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Pope Francis entrusts China to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Vatican City, May 24, 2020 / 05:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Sunday entrusted China to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and asked people to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the most populated country in the world.

“Dear Catholic brothers and sisters in China, I wish to assure you that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in trials,” Pope Francis said May 24 after the Regina Caeli prayer.

“It accompanies you with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel, the power of God for the salvation of whoever believes, can shine in you,” the pope said.

Pope Francis imparted a special Apostolic Blessing upon China for the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. The Marian shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, which is dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, remains closed on this feast after the Diocese of Shanghai suspended all pilgrimages for the month of May to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We entrust the pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church in that great country to the guidance and protection of our Heavenly Mother, so that they may be strong in faith and firm in fraternal union, joyful witnesses and promoters of charity and fraternal hope, and good citizens,” Pope Francis said.

“May Our Lady always guard you!” he added.

In his Regina Caeli address, the pope reflected on the words of Jesus recorded in Gospel of Matthew for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

China is home to more than 10 million Catholics, with six million registered as members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, according to official statistics.

The Holy See and the Chinese government signed a provisional agreement in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in the state-sponsored Church, the terms of which have still not been publicly released. In the wake of the deal, previously excommunicated bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is overseen by the Communist Party, were received into full communion with the Vatican.

A report published in 2020 by the U.S. China Commission found that Chinese Catholics suffered “increasing persecution” after the Vatican-China deal. It said the government was “demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.” Priests and bishops have reportedly been detained or have gone into hiding.

Earlier this week, the Vatican revealed that Catholics in China were able to use the most popular Chinese state-monitored social media platform, WeChat, to livestream Pope Francis’ daily Mass during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is unclear whether Catholics in China were also able to watch the livestream of this Sunday Marian prayer for their country on WeChat due to the heavy censorship of all Chinese online media.



— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 24, 2020  

Pope Benedict XVI established the custom of praying for China on the Marian feast of Our Lady Help of Christians in 2007, and composed a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan for the occasion.

Pope Francis entrusted to the intercession of Mary Help of Christians all Christian disciples and people of good will who are working for peace, dialogue between nations, service to the poor, and the custody of creation.

The pope also marked the fifth anniversary of publication of his environmental encyclical, Laudato si’. He said that he wrote Laudato si’ to “draw attention to the cry of the Earth and the poor.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Regina Caeli address via livestream video recorded in the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. However, for the first time in more than 10 weeks, people were allowed to be present in St. Peter’s Square when the pope appeared in the window to give a blessing.

Each person who entered the square was required to wear a face mask and security enforced social distancing for the people gathered outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, which reopened to the public on May 18.

After more than 5 million people around the world have been documented with COVID-19, the pope asked Our Lady Help of Christians to intercede “for the victory of humanity over every disease of the body, heart, and soul.”

“The feast of Ascension tells us that Jesus, although he ascended into Heaven to dwell gloriously on the right hand of the Father, is still and always among us for us to derive strength, perseverance, and our joy,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Museums will reopen June 1 as Italy opens borders to tourists

Vatican City, May 23, 2020 / 08:35 am (CNA).- The Vatican Museums announced Saturday that it will reopen on June 1, two days before Italy opens its borders to European visitors after nearly three months of lockdown.

Entrance to the Vatican Museums will only be possible via prior reservation to limit the number of people in the museum and stagger entrance times. All visitors will be required to wear a mask, and mandatory temperature checks will be conducted at the entrance.

To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, group visits to the museums will be capped at a maximum of 10 people.

The Vatican Museums will have been closed for 12 weeks since the Italian government announced the closure of all museums and archaeological sites throughout the country on March 8.

Throughout Italy’s lockdown, the Vatican Museums maintained only essential services requiring about 30 employees. The museums employ nearly 1,000 people, among them are administrators, restorers, art historians, and ticket agents.

The Italian government has announced that Italy will open its regional and international borders on June 3, allowing tourists from the European Union to visit Italy without being subjected to a quarantine requirement.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that this will create the conditions to help Italy’s tourism industry to recover.

