the global migration and refugee crisis as marked by “toxic” fear rooted in xenophobia and encouraged by populist politics.

The Rome meeting was jointly hosted by the WCC and the Vatican’s office for Integral Human Development, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Among its goals was the planning of a world conference on these issues, to be held from May 21st to 24th next year.

Among the key speakers at this week’s meeting was the General Secretary of the WCC, Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, who talked to Philippa Hitchen about its aims and its achievements..

Listen:

The WCC leader described the encounter as a “very useful and significant workshop to dig a bit deeper” into the problems of xenophobia, as an expression of populism, as well as its links to racism, conflict and violence in countries around the world.

He noted that xenophobia is a complex phenomenon connected to migration, but also to recent economic developments, as people fear losing their jobs and financial stability.

Avoid scapegoating migrants

Rev. Fykse Tveit said it’s vital to understand the many reasons for migration, including those fleeing from wars, and to avoid making migrants “scapegoats for everything that creates the problems of the world today”.

Another important point, he said, is to realise how much has already been done “to develop Christian values and attitudes” towards “the stranger”. He noted how St Paul’s letter to the Romans dealt with the challenges of “being one in the Church when we are so different”.

Grassroots mobilisation

While such news rarely makes the headlines, the Lutheran pastor said there has been a “strong mobilisation in local Churches”, as grassroots communities respond to the challenges of “how do we relate to our new neighbour, to the new classmate in school?”

Rev Fykse Tveit said it’s important to develop a “realistic” message that takes into account people’s fears, but that also draws on Christian values to encourage a change in people’s behaviours, approaches, attitudes.

Realism rooted in experience

The planned world conference next May, he concluded, will work on deepening this analysis and learning from each other’s experiences, but also on a strategy for sharing this message by forging relationships with all people of good will.  As Churches, he said, “we know the problems of those who have to find a new home”, as well as “the challenges for those who receive them, but we know also a lot about the capacities of human beings to find new ways of living together, and the values that can inspire us to do so”. 

Cardinal Arborelius named 'Swede of the year'

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Anders Arborelius has been named “Swede of the Year”, the first ever Catholic prelate to receive the prestigious accolade.

“Swede of the Year” is a title given annually, since 1984, to a person who during the year has distinguished her or himself in a way that has changed Sweden for the better.

An independent jury set up by the nation’s leading news magazine Fokus revealed on Thursday evening that Cardinal Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm came out tops on its list of candidates who are “interesting and challenging: not simply well-known.”

This is the motivation of the jury:

"Nineteen years ago, the Swede of the year stepped into a role that no Swede had played since the 16th century. This year he became the first Swede ever to wear the red biretta. The Swede of the year has already made history, but he is also a person who, ever since his appointment in 1998, has been part of Swedish public debate. To represent the Catholic Church in a country, whose identity is mainly secular and otherwise Lutheran, requires a fearless attitude. As bishop of the diocese of Stockholm the Swede of the year also plays an essential role in bringing native Swedes and immigrant Swedes together. The Swede of the year is Anders Arborelius, bishop and cardinal."

Commenting on the recognition, Cardinal Arborelius told Vatican Radio that people sometimes ask him whether he really is Swedish because they think that it is impossible for a Swede to be a Catholic priest, bishop and cardinal!

“I am happy for the nomination and I think Fokus showed courage in having chosen me. It is a sign that the Catholic Church is increasingly becoming a reality in Sweden and part of Swedish culture. It is part of a process of integration that one can be Swedish and a cardinal at the same time” he said.