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Sep 30 16 2:17 AM
Pope departs on papal visit to Georgia and AzerbaijanPope Francis departed Rome's Fiumicino airport just after 9 am on Friday morning for a three day Apostolic visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan.The Holy Father is due to touch down in the Georgian capital Tbilisi at 3pm local time.Following a welcoming ceremony at Tbilisi's international airport the Pope will pay a courtesy visit to the President of Georgia followed by a meeting with authorities and diplomatics.Pope Francis' visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan continues until October 2nd.
Russia, Syria geopolitics frame Pope's Caucasus trip VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis' trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan will be filled with religiously symbolic encounters with Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews. Current events in Syria and other geopolitical concerns might overshadow the message.Francis arrives Friday in the Georgian capital, Tblisi, and plunges right into the protocol of a papal visit: an airport welcome ceremony, a courtesy visit to President Giorgi Margvelashvili, a welcome speech and an eagerly anticipated meeting with Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia.Later in the day, though, he will issue a strong appeal for peace in Syria and Iraq, where Christians are being attacked and driven from their homes by Islamic extremists and where Francis has strongly condemned the recent assault by Russian and Syrian forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.A special prayer for peace is planned Friday evening in the Chaldean Catholic church in Tbilisi with members of the Assyrian Chaldean church leadership. It comes just days after Francis warned those responsible for the Aleppo siege "will be held accountable before God."On the eve of his visit, he met with aid groups working in Syria and urged all governments involved to "renounce their own interests in order to achieve the greater good: peace."It's unclear how far Francis will take his condemnation given his reluctance to offend Russia or the Russian Orthodox Church, after his historic meeting with the Russian patriarch in Cuba earlier this year.Antonio Spadaro SJThat reluctance might also temper any criticism of what Georgia hopes to draw attention to during his trip: what it calls the "occupation" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia.South Ossetia and Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russia effectively gained complete control over both regions after a brief war against Georgia in 2008.The Vatican says the pope's main message will be one of peace and reconciliation and that the pope is unlikely to get drawn into specifics about the conflict.A more subtle message of the trip is one of steadily improving ties between the Holy See and the two former Soviet republics.When St. John Paul II visited Georgia in 1999 to mark the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Catholic-Orthodox tensions were so high that the Georgian Orthodox Church urged its faithful to stay away from his Mass. Relations are still strained, unlike the Vatican's more friendly relations with other Orthodox churches.But the Vatican says an official delegation from the Orthodox patriarchate will attend Francis' Saturday morning Mass, a not-insignificant ecumenical development."For Georgia's Catholics and personally for me, the papal visit is a great event," said Tako Peikrishvili, a 27-year-old from the village of Aral in southern Georgia's mountains.Francis on Sunday travels to Azerbaijan for the second leg of the trip, spending only 10 hours on the ground, however.
Pope begins the second leg of his trip to the Caucasus in Tblisi, GeorgiaThe pope had a very punctual arrival to the Tblisi airport, a few minutes before he was scheduled at three o'clock.He was welcomed by strong gusts of wind and the warm enthusiasm of several hundred Catholics.At the bottom of the plane's stairs, he greeted President Giorgi Margvelashvili, with his wife.The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, Ilia II, 83, also wanted to personally meet him at the airport, despite his delicate health.The powerful wind played some tricks on them, but was unable to distract them during the traditional anthems.This simple act started the pope's trip to Georgia, where he intends to promote peace in the Caucasus region and build bridges with the Georgian Orthodox Church, who is perhaps the most opposed to dialogue with Catholics.
