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Don't fret about numbers, but your mission, Pope tells Milan religious

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his daytrip to Milan Saturday, Pope Francis told the diocese’s priests and religious not to fear the challenges that come with their ministry nor the increasing number of empty convents, urging them instead to focus on the core of their mission: bringing Christ to his people.

“Our congregations were not born to be the mass, but a bit of salt and yeast which would have given their own contribution so that the mass grows; so that the People of God have that ‘condiment’ they were missing,” the Pope said March 25.

He noted that for many years in the past, congregations moved forward with the idea that they needed to “occupy spaces” more than launching new processes and projects.

The perception then, he said, was that “ideas (or our impossibility to change) were more important than reality; or that the part (our small part or vision of the world) was superior to the whole Church.”

But today’s reality serves as a challenge, and “invites us to again be a bit of yeast and a bit of salt,” he said, asking “Can you imagine a meal with too much salt? Or a pasta that’s totally fermented? No one would eat it, no one could digest it.”

“I've never seen a pizzamaker use a kilo of yeast and a gram of flour” to make the dough, Francis said, and urged religious to “listen to reality, to open ourselves to the ‘mass,’ to the Holy People of God, to the entire Church.”

Pope Francis spoke to priests and religious inside Milan’s cathedral of St. Mary of the Nativity during his March 25 daytrip to the city.

He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, an area marked by acute poverty where many migrants, including Muslim families, live. He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious.

<blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Up-close view of a papal blessing to some small pilgrims in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Milan?src=hash">#Milan</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/andygag">@andygag</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash">#PopeFrancis</a> <a href="https://t.co/lEiFe59PCE">pic.twitter.com/lEiFe59PCE</a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href="https://twitter.com/cnalive/status/845563394254082048">March 25, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The Pope took questions from three members of the audience, including Ursuline sister Mother M. Paola Paganoni, parish priest Fr. Gabriele Gioia and Robert Crespi, one of the diocese’s 143 permanent deacons.

Instead of taking notes and giving an entirely off-the-cuff speech as usual during his Q&A sessions, this time Francis decided to follow a written text due to the day’s full schedule, deviating to add a few lines here and there.

The question on numbers was posed by Sr. Paganoni, who asked the Pope how to be a prophetic sign in modern society, and to which peripheries they should go, given that religious are small in number and constitute a “minority” in the Church.  

In response, the Pope not only told the nun to not fret about numbers, but he also cautioned against the feeling of “resignation,” which he said can frequently creep up when looking at how few they are.

“Without realizing it, each time that we think or see that we are few, or in many cases elderly, we experience the weight, the fragility more than the splendor, and our spirit begins to corrode from resignation,” he said.

In turn, resignation can lead to the spiritual sin – also called a “disease” – of acedia, about which the Fathers of the Church issued sharp warnings since it essentially leads a person into despair, indifference and apathy regarding the faith and one’s vocation.

“Few yes, a minority yes, elderly yes, but resigned no!” he said, explaining that the lines in this regard are fine, are can only be recognized by a process of self-reflection in front of the Lord.

“When resignation takes hold of us,” he said, “we live with the imagination of a glorious past which, far from awakening the original charism, increasingly surrounds us in a spiral of existential heaviness. Everything becomes heavier and difficult to lift up.”

He warned religious to stay away from this attitude, as well as the temptation to use the empty structures to get money by turning them into hotels or looking for other “human solutions” to the problem. Doing this, he said, “hinders or deprives us of joy.”

And while he said he can’t tell them which peripheries to go to, since that’s the job of the Holy Spirit, who inspired their original charism, Pope Francis urged religious to choose them well and reawaken “the hope spent and sapped by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others.”

“Go and bring the ‘anointing’ of Christ,” he said, telling them never to forget “that when you put Jesus in the midst of your people, they find joy…only this will render our lives fruitful and will keep our hearts alive.”

In response to Crespi’s question on what contribution deacons can give to the Church, the Pope said they have “a lot to give,” specifically when it comes to managing the tensions and blessings of ministry and family life.

