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Cardinal: Religious freedom will be Europe’s ‘great problem of the future’

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., pictured at the Vatican on Oct. 10, 2018 (before he was named a cardinal). / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A leading European cardinal has said that the great problem the continent will face in the future is attacks against religious freedom.

In a June 16 interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language partner agency, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said he thought that “the problem of religious freedom will be the great problem of the future in Europe.”

“There is no persecution of the Church: it would be too much to say,” he said. “But, in some countries, there are, at different levels, small attacks against the freedom of religion, and we must be on guard.”

Hollerich is the archbishop of Luxembourg and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). He and other members of COMECE met with Pope Francis and other Vatican officials in Rome the week of June 7.

COMECE, founded in 1980, consists of bishops delegated by the bishops’ conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union.

Last year, COMECE spoke out against the long-term forced closure of churches during the coronavirus pandemic in light of the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of worship.

“COMECE takes this opportunity to restate that any erosion of fundamental rights in the current emergency context, including freedom of religion, must not become the new norm. These rights have to be fully re-established as early as possible,” it said.

Speaking with ACI Stampa, Hollerich called the number of Catholics able to attend Mass in Belgium during the pandemic “ridiculous.” He also criticized Ireland’s extended ban on public Masses.

The cardinal said that in these two countries the Church “has a bad reputation.”

“A just impression of the Church must be given to rebuild credibility,” he said. “After the cases of sexual abuse, it is urgent for society, but also for the faithful, because many have lost all hope in the Church. This must change, we must become very humble and do our best with great transparency.”

Earlier this year, Hollerich also intervened in a proposed law in Denmark requiring the translation of all homilies into Danish. He argued that “de facto, the impact would be of imposing undue hindrance on the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”

Hollerich said that COMECE was currently monitoring a report before the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, which seeks the recognition of a “right to abortion” and the redefinition of conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The report is an attempt “to get the European Parliament to vote on abortion as a human right and against freedom of conscience in institutions,” Hollerich said. “It is clear that we cannot agree.”

The report, which was presented to the European Parliament by Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić, is due to be debated on June 23. A vote will take place the next day.

“I think we must make it clear that approving such a report is against subsidiarity, because abortion is a subject of national and non-EU legislation,” Hollerich said. “It would therefore be a grave sin for the European Union not to respect the subsidiarity of which it always speaks.”

The cardinal said he thought that this was the best argument for convincing EU politicians to vote against the report’s proposal.

Pope Francis appoints ‘ecclesiastical assistant’ for Vatican communications

St. Peter's Basilica. Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed an Italian priest and philosopher as an “ecclesiastical assistant” to the Vatican’s communications department.

Forty-year-old Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco, from the southern Italian region of Puglia, is the author of more than 20 books and a frequent radio and television guest.

He also speaks at conferences and leads retreats throughout Italy.

With his new role in Vatican communications, Epicoco will also be a columnist for the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

During his annual Christmas speech in December 2019, Pope Francis gifted Epicoco’s book, “Someone to Look To: For a Spirituality of Witness,” to members of the Roman Curia.

Epicoco has been a priest of the Archdiocese of L’Aquila since 2005. He was a university chaplain in the archdiocese when the area was hit by the devastating 2009 earthquake which killed more than 300 people.

Last year, he oversaw the publication of an Italian-language book, “St. John Paul the Great,” featuring Pope Francis’ reflections on his Polish predecessor.

Pope Francis began a major reform of Vatican communications in 2015. The dicastery is responsible for overseeing all of the Vatican media operations, including Vatican News, Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano, and the Vatican publishing house.

In July 2018, the pope named Paolo Ruffini, then director of the Italian bishops' television network TV2000, as the department’s first lay prefect.

Ruffini’s appointment followed the departure of Msgr. Dario Viganò, who stepped down after he was discovered by media to have altered an image of a letter from Benedict XVI. Viganò continues to work in the communications department in an advisory role.

Another lay man, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, was appointed editorial director for the Dicastery for Communication in December 2018.

On May 24, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano offices.

While there, he greeted the 300-some Vatican communications employees and spoke live on Vatican Radio about the importance of reaching an audience.

