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Feb 13 16 10:01 AM
Feb 14 16 10:30 AM
Pope Francis continued his six-day Mexican tour Sunday with a visit to this crime-plagued Mexico City suburb to launch a blistering critique against the tripartite temptations of wealth, vanity and pride -- which he said "lock us into a cycle of destruction and sin."Traveling about 20 miles north of the modern downtown of the country's capital, the pontiff celebrated a Mass amid simple homes and small street shops in an area of the country that has been suffering from staggering violence, especially against women.In a homily to a crowd of an estimated 2 million who live in the area, many of whom commute each day to the capital for work, Francis seemed to be speaking less to them than to those in Mexico City who maintain a market system that leaves many without what they need.Saying that the three temptations "seek to destroy what we have been called to be," the pontiff was particularly harsh towards wealth, which he said is "seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for "my own people.'"It is "'taking the 'bread' based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives," said the pope. "That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering -- this is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children."Vanity, he said, is "the futile chasing of those five minutes of fame that do not forgive the 'reputation' of others." And pride: "Putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of 'mere mortals.'"Francis was speaking Sunday in an overwhelmingly crowded outdoor Mass on the grounds of Ecatepec's University of Higher Studies. Some 400,000 were estimated to be at the Mass site, with 1.6 million more lining the route from there to the local airport, where the pope arrived by helicopter.APMany inside the university space had slept overnight in near-freezing temperatures to secure their spot for the celebration, with some traveling long distances for the opportunity. One woman, carrying a small child, said she had traveled 20 hours by bus from Yucatan, some 900 miles to the southwest.Ecatepec is a city in the Mexican state of Mexico, which surrounds the country's capital to the east, north and west. The city, which has a population of some 1.7 million, is one of several in the state which has been experiencing horrific violence against women.According to statistics from Mexico's National Citizens Observatory on Femicides, a coalition of 43 groups that document serious crimes against women, 1,258 girls and women were reported disappeared in the state in 2011 and 2012.In one heated off the cuff moment in his homily, Francis made a sharp comment that seemed like a reference to the violence in the area."We have chosen Jesus, not the evil one," said the pontiff, almost yelling in passion. "Let's get this straight in our heads: You can't dialogue with the Devil!"One young woman at the Mass Sunday saw Francis' visit to the area as an intentional sign of his care for the people there."The pope comes to people who need him," said Alexa Olguin, who had traveled from the neighboring state of Hidalgo. "For that reason, he does not just come to Mexico City; he comes to Ecatepec."Gerard O'ConnellThe violence in Ecatepec has affected young women the most. The Observatory on Femicides reported that 53 percent of women disappeared in 2011 and 2012 were between the ages of 10 and 17.Over the same period, the observatory said 448 women were murdered in the state. The organization said that the bodies of the dead are frequently mutilated and left in public parks and streets.Last July, state governor Eruviel Ávila Villegas issued Mexico's first ever gender violence alert for eleven municipalities in the state, including Ecatepec.Francis focused his homily Sunday on the practice of Lent, saying that because the liturgical season is a time of conversion he wanted to "unmask three great temptations that wear down and fracture the image which God wanted to form in us."The pope said that God dreams of being a father to all humanity, "of brotherhood, of bread broken and shared.""Lent is a time of conversion, of daily experiencing in our lives of how this dream is continually threatened by the father of lies, by the one who tries to separate us, making a divided and fractious society," said Francis. "A society of the few, and for the few.""How often we experience in our own lives, or in our own families, among our friends or neighbors, the pain which arises when the dignity we carry within is not recognized," said the pope. "How many times have we had to cry and regret on realizing that we have not acknowledged this dignity in others."After outlining the temptations, the pontiff said we should use Lent to ask ourselves: "How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?""For this reason, the Church gives us the gift of this Lenten season, invites us to conversion, offering but one certainty," said Francis. [God] is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down.""He is the God who has a name: Mercy," said the pope. "His name is our wealth, his name is what makes us famous, his name is our power and in his name we say once more with the Psalm: 'You are my God and in you I trust.'"As in Mexico City, anticipation for Francis' visit to Ecatepec was very high. Crowds were standing in risers along the street for miles on the way to the Mass site at least five hours early, wrapped in warm clothing for the 40-degree weather.Bandstands were set up along the route, with local bands playing to entertain the crowds. Many make-shift signs welcomed the pope, with one exclaiming: "Pope Francis, your spirit of peace illuminates Ecatepec."Some of the economic desperation could be witnessed in the drive north from the capital, with almost every billboard and advertising space facing that direction empty. One of the billboards on the edge of Ecatepec advertised for a man who disappeared two years ago, saying the family was still seeking justice.Francis is visiting Mexico through Wednesday. He continues his visit Sunday afternoon by traveling back to Mexico City for a visit to a local pediatric hospital.On Monday, the pope will fly south to visit two cities in the southern state of Chiapas on the Mexican-Guatemala border. He will celebrate Mass with Mexican indigenous communities and host a meeting with families.
