The Best Of 2011 in the Church, Part 4/4

October: The Pope Meets With Religious Leaders in Assisi.
The month of October was marked with the pope's visit to the Italian town of Assisi. Religious leaders from all over the world met there as a symbol of peace. During a moment of silence, they all vowed for religious tolerance and to never use religion as a tool for violence. Benedict XVI spoke on the occasion: “Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth Justice and Peace, Forgiveness and Life, Love.”

Among the representatives were Bartholomew I, who is the main leader of the Orthodox Church, as well as Anglican Primate, Rowan Williams, the prince of Jordan and the Chief Rabbi of Rome. The meeting was the third of its kind. The first one began under John Paul II in 1986.

Earlier that month, the Vatican also greeted its new governor. With a simple ceremony, Italian Archbishop Giovanni Bertello was welcomed to his new post. During that very ceremony, the Vatican's new Secretary of the Governorate, Giuseppe Sciacca was also welcomed. That department is responsible for the Vatican's administrative issues, which include its currency, postal service, police force and museums.

On October 12 the pope openly condemned the deadly attacks that killed more than 25 Coptic Christians in Cairo, Egypt. Another 200 people were also injured. “I feel the sorrow of the victim's families and the entire Egyptian people, who are torn by attempts to undermine the peaceful coexistence between its communities, which is important to preserve, especially in this time of transition” said the pope.

Also in October, in light of the economic crisis, the Vatican released a proposal for a new approach toward the world's financial markets. It was called “Reforming the International Financial System.” It suggested a “Global Public Authority” that can make sure all players are following the rules of the game. The proposal aims to protect some of the global public goods, and in order to do so, it stresses the need to have a quick international coordination among States on issues like pollution and also financial stability, and also the need for better international coordination, quicker responses and true representation. The document is not part of the papal Magisterium but a way to improve discussions between different countries and institutions to ease the pain of the economic crisis. 

November: The Pope Travels to Benin, Africa.
The Catholic Church dedicates the month of November to pray for the dead. This is why early in the month, Benedict XVI visited the crypt of the popes, beneath St. Peter's and prayed for his predecessors. The pope also met with the “Israel Council of Religious Communities," it includes members from Islam, Judaism and Christianity. During the meeting, they discussed what the different religions could do for peace in the region and the pope said: “In our difficult times, the dialogue between religions is increasingly important to create a climate of understanding and respect that leads to friendship and mutual trust.”

The Vatican also held an important meeting with experts in adult stem cells. The pope said he supports their research because its respect for life and the good results they have seen. One example is Sharon Porter, who suffered from systemic sclerosis. Doctors took her stem cells and transplanted them back into her body. Since then, her medical condition improved dramatically.

In mid-November, the pope traveled to Africa for the second time. He went to Benin, an exemplary country of peace and democracy on the African continent. There, he signed his first official document on Africa called the Apostolic Exhortation 'Africae Munus', 'The effort of Africa'. It was based on conclusions from the synod of Africa in 2009. In it, the pope hits issues such as AIDS, condom use, political corruption and economic development. The most heart warming meeting was the one with the Missionaries of Charity that take in dozens of abandoned children. The pope met with some of the children, teaching them how to pray and showing them the rosary.

Back in Rome, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati visited the pope and officially invited him to travel to Lebanon in the coming year. The pope praised the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in his country, but said he was concerned for religious freedom in the region of the Middle East.

The month ended with a major change for English-speaking Catholics. The last Sunday of the month saw the introduction of the new translation for Mass, meant to be more faithful to the original text. The old text was used over the last 41 years.

