1 December 2017
Pope Francis prays with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.
“Today, the presence of God is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.
“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God.”
“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said. “Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close our hearts. Let’s not look away.”
The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image, the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”
The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.
Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are all close to you.”
In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But we make room for you in our hearts.”
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.
Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.
In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are respected and peace reigns.
Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The “openness of heart” to which believers of all faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”
Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, “destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world.”
Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.
Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.
Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.
“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech. “We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”
The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.
“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace.”
The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.
“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope Francis said.
22 August 2017
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia meets with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the Patriarch’s residence. (photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images)
Although he said planning a papal trip to Russia was not on the agenda, the Vatican secretary of state said his visit to Moscow was designed to build on the meeting Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill had in Cuba in 2016.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state, was visiting Moscow 21-24 August and was scheduled to meet with the patriarch and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with leaders of Russia’s Catholic community.
The list of topics for the meetings ranged from ecumenical dialogue and interreligious cooperation to current world affairs and climate change, he said in a series of interviews before leaving Rome.
After a long morning meeting on 22 August, the cardinal and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a brief news conference, telling reporters they had discussed ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, the Holy Land and Venezuela.
Cardinal Parolin said his meetings with government officials were designed to share “Pope Francis’ interest in bilateral relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation as well as his concerns in the sphere of international affairs.”
“Obviously,” the cardinal said, “the meeting offered an occasion to discuss some concrete questions regarding the life of the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation, including the difficulties that remain in obtaining work permits for non-Russian religious personnel and the restitution of some churches, which are needed for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.” Many church buildings were confiscated by the former Soviet government and never returned.
Regarding international affairs, Cardinal Parolin said he and Lavrov discussed several ongoing conflicts, including the war in Eastern Ukraine and the war in Syria.
In situations of war, he said, the Catholic Church often is directly involved in promoting humanitarian aid for the victims, but it also works on a diplomatic level to promote a negotiated peace with guarantees of “justice, legality, truth” and the safety of civilians.
The Russian foreign ministry posted online the first minutes of the working meeting between Cardinal Parolin and Lavrov.
The foreign minister told the cardinal, “We see that our positions are close on a number of current issues, including the peaceful settlement of crises, fighting terrorism and extremism, promoting the dialogue among religions and civilizations and strengthening social justice and the role of the family.”
And, he said, it is important that the strengthening of Vatican-Russian relations is “complemented by the dialogue between religions, which was launched during the historical meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Cuba.”
Cardinal Parolin began his visit to Russia with a meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
After the meeting, he told reporters their time together was very constructive, and that even though there are “thorny issues,” there also is a great desire to overcome them. As an example of an ongoing difficulty, Cardinal Parolin said the existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church “remains for the Russian Orthodox Church an obstacle.”
In the evening on 21 August, Cardinal Parolin presided over a Mass for Moscow’s Catholics in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Before Mass, he had met with the country’s Catholic bishops.
17 August 2017
In this image from 2013, Slovak Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, prays at the Mass opening a plenary meeting of the congregation. The congregation is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a Vatican office dedicated to supporting the Eastern Catholic churches and ensuring their liturgies, spirituality and traditions continue to be part of the universal Catholic Church. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
The Vatican is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, an office that supports the Eastern Catholic churches and strives to ensure that the universal Catholic Church treasures its diversity, including in liturgy, spirituality and even canon law.
Coincidentally established five months before the Russian Revolution, the congregation continually has had to face the real persecution and threatened existence of some of the Eastern churches it was founded to fortify.
Until 1989-90, many of the Byzantine Catholic churches — including, notably, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of all the Eastern churches — were either outlawed or severely repressed by the communist governments of Eastern Europe, said Archbishop Cyril Vasil, a member of the Slovak Catholic Church and secretary of the congregation.
No sooner had the Soviet bloc disintegrated and once-persecuted churches begun to flourish, then the first Gulf War broke out. And then there was the invasion of Iraq. And the turmoil of the Arab Spring across North Africa. Then the war in Syria. And Israeli-Palestinian tensions continue. The Chaldean, Syriac Catholic, Coptic Catholic, Melkite and Maronite churches have paid a high price.
“In all of this, the Eastern churches suffer the most because they find themselves crushed in the struggle between bigger powers, both local and global,” Archbishop Vasil said in mid-August. Even those conflicts that are not taking direct aim at Christians in the Middle East make life extremely difficult for them, and so many decide to seek a more peaceful life for themselves and their families outside the region.