Pope Francis on Sunday made his way to Ecatepec, a notoriously poor and lawless suburb of the Mexican capital city, where he delivered a classically personal warning against the temptations of “wealth, vanity, and pride.”Francis opted to visit Mexico City’s outskirts, despite obvious safety concerns, to stand with a community where daily life is often defined by violence, the drug trade, and legal impunity for offenders.He used the occasion to call for building a Mexico where the dreams of ordinary people are not tied to leaving. Speaking to a crowd estimated at 350,000, with perhaps as many as a million more in surrounding areas, many of whom spent the night braving freezing temperatures, the pope framed his remarks in terms of the season of Lent.“[There are] three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be,” Francis said. “Three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.”He said that just as Jesus did, Christians today face “three temptations which lock us into a cycle of destruction and sin.”The first temptation, he said, is “wealth,” which he defined as “seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for ‘my own people’.”“That wealth tastes of pain, bitterness, and suffering,” Francis said. “This is the ‘bread’ that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.”The pope then moved on to “vanity,” defining it as the pursuit of prestige based on the exclusion of those who are different.“[It’s] the futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the ‘reputation’ of others,” he said.The third temptation, Francis added, is “the worst” and comes from “making firewood from a felled tree.”“Pride: or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of ‘mere mortals’, and yet being one who prays every day: ‘I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others’ ….”At one point veering off-script, Francis warned that in some cases, there’s no chance of engaging people who fuel conditions such as those experienced in Ecatepec.“We have chosen Jesus, not the evil one!” he said, almost yelling. “Let’s get this straight in our heads: You can’t dialogue with the Devil!”Francis’ blunt language came in a crime-ridden suburb considered more dangerous than traditional murder capitals such as Morelia and Ciudad Juarez, destinations the pope will visit Tuesday and Wednesday.The Mass took place in an outdoor field that was a sea of people, with thousands waiting more than 20 hours and braving temperatures near 40 degrees Fahrenheit to participate in the largest event of Francis’ Feb. 12-17 Mexico trip.Observers believe the pontiff chose Ecatepec, with a murder rate that triples the national one, because it’s a strategic point for drug cartels that thrive amid poverty and unemployment.In effect, he left the elites of Mexico City for the “other” Mexico, the one where people are crowded in slums and have had to learn to live with crimes such as carjacking, “femicide,” kidnapping, extortion, killings, and attempted lynching by groups of self-protection.Nationwide, since late 2006 more than 100,000 Mexicans have been killed and 27,000 have disappeared in gangland violence.Since he arrived in Mexico, Francis has denounced corruption, both in politics and in the Church. He has asked the country to put its trust in Our Lady of Guadalupe, and prayed for “the mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost, or even being taken by criminals.”Never one to choose comfortable destinations, the next three days of Francis’ visit will be radically different from the first two, which included a visit to the presidential palace and a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.That Mass for the “brown-skinned virgin” was a highly anticipated moment for the pontiff, who has said time and time again she wasthe reason for his visit to Mexico.However, the service resembled those he presides over in Rome in terms of pomp and circumstance. The exact opposite is expected for the Mass he’ll celebrate Monday in San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, where part of the liturgy will be in indigenous languages.On Sunday, Francis arrived in Ecatepec after a short helicopter ride and a 5.5-mile journey in the popemobile. Along the way, there were almost two miles of colorful mats with Aztec designs executed in white sand and sawdust.His altar on Sunday, simple in design, was also surrounded by colorful pictograms with Aztec symbols. They were created by one of the indigenous communities of Ecatepec, and were meant as a sign of respect, love, and thankfulness to the pope.Francis had more than pious warnings for the thousands gathered in the field of Ecatepec’s Study Center. After the Mass, he delivered his weekly Angelus prayer, which he normally does from a balcony in the Vatican that overlooks St. Peter’s Square.“A Christian cannot but show solidarity … to solve the situation of those who have not yet received the bread of culture or the opportunity of an honorable job,” Francis said. “He cannot remain insensitive while the new generations have not found the way to bring into reality their legitimate aspirations.”He was quoting a radio message from his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, on the 75th anniversary of the crowning of Our Lady of Guadalupe.The Argentine pontiff then urged those who had attended the Mass to be on the front lines of social change, promoting initiatives which could help Mexico become a land of opportunities.“[A land] where there will be no need to emigrate in order to dream,” he said. “No need to be exploited in order to work, no need to make the despair and poverty of many the opportunism of a few, a land that will not have to mourn men and women, young people and children who are destroyed at the hands of the dealers of death.”Later on Sunday Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Pediatric Hospital Federico Gomez, where he’ll spend time with sick children in the oncology ward.