However, Francis also cautioned against viewing deacons as “half-priests and half-laity,” because in reality “they are neither here nor there.”

Looking at them in this way “does harm to us and does harm to them” and takes strength away from their vocation in the Church, he said, explaining that the deaconate “is a specific vocation, a family vocation that recalls service as one of the characteristic gifts of the people of God.”

“The deacon is – so to speak – the guardian of service in the Church,” Pope Francis said. Because of this, his specific mission consists of “reminding all of us that faith, in its various expressions – communitarian liturgy, personal prayer, different forms of charity – and in its various states of life – lay, clerical, familial – has an essential dimension of service.”

Speaking directly to the deacons, he said they are “a sacrament of service to God and to your brothers. A vocation which like all vocations is not only individual, but lived inside the family and with the family, inside the People of God and with the People of God.”

Francis also answered Fr. Gioia’s question on what can be done in order not lose the joy of evangelizing in the face of challenges such as secularism and ministering to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic flock with different religions.

In his response, the Pope said we shouldn’t be afraid of challenges, because they are “a sign of a living faith, of a living community that seeks its Lord and has eyes and hearts opened.”

Rather, what we must fear instead is “a faith without challenges, a faith believed to be complete, as if everything has been said and realized,” because without challenges, there is a danger that our faith becomes “an ideology.”

The Pope also spoke of the importance of recognizing the richness of the differences in the Church throughout its history, explaining that “the Church is one in a multifarious experience.”
 
Although there can also be “horrors” and errors in the ways some interpret religion, he stressed the need to separate and distinguish between the “luminous aspects and the dark aspects” of each.

He also cautioned against confusing unity with uniformity and plurality with pluralism, saying that in both cases “what is being sought is to reduce the tension and remove the conflict or ambivalence to which we are subjected as human being.”

Finally, the Pope in his last point to the priest emphasized the need for pastors to offer better formation in discernment, particularly to youth.

“The culture of abundance to which we are subjected offers a horizon of many possibilities, presenting them as valid and good,” he said, noting that today’s youth are exposed to a constant “zapping” of information.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a world in which they are inserted and it’s our duty as pastors to help them pass through this world,” he said, explaining that because of this, “it’s good to teach them to discern, so that they have the tools and elements which help them to walk the path of life without extinguishing the Holy Spirit which is in them.”

After his audience with priests and religious, Pope Francis led pilgrims gathered outside the cathedral in praying the Angelus before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which in 2012 held 1,700 detainees.

At the prison, the Pope is slated to greet employees and police officers who work at the facility before greeting the inmates themselves. He is then expected to have lunch with 100 of prisoners before heading to Milan’s Parco di Monza to celebrate Mass and meet with youth after.

Protection of minors event draws swath of top Vatican leaders

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a significant show of unity, officials from every Vatican department – including at least half a dozen cardinals who head various dicasteries – attended a recent Rome seminar on safeguarding minors.

“I actually come from a dicastery that takes up the issue of human rights and justice,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

As head of an office that deals with human rights, awareness of what’s going on in the realm of abuse prevention is “very crucial,” he told CNA, stressing that “it’s so very important that we try to be on the same page with this commission and what they do.”

Every department of the Roman Curia was represented in some way at the March 23 seminar, an indication of its importance in the eyes of Vatican officials.

It is rare for the cardinals who head dicasteries to attend events outside of those hosted by their own department – more often, they send representatives to attend. The presence of several cardinals at Thursday’s event further indicated that the Vatican is seeking to place an emphasis on this issue, especially given that the one-day event was not specifically aimed at members of the Curia, but at a wider audience.

Joining Cardinal Turkson at the gathering was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, president of the Vatican’s mega-department for Laity, Family and Life.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley hosted the event in his capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the seminar was also attended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Cardinal Turkson said that in the case of his own department, he sent the official charged with the topic of international law, human rights, family law and other related topics, but also decided to come himself because it is “essential to see the new things that are being said about this issue.”

