Central African Republic, where welcoming refugees is an act of faith

In Carnot, a city in the western part of the country, a Catholic Church welcomes hundreds of Muslim refugees: “Assisting them means aiding peace”

“It should be seen as normal that the Church assists Muslim refugees: welcoming them is not a symbolic gesture, it is an act of charity. I, on my part, consider it a part of my Christian faith, which calls on me to work in favour of peace and social cohesion.” Stanislas Tatalé is leader of the Franciscan Youth of Carnot, a city in the west of the Central African Republic that is more than 400 kilometres from the capital, Bangui. Until three months ago, the area was controlled by militia known as anti-Balaka: the group was born as a people’s self-defence force against another guerrilla coalition, Seleka. Anti-Balaka forces have now become an equally ferocious element in the civil war that has dragged on for over two and a half years.

The clash between supporters of General François Bozizé (many of whom have joined the anti-Balakas) and Seleka chiefs who ousted him from the Presidency with a coup in March 2013, also impacted on the peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims in the country. The presence of many Chadian and Sudanese Muslims among the mercenaries who supported the rebel coalition, broke a decades-long balance and led to reciprocal violence.
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Syria: Encountering God while waiting in line for a bucket of water

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh describes his experience in Aleppo at the Rimini Meeting in Italy. Small daily gestures that can change a person and the world

If there is one image that captures the essence of the last edition of the Rimini Meeting which concluded yesterday, that is Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, parish priest of the Latin Church of St. Francis in Aleppo. It is testimonies like his – which are inevitably shocking – that shows us that Jesus is with us “to the end of the world”. “I am here to share the joy of the faith,” he immediately points out on the stage. For someone who lives under the constant thunder of bombs and with ISIS practically in his back yard, to say this, he either has to be mad or God must be nearby.

Fr. Ibrahim arrived in Aleppo nine months ago in the thick of the Syrian crisis. He describes this difficult situation as the Revelation: “We are living in chaos and we are lacking everything. Alongside the real problem of security – his neighbourhood is controlled by the Syrian government but the Caliphate troops are just a short distance away – there is also the difficulty of getting hold of things due to rising costs and the scarcity of resources. But whenever a need is satisfied, we appreciate it more, even something as simple as a glass of water.”
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Priests Invited to Be Missionaries of Mercy During Jubilee

Applications Accepted by Pontifical Council

This Ash Wednesday, missionaries of mercy will be sent forth by Pope Francis during a celebration in St. Peter’s, to spread God’s mercy during the jubilee proclaimed by the Holy Father to begin Dec. 8.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is accepting applicants for those priests who want to be named missionaries. They will be granted “the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See,” the Pope wrote in Misericordiae Vultus, (The Face of Mercy), the document officially proclaiming the Holy Year.

The figure of the Missionary is described in Misericordiae Vultus number 18.
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Vatican will not partake in Palestinian flag initiative at UN

Ramallah intended to seize the opportunity of the Pope’s presence at the UN General Assembly in September to ask for the flags of the two non-member observer states to fly alongside those of the 193 member states

The Vatican does not want to be involved in the battle of the flags at the UN. In a note circulated to the New York headquarters in New York, the Vatican asked the Palestinian mission to the UN to remove any reference to the ‘Holy See’ from a draft resolution Ramallah intends to present to the General Assembly. The text requests that the flags of the two states recognised as permanent observer members (the Vatican and Palestine), may fly alongside those of the 193 member nations, in front of the entrance to the UN headquarters.

“The Holy See does not intend to co-sponsor a draft resolution that the State of Palestine may eventually present on the matter,” the note, reprinted by Reuters, said. “The Holy See asks the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations kindly to remove in its draft resolution any reference to the ‘Holy See’ and any generic reference ‘on behalf of the Observer States’,” it added.
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German bishops to visit Roman synagogue

Two German bishops, accompanied by two German rabbis, will visit the Great Synagogue of Rome on September 9, according to an announcement from the German Bishops’ Conference.

In doing so, the bishops hope to “pay tribute to the place and the people like Cardinal Augustine Bea and former Chief Rabbi of Rome Elio Toaff” who were instrumental in the development of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.

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Francis on prayer: Does God’s love still excite us, amaze us?

Pope Francis posed a question to Christians around the world: Do you still think of God as someone who loves you? If we remember to pause in wonder at God’s love, the pontiff said, we will remember to pray

Pope Francis on Wednesday posed a deep and moving question to Christian families around the world: Do you think of God only as an omnipotent being, the supreme judge of the world? Or do you consider God also someone who loves you, even offering a gentle caress in times of hardship?

While the creator has both aspects, thinking often of the second helps us grow in our faith and prayer lives, Francis told crowds at his weekly general audience.

