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Pope Francis warns against ‘fake fasting’ during Lent

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Casa Santa Marta (Vatican Media).

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis’ words of warning against what he called “fake fasting” came during the homily at the morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta on 16 Feb 2018.

When fasting, Pope Francis said, a true Christian must be consistent, not putting himself on show, never despising others or engaging in quarrels or disagreements.

Warning against behavior that is inconsistent with the Lenten spirit, the Pope invited those present to ask themselves how they interact with others.

He reflected on the First Reading of the day that highlights how the fasting that is acceptable to the Lord aims to “release those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke.”

Pope Francis reminded believers that fasting is one of the tasks of Lent, and said that even “if you cannot commit to a total fast, the kind that makes you feels hunger in your bones” you can still fast humbly and consistently.

Isaiah, he said, highlights so many inconsistencies in the practice of virtue, like “carrying out your own pursuits, driving all your laborers, and yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting.”

Fasting, the Pope said, is a little like “stripping oneself” of pride. He said that to thank the Lord and at the same time despise your labourers that are forced to fast because they do not have enough to eat is inconsistent and unchristian.

Inviting those present to perform penance in peace, he said, “you cannot talk to God on the one hand and to the devil on the other.”

He also warned against the temptation of ‘showing off’ by fasting: “by making a fuss of it and letting people know that we are practising Catholics and we do penance, so that people think ‘what a good person.’  “This is a trick,” he said, “It’s pretending to be virtuous.”

“We must pretend,” Francis continued, “but with a smile. That is not showing others that we are performing acts of penance.”

He invited the faithful to fast in order “to help others. But always with a smile.”

Fasting, he said, also involves lowering oneself by reflecting on one’s sins and asking forgiveness from the Lord.

How ashamed would I be, he continued, if my sin was to become common knowledge through the press? And referring again to the Scripture Reading of the day he invited Christians to “release unjust bounds.”

“I think of so many maids who work for their bread and they are humiliated and despised … I have never been able to forget the time I went to a friend’s house as a child and I witnessed the mother slapping the 81-year-old maid…”

Reiterating that he has never forgotten that shameful episode, Pope Francis urged the faithful to ask themselves whether they treat their domestic workers with fairness, whether they treat them “as people or as slaves,” whether they are paid a just salary and have the right to holidays and are recognised in their human dignity.

Pope Francis went on to tell another story stemming from personal experience. He said that once, when speaking to a very cultured gentleman who was known to exploit his domestic workers, he explained to him that this is a serious sin because we are all created in the image of God.

And referring again to the First Reading that tells us “to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when we see them, not turn our back on our own,” the Pope noted that currently there is much discussion around whether or not to give shelter to those who ask for it.

He exhorted Christians to “do penance,” to “feel a little hunger,” to “pray more during Lent,” and to ask themselves how they behave towards the other.

“Does my fast help others? If it does not it’s fake, it’s inconsistent and it takes you on the path to a double life, pretending to be a just Christian – like the Pharisees or the Sadducees,” he said.

“Let us ask for the grace of consistency,” he said,  “if I am unable to do something, I will not do it. I will do only what I can with the consistency of a true Christian.” – Linda Bordoni, Vatican News

Francis modifies norms for the resignation of bishops

Pope Francis greets a bishop. Credit: Daniel Ibanez, CNA

VATICAN CITY – On Thursday Pope Francis tweaked the Church’s policies on bishops and curial officials reaching the age of retirement, indicating that they should accept what God wants, whether accepting retirement or accepting continued service.

The changes were made through a motu proprio entitled Imparare a congedarsi, meaning “Learning to take your leave,” published on 15 Feb 2018.

Previous norms stated that the appointment of most bishops serving as curial officials and papal diplomats lapsed after the officials had reached the Vatican’s usual age of retirement of 75. Now, like diocesan bishops, they are requested to resign at 75, and will continue in their positions unless the Pope accepts their resignation. He may also request them to stay on, at his discretion.

In the motu proprio, signed Feb 12, Pope Francis cited the generous commitment and experience of many bishops in dioceses or working in the Curia, as a reason for the update in norms.

He noted that the period of transition, whether a resignation is accepted or not, can require an interior attitude of acceptance, and that even the conclusion of an ecclesial office itself is a service and requires “a new form of availability.”

“This interior attitude is necessary both when, for reasons of age, one must prepare oneself to leave office, and when asked to continue that service for a longer period, even though the age of seventy-five has been reached,” he said.

The Pope also provided some examples of reasons he might choose to extend a curial bishop’s service in an ecclesial office past the age of 75.