The Vatican Museums receive millions of visitors each year, and generated around $87 million annually as of 2015, half of which was surplus revenue for Vatican City, according to the Economist. In the months that the museums have been closed due to the pandemic, Vatican City has likely lost millions of dollars in revenue.

Due to the travel restrictions, the first visitors to the reopened Vatican Museums on June 1 will likely be local Romans, rather than the usual tourists.

To accommodate local visitors, the museums have extended their hours to encourage afternoon and evening visits, especially over the weekend.

The museums will be open Monday through Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. each day. On Friday and Saturday the museums and gardens will stay open until 10 p.m. with an optional cocktail hour in the courtyard.

The Vatican Museums have also added an open-bus tour of the Vatican Gardens.

“I would like this moment of difficulty to turn into an opportunity,” Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga said in an interview published by L’Osservatore Romano.

The museum and gardens at the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo will also be reopening on June 6 with additional safety measures.

Vergez, the general secretary of Vatican City State, encouraged Italian families to visit the museums and the gardens.

“The weekend … could become an ideal opportunity to seize the extraordinary opportunity to visit the summer residence of the popes and the splendid Gardens of Villa Barberini. The hot and beautiful sun of these days seems to invite us to this!” Vergez said.

Pope Francis appoints new archbishop for Taiwan’s capital

Vatican City, May 23, 2020 / 07:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Saturday Bishop Thomas An-Zu Chung as the next Metropolitan Archbishop of Taipei, Taiwan.

Chung, who currently serves as bishop of Chiayi, Taiwan, will replace Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, who has retired at the age of 76.

The Holy See is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country. The Holy See and Taiwan have had formal diplomatic relations for 77 years. However, the nunciature in Taipei has not been led by a nuncio since Oct. 25, 1971, when the United Nations ceased to recognize the Taipei-based government as the government of China.

The pope also appointed Chung to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Matzu Islands, an archipelago of 36 islands in the East China Sea, and the Kinmen Islands, which are located under four miles from the mainland People’s Republic of China.

Chung, 67, was born in Yunlin, Taiwan, and ordained a priest in Tainan at the age of 29. Pope Benedict XVI first appointed him as a bishop in 2006. He served as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Taipei from 2006 to 2008 before he was named Bishop of Chiayi.

As Metropolitan Archbishop of Taipei, Chung will oversee the largest city on the island of Taiwan with a population of 7.4 million people. The title of “metropolitan bishop” refers to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis, namely, the primary city of an ecclesiastical province or regional capital.

The Holy See has recognized the Taiwanese government, officially known as the Republic of China, since 1942. The Vatican does not have formal diplomatic relations with the government of the People’s Republic of China, which consolidated control of the mainland at the conclusion of a civil war in 1949.

The split between China and Taiwan dates back to 1949, following the communist military success in China’s civil war that led Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalist forces to retreat to the island.

The Holy See and the Chinese government signed a provisional agreement in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in the state-sponsored Church, the terms of which have still not been publicly released. In the wake of the deal, previously excommunicated bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which is overseen by the Communist Party, were received into full communion with the Vatican.

In Taiwan’s recent bid to participate in World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, the Holy See was the only diplomatic ally of Taiwan which did not make an appeal to allow Taiwan to participate, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the Taipei Times on May 15 that the Vatican would voice its support for Taiwan through other methods.

The Embassy of Taiwan to the Holy See donated 280,000 surgical face masks to the Vatican and the bishops of Italy in April.

Pope Francis also appointed a new metropolitan archbishop of La Paz, Bolivia on May 23. The pope named Bishop Percy Lorenzo Galván Flores of Corocoro to follow Archbishop Edmundo Luis Flavio Abastoflor Montero.

There are more than 550 metropolitan archdioceses worldwide.

Around the globe, Catholics hope papal Mass online will continue

Rome Newsroom, May 21, 2020 / 10:45 am (CNA).- After the Vatican stopped livestreaming Pope Francis’ daily Masses this week, Catholics from around the world have urged the pope to resume the broadcast.

The pope’s Mass livestream ended May 18, the day dioceses throughout Italy were able to resume public Masses. But many Catholics in other countries remain without access to the Mass. 

This is the case for the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Nairobi, Kenya, where a lockdown has been extended until June 6 closing all places of public worship.