One impact of the “exodus,” he said, is the greater globalization of the Catholic Church. While 100 years ago, when the Congregation for Eastern Churches was established, only a few Eastern churches had eparchies — dioceses — outside their traditional homelands, today they can be found in Australia, North and South America and scattered across Western Europe.
“In Sweden today, a third of the Christians are Chaldeans or Armenians,” he added. “In Belgium and Holland, where Catholicism has suffered a decline, communities are reborn with the arrival of new Christians, which is a reminder of the importance of immigrants bringing their faith with them.”
In countries like Italy, where thousands of Ukrainians and Romanians have come to work, they add ritual diversity to the expressions of Catholicism already found there, he said.
The growing movement of people around the globe means that part of the congregation’s job is to work with the Latin-rite bishops and dioceses, “sensitizing church public opinion” to the existence, heritage, needs and gifts of the Eastern Catholics moving into their communities, the archbishop said. Where an Eastern Catholic hierarchy has not been established, the local Latin-rite bishop has a responsibility “to accept, welcome and give respectful support to the Eastern Catholics” as their communities grow and become more stable.
The idea, Archbishop Vasil said, is to help the local Latin-rite bishop seriously ask himself, “How can I help them free themselves of me and get their own bishop?”
Although it has only 26 employees — counting the prefect, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, and the receptionist — the Congregation for Eastern Churches works with 23 Eastern Catholic churches and communities, fulfilling the same tasks that for Latin-rite Catholics fall to the congregations for bishops, clergy, religious, divine worship and education. It supports the Pontifical Oriental Institute, which offers advanced degrees in Eastern Christian liturgy, spirituality and canon law. And it also coordinates the work of a funding network known by the Italian acronym ROACO; the U.S.-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Pontifical Mission for Palestine are part of that network.
The congregation’s approach in some areas is different than its Latin-rite counterparts because it follows the Eastern Catholic traditions and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. For instance, some of the Eastern churches ordain married men to the priesthood.
And, like the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Eastern Churches helps prepare the nomination of bishops by Pope Francis, but only for dioceses outside the Eastern churches’ traditional homeland. The Eastern Catholic synods of bishops elect new bishops closer to home and submit their names to the pope for his assent.
But the congregation’s primary concern is the survival of the Eastern Catholic churches, which is an issue not only in places where Eastern Catholics are threatened with death or driven from their homelands by war.
Archbishop Vasil said others risk losing their Eastern Catholic identity through assimilation.
Some of the blame, at least before the Second Vatican Council, lies with the Vatican and the Latin-rite hierarchy and religious orders, who, for decades encouraged Eastern Catholics to be more like their Latin-rite brothers and sisters.
Vatican II urged a recovery of the Eastern Catholic traditions, liturgy and spirituality. But, especially for Eastern Catholics living far from their churches’ homelands, uprooting vestiges of the “Latinization” can prove difficult, Archbishop Vasil said.
Using his own Slovak Catholic Church as an example, he said parishes have been asked beginning 1 September to return to the Eastern Catholic tradition of administering baptism, chrismation (confirmation) and the Eucharist together at the same liturgy, even for infants. In Slovakia, as in some parishes in North America, Eastern Catholics adopted the Latin-rite church’s practicing of withholding the Eucharist until a child is about 7 and then celebrating the child’s first Communion.
Especially for Eastern Christians whose ancestors immigrated two or three or four generations ago, the archbishop said, maintaining their specific identity as Chaldean, Ruthenian or Syro-Malankara Catholics is a challenge.
“The greatest danger in the coming years is extinction,” Archbishop Vasil said. “We don’t know what history has in store for us, but we must make sure we have done everything possible to avoid this danger.”
15 June 2017
In the video above, Pope Francis and religious leaders from many different faiths describe why it is important to reach out to people of other religions. (video: Elijah Interfaith Institute/YouTube)
Reaching out to people of other religions can be both challenging and enriching for individuals and is the only hope for true peace in the world, said a variety of religious leaders, including Pope Francis.
The pope and his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka appear in a video montage and together in their own video as part of the “Make Friends” initiative coordinated by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, which has offices in Israel and in Dallas.
The video series, posted on YouTube 14 June, also includes Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran leaders, Jewish rabbis, Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Hindu and Sikh leaders.
In their video, Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka talk about how their own religious convictions led them into conversations with each other, and how those conversations not only increased their understanding of God and formed the basis of a television series and book, but also led to true friendship.
Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka discuss their friendship in a special video for the Elijah Interfaith Institute. (video: Elijah Interfaith Institute/YouTube)
When sending emails back and forth, “because we still have projects going on,” Rabbi Skorka said, they address each other as “‘Dear brother,’ and it’s not just a saying. We have such open, deep and affectionate conversations. We understand each other.”
As they met and held discussions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “the friendship grew, always retaining our respective identities,” the pope said. “‘Brother and friend’ — those are my feelings for him.”
Explaining the “Make Friends” initiative, the Elijah Interfaith Institute said, “Friendship and getting to know one another are the antidotes to negativity and divisions in society, enhancing understanding and unity.”
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the institute.
You can read more about the initiative at this website.
2 June 2017
Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, pictured in 2014, “was the spiritual father of the Ukrainian people” for decades. (photo: CNS/Petro Didula, Ukrainian Catholic University)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, known for his “velvety baritone” when chanting the Divine Liturgy or making one of his regular appearances on television or radio programs, died May 31 near Kiev at the age of 84.
Like many Ukrainian Catholics around the world, he knew what it meant to be a refugee, to spend time in a displaced persons’ camp, to immigrate and to start all over again.
But the experience also helped him become fluent in five languages, “and he could joke in all of them,” said Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris.
And in a post-Soviet Ukraine, where leadership often meant “a compulsive passion” for money and power, “he lived in exemplary simplicity,” Bishop Gudziak told Catholic News Service on 1 June.
“In Ukrainian folklore, a blind elder is considered a sage,” the bishop said. “He was the wise man of the country, a real father whose embrace, word, warm smile and sense of humor — often self-deprecating — gave people a sense of joy and peace.”
Cardinal Husar also was an avid blogger and published his last piece on 1 May, a blog about politicians who show their loyalty to a church only to gain votes.
He saw a lack of ethical behavior and declining moral standards as a major problem at home and abroad, one that required a creative pastoral response.
“Addressing the problem of morality is not a matter of reciting rules, rules, rules, but of helping people to do God’s will,” he said in an interview with CNS in 2005.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who was only 40 years old in 2011 when he succeeded Cardinal Husar as archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, cried as he spoke to reporters on 1 June about the cardinal’s death.
“He was the spiritual father of the Ukrainian people, and today, in one moment, we became orphans,” Archbishop Shevchuk told the press. The cardinal was a “great man, great pastor, great Ukrainian.”
One of the first questions reporters asked was when the process for Cardinal Husar’s beatification would begin. Archbishop Shevchuk replied that everyone who met the cardinal saw the beauty of his holiness, but the formal sainthood process requires prayer and time. Standard Vatican rules require a waiting period of five years from the time of a person’s death before the process can begin.
In a condolence message to Archbishop Shevchuk, Pope Francis recalled the cardinal’s “tenacious fidelity to Christ despite the deprivations and persecutions” suffered by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was forced into the underground by the communists.
“His fruitful apostolic activity to promote the organization of Greek Catholic faithful who were descendants of those forcibly transferred from Western Ukraine” and, simultaneously, his efforts to promote “dialogue and collaboration” with the Orthodox also were noted by the pope.
The cardinal’s body was being driven to Lviv, his hometown, on 1 June for two days of memorial services there. His funeral was scheduled for 5 June in Kiev.
Born 26 February 1933, Lubomyr Husar fled Ukraine with his parents in 1944 ahead of the advancing Soviet army. He spent the early post-World War II years among Ukrainian refugees in a displaced persons’ camp near Salzburg, Austria. In 1949, he immigrated with his family to the United States, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.
From 1950 to 1954, he studied at St. Basil’s College Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut. He continued his studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington and at Fordham University in New York. He was ordained a priest of the Ukrainian Diocese of Stamford in 1958.
For the next 11 years, he taught at the Ukrainian seminary in Stamford and served in parish ministry. Sent to Rome, he earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in 1972 and joined the Ukrainian Studite monastic community.
He was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Josyf Slipyj in 1977 while the church in Ukraine was still illegal and operating from exile in Rome.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he returned to his native country and served as spiritual director of the newly re-established Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv.
The synod of Ukrainian bishops elected him exarch of Kiev-Vyshhorod, a position he took up in 1996. Several months later, the synod elected him an auxiliary bishop with special delegated authority to assist Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, the major archbishop of Lviv.