The reasons could include, he said, the importance of continuity and the adequate completion of important projects, the difficulties associated with changing leadership of a dicastery already in a period of transition, and the contribution of the person in the application of new directives or new magisterial guidelines from the Holy See.

Francis explained that the transition from active service to retirement requires adequate internal preparation, which includes stripping oneself of the desire for power and or the need to be indispensable to others.

Such preparation will help to make the transition full of peace and confidence, rather than pain and conflict, he said.

 As much as possible, this new “project of life,” should include austerity, humility, intercessory prayer, and time dedicated to reading and providing simple pastoral services, he said, noting that prayer is also a powerful tool for discerning how to live out this time.

On the other hand, if a bishop’s resignation is not accepted, and he is asked to continue his service for a longer period, this requires that he abandon his personal desires and projects “with generosity,” the Pope said.

He also emphasised that such a request of the Pope should not be considered a “privilege, or a personal triumph,” a favour between friends, or even an act of gratitude for the service he has provided.

“Any possible extension can be understood only for certain reasons always linked to the ecclesial common good,” he said, and is not an “automatic act, but an act of government.”

The Pope said that the virtue of prudence is applied, along with adequate discernment, in order to make the appropriate decision in these cases.- CNA/EWTN News

Pope Francis registers for World Youth Day 2019 in Panama

VATICAN CITY – After delivering his weekly Sunday catechesis and praying the Angelus with the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square on 11 Feb 2018, Pope Francis declared “Registration opens today for World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama in January 2019. Right now, along with two young people, I too will register on the internet.”

Then with the help of two people on either side, Pope Francis registered himself. “There.” He said, “I am now enrolled as a pilgrim to World Youth Day. I invite all young people around the world to live this event of grace and fraternity with faith and enthusiasm, either by going to Panama or by participating in their communities,” the Pope said.

World Youth Day will take place in Panama from 22-27 January 2019. Pilgrims can now register online here, just like the Pope did!

Pope Francis then sent cordial greetings to the “millions of men and women who will celebrate the Lunar New Year” on 15 February. He hopes that they “will live ever more in solidarity, fraternity, desiring to do good, to help create a society in which every person is welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated.” And he invited them to pray for peace.

The Pope then greeted families, parishes, and groups from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. He greeted in a particular way the Congolese community from Rome present in the Square. “I join in its prayer for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said, and reminded everyone that “this intention will be particularly present on the Day of Prayer and Fasting that I have called for February 23.”

After greeting newly confirmed young people from Italy, the Pope concluded addressing the sick. Invoking Our Lady Help of the Sick he prayed that they might “find comfort in body and spirit, thanks to adequate health care and the fraternal charity that knows how to give concrete and supportive attention to those in need.” – Bernadette Mary Reis fsp, Vatican News

Pope at audience: ‘brief, well-prepared homily at Mass’

General Audience, 7 Feb 2018.

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass at his Wednesday General Audience on 7 Feb 2018, reflecting on the culmination of the Liturgy of the Word in the Gospel and the homily.

He said the Gospel sheds the light of the mystery of Christ on the scriptural readings that precede it.  “Within all of Scripture, as within the whole liturgical celebration, Christ is the centre and fullness,” he said.

The Pope said the rites surrounding the Gospel proclamation aim at venerating it as the living and saving word of God. “Through these signs the assembly recognises the presence of Christ, who sends the ‘Good News,’ which converts and transforms.”

He said, “We listen to the Gospel, and we must respond with our lives.”

Pope Francis then turned to the homily, which he said continues the dialogue between the Lord and his people already opened up by the Gospel.

“The Word of the Lord enters through the ears, arrives at the heart, and goes to the hands [to perform] good works. The homily,” he said, “also follows the Word of the Lord along this journey”.

The Holy Father said the homily requires both the preacher and the congregation to be open to God’s Word.

The homilist, he said, must “pay due attention, taking on the correct interior dispositions – without subjective pretexts – and knowing that every preacher has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the congregation has reason to be bored by a homily that is too long, irrelevant, or incomprehensible; at other times, it is prejudice that becomes an obstacle.”

Speaking off-the-cuff, Pope Francis spoke to priests, deacons, and bishops who preach at Mass. He said the homily must be well-prepared and brief.

The way to prepare a good homily, said Pope Francis, is with “prayer, study of the Word of God, and a clear, brief synthesis, which must not go over 10 minutes”. – Devin Watkins, Vatican News

Benedict, pope emeritus: I am on a pilgrimage towards home

VATICAN CITY – Pope emeritus Benedict has sent a short letter to the editor of the Italian news daily Il Corriere della Sera recently.

