Sunday Gospel Dec. 24, 2017

(Vatican Radio) In this week’s edition of There’s More in the Gospel Than Meets the Eye, Jill Bevilacqua and Seàn-Patrick Lovett bring us readings and reflections for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Listen:

Gospel  – Lk 1:26 – 38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Pope meets Ecuadoran president

Pope Francis, Saturday morning, received in the Vatican President ‎Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés of Ecuador, who later held talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

In a brief communique, the Holy See’s Press Office said that “during the cordial discussions, the special role of Christianity in the formation of the identity of the country was evoked, and appreciation was expressed for the contribution of the Church.” The Holy See and Ecuador highlighted the “importance of dialogue in facing the fundamental challenges of society.”

“Attention then turned to themes of mutual interest such as respect for indigenous populations and their culture, and the protection of the environment,”  the Press Office noted, adding that during the talks, “there was a fruitful exchange of views on the political and social situation of the region, focusing on the efforts made to favour development and to promote legality.”

Pope greets artists of Christmas Concert in the Vatican

by Robin Gomes

Christmas is a feast that is heart-felt, participatory and capable of warming the coldest of hearts, that removes barriers of indifference towards neighbours and encourages openness towards others and free giving.”  “This is why we need even today to spread the message of peace and brotherhood of Christmas,” Pope Francis said on Friday.  He was speaking to some 180 artistes of “Christmas Concert” who will be performing in the Vatican, Saturday evening.

Listen to our report:

Concert for children

The charity concert is marking its 25 years this year.  Funds raised by the concert in the Vatican will support two children’s projects: the Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurrentes, headquartered in Argentina and a programme to free children enslaved in the coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Sensitive to the needy

The Pope thanked the promoters, artists and those who will be attending the concert, manifesting their sensitiveness to the most needy and those in difficulty who call for our help and solidarity.  Explaining that art is a formidable means to open the doors of the mind and heart to the true meaning of Christmas, the Holy Father said “the creativity and genius of artists, with their work, music and singing are able to reach the innermost depths of the conscience.”

Tenderness

The Pope wished that Christmas Concert in the Vatican be an occasion for spreading “tenderness, peace and welcome” that gushes forth from the grotto of Bethlehem. He said that ‘tenderness’, the much forgotten word today amidst “violence and war”, needs to be spread.

Pope meets Evangelical leaders to discuss religious freedom

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Thursday with leaders of the World Evangelical Alliancewho were in Rome to discuss closer cooperation with the Catholic Church, especially regarding issues of religious freedom.

The WEA is a network of Protestant Churches in 129 nations representing more than 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide. Its secretary general, Bishop Efraim Tendero, was leading the delegation to the papal audience and for talks with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

He talked to Philippa Hitchen about his hopes for strengthening practical cooperation with Catholics in countries around the globe..

Bishop Efraim said he is bringing to the Pope a “call for closer partnership” in protecting religious freedom, promoting the distribution of bibles and addressing social justice issues. “We want to see this world to be a place where peace, justice and righteousness reign”, he says, “where everyone has a decent standard of living, and where Jesus Christ is recognised as Lord of all.”

Searching for common agenda

He notes that the WEA and the Pontifical Council have just completed seven years of dialogue, culminating in a joint document on Scripture and Tradition. While major theological differences remain, he says, it’s increasingly important to “look for a common agenda”, rather than “focus on what differs and what pulls us apart”.

Prior to his appointment as head of the WEA, Bishop Efraim served as for over 20 years as National Director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and as President of the Philippine Relief and Development Services, working to support the poor and needy.

Ecumenism in the Philippines

In the country which is 80 percent Roman Catholic, he says ecumenical relations are very good and he was recently asked to address a retreat for the Filipino bishops conference. There is also strong practical cooperation on issues including human trafficking, combating climate change, fighting corruption, promoting peace, and providing relief and development for victims of the many typhoons which affect the region.

Also attending the papal audience was Rev. Thomas K. Johnson, the WEA’s Religious Freedom Ambassasdor to the Vatican. He explains why there is an urgent need to join forces to combat the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Worsening persecution of Christians

Johnson notes the problem is not confined to one particular area of the globe but he says the last three years may have seen the worst persecution in the whole history of the Christian Church.

He recalls the important international consultation that took place two years ago in the Albanian capital, Tirana, on discrimination, persecution and martyrdom. Representatives of the WEA, the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Pentecostal world discussed ways of responding to the problem “in a unified manner”.

Hopes for joint educational materials

While Johnson admits there are still problems of discrimination between Evangelicals and Catholics in some countries, he adds that Evangelicals have always been made to feel “very welcome in the Vatican”.

As a philosophy professor and human rights specialist, he is particularly interested in Catholics and Evangelicals publishing “education materials that we’ve developed together”. While no-one is expecting any major pronouncements from Thursday’s meeting, he says the small steps undertaken together can lead “to a broader coalition over years” and reinforce the message that, “Christians of all varieties need to be protecting each other in the public square”.

Pope at Mass: The tenderness of God is father and mother

(Vatican Radio) The tenderness of God, as his defining trait, was at the heart of the Pope’s homily this morning  at Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The theme was taken from the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the psalm where God says of himself: “… his tenderness expands over all creatures”.