“There’s no pastor who is not interested in this issue, especially if he’s a bishop, because there was a way that bishops used to deal with this issue,” he said, noting that often times, priests were simply sent to treatment centers and then put into another parish once they had completed the program. 

“Now the understanding about this is deeper,” he said. “The impression in those days was that people could go to treatment centers and get help, but that was all false.”

“So it’s good to deepen our understanding about this, very, very, very deeply and very well,” he said, explaining that he came not only to support Cardinal O’Malley, a longtime friend, but also to learn and hear updates on the issue.

Cardinal Farrell agreed. “It’s important for the Church to be here because…if you look back on the history of probably the last 20 years, it’s the greatest obstacle to preaching the Word of God and the credibility of doing what we’re supposed to do,” he told CNA.

Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.  

It included presentations by several members and collaborators of the commission, including Kathleen McCormack, chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities. It also featured presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.

The event fell just weeks after clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from her position on the commission, citing pushback from certain Vatican dicasteries, specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as one of the main reasons for stepping down.

According to Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, head of the Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, hearing and including the voice of survivors was a key point in the discussion during their plenary, which begins March 24.

In March 23 comments to CNA, Fr. Zollner said “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.” 

Regarding the involvement of survivors in the process, he noted that Collins herself said in an interview that “a certain set of skills” is needed if a survivor wants to participate in any kind of panel or commission.

“So we will see, together with survivors, what this set of skills should look like,” he said, but cautioned that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. From his perspective as someone who travels around the world trying to raise awareness on the issue, in many countries “people are not so used to speaking out about this.”

“Even if they are a survivor and victim, in some parts of the world this is still taboo and we need to help people come out of that,” he said, explaining that when their mandate is up at the end of the year, the commission will re-visit their structure and development process “so that our journey continues.”

But in the meantime, he praised the seminar as a key step, saying it was a “very successful event,” particularly in “drawing many high-ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals, and (with) all the dicasteries represented.”


Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.
 

How do we solve crises? Put the person first, Pope Francis tells EU

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 01:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Being disconnected from the values of the past – which upheld the human person and the family – has placed us in a new era of crises, Pope Francis told European leaders. However, he noted, there is hope.

“Europe finds new hope when man is the center and the heart of her institutions,” he said March 24. “I am convinced that this entails an attentive and trust-filled readiness to hear the expectations voiced by individuals, society and the peoples who make up the Union.”
 
“Affirming the centrality of man also means recovering the spirit of family,” he continued, “whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts.”

Europe finds this new hope, he emphasized, “When she invests in the family, which is the first and fundamental cell of society. When she respects the consciences and the ideals of her citizens. When she makes it possible to have children without the fear of being unable to support them. When she defends life in all its sacredness.”

Pope Francis met with 27 European Union Heads of State and Government, as well as Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission at the Vatican.

The leaders met in Rome for celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and is one of the two most important treaties in the modern-day European Union (EU).

In the speech, the Pope warned against having a short memory about Europe’s past – both the good and the bad – and as in previous speeches, urged a return to the roots, in this case the fundamental and founding values of the EU.

In a change from previous meetings of a similar nature, however, Francis took a very hopeful attitude toward Europe’s future, saying that while Europe is undergoing its own modern crises – in economics, migration, the institution, and the family – these don’t have to be solely destructive.

“The term ‘crisis’ is not necessarily negative,” he said. “It does not simply indicate a painful moment to be endured.”

“The word ‘crisis’ has its origin in the Greek verb krino, which means to discern, to weigh, to assess. Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it. It is a time of challenge and opportunity.”

For Europe to move past these present crises, leaders must refocus around the centrality of the human person, solidarity, the pursuit of peace, and openness to the future and the world, he said.

The spiritual and human values present in Europe’s past are the way forward in what is becoming an increasingly valueless society, one that is very different from even just 60 years ago.

“Europe has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigor, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism,” Francis said.

The Pope gave several examples of how Europe’s hope can be renewed. One major way is by investing in the future through opportunities for young people to receive a good education and to have real possibilities in the work force, he said.