Feb 14 16 10:49 AM
Pope Francis ended his second full day in Mexico with one of his most endearing pastoral exercises, visiting children in hospital -- many of them gravely ill, some of them waiting for transplant surgery.Francis arrived at the Federico Gomez pediatric hospital at about 5 p.m. local time, almost 30 minutes ahead of schedule. He was greeted by Mexican First Lady Angelica Rivera, who introduced him to many of the children.After visiting with 38 children one-by-one in an oncology ward -- kissing, hugging, and handing each child a rosary -- the pope made brief remarks on the need to express gratitude and give blessing to others."Entering here and seeing your eyes, your smiles, your faces, has filled me with a desire to give thanks," said Francis. "And at the same time, I wish to bless you," he continued. "I ask God to bless you, and to accompany you and your families, and all those people who work in this home and try to ensure that your smiles grow day by day."Following his remarks, Francis again went around meeting children one-by-one. In one memorable moment, he took five-year-old Rodrigo Lopez Miranda in his arms and helped a doctor administer some medicine on the child's tongue.In another moment, one young woman wearing a blue head wrapping spoke intently to the pontiff for several moments. Alexia Garduno Aladro then broke into a full rendition of the Ave Maria, with Francis smiling and hugging her as she finished. Pope John Paul II had visited the same hospital on his first trip to Mexico in 1979. Founded in 1943, the hospital is well known throughout Central and Latin America for its care. It has trained some 8,000 pediatricians over the years.Some of the pope's visit was recorded by photo and video journalists, but part of the visit was done without media present.
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Speaking to young people in one of Mexico's most poor and violent cities -- where many face recruitment as hired killers for drug cartels -- Pope Francis on Tuesday railed against a society that he said leaves them without work, excluded from opportunity, and uses them only for "selfish purposes."The pontiff also forcefully called on the youth to reject any effort to push them into violence, breathlessly declaring: "Jesus ... would never ask us to be hired killers!""He calls us to be disciples, friends!" Francis told tens of thousands of young people in a meeting Tuesday afternoon. "He would never send us out to death, but rather everything in him speaks of life.""You are the wealth of this country," the pope told them. "When you doubt this, look to Jesus, he who destroys all efforts to make you useless or mere instruments of other people's ambitions."Francis was speaking Tuesday in his second public event in Morelia, the capital of Mexico's central Michoacán state. Located about 200 miles west of Mexico City, Morelia has been living a dark period of violence, mainly stemming from fights for control of methamphetamine production.The situation is so devastating that youth here are often recruited by drug cartels as sicarios, or hired assassins who kill for money. Once youth are part of a particular cartel structure it is difficult, if not impossible, to leave.In his remarks, Francis decried a system that he said leaves young people without hope, feeling useless and unable to do anything with their lives. He also sharply criticized young desires for wealth or nicer things, saying they cannot buy happiness.ReutersRelated: Francis encourages Mexicans to continue fighting crime and not be paralyzed by injustice"The biggest threat to hope is when you feel that, either being present or absent, you make no difference," the pope told the youth. "This kills; this crushes us and opens the door to much suffering. ""The principal threat to hope ... is to allow yourself to believe that you begin to be valuable when you start wearing the right clothes, the latest brands and fashions, or when you enjoy prestige, are important because you have money," he continued. "But in the depths of your heart you do not believe that you are worthy of kindness or love."ReutersThe pope then bluntly spoke to the young people of the sadness they feel daily in the killing of friends."I understand that often it is difficult to feel your value when you are continually exposed to the loss of friends or relatives at the hands of the drug trade, of drugs themselves, of criminal organizations that sow terror," said Francis."It is hard to feel the wealth of a nation when there are no opportunities for dignified work, no possibilities for study or advancement, when you feel your rights are being trampled on, which