The image presented by Isaiah is that of a God who speaks to us as a father with his child, imitating his voice to make it as similar as possible to his. And first of all he reassures him by caressing him: “Do not be afraid, I will come to your aid”.

“It seems that our God wants to sing us a lullaby. Our God is gifted at this. His tenderness is this: he is a father and a mother. Many times he said: “But if a mother forgets her son, I will not forget you. He carries us in his deep within. He is the God who with this dialogue makes himself small to make us understand, to make us trust in him and we can tell him with the courage of Paul who changes the word and says: “, Abba Father”. Father … It’s the tenderness of God.”

The great that becomes small and the small that is great

It is true, said Pope Francis, sometimes God raps us over the knuckles, He is great, but with his tenderness he approaches us and saves us. And this is a mystery and one of the most beautiful things:

“He is the great God who makes himself small and in his smallness he does not stop being great. And in this great dialectic he is small: there is the tenderness of God. The great that makes himself small and the small  that is great. Christmas helps us to understand this: in that manger … the little God. A phrase from St. Thomas comes to mind in the first part of Summa [Theologica]. Wanting to explain this: “What is divine? What is the most divine thing? “, He says:” “to the maximum tamen continents at the minimum divinum est”, that is, do not be frightened of big things, but keep small things in mind. This is divine, both together.”

But where, in particular, is the tenderness of God shown?

God not only helps us, but he also makes us promises of joy, of a great harvest, to help us move forward. God, repeated Pope Francis, is not just father but a Dad:

“Am I able to speak with the Lord like this or am I afraid? Everyone answers. But someone can say, he can ask: “But what is the theological place of God’s tenderness? Where can the tenderness of God be found? What is the place where God’s tenderness is best manifested? “-” The wounds “. My wounds, your sores, when you meet my wound with his wound. We have been healed in their wounds.

And the Pope recalled the parable of the Good Samaritan: there, someone bent over the man who had stumbled upon brigands and helped him by cleaning his wounds and paying for his recovery. Here is “the theological place of God’s tenderness: our wounds”. And the Pope concludes by exhorting us to think about the Lord’s invitation during the day: “Come on, come on: show me your wounds. I want to heal them “.

Pope urges new ambassadors to Holy See to foster dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francishas received a group of new Ambassadors accredited to the Holy Seeencouraging them to foster dialogue and cooperation in our increasingly globalized society.

To the Non-Resident Ambassadors of  Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, LiechtensteinandIndia, the Pope said this cooperation is necessary to assist “the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all” and he reminded them that they are all charged with the pursuit of the common good.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Please find below the full text of Pope Francis’ address to the new Non-Resident Ambassadors:

Your Excellencies,

I extend a warm welcome to all of you for this presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See on the part of your respective countries: Yemen, New Zealand, Swaziland, Azerbaijan, Chad, Liechtenstein and India.  I would ask you to convey to the Heads of State of your respective countries my sentiments of appreciation and esteem, and to assure them of my prayers for them and the people they serve.

At the beginning of your new mission, I am conscious of the diverse countries you represent, and of the various cultural and religious traditions that characterize the history of each of your nations.  This gives me the opportunity to emphasize the positive and constructive role that such diversity plays in the concert of nations.  The international community faces a series of complex threats to the sustainability of the environment and of the world’s social and human ecology, as well as risks to peace and concord stemming from violent fundamentalist ideologies and regional conflicts, which often appear under the guise of opposing interests and values.  Yet it is important to remember that the diversity of the human family is not itself a cause of these challenges to peaceful coexistence.  Indeed the centrifugal forces that would drive peoples apart are not found in their differences but in the failure to set out on the path of dialogue and understanding as the most effective means of responding to these challenges.

Your very presence here is a reminder of the key role that dialogue plays in enabling diversity to be lived in an authentic and mutually enhancing way in our increasingly globalized society.  Respectful communication leads to cooperation, especially in fostering reconciliation where it is most needed.  This cooperation in turn assists the progress of that solidarity which is the condition for the growth of justice and due respect for the dignity, rights and aspirations of all.  A commitment to dialogue and cooperation must be the hallmark of every institution of the international community, as well as of every national and local institution, for all are charged with the pursuit of the common good.

The promotion of dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation cannot be taken for granted.  The delicate art of diplomacy and the arduous craft of nation-building need to be learned afresh with each new generation.  We share the collective responsibility to educate our young people about the importance of these principles that sustain the social order.  Passing this precious legacy on to our children and grandchildren will not only secure a peaceful and prosperous future but will also meet the demands of intergenerational justice and of that integral human development that is the right of every man, woman and child.

Dear Ambassadors, as you take up your high responsibilities in the service of your nations, I assure you of the support of the various offices of the Holy See.  I offer you my prayerful best wishes for your important work, and upon you, your families, and all your fellow citizens, I willingly invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

Pope urges precise and complete news reporting

Pope Francis has urged that “newsbe communicated with serenity, precision and completeness, using a calm ‎language in favour of a fruitful reflection; thoughtful and clear words, which reject the tempers of ‎allusive, clamorous and ambiguous speech,  Pope Francis told representatives of Italian periodicals on Saturday.  “It is important that the criteria of judgment and information are offered patiently and methodically so that ‎public opinion is able to understand and discern, and is not stunned and disoriented,” the was some 350 members of the Union of  Italian Periodical Press(USPI) and the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies(FISC) who met him in the Vatican.