In the speech, the Pope referenced at length the history of Europe, such as the “tragedy of walls and divisions,” and the efforts made to “tear down that wall” that “divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic,” separating families as well.

He also quoted at length from addresses of founding fathers of the EU at the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, including Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul-Henri Spaak; Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Luns; Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Joseph Bech; German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer; and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Pineau.

Addressing “the grave crisis of immigration,” Francis said that the issue poses deep question, that is primarily cultural, and that is: “What kind of culture does Europe propose today?”

“The fearfulness that is becoming more and more evident has its root cause in the loss of ideals. Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

“Yet the richness of Europe,” he continued, “has always been her spiritual openness and her capacity to raise basic questions about the meaning of life. Openness to the sense of the eternal has also gone hand in hand, albeit not without tensions and errors, with a positive openness to this world.”

The Pope had strong words against modern forms of populism, which he said solidarity is the antidote to. He defined solidarity as entailing “the awareness of being part of a single body” while also involving “a capacity on the part of each member to ‘sympathize’ with others and with the whole.”

“When one suffers, all suffer,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Without Christianity, the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice “would prove largely incomprehensible,” Francis said. “In our multicultural world, these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots.”

Vatican abuse prevention event 'extremely important' for Church

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 02:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday a Vatican event on the prevention of child abuse narrowed in on the importance of education in schools and parishes in the safeguarding of children – not only for teachers, but for parents and children – and on the Church's role.

Led by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, he told CNA at the March 23 event that Catholic schools are, of course, a very important part of the Church’s and Commission's ministry.

There are “60 million children in our care in Catholic schools and so this kind of a conference is extremely important for the ministry of the Church,” O'Malley said. “And we were very gratified that so many cardinals made time to be a part of this.”

The seminar was attended by five different cardinals in addition to O'Malley, including Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, were also in attendance.

Additionally, every Vatican department was represented in some way.

Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, who heads the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and is also a member of the commission, told CNA that it was a “very successful event, in drawing many high ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals…all the dicasteries represented.”

“This is taking shape and the formation that we have offered to dicasteries has also been very fruitful.”

Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.  

It included a presentation by Kathleen McCormack, Chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities, and presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.

One participant, Fr. Luigi Gritti, a graduate of a CCP course on child abuse, told CNA that it was important that South America was a focus of the seminar, since the U.S. and Europe are usually the focus when discussing this issue.

“It tells you that the problem is present and acknowledged by the people, but also that something is being done to address the problem. So I think it's a good development,” he said.

The presentations on South America all highlighted the importance of including children: speaking with and listening to them, teaching them about what is safe and appropriate behavior from adults, as well as becoming familiar with the visual and verbal signs that could indicate the occurrence of abuse, whether physical, emotional or sexual.

The presenters for each country explained the unique cultural challenges they face in preventing abuse and in handling allegations, as well as what policies are currently in place.

In the presentation on Australia, Francis Sullivan, CEO of Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said that in the end, the question of why the sex abuse crisis happened in our Church comes down to cultural problems and to corruption.

Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely known in the Church. Feb. 6, Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held its final three-week review of how the Catholic Church in Australia has responded to sex abuse allegations.

Referencing a quote from Pope Francis where he said that we don’t only need to reform the Church, but also the heart, he said that “child sexual abuse has broken the heart of the Church.”

“We have never fully appreciated that the decisions that our leaders made in order to facilitate and cover up (abuse), actually broke the heart of what it means to be Catholic, and we need to go back and fully confront that,” he said.

“Let’s not distract Church leaders from recognizing that this is a Church problem. Sure, it might happen in other institutions, sure, it happens in families. But the fact that it happened within the Catholic Church says something about the corruption within our Church… That we are not true to what we are meant to be.”

Friday the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors begins their next Plenary Assembly, and one of the central topics will be how to ensure that survivors and victims are always the first priority, O’Malley said in his introductory remarks.

“The assembly begins tomorrow and of course that is one of the things we'll be talking about,” he told CNA. A meeting of survivors is planned for June that the commission will also be involved in, he said.