The pope emeritus was responding to the many inquiries from readers as to how he is spending “this last period of his life.” Noting the “slow decline” of his “physical strength,” Benedict says in the letter that “interiorly, I am on a pilgrimage towards Home.” The former Roman Pontiff admits that “this last stretch of the road” is “at times difficult,” but says, “It is a great grace for me to be surrounded by a love and goodness that I could not have imagined.”

Concluding his letter, Benedict said he considers the concern of the readers for his well-being as an “accompaniment” for the journey. In closing, he expresses his gratitude, and assures everyone of his prayers.

The paper says it had contacted Benedict XVI through a “reserved channel” to ask him how he was doing.

The letter, marked “urgent by hand”, arrived at their Rome headquarters on Tuesday morning, 6 Feb 2018,  from “Monastero Mater Ecclesiae, V-120, Città del Vatican,” the retired pope’s residence.

This Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s shock announcement that he intended to resign the papacy. His resignation took effect on 28 Feb 2013.

In 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign the papacy. In the announcement of his resignation, Benedict said he would continue to serve the Church “through a life dedicated to prayer.” Since May 2013, the pope emeritus has resided in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery within the borders of Vatican City State. – Vatican News, Catholic Herald

Pope Francis invites all to join forces to help victims of human trafficking

General Audience -Vatican Media Screenshot

VATICAN CITY – For this World Day Against Trafficking, Pope Francis has invited everyone, citizens and institutions, to “join forces” to prevent trafficking and to guarantee protection and assistance to victims.

Toward the conclusion of the General Audience on 7 Feb 2018, the Holy Father reminded that  February 8, liturgical feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking will be observed.

Therefore, Francis exhorted to pray “so that the Lord will convert the hearts of the traffickers” and “give hope of regaining freedom” to those suffering from this shameful scourge.

The Pope reminded that this year’s theme is “Migration without Trafficking. Yes to Freedom! No to Trafficking!”

“With few possibilities of regular channels, many migrants decide to venture in other ways, where often abuses of all sorts await them, exploitation and slavery,” the Pope reminded. – zenit.org

Vatican congregation approves miracle, opening door to Paul VI’s canonisation

Pope Paul VI is seen in an undated official portrait.  The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has approved on 6 Feb 2018 the second miracle needed for his canonisation.

VATICAN CITY – On Tuesday the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the second miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed Pope Paul VI, allowing his canonisation to take place, possibly later this year.

According to Vatican Insider, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the miracle by a unanimous vote on 6 Feb 2018. The next step is for Pope Francis to also give his approval, with an official decree from the Vatican. Then the date for the canonisation can be set.

The miracle attributed to the cause of Paul VI is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The case was brought forward in 2014 for study.

The mother, originally from the province of Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child, and was advised to have an abortion.

A few days after the beatification of Paul VI on 19 Oct 2014, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace in the town of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health, and remains in good health today.

The healing was first ruled as medically inexplicable by the medical council of the congregation last year, while the congregation’s consulting theologians agreed that the healing occurred through the late pope’s intercession.

Tuesday’s meeting with cardinals was the final step before Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the congregation, will take the miracle to Pope Francis, who has the final say in its approval.

After the Pope issues a decree approving it, the date of the canonisation will be announced during a consistory. According to Vatican Insider, the canonisation may take place in October of this year, during the Synod of Bishops on the youth.

The miracle for Paul VI’s canonisation echoes that of his beatification. That first miracle took place in the 1990s in California. A then-unborn child was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted her pregnancy to Paul VI.

The child was born without problems and is now a healthy adolescent. He is considered to be completely healed.

Pope Paul’s cause for canonisation was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognised the “heroic virtue” of Paul VI, giving him the title “venerable.” He was beatified in Rome on 19 Oct 2014.

Paul VI was born Giovanni Montini in 1897 in the town of Concesio in the Lombardy region of Italy. He was ordained a priest at the age of 22. He served as Archbishop of Milan before his election as Pope in 1963. He died in 1978.

As pope, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been opened by Pope St John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969.

Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception and reaffirmed the merits of priestly celibacy. – CNA/EWTN News

Pope supports pro-life movement, sets day of prayer for peace in Africa

Pope Francis leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St Peter’s Square 4 Feb 2018 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY – With so many direct attacks on human life, from abortion to war, Pope Francis said he is worried that so few people are involved in pro-life activities.

Reciting the Angelus prayer at the Vatican on 4 Feb 2018, Pope Francis marked Italy’s Pro-Life Sunday and also called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

Some 20,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus. Many of them carried the pro-life movement’s green balloons with the message, “Yes to life.”

Thanking all the “different church realities that promote and support life in many ways,” Pope Francis said he was surprised there were not more people involved.