Cardinal Lubachivsky died in December 2000, and in January 2001 the synod elected then-Bishop Husar to succeed him as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. St. John Paul II made him a cardinal a month later.
Under his leadership and despite strong protests from the Russian Orthodox Church, in August 2005 Cardinal Husar established the major archiepiscopal see of Kiev-Halych and transferred the main church offices to Ukraine’s capital.
Cardinal Husar’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 221 members, although Pope Francis is scheduled to create five new cardinals in late June.
19 May 2017
Tags: Ukraine Eastern Catholics Ukrainian Catholic Church
Pope Francis greets a resident as he arrives to give an Easter blessing to a home in a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea, 19 May. Continuing his Mercy Friday visits, the pope blessed a dozen homes in Ostia.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Like parish priests throughout Italy do during the Easter season, Pope Francis spent an afternoon 19 May going door to door and blessing homes.
Continuing the “Mercy Friday” visits he began during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea.
The Vatican press office said Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris parish, put up signs 17 May announcing a priest would be visiting the neighborhood to bless houses. The signs, which indicate a date and give a time frame, are a common site in Italy in the weeks before and after Easter.
“It was a great surprise today when, instead of the pastor, the one ringing the door bells was Pope Francis,” the press office said. “With great simplicity, he interacted with the families, he blessed a dozen apartments” and left rosaries for the residents.
“Joking, he apologized for disturbing people, however he reassured them that he had respected the hour of silence for a nap after lunch in accordance with the sign posted at the entrance to the building,” the press office said.
The pope’s Friday visits to hospitals and hospices, homes for children, rehab centers and other places of care were planned for the Year of Mercy as tangible ways for the pope to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Although the Year of Mercy ended in November, the pope restarted making Mercy Friday visits in March when he visited a home and educational center for the blind and visually impaired.
Pope Francis gives an Easter blessing to a home in a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
15 May 2017
A menorah and its shadow are seen in one part of an exhibition on the menorah at the Vatican on 15 May. The second part of the exhibition is at the Jewish Museum in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum of Rome are exploring together the significance of the menorah, although they also give a nod to the centuries-old legend that the Vatican is hiding the golden menorah from the Temple of Jerusalem.
A two-part exhibition, one at the Vatican and the other at the Jewish Museum of Rome, prominently features a replica of the 1st-century Arch of Titus, showing Roman soldiers carrying the menorah and other treasures into Rome.
From a coin minted in the century before Christ’s birth to a 1987 Israeli comic book featuring a superhero with a menorah on his chest, the exhibit, “The Menorah: Worship, History and Myth,” documents the use of the seven-branched candelabra both as a religious item and a symbol of Jewish identity.
The exhibit is scheduled to be open through 23 July. One ticket includes admission to the main part of the exhibit in the Charlemagne Wing just off St. Peter’s Square and to the Jewish Museum, located about a mile away at Rome’s main synagogue.
Among the pieces displayed at the Jewish Museum stands a towering mosaic inscription describing treasures buried at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. Dating from the 13th century, while the Crusades were raging, the mosaic’s 37-line inventory includes “the golden candelabrum” Titus brought to Rome.
The legend has persisted for centuries that the Vatican is hiding the solid gold menorah — if not at St. John Lateran, then in a cave at the Vatican. Jewish religious and political leaders continue to ask the popes to return the piece.
Arnold Nesselrath, director of the Department of Byzantine, Medieval and Modern Art at the Vatican Museums, said the mosaic from the time of the reign of Pope Nicholas IV is the last the Vatican heard of the famous menorah. Excavations under the altar of St. John Lateran and the surrounding area in the early 20th century turned up no trace of the treasures.
Still, he said, the legend documents just how important the menorah is in Jewish culture.
Francesco Leone, the art historian who prepared the exhibit catalogue, told Catholic News Service the most historically reliable explanation of the Temple menorah’s fate is that it was taken as booty from Rome by the Vandals or Goths before the end of the fifth century and melted down.
The oldest object in the exhibit is the “Magdala stone,” a carved block from a synagogue in the Galilee excavated in 2009. The stone, which has a carved menorah on one side, is from before the time of Jesus.
Alessandra Di Castro, director of the Jewish Museum, said working with the Vatican Museums and with scholars both of them called on to help with the research, “we experienced firsthand how working together brought each of us new understanding.”
Nesselrath agreed, saying, “The collaboration was a process of deepening respect for what is sacred to the other.”
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, writing in the exhibit catalogue said, “The Jewish link with the menorah is ancient, strong and full of symbolic significance, and the link has never been broken.”