Regarding the participation of survivors, Fr. Zollner told CNA that “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.”

Other topics at the Plenary Assembly will include how the commission will continue after the mandate concludes at the end of the calendar year, he said, and “we will see what are the structural steps, or the development, we will need so that our journey continues,” he said.

Pope clears way for canonization of Fatima visionaries

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 06:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis approved the second and final miracle needed to canonize Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the shepherd children who witnessed the Fatima Marian apparitions.

The Pope approved the miracle in a March 23 audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during which he advanced six other causes, approving one other miracle, two causes for martyrdom and three of heroic virtue.

In addition, the Pope also approved a positive vote from members of the canonization causes for six martyrs who are already Blessed, but do not yet have a second miracle attributed to them.

However, the most significant of the causes approved is that of Francisco and Jacinta Marto. With the approval of the second miracle, the two may now be canonized Saints. It is likely Pope Francis will preside over their canonization himself while in Fatima May 12-13 for the centenary of the apparitions.

Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, were the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the history of the Church.

The brother and sister, who tended to their families’ sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary, now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima.

During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices, offering them for the conversion of sinners. The children did, praying often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their daily crosses and even refrained from drinking water on hot days.

In October 1918, Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu. Our Lady appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon.

Bed-ridden, Francisco requested his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 14, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness as well. She was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital and operated for an abscess in her chest, but her health did not improve. She died Feb. 20, 1920.

Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta May 13, 2000, on the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, teaching us that even young children can become saints.

In addition to Francisco and Jacinta, the Pope also approved a miracle for Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, allowing for his canonization.

Causes for martyrdom approved by the Pope – meaning they can be beatified – include Fr. Giuseppe Maria Fernández Sánchez and his 32 companions, who were priests and coadjutor brothers of Congregation of the Mission, as well as six laypersons from the Association of the Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who were killed in hatred of the faith in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

Another martyrdom cause approved by the Pope was that of Servant of God Regina Maria Vattalil, a Poor Clare nun killed in hatred of the faith in 1995.

The martyrs who were already Blessed but may now be canonized based on the Congregation’s vote are: Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, diocesan priests, and Matteo Moreira, layman, killed in hatred of the Faith in Brazil in 1645, and Cristoforo, Antonio and Giovanni, teenagers, killed in hatred of the Faith in Mexico in 1529.

He also declared the heroic virtue of the following people: Daniele da Samarate, a Capuchin priest; Macrina Raparelli, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Basiliane Daughters of St. Macrina; and Daniela Zanetta, a laywoman.

Pope Francis prays for victims of deadly London attack

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After four people died in an apparent terrorist attack in London yesterday, Pope Francis has voiced his sorrow and solidarity for the victims and their families, entrusting them and the nation to God’s mercy.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy,” a March 23 letter signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

The Pope commended the souls of those who died “to the loving mercy of Almighty God,” and prayed for “divine strength and peace upon their grieving families,” while assuring of his prayer for the entire nation.

Francis’ letter comes the day after a deadly March 22 attack on London’s Parliament took the lives of four people.

During the attack, a car apparently plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before crashing into the fence surrounding the Parliament building. The assailant then attempted to enter the Parliament building with a knife, stabbing one police officer before being shot by other officers on the grounds.

According to the Guardian, four people were killed, including the police officer who was stabbed and one man believed to be the assailant. About 20 others were reported injured, some severely.

Nearby government buildings were placed on lockdown while authorities worked to ensure the safety of the area. Scotland Yard said the attack is being treated “as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.”

The incident marks the first mass-casualty terrorist attack in Britain since the 2005 bomb attack on London that claimed the lives of 52 people when four bombers blew themselves up in the city’s public transportation system.

March 22 also marks the one-year anniversary of the Brussels airport bombings that left more than 30 dead and 300 injured. Those bombings were declared the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history.

The use of a vehicle as a weapon yesterday’s London attack is reminiscent of the methods used last year by terrorists in Nice and Berlin.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, issued a March 23 statement to the priests and parishes of his diocese saying yesterday’s attacks “have shocked us all.”