then leads you to extreme situations," he continued.Reuters"It is difficult to appreciate the value of a place when, because of your youth, you are used for selfish purposes, seduced by promises that end up being untrue," he said.Crowds of young people packed Morelia's Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon Stadium in sunny, hot 80-degree weather to see the pope Tuesday. Before Francis arrived, the young people were cheering enthusiastically while waving small flags of different colors.An announcer led the young people in chants of: "This is the pope's youth!"After Francis arrived, a long procession of young people dressed in indigenous garments of red, blue, green, and gold wrapped around the stadium before presenting him with a number of gifts. Women in butterfly costumes flapped wings high in the air.Beyond the tens of thousands in the stadium, some 50,000 watched the event in parking lots nearby through Jumbotron screens.Francis was responding in his remarks Tuesday from testimonies given by several young people living in Morelia.One young man identified himself as "one of the 30 million young people in Mexico who want to live in peace.""Many of us study ... many work honestly to sustain our families," said the man, named Alberto. "We want to create a society of equality and respect.""Some youth are trapped in desperation and settle for a life of greed and corruption and promises of an intense and easy life but outside the law," he said."The victims of drug trafficking, violence, addictions and exploitation of people are increasing," he continued. "Many families have only been able to mourn the loss of their children, because impunity has given wings to those who kidnap, extort and kill.""Brother Francis, how can we become builders of peace?" he asked.The pope told the young people to look to Jesus for hope."Hand in hand with Jesus Christ we can say: it is a lie that the only way to live as young people here is in poverty and exclusion; in the exclusion of opportunities, in the exclusion of spaces, in the exclusion of training and education, in the exclusion of hope," said the pontiff."It is Jesus Christ who refutes all attempts to render you useless or to be mere mercenaries of other people's ambitions," he said."You have asked me for a word of hope, and the one word I have to give you, is Jesus Christ," said Francis. "When everything seems too much, when it seems that the world is crashing down around you, embrace his Cross, draw close to him and please, never let go of his hand; please, never leave him.""Holding the hand of Jesus I ask you to not let yourselves be excluded, do not allow yourselves to be devalued, do not let them treat you like a commodity," the pope pleaded."Of course, you may not be able to have the latest car model at the door, you will not have pockets filled with money, but you will have something that no one can take away from you, which is the experience of being loved, embraced and accompanied," he said.Mentioning the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- that Mary appeared to a native Mexican in the 16th century and asked him to build a shrine to her -- Francis said God is asking young Mexicans today to continue to build a shrine."A shrine that is not a physical place but rather a community," said the pontiff. "A shrine called 'parish,' a shrine called, 'nation.'""Being a community, a family, and knowing that we are citizens is one of the best antidotes to all that threatens us, because it makes us feel that we are a part of the great family of God," said the pope.ReutersFrancis is visiting Mexico through Wednesday. He is staying each night in the capital of Mexico City, but traveling each day to different areas south, west, and north.The pontiff will fly north Wednesday to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, on the other side of El Paso, Texas. The pope will visit a local penitentiary there and celebrate a public Mass just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.Francis returns to Rome Wednesday evening.
The Catholic Herald - Pope Francis lost his temper yesterday in Mexico after a person pulled him so hard he fell onto a child in a wheelchair.Video footage shows the Pope stopping to greet children at the edge of a crowd in Morelia’s Jose Maria Pavon Stadium, where he delivered a speech to thousands of young people.At this point two arms reached out to grab him, not letting go even as he lost his balance and was pushed on to the child.Aides and security men stopped the Pope from falling to the ground, and he appeared angry, raising his voice and telling the unseen person, twice in Spanish, “Don’t be selfish!”