Sister Mary Anne Williamson wrote a letter on behalf of her religious community, asking if the Pope Francis’ live Mass broadcast could be reinstated. She told CNA that the sisters were “dismayed” when they learned that the broadcast of the pope’s Mass would be discontinued.

“When our churches closed about eight weeks ago, we began to have a Liturgy of the Word in our chapel. But then we heard that our sisters in our general house in Rome, also locked down, were celebrating with the Mass of the Holy Father from their house. We found EWTN on our TV channel server Zuku and began to join at 8 a.m. Nairobi time,” she said.

The sisters gathered together to watch the pope’s Mass after morning prayer in their chapel. Williamson said the missionary sisters found it meaningful to pray in this way in union with the pope and Christians throughout the world.

“We really appreciated the Holy Father's homily and the translations done by Sister Bernadette,” she said. “We also appreciated the moments of Eucharistic adoration at the end of the morning Mass at Santa Marta.”

“We know that the Mass of Pope Francis was appreciated by others and probably many around the world. We will continue to hope that Vatican Media will be able to broadcast again.”

While some countries in Europe are easing their lockdowns, Catholics in India, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, England, Switzerland, and other countries remain without access to public Mass. In Ireland, churches are not expected to reopen until July. 

Pope Francis first began streaming his morning Mass from the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, his Vatican City residence, on March 9, the day after dioceses across Italy suspended public Masses following a government ordinance. The Vatican spokesman said the livestream was being offered to “to allow those who wish to follow the celebrations in union of prayer with the Bishop of Rome.”

At the beginning of Mass each day, the pope offered a different prayer intention, often related to the suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the end of the pope’s Mass livestreams, the Vatican spokesman said: “The Pope wishes that the People of God could thus return to communal familiarity with the Lord in the sacraments, participating in the Sunday liturgy and resuming, also in churches, the daily visitation of the Lord and his Word.”

An ACI Prensa article reporting on the conclusion of the daily Mass broadcast from the Vatican received more than 1,900 comments on social media, with people expressing gratitude for the livestream and asking why it was being canceled when dioceses in parts of Latin America are still under lockdown. 

“Thank you very much, Holy Father, but I hope you consider it for the countries of Mexico and America that we remain quarantined and it is very valuable to vibrate with your presence and guidance. May the Lord bless you and be with you always,” Carmen Vazquez wrote in Spanish.

From Costa Rica, Sandra Fernandez Es wrote: “It is a great loss, how sad. I had already become used to watching it in the very early morning, and it was very good for me.”

“I came to think I was the only one who would miss Mass with the Pope. In Puerto Rico, we are still quarantined,” said Iris Lugo.

Mary Grenada wrote from Argentina: “Too bad!!! It was very important for us every day to have mass at home. I hope they send our request to continue to the Pope. Thank you!!! From Argentina.”

Catherine Addington wrote on Twitter on May 19 : “I miss the @Pontifex daily Mass livestream.”


I miss the @Pontifex daily Mass livestream ?

— Catherine Addington (@caddington11) May 19, 2020  

Vatican News reported May 20 that thousands of people in China had watched a translated livestream of the pope’s Mass via WeChat and that the news that the live broadcast would be ending was “greeted with some suffering and also with some tears.”

Vatican News said that it had received messages from thousands of people expressing appreciation for the pope’s Mass livestream during the pandemic.

Sister Mary Anne told CNA that she believes that even in places where churches are reopened, like Italy, the homebound and other Catholics would likely appreciate the opportunity to view the pope’s Masses and hear his homilies.

She said that during quarantine the sisters in Kenya had been teaching students using Zoom, but internet and electricity cuts to some students’ homes made it challenging. 

“We know we are among the fortunate ones with a chapel, internet access, food and shelter. Our life of prayer and work can continue, although in new ways,” she said. “Our days, especially our Eucharistic adoration in turns, are offered for our suffering world and the end of this pandemic.”

As public Masses resume in some parts of the world, parishes will also be deciding whether to continue the Mass livestreams that they offered during the pandemic. 