The pope said: “There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the Radio, L’Osservatore, but one that touches my heart: How many people listen to the Radio? How many people read L’Osservatore Romano?”

He compared the operation to “a mountain that gives birth to a mouse.”

“The question you should ask is: how many? How many people do [the programs] reach? It is always a danger that ... you are well organized, do good work, but you do not reach people,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis: On the cross, Jesus prayed for you

Pope Francis’ general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, June 16, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2021 / 05:15 am (CNA).

Catholics should take courage in the fact that even as Jesus was dying on the cross, his most agonizing moment on earth, he was praying for them, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

Speaking during his weekly general audience June 16, the pope noted that “even in the most painful of our sufferings, we are never alone.”

“Jesus prays for me: each one of us can take this to heart. We must not forget. Even in the worst moments. We are already welcomed into Jesus’ dialogue with the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

/ Pablo Esparza/CNA
/ Pablo Esparza/CNA

The general audience, which was held in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard, was Francis’ final catechesis on prayer before starting a new theme next week.

Pope Francis said it was beautiful to remember that not only do we receive grace through our own prayers, but that we have also been prayed for by Jesus to the Father.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

“We were willed by Christ Jesus, and even in the hour of His passion, death, and resurrection, everything was offered for us,” he observed.

“And so, with prayer and with life, there remains only to have courage and hope, and with this courage and hope, to feel the prayer of Jesus strongly and to keep on going,” he said, “so that our life may be one of giving glory to God in the knowledge that he prays for me to the Father, that Jesus prays for me.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

In his address, Pope Francis recalled the importance of prayer in the course of Jesus’ life and mission, as testified by the Gospels.

“Jesus immersed himself in [prayer], because the dialogue with the Father was the incandescent core of all his existence,” he said, noting that Jesus’ prayer became even more intense as he neared the time of his passion and death.

/ Pablo Esparza/CNA.
/ Pablo Esparza/CNA.

“These culminating events constitute the central core of Christian preaching,” he explained. “Those last hours lived by Jesus in Jerusalem are the heart of the Gospel not only because the Evangelists reserve proportionally greater space to this narrative, but also because the event of His death and resurrection -- like a flash of lightning -- sheds light on the rest of Jesus’ life.”

The pope also emphasized that Jesus was not a mere philanthropist who cared about human suffering: In Jesus, there is “total salvation, messianic salvation, that gives hope in the definitive victory of life over death.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

“In the days of His last Passover, we therefore find Jesus fully immersed in prayer,” the pope said. “He prays dramatically in the garden of Gethsemane, we heard, assailed by mortal anguish. And yet Jesus, precisely in that moment, addresses God as ‘Abba,’ Father. This word, in Aramaic, which was Jesus’ language, expresses intimacy and trust. Just as He feels the darkness gather around Him, Jesus breaks through it with that little word: Abba!”

“Jesus also prays on the cross, obscurely shrouded in the silence of God. And yet once again the word ‘Father’ emerges from his lips,” he said.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

According to Francis, “it is the most ardent prayer, because on the cross Jesus is the absolute intercessor: He prays for others, he prays for all, even for those who have condemned him, even though no one apart from a poor delinquent takes his side. Everyone was against him or indifferent, only that criminal recognized the power.”

“‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ In the midst of the drama, in the excruciating pain of soul and body, Jesus prays with the words of the psalms,” he said, “with the poor of the world, especially those forgotten by all, he pronounces the tragic words of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said that “the cross is the fulfillment of the gift of the Father, who offers the unreserved love of his Son as the price of our salvation: Jesus, laden with all the sin of the world, descends into the abyss of separation from God. Yet, still he turns to him invoking: ‘My God!’ Jesus remains immersed in his sonship even at that extreme moment, until his last breath, when he says: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’”

“Jesus therefore prays in the decisive hours of his passion and death. With the resurrection, the Father will answer His prayer,” the pope reflected.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

“The prayer of Jesus is intense,” he added. “The prayer of Jesus is unique and also becomes the model of our prayer. Jesus prayed for everyone. Jesus prayed for me and for each of you. Each of us can say: On the cross, Jesus prayed for me. He prayed.”

