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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders must ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and are offering appropriate care for victims and their families, Pope Francis said.
“Priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors,” he said in a written letter.
The letter, dated Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was sent to the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide and the superiors of religious orders. The Vatican released a copy of the letter Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha.
In his letter, the pope said, “Families need to know that the church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.”
With protecting minors as a top priority, the pope said he wants to encourage and promote the church’s commitment to protection and care “at every level — episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life — to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy.”
He reminded church leaders they were expected to fully implement the provisions in the 2011 circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requiring all dioceses in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse.
“It is likewise important that episcopal conferences establish a practical means for periodically reviewing their norms and verifying that they are being observed,” he wrote.
The pope underlined that it was “the responsibility of diocesan bishops and major superiors to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other church institutions.”
The church also has the “duty to express the compassion of Jesus toward those who have suffered abuse and toward their families,” which is why dioceses and religious orders should set up pastoral care programs “which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care.”
Priests and heads of religious communities “should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he wrote.
The pope said he established in December 2013 the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to draw up ways the church could improve its norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.
This commission, led by U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and made up of survivors and lay experts in the field, is meant to be “a new, important and effective means for helping me to encourage and advance the commitment of the church at every level” in taking concrete steps to ensure greater abuse protection and care, he said.
The pope then asked for the “close and complete cooperation” of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders with the commission for the protection of minors, whose duties include assisting church leaders in “an exchange of best practices and through programs of education, training and developing adequate responses to sex abuse.”
The pope asked for prayers that the church “carry out, generously and thoroughly, our duty to humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.”
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — At his first Mass in the Philippines, Pope Francis demonstrated that he was not simply reading English, but understood it. The prepared text of his homily began with Jesus’ words to St. Peter, “Do you love me?”
When the pope read those words, someone close to the front of the cathedral responded yes. The pope, laughing, responded, “Thank you,” then explained, “I was reading the words of Jesus.” Starting again, the pope said Jesus’ words to the Apostle, “Do you love me?… Tend my sheep,” are a reminder of “something essential: All pastoral ministry is born of love. All consecrated life is a sign of Christ’s reconciling love.” “Each of us is called, in some way, to be love in the heart of the church,” the pope said. The Gospel has the power to transform society, ensuring justice and care for the poor, but that can happen only if Christians — beginning with the church’s ministers — allow the Gospel to transform them, Pope Francis said. At the beginning of a Mass Jan. 16 with Filipino bishops, priests and religious in Manila’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Pope Francis led the congregation in a special penitential rite to ask forgiveness for ways they have failed to live up to the high ideals of their promises of poverty, chastity and obedience. Pope Francis introduced the rite with a prayer: “Unworthy though we are, God loves us and has given us a share in his Son’s mission as members of his body, the church. “Let us thank and glorify God for his great love and infinite compassion,” the pope prayed. “Let us beg for his forgiveness for failing to be faithful to his love. And let us ask for the strength to be true to our calling: to be God’s faithful witnesses in the world.” With almost a quarter of the country’s population living in poverty, with their exposure to typhoons, floods and earthquakes, and with a government plagued by corruption scandals, he said, the church must “acknowledge and combat the causes of the deeply rooted inequality and injustice which mar the face of Filipino society, plainly contradicting the teaching of Christ.” Individual Christians must “live lives of honesty, integrity and concern for the common good,” he said, but they also must create “networks of solidarity which can expand to embrace and transform society by their prophetic witness.” Departing from his prepared text, the pope said: “The poor. The poor are the center of the Gospel, are at the heart of the Gospel. If we take away the poor from the Gospel, we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.” Although several elderly priests and religious were present — and were greeted by the pope during the sign of peace — many in the congregation were still in their 20s, and Pope Francis gave them a special commission to reach out to their peers. Financial and social-political difficulties have left many young Filipinos “broken in spirit, tempted to give up, to leave school and to live on the streets,” the pope said. Young church workers have a special obligation to be close to their peers because, despite everything, they “continue to see the church as their friend on the journey and a source of hope.” He also urged the seminarians, young priests and religious to “proclaim the beauty and truth of the Christian message to a society which is tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family.” “As you know,” he said, “these realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, greeting the pope at the end of the Mass, told him the cathedral had been repeatedly destroyed by fires, earthquakes and during war. “But it refuses to vanish. It boldly rises from the ruins — just like the Filipino people,” he said. “The Filipino has two treasures: music and faith, ‘la musica e la fede,” the cardinal told him in English and Italian. “Our melodies make our spirits soar above the tragedies of life. Our faith makes us stand up again and again after deadly fires, earthquakes, typhoons and wars.” We welcome you, successor of Peter, to this blessed land of untiring hope, of infinite music and of joyful faith,” the cardinal told the pope. “With your visit, we know Jesus will renew and rebuild his church in the Philippines.” Although the Mass was for bishops, priests and religious, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the cathedral, watching the Mass on large video screens set up on the cathedral steps.
VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis met before Christmas with Vatican employees, mostly lay people with families, he asked them to do 10 things. The list sounded remarkably like suggestions for New Year’s resolutions:
— “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are.”
— “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love.”
— “Take care of your relationships with others, transforming your faith into life and your words into good works, especially on behalf of the needy.”
— “Be careful how you speak, purify your tongue of offensive words, vulgarity and worldly decadence.”