Sep 30 16 5:22 AM
Pope delivers address to Authorities, diplomats in GeorgiaMeeting national authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in Tbilisi, Georgia Friday, Pope Francis described the Caucasus nation as a “blessed land, a place of encounter and vital exchange among cultures and civilizations” which, since the 4th century, “discovered in Christianity its deepest identity and the solid foundation of its values.”The Pope was speaking at the Presidential palace shortly after his arrival in the Georgian capital. In his address, he recalled his meeting in the Vatican last year with President Giorgi Margvelashvili and thanked him for the invitation to visit his country whose values, expressed “in culture, language and traditions,” he said, place it fully “within the bedrock of European civilization.”Georgia, a bridge between Europe and AsiaDescribing Georgia as a “natural bridge between Europe and Asia,” that for centuries has facilitated “communication and relations” between peoples of diverse cultures, the Pope observed that 25 years have passed since Georgia’s independence was proclaimed. During that time, and “at great sacrifice,” he noted, Georgia built and strengthened its democratic institutions seeking “to guarantee the most inclusive and authentic development possible.”He expressed his hope that all sectors of society would work towards peace and development so as “to create conditions for stability, justice and respect for the rule of law” in order to promote “greater opportunities for all.”Peaceful coexistence among people, states needed for stability, developmentFor such enduring progress, he said, “the peaceful coexistence among all people and states in the region” is indispensable. “This requires increasing mutual esteem,” he stressed, “which can never lay aside respect for the sovereign rights of every country within the framework of international law.”Pope Francis lamented what he called “a dominant way of thinking” in “far too many areas of the world” today which “hinders keeping legitimate differences and disagreements” within a climate of “civilized,” responsible and reasoned dialogue.This form of dialogue, he stressed, is all the more necessary in today’s context “with no shortage of violent extremism that manipulates and distorts civic and religious principles, and subjugates them to… domination and death.”Priority, the Pope said, should be given to human beings and “every attempt made to prevent differences from giving rise to violence.” Distinctions along ethnic, linguistic, political or religious lines,” he stressed, must be a “source of mutual enrichment” for the common good. This requires that everyone, he said, “make full use of their particular identity” with the possibility “to coexist peacefully in their homeland, or freely to return to that land if for some reason they have been forced to leave it.”He expressed his hope that civil authorities “will continue to show concern for the situation of these persons” and to find “tangible solutions” to their predicament.In conclusion, Pope Francis spoke of the centuries-long presence of the Catholic Church in the country and its on-going commitment to contribute to the well-being and peace of the nation through its charitable and institutional works and “by actively cooperating” with the authorities and civil society.” Finally, he noted “the renewed and strengthened dialogue with the ancient Georgian Orthodox Church and the other religious communities” in Georgia and expressed hope that the Catholic Church may continue to contribute to Georgian society “in common witness to the Christian tradition which unites us.”**********L'Osservatore RomanoOfficial English translation of Pope Francis’ discourse to Georgian authorities and members of the diplomatic corps:Mr President,Distinguished Authorities and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,Ladies and Gentlemen,I thank Almighty God for granting me the opportunity to visit this blessed land, a place of encounter and vital exchange among cultures and civilizations, which, since the preaching of Saint Nino at the beginning of the fourth century, discovered in Christianity its deepest identity and the solid foundation of its values. As Saint John Paul II observed when visiting your country: “Christianity became the seed of successive flowerings of Georgian culture” (Address at the Arrival Ceremony, 8 November 1999), and this seed continues to bear fruit. Recalling with gratitude our meeting in the Vatican last year and the good relations which Georgia has always maintained with the Holy See, I sincerely thank you, Mr President, for your gracious invitation and for your cordial words of welcome in the name of the Authorities of the State and all the Georgian people.The centuries-old history of your country shows that it is rooted in the values expressed in its culture, language and traditions. This places your country fully and in a particular way within the bedrock of European civilization; at the same time, as is evident from your geographical location, Georgia is to a great extent a natural bridge between Europe and Asia, a link that facilitates communication and relations between peoples. Through the centuries this has facilitated commercial ties as well as dialogue and the exchange of ideas and experiences between diverse cultures. As your national anthem proudly proclaims: “My icon is my homeland… bright mountains and valleys are shared with God”. The country is an icon expressing its identity and tracing its features and history; its mountains, rising freely towards heaven, far from being insurmountable walls, give splendour to the valleys; they distinguish them, connect them, make each one unique yet all open to the one sky, which covers them and offers them protection.Mr President, twenty-five years have passed since Georgia’s independence was proclaimed. During this period when Georgia regained its full liberty, it built and strengthened its democratic institutions and sought ways to guarantee the most inclusive and authentic development possible. All of this was not without great sacrifice, which the people faced courageously in order to ensure their longed-for freedom. I hope that the path of peace and development will advance with the consolidated commitment of all sectors of society, so as to create conditions for stability, justice and respect for the rule of law, hence promoting growth and greater opportunities for all.The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress. This requires increasing mutual esteem and consideration, which can never lay aside respect for the sovereign rights of every country within the framework of international law. So as to forge paths leading to lasting peace and true cooperation, we must recall that the relevant principles for a just and stable relationship between states are at the service of a practical, ordered and peaceful coexistence among nations. Indeed, in far too many areas of the world, there seems to be a dominant way of thinking which hinders keeping legitimate differences and disagreements – which can always arise – within a climate of civilized dialogue where reason, moderation and responsibility can prevail. This is all the more necessary in the present historical moment, with no shortage