Reliable information close to reality

The Pope told them that they have a mission to inform properly, to offer everyone a version of the facts as close as possible to reality.  “Your free and responsible voice,” he said, “is fundamental for the growth of any society that wants to be called democratic, so that a continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported data are assured.

The Pope observed that in our time that is often dominated by the anxiety for speed, by the urge for sensationalism lacking in precision and completeness, by overheated emotions in the place of thoughtful reflection, ‎the need for reliable information is urgently felt, with verified data and news, that does not aim to ‎amaze and excite, but rather aims to create in readers a healthy critical sense, which allows ‎them to make appropriate questions and reach justified conclusions.‎

Respect for dignity of persons

The Holy father also urged that the right to information and the dignity of every single human person be “scrupulously respected” so no one risks being damaged in the absence of real and responsible circumstantial evidence. He said, “There is no need to fall into the ‘sins of communications’: misinformation, that is saying only a part which is calumny and which is sensational, or defamation that seeks out things past and old and bringing them to light today.”  “They are very grave sins that damage the heart of the journalist and damage the people,”  the Pope added.

Pope tells Christians that Mass gives meaning to Sundays

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francistold the faithful on Wednesday that missing out on Mass on Sundays means missing out an encounter with the Lord.

Speaking to those present in the Paul VI Hall for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on the question: “why go to Mass on Sunday?”

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Continuing his catechesis on the EucharistPope Francis reminded Christians that we go to Mass on Sunday to meet the resurrected Lord – or better still – “to let ourselves be welcomed by Him, to hear His word, eat at His table, and by his grace fulfil our mission as members of the Mystical Body of the Church.”

Sunday is a holy day

He said Sunday is a holy day for Christians, and it is rendered holy by the celebration of the eucharist which is the living presence of the Lord amongst us.

“Thus, it is the Mass that defines Sunday for Christians” he said: “what sort of Sunday can it be if it is lacking an encounter with the Lord?”.

The Pope turned his thoughts to persecuted Christian communities are not able to celebrate Mass every Sunday and who do their best to gather in prayer on this holy day.

He also mentioned some swarthes of secularized society “that have lost that Christian sense of Sunday that is illuminated by the Eucharist: ‘this is a real shame’  he said reflecting on the need to recuperate this need.

2nd Vatican Council 

He recalled how the Second Vatican Council asked us to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy and rest from servile work as a sign of our dignity as children of God.

“Without Christ we are condemned to be weighed down by the fatigue of everyday life, with its worries and fear of tomorrow” he said.

Our Sunday meeting with the Lord, he continued, gives us the strength to live today with trust and courage and to go forth with hope.

He explained that in the eucharist we receive a foretaste of the eternal bliss and repose to which we are called in which there will be no more fatigue, nor pain, nor grief nor tears; only the joy of living fully and for ever with the Lord.

Eucharist: source of grace and energy for Christians

The Pope finally acknowledged that the quality of Christian life is measured by our capacity to love the other, but, he said “how can we practice the Gospel without drawing from the energy provided by the inexhaustable source of the Eucharist?”

We go to Mass, he concluded, not to give something to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, to follow his commandments and, through his living presence within us, to be witnesses of his goodness and love before the world.

Maiduguri Diocese moans 3 Catechists killed by Boko Haram

(Vatican Radio) In Nigeria, three Catechists of the Diocese of Maiduguri died, this week on Monday, when two female suicide bombers detonated their vests outside a Church in Pulka. The bombs killed the three Catechists and injured several Catechumens waiting inside a Church. The Catechumens were waiting to be interviewed in readiness for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Maiduguri’s Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme was due to visit the Church in Pulka on Wednesday, 13 December.

Catechists Joseph Naga, 56 years had worked as a Catechist for 36 yrs; John Manye 38 for 11 years and a student-Catechist identified as Patrick was 27years.

According to Fr. Gideon Obasogie of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, two young women accosted and hugged Joseph, the Catechist. The other two Catechists, John and Patrick, in the vicinity became concerned with what was happening.  They rushed to rescue Joseph. As they drew near, the women detonated their bombs.

“One of our priests, Fr. Emmanuel Jatua, a priest appointed to assist the returnees in Pulka, narrated to us how two suicide bombers- young women of  between 19 and 29 years old- rushed to hug the Head-Catechist Joseph, as he was about to enter the local Church to interview some Catechumens preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Bishop of Maiduguri was scheduled to visit the Pulka community this week on Wednesday, 13 December,” Fr. Gideon told the Africa Service of Vatican Radio. He added, “Little did the Catechists know that the women were suicide bombers. As soon as the other two Catechists drew close, the bombers detonated their devices, killing themselves and the three catechists. Also injured in the explosion were dozens of Catechumens who were inside the Church. Many were rushed to nearby clinics. So far no further deaths have been recorded from this tragic incident,” said Fr. Obasogie.

The Head-Catechist, Joseph was married and with eleven children while John is survived by a wife and five children. The younger of the three, Patrick was unmarried.