Pope Francis: Coronavirus recovery must have true vision for humanity

Pope Francis gives the Angelus address, June 6, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2021 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

Rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to confront the failures of the past, including failures towards God and neighbor, Pope Francis has said in a message to world leaders gathered in Bratislava. 

At the same time, he said, recovery efforts must seek true equality and development for all peoples while rejecting false visions for humanity.

 

“Whoever wants to get up from a fall must confront the circumstances of his own collapse and recognize the elements of responsibility,” the pope said March 16 to the 2021 GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum.

 

A “serious and honest analysis of the past” includes “the recognition of the systemic deficiencies, past mistakes and the lack of responsibility towards the Creator, towards neighbor and towards creation,” the Roman Pontiff said. For Pope Francis, recovery must not only “rebuild what was there” but also “correct what was not working before the advent of the coronavirus and which helped to aggravate the crisis.” 

 

The GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum on Security, European Affairs, Energy, Economy, and Strategic Communications will draw presidents, prime ministers, other leading government officials, and NGO and business leaders. The forum describes itself on its website as “the leading platform in the Central Eastern Europe region” and “one of the top strategic conferences globally.” It meets June 15-17 in the capital of Slovakia, though many speakers and attendees will join the event via internet.

 

The Bratislava Forum said the event “facilitates the free exchange of ideas and provides a meeting place for stakeholders from all sectors of society to actively shape the future we want for ourselves and generations to come.” The theme of this year’s forum, “Rebuilding the World Back Better,” echoes the political rhetoric of many countries in anticipation of an end to the coronavirus epidemic.

 

Pope Francis, delivering a video message to the meeting, invoked the three principles of “Look, Judge, Act.” He said the pandemic “forces us to confront a series of serious socio-economic, ecological and political issues, all interrelated.”

 

Citing his Christmas 2020 address to the Roman Curia, he challenged attendees “to transform the time of trial into a time of choice.” A crisis “forces you to choose, for good or for bad,” and people do not emerge from a crisis the same: “either you come out better or you come out worse. But never the same.”

 

“Let's take advantage of this time to take steps forward. The crisis that has hit everyone reminds us that no one is saved alone,” he said. “The crisis opens the way for us to a future that recognizes the true equality of every human being: not an abstract equality, but a concrete one, which offers to individuals and to peoples fair and real opportunities for development.”

 

The pope said he sees “a world that has been deceived by an illusory sense of security based on the hunger for gain.” There is “a model of economic and social life, characterized by so many inequalities and selfishness, in which a small minority of the world population owns the majority of assets, often not hesitating to exploit people and resources.”

 

He lamented “a lifestyle that doesn't care enough for the environment,” saying that people are used to “consuming and destroying without restraint what belongs to everyone and must be safeguarded with respect.” This creates an “ecological debt” that will be borne “above all by the poor and future generations.”

 

“Those who do not act waste the opportunities offered by the crisis,” he continued. Social injustices and marginalization require a development model that puts at its center “every man and the whole man… as the fundamental pillar to respect and protect.” He emphasized the need to adopt a methodology that includes “the ethics of solidarity” and “political charity.”

 

Action requires an overarching vision of hope, “a vision like that of the biblical prophet Isaiah, who saw swords turning into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks,” said Pope Francis.

 

“To act for the development of all people is to carry out a work of conversion,” he added, praising “decisions that convert death into life, weapons into food.” The pope also called for “an ecological conversion,” since an overarching vision sees creation as a “common home” and “urgently requires action to protect it.”

 

The pope said that he hoped that attendees would be “animated by the hope that comes from God” and that their discussions would “contribute to a model of recovery capable of generating more inclusive and sustainable solutions; a development model based on both peaceful coexistence between peoples and harmony with creation.”

The death toll from COVID-19 stands at 3.8 million worldwide. The U.S. has had the most deaths of any country, passing 600,000 deaths on June 15, National Public Radio reports. Brazil, India and Mexico have some of the worst death tolls worldwide, though increasing vaccine distribution is expected to further limit the spread of the virus.

Cardinal Tagle chokes up while recalling grandfather’s migration story

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is moved as he recalls his grandfather at a Vatican press conference, June 15, 2021. / Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle choked up Tuesday while sharing the story of his grandfather’s migration journey from China to the Philippines as a child.

