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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Angelus about good grain and weeds

At noon today (Rome time), the Holy Father, Pope Francis appeared at the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to recite the Angelus with the faithful and with pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
prior to the recitation of the Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today's gospel passage proposes three parables with which Jesus speaks to the crowds about the Kingdom of God.  I want to focus on the first one: the story of the good grain and the weeds, which illustrates the problem of evil in the world and demonstrates God's patience (cf Mt 13:24-30, 36-43).  God is so patient!  Any one of us can say the same thing: How patient God is with me!  The gospel account takes place in a field with two opposing figures.  On one hand, there is the owner of the field who represents God and who sows good seed; on the other hand, there is the enemy who represents Satan and sows weeds.

With the passage of time, these weeds grow along with and amongst the good grain, and faced with this problem, the owner of the field and his servants have differing attitudes.  The servants want to intercede, to pull out the weeds; but the owner, who is concerned above all about saving the grain, is opposed to their plan.  He says: It may happen that while you pull the weeds, the good grain may be uprooted with it (Mt 13:29).  With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world, good and evil are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate one from the other and remove all the evil.  Only God can do that, and he will do it at the time of the final judgement.  With its ambiguity and complex character, the present situation is a field of freedom, a field of Christian freedom in which the difficult task of discerning between good and evil is carried out.

In this field, it is a question of combining two attitudes which appear to be opposed (decisiveness and patience) with great trust in God and in his providence.  The decision we must make is to want to be good grain - we all want this - and to work toward this with all our strengths, while keeping our distance from evil and temptation.  Patience signifies a preference for a Church that is yeast in the dough, not afraid to dirty her hands while she washes the hands of her children, rather than a Church that is pure, that pretends to pronounce judgement ahead of time about who belongs in the Kingdom of God and who doesn't.

The Lord who is Wisdom incarnate, helps us today to understand that good and evil cannot be identified with differing territories or be the determining factors for groups of people: These ones are good and those ones are not.  He tells us that the defining limit between good and evil passes through the heart of every person, passes through the heart of every one of us: We are all sinners.  I want to ask you: Who among us is not a sinner, raise your hands.  No one!  We all are, we are all sinners.  Jesus Christ has freed us from slavery to sin and given us the grace to walk in a newness of life through his death on the cross and his resurrection; but along with Baptism, he has also given us Confession, because we always need to be forgiven for our sins.  If we are only watching out for the evil that exists outside of us, it means that we do not want to recognize the sin that is also within us.

Jesus teaches us a different way to look at the field that is the world, to observe reality.  We are called to learn God's ways - which are not our ways - and also to look at the world like God does: thanks to the beneficial influence of his infinite patience, even that which was a weed, or seemed to be a weed ca become something good.  This is the reality of conversion, the prospect of hope!

May the Virgin Mary help us to understand this reality that surrounds us: not only that which is dirty and evil but also that which is good and beautiful; may she help us to expose the work of Satan, but above all to entrust ourselves to the will of God who enriches our lived history.

After the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father continued:

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am following with much concern the serious tensions and violence occurring these days in Jerusalem.  I feel the need to express a heartfelt call for moderation and dialogue.  I invite you all to be one with me in offering our prayers, that the Lord may inspire us all to undertake the work of reconciliation and peace.

I greet all of you, the faithful of rome and pilgrims who have come from various parts of the world: families, parish groups and associations.  In particular, I greet the faithful from Munster (Ireland); the Franciscan Sisters of Elizabeth Bigie; the symphonic choir from Enna; and the children from Casamassima who have been volunteering here in Rome.

My thoughts and my encouragement go out to the boys who are participating in the Hombre Mundo workshop, they are committed to bearing witness to the joy of the gospel in the most disadvantaged peripheries on various continents.

I wish you all a good Sunday.  And please, don't forget to pray for me.  Enjoy your lunch and good bye!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Colombia is waiting for Pope Francis

Bogotà, Colombia
Colombians are hoping that when Pope Francis visits there later this year, he will bring with him a word of encouragement for evangelization, for reconciliation and not to ever go back.  This was the advice of the President of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, His Excellency, Oscar Urbina Ortega, in an interview with Vatican Radio.  He said this in regard to the Pontiff's forthcoming international trip, which is scheduled to take place from 6 to 11 September 2017.  After a half century of civil war and the Peace Agreement which was signed in 2016, that South American country is now attempting a difficult reconstruction and a process of reconciliation.