Fr. Gregory Apparcel, rector of St. Patrick’s Church, Rome’s English-speaking parish, told CNA that the parish livestream had gained a much wider audience than he had expected.

“We also have many, many people participating in these Masses from the U.S. and other countries where public Masses are not yet available. And, also from many people who are homebound for many other reasons,” he said.

The priest said he had received requests to continue the Masses despite the lockdown’s end.

“They hope that we will continue to do this, which we will try to do throughout the summer, and beyond if necessary,” he said.

“It has opened up a new ministry that we never thought we needed to do.”

Pope Francis says missions should facilitate encounter with Christ, not complicate it

Vatican City, May 21, 2020 / 09:45 am (CNA).- Missionary work is a cooperation with the Holy Spirit to bring people to Christ; it does not benefit from overcomplicated programs or fancy advertising campaigns, Pope Francis said Thursday.

In a message to the Pontifical Mission Societies May 21, the pope said “it has always been the case that the proclamation of Jesus’ salvation reaches people right where they are and just how they are in the midst of their lives in progress.” 

“Especially given the times in which we live,” he noted, “this has nothing to do with designing ‘specialized’ training programmes, creating parallel worlds, or constructing ‘slogans’ that merely echo our own thoughts and concerns.”

He urged the Pontifical Mission Societies, a worldwide group of Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the pope, “to facilitate, not complicate” their missionary work.

“One must provide answers to real questions and not just formulate and multiply proposals,” he advised. “Perhaps concrete contact with real-life situations, and not just discussions in boardrooms or theoretical analyses of our own internal dynamics, will generate useful insights for changing and improving operating procedures…”

He also pointed out that “the Church is not a customs office.”

“Anyone who participates in the mission of the Church is called not to impose unnecessary burdens on people already worn out or to require demanding programmes of formation in order to enjoy what the Lord gives easily, or to erect obstacles to the will of Jesus, who prays for each of us and wants to heal and save everyone,” he said.

Francis said that during the coronavirus pandemic “there is a great desire to encounter and remain close to the heart of the Church’s life. So seek new paths, new forms of service, but try not to complicate what in reality is quite simple.”

The Pontifical Mission Societies help to support more than 1,000 dioceses, mainly in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Amazon.

In his nine-page message to the group, Pope Francis gave several recommendations and warned of pitfalls to avoid in their missionary service, especially the temptation to become self-absorbed.

Despite the good intentions of individuals, sometimes Church organizations end up devoting much of their time and energy to promoting themselves and their own initiatives, he said. It becomes an obsession “to continually redefine their own importance and their own bailiwicks within the Church, under the guise of relaunching their specific mission.”

Referencing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s speech at the ninth Rimini Meeting in 1990, Pope Francis said this “can foster the misleading idea that a person is somehow more Christian if he or she is occupied with intra-ecclesial structures, whereas in reality nearly all the baptized are daily living lives of faith, hope, and charity, without ever participating in Church committees or concerned for the latest news about ecclesiastical politics.”

“Do not waste time and resources, then, in looking at yourself in a mirror... break every mirror in the house!” he appealed.

He also advised them to keep prayer to the Holy Spirit at the center of their mission, so that prayer “may not be reduced to a mere formality in our meetings and homilies.”

“It is not helpful to theorize about super-strategies or mission ‘core guidelines’ as a means of reviving missionary spirit or giving missionary patents to others,” he said. “If, in some cases, missionary fervor is fading, it is a sign that faith itself is fading.”

In such cases, he continued, “strategies and speeches” will not be effective.

“Asking the Lord to open hearts to the Gospel and asking everyone to tangibly support missionary work: these are simple and practical things that everyone can readily do…”

The pope also emphasized the importance of taking care of the poor. There is no excuse, he said: “For the Church, a preference for the poor is not optional.”

On the topic of donations, Francis told the societies not to put their trust in bigger and better fundraising systems. If they are dismayed by a diminishing collection plate, they should place that pain in the hands of the Lord.

The missions should avoid becoming like NGOs, with their focus on funding, he said. They should look to all baptized people for offerings, recognizing Jesus’ consolation at even “the widow’s mite.”

