Pope gives flowers received in Albania to Blessed Mother

In thanksgiving to the Blessed Mother for the success of his short but eventful trip to Albania, Pope Francis paid a visit on Monday morning to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope spent time before the icon of Our Lady salus populi Romani – Protectress of the Roman people – and left the bouquet of flowers he had received Sunday during his meeting at the Betania Home for the disabled in Tirana, Albania.

Those in the Basilica at the time joined the Holy Father as he recited the Salve Regina.

The Sept. 21 apostolic journey was Pope Francis’ first to a European country since his election to the papacy.

Early in the day the Holy Father delivered an address to Albania’s leaders and the diplomatic corps, in which he praised the “coexistence” between members of different faiths in the country, while condemning those who “consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.”
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Don’t overcomplicate the Christian life, Pope Francis warns

Pope Francis resumed daily Mass Tuesday after his papal visit to Albania, telling those present that living the Christian life is simple: listen to God’s word and put it into practice.

“These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus, hear the word of God and put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more,” the Pope said Sept. 23 at the Saint Martha residence.

“Simple, easy. Maybe we’ve made it a little difficult with explanations that no one understands, but the Christian life is this: listen to the word of God and practice it.”

This morning’s Mass is the Pope’s first this week after his one-day visit to Albania on Sunday. The Sept. 21 trip was packed with a full slate of meetings with local state and Church leaders as well as members of religious and lay groups. The day also included a quick visit to a center for abandoned children.

A reoccurring theme in Pope Francis’ remarks Sunday was the condemnation of all violence done in the name of religion as well as the repeated acknowledgment of the brutal persecution of religious groups carried out late last century under the country’s now-collapsed atheistic regime.

During his homily at daily Mass Tuesday, the Pope urged Christians to read God’s word faithfully and to truly listen with our hearts to what he has to say.
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A delayed desire: Albanian priest waited decades for ordination

An Albanian Catholic priest shared his story of encountering persecution for his faith by the country’s repressive state atheism, noting how he waited decades before his dream to be ordained was fulfilled.

“When I first said I wanted to be ‘like Him,’ a priest told me that it was a dark path to take, but I replied: ‘I see no darkness,’” Father Gjergj Simoni said.

In an interview he recalled feeling drawn to the priesthood at an early age.

“When my grandmother took me to Mass when I was six, and at the moment of the consecration, I had the feeling that I wanted to be like Jesus in the hand of that priest. I soon realized I wanted to be a priest, even if my dream did not come true for years.”

Pope Francis touched on Albania’s recent history of religious oppression several times throughout his one-day trip on Sunday. Albania lived under state-imposed atheism from 1967 to 1991, but priests and other religious leaders began to endure persecution when dictator Enver Hoxha took power in 1946.

The regime conducted a war against religions: almost 2,100 people, including Catholic priests and adherents of other religions, were brutally killed because of their religious beliefs.
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

The liturgical reform, as seen by one of its protagonists

The newly published memoirs of Fr. Louis Bouyer, who was intimately involved in the reform of the Roman liturgy following Vatican II, reveal some of the relevant committee’s doings, a prominent vaticanista has noted.

“Being called to serve on one of the preparatory commissions for Vatican II, Bouyer immediately realized from his own experience its greatness and its wretchedness, and soon pulled back from it,” wrote Sandro Magister Sept. 16 at his Settimo Cielo blog for the Italian publication l’Espresso.

The text of Magister’s post was translated into English by Gregory DiPippo, managing editor of New Liturgical Movement.

The occasion of the post was the publication, earlier this year and in French, of Fr. Bouyer’s “Memoires” by Les Editions du Cerf.

Fr. Bouyer was born in 1913 in Paris to a Lutheran family, and became a minister of that confession. Through his study of the Church fathers, he converted to the Church in 1939, “drawn to it above all by its liturgy, of which he quickly distinguished himself as a gifted enthusiast with his masterful study on the rites of Holy Week, ‘The Paschal Mystery’,” Magister wrote.

