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Pope Francis asks for prayer for Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 08:30 am ().- Pope Francis has asked people to pray for Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where the United Nations has said that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding.”

A communique from the Holy See Press Office Nov. 27 stated that the pope was following the news coming from Ethiopia and asked for prayer for this country. Weeks of violence in the Tigray region have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes toward Sudan.

“The Holy Father, in inviting prayer for this country, makes an appeal to the parties in conflict to stop the violence, to safeguard the life, especially of civilians, and to restore peace to the populations,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said in the statement.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Nov. 28 that government forces had ceased military operations in the Tigray region, and the Ethiopian state broadcaster reported that the region was under control of the government. But multiple international news outlets have been unable to independently verify these claims due to the communications blackout in the region.

Reuters reported later that night that Tigrayan rebel forces said that they will continue fighting the Ethiopian government, and the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea stated Nov. 29 that six explosions were heard overnight in Asmara, advising caution due to the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea.

In the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, the regional government is run by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The group once dominated the ruling coalition of Ethiopia but felt marginalized by Prime Minister Abiy’s political changes after he took office in 2018. He dissolved the ruling coalition and merged its ethnicity-based regional parties into a single party, the Prosperity Party, which the TPLF refused to join.

Tigrayan leaders have said they were unfairly targeted by political purges and allegations of corruption. They have argued that Abiy’s postponement of national elections due to coronavirus have ended his mandate as a legitimate leader, BBC News reports.

On Nov. 4 Abiy announced a military offensive in response to an alleged attack on a military base in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The violent clashes that followed led to a serious humanitarian situation.

The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Babar Baloch,  warned Nov. 17 that “a full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan.”

Baloch said that the UN was also in negotiations with the federal and regional authorities to get humanitarian access to the Tigray region. An estimated 40,000 refugees have crossed from Ethiopia into Sudan, according to the UN.

The conflict has prompted fears of regional destabilization as well as instability, and even civil war, within Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa.

Ethiopia’s Catholic bishops have called for an end to the violence and the start of peaceful dialogue in the Tigray region.

“Conflict between brotherly people does not help anyone. Instead, it destroys lives of innocent people and it is an act that will turn our country into a failure and (create) extreme poverty,” Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa said in a Nov. 9 statement from Ethiopian bishops’ conference.

During his Angelus address on Nov. 8 Pope Francis appealed for peace in Ethiopia.

The pope said: "While I urge that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected, I invite everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful resolution to the disagreements."

Pope Francis: 'Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God'

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2020 / 05:40 am ().- On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis recommended a traditional Advent prayer to invite God to draw close during this new liturgical year.

“Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica  Nov. 29.

“Let us make the traditional Advent prayer our own: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ … We can say it at the beginning of each day and repeat it often, before our meetings, our studies and our work, before making decisions, in every important or difficult moment of our lives: ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’” the pope said in his homily.

Pope Francis stressed that Advent is both a time of  “God’s closeness and our watchfulness”.

“It is important to remain watchful, because one great mistake in life is to get absorbed in a  thousand things and not to notice God. Saint Augustine said: ‘Timeo Iesum transeuntem’ (I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed). Drawn by our own interests … and distracted  by so many vain things, we risk losing sight of what is essential. That is why today the Lord repeats: ‘To all, I say: be watchful,’” he said.

“Having to be watchful, however, means it is now night. Yes, we are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled,  and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope.”

The pope offered Mass on Sunday morning with 11 of the new cardinals created at the .

In his homily, he warned of the dangers of mediocrity, lukewarmness, and indifference in the Christian life.

“Without making an effort to love God daily and awaiting the newness he constantly brings, we become mediocre,  lukewarm, worldly. And this slowly eats away at our faith, for faith is the very opposite of mediocrity:  it is ardent desire for God, a bold effort to change, the courage to love, constant progress,” he said.

“Faith is not water that extinguishes flames, it is fire that burns; it is not a tranquilizer for people under stress, it is a love story for people in love. That is why Jesus above all else detests lukewarmness.”

Pope Francis said that prayer and charity are antidotes to mediocrity and indifference.

“Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our loneliness and gives us hope,” he said.

“Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”

The pope quoted the opening prayer for the first Sunday of Advent: “Grant [us] … the resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”

“Jesus is coming, and the road to meet him is clearly marked: it passes through works of charity,” he said.

“Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity.”

Following the Mass, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“Today, the First Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. In it, the Church marks the passage of time with the celebration of the main events in the life of Jesus and the story of salvation. In so doing, as Mother, she illuminates the path of our existence, supports us in our daily occupations and guides us towards the final encounter with Christ,’ he said.

The pope invited everyone to live this season of hope and preparation with “great sobriety” and simple moments of family prayer.

“The situation we are experiencing, marked by the pandemic, generates concern, fear and despair in many; there is the risk of falling into pessimism ... How should we react to all this? Today's Psalm recommends to us: ‘Our soul awaits the Lord: He is our help and our shield. It is in Him that our hearts rejoice,’” he said.