“The Pulka community was joyfully preparing for the pastoral visit of the Bishop but have now been thrown into this sadness. They are scared, but they say they will stand for Christ and that the death of their Catechists shall not be in vain,” Fr. Obasaogie said.

Bishop Doeme of Maiduguri Diocese has asked the faithful in the Diocese to pray for the repose of the deceased servants of the Church. He has also appealed for more security to the Pulka Church community, particularly during this Christmas season.

The Catholic community in Pulka consists of about 9,680 Catholics. Many Churches in the Diocese of Maiduguri now hold prayers and Holy Mass under the watchful eyes of vigilantes looking out for suicide bombers.

Gwoza Local Government Authority (LGA) of Borno State in north-east Nigeria is a border town which is about 135 kilometres south-east of Maiduguri. According to reliefweb.int, the large-scale forced displacement of populations has devastated livelihoods in Pulka.

With the Nigerian army re-gaining control of most of the north-east, populations are slowly starting to return, especially since the start of 2017. Nevertheless, returnees, some of them from neighbouring Cameroon refugee camps, are coming back to a precarious humanitarian and tenuous security situation.

(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)

Vatican and WCC plan world conference on combating xenophobia

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican and the World Council of Churches on Friday concluded a three day meeting exploring ways of combating xenophobiathat is often provoked and exploited by populist policies.

A recent UNHCR report spoke of responses to the global migration and refugee crisis as marked by “toxic” fear rooted in xenophobia and encouraged by populist politics.

The Rome meeting was jointly hosted by the WCCand the Vatican’s office for Integral Human Development, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Among its goals was the planning of a world conferenceon these issues, to be held from May 21st to 24th next year.

Among the key speakers at this week’s meeting was the General Secretary of the WCC, Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, who talked to Philippa Hitchen about its aims and its achievements..

Listen:

The WCC leader described the encounter as a “very useful and significant workshop to dig a bit deeper” into the problems of xenophobia, as an expression of populism, as well as its links to racism, conflict and violence in countries around the world.

He noted that xenophobia is a complex phenomenon connected to migration, but also to recent economic developments, as people fear losing their jobs and financial stability.

Avoid scapegoating migrants

Rev. Fykse Tveit said it’s vital to understand the many reasons for migration, including those fleeing from wars, and to avoid making migrants “scapegoats for everything that creates the problems of the world today”.

Another important point, he said, is to realise how much has already been done “to develop Christian values and attitudes” towards “the stranger”. He noted how St Paul’s letter to the Romans dealt with the challenges of “being one in the Church when we are so different”.

Grassroots mobilisation

While such news rarely makes the headlines, the Lutheran pastor said there has been a “strong mobilisation in local Churches”, as grassroots communities respond to the challenges of “how do we relate to our new neighbour, to the new classmate in school?”

Rev Fykse Tveit said it’s important to develop a “realistic” message that takes into account people’s fears, but that also draws on Christian values to encourage a change in people’s behaviours, approaches, attitudes.

Realism rooted in experience

The planned world conference next May, he concluded, will work on deepening this analysis and learning from each other’s experiences, but also on a strategy for sharing this message by forging relationships with all people of good will.  As Churches, he said, “we know the problems of those who have to find a new home”, as well as “the challenges for those who receive them, but we know also a lot about the capacities of human beings to find new ways of living together, and the values that can inspire us to do so”.

Cardinal Arborelius named ‘Swede of the year’

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Anders Arboreliushas been named “Swede of the Year”, the first ever Catholic prelate to receive the prestigious accolade.

“Swede of the Year” is a title given annually, since 1984, to a person who during the year has distinguished her or himself in a way that has changed Sweden for the better.

An independent jury set up by the nation’s leading news magazine Fokusrevealed on Thursday evening that Cardinal Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm came out tops on its list of candidates who are “interesting and challenging: not simply well-known.”

This is the motivation of the jury:

Nineteen years ago, the Swede of the year stepped into a role that no Swede had played since the 16th century. This year he became the first Swede ever to wear the red biretta. The Swede of the year has already made history, but he is also a person who, ever since his appointment in 1998, has been part of Swedish public debate. To represent the Catholic Church in a country, whose identity is mainly secular and otherwise Lutheran, requires a fearless attitude. As bishop of the diocese of Stockholm the Swede of the year also plays an essential role in bringing native Swedes and immigrant Swedes together. The Swede of the year is Anders Arborelius, bishop and cardinal.”

Commenting on the recognition, Cardinal Arborelius told Vatican Radio that people sometimes ask him whether he really is Swedish because they think that it is impossible for a Swede to be a Catholic priest, bishop and cardinal!

“I am happy for the nomination and I think Fokus showed courage in having chosen me. It is a sign that the Catholic Church is increasingly becoming a reality in Sweden and part of Swedish culture. It is part of a process of integration that one can be Swedish and a cardinal at the same time” he said.

Vatican Weekend for December 17th, 2017

Vatican Weekend for December 17th, 2017 features our weekly reflections on the Sunday Gospel reading, “There’s More in the Sunday Gospel than Meets the Eye,” plus our resident Vatican watcher Joan Lewis reviews the past week’s events in the Vatican.