— “Heal wounds of the heart with the oil of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and medicating the wounds we have caused others.”
— “Look after your work, doing it with enthusiasm, humility, competence, passion and with a spirit that knows how to thank the Lord.”
— “Be careful of envy, lust, hatred and negative feelings that devour our interior peace and transform us into destroyed and destructive people.”
— “Watch out for anger that can lead to vengeance; for laziness that leads to existential euthanasia; for pointing the finger at others, which leads to pride; and for complaining continually, which leads to desperation.”
— “Take care of brothers and sisters who are weaker … the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and strangers, because we will be judged on this.”
UPDATE because we initially didn’t include No. 10:
— Making sure your Christmas is about Jesus and not about shopping.
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The crying of the Baby Jesus is not the only cry people should hear on Christmas; many children around the world are crying because of war, maltreatment and abuse, Pope Francis said.
“Baby Jesus,” he said Dec. 25, pausing for effect. “My thoughts today go to all children who are abused and mistreated: those killed before they are born; those deprived of the generous love of their parents who are buried under the selfishness of a culture that does not love life; those children displaced by war and persecution, abused and exploited under our eyes and the silence that makes us accomplices.”
Before giving his solemn Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world), Pope Francis addressed an estimated 80,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, urging them to pray for peace in Ukraine, in the Middle East, Nigeria, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo.
With thousands of children looking at the Vatican’s Nativity scene and receiving the pope’s blessing with their parents Christmas morning, Pope Francis’ strongest words were about less fortunate children.
“May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking or forced to become soldiers,” he said. He added special prayers for the families of the dozens of children killed Dec. 16 by a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.
“There are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the infant Jesus,” he said. Children are dying “under bombardment, even there where the son of God was born. Today their silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods,” those who kill children just as Herod did in Jesus’ time.
The pope prayed that Christ’s “divine power, by its meekness,” would “take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.”
In the dark of the night Dec. 24, in a St. Peter’s Basilica filled to capacity, 10 children led Pope Francis toward the altar of the church. Together they stood waiting while a lector read the solemn “Christmas Proclamation” recounting the timing of the birth of Christ in human history.
As the children from the Philippines, South Korea, Belgium, Italy, Lebanon and Syria looked on, Pope Francis removed the cloth that had been covering a statue of the Baby Jesus. He bent over and kissed it gently.
In this homily, the pope said Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, “announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds.”
The birth of the son of God in a lowly manger is the sign of “the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations.”
Ever since sin entered the world, humanity was yearning for light and for peace, the pope said. The birth of Jesus revealed that “the message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.”
“On this holy night, while we contemplate the infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect,” he said. “How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?”
Put more simply, he said, the key question is: “Do I allow God to love me?”
In the face of difficulties and problems, the pope said, “the Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness.”
“When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us,” the pope said, “we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: ‘Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict.’”
As the “Gloria” was intoned at the Mass, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica pealed; those inside the church heard a slightly muffled version, but the thousands of people watching on video screens in St. Peter’s Square got the full effect. Later, during Communion, priests came out of the church to distribute the Eucharist to those unable to get inside.
Another musical note came in the midst of the Gregorian chant of the Creed. After the line, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,” an orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, began playing. Chen Reiss, an Israeli soprano, sang Mozart’s “Et Incarnatus Est,” which the Vatican said was a special request of Pope Francis.
The pope and the congregation knelt as Reiss sang that Jesus, “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
Shortly before the Mass, taking advantage of the satellite link of a crew from the Italian bishops’ TV2000, Pope Francis made a telephone call to Christian refugees gathered for Mass in a camp in Ankawa, Iraq.
“You are like Jesus on Christmas night,” he told them. “There was no room for him either, and he had to flee to Egypt later to save himself.”
“You are like Jesus in this situation and that makes me pray even more for you,” he said. “Dear brothers and sisters, I am close to you, very close this evening. With all my heart, I am near you, and I ask Jesus to caress you with his tenderness and I ask his mother to give you much love.”
VATICAN CITY — Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’ homily at Christmas Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9:1). “An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Savior: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.
We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light”. By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.
The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples.
Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.
Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). The “sign” is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.
On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me? More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today!
The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.
Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1). People who were unassuming, open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: “O Mary, show us Jesus!”
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis always asks for prayers, especially for his birthday, but this year he also got some tango.
Thousands of tango dancers, mostly from Italy, flocked to St. Peter’s Square to wave their white scarves “A Tango for Pope Francis” and cheer along with tens of thousands of other people at the Wednesday general audience.
Before the general audience, children gave him flowers, presents and handmade cards:
He got Mylar party balloons attached to cute babies:
But best of all had to be the birthday cake topped with cherries and six (?) candles, that he promptly blew out.
The cake came courtesy of a large group of seminarians, who also had the foresight to provide some mate’ too:
But an Italian tango dancer had a better idea, Cristina Camorani organized a “Street Tango Flashmob” over the Internet inviting people to what she hoped would become the “Biggest Milonga in the World.”
Milonga, an older form of tango with a faster rhythm, is the pope’s favorite dance style. He has said he used to dance the tango when he was young, adding, “It’s something that comes from within.”
At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis greeted the tango dancers and said it seemed like the square was “for a 2 x 4,” which is mysterious tango-lingo referring to rhythm.
After the audience, participants heeled up for a warm-up dance in front of St. Peter’s Square before the big showcase event that afternoon.