“Advent is an incessant call to hope: it reminds us that God is present in history to lead it to its ultimate end, to lead it to its fullness, which is the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis said.

“May Mary Most Holy, the woman of the expectation, accompany our steps at the beginning of this new liturgical year, and help us to fulfil the task of Jesus’ disciples, indicated by the Apostle Peter. And what is that task? To render an account for the hope that is in us."

Pope Francis to new cardinals: May the cross and resurrection always be your goal

Vatican City, Nov 28, 2020 / 10:30 am ().- Pope Francis created 13 new cardinals Saturday, urging them to remain vigilant lest they lose sight of their goal of the cross and resurrection.

“All of us love Jesus, all of us want to follow him, yet we must always be vigilant to remain on the road,” Pope Francis said at the consistory Nov. 28.

“Jerusalem always lies ahead of us. The cross and the resurrection are … always the goal of our journey,” he said in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the seventh consistory of his pontificate, Pope Francis created cardinals from Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

Among them is Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, who became the first African American cardinal in the Church’s history. He received the titular church of St. Mary Immaculate in Grottarossa.



Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda; Archbishop Augusto Paolo Lojudice of Siena, Italy; and Fra Mauro Gambetti, Custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi also joined the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis placed a red hat on each cardinal’s head and said: “To the glory of almighty God and the honor of the Apostolic See, receive the scarlet biretta as a sign of the dignity of the cardinalate, signifying your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of the Holy Roman Church.”

Each of the newly elevated cardinals received a ring, and was assigned a titular church, tying them to the Diocese of Rome.



In his homily, the pope warned the new cardinals of the temptation to follow a different road than the road to Calvary.

“The road of those who, perhaps even without  realizing it, ‘use’ the Lord for their own advancement,” he said. “Those who – as Saint Paul says – look to  their own interests and not those of Christ.”

“The scarlet of a cardinal’s robes, which is the color of blood, can, for a worldly spirit, become the color of a secular ‘eminence,’” Francis said, warning them of the “many kinds of corruption in the priestly life.”

Pope Francis encouraged the cardinals to reread St. Augustine’s sermon number 46, calling it a “magnificent sermon on shepherds.”

“Only the Lord, through his cross and resurrection, can save his straying friends who risk getting lost,” he said.



Nine of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and thereby eligible to vote in a future conclave. Among them are Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who became secretary general of the Synod of Bishops in September, and the Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, who was named prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in October.

The cardinals who participated in the consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica all wore face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two cardinal-designates were unable to attend the consistory because of travel restrictions. Cardinal-designate Cornelius Sim, the Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, and Cardinal-designate Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, in the Philippines followed the consistory via video link and will each receive a biretta, cardinal’s ring and title connected with a Roman parish from their apostolic nuncio “at another time to be determined.”



Italian Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, received a red hat in St. Peter’s Basilica while wearing his Franciscan habit. Cantalamessa, who has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, CNA Nov. 19 that Pope Francis had permitted him to become a cardinal without being ordained a bishop. Aged 86, he will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave.



Three others who received the red hats are unable to vote in conclaves: Emeritus Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer Emeritus to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva; and Msgr. Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, Rome.

Pope Francis and the 11 new cardinals present in Rome paid a visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery following the consistory. Each new cardinal was introduced to the pope emeritus, who gave them a blessing after together singing the Salve Regina, according to the Holy See Press Office.



With this consistory, the number of voting cardinals comes to 128, and the number of non-voters to 101 for a total of 229 cardinals.

Swiss court orders full access to records for Vatican financial investigation

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 27, 2020 / 11:30 am ().- Vatican investigators have been granted full access to Swiss banking documentation related to long-time Vatican investment manager Enrico Crasso. The newly announced decision by a Swiss federal court is the latest development in the ongoing financial scandal surrounding the purchase of a London building by the Secretariat of State in 2018.

According to Huffington Post, the decision was issued on Oct. 13 but only published this week. The documents to be turned over to the Vatican include financial records of the company to Az Swiss & Partners. Az Swiss owns Sogenel Capital Holding, the company Crasso founded after leaving Credit Suisse in 2014.

Although the company sought to block full access to its records by Vatican investigators, Swiss judges ruled that “when foreign authorities ask for information to reconstruct criminal asset flows, it is generally considered that they need the entirety of the relative documentation, in order to clarify which persons or legal entities are involved.”

Vatican prosecutors have been working with Swiss authorities since filing letters rogatory in December last year. Letters rogatory are formal requests from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance. 

reported that, in response to the Holy See’s request for cooperation in its investigation into Vatican finances, Swiss authorities have frozen tens of millions of euros in bank accounts and sent banking documents and records to Vatican prosecutors.

Crasso, a former banker at Credit Suisse, has been a to the Vatican, including introducing the Secretariat of State to the businessman Raffaele Mincione, through whom the secretariat went on to invest hundreds of millions of euros and purchase the London building at 60, Sloane Avenue, which was bought in stages between 2014 and 2018.