Listen to this program produced and presented by Susy Hodges: 

 

Vatican Weekend for December 16th , 2017

Vatican Weekend for December 16, 2017 features a report on the surprisingly large number of lonely people who have nobody with whom to spend Christmas, the origins of the tradition of making nativity scenes and where you can find a relic of the Christ Child’s crib in Rome and the latest in a series of reflections for this Advent season prepared by Monsignor William Millea.

Listen to this program produced and presented by Susy Hodges:

 

 

Pope Francis holds General Audience: English summary

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Eucharist at the Wednesday General Audience, saying Sunday is the Christian holy day par excellence.

Please find below the official English-language summary of the Pope’s catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:  Our continuing catechesis on the Eucharist today centres on the importance of Sunday Mass.  As Christians, we celebrate the Eucharist in order to encounter the Lord, to hear his word, eat at his table and, by his grace to fulfil our mission in the world as members of his Mystical Body the Church.  As the day of the resurrection and the pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Sunday is the Christian holy day par excellence.  How could we pass this day without encountering the Lord?  Sadly, in many secularized societies, we have lost the sense of Sunday.  The Second Vatican Council asked us to celebrate the Lord’s Day as a day of joy and rest from servile work, precisely as a sign of our dignity as children of God.  Each Sunday is meant to be a foretaste of the eternal bliss and repose to which we are called and which we share, even now, in Holy Communion.  In the end, we go to Mass not to givesomething to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, to follow his commandments and, through his living presence within us, to be witnesses of his goodness and love before the world.

Pope thanks his envoy to UN for promoting Vatican viewpoint

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday thanked his envoy to the United Nations in New York for all the hard work he is doing to raise the Holy See’s concerns regarding urgent issues and policies that have a direct impact on mankind.

He was receiving in audienceArchbishop Bernadito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who was in the Vatican to update the Pope on ongoing work.

Speaking to Vatican Radio immediately after the audience, Archbishop Auza told Linda Bordonithat it was really him thanking the Pope “for making his work easy: I just have to cite him and then elaborate on what he says to make our position clear!”

Listen

The Archbishop said that during their conversation the Pope expressed appreciation for the work of the Holy See Mission at the UN and said he is aware of the demanding kind of work it is and of the challenges faced in certain questions.

Treaty on Nuclear Weapons

“I thanked him for having not only signed, but ratified the new treaty on nuclear weapons, he said, I told him how he played a major role in pushing forward the treaty and inspiring countries who are the leaders of this process to go forward”.

Auza explained how the Pope’s message calling for a treaty on the elimination of nuclear weapons was read at the opening of the negotiations and of how the Holy See had a delegation of experts pushing forward its agenda on all fronts.

He said that they were very united in pushing for the “final objective of trying to move forward the question of the prohibition of nuclear weapons towards total elimination.”

“I thanked the Pope for that, and he said it is a moral imperative of our time” he said.

Global Compact for Migration

Secondly, Auza said, “I updated him on where we stand on the Global Compact for Migration” as we work towards the summit for the adoption of the Global Compact next year.

He said they also spoke of  questions related to the respect for life, for religious freedom – some of them with strong moral and ethical implications like sexual and reproductive rights, “ and then the question of gender”.

2017 difficult year

Auza said there have been many specific issues this year that have made it a difficult year for our negotiations but, overall he said, “We try to maintain good relations with everybody”.

The Archbishop revealed they also chatted about his family as the Pope met his parents in New York and asked about his mother whom, he said, “is turning 96 and about his father who is 95 as they prepare to celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary – all very exciting!”

“I was very happy about the audience, he concluded, and I think the Holy Father was also pleased to hear this little update about all the things we do in New York!”

 

Holy See at WTO urges for multilateral inclusive trade

by Robin Gomes

According to the Holy See, an unbalanced and unjust tradecreates social exclusion and inequality, offends human dignity  and neglects the common good of humanity.  A healthy world economy needs a more efficient way of interacting which ensures the economic and well-being of all countries, not just a few, said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday.

He was addressing the 11th Session of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that is taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 1-13.   WTO’s goal is to ensure that global trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible for the benefit of all.

Unequal distribution of benefits

While commending that fact that trade over recent decades has helped lift over a billion people out of poverty in developing countries leading to a decline in global extreme poverty, Arch. Jurkovic however noted that these benefits have not be shared equally, especially among the Least Developed Countries (LDC).  According to Holy See, what is needed is amultilateral and inclusive trade system guided by a spirit of solidarity that avoids being a closed economy seeking to defend privileged positions.   This will safeguard weaker and smaller countries, Arch. Jurkovic said, recalling that the aim of multilateral institutions is to seek the common good by respecting the dignity of every single person.  In this perspective of international  trade, the Holy See official talked about issues such as agriculture, women’s role, e-commerce and fisheries.

Food security

The archbishop noted that despite the generally fast growth of agricultural trade, the problem of ensuring food security remains an enduring challenge, especially for developing countries, with more than 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world. According to the Holy See, tackling the problem of food insecurity requires eliminating the structural causes that give rise to it and promoting the agricultural developmentof poorer countries, especially small-scale agriculture, the mainstay of the rural economy in the LDCs.