The ECC President said that Columbia is in a phase of giving birth, namely of undergoing a new birth.  I believe that it is this nascent creature that the Pope must find and encourage so that it can develop well in the light of the Gospel and of his witness.

According to the Archbishop of Villavicencio, where Pope Francis will proclaim the new Blesseds on 8 September, the Church has possibilities to contribute to the country's reconstruction because she has the Word of the Gospel, the word of papal teaching on all this aspect of reconciliation and peace and she has the instruments for reconciliation.  A person reconciled with God can reconcile himself with the other and can reconcile himself with Creation.

In a video-message published on the ECC's website, on the occasion of the 207th anniversary of Colombia's Independence, the Archbishop of Villavicencio exhorted his fellow countrymen to take the first step towards reconciliation with God, with our brothers and with Creation.

In the interview with Vatican Radio, the Colombian Bishop reflected briefly on the issue of safeguarding the environment in his country.  The Pope will also visit the centre of Colombia, a privileged scenario to develop the whole discourse on the common home.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Never say never

Pope Francis wrote a letter to a nine-year old boy who had invited him to take part in a pilgrimage to Loretto.  His response to the invitation was simple: Never say never.

Below is a translation of the article which appeared in the Italian online publication Il sussidiario.

Pope with a child
Photo - L'Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis never ceases to surprise: he is a Pontiff who continues to confirm himself sui generis.  This time, the Holy Father is the focus of our attention because of a letter he sent to a 9 year-old boy.  Bergoglio wrote to Andrea, a child who had received a pilgrimage as a gift from his mother for his First Communion.  The details were recounted in a letter which Pope Francis decided to answer.  His Holiness wrote: Dear Andrea, it was wonderful for me to receive you letter and to learn about the marvellous adventure you had with UNITALSI as part of their pilgrimage for children to Loretto.

Pope Francis writes a letter to a little boy
Bergoglio: On a pilgrimage with you? Never say never.

Before thanking him for the beautiful words and for extending the gratitude of the friends of Loretto, he revealed a particular detail: Someone even told me that before sending the letter, you read it to your friends and, when you asked whether they agreed that you should send it, they applauded enthusiastically!  Pope Francis then thanked Andrea for the photo of the group which he had sent: I could see that there were many of you, and that is beautiful!  Bergoglio then explained that he had prayed to the Madonna of Loretto every time he looked at the photo.  I send my heartfelt blessings to you, as well as to your parents, the volunteers, the priests and the UNITALSI organizers.  In his letter, Andrea had also invited the Pope to make a pilgrimage.  In response to the invitation, the Pope did not turn down the invitation, rather he left an opening: For me, it is the greatest joy to be with children ... never say never!  Who knows, Andrea may very well receive a wonderful surprise ...

Bishop of El Paso calls for comprehensive reform

Our broken system of immigration is a wound on this border community. It is a scandal to the Body of Christ in El Paso.

Using strong language, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso — which sits on the border between the United States and Mexico ­— has called on Catholics to consider the challenges of a system that is breaking apart our community and to reflect upon how God is asking us to respond.

In a Pastoral Letter on Migration, Bishop Seitz denounces narratives that paint our border as a place of chaos, violence and mayhem.  In contrast to indefensible, hateful words towards our neighbours in Mexico, the demonization of migrants, and destructive language about our border, Bishop Seitz paints a picture of a community shaped by migration from its very foundation; a community with its own unique identity and unique strengths, a place of safety and security. The Bishop, who was appointed to the See of El Paso four years ago, notes that the Church has been at the forefront of those calling for comprehensive immigration reform — a reform elected leaders have not found the moral courage to enact.  Laws, he said, must be at the service of human persons; that is, they must respect the human dignity of each person, which has a higher value than the minutiae of the law.

Building walls, deploying a mass deportation force and militarizing our border are not long-term solutions to the challenges of migration, Bishop Seitz says. Following the magisterial teaching of recent Popes, the Bishop argues for comprehensive immigration reform that includes sufficient legal avenues for people to migrate; putting families first; addressing the root causes of migration; and providing security while allowing movement.

But while recalling Church teaching on migration, Bishop Seitz also notes the importance of encounter. Sometimes, he says nothing can substitute for personal experience. He encourages those outside the community to Come and see! Migrants and migration, the Bishop says, quoting Benedict XVI, are not a problem to be solved, but rather ‘a great resource for humanity’s development’.

In his conclusion, Bishop Seitz recalls the words of Pope Francis: We belong to a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all.  His letter concludes with a Prayer for Migrants.