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Standing less than a football field away from the southern side of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis launched anew the biblical cry of Jonah Wednesday -- heart wrenchingly pleading for mercy and conversion of hearts towards migrants who he said suffer "grave injustices."Moments after making an emotional visit to the southern side of the border fence -- where he prayed before a cross at the bank of the Rio Bravo and raised his arm to bless those gathered to watch on the northern side -- the pontiff pleaded: "We still have time to transform what is destroying us as a people."In a homily during a packed open air Mass in this Mexican border city, just on the other side of El Paso, Texas and long a crossing point for documented and undocumented entries into the U.S., Francis personally begged for a transformation to mercy in the name of his ongoing Jubilee Year.Reflecting on the biblical story of Nineveh -- the city which the Lord warned Jonah he would destroy within 40 days because it had not followed God's laws -- the pope said the ancient town was saved by "men and women capable of repenting, and capable of weeping.""To weep over injustice, to cry over corruption, to cry over oppression," said Francis. "These are tears that lead to transformation, that soften the heart; they are the tears that purify our gaze and enable us to see the cycle of sin into which very often we have sunk.""They are the tears that can break us, capable of opening us to conversion," said the pope."This word echoes forcefully today among us; this word is the voice crying out in the wilderness, inviting us to conversion," said the pontiff. "In this Year of Mercy, with you here, I beg for God’s mercy; with you I wish to plead for the gift of tears, the gift of conversion.""Let us together ask our God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts like the Ninevites, open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women," said the pope."No more death!" he exhorted. "No more exploitation! There is still time to change; there is still a way out and a chance; time to implore the mercy of God."Francis was speaking Wednesday in his last public event on an exhaustive six-day, six-city tour of Mexico. The stop in Juarez was among the most highly anticipated of the trip, as the pontiff has called frequently for better treatment of global migrants and had said he wanted to start his visit to the U.S. last September at the border.The decision to celebrate Mass so close to the frontier was criticized by some U.S. politicians, including Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.Last week, Trump said he did not believe Francis understood what he called "the danger of the open border we have with Mexico" and suggested the pontiff was being used politically by the U.S.' southern neighbor.Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi responded to Trump's remarks Tuesday, saying he pope was not a politician but "a man who believes in Jesus Christ and his mission.""The pope always talks about migration problems all over the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace," said Lombardi.Francis' Mass Wednesday was celebrated as close to the border fence as organizers said was possible, with the altar set up less than 90 yards away at Juarez's public fairgrounds. After making a tour of the fairgrounds in the popemobile before Mass, the pontiff stopped just short of the border itself.He walked slowly up a ramp made for the occasion, where a tall cross had been placed right at the banks of the river and prayed silently before blessing several objects and those on the northern side.The U.S. border fence dominated the horizon of the landscape just a few steps away from the Mass site, with U.S. road signs and soldiers easily visible through the holes in the fence. A large crane was set up to fly an American flag, which flapped listlessly on a still day.Some 200,000 packed the fairgrounds for the Mass celebration. The atmosphere beforehand was joyous, with dancing, singing, and shouts from the crowd. People were packed shoulder-to-shoulder as far as could be seen, into the horizon, with some holding t-shirts over their heads to block the sun.A band led the crowd with gentle guitar music, occasionally eliciting cries of lyrics from groups of people.Francis began his homily by retelling the story of Nineveh, saying the city "was self-destructing as a result of oppression and dishonor, violence and injustice."Recounting God's call to Jonah, the pontiff said the Lord asked the prophet to "go and help them to understand that by the way they treat each other, ordering and organizing themselves, they are only creating death and destruction, suffering and oppression.""Go and tell them that they have become used to this degrading way of life and have lost their sensitivity to pain," Francis explained God's command."Go and tell them that injustice has infected their way of seeing the world," the pope continued. "God sent him to testify to what was happening, he sent him to wake up a people intoxicated with themselves."Francis reflected on the fact that the King of Nineveh heeded Jonah's warning and adopted sackcloth and ashes as a sign of his penitence."God’s mercy has entered the heart, revealing and showing wherein our certainty and hope lie," said the pontiff. "There is always the possibility of change; we still have time to transform what is destroying us as a people, what is demeaning our humanity."Mentioning migrants who wish to go to Mexico from Central America and from Mexico to the U.S., the pope described the journey: "Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices: the enslaved, the imprisoned and extorted; so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human beings.""This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families," said Francis. "They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations.""Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest," he continued. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence.""Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are 'cannon fodder,' persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs," said the pope. "Then there are the many women unjustly robbed of their lives."At the end of his homily, Francis addressed people taking part in the celebration of the Mass from El Paso, Texas, where the diocese and several Catholic organizations arranged for the event to be broadcast at the Sun Bowl so people could celebrate from afar."With the help of technology, we can pray, sing and celebrate together the merciful love that God gives us, and that no border can prevent us from sharing," said the pope. "Thank you, brothers and sisters in El Paso, for making us feel as one family and one, the same, Christian community.Francis is concluding a six day visit to Mexico Wednesday. While in the country, the pontiff has traveled to different communities in the south, west and north, speaking to particular concerns facing each region.In the southern state of Chiapas Monday, where many of Mexico's indigenous peoples live, the pope decried their historic treatment by Spanish and then Mexican governments -- saying they had been "misunderstood and excluded" from society and treated inferior to others.In the central city of Morelia Tuesday, which has been wrought by destruction by drug cartel violence, the pontiff movingly asked Catholic priests and religious to not give up on building a better society even in the face of "paralyzing injustice."Francis returns to Rome Wednesday evening.
Feb 18 16 8:01 AM
Pope Francis venerates icon of Salus Populi Romani after Mexico trip(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis stopped at the Archbasilica of Saint Mary Major after arriving in Rome from Mexico on Thursday afternoon. His plane landed at Rome’s Ciampino Airport, and the Holy Father went by car to the Basilica, before returning to the Vatican.During his brief visit to the Church, Pope Francis placed a bouquet of flowers in front of the Marian Icon, Salus Populi Romani. The Holy Father always venerates the icon before and after his international apostolic trips.
