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Pope Francis makes surprise visit to Rome neuro rehab centre

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday made a surprise visit to a Rome rehabilitation centre for patients with neurological diseases.

A statement from the Holy See press office said the afternoon visit was a continuation of the ‘Fridays of Mercy’ initiative that he inaugurated during the recent Jubilee Year to encourage practical gestures of solidarity with those most in need.

The Santa Lucia Foundation, located to the south of Rome’s city centre, is well known for its quality care of patients affected by physical or mental disabilities resulting from strokes, bone marrow diseases, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

Pope Francis was welcomed by the director and staff of the centre, as well as by the patients and their family members. The Holy Father spent time talking and laughing with many of the young children, watching with particular interest as he was shown some of the exercises which help them to regain their mobility.

He also met with older patients, aged between 15 and 25, many of whom suffer from severe disabilities as a result of car accidents. Before leaving the centre, the pope visited a gym providing rehabilitation for the elderly and then spent a few minutes in prayer in a chapel located on the premises.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to EU Churches: Combat intolerance against migrants

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday urged Churches in Europe to step up efforts to combat intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia against migrants and refugees.

The pope’s words came in a meeting with national migration directors under the auspices of the Council of European Bishops Conferences or CCEE. He said he was saddened to see that Catholic communities in Europe were also defensive and unwelcoming towards migrants, justifying their attitudes on grounds of conserving their cultural and religious identity.

Listen: 

Pope Francis said we must recognize and understand this sense of unease, in light of the economic crisis which has left deep wounds in society. Furthermore, he said, governments and communities have been ill prepared to cope with large influxes of migrants, highlighting the limits of the European unification process.

Churches become more 'catholic'

But from an ecclesiological perspective, the pope said, the arrival of so many Christian brothers and sisters offers the Church in Europe an opportunity to become ever more ‘catholic’. He noted how many migrants and refugees have already enriched parishes in their host countries.

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue

From a missionary perspective, he said, ministering to migrants offers new frontiers to announce the Gospel and to witness to our Christian faith, while showing profound respect for other faith traditions. These encounters are fertile ground for developing sincere ecumenical and interreligious relations, he said.

Welcome, protect, promote, integrate

Pope Francis also noted that in his message for next year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he speaks in detail about the need to welcome, protect, promote and integrate all people on the move.  On the basis of these four verbs, he said, the Vatican office for migrants and refugees has published a 20 point action plan for local Churches seeking to promote best practices.

Constructive dialogue with governments

This action plan, he added, should be shared with all  European bishops conferences, helping to promote constructive dialogue with governments ahead of the Global Compact for Migration, due to be draw up and approved at a United Nations conference in 2018.

(from Vatican Radio)

How Padre Pio Wants You to Spend Your Time

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, affectionately known by all his devotees as Padre Pio. Dr. Tom Neal looks at one element of this holy priest's theology concerning praise and time.

Pope Francis sends money for Mexico earthquake relief

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has given money to the earthquake relief effort in Mexico to help survivors and victims’ families in the worst hit areas of the country.

The Vatican said on Thursday that an initial contribution of 150.000 dollars would be sent through the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

The money will be divided between emergency relief efforts in the dioceses worst hit by the earthquake. The 7.1 quake on Tuesday caused at least 250 deaths and widespread damage in the capital and surrounding areas.

The donation, which is intended to show the pope’s solidarity and spiritual closeness to those affected by the disaster, is a small part of the financial support being sent to Mexico through many bishops conferences and Caritas organisations.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: if you want mercy, know that you are sinners

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said Mass on Thursday – the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist – in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

In remarks following the Readings of the Day, which included St. Matthew’s own account of his conversion and calling into discipleship, the Holy Father focused on the three stages of the episode: calling, feasting, and scandal.

Jesus had just healed a paralytic, when He met Matthew – a tax-collector, hence a figure despised by Jewish authorities and considered a traitor to his land and people – sitting at the customs desk.

Jesus looked at him and said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed Him

Recalling Caravaggio’s famous depiction of the scene, Pope Francis spoke of Matthew’s “sidelong look” with one eye on Our Savior and the other on his purse: a look that was even stand-offish, if not outright aggressive. Then, there was the merciful gaze of Jesus, which communicated such overwhelming love that the resistance of the man who wanted the money, “fails”: Matthew got up and followed Him.

Click below to hear our report

“It is the struggle between mercy and sin,” Pope Francis said

Jesus’ love was able to enter into the heart of that man, Matthew, because he “knew he was a sinner,” he knew “he was not loved by anyone,” and was even despised. It was precisely “that sinful conscience, which opened the door to the mercy of Jesus.” So, “[Matthew] left everything” and went on a new journey with Our Lord.