Women

The Holy See also noted the crucial role of women in the development not only of the family but also the entire economic system.  Studies have revealed that a higher participation of women is associated with stronger economic growth and with more equitable societies.  Yet women are often discriminated against and marginalized, particularly in education, Arch. Jurkovic said, encouraging among things training and skills development for them.

C9 Cardinals updated on the ongoing Curial reform

(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Press Officeof the Holy See, Greg Burke, briefed reporters at the Sala Stampa on Wednesday, regarding the work of the “C9” small council of Cardinals studying the reform of the Roman Curia. The members met for three days this week, starting Monday, to discuss specific issues related to the ongoing process of Curial reform.

Listen to the report by Christopher Altieri:

Vatican Media reform

At the center of the meetings were topics including the imminent launch of the new VaticanNews multimedia portal, which the Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication of the Holy See, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, presented to the council members during the course of the three days of working sessions.

Following the briefing, Press Office Director Greg Burke told Vatican Media this latest round of meetings was essentially a look at the progress of the work accomplished, and a chance to make any adjustments needed. “The C9 meeting these three days has been, in a way, a kind of ‘check up’ – the kind of thing you do with a car: you check up after 10 thousand miles, or 20 thousand miles,” Burke explained.

Curia: instrument of evangelization and service 

This week’s meetings were also in part dedicated to a reflection on the Curia as an instrument of evangelization and service for the Pope and for local churches. The Cardinal-members participating examined in great detail four dicasteries: the Congregations for Clergy, for the Evangelization of Peoples, and for Catholic Education; the Pontifical Council for Culture.

New Dicasteries

A significant portion of the work was devoted to the examination of a report from the head of the new Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, and another from the two priests responsible for day-to-day operations at the Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, Fr. Michael Czerny and Fr. Fabio Baggio.

The over-arching concern, according to Burke, is to inculcate a spirit of service in the various departments of the Roman Curia.

Reforming mentality

“For the Pope, the reform is not only a reform of structures, and changing documents,” he said. “It is above all, creating a mentality – and that is a mentality of service: that the Holy See is at the service of the local Churches.” Burke went on to say this mentality must be, “a spirit of service and of evangelization.”

The meetings this week, which took place with the participation of Pope Francis, were the 22nd of the C9 working sessions, and the last of 2017. The next round of meetings will be held February 26-28, 2018.

 

Hong Kong Bishop declares 2018 ‘Year of Youth’

Bishop of Hong Konghas declared 2018 as the ‘Year of Youth’for his diocese.

In his message for advent 2017 Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheungsaid that the Year of the Youth commences on the First Sunday of Advent 2017and will close on the feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King 2018.

His decision came as a result of his many meetings and consultations with young people since he was installed as the bishop of Hong Kong in August this year. The Bishop’s decision also comes to complement the 2018 Synodon Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, the Diocese had decided.

Praising their frank views he said  the young people have given him much to listen to and food for thought.

Personally agreeing with their suggestions, the Bishop promises to make every effort to achieve what they have suggested with God’s help and theirs,  in consultation and with the cooperation of the clergy, the laity and others concerned.

He recalled Pope Francis’ exhortation during World Youth Day Prayer Vigil on 31 July 2016, to leave their mark on history and not to be couch potatoes that confuse true happiness with comfortable sofas (sofa happiness).

Thanking them for their initiative and their enthusiastic, courageous and creative response to the call of the Church in different ways he invites them to walk the talk and through solidarity, prayer and action, help build a better world together with God and for His greater glory. (HK bishop’s advent letter)

UN joins Bangladesh in immunizing Rohingya children against diphtheria

Bangladesh is being supported by the United Nations agencies in a campaign it launched on
Tuesday to immunize Rohingya refugee children against diphtheria in camps in the south-east of the country, after an outbreak of the disease that has killed 9.

The campaign will cover nearly 255,000 Rohingya children, and are supported by the UN’s children’s fund. UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

Recent data from WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shows 722 probable diphtheria cases, including nine deaths, in the camps and makeshift settlements, between 12 November and 10 December.

Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF representative in Bangladesh said the outbreak is an indicator of the “extreme vulnerability of children” which he said calls for “immediate action” to protect them from the killer disease.

Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, WHO Representative in Bangladesh said they are trying to contain the emergency before it “spins out of control”.  Besides vaccinations, health workers are being helped to manage suspected cases and ensure medicine supply.   WHO is procuring 2 000 doses of diphtheria anti-toxins to treat diphtheria patients. Nearly 345 doses were hand carried by WHO from India’s Delhi to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Diphtheria is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a potent toxin produced by certain strains of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It spreads through air droplets by coughing or sneezing. Risk factors include crowding, poor hygiene and lack of immunization.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are nearly 860,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar – of whom 646,000 have arrived since 25 August. Not only has the pace of new arrivals since 25 August made this the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, the concentration of refugees in Cox’s Bazar is now amongst the densest in the world.

Advent 3rd Sunday – Dec 17, 2017

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11, I Thes 5:16-24, Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

Homily starter anecdote: St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) and Advent joy:Through her ministry in Jesus’ name, Mother Teresa brought untold blessings and joy to the poor who lay unattended and forgotten on our streets. When asked the source of her joy, Mother Teresa replied: “Joy is prayer — joy is strength — joy is love — joy is a net of love. . . A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love . . . loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him twenty-four hours, touching Him in His distressing disguise.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, Harper and Row, San Francisco: 1971). When Advent arrived every year, Mother Teresa’s life, continued to witness the joy which is true hallmark of every Christian and the rightful inheritance of all the poor. (http://stjohngrandbay.org/wt/client/v2/story/WT_Story.cfm?SecKey=151).