December: The Pope Visits a Prison and Launches the Christmas Season.
In December, the Pope celebrated a Mass in Spanish at St. Peter's Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary of independence in Latin America. It was a beautiful Mass held with music that included Creole, a truly rare sight at the Vatican. The pope also announced that in the spring of 2012 he would travel to Mexico and Cuba.
In mid December an impressive Christmas tree gifted from Ukraine arrived in Saint Peter's Square, weighing nearly five tons and measuring 30m tall. During a ceremony with Slavic Christmas carols, a child was given the honor of lighting the tree for the pope.
A few days before Christmas, the pope visited the Rebibbia prison in Rome. There he was received by 300 prisoners. He then held a special question and answer session with the group of inmates and gave a speech during which he said: “Prisoners are human beings who deserve, despite their crime, to be treated with respect and dignity, they need our attention.” It was one of the most memorable moments of 2011. The meeting had a special significance for the pope, who stopped to speak with many of the prisoners.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve the larger-than-life Nativity scene which has been in the planning stages since the end of the summer was unveiled by Benedict XVI. Standing about 25 metres wide and 7 metres high, it was seen and admired by hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Vatican throughout the Christmas season. This year the scene was dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, in honour of John Paul II, whose devotion to Our Lady was well known and whose beatification took place on the first of May. Alongside the central nativity tableau, the scene featured other biblical episodes where Mary is at the heart of the action: the Annunciation, the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elisabeth, and the Presentation in the Temple, where the elderly Simeon recognises Jesus as the Saviour of the world and tells Mary that ‘a sword will pierce your heart’.

Daily Gospel: The Seventh Day After Christmas, December 31, 2011

Letter to the Colossians 1:9b-20.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint John 1:1-18.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, "He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me." ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Pope Benedict XVI's Message for World Day of Peace 2012

Pope Benedict XVI has chosen the theme "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace” for the celebration of the 45th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2012. The theme focuses on an urgent need in the world today: to listen to and enhance the important role of new generations in the realization of the common good, and in the affirmation of a just and peaceful social order where fundamental human rights can be fully expressed and realized.

The world day of peace is celebrated every year by the church on the first of January and this year's message is addressed especially to parents, families and all those involved in the area of education and formation, as well as to leaders in the various spheres of religious, social, political, economic and cultural life and in the media. Following is the complete text of the Pope's Message:


1. The beginning of a new year, God’s gift to humanity, prompts me to extend to all, with great confidence and affection, my heartfelt good wishes that this time now before us may be marked concretely by justice and peace.

With what attitude should we look to the New Year? We find a very beautiful image in Psalm 130. The Psalmist says that people of faith wait for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning” (v. 6); they wait for him with firm hope because they know that he will bring light, mercy, salvation. This waiting was born of the experience of the Chosen People, who realized that God taught them to look at the world in its truth and not to be overwhelmed by tribulation. I invite you to look to 2012 with this attitude of confident trust. It is true that the year now ending has been marked by a rising sense of frustration at the crisis looming over society, the world of labour and the economy, a crisis whose roots are primarily cultural and anthropological. It seems as if a shadow has fallen over our time, preventing us from clearly seeing the light of day.

In this shadow, however, human hearts continue to wait for the dawn of which the Psalmist speaks. Because this expectation is particularly powerful and evident in young people, my thoughts turn to them and to the contribution which they can and must make to society. I would like therefore to devote this message for the XLV World Day of Peace to the theme of education: “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace”, in the conviction that the young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world.

My Message is also addressed to parents, families and all those involved in the area of education and formation, as well as to leaders in the various spheres of religious, social, political, economic and cultural life and in the media. Attentiveness to young people and their concerns, the ability to listen to them and appreciate them, is not merely something expedient; it represents a primary duty for society as a whole, for the sake of building a future of justice and peace. It is a matter of communicating to young people an appreciation for the positive value of life and of awakening in them a desire to spend their lives in the service of the Good. This is a task which engages each of us personally.

The concerns expressed in recent times by many young people around the world demonstrate that they desire to look to the future with solid hope. At the present time, they are experiencing apprehension about many things: they want to receive an education which prepares them more fully to deal with the real world, they see how difficult it is to form a family and to find stable employment; they wonder if they can really contribute to political, cultural and economic life in order to build a society with a more human and fraternal face.

It is important that this unease and its underlying idealism receive due attention at every level of society. The Church looks to young people with hope and confidence; she encourages them to seek truth, to defend the common good, to be open to the world around them and willing to see “new things” (Is 42:9; 48:6).