“Do we come to think of God like the caress that grasps us in life, before which there is nothing?” the pontiff asked crowds in St. Peter’s Square. “A caress from which nothing, not even death, can separate us?”

“Or do we think of God only as the great Being, the Omnipotent that has made everything, the Judge that monitors every action?” the pope continued.
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A look back at the Conclave that elected Albino Luciani Pope

On the afternoon of 26 August 1978, after just one day of voting, 111 cardinals nominated the Patriarch of Venice, Pope. Here is the story of how it happened including behind-the-scenes insight into the run up to the vote

Patriarch Albino Luciani left Venice for the last time at 6 am on 10 August, accompanied only by his secretary. He left almost in secret, no one was there to bid him farewell. These were the last moments he spent in the lagoon city, where he had arrived eight years before, rarely venturing outside it. When he did, it was only for brief periods of time. A photographer, who had been waiting around all night, managed to capture the moment when the cardinal left via the rear exit of the Patriarchate and boarded the speed boat that drove him away.

When he got to Rome, Luciani stayed in the convent of the Augustinian fathers opposite the former Holy Office building, just a stone’s throw away from St. Peter’s Square. He ate in the dining hall with the friars who would often see him taking strolls in the garden reciting the Rosary. He always arrived at the cardinals’ general congregations on time but never took the floor. “It was almost as though he was hiding, as though he was afraid of making himself seen”, some cardinal colleagues of his said after the Conclave. He never took part in the more or less private meetings when groups of cardinals would exchange ideas and speak about potential candidates. His absence was felt.
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Iraq: Authorities begin to document abuse and violence against Christians

A committee of the security forces in Iraq has been set up, on the orders of Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi, to collect information about the violence and abuse suffered by Christians in Iraq and in particular in the capital. The committee aims to counter the escalation of kidnappings of Christians and the illegal expropriation of Christian homes.

The heads of the Committee have already visited the headquarters of the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad and spoken with Patriarch Louis Raphael I in order to start collecting data and information about the abuses suffered by Christians. The committee’s first step is to carry out a census of the real estate stolen from Christian families. The investigation is collecting the title deeds and establishing which individuals, groups and corporate bodies are now benefitting from the illegally expropriated properties.

In recent months, both in Baghdad and in other Iraqi cities, many properties have been illegally taken from thei Christian owners, through the use of false legal documents. These crimes have taken place thanks to collusion of corrupt and dishonest officials.
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Israel: Government restrictions may force Christian schools to close

Two weeks before the new term begins, Christian schools in Israel have expressed grave concerns that budgetary restrictions imposed by the Israeli state could force a number of schools to close down – and harm the education of more than 30,000 children.

Last Monday, the heads of some 48 Christian schools of Israel met in Galilee to reflect together on the way forward. A delegation of several school leaders planned to meet with the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and the Israeli Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett yesterday.

“Our demands are simple”, says Father Faysal Hijazin, Secretary General of the Christian Schools in Palestine. “Our schools have the right to be treated like the others, and our children have the right to education, like all other Israeli children.”

This dispute between the Israeli government and Christian schools, which have the status of “recognized school but non-public” – has continued for some time. During the last ten years, the budget of the State of Israel allotted to Christian schools fell by 45%, thus forcing these institutions to increase tuition fees charged to the families, whose income, for the most part, is below the national average. This already difficult situation, worsened last year, when new regulations of the Ministry imposed a limit on the contribution of families.
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Thailand: Interfaith prayers for victims of shrine bomb


Thailand paid homage to victims of the bomb blast at the Erewan shrine in Bangkok, in an interfaith ceremony on Friday. Buddhist monks were joined by Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh faith leaders at the temple. The ceremony was also attended by local authorities and foreign representatives.

A message from the Thai Catholic Bishops Conference was shared during the service. The text expressed sadness at the loss of life and condolences to the victims families. It condemned all forms of violence. The Bishops also urged the Thai population to work together to restore unity in order to face the future in a climate of peace and reconciliation. The Catholic Church assures fervent prayers for the families of the victims and full support for the entire nation.

Twenty people died and more than a hundred were injured in the blast last Monday. Municipal staff worked day and night repairing the damage caused to the historic shrine.

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Jerusalem: patriarchate decries construction of security wall through Christian lands


Following an Israeli high court decision, Israel has resumed construction of the Israel West Bank barrier in the Cremisan Valley, affecting Salesian institutions and 58 Palestinian Christian families.

“The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem strongly condemns this Israeli conducted operation, which is without regard to the rights of the families of the valley; the rights that these same families have bravely tried to defend before the law over the past decade,” the patriarchate said in a statement. “We join with the sorrow and frustration of these oppressed families, and we strongly condemn the injustice done to them.”