12 April 2017
Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, walks past the rubble of a bombarded building in Aleppo, Syria, during an early April visit to Franciscan friars there.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of the Franciscan Generalate)
Fifteen Franciscan friars continue to live and work in Syria; two of the friars minister in towns controlled by Islamic State forces.
The Rev. Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, visited most of the friars the first week of April, but he could not enter areas controlled by Islamic State or by forces opposed to the government of President Bashar Assad.
He drove to Homs on 7 April, just hours after U.S. bombers attacked the nearby Shayrat air base in retaliation for the Syrian government's suspected use of chemical weapons.
“We didn’t see anything, but we certainly sensed the tension,” he told Catholic News Service in Rome on 12 April.
In Damascus, he said, he and the other friars could hear bombing “every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day” from one of the neighborhoods controlled by opposition forces. “This was constant, a constant reminder that nothing is settled; everything is still up in the air and people feel a great deal of insecurity.”
The people just want it to stop, he said.
“We have two Franciscans who are caught (in territories) under ISIS control,” he said. “They are living in two villages, 25 and 40 kilometers from Aleppo. They have been able to negotiate space and pay what is necessary” in order to stay and help the estimated 300 families remaining. The families are made up mostly of the elderly, children and “those who are too poor or too weak to find another place to go.”
“The friars are staying with them and showing their solidarity and suffering the same conditions as the people,” Father Perry said. To be able to stay, they had to remove all crosses, pictures of saints and other visible signs that they are Christians.
“It’s a miracle they’ve been able to negotiate the space, but it's a testimony to the perseverance and endurance of the Syrian people,” he said. Both friars are Syrians.
Father Perry began his weeklong trip in Beirut with Franciscans helping those who have fled Syria. The rest of his trip took place by car, including long detours to avoid areas controlled by Islamic State or by opposition forces.
“All along the south and eastern side to the eastern entry into Aleppo, I did not see one town that was alive,” he said. “They had all been bombed out, abandoned.”
“The closer we got to Aleppo, we saw a few people who were beginning to farm again, but we just didn’t see any signs of life, human life,” Father Perry said. “By contrast, the fields were in full bloom with poppies and different colored flowers. So it was this stark contrast of the death of humanity and nature almost saying, ‘It’s not over. Stop. It’s going to come back. There’s still hope. There’s a future even if it doesn’t look like there’s one now.’”
At a Catholic parish in Aleppo, Father Perry brought a weighty contribution to the hope professed by parishioners, the women religious, the friars and Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar for the city’s Latin-rite Catholics.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, had given Father Perry three of the bricks used to close up the basilica’s Holy Door between jubilee years. Father Perry took one to South Sudan, one to Malaysia and the last he brought to Aleppo "as an invitation to dialogue, reconciliation and rebuilding.”
“I’ve been in war zones for the (U.S.) bishops, I’ve been in war zones for Franciscans International, but I’ve never witnessed anything on the scale of Syria. Ever,” Father Perry said.
4 November 2016
Pope Francis greets religious leaders during a 3 November audience at the Vatican.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Authentic religions help people understand that they are, in fact, loved and can be forgiven and are called to love and forgive others, Pope Francis said.
“We thirst for mercy, and no technology can quench that thirst,” the pope told Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and other religious leaders.
“We seek a love that endures beyond momentary pleasures, a safe harbor where we can end our restless wanderings, an infinite embrace that forgives and reconciles,” the pope told the leaders on 3 November during an audience at the Vatican.
The leaders were in Rome for a conference on religions and mercy organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the International Dialogue Center, which was founded in 2012 by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain with the support of the Holy See.
“Sadly,” the pope said, “not a day passes that we do not hear of acts of violence, conflict, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, killings and destruction. It is horrible that at times, to justify such barbarism, the name of a religion or the name of God himself is invoked.
“May there be clear condemnations of these iniquitous attitudes that profane the name of God and sully the religious quest of mankind,” he said.
Religions are called to bear “the merciful love of God to a wounded and needy humanity,” he said, and to be “doors of hope helping to penetrate the walls erected by pride and fear.”
Mercy, Pope Francis told the group, is the foundation of every authentic religion. It is the truest revelation of who God is, but also “the key to understanding the mystery of man, of that humanity which, today too, is in great need of forgiveness and peace.”