2. Education is the most interesting and difficult adventure in life. Educating – from the Latin educere – means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth. This process is fostered by the encounter of two freedoms, that of adults and that of the young. It calls for responsibility on the part of the learners, who must be open to being led to the knowledge of reality, and on the part of educators, who must be ready to give of themselves. For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader. A witness is someone who fi rst lives the life that he proposes to others.

Where does true education in peace and justice take place? First of all, in the family, since parents are the first educators. The family is the primary cell of society; “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable them to have a constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that they learn solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and how to welcome others.” (1) The family is the first school in which we are trained in justice and peace.

We are living in a world where families, and life itself, are constantly threatened and not infrequently fragmented. Working conditions which are often incompatible with family responsibilities, worries about the future, the frenetic pace of life, the need to move frequently to ensure an adequate livelihood, to say nothing of mere survival – all this makes it hard to ensure that children receive one of the most precious of treasures: the presence of their parents. This presence makes it possible to share more deeply in the journey of life and thus to pass on experiences and convictions gained with the passing of the years, experiences and convictions which can only be communicated by spending time together. I would urge parents not to grow disheartened! May they encourage children by the example of their lives to put their hope before all else in God, the one source of authentic justice and peace.

I would also like to address a word to those in charge of educational institutions: with a great sense of responsibility may they ensure that the dignity of each person is always respected and appreciated. Let them be concerned that every young person be able to discover his or her own vocation and helped to develop his or her God-given gifts. May they reassure families that their children can receive an education that does not conflict with their consciences and their religious principles.

Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society.

I ask political leaders to offer concrete assistance to families and educational institutions in the exercise of their right and duty to educate. Adequate support should never be lacking to parents in their task. Let them ensure that no one is ever denied access to education and that families are able freely to choose the educational structures they consider most suitable for their children. Let them be committed to reuniting families separated by the need to earn a living. Let them give young people a transparent image of politics as a genuine service to the good of all.

I cannot fail also to appeal to the world of the media to offer its own contribution to education. In today’s society the mass media have a particular role: they not only inform but also form the minds of their audiences, and so they can make a significant contribution to the education of young people. It is important never to forget that the connection between education and communication is extremely close: education takes place through communication, which influences, for better or worse, the formation of the person.

Young people too need to have the courage to live by the same high standards that they set for others. Theirs is a great responsibility: may they find the strength to make good and wise use of their freedom. They too are responsible for their education, including their education in justice and peace! 

Educating in truth and freedom
3. Saint Augustine once asked: “Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem? – What does man desire more deeply than truth?”(2) The human face of a society depends very much on the contribution of education to keep this irrepressible question alive. Education, indeed, is concerned with the integral formation of the person, including the moral and spiritual dimension, focused upon man’s final end and the good of the society to which he belongs. Therefore, in order to educate in truth, it is necessary first and foremost to know who the human person is, to know human nature. Contemplating the world around him, the Psalmist reflects: “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4-5). This is the fundamental question that must be asked: who is man? Man is a being who bears within his heart a thirst for the infinite, a thirst for truth – a truth which is not partial but capable of explaining life’s meaning – since he was created in the image and likeness of God. The grateful recognition that life is an inestimable gift, then, leads to the discovery of one’s own profound dignity and the inviolability of every single person. Hence the first step in education is learning to recognize the Creator’s image in man, and consequently learning to have a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity. We must never forget that “authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension”(3), including the transcendent dimension, and that the person cannot be sacrificed for the sake of attaining a particular good, whether this be economic or social, individual or collective.

Only in relation to God does man come to understand also the meaning of human freedom. It is the task of education to form people in authentic freedom. This is not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom. On the contrary, man is a relational being, who lives in relationship with others and especially with God. Authentic freedom can never be attained independently of God.

Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused. “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon, therefore, real education is not possible without the light of the truth; sooner or later, every person is in fact condemned to doubting the goodness of his or her own life and the relationships of which it consists, the validity of his or her commitment to build with others something in common”(4).