“The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city,” he said, and urged pastors to lead their people in prayer, particularly for the victims and their families.

He offered special prayers for victim Aysha Frade, who was killed by the car on Westminster Bridge and whose two young children attend the diocese’s St. Mary of the Angels Primary School.

He also offered special prayers for Frade’s husband and a group of French students who were injured in the attack, as well as police officer Keith Palmer, the officer who died, and his family.

“Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity and of calm,” the cardinal said.

“All who believe in God, Creator and Father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which we depend.”

Watch this little girl steal Pope Francis' hat

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 10:57 am (CNA).- A cute moment was captured on camera Wednesday, as a 3-year-old girl “stole” Pope Francis’ zucchetto – or skull cap – at the papal general audience.

Little Estella lives in Georgia. She was in Rome with her godfather, Mountain Butorac. Waiting in St. Peter’s Square at the general audience, she was invited by a member of the papal security team to go greet the Pope as he came by.

Pope Francis offered the young girl a kiss on the cheek, and she reached up and grabbed his zucchetto. A moment later, she returned the hat to a laughing pontiff.

Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! pic.twitter.com/SdSorop3uN

— Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) March 22, 2017 Meanwhile, Butorac captured the incident on his phone camera, and posted it to Twitter, where it quickly received more than 8,000 likes.

“It’s exciting!” Butorac told BuzzFeed News. “I’m sure every godparent would love for their godchild to meet the Holy Father. Mine just did and it was not only a special holy moment, but hilarious too!”

 

Pope Francis: When we want to give up, God helps us persevere

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said each person must strive to imitate the perseverance and consolation of God, which not only gives us the strength to keep going, but also to help others who are in difficulty.

“Perseverance we can also define as patience; it’s the ability to support, to remain faithful, even when the weight seems to become too big, unsustainable, and we are tempted to negatively judge and abandon everything and everyone,” the Pope said March 22.

Consolation, on the other hand, “is the grace of knowing how to welcome and show in every situation, even those largely marked by delusion and suffering, the presence and compassionate action of God.”

He noted how these two attitudes are highlighted by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, both in reference to scripture and to God himself, who is “the God of perseverance and consolation.”

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience, the Pope continued his catechesis on the virtue of Christian hope, saying the qualities of perseverance and consolation shed light on what having hope really means.

Francis noted how in the day’s reading from Romans Chapter 15, St. Paul reminds us that these attitudes are communicated throughout scripture. The Word of God, he said, “leads us to turn our gaze to Jesus, to know him better and to conform ourselves to him, to increasingly become more like him.”

By calling the Lord “the God of perseverance and consolation,” the apostle is revealing the nature of God as someone “who always remains faithful to his love for us and takes care of us, covering our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy.”

“He’s perseverant in love for us, he never tires of loving us,” he said.

Pope Francis then pointed to how in the passage, St. Paul also insists that “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

While the phrase “we who are strong” could seem presumptuous, the Pope stressed that when understood with the logic of the Gospel, “we know that it’s not like this. Rather, it’s precisely the opposite because our strength doesn’t come from us, but from the Lord.”

“Whoever experiences in their own lives the faithful love of God and his consolation is able, even obliged, to be close to his weakest brothers and to take charge of their fragility,” he said.

The Pope stressed the importance of doing this “without complacency,” but as “a channel that transmits the gifts of the Lord,” sowing hope to the world. Witnesses of hope “are needed today,” he said, but noted that unfortunately “it’s not so easy” to do.

However, Francis cautioned that this lifestyle doesn’t mean dividing the community so that “some are from ‘group A,’ which is the strong, and others ‘group B,’ which is the weak.”

Instead, it means having the same attitude toward one another that Christ did, he said, adding that the Word of God “nourishes a hope that is concretely translated in sharing, in reciprocal service.”

This reciprocity is essential, he said, because “even those who are strong sooner or later find themselves fragile and in need of comfort from others; and vice versa, in weakness one can always offer a smile or a hand to the brother in difficulty.”