Huffington Post on Nov. 27 that the Swiss decision also quoted the Vatican’s original rogatory request as citing "investment schemes that are neither transparent nor compliant with normal real estate investment practices," pointing back to the controversial London deal.

Specifically, Vatican investors noted that the pledging of Vatican funds on deposit in Swiss banks, including Peter’s Pence, to secure hundreds of millions of euros in loans from the same banks “represents strong circumstantial evidence that it represented a ploy to avoid making [the transactions] visible.”

Prosecutors contend that the use of liquid assets as collateral to secure loans from the banks for investments, instead of investing Vatican money directly, appears designed to shield the investments from detection and scrutiny.

In November last year, CNA on a similar instance in 2015, when then sostituto at the Secretariat of State Cardinal Angelo Becciu allegedly attempted to disguise $200 million loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

CNA that the attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell.

Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

Crasso’s Centurion Global Fund, in which the Secretariat of State was the largest investor, is connected to several institutions linked to allegations and investigations of money laundering, a found.

Earlier this month, Crasso defended his stewardship of Church funds controlled by the Secretariat of State, saying that the investments he made were “no secret.” 

In an Oct. 4 interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Crasso also denied managing “confidential” accounts for Becciu’s family.

Crasso was named in reports last month alleging that Cardinal Angelo Becciu of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, including loans for projects owned and operated by Becciu’s brothers. 

On Sept. 24, Becciu was from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals following the report. In a press conference, the cardinal distanced himself from Crasso, saying he did not follow his actions “step by step.”

, Crasso would inform him of what investments he was making, “but it’s not that he was telling me the ramifications of all these investments.”

Pope Francis: Avoid the temptation of seeking ‘utopia’ in this world

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2020 / 07:00 am ().- In a video message to a Catholic social doctrine conference on Thursday, Pope Francis said that remembering our baptism and the promise of eternal life can help us avoid the temptation to seek “utopia” in this world.

In the message released Nov. 26, he described a positive attitude in which believers are immersed in society yet live their baptism in the light of a future life with God.

“This attitude helps us to overcome the temptation of utopia, to reduce the proclamation of the Gospel to a simple sociological horizon or to get involved in the ‘marketing’ of various economic theories or political factions,” the pope said.

His was sent to participants in a Nov. 26-29 online “Festival of Social Doctrine.” The is in its 10th edition, with this year’s theme being “Memory of the Future.”

The goal of the festival is to be a “leaven in society” and “to create a place of discussion among Catholics engaged in work, in society and in public responsibility” who want to promote the common good.

Referring to the Second Vatican Council's , “,” Pope Francis said that “living the memory of the future means making a commitment to ensure that the Church, the great people of God, can constitute on earth the beginning and the seed of the kingdom of God.”

Christians have received “Life in Baptism,” he said, explaining that it is a gift which calls us to communion with God, with others, and with creation.

Communion with God and others requires charity and “the intimacy of prayer in the presence of the Lord,” he explained.

“And,” he continued, “the Life received as a gift is the same life as Christ, and we cannot live as believers in the world except by manifesting his very life in us.”

He warned listeners about a kind of nostalgia “which blocks creativity and makes us rigid and ideological people even in the social, political and ecclesial sphere.”

Memory instead links us to love and experience and is one of the deepest dimensions of the human person, Pope Francis said. 

“This is why the dynamic of Christians is not that of nostalgically holding onto the past, but rather of accessing the eternal memory of the Father; and this is possible by living a life of charity,” he commented.

Living “in the world with the strength and creativity of the life of God in us” is the way “we will be able to fascinate the hearts and the gaze of people to the Gospel of Jesus, we will help make projects of a new inclusive economy, and politics capable of fruitful love,” the pope said.

Vatican dicastery urges youngsters to share wisdom of elderly people facing Christmas alone

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2020 / 05:00 am ().- A Vatican dicastery launched a new campaign Friday urging young people to share wisdom gleaned from the elderly facing Christmas alone because of the pandemic.

In a press statement released Nov. 27, the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life said that Christmas presented youngsters with the chance to “receive a special gift” from elderly people.

“Today, in the difficult circumstances of a Christmas still overshadowed by the pandemic, we are proposing that young people post on social media a memory, a piece of advice, or a ‘gift of wisdom’ they have received from one of the elderly people with whom they have formed a bond in recent months,” the dicastery said.

The Vatican department, which was formed in 2016 from a merger of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, said it had decided to launch the new campaign following the success of a similar initiative in July.

The dicastery young people all over the world “to do something that shows kindness and affection for older people who may feel lonely,” after Pope Francis urged Catholics to to the elderly who had not seen their loved ones for months.  

It said: “Following the success of our campaign, ‘The elderly are your grandparents,’ in which we collected virtual hugs sent by many young people to both their own grandparents and to ‘adopted grandparents,’ the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life now invites boys and girls from all over the world to send a message to the elderly and to receive in return the gift of their wisdom.”