The Frenchman joined the Congregation of the Oratory, and in time was appointed a peritus at Vatican II. Magister wrote that Fr. Bouyer’s experience led him to find “the cheap ecumenism of that crazy era unbearable, like ‘something from Alice in Wonderland.’”

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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Weapons, low funding hinder Middle East humanitarian aid

Foreign weapons and a lack of funding are among the serious challenges facing humanitarian response efforts in the Middle East, said participants at a recent conference in Rome.

Leaders of the Caritas Internationalis family met Sept. 15-17 to address the escalating crises throughout the Middle East and discuss a coordinated regional and international response.

According to Caritas Internationalis secretary general Michel Roy, the conference was organized on short notice over the summer due to the “overwhelming” obstacles that have arisen throughout the region, most recently in Gaza and Iraq.

One of these challenges, Roy said, is the difficulty in acquiring the funds necessary to mobilize aid to those affected.

“In front of man-made disasters, conflicts,” he said, “money is scarce. It’s difficult to raise funds. People are not interested in giving to victims of war. Alas! I understand! It would be better to stop the wars and to avoid having victims.”
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Pope Heads Back to Rome After Visit to Albania

After an intense and emotional visit to Albania, Pope Francis boarded the Alitalia flight that will return him to Rome.

Before departing for the airport, the Holy Father visited the ‘Betania’ Center, a charitable organization that cares for orphaned children.

As is customary, the Pope sent a telegram to President Bujar Nishani of Albania before boarding his flight, thanking the head of state for welcoming him to the country.

“As I depart Albania for my return flight to Rome, I wish to express my deep gratitude to Your Excellency and the beloved Albanian people for your generous hospitality during my visit,” he wrote. “Invoking abundant blessings upon you all, I pray that the Almighty may grant you and your fellow citizens the gifts of peace and well-being.”

The Pope also sent a second telegram to President Giorgo Napolitano of Italy, before returning to the country, sending him and the Italian nation his “most cordial greetings.”

Pope Francis is expected to land at Rome’s Ciampino airport at 9:30 p.m., local time.

Faith brings light to hardship, Pope Francis says at Children’s center

Pope Francis visited an Albanian center for abandoned children on Sunday, emphasizing in his remarks that Christian charity can help bring oneself and others closer to God.

“This faith, working through charity, dislodges the mountains of indifference, of disbelief and of apathy, and opens hands and hearts to work for what is good and share this experience,” the Pope said in an evening speech Sept. 21. “Through humble gestures and simple acts of service to the least among us, the Good News that Jesus is risen and lives among us is proclaimed.”

“We see how faith brings light and hope in situations of grave hardship; we observe how faith is rekindled in hearts touched by the Spirit of Jesus who said, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me’.”

Pope Francis’ remarks came at the Bethany Center in Albania’s capital city Tirana. The center cares for abandoned children and adolescents. He also met with representatives from other charities in Albania.

The Pope said that the center’s work shows that it is possible for people of different ethnicities and religions “to live together peacefully and fraternally.”
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Pope Francis: No one can use religion as a pretext for violence

Pope Francis opened his trip to Albania praising the “coexistence” between members of different faiths in the country, while condemning those who “consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression.”

“May no one use religion,” the Pope said, “as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!”

Such trends lead to “conflict and violence, rather than being an occasion for open and respectful dialogue, and for a collective reflection on what it means to believe in God and to follow his laws.”

Addressing the scores of people gathered outside the presidential palace, where he was welcomed by Albania’s leaders and diplomatic corps, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the invitation to Albania, an nation he described as “a land of heroes” and “of martyrs.”

Acknowledging the efforts made over the past quarter century on a path towards “rediscovered freedom,” he stressed that “respect for human rights,” especially religious freedom and freedom of expression, “is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development.”
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After brutal persecution, Albania ‘reopened’ to missionary zeal

During Mass at Mother Teresa square as part of his one-day trip to Albania, Pope Francis recalled the country’s vicious history of anti-religious persecution, saying it is now ready for the Gospel to flourish.

“Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs: many bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laity paid for their fidelity with their lives,” he said Sept. 21.