Introduction: Today is called “Gaudete Sunday”because today’s Mass (in its Latin, pre-Vatican II form), began with the opening   antiphon: “Gaudete   in   Domino semper” –“Rejoice in the Lord always.” In the past, when Advent was a season of penance, the celebrant of the liturgy used to wear vestments with the penitential color of purple or violet.  In order to remind the people that they were preparing for the very joyful occasion of the birth of Jesus, the celebrant wore rose-colored vestments on the third Sunday.  (By the way, we have a similar break–Laetare Sunday–during the Lenten season).  Today we light the rose candle, and the priest may wear rose vestments, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus, our Savior.  The primary common theme running through today’s readings is that of encouraging joy as we meet our need for the preparation required of us who await the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives. The second common theme is that of bearing witness. The prophet Isaiah, Mary and John the Baptizer all bear joyful witness to what God has done and will do for His people.

Scripture readings summarized: The readings for the third Sunday of Advent remind us that the coming of Jesus, past, present and future, is the reason for our rejoicing.  The first readingtells us that we should rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming as our Savior and liberator, saving us by liberating us from our bondages.  The Responsorial Psalmof the day is taken from Mary’s Magnificat, in which she exclaims:  “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit finds joy in God my Savior.”  Paul, in the second reading,advises us to “rejoice always”by leading blameless, holy and   thankful   lives guided by the Holy Spirit, because Christ is faithful to his promise that he will come again to reward us.  Today’s Gospeltells us that John the Baptizer came as a witness to testify to the Light, i.e., Jesus. The coming of Jesus, the Light, into the world is cause for rejoicing as he removes darkness from the world.  We should be glad and rejoice also because, like John the Baptizer, we, too, are chosen to bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. We are to reflect Jesus’ Light in our lives so that we may radiate it and illuminate the dark lives of others around us.    The joyful message of today’s liturgy is clear.  The salvation we await with rejoicing will liberate both the individual and the community, and its special focus will be the poor and lowly, not the rich and powerful.

First reading explained, Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11: This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after enduring a generation of exile in Babylon.  The prophet says of himself that God has anointed him with the Spirit and sent him to bring good newsto those in need of it.  The good news consists of the healing of the broken-hearted and the liberation of prisoners.  Then the prophet expresses Israel’s joy at the coming of God’s salvation, using the image of wearing exceptionally beautiful clothes, as a bride and groom do at the wedding.  He also uses the image of the earth in its bringing forth of new vegetation in the spring.  He says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul.”  This hope for the coming of salvation finds its fulfillment in the life, death and Resurrection  of  Jesus.    Inaugurating his public ministry in Nazareth, Jesus declared He was the fulfillment of this passage from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), because he had been anointed by the Spirit of God to bring good news to the poor.  We rejoice at the fulfillment of the prophecy about Jesus in this passage.

Second Reading explained, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24: Paul was fond of the Thessalonians because they had received Jesus’ Gospel enthusiastically, and their example had helped others to embrace the Faith.  But he was convinced that they needed the continued moral instruction which he offered them in this letter.  The selection we read today contains Paul’s practical suggestions for anyone trying to be a follower of God: “Do not stifle the spirit.  Do not despise prophecies.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Avoid any semblance of evil.”He also commands us to “rejoice always and pray without ceasing.”  We are to give thanks in all circumstances because that is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.  We, who believe in Jesus and have been united with him in his death and Resurrection, should be in a constant state of rejoicing, giving thanks to God for all that He has done for us in Jesus.  Our joy here on earth, however, is not the fullness of joy waiting for us at Jesus’ second coming.  Hence, Paul concludes his instruction with the prayer: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Gospel Exegesis: The context:  Biblical studies made of the Dead Sea Scrollsduring the past 50 years suggest that John was probably a member of the Judean Qumran wilderness community, the Essenes. This community was a group of people who had left Jerusalem a century before Jesus’ birth because of a conflict with the Temple authorities.  They waited there, a few miles from Jericho, for the Messiah to come and rectify the horrible injustice they had experienced.  They occupied themselves with Scripture studies and purification, continually studying, copying and commenting on God’s word.  They also went through frequent baptismal rituals to symbolize their total dedication to God’s will in living a life of spiritual purity.  John’s ministry seems to fit into what we know about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls’ community.  John preached a baptism of repentance, announced the imminent coming of God and gathered followers who, though not “official” Qumran members, followed some of its teachings.