This is the encounter between the sinner and Jesus:

“This is the first condition of salvation: feeling oneself in danger. It is the first condition of healing: feeling sick. Feeling sinful is the first condition of receiving this gaze of mercy. But let us think of the look of Jesus, so beautiful, so good, so merciful. And we, too, when we pray, we feel this look upon us; it is the look of love, the gaze of mercy, the gaze that saves us. Do not be afraid.”

Matthew – like Zaccheus – feeling happy, invited Jesus to come home to eat. The second stage is indeed “the party” – one of festivity. Matthew invited friends, “those of the same trade,” sinners and publicans.

The Pope said this recalls the words of Jesus in Chapter XV of Luke’s Gospel: “There will be more feasting in Heaven for a sinner who converts than for one hundred just men who will remain just.” This is the feast of the Father's meeting, the feast of mercy. Pope Francis said that Jesus is profligate with mercy, mercy for all.

Then comes the third moment: that of scandal

The Pharisees saw that publicans and sinners were at table with Jesus, and said to His disciples, “How is your Master eating with publicans and sinners?” Thus, Pope Francis noted, “Always a scandal begins with this phrase: ‘But how come?’” He went on to say, “When you hear this sentence, it smells,” and “scandal follows.” They were, in essence, scandalized by “the impurity of not following the law.” They knew “the Doctrine” very well, knew how to go “on the way of the Kingdom of God,” knew “better than anyone how things ought to have been done,” but “had forgotten the first commandment, of love.” Then, "”hey were locked in the cage of sacrifices,” perhaps thinking, “But let's make a sacrifice to God, let us do all we have to do, “so we are saved.” In summary, they believed that salvation came from themselves, they felt safe. “"No,” said Pope  Francis. “God saves us, saves us Jesus Christ”:

“That ‘how come?’, which we’ve heard so many times from Catholics when they saw works of mercy. How come? Jesus is clear, He is very clear: ‘Go and learn.’ He sent them to learn, right? ‘Go and learn what mercy means. [That’s what] I want, and not sacrifices, for I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners.’ If you want to be called by Jesus, recognize yourself a sinner.”

If you would receive mercy, recognize yourselves as sinners

Francis exhorted us, therefore, to recognize ourselves as sinners, not guilty of “sin” in the abstract but guilty of “concrete sins”: so many “we all have committed them,” he said. “Let us look on Jesus with that merciful glance full of love,” he continued.

While still dwelling on the scandal, he noted that there are so many:

“There are so many, many – and always, even in the Church today. They say, ‘No, you cannot, it’s all clear, it’s all, no, no – those are sinners, we have to turn them away.’ Many saints have also been persecuted or suspected. We think of St. Joan of Arc, sent to the stake, because they thought she was a witch, and condemned her. A saint! Think of Saint Teresa, suspected of heresy, think of Bl. [Antonio] Rosmini. ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifices.’ And the door to meet Jesus is recognizing ourselves as we are: the truth [about orselves], [that we are] Sinners. And he comes, and we meet. It is very beautiful to meet Jesus.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: "Church will apply firmest measures against those who abuse minors"

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reiterated his pledge to combat the evil of clerical sex abuse affirming that at all levels, the Church will continue to respond applying the firmest of measures to “all those who have betrayed their call and abused God's children.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

He was addressing members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors gathered for their Plenary Assembly.

The Commission is an institution that was established by the Pope to propose initiatives that ensure that crimes that have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church.   

In prepared remarks and after having listened to the greetings of Commission President, Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the Commission, Pope Francis said “I wish to share with you the profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children, as I have had occasion to do recently several times”. 

Painful experience for the Church

Describing the sex abuse scandal as a terrible evil for the whole of humanity, the Pope said it has also been a very painful experience for the Church: “We are ashamed of the abuses committed by holy ministers, who should be the most trustworthy”. 

“Let me say quite clearly that sexual abuse is a horrible sin, completely opposite and in contradiction to what Christ and the Church teach us” he said. 

Recalling the fact that he has had the privilege of listening to the stories that victims and survivors of abuses have wanted to share, Pope Francis observed that meetings such as these continue to nourish the personal commitment of all involved in the Commission to do everything possible to combat this evil and eliminate it. 

The Church to respond at all levels with the firmest measures 

“That is why, I reiterate today once again that the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures against all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God” he said. 

The Pope stressed that the disciplinary measures must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church, but he pointed out that “the primary responsibility lies with Bishops, priests and religious”: those who have received from the Lord the vocation to offer their lives to serving the Church and this includes “the vigilant protection of all vulnerable children, young people and adults”. 