of violent extremism that manipulates and distorts civic and religious principles, and subjugates them to the dark designs of domination and death.We should wholeheartedly give priority to human beings in their actual circumstances and pursue every attempt to prevent differences from giving rise to violence that can cause ruinous calamity for people and for society. Far from being exploited as grounds for turning discord into conflict and conflict into interminable tragedy, distinctions along ethnic, linguistic, political or religious lines can and must be for everyone a source of mutual enrichment in favour of the common good. This requires that everyone make full use of their particular identity, having the possibility, above all else, to coexist peacefully in their homeland, or freely to return to that land, if for some reason they have been forced to leave it. I hope that civil authorities will continue to show concern for the situation of these persons, and that they will fully commit themselves to seeking tangible solutions, in spite of any unresolved political questions. It takes far-sightedness and courage to recognize the authentic good of peoples, and to pursue this good with determination and prudence. In this regard, it is essential to keep before our eyes the suffering of others, in order to proceed with conviction along the path which, though slow and laborious, is also captivating and freeing, and leads us towards peace. The Catholic Church, which has been present for centuries in this country and has distinguished itself in a particular way for its commitment to human promotion and to charitable works, shares the joys and concerns of the Georgian people, and is resolved to offer its contribution for the well-being and peace of the nation, by actively cooperating with the authorities and civil society. It is my ardent desire that the Catholic Church may continue to make its own authentic contribution to the growth of Georgian society, thanks to the common witness to the Christian tradition which unites us, its commitment to those most in need, and the renewed and strengthened dialogue with the ancient Georgian Orthodox Church and the other religious communities of the country.May God bless Georgia and give her peace and prosperity!
Pope urges dialogue to end Georgian-Russian territorial stalemate TBILISI, Georgia (CNS) -- Subtly acknowledging Georgia's ongoing territorial dispute with Russia, Pope Francis urged greater efforts to sow peace throughout the Caucasus region.Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi at the start of his 16th foreign trip, the pope met privately with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili Sept. 30 and, with the president, he addressed a small gathering of civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps outside the presidential palace.In a nation where more than 230,000 people are still displaced by the ongoing Georgian-Russian dispute over control of South Ossetia, the pope said it was time to find a way for the displaced to return to their homes and for respect for the "sovereign rights" of each nation. Only Russia and a handful of other nations recognize the supposed independence of South Ossetia.The theme the government and local church chose for the pope's visit Sept. 30-Oct. 1 was "pax vobis," "peace be with you."Margvelashvili was more blunt than the pope. Georgia, he said, "is still victim of a military aggression on the part of another state: 20 percent of our territory is occupied and 15 percent of the population is displaced. Their homes were taken only because they are ethnically Georgian!""Only 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from here, there is barbed wire that prevents a peaceful population -- neighbors and relatives -- from having a relationship with each other," the president said. "Only 40 kilometers from here, each day human beings witness violence, kidnappings, murders and offenses that deeply wound dignity."The return of displaced people is the government's primary concern, he said. "Human beings should not have to suffer because of political situations and they have a right to return to their own homes."Pope Francis urged the people of the region to make concerted efforts to respect their cultural and ethnic differences, giving everyone a chance "to coexist peacefully in their homeland or freely to return to that land if, for some reason, they have been forced to leave it.""The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress," the pope told the country's leaders.Georgia, which had been part of the Soviet Union, has been working for 25 years to build democracy and promote development. Pope Francis said he hoped the process would continue, increasingly involving all sectors of society to ensure "stability, justice and respect for the rule of law."Both the pope and the president emphasized Georgia's "European" identity, but also it's geographical location and historic role as a meeting place of Asia and Europe. Over Russian objections, Georgia has been trying to join the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it has belonged to the Council of Europe since 1999.The formal meetings took place after a brief airport welcoming ceremony. The president and patriarch were at the airport to welcome the pope, as were a boy and girl, who offered him a basket of grapes.Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, bowed by age and Parkinson's disease, stood next to each other as the Vatican and Georgian national anthems were played.Leaving the airport, the papal motorcade passed two groups of Orthodox faithful protesting the pope's visit. The groups held signs written in English. One said, "Pope arch heretic. You are not welcome in Orthodox Georgia." The other said, "Vatican is a spiritual aggressor."
Pope Francis begins his campaign for peace in the Caucasus regionImmediately upon his arrival, Pope Francis launched his campaign for peace in Georgia. After the official welcome at the airport and private meeting with President Giorgio Margvelashvili, he met with civil and diplomatic authorities.The pope did not explicitly speak about separatist internal conflicts and continuing tensions between Georgia and Russia, but spoke of the need to learn to overcome differences, both in Georgia and the world,.POPE FRANCIS"This is all the more necessary in the present historical moment, with no shortage of violent extremism that manipulates and distorts civic and religious principles, and subjugates them to the dark designs of domination and death."Pope Francis did not want to overlook refugees, who are the main victims of wars. Georgia has welcomed 200,000 refugees from areas that have self-declared their independence. When making decisions, the pope called on the international community to consider the suffering of real people.POPE FRANCIS"It is essential to keep before our eyes the suffering of others, in order to proceed with conviction along the path which, though slow and laborious, is also captivating and freeing, and leads us towards peace."In Georgia, the pope has two objectives: to promote peace in the region and strengthen ties with the local Orthodox Church. In fact, immediately after this meeting, he headed toward the Patriarchate to meet with its leader, Ilia II.