The dicastery encouraged participants in the new campaign to use the social media hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom and said it would promote the best posts on its Twitter account, .

“Unfortunately, in many cases, because of the health regulations in force, visiting can only take place remotely, via telephone, video calls, and messaging. But it is possible to participate in this campaign by posting the wise words of grandparents and the elderly on social media using the hashtag #aGiftOfWisdom,” the dicastery said.

Supreme Court overturns NY church restrictions, Brooklyn bishop says religion 'essential' during pandemic

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 01:23 pm ().-  

The Supreme Court said Wednesday night that NY state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a plaintiff in the suit, said that religious worship should be considered an essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion in a Wednesday night decision, which temporarily bars restrictions on religious worship that were enacted Oct. 6 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The court’s ruling is temporary, as lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Brooklyn and by Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York will continue, though the Supreme Court’s Nov. 26 decision is likely to weigh heavily in the outcome of those cases.

The state’s restrictions forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated “red zones, and 25 people in “orange zones.”

“In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as ‘essential’ may admit as many people as they wish. And the list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, camp grounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities,’ the Court’s majority opinion found.

“These categorizations lead to troubling results,” the decision added.

“Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue,” the court wrote.

“...even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the decision concluded.

The 5-4 decision found newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett deciding with the majority, while Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s three liberal judges in dissent.

In a statement Thursday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said he is “gratified by the decision of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case.”

“I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship.”

““Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks. We have taken our legal battle this far because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”

 

Pope Francis encourages Argentine women opposing legal abortion

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2020 / 08:30 am ().- Pope Francis has written a note to women in his homeland who asked him to help make known their opposition to a bill to legalize abortion introduced to the legislature by Argentina’s president last week.

Eight women signed a Nov. 18 letter to Pope Francis expressing fear that the abortion bill targets poor women and asking him “to help us by making our voice heard.”

The Argentine daily La Nacion published Nov. 24 the full letter of the women, together with the pope’s Nov. 22 response, which was sent through the national deputy for the City of Buenos Aires, Victoria Morales Gorleri.

In the handwritten note, Pope Francis said that abortion “is not a primarily religious issue but one of human ethics, prior to any religious confession.”

“Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem? Is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” he said.

He expressed his gratitude for their letter and said they were women “who know what life is.”

“The country is proud to have such women,” he added. “Please tell them for me that I admire their work and their testimony; that I thank them from the bottom of my heart for what they do, and that they keep going,” he said.

Fulfilling a presidential campaign promise, Argentine president Alberto Fernández introduced a bill to legalize abortion into the country’s legislature Nov. 17. The bill is expected to be debated in December.

In their letter to Pope Francis, the Argentine women, who come from three shanty towns in Buenos Aires, said that the introduction of the bill “once again puts us on the alarm about the future of our families.” 

They noted that they began to meet in 2018 amid a national debate to legalize abortion. The women organized demonstrations, made statements to congress, and conducted surveys among their neighbors with results of “more than 80%” opposing abortion.

“Today we are women who work side by side to take care of the lives of many neighbors: the baby that is in gestation and her mother, as well as the one who was born is among us and needs help,” they said.

The women told Pope Francis about being filled with “cold terror” after the abortion bill was introduced to the legislature last week, “just thinking that this project is aimed at adolescents in our neighborhoods.”

“Not so much because in the villa [shanty town] culture abortion is thought of as a solution to an unexpected pregnancy (Your Holiness knows well our way of assuming motherhood between aunts, grandmothers and neighbors),” the women wrote, “but because [the law] is oriented to cultivate the idea that abortion is one more possibility within the range of contraceptive methods and that even the main users must be poor women.”

“This is why we turn to Your Holiness,” they said, “with the desire to ask you to help us express to public opinion that we feel imprisoned in a situation where our own family, our adolescent daughters and future generations are compromised with the idea that our life is the unwanted one and that we do not have the right to have children because we are poor.”

Fernández Nov. 22 that he hoped Pope Francis would not be angry because of his introduction of the bill to legalize abortion. 

Speaking to the Argentine television program Corea del Centro, Fernández, a Catholic, argued that he had to introduce the bill to solve “a public health problem in Argentina.”

The president’s reference to a public health crisis seemed to refer to unsubstantiated claims from abortion advocates in the country, who claim that women in Argentina die frequently from so-called “clandestine” or unsafe illegal abortions in the country. In a Nov. 12 interview, Bishop Alberto Bochatey, who heads the Argentine bishops’ conference healthcare ministry, challenged those assertions.

When asked if the pope would be angry about the initiative, Fernández replied: “I hope not, because he knows how much I admire him, how much I value him and I hope he understands that I have to solve a public health problem in Argentina.”

Pope Francis: ‘The Church is the work of the Holy Spirit’

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:00 am ().- Catholics risk going astray if they neglect the four essential characteristics of Church life, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

In his Nov. 25, the pope said that the four fundamental qualities were present in the early Church as described in the Book of Acts. They were listening to the apostles’ teaching, the safeguarding of mutual communion, the breaking of the bread, and prayer.