Francis argued that the funds they do receive should be used to advance the Church’s mission and to support essential and objective needs of communities, “without squandering resources in initiatives marked by abstraction, self-absorption or generated by clerical narcissism.”

“Do not yield to inferiority complexes or the temptation to imitate those super-functional organizations that collect funds for good causes and then use a good percentage of them to finance their own bureaucracy and to publicize their brand name,” he advised.

“A missionary heart recognizes the real condition of real people, with their own limits, sins and frailties in order to become ‘weak among the weak,’” the pope encouraged.

“Sometimes this means slowing our pace in order to lead a person who is still by the wayside. At times this means imitating the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who leaves the doors open and looks out each day awaiting the return of his son.”

Vatican expresses concern over potential West Bank annexation

Vatican City, May 20, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- As Israel’s new government considers annexing parts of the West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator appealed to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States over the phone.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the Palestinian territories would be “further jeopardizing” to the peace process, according to the Holy See press office.

The news of the call came a day after the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the PLO and the Palestinian state would no longer be bound by the peace and security agreements with the Israeli and American governments, including the Oslo peace process, in response to talk that Israel would extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In a statement released on May 20 following the telephone call, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.

“The Holy See is following the situation closely, and expresses concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue,” the Vatican stated. 

The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the International Community that will lead to peace -- “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for his fourth term as the head of Israel’s government in the Knesset on May 17. In his campaign, Netanyahu promised annexation of the West Bank, while Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister and “alternate prime minister” in the new government, had campaigned against unilateral annexation.

The power-sharing deal between the Israeli leaders included the possibility of annexation this summer with the approval of the Israeli parliament and the Trump administration, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Earlier this month, Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land published a letter raising concerns that Israel’s unilateral annexation plans “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”

“An array of plans for Israel to unilaterally annex West Bank land, backed mainly by right-wing factions, raises serious and catastrophic questions about the feasibility of any peaceful agreement to end the decades’ long conflict, one that continues to cost many innocent lives as part of a vicious cycle of human tragedy and injustice,” the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches wrote May 7. 

The letter -- signed by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate; Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate; Archbishop Yaser Al-Ayash, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate; Fr. Ephram Samaan, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate; Fr. Francesco Patton of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; and eight other Christian leaders -- called on the PLO and world leaders to respond.

The Church leaders asked “the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as the sole legitimate Representative of the Palestinian people, to resolve its internal disputes-as well as any conflicts with other factions that are not under its umbrella-in order to present a unified front dedicated to achieving peace and the building of a viable State that is founded upon pluralism and democratic values.”

They also called upon the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations to respond to the unilateral annexation plans with “a time delimited and phased Peace Initiative in line with International Law and United Nations resolutions on the matter, in order to guarantee a comprehensive, just, and long-lasting peace in this part of the world that is considered Holy by the three Abrahamic Faiths.”

Pope Francis moves financial records office under Secretariat for Economy

Vatican City, May 20, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday moved the office of the Vatican’s financial records database under the management of the Secretariat for the Economy -- reversing a decision he made in 2016.

According to a rescript May 20, starting June 1 the Data Processing Center (CED) will no longer be run by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) -- the Vatican’s sovereign asset management body -- as was first defined in the apostolic constitution Pastor bonus in 1988.

Instead, the Secretariat for the Economy, under the leadership of prefect Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero, S.J., will oversee the work of the office and its employees.

Pope Francis first moved the financial records office from the competency of APSA to the Secretariat for the Economy in July 2014, a few months after he created the secretariat as part of his financial reform of the Curia.

The Secretariat for the Economy is tasked with oversight of the Vatican’s administrative and financial structures and activities, including monitoring the work of APSA.

In 2016, however, the pope again gave APSA responsibility over the records office, with the motu proprio “I Beni Temporali,” citing the need for clear separation of the “direct management of the Holy See’s patrimony from the control and vigilance over the activity of management.”

“For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that the entities responsible for oversight be separate from those being overseen,” the pope said in the 2016 motu proprio.

In the May 20 rescript, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, it says this newest change in the office’s management was made “considering the need to guarantee a more logical organization of the economic and financial information of the Holy See and to digitize the underlying models and procedures.”