Speaking during a Vatican press conference June 15, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said that visiting refugee camps in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, and Bangladesh, reminded him of his migrant roots.

“In them, I saw my grandfather who was born in China, but was forced to leave his homeland as a young boy with his uncle for the Philippines in search of a better future,” Tagle said, pausing for a short time as he became visibly emotional.

The Filipino cardinal explained in a letter for Easter 2017 that his maternal grandfather was born in China, but his mother sent him to live in the Philippines because of her poverty.

Tagle also spoke about his Chinese roots in a 2017 book.

“I think some Chinese characteristics have passed onto me, even though my grandfather spent most of his life in the Philippines,” he said.

“I remember certain practices he observed, such as honoring his mother by offering her food, putting it in front of her photograph, with a few sticks of incense, or setting off fireworks to welcome the New Year, or offering a lot of food during family meals.”

At his grandfather’s request, Tagle studied the Chinese language for a time in his boyhood, though he said in the book he regretted that he did not stick with it.

The cardinal’s mother, Milagros Gokim, is Chinese Filipino and his father, Manuel Topacio Tagle, is ethnic Tagalog. They are both in their early 90s and still live in the Philippines.

They raised Tagle and his younger brother Manuel Gokim Tagle Jr. in a devoutly Catholic home. Both worked at a bank.

Tagle, who also goes by his nickname of “Chito,” spoke about his personal experience with immigration during a press conference ahead of the June 20 conclusion of “Share the Journey,” a four-year global campaign by Caritas Internationalis.

Through “Share the Journey,” national Caritas agencies organized events and initiatives with the goal of promoting a culture of encounter with migrants and refugees.

Tagle has been president of Caritas Internationalis since 2015.

Before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in December 2019, the 63-year-old cardinal was archbishop of Manila for nine years.

During the June 15 presser, Tagle described his emotional meetings with refugees over the last six years.

In reference to his visits to the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in 2018 and 2019, he said: “I remember that I had mixed feelings. A part of me rejoiced that they were being given the attention they deserved as human beings. But at the same time, a part of me continued to be sad because I wondered if this was a permanent state of life for them or temporary.”

He said he could not imagine how parents in that situation respond if their children ask them what the future holds.

“The Share the Journey campaign has been a great moment of encounter, solidarity, and for us, memory, and above all an expression of love. An expression of the love of the Church for people on the move. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, followers of other religions, and those with no religion were received as human persons,” Tagle said.

“At a time when COVID-19 should lead to global solidarity, and at the same time when the States are more concerned with protecting their own citizens, with the risk of intensifying selfishness and the fear of strangers, the end of Caritas Internationalis’ global campaign is a call to continue to share the journey with migrants, especially at this most difficult moment,” he said.

“The campaign formally ends, but the mission continues.”

Update: Meeting between Pope Francis and President Biden did not happen

Pope Francis greets then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in this April 29, 2016. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2021 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

In a story June 14, 2021, about Joe Biden and Pope Francis, the Catholic News Agency, based on information provided by a source, erroneously reported that the U.S. President would meet with the pope on June 15. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between Pope Francis and President Joe Biden.

A corrected version of the story is below:

President Joe Biden’s attendance at early morning Mass with Pope Francis was nixed from an early plan for the first meeting of both leaders, a reliable Vatican source told CNA.

President Biden is currently in Europe for several high level meetings, offering a potential opportunity to meet with Pope Francis. According to Vatican sources June 15, there is no meeting currently scheduled between the two men.

The President’s entourage had originally requested for Biden to attend Mass with the pope early in the morning, but the proposal was nixed by the Vatican after considering the impact that Biden receiving Holy Communion from the pope would have on the discussions the USCCB is planning to have during their meeting starting Wednesday, June 16.

The U.S. bishops are slated to vote on creating a committee that would draft a document about Eucharistic coherence.

President Biden is in Europe for several high-level meetings. After attending the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, he traveled to Brussels, Belgium. He wil then fly to Geneva, Switzerland, for his scheduled summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.

Then U.S. Vice President Biden met with Pope Francis for the first time in September 2015, when the pope visited the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The following year, on April 29, 2016, Biden went to the Vatican for a summit on regenerative medicine, where he praised Pope Francis and advocated for a global push to cure cancer.