“Any situation needs to be evaluated in the light of these four coordinates. Whatever is not part of these coordinates lacks ecclesiality, it is not ecclesial,” he said. 

“It is God who creates the Church, not the clamour of works. The Church is not a market; the Church is not a group of businesspeople who go forward with a new business. The Church is the work of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to us to gather us together.” 

In his audience address, the pope continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he began in May. Speaking via livestream from the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions, he noted that the first Christians did not neglect prayer, even though they were “on the move.”

“The image of the early Community of Jerusalem is the point of reference for every other Christian experience. Luke writes in the Book of Acts: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (2:42). The community persevered in prayer,” he explained.

“We find here four essential characteristics of ecclesial life: listening to the apostles’ teaching, first; second, the safeguarding of mutual communion; third, the breaking of the bread; and fourth, prayer.” 

He continued: “They remind us that the Church’s existence has meaning if it remains firmly united to Christ, that is, in community, in His Word, in the Eucharist and in prayer -- the way we unite ourselves to Christ.”

“Preaching and catechesis bear witness to the words and actions of the Teacher; the constant quest for fraternal communion shields us from selfishness and particularisms; the breaking of the bread fulfils the sacrament of Jesus’ presence among us. He will never be absent -- particularly in the Eucharist, He is there. He lives and walks with us. And lastly, prayer, which is the space of dialogue with the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit.”

The pope added: “Everything in the Church that grows outside of these ‘coordinates’ lacks a foundation. To discern a situation, we need to ask ourselves about these four coordinates: how in this situation these four coordinates are present -– the preaching, the constant search for fraternal communion, charity, the breaking of the bread (that is, the Eucharistic life), and prayer.” 

Speaking off the cuff, the pope said it pained him when he encountered communities that neglected the four authentic hallmarks of the Church.

“At times, I feel tremendous sadness when I see a community that has good will, but takes the wrong road because it thinks that the Church is built up in meetings, as if it were a political party,” he said. 

“‘But, the majority, the minority, what do they think about this, that and the other… And this is like a synod, the synodal path that we must take…’ I ask myself: ‘But where is the Holy Spirit there? Where is prayer? Where is communitarian love? Where is the Eucharist?’” 

“Without these four coordinates, the Church becomes a human society, a political party -- majority, minority -- changes are made as if it were a company, according to majority or minority… But the Holy Spirit is not there. And the presence of the Holy Spirit is precisely guaranteed by these four coordinates.”

The four coordinates can be used to judge whether a situation is truly ecclesial, he said. If any of the coordinates is lacking, then the Holy Spirit will also be absent. 

“If this is lacking, the Holy Spirit is lacking, and if the Holy Spirit is lacking, we are a beautiful organization, humanitarian, doing good things, good, good… even an ecclesial party, let’s put it that way. But it is not the Church,” he said. 

“It is for this reason that the Church does not grow with these things: it does not grow through proselytism, as any other company, it grows by attraction. And who provokes attraction? The Holy Spirit.” 

“Let us never forget Benedict XVI’s words: ‘The Church does not grow through proselytizing, she grows by attraction.’ If the Holy Spirit is lacking, who is the one who attracts [people] to Jesus, the Church is not there. There might be a beautiful friendship club, good, with good intentions, but not the Church, not synodality.”

Pope Francis noted that in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer gatherings were a “powerful driving force of evangelization.”

He said: “The members of the first community -- although this always applies, even to us today -- sensed that the narrative of the encounter with Jesus did not stop at the moment of the Ascension, but continued in their life. In recounting what the Lord said and did -- listening to the Word -- in praying to enter into communion with Him, everything became alive.”

Like the first Christians, believers today can also be inspired by the Holy Spirit in prayer, the pope added.

“And every Christian who is not afraid to devote time to prayer can make his or her own the words of the Apostle Paul, who says this: ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).”

“Prayer makes you aware of this. Only in the silence of adoration do we experience the whole truth of these words. And we must recapture this sense of adoration. To adore, to adore God, to adore Jesus, to adore the Spirit. The Father, the Son and the Spirit: to adore. In silence.” 

“The prayer of adoration is that prayer that makes us recognize God as the beginning and the end of all of History. And this prayer is the living flame of the Spirit that gives strength to witness and to mission.”

Pope Francis advances sainthood causes of priests with early and late vocations

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2020 / 09:00 am ().- Pope Francis advanced Tuesday the sainthood causes of several men and women, including two Italian priests of the 20th century -- one who was ordained at age 23 and another who was ordained at 65.

Venerable Fr. Mario Ciceri knew his vocation from a very young age and died after an accident at just 44 years old. Servant of God Fr. Alfonso Ugolini was ordained after a lifetime dedicated to helping the poor and disaffected of his district, and lived to be 91 years old.