This, the rescript continues, is to “guarantee the simplification of the activities and the effectiveness of the controls, as they are fundamental for the correct functioning of the Bodies of the Roman Curia.”

APSA, which operates like the Vatican’s central bank, oversees real estate holdings and other sovereign assets. The financial operations APSA carries out are recorded in the CED database, which includes the records of investments and financial transactions going back 50 years.

Pope Francis says prayer opens the door of hope

Vatican City, May 20, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Prayer opens the door of hope, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

Speaking via livestream due to the coronavirus crisis, the pope said May 20 that throughout history prayer had helped people to see beyond their suffering.  

He said: “Men and women who pray know that hope is stronger than discouragement. They believe that love is more powerful than death, and that it will surely triumph one day, even if in times and ways we do not know.”

In his address from the library of the Apostolic Palace, the pope continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, reflecting on the biblical account of creation and the trials of the people of Israel.

He described the opening page of the Bible as “a great hymn of thanksgiving” affirming the goodness and beauty of God’s creation. 

This beauty inspires man to pray, the pope said, quoting Psalm 8:4-5: “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place -- what is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?” 

He said: “The praying man contemplates the mystery of existence around him, sees the starry sky above him -- which astrophysics shows us today in all its immensity -- and wonders what design of love must be behind such a powerful work.”

“And, in this boundless vastness, what is man? ‘Almost nothing,’ says another Psalm: a being that is born, a being that dies, a very fragile creature. Yet in the whole universe the human being is the only creature aware of such a profusion of beauty.”

The pope said the psalmist recognizes that, compared with the vastness of the universe, man seems insignificant, yet he is called to a relationship with God.

“The relationship with God is man’s greatness: his enthronement. By nature we are almost nothing, small, but by vocation, by call, we are the children of the great King,” he said.

He continued: “This is an experience that many of us have had. If the story of life, with all its bitterness, sometimes risks suffocating the gift of prayer in us, it is enough to contemplate a starry sky, a sunset, a flower... to rekindle the spark of thanksgiving. This experience is perhaps the basis of the first page of the Bible.”

“When the great biblical account of Creation is written, the people of Israel are not going through happy days. An enemy power had occupied the land; many had been deported, and now they were slaves in Mesopotamia. There was no homeland, no temple, no social and religious life, nothing.” 

“And yet, just starting from the great story of Creation, someone began to find reasons to give thanks, to praise God for existence.” 

Pope Francis described prayer as “the first impetus of hope,” saying that those who pray are able to see that, despite its difficulties, life is filled with grace. 

Our vocation, he said, is to be bearers of joy.

“This life is the gift that God has given us: and it is too short to be consumed in sadness, in bitterness. We praise God, content simply to exist,” he said.

In conclusion, the pope noted that creation bore the “signature” of a loving God. 

“May the Lord make us understand this ever more deeply and lead us to say ‘thank you’: and that ‘thank you’ is a beautiful prayer,” he said.

In his greetings to different language groups after his catechesis, the pope urged Portuguese-speaking Catholics to pray the rosary daily in May, the Month of Mary, “learning from Our Lady to have a contemplative gaze before all the events of our life.”

Addressing Polish Catholics, Pope Francis said: “These days we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II. He, shepherd of great faith, liked to entrust the Church and all humanity to God in prayer.” 

“By choosing the episcopal motto ‘Totus Tuus’ [‘I belong entirely to you’], he also showed that in difficult moments we should turn to Our Lady who can help us and intercede for us. May his life, built on deep, intense and trusting prayer, be an example for Christians today.”

Holy See donates to WHO fund for medics on pandemic front line

CNA Staff, May 19, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The Holy See has pledged to contribute to the World Health Organization’s emergency fund supplying protective equipment to medics fighting the coronavirus, an archbishop has said.

Addressing the World Health Assembly, held remotely in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18-19, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič highlighted the Church’s efforts to combat the disease that has claimed the lives of more than 319,000 people worldwide as of May 19.

He said: “The Holy See has pledged to contribute to the WHO Emergency Fund for the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to front-line medical workers and has already made various donations to the regions in need of urgent help.”