For more about Catholic Social Teachings on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples, please visit the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the fairgrounds in Juárez City, at the border with El Paso Texas on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.  His Homily included some further reflections that also call for focus on the plight of migrants.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Protection for children in Germany

Father Hans Zollner, SJ says a new report on abuse at a prestigious German musical institution is an important step forward. Father Zollner is President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The report identified hundreds of instances of physical abuse, as well as dozens of cases of sexual abuse of members of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir in Germany. Forty-nine members of the Church are accused of abusing the children, including nine persons accused of carrying out sexual violence against children.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Fatherr Zollner said the report shows that Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has taken seriously all the allegations, that he did not shy away from all that would ensue.

The fact that the investigation was carried out independently, and conducted to the highest scientific standards, all with the willing cooperation of the local Church, shows that the bishop is very courageous in taking on an issue that has been looming for many years. Zollner acknowledged that the scandal of abuse at the choral institution was the talk of the city for many years, but it is only now that the facts have become plain, in the light of day. Bishop Voderholzer, he said, has done something that will bring at least the chance of some justice for the abused. It will also give institutions the opportunity to review their procedures with regard to screening personnel, and to responding to reports of abuse.

Father Zollner noted that the report on the scandal is not the first time the Church has investigated abuse within its own ranks – there was a similar independent report concerning abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich in 2010. This shows that there has been very good examples of such courage that really should penetrate our conscience, Zollner said, and should reach all church leaders and be an example for them, so that they do the same today because this will help, first of all those who have been harmed in the past. And it should help us remain motivated, he said, in terms of prevention and safeguarding of abuse, all that we have should be focused and should be taken to a level of implementation so that young people are safe in our institutions.

Salt+Light Television first aired an interview with Father Zollner in October 2016.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Embezzlement trial begins at the Vatican

At 10:00am this morning, at the Vatican City Courthouse, the first hearing of the criminal trial against Giuseppe Profiti and Massimo Spina was held.  They have been accused of embezzling funds from the Bambino Gesù Foundation.

The accused, who were both present this morning, were accompanied by their respective lawyers: Antonello Blasi (for Giuseppe Profiti) and Alfredo Ottaviani (for Massimo Spina).

The judges entrusted with hearing the case are

  • Professor Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, President;
  • Professor Venerando Marano, Judge; and
  • Professor Carlo Bonzano, Judge.

The Office of the Promotor of Justice was represented this morning by Professor Gian Piero Milano and by his associate, Professor Roberto Zannotti.

Following the reading of the charges by the Chancellor, some preliminary exceptions were evaluated.  Then, the judges indicated that the hearing will continue on 7, 8 and 9 September.  Testimony will be heard on those dates from both the witnesses and the defendants.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Prepare the soil of our hearts

Our God is constantly at work, preparing the soil of our hearts so that he can plant within us the seeds of his joy, so that he can share with us the profound gift of his forgiveness, so that he can reveal the true depth of his love within each of us.

Preparing for something new

Today’s gospel begins by setting the scene, as if to prepare us for the wisdom that Jesus has to share with us.  Great crowds gathered around him (Mt 13:1) to hear what he had to say.  Matthew doesn’t describe the crowd, but we can surmise that there were some who were young and others who were old; some who were eager to hear what he had to say, and others who were skeptical.  What was important was that they came to listen.  Like them, we too have gathered here to listen today, we have come to seek some wisdom, some guidance that might help us to live our faith in the coming week.

In answer to our quest, Jesus invites us to think of God as a farmer: a sower who goes out to sow seeds (Mt 13:3).  I have always found it easiest to picture this scene as taking place in the springtime, when we may be planting vegetable gardens, but this sower doesn’t worry about where the seeds are scattered.  It seems as though he doesn’t worry about whether the seeds fall on a path where it could be trodden underfoot (cf Mt 13:4), on rocky ground which hasn’t been prepared to nourish it (cf Mt 13:5), among thorns where it would have to compete for nourishment (cf Mt 13:7) or in rich soil where it would flourish (cf Mt 13:8).

Jesus is the divine sower, the one who is constantly at work scattering the seeds of his Word, and we are the soil into which this Word falls.  Perhaps this week, we should ask ourselves: how prepared are our hearts to receive the seed that Jesus has planted there?  Have we created our own plans for the way we want to live life?  Are we so insistent on following our own plans that we leave no room for God to show the way?  Perhaps our hearts have been hardened by our insistence on defining the path.  Perhaps there are rocks – preoccupations that keep us focused on ourselves and on our own ideas about how life should be lived.   In either case, there is no room for Jesus to surprise us, and where there is no room for surprise, there is no room for life to flourish.  Perhaps we are too often distracted by desires for achievement and success.  If this is the case, we may soon discover the thorns that distract us from following in the footsteps of our Master.