But this is only possible “if we put Christ and his Word at the center,” Pope Francis said, and urged faithful to thank God for giving us his Word through scripture.

“We never thank God enough for the gift of his Word,” he said, stressing that “it’s there that we become aware of how our hope is not based on our own abilities and our own strength, but on the support of God and on his fidelity and love.”

At the end of his audience Pope Francis also gave a shout-out to those participating in the “Watershed” Conference currently taking place in Rome in honor of the U.N. World Water Day, and which is being co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Argentinian Chapter of the Club of Rome.

“I am happy that this meeting is taking place,” he said, “for it represents yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance.”

The Pope then made an appeal for his “24 hours for the Lord” event, which takes place each year on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent

“I hope that also this year this privileged moment of grace on the Lenten path is lived in many churches in order to experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the Father, and that everyone welcomes and forgives,” he said.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! <a href="https://t.co/SdSorop3uN">pic.twitter.com/SdSorop3uN</a></p>&mdash; Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) <a href="https://twitter.com/MountainButorac/status/844505243538931714">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The Church and society need you, Pope Francis tells youth

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis released a video message to youth in advance of the next World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.  He said that like the Virgin Mary, they are needed, and they should not be afraid to leave their mark on the world.
 
“Like the young woman of Nazareth, you can improve the world and leave an imprint that makes a mark on history, your history and that of many others,” Pope Francis said in the message, released March 21. “The Church and society need you.”
 
“With your plans and with your courage, with your dreams and ideals, walls of stagnation fall and roads open up that lead us to a better, fairer, less cruel and more humane world.”
 
The message, made in advance of the annual diocesan-level “World Youth Day” which takes place on April 9 this year, reflects specifically on the spiritual journey pilgrims will take before reaching Panama, encouraging young people to cultivate a strong friendship with Our Lady, saying they “will not regret it.”
 
“Speak to her as you would to a Mother. Together with her, give thanks for the precious gift of faith that you have received from your elders, and entrust your whole life to her. She is a good Mother who listens to you and embraces you, who loves you and walks together with you,” he said.
 
The theme for the upcoming local World Youth Day is taken from the words of Mary in the Magnificat: “The Mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49).
 
Mary “recognized the great things that God was accomplishing in her life,” gave thanks for it, and then put it into action, going to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Pope said. She “was not a young couch potato who looks for comfort and safety where nobody can bother them.”
 
“Dear young people, God is also watching over you and calling you, and when God does so, he is looking at all the love you are able to offer,” Francis said.
 
In anticipation of World Youth Day in Panama January 22-27, 2017, the Pope also released a longer written message to youth, reflecting on themes from the last international World Youth Day in Krakow in July 2016 and on the themes of each year’s meeting leading up to Panama.
 
Continuing the Marian themes, in 2018 the theme will be “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:49) and in 2019, in Panama, it will be “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), the Pope said.
 
Francis said that he hopes preparations for World Youth Day in Panama and for the Synod of Bishops in October 2018, “will move forward in tandem,” since the topic of the Synod will be youth, faith and vocational discernment.
 
At the Synod, “we will talk about how you, as young people, are experiencing the life of faith amid the challenges of our time,” the Pope said. “We will also discuss the question of how you can develop a life project by discerning your personal vocation...”
 
In discerning the plan God has for our lives, we can look to Mary, who was very young herself, as an example of the gift of faith lived out, he said.
 
Referencing an address he gave at World Youth Day in Krakow, Francis said to not be afraid, for though we might think, but “I am a sinner, what can I do?” the truth is that “when the Lord calls us, he doesn’t stop at what we are or what we have done.”
 
“On the contrary, at the very moment that he calls us, he is looking ahead to everything we can do, all the love we are capable of giving.”
 
How do we prepare to, like Mary, give this love? Pope Francis offered four practical suggestions. One, is to end each day doing an examination of conscience – reflecting on our day, remembering both “the good times and the challenges, what went well and those that went wrong.”
 
These can also be recorded in a journal if we like and is a good way of noticing what God is doing in our lives, he said.
 