Biden opened his speech at the Vatican by recalling how, while visiting the United States the previous September, Pope Francis had comforted him after the loss of his eldest son Beau, who passed away the previous summer at the age of 46 from brain cancer.

Pope Francis: Help the world’s small food producers

Pope Francis addresses the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at their headquarters in Rome on Nov. 20, 2014. / FAO Giulio Napolitano.

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Monday that the world must do more to help small food producers.

In a message to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the pope said that the coronavirus crisis should spur efforts to create a global food system capable of withstanding future shocks.

“I appreciate and encourage the efforts of the international community to enable each country to implement the necessary mechanisms to achieve food autonomy, whether through new models of development and consumption or through forms of community organization that preserve local ecosystems and biodiversity,” the pope wrote in Spanish.

“It could be of great benefit to draw on the potential of innovation to support small producers and help them improve their capacities and resilience. In this regard, your work is of particular importance in the current time of crisis.”

The pope’s message was addressed to Michał Kurtyka, Poland’s climate minister and president of the 42nd Session of the FAO Conference, taking place in Rome on June 14-18.

The FAO, founded in 1945, has more than 194 member states and works in over 130 countries.

In addition to the papal message, the conference’s first day featured an address by the Italian President Sergio Mattarella and opening remarks by the FAO’s Chinese Director-General Qu Dongyu, who described the pandemic as “a powerful wake-up call on the fragility and shortcomings of our agrifood systems.”

In his message, the pope noted that in 2020 the number of people at risk of acute food insecurity and in need of immediate subsistence support reached its highest level in five years.

“This situation could worsen in the future. Conflicts, extreme weather events, economic crises, together with the current health crisis, are a source of famine and hunger for millions of people,” he wrote.

“Therefore, in order to address these growing vulnerabilities, it is essential to adopt policies capable of tackling the structural causes that give rise to them.”

The pope continued: “To provide a solution to these needs, it is important, above all, to ensure that food systems are resilient, inclusive, sustainable, and able to provide healthy and affordable diets for all.”

“In this perspective, the development of a circular economy, which guarantees resources for all, including future generations, and promotes the use of renewable energies, is beneficial.”

“The fundamental factor for recovering from the crisis that is striking us is an economy tailored to man, not subject only to profit, but anchored in the common good, friendly to ethics and respectful of the environment.”

The FAO’s 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause 130 million more people worldwide to suffer chronic hunger by the end of last year.

The pope said: “The reconstruction of post-pandemic economies offers us the opportunity to reverse the course followed so far and invest in a global food system capable of withstanding future crises.”

“This includes the promotion of sustainable and diversified agriculture that takes into account the valuable role of family farming and rural communities.”

“Indeed, it is paradoxical to note that it is precisely those who produce food that suffer from the lack or scarcity of food. Three-quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods.”

“However, due to lack of access to markets, land ownership, financial resources, infrastructure and technologies, these brothers and sisters of ours are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.”

Concluding his message, the pope said that it was not enough merely to outline programs.

“Tangible gestures are needed that have as their point of reference the common belonging to the human family and the fostering of fraternity,” he wrote, assuring the conference of the Catholic Church’s support for its work.

Pope Francis: Marginalizing the poor threatens ‘the very concept of democracy’

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 9, 2015 for the general audience. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 14, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Monday that “the very concept of democracy is jeopardized” when the poor are marginalized and treated as if they are to blame for their condition.

In his World Day of the Poor message released June 14, the pope appealed for a new global approach to poverty.

“This is a challenge that governments and world institutions need to take up with a farsighted social model capable of countering the new forms of poverty that are now sweeping the world and will decisively affect coming decades,” he wrote.

“If the poor are marginalized, as if they were to blame for their condition, then the very concept of democracy is jeopardized and every social policy will prove bankrupt.”

The theme of this year’s World Day of the Poor is “The poor you will always have with you,” the words of Jesus recorded in Mark 14:7 after a woman anointed him with precious ointment.

While Judas and others were scandalized by the gesture, Jesus accepted it, the pope said, because he saw it as pointing to the anointing of his body after his crucifixion.