Sep 30 16 10:15 AM
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Sep 30 16 11:22 PM
“Blessed is the Church who does not entrust herself to the criteria of functionalism and organizational efficiency, nor worries about her image.” On the second and penultimate day of his visit to the Caucasus region, Pope Francis celebrated mass for Catholics at Tbilisi’s stadium, in the presence of Georgia’s authorities, representatives of the Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations. Today, 1 October, is the feast of Thérèse of Lisieux and an occasion to communicate a message the relevance of which extends beyond Georgia. The Pope’s words on freedom from the temptation of “functionalism” and hyper-efficiency appear particularly significant when applied to the reform process currently underway in the Roman Curia. The Pope arrived at the Mikheil Meskhi stadium – named after the “best Georgian footballer of the 20th century” - a little before 9 am. Although the stadium can hold up to 27,000 people there were only about a thousand or so faithful at mass, as was the case when John Paul II visited in 1999. Today they were wearing white and yellow hats, the colours of the Vatican flag. 1,5% of the country’s population is Catholic (around 112,000 faithful), most of them are members of the Armenian Church and the Chaldean Church in communion with Rome. In Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, the percentage drops to 1%. Francis crossed the stadium in a small electric-powered golf car, stopping along the way to greet numerous children. The mass was attended by delegations representing a number of different Christian denominations but contrary to expectations, there was no delegation from the Patriarchate of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church. “Their canon does not permit it,” explained the director of the Vatican Press Office, Greg Burke. On 28 September, two days before the Pope’s arrival, the Patriarchate issued a statement, distancing itself from the critical views of more radical Orthodox groups, affirming that the mass for Catholics at Tbilisi’s stadium could not be considered “proselytism”. At the same time, however, it stated that “Orthodox faithful are not participating in the celebration”. Georgia’s president, Georgi Margvelashvili, sat in the front row nearest the altar. At the start of the celebration, the Pope and concelebrating bishops passed through a holy door. The Pope’s homily started off with a remark inspired by the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “Among the many treasures of this magnificent country, one that stands out is the importance of women. As Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, whom we commemorate today, wrote: “they love God in much larger numbers than men do”. Here in Georgia there are a great number of grandmothers and mothers who unceasingly defend and pass on the faith.”Francis described the Church as a “house of consolation”, where “God wishes to console us”. “We may ask ourselves: I who am in the Church, do I bring the consolation of God? Do I know how to welcome others as guests and console those whom I see tired and disillusioned? Even when enduring affliction and rejection, a Christian is always called to bring hope to the hearts of those who have given up, to encourage the downhearted, to bring the light of Jesus, the warmth of his presence and his forgiveness which restores us.” “Dear brothers and sisters,” the Pope continued, “let us take up this call: to not bury ourselves in what is going wrong around us or be saddened by the lack of harmony between us. It is not good for us to become accustomed to a closed ecclesial “microenvironment”; it is good for us to share wide horizons open to hope, having the courage to humbly open our doors and go beyond ourselves.” “There is, however, an underlying condition to receiving God’s consolation, and his word today reminds usof this: to become little like children, to be ‘like a child quieted at its mother’s breast’. To receive God’s love we need this littleness of heart: only little ones can be held in their mothers arms.” “To be great before the Most High,” Francis explained, “does not require the accumulation of honour and prestige or earthly goods and success, but rather a complete self-emptying. A child has nothing to give and everything to receive. A child is vulnerable, and depends on his or her father and mother. The one who becomes like a little child is poor in self but rich in God.” “It will help us to remember that we are constantlyand primarily his children: not masters of our lives, but children of the Father; not autonomous and self-sufficient adults, but children who always need to be lifted up and embraced, who need love and forgiveness.” From this, Francis drew up a new list of Beatitudes: “Blessed are those Christian communities who live this authentic gospel simplicity! Poor in means, they are rich in God. Blessed are the Shepherds who do not ride the logic of worldly success, but follow the law of love: welcoming, listening, serving. Blessed is the Church who does not entrust herself to the criteria of functionalism and organizational efficiency, nor worries about her image.” Because, Francis concluded quoting St. Thérèse, “Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude”. Thus the ideal attitude to have is the instinct of trust of “a little child who falls asleep without fear in his Father’s arms”.