While many people seem to prefer living as if God does not exist, the pope said he believes that underneath human bravado, there is a “widespread fear that it is impossible to be forgiven, rehabilitated and redeemed from our weaknesses.”
The Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy, which will close 20 November, was meant to help people understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness are accessible to all and that, experiencing God’s mercy, they are called in turn to forgive and show mercy to others, he said.
Professing faith in God’s mercy, he said, means very little unless one backs up that profession with actions of love, service and sharing.
Engaging in interreligious dialogue and encouraging one’s faithful to meet and get to know their neighbors of other religions are part of preaching mercy, he said. Dialogue helps eliminate “closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drives out every form of violence and discrimination.”
Dialogue “is pleasing to God and constitutes an urgent task,” he said, because it responds to the need to make peace in societies and, “above all to the summons to love which is the soul of all authentic religion.”
“To bow down with compassionate love before the weak and needy is part of the authentic spirit of religion, which rejects the temptation to resort to force, refuses to barter human lives and sees others as brothers and sisters, and never mere statistics,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also insisted that the mercy believers are called to share also must be extended to the Earth, “which we are called to protect and preserve from unbridled and rapacious consumption.”
Religious leaders, he said, must educate their members in the religious obligation of respect for the world God created and encourage “a simpler and more orderly way of life in which the resources of creation are used with wisdom and moderation, with concern for humanity as a whole and for coming generations, not simply the interests of our particular group and the benefits of the present moment.”
12 October 2016
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an ecumenical prayer service with religious leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy on 20 September. Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civil leaders praising the patriarch in a new book, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the patriarch’s election. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Defending religious freedom, fighting indifference to attacks on human dignity and promoting care of creation are obligations that Orthodox and Catholics share and areas where Pope Francis said he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople are in deep harmony.
In anticipation of the 2 November celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Orthodox patriarch’s election, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civic leaders in contributing to a book, “Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary,” published by the U.S.-based Thomas Nelson.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the texts written by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict 12 October.
In many meetings, Pope Francis wrote, the two “have not only strengthened our spiritual affinity, but above all have deepened our shared consciousness of the common pastoral responsibility we have at this point in history before the urgent challenges that Christians and the entire human family face today.”
At their first meeting, in March 2013, Pope Francis said he felt he was encountering someone “who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition.”
The relationship has grown and deepened both personally and on the level of their ministries, the pope said.
“The church of Rome and the church of Constantinople are united by a profound and longstanding bond, which not even centuries of silence and misunderstanding have been able to sever,” Pope Francis wrote. Building on the work of their predecessors, the two leaders have “the sacred task of tracing our way back along the path that paved the separation of our churches, healing the sources of our mutual alienation and moving toward the re-establishment of full communion in faith and love, mindful of our legitimate differences, just as it was in the first millennium.”
Pope Francis said he has learned much from Patriarch Bartholomew’s long study and teaching on the Christian obligation to care for the environment, and he said the two share a Gospel-based commitment to working for “a world that is more just and more respectful of every person’s fundamental dignity and freedoms, the most important of which is religious freedom.”
In working for a world where love and solidarity play a greater role, Pope Francis wrote, “we are both aware that the voices of our brothers and sisters, now to the point of extreme distress, compel us to proceed more rapidly along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox, precisely so that they may be able to proclaim credibly the Gospel of peace that comes from Christ.”
In his contribution to the book, retired Pope Benedict said he first met the patriarch in 2002 as they were traveling with St. John Paul II on a train to Assisi, Italy. “The patriarch had invited me to sit with him for a while in the same compartment and, in this way, to become personally closer.”
Meeting “along the way” was not accidental, the retired pope wrote.
With the patriarch’s knowledge of theology, cultures and languages, “his thought is a journey with others and toward others, which certainly does not degenerate into a lack of direction, in which ‘being on the road’ would simply lead nowhere.”
“Deep-rootedness in faith in Jesus Christ, the son of the living God and our redeemer, does not stand in the way of openness to the other, because Jesus Christ bears in himself all truth,” Pope Benedict wrote.
Referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as “this great man of the church of God,” Pope Benedict also praised “his love for creation and his advocacy that it be dealt with in accordance with this love, in matters big and small.”
Pope Benedict said he was pleased that even after he resigned in 2013, “the patriarch has remained ever close to me personally and has even visited me in my little cloister. In many places in my apartment can be found memorable items from him. These items are not only endearing signs of our personal friendship, but also signposts toward unity between Constantinople and Rome, signs of hope that we are heading toward unity.”