Another suggestion the Pope made is to spend more time reading the Bible. If you, as young people, want to make your life a “gift for humanity” it is “essential to connect with the historical tradition and the prayer of those who have gone before you,” he said.
 
Doing lectio divina, a method of prayerfully reading the Bible and applying God’s word to your own life will help to “illumine your steps.”
 
Thirdly, Francis stressed the importance of going to Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
 
And lastly, he said that young people must speak to and learn from the wisdom of their elders, especially grandparents or other relatives. “Do you realize how extraordinarily enriching the encounter between the young and the elderly can be?” he asked.
 
“Young people have strength, while the elderly have memory and wisdom.”
 
“The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways,” Pope Francis continued.
 
“The Church is heir to a long tradition which, passed down from generation to generation, is further enriched by the experience of each individual. Your personal history has a place within the greater history of the Church.”
 
Even young people should be mindful of tradition and the past, he said, though this is not the same as being nostalgic or remaining stuck on a certain period of history as being the best. One of the gifts of youth is questioning and dreaming about the future, he said.
 
“God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction. He helps us to give due value to the past so as to better build a future of happiness.”
 
“Many people think that young people are distracted and superficial,” Francis explained. “They are wrong! Still, we should acknowledge our need to reflect on our lives and direct them towards the future.”
 
“When God touches the heart of a young man or woman, they become capable of doing tremendous things.”

Good Friday Collection to benefit Holy Land Christians

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Christians in the Middle East continue to suffer innumerable hardships this Lenten season, the Vatican has announced that this year’s Good Friday Collection will benefit Christian communities in the Holy Land.

“Once again, from every part of the Church, expressions of solidarity come together effectively in the Good Friday Collection,” stated Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, in a recent press release.

“Our sense of communion in the suffering and risen Christ moves us again this year to undertake the important initiative that is the Collection for the Holy Land,” Cardinal Sandri said.

This announcement means that in most Catholic parishes around the world, a Good Friday Collection will be taken up to aid Christian parishes and their outreaches in the Holy Land. This initiative has been an annual tradition in the Church since its institution by Blessed Pope Paul VI.

According to Blessed Pope Paul VI, the collection was crated “not only for the Holy Places but above all for those pastoral, charitable, educational, and social works which the Church supports in the Holy Land for the welfare of their Christian brethren and of the local communities.”

The Catholic communities that will benefit from this aid include the Latin Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody and other jurisdictions, such as the Greek-Melkite, Coptic, Maronite, Syrian, Chaldean, and Armenian churches.

These funds will be used to help the parochial schools, hospitals, and community centers in these areas to protect and care for their communities, which often include refugees, asylum-seekers, children, and victims of war.

“Living the Christian faith in the Middle East is not at all easy. Especially in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, where Christian communities have experienced an ‘ecumenism of blood,’ individuals are daily pressured to abandon their land or even their faith,” Cardinal Sandri stated.

“The unforgettable faces of thousands of children and teens, fleeing violence and persecution in Syria and Iraq, continue to challenge us, even as these young people, thanks to our Collection, are being welcomed by Christian schools and neighboring counties.”

While this collection is a one-time offering on Good Friday, the cardinal noted that there are additional ways of aiding Christians in the Middle East outside of the Lenten and Easter seasons.

“The small Christian presence in the Middle East has great need of the support and attention of the entire Church. Constant prayer is the first and greatest assistance they seek.”

Cardinal Sandri also said that Holy Land pilgrimages are a substantial way to grow the “vitality of the Church in the Holy Land,” and which also boost local economy.

“At least 30% of the local community in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem live and work thanks to the presence of pilgrims,” Cardinal Sandri said.

The cardinal encouraged individuals to give generously to this year’s Good Friday Collection, pointing to the words of St. Paul: “for God loves a cheerful giver.”

“As we prepare for Easter, let us renew our commitment to becoming artisans of peace, praying and working that peace may dwell in the heart of every person, especially our brothers and sisters of the Holy Land and the Middle East.”