Pope Francis' efforts to improve relations with the Georgian Orthodox Church suffered a public setback Saturday after the patriarchate decided not to send an official delegation to his Mass and repeated that Orthodox faithful cannot participate in Catholic services.In the run-up to Francis' Caucasus visit, the Vatican spokesman had said the Orthodox Patriarchate would send a delegation to the Mass in a Tbilisi sports stadium "in a sign of the rapport between the two churches" - suggesting that the chill that had clouded the 1999 visit of St. John Paul II to Georgia had warmed slightly.But Orthodox patriarchate spokeswoman Nato Asatiani said Saturday that the delegation had stayed away "by mutual agreement." The patriarchate updated a previous statement on its website saying that "as long as there are dogmatic differences between our churches, Orthodox believers will not participate in their prayers."The update apparently came after Francis' arrival Friday in Tbilisi was met with protests of hardline Orthodox opposed to any ecumenical initiatives by their church."It's typical proselytizing," said Father David Klividze, who was among about 100 people protesting outside the stadium from the hardline Union of Orthodox Parents. "Can you imagine how it would be if a Sunni preacher came to Shiite Iran and conducted prayers in a stadium or somewhere else? Such a thing could not be. Therefore, we are speaking against this."Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican accepted the Orthodox decision, which he said had been conveyed to the papal delegation Friday night. Orthodox law didn't allow for the participation of the delegation, he said.Francis had been scheduled to personally greet the delegation at the end of the Mass. Instead, Francis thanked "those Orthodox faithful" who were present.Organizers had said they expected the Meshki sports stadium, capacity 27,000, to be full for the Mass, but only a few thousand people took their seats in the stands by the time Francis entered on his popemobile and began the celebration. There was no immediate explanation for the low turnout of Catholic faithful on the brilliantly sunny day.Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox, with less than 3 percent of the population - or about 112,000 people - Catholic, according to Vatican statistics.In his homily, Francis urged his faithful to find consolation in God and not be "saddened by the lack of harmony around us.""It is when we are united, in communion, that God's consolation works in us," he said.Francis had received a surprisingly warm welcome from the Orthodox leader upon his arrival Friday for the three-day visit that also includes a stop in Muslim-majority Azerbaijan.Patriarch Ilia welcomed Francis as my "dear brother" and toasted him saying: "May the Lord bless the Catholic Church of Rome."It was a different tone compared to the chill that characterized John Paul II's 1999 visit, when Ilia greeted him only as a head of state, not a religious leader. Then, Catholic-Orthodox tensions were so high that the Georgian Orthodox Church urged its faithful to stay away from his Mass.The last-minute decision not to send an Orthodox delegation to Francis' Mass, and to repeat that Orthodox shouldn't attend, suggested a "one step forward, two steps back" progress that often characterizes the Vatican's ecumenical efforts.Other than Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, there were no prominent Georgian politicians on hand for the Mass. That suggested that with parliamentary elections planned for next week, politicians might have been reluctant to alienate any hardline Orthodox voters with their presence.Francis' visit has been met with some protests by hardline Orthodox, who demonstrated outside the airport and Chaldean church holding signs saying "The Vatican is a spiritual aggressor," and "Death of papism."The Orthodox patriarchate, though, had criticized the protests, indicating something of an institutional shift that has accompanied Georgia's geopolitical aspirations. Georgia is anxious to join NATO and is pursuing an eventual membership in the 28-nation European Union. The papal visit is being seen in Georgia as the government's attempt to win allies among Europe's Catholic nations.Francis' main ecumenical event of the day was an evening visit to the seat of the Orthodox church, where he was expected to press his call for improved Catholic-Orthodox ties.The Orthodox cathedral is located in Mtskheta, the spiritual capital of Georgia and where Christianity took root in the 4th century. The 11th-century Svetitskhoveli cathedral, one of three Mtskheta monuments on the UNESCO world heritage list, is said to have housed Christ's tunic."For the Christian world and not only, the visit of the pope is very significant," said Amiran Tsiklauri, an Orthodox resident of Tbilisi. "The pope is not only spiritual leader for Catholics but also the person who calls and urges for peace around the world."