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Vatican Spokesman: Pope Does Not Want to Enter Into Falkland Islands Debate

Group Attempts to Use Photo-Op to Influence Sovereignty Dispute Between Argentina and Great Britain

The Holy See has commented on a disputed photo of Pope Francis holding a sign calling for dialogue between Argentina and Great Britain over the Falkland Islands.

During the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis was greeted by a group from Argentina who gave him a sign that read: “It is time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom about the Falkland Islands.”

Great Britain has exercised sovereignty over the Islands since 1883. However, Argentina has made claims to the Falkland Islands. The dispute between the two countries culminated in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Great Britain fought back and forced Argentina to surrender 74 days later. Although both countries restored diplomatic ties in 1989, neither one has changed their position on their respective claims to the islands.

Regarding the photo, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Holy See Press Office, stated that the photo “was made in the context of the General Audience on Wednesday, August 19th, in which many faithful give the Pope various objects, usually to take photographs.”
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ANGELUS ADDRESS: On Who Is Jesus

”Each of us can ask ourselves now: ‘Who is Jesus for me?”

Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address before and after the recitation of the Angelus prayer today at noon to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square:

***

Before the Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today, we conclude the reading from the Gospel of John’s sixth chapter, with the discourse on the “Bread of Life”, which Jesus delivered in the aftermath of the miracle of multiplication of the loaves and fish. At the end of that discourse, before the day ended, there was a great enthusiasm because Jesus had said to be the Bread which came down from Heaven, and that He would give His flesh as food and His blood as drink, alluding very clearly to the sacrifice of His own life. Those words provoked disappointment in the people, and they judged him unworthy of being the Messiah, not “prizeworthy.” So some watched Jesus as a Messiah who was supposed to speak and act in a way that His mission would have success. Right away! But right here, they make an error: on the understanding of the mission of the Messiah! Even the disciples cannot accept the language, the disturbing language of the Lord. And today’s passage refers to their discomfort, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60).
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Meet India’s criminal lawyer nun

From pastoral care in prisons to the courtroom: this is the story of Sister Teresia Joyce, who combines two vocations: consecrated life and legal defence. In ten years of service she has helped 350 people

She alternates between her violet-coloured sari and black lawyer’s blazer. And her daily prayer is followed by skilful oratory in the courtroom. Sister Teresia Joyce is a nun from the congregation of St Anne’s Sisters of Madras in southern India but she is also a criminal defence lawyer.

For ten years now, she has had the unique experience of following two vocations seemingly at odds with one another: consecrated life and defending people in court. But according to Sister Joyce, a female version of Perry Mason dressed in monastic garb, they are not at all at odds: “I will not accept that lawyers are liars. A lawyer is ultimately a human being with a fleshy heart. The individual decides which side he/ she will take up. And if you follow your conscience, you’ll always be on the right side,” she said in an interview with Indian daily Bangalore Mirror.

Sister Joyce hails from Kolar (in the Indian state of Karnataka). She felt a calling and in 1990 she was professed as a nun having completed her studies. In 1994 she became interested in providing pastoral care in prisons. During her service, she met a priest who talked to her about how his life had changed after a visit to a prison: he had become more sensitive to the needs of the marginalised and of those who suffer behind bars. In them, the Gospel says, is the suffering Christ.
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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time B

Reading I: Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Responsorial Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Reading II: Ephesians 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32
Gospel: John 6:60-69

It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail. (Gospel)

On Not Faking Humility

It’s hard not to fake humility; yet, seemingly, we need to do just that.

For instance, some of the sayings of Jesus on humility seem to raise more questions than they answer. For example, in the parable of taking seats at the table, Jesus suggests that we should not move towards the highest place, lest somebody more important comes along and we will be humiliated by being asked to move lower. Rather, he says, move towards the lowest place so that the host might come and ask us to move higher, and in this way our very humility will be showcased before the other guests. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted, and whoever exalts himself will be humbled. On the surface, this would seem like little more than a strategy to get honored while all the while looking humble.

The biblical invitation to not consider oneself better than others begs the question: Can someone who is living an essentially moral and generous life really believe that he or she is no better than someone who is uncaring, selfish, or even malicious in how he or she relates to God, others, and the world? Do we really believe that we are no better than others? Did Mother Teresa really believe in her heart that she was no better than anyone else? Could she really look at herself and say: “I’m just as great a sinner as there is on this planet?” Or, did she, and must we, in the end, feign humility because we don’t really believe that we’re no better than what’s worst on this planet?
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A group of nuns in Egypt lives the Gospel by helping the disabled

Four women religious are gratuitously looking after 12 disabled girls who come from poor families. Their dream is to set up a new rehabilitation room

In a situation of material and cultural poverty, having a disability can open the way for social marginalisation. Fortunately, there are those who work hard out of the public eye to make sure this does not happen. On the outskirts of Cairo, 12 young girls and women with different disabilities, who come from very poor families that are often unable to provide them with the care they need, are living with four nuns in the “Blessed Caterina Toriani” house. The nuns assist people with “special needs (Down Syndrome, Apert Syndrome, spasticity, autism and mental disabilities). We seek to improve their quality of life, by providing a comprehensive formation; care, a moral education, healthcare and so on”.