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Three major leaders of long-separated Christian churches -- Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Greek Patriarch Ieronymos II -- converged on this small island Saturday, issuing a stark warning to Europe that the continent will be judged on how it treats the hundreds of thousands of refugees reaching these shores.Arriving less than a month after the European Union began deporting refugees awaiting asylum hearings here back to nearby Turkey -- resulting in prison-like conditions in refugee camps as the migrants face legal processing -- the leaders appealed for the continent to remember Jesus' words on "the least of these."They made their appeal after an intensely emotional visit with hundreds of the detained refugees, many of whom were bawling openly. One man collapsed at the pope's feet, shaking while he cried for a blessing. A woman pleaded for medical care for a daughter with bone cancer.Several others grabbed Francis' arms, hands, feet -- whatever was nearest -- screaming out for some sort of help or prayer.In a joint declaration signed during the visit, the leaders sharply proclaim: "We appeal to all followers of Christ to be mindful of the Lord’s words, on which we will one day be judged."Earth Day is right around the corner. Discuss Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment at your next group meeting.Download our readers' guide toLaudato Si.Quoting Jesus' words in Matthew's Gospel, they state: "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."In the declaration, signed at a center housing some 2,500 refugees -- where the walls had been whitewashed and the barbed wire removed for the high-level visit -- Francis, Bartholomew and Ieronymos say they had traveled together to demonstrate "profound concern" for the migrants' treatment."The tragedy of forced migration and displacement affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources," they state."From Lesbos, we appeal to the international community to respond with courage," they continue. "We call upon all political leaders to employ every means to ensure that individuals and communities ... enjoy the fundamental right to live in peace and security."The three leaders' joint trip to Europe's outer periphery, while described by the Vatican as "strictly humanitarian and ecumenical," appears as an almost unprecedented unified Christian push for politicians to do more in the face of the continuing refugee crisis.The symbolism of the unified visit -- with Francis traveling east, Bartholomew traveling west, and Ieronymos welcoming them to his home country -- would have been nearly unimaginable even 15 years ago, when Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit a Greek patriarch in more than a millennia.Ieronymos, the archbishop of Athens and All Greece, pointed to the political dimension to the trip in remarks to refugees staying at the Moria camp, where the three leaders visited at mid-day Saturday.The patriarch said that in seeing the eyes of children living there one can "immediately recognize ... the 'bankruptcy' of humanity and solidarity that Europe has shown these last few years."In brief remarks to journalists aboard the papal plane from Rome, Francis said that this trip is different from those he normally takes abroad."This is a trip marked by sadness," said the pontiff. "We are going to meet the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.""We will see many people who suffer and don't know where to go, who had to escape," he said, speaking also of the refugees who have died trying to reach Europe and adding: "We are going also to a cemetery, the sea."Lesbos, six miles off the west coast of Turkey but about 150 miles off the east coast of mainland Greece, has become a key waypoint for refugees escaping violence or persecution in the Middle East. Of the more than a million migrants estimated to have traveled to the EU last year, about half have landed on the island's beaches.The EU made an agreement with Turkey last month that all "irregular migrants" arriving in Greece from Turkey would be sent back. For every refugee returned, another refugee is theoretically supposed to be resettled from Turkey to the EU.The agreement has been criticized by a number of human rights groups, who say refugees being returned to Turkey from Greece may not be adequately aware of their rights or the possibility of claiming asylum.Refugees on Lesbos are being held in what are now essentially containment camps, behind walls and barbed wire fence. Upon arriving at the Moria camp Saturday, Francis, Bartholomew and Ieronymos greeted about 150 children and minors gathered outside. The three leaders blessed many, with Francis taking some of the children’s' faces into his hands and bobbing babies up and down.The leaders then met about 250 adult refugees inside a makeshift tent built for the occasion. Francis and the two patriarchs walked down a line of people, all three greeting individuals slowly.Bartholomew often smiled broadly through his long, white beard. Francis repeatedly bowed with his hand over his heart in what appeared to be a gesture of humility and kindness towards the individual migrants.One man collapsed at the pope's feet, bawling and shaking in emotion as he cried repeatedly: "Thanks God, thanks God, thanks God.""Please father, bless me," he cried several times as Francis bowed for a blessing and tried to lift him from the ground.Speaking to the refugees shortly after, Francis said simply: "I have wanted to be with you today. I want to tell you that you are not alone.""I have come here with my brothers ... simply to be with you and to hear your stories," said the pope. "We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution.""As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf," said Francis. "We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.""God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected," said the pontiff.Bartholomew stated: "We promise that we shall never forget you. We shall never stop speaking for you. And we assure you that we will do everything to open the eyes and hearts of the world."Francis' visit to Lesbos is unprecedented also in the velocity with which the trip was organized. The Vatican only confirmed the pontiff was considering a visit last week, after an invitation from governing Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church.The pope is only spending four hours and fifty-five minutes on the island. Upon landing from Rome, he met privately with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before heading about ten miles north to the Moria camp.Meeting in a small room directly adjacent to the airport tarmac, Tsipras told Francis he was proud of the way in which the Greek people has welcomed refugees when they are still suffering under austerity measures imposed by international debt agreements."I am proud of this, particularly at a time when some of our partners -- even in the name of Christian Europe -- were erecting walls and fences to prevent defenseless people from seeking a better life," said the prime minister.