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“We are not called to serve only now and again, but to live in serving,” Pope Francis said at the mass he celebrated for the few hundreds of faithful gathered in the church of the Immaculate Conception in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, the final leg of his brief trip to the Caucasus, where he arrived this morning from Georgia. The first Catholic church that bore this name was built in 1912 and was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1931. In 2002, John Paul II celebrated mass in a small gym. After his visit, the then president, Heydar Aliyev, decided to allocate some land for a new church to be built. And so the current church came into being and was consecrated in 2007 by the then Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. It holds up to 300 or so people and is part of the Salesian Centre. Francis celebrated mass in English with a group of Filipinos also taking part in the liturgy.“Faith, which is always God’s gift and always to be asked for, must be nurtured by us,” the Pope said in his homily. It is no magic power which comes down from heaven, it is not a “talent” which is given once and for all, not a special force for solving life’s problems. A faith useful for satisfying our needs would be a selfish one, centred entirely on ourselves.” Francis explained that “faith must not be confused with well-being or feeling well, with having consolation in our heart that gives us inner peace. Faith is the golden thread which binds us to the Lord, the pure joy of being with him, united to him; it is a gift that lasts our whole life, but bears fruit only if we play our part.”“And what is our part?” Francis pondered. “Jesus helps us understand that it consists of service. In the Gospel, immediately following his words on the power of faith, Jesus speaks of service. Faith and service cannot be separated; on the contrary, they are intimately linked, interwoven with each other. In order to explain this, I would like to take an image very familiar to you, that of a beautiful carpet. Your carpets are true works of art and have an ancient heritage.” Christian life too “must be woven patiently, intertwining a precise weft and warp: the weft of faith and the warp of service. When faith is interwoven with service, the heart remains open and youthful, and it expands in the process of doing good. Thus faith, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, becomes powerful and accomplishes marvellous deeds.”Francis went to explain the meaning of service. “We might think that it consists only in being faithful to our duties or carrying out some good action. For Jesus it is much more. In today’s Gospel, and in very firm and radical terms, he asks us for complete availability, a life offered in complete openness, free of calculation and gain.” “And so, we are not called to serve merely in order to receive a reward, but rather to imitate God, who made himself a servant for our love. Nor are we called to serve only now and again, but to live in serving. Service is thus a way of life; indeed it recapitulates the entire Christian way of life: serving God in adoration and prayer; being open and available; loving our neighbour with practical deeds; passionately working for the common good.” “The lukewarm person,” the Pope said, “lives to satisfy his or her own convenience, which is never enough, and in that way is never satisfied; gradually such a Christian ends up being content with a mediocre life. The lukewarm person allocates to God and others a 'percentage' of their time and their own heart, never spending too much, but rather always trying to economise. And so, he or she can lose the zest for life: rather like a cup of truly fine tea, which is unbearable to taste when it gets cold.The Pope also spoke about a “second temptation”, “which we can fall into not so much because we are passive, but because we are “overactive”: the one of thinking like masters, of giving oneself only in order to gain something or become someone. In such cases service becomes a means and not an end, because the end has become prestige; and then comes power, the desire to be great.”
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Oct 31 16 7:09 AM
Urging Catholics and Lutherans to take decisive steps toward unity, Pope Francis nevertheless offered no new openings to the idea of sharing Communion before full unity is achieved.“We Christians will be credible witnesses of mercy to the extent that forgiveness, renewal and reconciliation are daily experienced in our midst,” the pope said Oct. 31 during an ecumenical prayer service in the Lutherans’ Lund cathedral, which was built as a Catholic cathedral in the 11th century.With the prayer service, Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation launched a year of activities to mark the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s efforts to reform the church.For Pope Francis and the Vatican, Catholics are called to commemorate the event by focusing on concrete ways to express and strengthen the doctrinal agreements reached by Catholic and Lutheran theologians over the past 50 years. The most appropriate way to mark the anniversary, they said, was with common prayer and renewed commitments to working together to help the poor and promote justice.The Lutherans agree, but many also saw the joint commemoration as a moment to recognize that the joint agreements on issues of faith over the past 50 years mean it is appropriate now to expand occasions when eucharistic sharing is possible.The Catholic Church has insisted that regular sharing of the Eucharist will be possible only when divided Christians have attained full unity.In his homily at the Lund cathedral, the Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, expressed his hope for shared Communion sooner.While in the past Catholics and Lutherans sometimes carried stones to throw at each other, he said, that is no longer possible “now that we know who we are in Christ.” The stones cannot be used “to raise walls of separation and exclusion” either, he said.