“Jesus was reminding them that he is the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor, because he represents all of them. It was also for the sake of the poor, the lonely, the marginalized and the victims of discrimination, that the Son of God accepted the woman’s gesture,” the pope wrote.

“With a woman’s sensitivity, she alone understood what the Lord was thinking. That nameless woman, meant perhaps to represent all those women who down the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moments of Christ’s life: his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.”

The pope continued: “Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”

“Jesus’ then goes on to associate that woman with the great mission of evangelization: ‘Amen, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mark 14:9).”

The pope lamented what he said was an increasing tendency to dismiss the poor against the background of the coronavirus crisis.

“There seems to be a growing notion that the poor are not only responsible for their condition, but that they represent an intolerable burden for an economic system focused on the interests of a few privileged groups,” he commented.

“A market that ignores ethical principles, or picks and chooses from among them, creates inhumane conditions for people already in precarious situations. We are now seeing the creation of new traps of poverty and exclusion, set by unscrupulous economic and financial actors lacking in a humanitarian sense and in social responsibility.”

Looking back to 2020, the year that COVID-19 swept the world, he continued: “Last year we experienced yet another scourge that multiplied the numbers of the poor: the pandemic, which continues to affect millions of people and, even when it does not bring suffering and death, is nonetheless a portent of poverty.”

“The poor have increased disproportionately and, tragically, they will continue to do so in the coming months.”

The World Bank estimated in October that the pandemic could push as many as 115 million additional people into extreme poverty by 2021. It said that it expected global extreme poverty -- defined as living on less than $1.90 a day -- to rise in 2020 for the first time in more than 20 years.

The pope wrote: “Some countries are suffering extremely severe consequences from the pandemic, so that the most vulnerable of their people lack basic necessities. The long lines in front of soup kitchens are a tangible sign of this deterioration.”

“There is a clear need to find the most suitable means of combating the virus at the global level without promoting partisan interests.”

“It is especially urgent to offer concrete responses to those who are unemployed, whose numbers include many fathers, mothers, and young people.”

Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in his apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, issued in 2016 at the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The idea came about, he explained, during the Jubilee for Socially Excluded People.

“At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need,” the pope wrote in his first World Day of the Poor message in 2017.

The Day is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Feast of Christ the King. This year, it will fall on Nov. 14.

Coronavirus restrictions forced the Vatican to scale down its commemoration of the World Day of the Poor in 2020. It was unable to host a “field hospital” for the poor in St. Peter’s Square as it had in previous years. But it distributed 5,000 parcels to Rome’s poor and gave 350,000 masks to schools.

Pope Francis followed his custom of marking the day by celebrating a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Presenting the papal message at a Vatican press conference on June 14, Archbishop Rino Fisichella noted that the pope highlighted the example of St. Damien of Molokai.

The Belgian priest, canonized in 2009, ministered to leprosy sufferers in Hawaii.

“Pope Francis calls to mind the witness of this saint in confirmation of so many men and women, including hundreds of priests, who in this COVID-19 drama have been willing to share totally in the suffering of millions of infected people,” the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization said.

In the message, signed on June 13, the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, the pope argued that nowadays people in prosperous countries “are less willing than in the past to confront poverty.”

“The state of relative affluence to which we have become accustomed makes it more difficult to accept sacrifices and deprivation. People are ready to do anything rather than to be deprived of the fruits of easy gain,” he argued.

“As a result, they fall into forms of resentment, spasmodic nervousness and demands that lead to fear, anxiety and, in some cases, violence. This is no way to build our future; those attitudes are themselves forms of poverty which we cannot disregard.”

“We need to be open to reading the signs of the times that ask us to find new ways of being evangelizers in the contemporary world. Immediate assistance in responding to the needs of the poor must not prevent us from showing foresight in implementing new signs of Christian love and charity as a response to the new forms of poverty experienced by humanity today.”

The pope said he hoped that this year’s commemoration of the World Day of the Poor would inspire a new movement of evangelization at the service of disadvantaged people.

“We cannot wait for the poor to knock on our door; we need urgently to reach them in their homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, on the streets and in the dark corners where they sometimes hide, in shelters and reception centers,” he wrote.

Concluding his message, the pope cited the influential 20th-century Italian priest Fr. Primo Mazzolari, who he honored in 2017.