In order to exercise his freedom, then, man must move beyond the relativistic horizon and come to know the truth about himself and the truth about good and evil. Deep within his conscience, man discovers a law that he did not lay upon himself, but which he must obey. Its voice calls him to love and to do what is good, to avoid evil and to take responsibility for the good he does and the evil he commits(5). Thus, the exercise of freedom is intimately linked to the natural moral law, which is universal in character, expresses the dignity of every person and forms the basis of fundamental human rights and duties: consequently, in the final analysis, it forms the basis for just and peaceful coexistence.

The right use of freedom, then, is central to the promotion of justice and peace, which require respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one’s own. This attitude engenders the elements without which peace and justice remain merely words without content: mutual trust, the capacity to hold constructive dialogue, the possibility of forgiveness, which one constantly wishes to receive but finds hard to bestow, mutual charity, compassion towards the weakest, as well as readiness to make sacrifices.

Educating in justice
4. In this world of ours, in which, despite the profession of good intentions, the value of the person, of human dignity and human rights is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions, it is important not to detach the concept of justice from its transcendent roots. Justice, indeed, is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being. It is the integral vision of man that saves us from falling into a contractual conception of justice and enables us to locate justice within the horizon of solidarity and love(6).

We cannot ignore the fact that some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity: “The ‘earthly city’ is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world”(7).
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6). They shall be satisfied because they hunger and thirst for right relations with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.

Educating in peace
5. “Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity.”8 We Christians believe that Christ is our true peace: in him, by his Cross, God has reconciled the world to himself and has broken down the walls of division that separated us from one another (cf. Eph 2:14-18); in him, there is but one family, reconciled in love.

Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9).

Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility. To the young, who have such a strong attachment to ideals, I extend a particular invitation to be patient and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide.

Raising one’s eyes to God
6. Before the difficult challenge of walking the paths of justice and peace, we may be tempted to ask, in the words of the Psalmist: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where shall come my help?” (Ps 121:1). To all, and to young people in particular, I wish to say emphatically: “It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true … an unconditional return to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?”(9) Love takes delight in truth, it is the force that enables us to make a commitment to truth, to justice, to peace, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13).

Dear young people, you are a precious gift for society. Do not yield to discouragement in the face of difficulties and do not abandon yourselves to false solutions which often seem the easiest way to overcome problems. Do not be afraid to make a commitment, to face hard work and sacrifice, to choose the paths that demand fidelity and constancy, humility and dedication. Be confident in your youth and its profound desires for happiness, truth, beauty and genuine love! Live fully this time in your life so rich and so full of enthusiasm.

Realize that you yourselves are an example and an inspiration to adults, even more so to the extent that you seek to overcome injustice and corruption and strive to build a better future. Be aware of your potential; never become self-centred but work for a brighter future for all. You are never alone. The Church has confidence in you, follows you, encourages you and wishes to offer you the most precious gift she has: the opportunity to raise your eyes to God, to encounter Jesus Christ, who is himself justice and peace.

All you men and women throughout the world, who take to heart the cause of peace: peace is not a blessing already attained, but rather a goal to which each and all of us must aspire. Let us look with greater hope to the future; let us encourage one another on our journey; let us work together to give our world a more humane and fraternal face; and let us feel a common responsibility towards present and future generations, especially in the task of training them to be people of peace and builders of peace. With these thoughts I offer my reflections and I appeal to everyone: let us pool our spiritual, moral and material resources for the great goal of “educating young people in justice and peace”.

The Best Of 2011 in the Church, Part 3/4

July: The Pope Leaves for Summer Vacation.
It was a very busy summer for Benedict XVI. During the month of July the Vatican had to deal with the illicit ordination of several Chinese bishops. The government backed Church said it would choose and ordain its own bishops as it saw fit. This of course, created tension between the Catholic Church and China, although some legitimate bishops argued they were forced, by the government, to take part in the illicit ceremonies. 