The pope decreed that the sainthood causes could advance to the next stage after a Nov. 23 audience with Bishop Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, who will be on Saturday. 

Among the causes promoted was also that of Fr. Juan Elias Medina and 126 companions, who were killed during the Spanish Civil War. Declared martyrs, they will now be beatified.

Venerable Mario Ciceri will also now be declared blessed, after Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Ciceri was born to poor farmers in northern Italy in 1900. He was the fourth of six children and, after the death of an aunt, Ciceri’s parents also brought her 13 children to live with them. 

From childhood, Ciceri knew he had a vocation to the priesthood. He would go often to the local parish and attend religious functions, serving as altar boy.

With the permission of his devout parents, he left to begin studying at a seminary high school while still in grade school. His achievements earned him scholarships, which allowed him to continue his studies despite his family’s limited financial means. Ciceri was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan at age 23. 

As a new priest, he was responsible for the parish’s catechism classes and helped with the Catholic Action youth group. He founded and directed a schola cantorum for young people. Ciceri also helped to repair the buildings, acting as a carpenter, bricklayer, and electrical engineer. The priest also used these skills to build a small reproduction of the Lourdes Grotto. 

One young man at the parish wrote that the priest somehow found time to do these activities while also never neglecting his priestly ministry and was “always in church.”

The man said: “Yet if you go to the hospital, you can find him there at any time; if you go around the country, wherever there is a material or spiritual need, a pain to soothe, a need to help, you will find him there. Where you are sure not to find him is at his home, which really is not his home, but that of the young people.”

Ciceri cared for and encouraged the poor, the sick, former prisoners, and the young men who were soldiers fighting at the front during World War II.

In February 1945, while riding his bicycle home from a neighboring parish, where he had helped to hear confessions, he was hit by a buggy and fatally injured. He died two months later, on April 4, at the age of 44, after offering his suffering for an end to World War II and the safe return of soldiers.

In contrast to Ciceri, there is Fr. Alfonso Ugolini, who spent most of his life serving the Church as a layman, before being ordained a priest at age 65. He was declared “venerable” by Pope Francis Nov. 23.

He was born in France in 1908 to a once wealthy Catholic family. After losing everything, they moved to Sassuolo, Italy. Ugolini’s parents were deeply religious and taught their son the values of faithfulness, honesty, and love of neighbor, despite their poverty.

When he was between 12 and 15 years old, Ugolini’s parents and only sister, who was a nun, died of tuberculosis. Ugolini himself came close to dying from the disease, but attributed his recovery to the Virgin Mary, to whom he had entrusted himself during the deep loneliness he experienced following the death of his mother.

At age 17, he began spiritual direction with his parish priest, who incorporated him into the life of the parish, giving him jobs as a sacristan, parish secretary, catechist, and handyman.

In addition to these roles, Ugolini took it upon himself to transform a little room next to the church into a reception space for the poor.

There he would meet the poor and give out food and support, or help them to find a job. He was known for his acceptance of everyone, and lines of gypsies, immigrants, ex-prisoners, drug addicts, the unemployed, and homeless people from throughout the district would form outside his little office looking for help.  

When people complained that he helped even atheists, communists, and swindlers, he would respond: “They are all children of God.”

People in the area so trusted and esteemed Ugolini that they were eager to give him money, open their doors to the poor, and create jobs. He is estimated to have handled in about 15 years the equivalent of $300,000 -- a huge amount of money at the time. Some called him “God’s banker.”

In 1972, the local bishop asked Ugolini if he would like to be ordained a priest, and he agreed. His remaining 26 years of life he served in priestly ministry, with many hours spent in the confessional administering the Sacrament of Penance. Ugolini died on Oct. 25, 1999, at the age of 91.

Pope Francis also declared Nov. 23 the “heroic virtue” of Servants of God Italian bishop Fortunato Maria Farina (1881-1954) and Spanish priest Fr. Andres Manjon y Manjon (1846-1923), as well as three Italian women: Sr. Maria Francesca Ticchi of the Poor Clares (1887-1922); Sr. Maria Carola Cecchin of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo (1877-1925); and Sr. Maria Francesca Giannetto of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (1902-1930). 

Pope Francis hails Argentina’s doctors and nurses as ‘unsung heroes’ of pandemic

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2020 / 06:00 am ().- Pope Francis hailed Argentina’s healthcare workers as the “unsung heroes” of the coronavirus pandemic in a video message released Friday. 

In the , posted on the YouTube account of the Argentine bishops’ conference Nov. 20, the pope expressed his appreciation of doctors and nurses in his homeland. 

He said: “You are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. How many of you have given your lives to be close to the sick! Thanks for the closeness, thanks for the tenderness, thanks for the professionalism with which you take care of the sick.”

The pope recorded the message ahead of Argentina’s Nursing Day on Nov. 21 and Doctors’ Day on Dec. 3. His words were introduced by Bishop Alberto Bochatey, auxiliary bishop of La Plata and president of the Argentine bishops’ health commission, who described them as “a surprise.”