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO’s 194 member states normally send delegations to the assembly, which usually takes place in May in Geneva.

Archbishop Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, reiterated Pope Francis’ appeal for potential vaccines to be made available to everyone infected with the coronavirus, regardless of their geographic location.

He also underlined the Holy See’s support for the global ceasefire proposed by United Nations secretary-general António Guterres.

Referring to the pope’s Easter Urbi et Orbi Message, the archbishop said: “Throughout the world, some 5,000 Catholic-inspired hospitals, and more than 16,000 Church-based dispensaries, are complementing and reinforcing the efforts of governments to provide healthcare to all, by assuring that the poorest and most marginalized persons ‘do not lack basic necessities … such as medicine and especially the possibility of adequate health care.’”

He continued: “The participation of the Church in this common effort was recently reinforced with the creation of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission by Pope Francis. It has already launched several projects to bring help to those populations most affected by the pandemic.”

Archbishop Jurkovič praised WHO officials for holding discussions with religious leaders “in the common effort to ensure that religious gatherings are held with all the necessary sanitary measures.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the assembly May 18, saying that he supported an “objective and impartial” review of the pandemic, which was first detected in Dec. 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. He also announced that China would donate $2 billion to fighting the virus.

“All along we have acted with openness, transparency, and responsibility,” Xi said.

In a letter to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Monday, President Donald Trump said he would permanently cut off U.S. funding to the organization if it failed to address what he called its “alarming lack of independence” from Beijing.


Vatican to mark 5th anniversary of Laudato si’ with year-long celebration

Vatican City, May 19, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican will on May 24 launch a year-long celebration of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato si’ to mark its fifth anniversary.

The “special Laudato si’ anniversary year” is an initiative of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and will include a wide range of events, starting with a global day of prayer and ending in the launch of multi-year sustainability action plans.

Five years from Pope Francis’ signing of the document, the “encyclical appears ever more relevant,” according to a statement from the dicastery.

It noted that the environmental encyclical’s anniversary also falls in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak, saying “Laudato si’s message is just as prophetic today as it was in 2015.”

“The encyclical can indeed provide the moral and spiritual compass for the journey to create a more caring, fraternal, peaceful and sustainable world,” the Vatican department said.

The year will begin May 24, the day Laudato si’ was signed by Pope Francis, with a day of prayer for the earth and for humanity. A prayer was written for the occasion which people are being encouraged to say at noon anywhere in the world. 

The integral development dicastery has also organized events in the week leading up to the anniversary, including several talks with the Global Catholic Climate Movement over the videoconferencing software Zoom, for “Laudato si’ Week.”

“We hope that the anniversary year and the ensuing decade will indeed be a time of grace, a true Kairos experience and ‘Jubilee’ time for the Earth, and for humanity, and for all God’s creatures,” the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said.

The initiatives, undertaken in partnership with other groups, have “a clear emphasis on ‘ecological conversion’ in ‘action,’” it continued.

In June, according to a schedule released by the dicastery, a document on “operation guidelines” for Laudato si’ will be released.

Just a few of the other special projects to be launched throughout the year are the new annual Laudato si’ Awards, a documentary film on Laudato si’, a tree initiative, and a social media “Read the Bible Contest.”

In 2021 the dicastery will start institutions such as families, dioceses, schools, and universities on a seven-year program to work toward integral ecology through the lens of Laudato si’.

The goal of this program, as set out by the dicastery, is to respond in concrete ways to the cry of the earth and the poor, to promote ecological economics and awareness, and to adopt simpler lifestyles. 

Other planned events are a June 18 webinar, marking the encyclical’s release anniversary, as well as participation in the ecumenical “Season of Creation” month Sept. 4-Oct. 1.

The Vatican events, “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance” and the “Economy of Francesco,” which were due to have taken place this spring and have been postponed to the fall, are now also classified under the anniversary year celebrations, according to the schedule.

In January 2021, the Vatican will host a roundtable on the World Economic Forum in Davos. There is also a proposal for a gathering of religious leaders in early spring 2021.

The year will conclude with a conference, the performance of a musical work, and the conferring of the first Laudato si’ awards.