The good news is that God’s word is like the rain ... that comes down from heaven, and does not return there until it has watered the earth and prepared it so that it can bring forth and sprout (Is 55:10).  Preparing the soil of our hearts to receive the Word of God is never easy.  We must begin by identifying the ways in which we need to change in order to prepare the soil of our hearts.  Sometimes, this means that we will face sufferings and tribulations – change is hard work – but Saint Paul reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed (Rom 8:18).

God is preparing something wonderful for each one of us, but we must be willing to prepare the soil of our hearts, so let us ask for the grace to keep them open and willing to welcome the seed of his word, and flexible enough to be shaped by his inspiration.

Préparons le terrain

L’extrait de l’évangile que nous avons entendu aujourd’hui nous met en présence de Jésus qui veut partager une parole de sagesse avec nous.  Une grande foule s’est assemblée autour de lui (Mt 13,1) afin d’entendre ce qu’il disait.  Saint Mathieu ne décrit pas la foule, mais nous pouvons bien comprendre qu’il y avait des jeunes et des moins jeunes; des personnes intéressées et d’autres qui avaient des doutes.  Ce qui est important c’est le fait qu’il y étaient et voulaient entendre ses paroles.  Nous aussi, nous sommes venus afin d’entendre aujourd’hui: nous sommes à la recherche de la sagesse qui pourrait nous aider à parcourir le chemin du disciple pendant la semaine qui s’annonce.

Jésus répond à notre attente en nous invitant à imaginer le Seigneur comme un fermier: un semeur sortit pour semer (Mt 13,3).  J’ai toujours imaginé cet histoire au printemps lorsqu’on sème les grains dans des plate bandes, mais le semeur décrit dans l’évangile est excessivement généreux en semant les graines.  Il ne s’inquiète pas de savoir si les graines tomberont sur un chemin où ils pourraient être foulé au pied (cf Mt 13,4), sur un sol rocheux qui n’a pas été préparé pour les nourrir (cf Mt 13,5), parmi les épines où ils devraient se battre pour croître (cf Mt 13,7) ou dans un sol riche où il prospérerait (cf Mt 13,8).

Jésus est le semeur divin, Celui qui est à l’oeuvre répandant les grains de sa Parole, et nous sommes le sol dans lequel cette Parole trouve place.  Peut-être que cette semaine, nous devrons nous demander: nos coeurs, sont-il prêts à recevoir la parole qui y est semée par le Seigneur?  Avons nous fixé nos propres plans pour notre manière de vivre sur terre?  Sommes-nous si fermés sur nos propres projets qu’il n’y a plus d’espace pour que Jésus agisse?  Peut-être que nos coeurs sont tellement endurcis par notre insistance à définir le chemin.  Y a-t-il des pierres – c’est à dire des préoccupations qui nous rendent incapables de faire place au Seigneur car nous sommes tellement concentrés sur nous-même?  Il faut toujours laisser de l’espace pour que Dieu nous surprenne car s’il n’y a pas d’espace pour des surprises, il nous serait impossible de nous épanouir.  Il se peut que nous soyons trop distraits par le désir de la réussite.  Si oui, nous pourrons bientôt découvrir des épines qui nous empêchent de suivre les traces de notre Seigneur.

La bonne nouvelle que nous rencontrons ici c’est le fait que la parole du Seigneur est comme la pluie ... qui descend des cieux, et n’y retourne pas sans avoir arrosé la terre, sans avoir la préparée pour qu’elle soit féconde et que les plantes grandissent (Is 55,10).  Préparer le coeur pour qu’il reçoivent la parole du Seigneur, ce n’est pas facile.  Il faut d’abord identifier ce qu’il faut nous changer en nous et  bien préparer nos coeurs pour qu’ils puissent faire place à la semence.  Parfois, il s’agit des souffrances mais Saint Paul nous rappelle : les souffrances des temps présent ne saurait être comparées à la gloire à venir (Rom 8,18).

Le Seigneur est en train de préparer quelque chose de merveilleux pour chacun de nous,  mais c’est à nous de préparer le terrain de nos coeurs.  Alors demandons la grâce de les garder ouverts et prêts à accueillir la semence de sa parole, et en même temps assez souple pour qu’ils puissent être formés par son inspiration.