Argentina, which has a population of 44 million, has recorded more than 1,374,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 37,000 deaths as of Nov. 24, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, despite undergoing the world’s longest lockdown.

The pope prayed frequently for healthcare workers when he celebrated livestreamed daily Masses during this year’s lockdown in Italy. 

In May, he that the coronavirus crisis had shown that governments needed to invest more in healthcare and employ more nurses.

In a marking International Nurses Day on May 12, he said that the pandemic had exposed the weaknesses of the world’s healthcare systems.

“For this reason, I would ask leaders of nations throughout the world to invest in health care as the primary common good, by strengthening its systems and employing greater numbers of nurses, so as to ensure adequate care to everyone, with respect for the dignity of each person,” he wrote. 

In his message to Argentine medical workers, the pope said: “I want to be close to all doctors and nurses, especially at this time when the pandemic calls us to be close to the men and women who suffer.”

“I pray for you, I ask the Lord to bless each of you, your families, with all my heart, and to accompany you in your work and in the problems you may encounter. May the Lord be close to you as you are close to the sick. And don't forget to pray for me.”

Pope Francis and NBA players discuss social justice in Vatican meeting

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 12:00 pm ().- Pope Francis met with five NBA players at the Vatican Monday to discuss their efforts to combat social and economic injustice in the United States.

Milwaukee Bucks shooting guards Kyle Korver and Sterling Brown were a part of the delegation, along with Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Anthony Tolliver, and Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs.

The basketball players met with the pope privately Nov. 23 in the papal library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Three executives from the players’ union, the National Basketball Players Association, also took part in the meeting.

 

Pope Francis is now the proud owner of a commemorative basketball and an Orlando Magic jersey, after meeting with representatives from the NBPA earlier today at the Vatican.

— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds)  

The pope commended the athletes for being examples of teamwork. “You’re champions … giving that good example of teamwork but always remaining humble ... and preserving your own humanity,” AP reported the pope as saying.

Pope Francis requested the meeting last week because he wanted to learn more about the American athletes’ social justice advocacy, and the players’ union quickly scheduled an overnight flight Sunday, according to ESPN.

Following the death of George Floyd in May, NBA players mobilized to raise awareness of the police brutality affecting Black communities and the broader issues of inequality. 



Players from six NBA teams also called off their postseason games in August in protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin -- a decision that led other professional sports teams to do likewise.  Among those players were Brown and Korver. 

Brown recounted the experience to the pope. “It was raw and emotional for our team,” he said.

Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical “,” in which he compared racism to a virus that “quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.”

The pope also in the U.S. during a livestreamed audience in June in which he said that he was praying for the soul of George Floyd and for all who lost their lives “because of the sin of racism.”

Pope Francis also Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops conference, the same day to thank the American bishops for the pastoral tone of the Church’s response to the demonstrations across the country.

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” Pope Francis said via livestream June 3.

“Let us pray for the comfort of families and friends who are heartbroken, and pray for national reconciliation and the peace we yearn for.”

Vatican confirms that two cardinals-designate will be absent from consistory

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 06:10 am ().- The Vatican confirmed Monday that two cardinals-designate will not receive their red hats from Pope Francis in Rome this Saturday.

The Holy See press office said Nov. 23 that Cardinal-designate Cornelius Sim, the Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, and Cardinal-designate Jose F. Advincula of Capiz, in the Philippines, would not be able to attend the Nov. 28 consistory because of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The press office said that a representative of Pope Francis would present them with the biretta, cardinal’s ring and title connected with a Roman parish “at another time to be determined.”

It added that existing members of the College of Cardinals unable to travel to Rome for the consistory would be able to follow the occasion via a livestream. 

The ordinary public consistory for the creation of new cardinals will take place at 4 p.m. local time at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, with a congregation of around a hundred people. The new cardinals will not follow the custom of receiving well-wishers after the ceremony because of coronavirus restrictions.

The new cardinals will concelebrate Mass with the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica at 10 a.m. local time on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Pope Francis Oct. 25 that he would create 13 new cardinals, including Archbishop Wilton Gregory.

Gregory, who was appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2019, will become the first Black cardinal of the United States. 

Other cardinals-designate include Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who became of the Synod of Bishops in September, and the Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in October. 

Also receiving the red hat is the Italian Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. Aged 86, he will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave.

Cantalamessa Nov. 19 that Pope Francis had permitted him to become a cardinal without being ordained a bishop.

Also appointed to the College of Cardinals are Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda; Archbishop Augusto Paolo Lojudice, former Rome auxiliary bishop and current Archbishop of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino, Italy; and Fra Mauro Gambetti, Custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi. 

Gambetti was ordained a bishop on Sunday in the Upper Church of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Alongside Cantalamessa, the pope named three others who will receive the red hat but be unable to vote in conclaves: Emeritus Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer Emeritus to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva; and Msgr. Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, Rome.