He wrote: “Let us make our own the heartfelt plea of Fr. Primo Mazzolari: ‘I beg you not to ask me if there are poor people, who they are and how many of them there are, because I fear that those questions represent a distraction or a pretext for avoiding a clear appeal to our consciences and our hearts... I have never counted the poor, because they cannot be counted: the poor are to be embraced, not counted.’”

“The poor are present in our midst. How evangelical it would be if we could say with all truth: we too are poor, because only in this way will we truly be able to recognize them, to make them part of our lives and an instrument of our salvation.”

Amoris laetitia webinar equips leaders to build up sacramental marriages in the Church

scribbletaylor via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jun 13, 2021 / 08:50 am (CNA).

An online Vatican meeting on Amoris laetitia brought together hundreds of people this week to discuss how to better support sacramental marriages and families in the Catholic Church.

Organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, the four-day webinar centered on the question: "Where do we stand with the application of Amoris laetitia?"

Amoris laetitia is Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, written following the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family.

The closed-door meeting June 9 to 12 was attended by more than 300 delegates from 30 international movements and the family offices of over 60 bishops’ conferences.

In his introduction on the first day of the forum, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the laity, family and life dicastery, recalled a 2017 visit by Pope Francis to the offices of the Vatican department.

During that visit, Pope Francis said “Amoris laetitia must be read together, from the first to the last chapter, without ‘cherrypicking’ those sections which we consider easier to implement from those that are more challenging,” Farrell stated.

Farrell quoted the pope's words that the apostolic exhortation should "be read as an integral whole."

"The webinar should be seen within the Synodal process as a sign of the Church coming together to ensure that the family is given a central place within the missionary outreach of every institution or Parish community within the Church," the cardinal said. "The Church is at the service of the family, to work with it, to hope in its great potential, in the certainty that 'the Church is good for the family and the family is good for the Church.'"

Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández of La Plata, Argentina, a friend and known ghostwriter of Pope Francis, gave a presentation on “accompanying, discerning, and integrating fragility,” on the last day of the forum.

According to a brief summary from the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, Fernández's address began with an analysis of the controversial chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

Fernández said in that chapter, Pope Francis "refers to 'situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to [the Church's] teaching on marriage,' the so-called 'irregular situations.' He proposes a path of discernment for greater integration. In any case, for Pope Francis, this is a secondary issue. What interests him more are 'the two central chapters, dedicated to love.'"

Fernández also said that "the pope says that it is essential to take care of love in marriages by encouraging its growth. This is because 'Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace.'"

The archbishop said chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia seeks to "integrate the good that is possible" and to accompany people in hard situations.

Some of the central points of the week's meetings, as summed up by Cardinal Farrell, included the need for awareness among families of the mission they have been given by the sacrament of marriage, and how that mission is shared by pastors; that the parish is a family of families; the need for more effective training for priests, deacons, religious, catechists, and lay people involved in preparing engaged couples for marriage; that Catholics must reach out to families who are estranged from the Church; that families in crisis or other difficulties need special attention; and that family pastoral ministry must be missionary.

The four days had sessions on the marriage catechumenate, the formation of those who accompany, the education of children, the spirituality of spouses, the missionary spirit of the family, and the fragility of the family.

Catholic married couples from around the world presented testimonies about their marriage and family related ministries.

One of these couples was Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret, who connected to the webinar from the United States. The Verrets are the founders of the ministry, Witness to Love: How to Help the Next Generation Build Marriages that Survive and Thrive.

In a June 11 interview with EWTN News Nightly, Ryan Verret said "we were specifically invited by the Vatican to present on the use, in Witness to Love, of mentors, or what Amoris laetitia [and] Pope Francis has referred to as 'evangelizing spouses.'"

For engaged couples, mentors "really help to fill a space of rebuilding trust, not only in the Church, but also in the Lord, and trust that marriage is a still an ongoing great gift," he said.

Mary-Rose said "Witness to Love is really a marriage movement trying to help every couple, every sacramentally married couple, to see their home as a missionary outpost of the local Church, and to really form couples to understand that and to live that, to embrace it."