The Biblical importance of today’s text:Bible scholars generally agree that the prologue (1:1-18) in John’s Gospel is a hymn, the overall purpose of which is to highlight the historical and theological significance of Jesus’ origins as “Word,” “true Light” and the “only Son.”  Verses 6-8(9) introduce John the Baptist in a manner that clearly distinguishes him from Jesus – “John himself was not the Light, but he came to testify to the Light.”Some scholars maintain that the author of the Gospel may be making such a forceful differentiation in order to counter a sect of John’s disciples claiming that John the Baptist was the light and the Messiah, and not simply the one testifying to the Light.  In John’s Gospel, however, recurring references to the Baptist suggest that Jesus and John preached and baptized concurrently for some time (see John 3:22-30; 10:40-42).  But, in all he did and said, the Baptist always bore witness to Jesus and his Messianic identity (John 1:6-8(9).  “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the Light.”  John 1:19-28 is an Advent text that calls us to remember the origins and purposes of Jesus with the kind of devotion that challenges us to be witnesses for Jesus.  John the Baptizer demonstrates what it means to bear witness to the true Light coming into the world.

The why of Sanhedrin intervention:Why did the religious authorities in Jerusalem show concern for a marginal figure like John, who was attracting crowds to the wilderness and baptizing repentant sinners in the Jordan?  The main reason was that, although John was the son of a devout rural priest, Zechariah, he did not behave like a priest.  By his dress and diet, the Baptizer had distanced himself from the Jerusalem priests. He presented himself more like one of the older prophets who declared the will of God for the Jews.  Hence, the Sanhedrin might well have felt it their duty to check up on John in case he was a false prophet.  The Jerusalem priests also wanted to know whether John was an “action prophet,”  attempting  to  lead  a  liberation  movement  against Roman rule.  After questioning John, the delegation from the Jerusalem authorities concluded that John was only a harmless “oracular prophet,” who did not claim to be the Messiah.  Another reason why the Sanhedrin kept a close eye on John was to find out why he baptized the locals.  Baptism at the hands of men was not for Israelites, but rather for proselytes from other faiths.  If he had been the Messiah, or even Elijah or the prophet, John had the right to baptize.  The Jerusalem delegation finally came to the conclusion that John’s baptismal rite was only a symbolic action, a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” a rite symbolizing purification and cleansing, a return to God before the promised Messiah arrived in their midst.  Thus, they decided that there was no need to take any disciplinary action against John.

John’s humility:The evangelist John presents John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “a voicein the desert”calling for Israelites to prepare a way for the coming of Jesus.  John in his Gospel takes special care to stress the fact that Jesus surpasses John the Baptist.  The Baptizer declares: “I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you–you don’t recognize him–and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes.”   There was a Rabbinic saying which stated that a disciple might do for his master anything that a servant did, except only to untie his sandals.  That was too menial a service for even a disciple to render.  So John said: “One is coming whose slave I am not fit to be.”John’s mission was only to “prepare the way.”  Any greatness he possessed came from the greatness of the one whose coming he foretold.   John is thus the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself for Jesus.  He lived only to point the way to Christ.

Bearing witness to Jesus is our mission as well as John’s: The idea that the Baptizer came as a witness to testify to the Light (Jesus), is found only in the Gospel of John.  According John, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12).  Just as the dawn of each new day brings joy, the coming of Jesus, the Light of the world, causes us to rejoice.  We, the Church, are called to bear witness to Christ by word and deed, in good times and bad—when it suits us and when it doesn’t.  The witness of the Church, ironically, has often been more faithful under persecution than under prosperity.  We need to be messengers who point out Christ to others, just as John did.  John the Baptist’s role as a joyful witness prepared the way for Jesus. John also provides an example for us because our vocation as Christians is to bear “witness” to Christ by our transparent Christian lives.

Life messages: 1) We need to bear witness to Christ the Light:By Baptism we become members of the family of Christ, the true Light of the world.  Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.”  Hence, our mission as brothers and sisters of Christ and members of his Church is to reflect Christ’s Light to others, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.  It is especially important during the Advent season that we reflect Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  There are too many people who live in darkness and poverty, and who lack real freedom.  There are others who are deafened and blinded by the cheap attractions of the world.  Also, many feel lonely, unwanted, rejected, and marginalized.  All these people are waiting for us to reflect the Light of Christ and to turn their lives into experiences of joy, wholeness and integrity.  The joy of Jesus, the joy of Christmas can only be ours to the extent that we work with Jesus to bring joy into the lives of others.  Let us remember that Christmas is not complete unless we show real generosity to those who have nothing to give us in return.

2) What should we do in preparation for Christmas?  The Jews asked the same question of John.  His answer was: “Repent and reform your lives, and prayerfully wait for the Messiah.”  This means that we have to pray from the heart and pray more often.  Our Blessed Mother, in her many apparitions, has urgently reminded us of the need for more fervent and more frequent  prayer.   Let us remember that the Holy Mass is the most powerful of prayers.  We must become a Eucharistic people, receiving the living presence of Jesus in our hearts so that we may be transformed into His image and likeness.  We encounter Jesus in all the Sacraments.  Regular monthly Confession makes us strong and enables us to receive more grace in the Eucharist.  Let us also listen daily to God speaking to us through the Bible.  Perhaps, we may want to pray the rosary daily and fast once a week all year round, not just during Advent and Lent.  After all, we sin all year round, so why not fast also all year round? Let us also find some spare time to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  Let us forgive those who have offended us and pray for those whom we have offended.  Finally, let us share our love with others in selfless and humble service, “doing small things but with great love” (Mother Teresa).  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the coming of God into our lives we need also to remind ourselves that we have been called to be the means of bringing Jesus into other people’s lives. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

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