“Demonstrations of great courage and constancy in the profession of the faith are not lacking. How many Christians did not succumb when threatened, but persevered without wavering on the path they had undertaken!”

The Pope’s comments reference the latter part of the 20th century when Albania was part of the Eastern bloc – atheism was promoted, and religious persons of all confessions persecuted.

The activities of Church were hindered, school and seminaries closed, and bishops and priests were killed or arrested. When Albania was officially proclaimed an atheist state in 1967, more than 2,100 churches and mosques were closed. Out of seven bishops and 200 hundred priests and nuns active in Albania in 1945, just one bishop and 30 priests and nuns were alive when the communist regime collapsed in 1991.
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Pope Francis’ Address at Welcoming Ceremony in Tirana

“What the experience in Albania shows, rather, is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”

Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during the Welcoming Ceremony held at the Presidential Palace in Tirana, Albania.


Mr. President,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here with you, in this noble land of Albania, a land of heroes who sacrificed their lives for the independence of the nation, and a land of martyrs, who witnesses to their faith in difficult times of persecution. I am grateful for the invitation to visit your country, called “the Land of the Eagles”, and for your warm welcome.

Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Albania re-embarked upon the arduous but rewarding path of freedom. This experience has allowed Albanian society to take up the process of material and spiritual reconstruction, to foster an increase of enthusiasm and initiatives, and to create a spirit of cooperation and exchange with countries of the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Europe and indeed with the rest of the world. This rediscovered freedom has helped you look to the future with trust and hope, establishing new projects and renewing friendly relations with countries both near and far.

Respect for human rights, respect is an essential word for you, among which religious freedom and freedom of expression stand out, is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development. When the dignity of the human person is respected and his or her rights recognized and guaranteed, creativity and interdependence thrive, and the potential of the human personality is unleashed through actions that further the common good.
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Marriage prep begins at home, Bishop Conley says

Preparation for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony begins with family life in the home long before a couple has met, said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., and this fact cannot be overlooked in addressing the prevalence of divorce.

“I’ve learned in nearly thirty years of ministry, that no priest can adequately prepare a couple for marriage in the months he spends with them before the wedding,” he said in a Sept. 19 column for CNA. “Real preparation for marriage begins in the home – in the witness of loving and married parents who embrace the holy vocation of family life.”

Although the priest’s duty in counseling a couple seeking marriage in the Church is to help them “embrace the sacrificial call of marriage” and to “reject the lies of the world about false relationships” – namely, contraception, divorce, cohabitation and “trial marriage,” the priest only has a few months with them, whereas a person’s family has years with them.

Formation as a faithful spouse – and formation for any vocation – begins in the home where the child is “taught to believe in the merciful and trustworthy God.”
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Albania prepares for papal Mass

A Franciscan involved in the preparations for Pope Francis’ trip to Albania said that he hopes for a surprise from a Pope who has made a habit of breaking his routine to visit the sick.

“We set the area with young people and sick people in the front, at the right and the left of the altar. Pope Francis will address young people at the beginning of the Mass, but he is not expected to go and spend time with sick people. But, you know, we hope that Pope Francis will go toward that area,” Fr. Vincenzo Foca said.

“We expect surprises from Pope Francis,” the priest said.

Fr. Foca is part of the Franciscan mission of Albania and is serving as second master of ceremonies of the papal Mass. He will also be one of the Pope’s concelebrants on the altar during the Mass, to be held in Mother Teresa Square Sep. 21.

Almost 240 priests are expected to concelebrate the Mass.

“They hail from Albania, but also from all the countries around Albania,” Fr. Foca said. “There are priests from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo.”

“Together with them there will be 14 seminarians on the altar to assist Pope Francis during the Mass,” he added.
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Priest hopes papal visit will nurture fledgling Albanian Church

Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Albania could encourage the leaders of the Catholic Church in a nation with a long history of religious persecution and political domination, said a priest in the country.

Father Don Carlo Lorenzo Rossetti, a Fidei donum priest from the Diocese of Rome, has been based in Albania since 2003. In a Sept. 17 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Fr. Rossetti said that despite significant challenges facing Catholics in the country, “the Church is rising again!”