World opinion cannot ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis”. At the end of the meeting with refugees at Moria refugee camp and before lunching with some of them, Francis, Bartholomew and Ieronymos signed a joint declaration, an appeal to the world, which is also an important ecumenical sign. “We have met on the Greek island of Lesbos,” the three religious leaders write, “to demonstrate our profound concern for the tragic situation of the numerous refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who have come to Europe fleeing from situations of conflict and, in many cases, daily threats to their survival.” “World opinion cannot ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis,” Francis, Bartholomew and Ieronymos state, “created by the spread of violence and armed conflict, the persecution and displacement of religious and ethnic minorities, and the uprooting of families from their homes, in violation of their human dignity and their fundamental human rights and freedoms.” “The tragedy of forced migration and displacement,” the declaration goes on to say, “affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources. From Lesbos, we appeal to the international community to respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis and its underlying causes, through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives, and through cooperative efforts, both in the Middle East and in Europe.” The three leaders acknowledge “the efforts already being made to provide help and care to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, we call upon all political leaders to employ every means to ensure that individuals and communities, including Christians, remain in their homelands and enjoy the fundamental right to live in peace and security”. “A broader international consensus and an assistance programme are urgently needed to uphold the rule of law, to defend fundamental human rights in this unsustainable situation, to protect minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling, to eliminate unsafe routes, such as those through the Aegean and the entire Mediterranean, and to develop safe resettlement procedures. In this way we will be able to assist those countries directly engaged in meeting the needs of so many of our suffering brothers and sisters. In particular, we express our solidarity with the people of Greece, who despite their own economic difficulties, have responded with generosity to this crisis.” In the document, Francis, Bartholomew and Ieronymos write: “together we solemnly plead for an end to war and violence in the Middle East, a just and lasting peace and the honourable return of those forced to abandon their homes. We ask religious communities to increase their efforts to receive, assist and protect refugees of all faiths, and that religious and civil relief services work to coordinate their initiatives. For as long as the need exists, we urge all countries to extend temporary asylum, to offer refugee status to those who are eligible, to expand their relief efforts and to work with all men and women of good will for a prompt end to the conflicts in course.” “Europe today faces one of its most serious humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War. To meet this grave challenge,” the three Christian leaders write, “we appeal to all followers of Christ to be mindful of the Lord’s words, on which we will one day be judged: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.’ We firmly and wholeheartedly resolve to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians.” The end of the text is significant, as the three religious leaders reaffirm their “conviction that ‘reconciliation [among Christians] involves promoting social justice within and among all peoples… Together we will do our part towards giving migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers a humane reception in Europe’.” “We urge the international community,” the final appeal reads, “to make the protection of human lives a priority and, at every level, to support inclusive policies which extend to all religious communities. The terrible situation of all those affected by the present humanitarian crisis, including so many of our Christian brothers and sisters, calls for our constant prayer.”