“Jesus Christ calls us to be ambassadors of reconciliation,” he said, using stones for “building bridges so that we can draw closer to each other, houses where we can meet together and tables — yes, tables — where we can share the bread and the wine, the presence of Jesus Christ who has never left us and who calls us to abide in him so the world may believe.”A joint statement signed in Lund by Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, said, “Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table as the concrete expression of full unity.”Particularly referring to Catholic-Lutheran married couples, the two leaders’ statement said, “We experience the pain of those who share their whole lives, but cannot share God’s redeeming presence at the eucharistic table. We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ.”However, they did not authorize further opportunities for shared Communion, but expressed longing “for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”Pope Francis began the service praying that the Holy Spirit would “help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the church through the Reformation.” In an interview released Oct 28, he said those gifts were greater appreciation of the Bible as God’s word and an acknowledgement that members of the church are called to a process of ongoing reform.The service was punctuated with music from around the world, including a Kyrie or “Lord Have Mercy” in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Catholic and Lutheran leaders took turns asking God’s forgiveness for maintaining divisions, “bearing false witness” against each other and allowing political and economic interests to exacerbate the wounds in the body of Christ.Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelen of Uppsala, the first woman to serve as primate of Sweden, read the Gospel at the service.In his homily, Pope Francis insisted that Catholics and Lutherans must “look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness.”The division among Christians, he said, goes against Christ’s will for his disciples, weakens their ability to serve the world and often makes it difficult for others to believe Christianity is a religion of peace and fraternity.The Gospel reading at the service, from John 15, was about Jesus being the vine and his disciples being the branches. In his homily, Rev. Junge said that too often over the past 499 years, Catholics and Lutherans saw each other “as branches separated from the true vine, Christ.”Yet, he said, “Jesus never forgot us, even when we seemed to have forgotten him, losing ourselves in violent and hateful actions.”After 50 years of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Rev. Junge said, “we acknowledge that there is much more that unites us than that which separates us. We are branches of the same vine. We are one in baptism.
Pope Francis is in Sweden today to mark the start of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation together with Lutherans from across the world. The ecumenical gathering, hosted by the Lutheran World Federation, has been dubbed “From Conflict to Communion,” and it marks the first time that Catholics and Lutherans have jointly commemorated the Reformation on a global level. The event will take place in the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund, a sleepy university town in southern Sweden.“For all of us, it was a big surprise that the pope would come here for this commemoration of the Reformation,” said Bishop Anders Arborelius, O.C.D., of Stockholm’s Catholic diocese. “When you think about Reformation, you think about Germany, about Wittenberg and not about Lund.” But both Lutheran and Catholic traditions have deep roots in Lund. In the Middle Ages, Lund’s cathedral was Northern Europe’s hub for the Catholic Church, the seat of the archbishop of the Nordic countries. It was in Lund that the ecumenical movement began when, in 1947, the Lutheran World Federation was founded after Lutheran churches came together after the war to ensure greater unity.“This is a place where we have been praying during times long before Reformation. This is a church for the whole church,” said the Rev. Lena Sjöstrand, the chaplain of Lund’s cathedral, when I met her on Sunday outside the cathedral which was already buzzing with security measures, a gaggle of policemen with automatic weapons a few meters away.If one does not associate Lund with the Reformation, one certainly does not associate it with Catholicism. “We have to remember that Sweden as a nation was born against the Catholic Church, so since the 16th century, up to about 200 years ago, the Catholic Church was banned from Sweden and even had capital punishment for Catholics,” said Bishop Arborelius. Catholics could not become physicians, teachers, or nurses until 1951, and Catholic convents were not legal until the early 1970s. Bishop Arborelius, a kind-eyed Carmelite in his late 60s, became Sweden’s first Swedish Catholic bishop since the Reformation when he was installed in 1998.Like most native Swedish Catholics, he is a convert from the Lutheran Church of Sweden. But the bulk of the church he inherited is made up of first and second generation immigrants. St. Eugenia, the Jesuit parish in Stockholm, has almost 100 different nationalities. While the Catholic Church in Sweden now has over 100,000 members, far more than the approximately 5,000 members it had in the 1950s, it is still far less than the Church of Sweden, which counts 6.4 million registered members.Active membership in the Church of Sweden is a fraction of that number, however, and Sweden consistently ranks among the world’s most secular countries. “You have to have a deep faith in order to live in Sweden because it’s a very secular surrounding and you have to be very conscious of your faith,” Bishop Arborelius told me. But “it’s a very thrilling time to be a Catholic in Sweden because the church is growing. People are more interested to listen to us. For instance, today, the biggest Swedish newspaper had several pages about the visit of the pope and about people becoming Catholics.”Indeed, Pope Francis’ visit has created a media frenzy and has largely overshadowed the event itself. “Most Christians and most people in Sweden have a very high regard of the pope as a moral authority, as a person who can somehow help people to come closer to God and to live a good life,” said Bishop Arborelius. After the service in Lund’s cathedral, the pope will travel to the neighboring city of Malmö, where he will take part in a similar event in Malmö Arena; the initial block of 6,000 tickets sold out within an hour.On Tuesday, he will