The priest explained that both Church and civil authorities have high hopes for the Holy Father’s Sept. 21 visit.

“Catholics hope that he might strengthen all pastoral workers, giving them courage and willingness to work in unity and in communion with the universal Church,” he said.

“Civil authorities are hoping for a greater visibility for their country, which would make it easier for Albania’s future integration into the European Community,” he added. The country became a member of NATO in 2009 and is an official candidate for accession to the European Union as of June 2014.

Albanian’s history is fraught with dominance by foreign, totalitarian and Communist regimes. After centuries of domination by the oppressive Islamic-Osman Turkey, followed by a rigid monarchy under King Zogu, and then Italian fascism and German Nazism, the country entered into one of its darkest periods after World War II.

The radical and inhumane Stalinist Enver Hoxha governed the country under a Communist regime that persecuted all religious denominations, especially Christianity.
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Pope’s visit will change Philippines, Cardinal Tagle hopes

Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines in January will be an opportunity to lead the Church in the country down “new roads in the faith and in the mission,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.

“Pope Francis’ pastoral visit, centered on mercy and compassion, will undoubtedly offer great opportunities to experience grace, to hear a call, to question our comfortable surroundings, to value the poor, renew society, care for creation and live honorably,” the cardinal said in a letter to Catholics of the Philippines.

The Philippines will host Pope Francis early next year, January 15-19. The country hosted visits by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and St. John Paul II in 1981 and 1995.

In his letter to the Filipino faithful, the cardinal recalled Paul VI’s visit to the Philippines. Cardinal Tagle was 13 years old at the time of the visit. At one point, seeking to see the Pope, he was surrounded by thronging crowds of faithful.

“I stretched my neck and focused my eyes in order to see him as the car in which he was riding passed in front of us. The Pope’s serene gaze and attitude amazed me. That image never left my mind,” Cardinal Tagle reflected.

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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Martyrs’ memory to be a focus of Pope’s visit to Albania

Focused on the memory of the martyrs, Pope Francis’ one-day journey to Albania is aimed at restoring the link between the country and its Catholic roots, which had been disturbed as secularization has advanced there.

Pope Francis will visit Albania Sept. 21, with the theme of “Together with God, toward the hope that does not disappoint.”

The trip’s logo represents a Christian people rising from the blood of martyrs; Tirana, the capital, is preparing to welcome Pope Francis with a series of images of the Albanian martyrs displayed along its main boulevard.

“Pope Francis’ visit, together with those images in the boulevard, aims at restoring the interrupted reality of a Church that has suffered martyrdom,” says Fr. Matteo De Fiore, rector of the Salesian house in Tirana.

Fr. De Fiore stressed that “if the Catholic Church becomes aware of this reality, it can have more impact than anyone else. When I first came to Albania, in 1998, the memory of the martyrs was still alive. But nowadays, I cannot feel anymore that strength fed with the memory of the martyrs.”

“Secularizing trends have affected Christian societies more than communism,” Fr. De Fiore observed.

The origins of Catholicism in Albania stretch back to the Apostle Paul, who wrote in his letter to the Romans that “ I have replenished the gospel of Christ … from Jerusalem round about as far as unto Illyricum,” a province of the Roman empire partly found in modern-day Albania.

The Church established a hierarchy in Albania in the first century, and consolidated itself until the 15th century, when it became part of the Ottoman empire.
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25th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Reading I: Isaiah 55:6-9
Responsorial Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Reading II: Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16a

What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’ (Gospel)

Embittered Moralizing – An Occupational Hazard For Good, Faithful Persons

In a masterful book on grace, Piet Fransen suggests that we can test how well we understand grace by gauging our reaction to this story:

Imagine a man who during his whole life is entirely careless about God and morality. He’s selfish, ignores the commandments, ignores all things religious, and is basically consumed with pursuing his own pleasure—wine, sex, and song. Then, just hours before his death, he repents of his irresponsibility, makes a sincere confession, receives the sacraments of the church, and dies inside that conversion.