Apr 16 16 4:37 AM
Apr 16 16 9:51 AM
CNS -When an aide suggested Pope Francis offer to fly some Syrian refugees back to Rome with him, the pope said he agreed immediately because it was "an inspiration of the Holy Spirit."In the end, he said, 12 Syrians -- members of three families, including six children -- had all the necessary papers from the Greek and Italian governments in time to fly with the pope April 16.The fact that the 12 are all Muslims did not enter into the equation, the pope said. "I gave priority to children of God."Two Christian families originally had been on the Vatican's list, too, he said, but their papers were not ready in time.Spending about half an hour answering reporters' questions, Pope Francis insisted his visit to Greece with Orthodox leaders was not about criticizing a recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey to return to Turkey those entering EU territory without legal permission."What I saw today and what you saw in that refugee camp -- it makes you weep," the pope told reporters."Look what I brought to show you," the pope told them. He held up some of the drawings the children in the camp had given him. "Look at this," he said, "this one saw a child drown.""Really, today is a day to weep," he said. Holding up another picture, he pointed to the top and said, "The sun is crying. If the sun is able to cry, we should be able to shed at least one tear" for those children who will carry the memory of suffering with them.Asked specifically about immigration to the United States and how it relates to what he had called a "catastrophe," Pope Francis insisted "it's a global problem" and that Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence also deserve the world's concern and assistance.On other questions during the inflight news conference:Pope Francis confirmed he had met U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders that morning as the pope was leaving his residence. Sanders and other participants at a Vatican conference were staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the pope lives."It was polite" for Sanders, who knew when the pope was leaving, to go downstairs to greet him, the pope said. "If someone thinks greeting someone is to get involved in politics, I recommend he see a psychiatrist."The pope was asked to settle debate about his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family and whether the document opened new possibilities for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion under some circumstances."I could say, 'Yes. Period,' but that would be too short a response," the pope said. "I recommend everyone read the presentation made by Cardinal (Christoph) Schonborn" at the Vatican news conference presenting the document. The cardinal, archbishop of Vienna, had said the document represented "true innovations, but no break" with church tradition.Still, the pope said, much of the news media focused so much on the question of Communion for the divorced that they skewed the public's perception of the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops."Since I'm not a saint, this annoyed me and then saddened me," the pope said. "Don't they understand that the family throughout the world is in crisis?""The family is the foundation of society," Pope Francis said. The great problems include a reluctance by young people to marry, extremely low birth rates in Europe, unemployment, poverty -- "those are the big problems."
Apr 16 16 4:44 PM
In what appears to be an unprecedented political and humanitarian gesture, Pope Francis has brought twelve refugees from Syria back to the Vatican after a visit Saturday to Lesbos.
The refugees were seen boarding the papal flight at the end of the pope's five hour visit to the Greek island, which has become a waypoint for hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping violence across the Middle East.The Vatican said in a statement that the pontiff wanted to "make a gesture of welcome." The twelve refugees comprise three families, all of whom are Muslim and from Syria.The Vatican said the initiative was carried forward after discussions with Greek and Italian authorities and that the city-state "will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families."In a press conference aboard the papal plane back to Rome, Francis said the decision to bring the families back was "purely a humanitarian gesture."Earth Day is right around the corner. Discuss Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment at your next group meeting.Download our readers' guide toLaudato Si.The pope said he had thought of the idea about a week ago and that he "accepted it right away, right away, right away.""I saw that it was the spirit that spoke," said Francis.The pope said that the refugees were brought in accordance with all international rules and that each of the families had appropriate visa documents and had the permission of the Vatican's government, the Italian government and the Greek government."They are guests of the Vatican," said Francis, adding that the families will initially be supported by the international Sant'Egidio Community.Asked why no Christian families were chosen to be housed at the Vatican, the pope said they had considered two Christian families but that they did not have their documents in order."It is not a privilege," said Francis. "All twelve are children of God. The privilege [is being] children of God."Later in the flight, the pontiff quoted Mother Teresa of Calcutta in describing the move. Teresa, he said, called her work like "a drop of water in the sea.""But after this drop the sea will not be the same," the pope quoted."It is a small gesture," said Francis. "It is these small gestures that all men and women must do to take into hand whoever has need."The pope also spoke on the papal plane about wider questions of migration into Europe. He noted at one point that some who commit terrorist acts on the continent "are children and grandchildren of Europe.""What has happened?" the pontiff asked. "There has not been a policy of integration. This is fundamental for me.""Today, Europe must retake this capacity that it has always had of integration," said Francis. "The Normans, all these people arrived in Europe, and they integrated them and they enriched the culture. I believe that we need an education in integration."The pope also said he understood why some people fear migration."I understand governments, and populations, that have a certain fear," said Francis. "I understand this. We must have a great responsibility in the welcoming.""I have always said building walls is not a solution," said the pope. "They don't resolve anything. We have to make bridges. But bridges should be made intelligently, with dialogue, with integration.""I understand a certain fear," he continued. "But closing the borders doesn't solve anything. Because that closing [them] in the long run does bad to our own people.""Europe must urgently make policies of welcoming, integration, growth of work, economic reform," said Francis. "All these things are bridges that will bring us to not make walls. The fear has all of my comprehension."
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