"What we've found," she continued, "is there are so many great programs, there are so many great resources in the Church today, but there isn't really an infrastructure for evangelization. So Witness to Love is all about getting the materials, the witness, the tools, into couples' hands, into parishes' hands, into pastors' hands, so that that evangelization can happen."

"Because the family really is the future of our Church," she added. "Churches without families are churches that will close."

The forum was organized as part of the ongoing Amoris Laetitia Family Year.

In a video message sent on the first day of the online forum June 9, Pope Francis “the family is ‘a domestic Church,’ the place in which the sacramental presence of Christ acts between spouses and between parents and children.”

“In this sense,” he continued, “‘the experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength for the life of the Church,’ constantly enriched by the life of all the domestic Churches. Therefore, by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage, every family becomes to full effect a good for the Church.”

“Co-responsibility for the mission therefore calls upon married couples and ordained ministers, especially bishops, to cooperate in a fruitful manner in the care and custody of the domestic Churches,” the pope said.

Pope Francis: 'All that is good belongs to God'

Pope Francis gives the Angelus address June 6, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 13, 2021 / 06:10 am (CNA).

God asks us to trust that his love is always at work through our good deeds, even if we do not see the results we had hoped for, Pope Francis said on Sunday.

In his weekly Angelus address June 13, the pope said “even the seed of our good works may seem small; yet, all that is good belongs to God and therefore humbly, slowly bears fruit.”

From a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis commented on the two parables in the day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark.

In the first parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a man who scatters seed on the land; as time passes, the seeds sprout and grow, and the man “knows not how.”

In the second parable, Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth,” which, once it is sown “springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

The pope explained that “this is how God works.”

“Sometimes, the din of the world, together with the many activities that fill our days, prevent us from stopping and seeing how the Lord leads history,” he said. “And yet -- the Gospel assures us -- God is at work, like a small good seed, which silently and slowly sprouts.”

Slowly, this small seed transforms into a luxurious tree, giving life and refreshment to everyone, he said, just like our own good works have the potential to do.

He said, “the Gospel asks us to take a new look at ourselves and at reality; it asks to have bigger eyes, which know how to see beyond, especially beyond appearances, to discover the presence of God who as humble love is always at work in the terrain of our life and in that of history.”

The good often grows in small, hidden, or even invisible ways, but “with this parable, Jesus wants to instill trust in us.”

According to the pope, it is easy to become discouraged when certain situations make evil seem stronger than goodness. Sometimes we let ourselves “be paralyzed by mistrust when we see that we are committed, but the results do not come and things never seem to change.”

“The weeds of mistrust can also take root in the Church, especially when we witness the crisis of faith and the failure of various projects and initiatives,” he said.

“But let us never forget that the results of sowing do not depend on our abilities: they depend on the action of God,” he emphasized. “It is up to us to sow, with love, commitment, patience. But the strength of the seed is divine.”

He said: “This is our trust, this is what gives us strength to go forward every day with patience, sowing the good that will bear fruit.”

Jesus “teaches us that even everyday things, those that at times all seem the same and that we carry on with distraction or fatigue, are inhabited by the hidden presence of God,” he continued.

“So, we too need attentive eyes, to be able to ‘seek and find God in all things,’ as Saint Ignatius of Loyola liked to say.”

After the Angelus, the pope prayed a “Hail Mary” for the people of the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The war, which broke out in November, has caused widespread famine. According to recent estimates from Tigray, 300,000 children may have died from hunger.

“There is famine today, there is hunger there,” Francis said. “Let us pray together for an immediate end to violence, for food and health assistance to be guaranteed for all, and for social harmony to be restored as soon as possible. In this regard, I thank all those who work to alleviate the suffering of the people. Let us pray to Our Lady for these intentions.”

Pope Francis also called attention to the exploitation of children for work. The International Labor Organization estimates there are over 150 million children exploited for work today.

“Let us all together renew the effort to eliminate this slavery of our times,” he said.

The pope noted the day’s welcoming ceremony in Augusta, Sicily, of the pieces of a ship wrecked in the Mediterranean Sea in April 2015.

Francis called the boat, which was carrying migrants when it wrecked, a “symbol of many tragedies.”

He expressed the desire that it will appeal to consciences and “encourage the growth of a more supportive humanity, that breaks down the wall of indifference.”