“For this reason, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of "zero tolerance" against sexual abuse of minors” he said.

The Pope recalled his Motu Proprio entitled “As a Loving Mother” that was promulgated on the basis of a proposal by the Commission and in reference to the principle of responsibility in the Church. He said it addresses the cases of Diocesan Bishops, Eparches and Superior Generals of religious institutes who, through negligence, have carried out or omitted acts that may have caused serious harm to others, whether individuals or a community as a whole (see Article 1).

He said that over the last three years, since its establishment the Commission has consistently emphasized the most important principles guiding the Church's efforts to protect all vulnerable children and adults, thus fulfilling the mission entrusted to it as a "consultative function in the service of the Holy Father", offering its experience "in order to promote the responsibility of particular Churches in the protection of all minors and vulnerable adults" (Statute, Article 1).

Pope Francis said he was delighted to learn that many particular Churches have adopted the Commission’s recommendation for a Day of Prayer, and for dialogue with victims and survivors of abuses, as well as with representatives of victim organizations. 

“It is also encouraging to know how many Episcopal Conferences and Conferences of Superior Generals have sought your advice regarding the Guidelines for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults” he said. 

Value of sharing best practices

He emphasized the value of sharing best practices - especially for those Churches that have fewer resources for this crucial work of protection – and encouraged the Commission to continue its collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples “so that these practices may be inculturated in the different Churches around the world”.

Lastly, Pope Francis praised the many initiatives that offer opportunities for learning, education and training promoted by the Commission as well as the fact that a presentation made last week to new bishops has been so favorably received.

“These educational programs offer the kind of resources that will enable Dioceses, Religious Institutes and all Catholic institutions to adopt and implement the most effective materials for this work”.

The Church: a place of piety and compassion 

The Pope concluded his address highlighting the fact that the Church is called to be a place of piety and compassion, especially for those who have suffered. 

“For all of us, the Catholic Church remains a field hospital that accompanies us on our spiritual journey. It is the place where we can sit with others, listen to them and share with them our struggles and our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. I am fully confident that the Commission will continue to be a place where we can listen with interest to the voices of the victims and the survivors. Because we have much to learn from them and their personal stories of courage and perseverance” he said.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis receives Italian Antimafia Parliamentary Commission

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with the Italian Antimafia Parliamentary Commission in the Vatican.

In his prepared remarks to the group, the Holy Father began by recalling 3 high profile figures killed by the mafia, Magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed 25 years ago and Servant of God, Rosario Livatino, killed on September 21, 1990.

Corruption

The Pope, during his address underlined how “corruption always finds a way to justify itself, presenting itself as the "normal" condition, the solution for those who are "shrewd", the way to reach ones goals.” The Pope went on to say that, “it has a contagious and parasitic nature, because it does not nourish what good produces, but how it subtracts and robs.”

Authentic Politics

Authentic politics, said Pope Francis, “the one we recognize as an important form of charity, works instead to ensure a future of hope and to promote the dignity of each person. It is precisely because of this, he added, that it sees the struggle against mafias as a priority, since they steal the common good, taking away peoples hope and dignity.

Fighting mafias, the Holy Father continued, means not only repressing them. “It also means reclaiming, transforming, building, and this entails two levels of commitment.”

The first is the political one, through greater social justice, because mafias, he said,  put themselves forward as an alternative system in the area where rights and opportunities are lacking: work, home, education, and health care.

Economic commitment

The second level of commitment, said the Pope is the economic one, through the correction or removal of those mechanisms that generate inequality and poverty everywhere.

This dual level, political and economic, noted Pope Francis, presupposes another no less essential element, that is the construction of a new civil consciousness, the only one that can lead to true liberation from mafias.

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Where One Saint Baptized Another

The Word on Fire team and I spent some time in the great city of Milan taking in the incredible beauty of the Cathedral here. However, the most moving part of the day was spent filming at the very baptismal pool where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine.

“Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad” An Interview with Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna

How do we respond in the face of evil, especially to those who inflict grave evil upon us? Abducted in Iraq is Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna’s firsthand account of his abduction in 2006 by a militant group associated with al-Qaeda. Today, Jared Zimmerer interviews Bishop Hanna about his amazing story and the need for all Christians to be aware of the genocide occurring in the Middle East.

Marathon Running and the Spiritual Life

Running is not just another form of exercise, but is a discipline that challenges the our whole human personhood. Seminarian David Stavarz shares the spiritual lessons he learned while training for his first half-marathon.