Sister Maria came to Egypt from Argentina eight years ago and spent the first four of these studying the Arabic language and culture. She is currently the local superior of a community composed of four women religious from the “Servidoras del Señor y de la Virgen de Matarà” Institute, a congregation of the religious family of the Word Incarnate. “Each girl is a gift from God. These girls,” she continued, “give us the chance to practice all the works of mercy present in the Gospel: feeding others, giving them drink, clothing them… Through them we are serving and loving Christ himself. How can we not consider that a privilege? We serve God every day.”
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ISIS bulldozes monastery of Mar Elian, aiming to fuel a clash of civilizations

The church and the religious structure as a whole dated back to the 5th century. The destructive rage of the Caliphate’s men is part of a wider strategy: the destruction of Christian symbols forms part of a sort of pornography of violence, which the world is subjected to. The demolition comes after the kidnapping of Fr. Mourad, the monastery’s prior last May

ISIS has carried out yet another act of vandalism and destruction in Syria. Aside from representing the umpteenth act of brutal violence in the never-ending Syrian crisis, the gesture is also laden with ideological, religious and military significance. The Catholic monastery of Mar Elian which was located near the town of Quaryatain was raised to the ground and images of the destruction and profanation of the 5th century church were immediately published, circulating round the world.

But behind the iconoclastic rage unleashed by the Caliphate is a carefully thought-out strategy: that of showing blind contempt for the symbols of the Christian faith in an attempt to fuel the clash between civilizations and religions across the Mediterranean. Should such a scenario definitively take hold, ISIS could receive increased support and boost its strength by taking advantage of the desperation and frustration of populations ravaged by conflicts across the entire Middle East.
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African theologians, bishops cry out for more expansive synod discussions

At a wide-ranging meeting of African moral theologians in July, several academics and bishops called for a broader scope of discussions at October’s Synod of Bishops. They said the discussions at last year’s synod left our many African concerns

A number of prominent theologians and bishops from across the African continent have sharply called for more expansive discussions at this fall’s global meeting of Catholic bishops on family issues, saying last year’s event focused too heavily on subjects mainly of concern to Europeans and North Americans.

Last year’s discussions — which attracted global media coverage scrutinizing bishops’ stances on controversial questions like divorce and remarriage and same-sex relationships — left out a multitude of pressing issues facing millions living throughout Africa, the prelates and academics argued at a groundbreaking conference here July 16-18.

In a reflection of the tone of the event, one theologian-participant made a poignant, echoing plea. The global church, she said, must entirely refocus itself to speak for voiceless Africans who are suffering in many ways.
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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Family Life – Work

“Work is sacred. Work gives dignity to a family. We must pray that work is not lacking in a family.”

Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address during this morning’s General Audience in Paul VI Hall:

***

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

After reflecting on the value of celebrations in family life, today we pause on a complementary element, which is that of work. Both celebration and work are part of the creative design of God.

Work, it is commonly said, is necessary to maintain the family, for the children to grow, to ensure a dignified life to one’s dear ones. The best thing that can be said about a serious and honest person is: “He is a worker,” in fact, he is really one who works, he is one that doesn’t live off the backs of others. There are so many Argentines today, I have seen, and I will say as we say: “no vive de arriba” (who don’t live supported by others). You understand?

And, in fact, work, in its many forms, beginning with household work, also cares for the common good. And where does one learn this hard-working lifestyle? It is learned first of all in the family. The family educates how to work with the example of the parents: the father and mother that work for the good of the family and of society.
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Pope Remembers Brother Roger of Taize Community

Sends Message on Occasion of Three Anniversaries of Ecumenical Monastic Community

In a message sent to the Taizé community, Pope Francis remembered their founder, Brother Roger, as “a tireless witness of the gospel of peace and reconciliation.”

The Holy Father’s message was sent to the community as they mark three significant anniversaries: the 75th anniversary of its foundation; the 100th anniversary of Brother Roger’s birthday and the 10th anniversary of his death.

Founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schütz, the Taizé community is an ecumenical monastic order composed of over a hundred brothers from Protestant and Catholic traditions. An estimated 100,000 youth attend pilgrimages organized by the community “for prayer, Bible study, sharing, and communal work.” Brother Roger was stabbed to death by a mentally ill woman during an evening prayer service in 2005.
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