What’s our spontaneous reaction to that story? Isn’t it wonderful that he received the grace of conversion before he died? Or, more likely: The lucky beggar! He got away with it! He got to have all that pleasure and still gets to go to heaven!

If we felt the latter emotion, even for a moment, we have never deeply understood the concept of grace. Rather, like the older brother of the prodigal son, we are still seeing life away from God’s house as fuller than life inside God’s house, are still doing the right things mostly out of bitter duty, and are secretly envying the amoral. But, if this is true, we must be gentle with ourselves. This is an occupational hazard for good, faithful persons.
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call on government to keep pro-life promises

A pro-life youth organization in Spain is asking the government to move forward with its reform of the country’s abortion laws, saying young people will oppose the party if it does not keep it’s pro-life pledges.

Alvaro Ortega, president of the pro-life youth group +Vida, warned Spanish president Mariano Rajoy that if his government does not keep its promise to reform the country’s abortion law in order to grant protection to the unborn and pregnant women, the organization will call on voters not to support the ruling People’s Party.

“We demand the government fulfill its commitment, and if it does not keep its electoral promise, it will have to face us. We are going to demand the government keep its word, and if not, we will take to the streets and call on the rest of the pro-life associations to summon all citizens to the street, and if by the time elections come this is not done, we will ask people not to vote for the PP,” Ortega said.
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Bishop Tobin on divorce: Changes needed in approach, not teaching

The dilemma of divorced and remarried Catholics should prompt consideration of changes in the Church’s approach to annulments and the Eucharist, but without compromising Church teaching, said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I.

“The challenge for the Church, of course, is how to maintain and proclaim the irrefutable teaching of our Lord Jesus that marriage entails a sacred and permanent bond between husband and wife, while also providing spiritual care for those Catholics who have fallen short of the ideal,” he said in a column written for the local diocesan paper, the Rhode Island Catholic.

“Although the teaching of Christ and His Church about the permanence of marriage is clear and undeniable, the lived reality is that many individuals, for a variety of reasons perhaps – personal, catechetical or cultural – are ill-equipped to fulfill the lofty demands of the law,” he said.

Next month, bishops the world over will meet with Pope Francis in Rome for a synod to discuss the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.

Among the topics to be discussed is the issue of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, as well as the efficiency of the annulment process.

Church teaching holds that a second marriage cannot be recognized as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. Therefore, divorced Catholics who remarry without obtaining an annulment are “in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law” and should not receive the Eucharist.
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Scottish bishops encourage cooperation, involvement in wake of vote

Following a historic vote in which Scotland rejected independence from the U.K., the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland recognized the decision and applauded the country’s strong participation in public debate.

“The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland recognises and respects the result of the Scottish referendum, that Scotland should remain a part of the United Kingdom, and commends all those who participated in what was a passionate and sometimes partisan debate,” the bishops said in a statement.

A whopping 3.6 million people, or about 85 percent of the country’s registered voters, turned out to decide whether or not they would sever 307-year-old ties with the U.K. In the end, 55 percent voted to stay united, while 45 percent voted in favor of independence.

The Scottish bishop’s conference said it hopes the strong voter turnout means Scots can now band together to cooperate for future endeavors.
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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Pope Francis invites China’s President to meet to discuss world peace

In an unprecedented move, Pope Francis has invited the President of China to meet with him, either in the Vatican or Beijing, to talk together about building peace in today’s conflict-stricken world

Pope Francis has invited the President of China, Xi Jinping, to meet him in the Vatican to discuss world peace, but he has also expressed his own willingness to travel ‘tomorrow’ to Beijing for this same purpose if that were preferable.

He issued the invitation in a letter which he signed and entrusted to Ricardo Romano, a leader of Argentina’s Justicialist Party (the largest Peronist party in Congress), accompanied by José Lujan, a representative to the Academy of Chinese Sciences to the Mercosur. Mr. Romano handed the letter to a Chinese diplomat that is understood to enjoy the full trust of President Xi Jinping.

The news was broken in Argentina on September 16 by the on-line news website, Infobae. The Vatican’s Secretariat of State had ‘no comment’ to make, but significantly did not deny it.

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By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News