Feroci was ordained a bishop in his parish church by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, on Nov. 15.

Cardinal-designate Sim has overseen the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei Darussalam since 2004. He and three priests serve the roughly 20,000 Catholics who live in Brunei, a small but wealthy state on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

In an with Vatican News, he described the Church in Brunei as a “periphery within a periphery.”

Pope Francis appoints new Sistine Chapel Choir director

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2020 / 05:00 am ().- Pope Francis appointed a new director of the Sistine Chapel Choir Sunday. 

The pope the Brazilian Msgr. Marcos Pavan as Maestro Director of the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina Nov. 22, the Feast of St. Cecilia.

Pavan had served as interim director following the of Salesian priest Fr. Massimo Palombella in July 2019 after a nine-year tenure.

The Holy See press office in September 2018 that the pope had authorized an investigation into the “economic-administrative aspects” of the choir.

In January 2019, Pope Francis moving the Sistine Chapel Choir under the administration of the Office of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, instead of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and the choir’s manager, Michelangelo Nardella.

The pope entrusted Fr. Guido Marini, master of ceremonies of papal liturgies, with managing the choir and drafting its new statues.

Pavan, 58, has served with the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina since 1998. He previously oversaw the Pueri Cantores, or boys’ choir, section of the Sistine Chapel Choir. 

He trained as a lawyer in Brazil before pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. In 1996, he was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Campo Limpo, which is based in the city of Campo Limpo Paulista, a municipality of the state of São Paulo.

The Sistine Chapel Choir consists of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section made up of 35 boys, aged 9-13.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

Announcing Palombella’s departure on July 10, 2019, the Holy See press office : “The Holy Father has accepted the Maestro’s request to terminate his office. The decision was taken after obtaining the concordant opinion of the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.”

“Msgr. Palombella is now available to the Salesian Congregation for the new ministry that will be entrusted to him.”

Pope Francis on Christ the King: Make choices with eternity in mind

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2020 / 06:37 am ().- On Christ the King Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to make choices with eternity in mind, by thinking not about what they want to do, but what is best to do.

“That is the choice we have to make daily: what do I feel like doing or what is best for me?” the pope said Nov. 22.

“This interior discernment can result either in frivolous choices or in decisions that shape our lives. It depends on us,” he said in his homily. “Let us look to Jesus and ask him for the courage to choose what is best for us, to enable us to follow him in the way of love. And in this way to discover joy.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. At the end of Mass, young people from Panama handed over the World Youth Day cross and Marian icon to a delegation from Portugal ahead of the 2023 international gathering in Lisbon.

The pope’s homily on the feast day reflected on the Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples about the second coming, when the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats.

“At the last judgment, the Lord will judge us on the  choices we have made,” Francis said. “He only draws out the consequences of our choices, brings them to light and respects them. Life, we come to see, is a time for making robust, decisive, eternal choices.”

According to the pope, we become what we choose: thus, “if we choose to steal, we become thieves. If we choose to think of ourselves, we become self-centered. If we choose to hate, we become angry. If we choose to spend hours on a cell phone, we become addicted.”

“Yet if we choose God,” he continued, “daily we grow in his love, and if we choose to love others, we find true happiness. Because the beauty of our choices depends on love.”

“Jesus knows that if we are self-absorbed and indifferent, we remain paralyzed, but if we give ourselves to others, we become free. The Lord of life wants us to be full of life, and he tells us the secret of life: we come to possess it only by giving it away,” he emphasized.

Francis also spoke about the corporal works of mercy, as described by Jesus in the Gospel.
 
“If you are dreaming about real glory, not the glory of this passing world but the glory of God, this is the path to follow,” he said. “Read today’s Gospel passage, reflect on it. For the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else.”

He also encouraged people to ask themselves if they put these works into practice. “Do I do anything for someone in need? Or do I do good only for my loved ones and my friends? Do I help someone who cannot give anything back to me? Am I the friend of a poor person? ‘There I am,’ Jesus says to you, ‘I am waiting for you there, where you least think and  perhaps may not even want to look: there, in the poor.’”

After Mass, Pope Francis gave his Sunday Angelus address from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He reflected on the day’s feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical year.

“He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the fulfillment of history; and today’s liturgy focuses on the ‘omega,’ that is, on the final goal,” he said.

The pope explained that in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives his speech on universal judgment at the end of his own earthly life: “He whom men are about to condemn, is in reality the supreme judge.”

“In his death and resurrection, Jesus will show himself as the Lord of history, the King of the universe, the Judge of all,” he said.

The final judgment will be about love, he noted: “Not on the feeling, no: we will be judged on the works, on the compassion that becomes closeness and caring help.”

Francis closed his message by pointing to the example of the Virgin Mary. “Our Lady, assumed into Heaven, received the royal crown from her Son, because she faithfully followed him -- she is the first disciple -- on the path of Love,” he said. “Let us learn from her to enter the Kingdom of God right now, through the door of humble and generous service.”