“This worries me,” the pope said. “There aren’t many who fight on behalf of life in a world where, every day, more weapons are made; where, every day, more laws against life are passed; where, every day, this throwaway culture expands, throwing away what isn’t useful, what is bothersome” to too many people.

Pope Francis asked for prayers that more people would become aware of the need to defend human life “in this moment of destruction and of throwing away humanity.”

With conflict continuing in many parts of the world, the pope said it was time for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace and that it was appropriate for the observance to take place Feb 23, a Friday in Lent.

“Let us offer it particularly for the populations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and of South Sudan,” he said.

Fighting between government troops and rebel forces and between militias continue in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Pope Francis asked “our non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join this initiative in the way they believe is most opportune.”

And he prayed that “our heavenly Father would always listen to his children who cry to him in pain and anguish.”

But individuals also must hear those cries, he said, and ask themselves, “‘What can I do for peace?’ Certainly we can pray, but not only. Each person can say ‘no’ to violence” in their daily lives and interactions. “Victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace is good for everyone.” – Cindy Wooden, CNS

New papal document seeks ‘paradigm shift’ at ecclesiastical universities

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has called for a “radical paradigm shift” and a “bold cultural revolution” at ecclesiastical universities, in a new apostolic constitution issued on 29 Jan 2018.

The new 87-page document, entitled Veritatis Gaudium (“The Joy of Truth”) replaces the apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana, issued by St John Paul II in 1979. Pope Francis writes that the older document “urgently needs to be brought up to date” in light of changes in society and in academic life.

(The new papal document applies specifically to universities and other academic institutions that offer degrees and courses of study approved by the Holy See. It does not apply directly to most Catholic colleges and universities, which remain governed by the norms of the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.)

In Veritatis Gaudium the Pontiff stresses that ecclesiastical faculties serve the primary need of the Church today, which is “for the People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of ‘Spirit-filled’ evangelisation.” He writes that this challenge requires “a resolute process of discernment, purification, and reform.”

The need for a new approach is clear, the Pope writes, in light of “a true epochal shift” in society, made evident in “a wide-ranging anthropological and environmental crisis.” He continues:

Indeed, we daily see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises. In a word, this calls for changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress. Yet the problem is that we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths.

To guide the new approach to learning at ecclesiastical institutions, Pope Francis offers four criteria:

  1. the presentation of “the ever fresh and attractive good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”;
  2. a dedication to “wide-ranging dialogue” and the “culture of encounter”;
  3. a commitment to inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches to study; and
  4. an emphasis on “networking” with other institutions to promote studies of mutual interest.

Veritatis Gaudium includes new norms for the direction of ecclesiastical faculties, which are to be implemented by national bishops’ conferences under the guidance of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. The norms call for a concentration on magisterial texts, with a special emphasis on the documents of Vatican II. Teachers, the Pope says, must be “conscious of their duty to carry out their work in full communion with the authentic Magisterium of the Church, above all, with that of the Roman Pontiff.”

The new norms will take effect with the opening of the academic year 2018-2019. Each pontifical faculty is required to bring its own statutes and curriculum into conformity with the new apostolic constitution, and submit the revised plans to the Congregation for Catholic Education before 8 December  2019. – CWN

The full text of the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium can be found on the Vatican website.

Cardinal Farrell launches International Catechesis for WMOF

VATICAN CITY – A press conference was held at the Holy See Press Office on 25 Jan 2018 to launch the International Catechesis in preparation for the World Meeting of Families, in Dublin, Ireland.

There are seven months to go until the World Meeting of Families and on Thursday Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life presented to journalists seven catecheses to help and guide dioceses, parishes and families in the lead up to the Dublin event.

7 Catechetical passages

Journalists were treated to a video montage of Italian singer Andrea Bocelli performing the seven catechetical passages at the Sagrada Famiglia in Barcelona, which are based on the Gospel account of the Finding of Christ in the Temple.

The Irish Cardinal said it was his hope that these seven passages would be a source of dialogue and discussion.. “I would hope that couples, friends and same age groups would get together and discuss these catechesis; I would hope then in parishes they would use them as a method to create a discussion among people and I would hope that dioceses would use them and Bishops would use them also.”

Marriage

Cardinal Farrell noted that the specific purpose of the gathering, “was to teach what the Church teaches on marriage, you know we are not going to make any excuses for what we believe… that doesn’t mean that we don’t recognise that there are other ways of understanding marriage but we’re talking about the way we understand marriage.”

During the five-day meeting there will be a three-day congress on the “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.”  There will also be a seminar organised by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal Farrell expressed the hope that the strong tradition of family life in Ireland would be an example “and become contagious” to the rest of the world during this meeting.

The World Meeting of Families takes place on 21-26 August 2018. – Lydia O’Kane, Vatican News

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