celebrate a Mass for Scandinavian Catholics, a decision that was not popular among Lutherans, according to reporting in Expressen, a major Swedish newspaper. But in an interview with America, Archbishop Antje Jackelén, the Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala and primate of the Church of Sweden, was quick to emphasize the two sides’ cooperation: “Pope Francis is not coming as a guest—he’s coming as a host—together with the Lutheran World Federation.”According to Bishop Arborelius, the commemoration and the document which will be signed will stress commonalities: “We want to start with proclaiming our belief in Jesus and what that means for the world today and from that common faith in him. We want to give a witness to the world, especially to those in need.”Caritas Internationalis and Lutheran World Relief have a strong presence at the event in Lund. Bishop Antoine Audo, S.J., the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, will speak, and Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, who worked to negotiate the end of the civil war in Colombia, will also be in attendance. “We could say this meeting somehow is concentrating upon this common witness,” noted Bishop Arborelius, “what we can do for a world in need, in sorrow, in war.”“I hear many people asking for a solid basis for hope, and maybe this can provide something of an answer,” said Archbishop Jackelén.The focus on conflict resolution and social justice is a natural fit for Sweden, a country that has been at the forefront of the current refugee crisis. The pope “is a symbol for those questions, and apparently, it touches something in people’s hearts right now,” noted the Rev. Sjöstrand. “What is important in the ecumenical movement is to bring together those social issues with prayer and transcendence. That is important in this meeting—that we meet to pray. In the praying, we bring up these issues of the world, but we do it, praying before God, together.
Nov 1 16 2:35 AM
Nov 1 16 2:41 AM
On the day that the church celebrates all the saints of history, Pope Francis told Sweden's small Roman Catholic population that holiness is not shown so much in extraordinary deeds but rather in "daily fidelity to the demands of our baptism."Speaking in a homily during an outdoor Mass with about 15,000 people on a drizzly fall day at a soccer stadium here, the pontiff also proposed a series of six new items to add to the eight blessings, known as the beatitudes, that Jesus said would come upon those who, among other things, were poor in spirit or acted as peacemakers.Francis told the Swedes that the yearly marking of All Saints' Day, held each Nov. 1, is an occasion to celebrate holiness, or "a love that remains faithful to the point of self-renunciation and complete devotion to others."And the pope said that Jesus' Beatitudes, which also mention blessings for those who are meek and those who hunger for righteousness, are the saints' "path, their goal, their native land.""We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus," he continued, adding: "Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy."NCR's award-winning reporting and commentary are possible because of support from people like you. Give today.Francis then proposed six new beatitudes for the modern era:"Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart;"Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness;"Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him;"Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home;"Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others;"Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians."All those who enact the six items, said the pontiff, "are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness, and surely they will receive from him their merited reward."The Beatitudes, given by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount as recounted in Matthew's Gospel, are among the most recognizable of Jesus' teachings, with him naming eight groups of people traditionally thought to be unfortunate but that he pronounces blessed.Francis traveled to Sweden Monday for a two-day visit in a bold gesture to mark the start of yearlong commemorations of the Protestant Reformation, which is traditionally dated as beginning with the October 1517 publication of Luther's "Ninety-Five Theses."The pope took part in two ecumenical events Monday afternoon and urged members of the two faith communities to "mend a critical moment of our history" by forging new common paths together.The Catholic church represents a small minority in Sweden, with about 113,000 registered members in a country of some 9.6 million. About 65 percent of Sweden's population belongs to the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran denomination.Among those taking part in the commemorations Monday were the head of the 72-million-member Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of Lutheran churches, and the primate of the Church of Sweden, Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala Jackelen Antje, who is a woman.There had been some speculation in anticipation of Francis' trip that the pope or Lutheran leaders would use the visit to make some sort of grand overture towards achieving full unity between Catholics and Lutherans, perhaps even with a declaration that members of the two communities could take Communion at each other's services.Hopes for such a gesture were tempered in a joint statement signed Monday by Francis and Lutheran World Federation President Bishop Munib Younan. While the two leaders pledged to work towards intercommunion, they did not indicate it was possible as yet.During a press conference Monday evening, one Vatican official made a distinction between the universal opening to Catholic communion for Lutherans and the possibility of communion for Lutheran individuals in special circumstances, such as those who are married to Catholics.Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said there is a difference between "Eucharistic hospitality" for individuals and wider "Eucharistic communion" for the two faith groups.Hospitality towards Lutherans in mixed Lutheran-Catholic marriages, said Koch, is a "pastoral question" to be handled individually at the level of the local church.Francis is to return to Rome Tuesday afternoon.
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