The pope then traveled to Castel Gandolfo to start off his summer vacation. Every year, the pope heads out to the small Italian town in the Roman countryside to escape Rome's intense summer heat. He continued to receive believers for the Sunday angelus prayer and thousands of believers joined him each Sunday at the papal summer residency.

August: The World Youth Day in Madrid.
In mid August the pope traveled to Madrid for World Youth Day 2011. There roughly 1.5 million young adults welcomed the pope. For three days, he urged the youth to not be ashamed of their religion and asked them to build their lives on Christ. The image of Benedict XVI opening his arms and talking to young people was one of the strongest moments of the year. He said : “Through your presence and your participation in these celebrations, the name of Christ will echo throughout this great City. Let us pray that his message of hope and love will also resound in the hearts of those who are not believers or who have grown distant from the Church”.

Another memorable moment was the ceremony of the Holy Mass on August 20 that was interrupted by heavy rainfall, the pope refusing to leave the altar talked to the faithful and said: “Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is stronger than the rain. Thank you. The Lord is sending us his blessings with the rain. With this, you're leading by example.” The pope then announced that the next World Youth Day, will be held in Brazil in the year 2013. The theme will be “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

September: The Pope Travels to His Homeland Germany.
On September the Vatican issued a letter to Ireland's government, responding to a series of sex abuse allegations involving the Catholic Church. It all started in July when the Cloyne report showed that the bishops had not applied its own rules and had not reported some 40 different cases between 1996 and 2009. The prime minister delivered a hard speech on the topic to the Irish parliament. He quoted a 1997 letter sent to the bishops of Ireland by the then nuncio, expressing his doubts of the Congregation for the Clergy on the proposal to force bishops to report cases sexual abuse. In a lengthy response, the Vatican said the nuncio was cautiously seeking to avoid that good intentions lead to the challenge of canon processes. They also noted that at the time, the Irish Parliament had decided that it was not mandatory to report cases of abuse.The Irish government did not withdraw its suspicions, but said it hoped to reopen dialogue with the Vatican.

Later that month the pope made a historic visit to his home country of Germany. He gave 17 speeches, including one to the nation's parliament, where he called on lawmakers to do what's right and not what's popular: “For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can be sufficient criterion. Yet it's evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough.” He also visited the former Augustinian Monastery where Martin Luther studied before leading the Protestant Reformation. As a sign of Christian unity, he also met with Lutherans, urging them to fight against secularization.

During the trip, and after Berlin,  the Pope also visited the German city of Freiburg where he celebrated the Holy Mass and addressed the believers in his homily:"We have to be aware that God exercises his power differently from the way we normally do. He has placed a limit on his power, by recognizing the freedom of his creatures. We are glad and thankful for the gift of freedom. However, when we see the terrible things that happen as a result of it, we are frightened."

On that month, the Vatican also made an offer to welcome Lefebvrians back into the Catholic Church. The invitation stated that if the traditionalist group accepts fundamental points of doctrine, it will be welcomed back. In December, their superior Bishop Bernard Felay, publicly rejected the Vatican offer.

Daily Gospel: The Sixth Day After the Birth. Friday, December 30, 2011

Feast of the Church: Return from Egypt to Nazareth.

Acts of the Apostles 7:2-30, 37.
And Stephen replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran,  ‘Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: "I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, "Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt." ‘It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, "Who made you a ruler and a judge?" and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, "God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up."

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 2,19-23.
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,  ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazarean.’

The Best Of 2011 in the Church, Part 2/4

April: The Pope Turns 84 and Takes Part in a TV Show.
At the beginning of April the pope met with Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the new Major Archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine. It's the second largest of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome with around 6.5 million followers, the largest being the Maronite Church with more than 10 million followers around the world.

During a general audience, Benedict XVI expressed concern over the growing hostilities at that time in Libya and the Ivory Coast and said:"Violence and hate is always a lost cause! I therefore make a renewed and heartfelt appeal to all parties to the cause to initiate a process of peacemaking and dialogue, and to avoid further bloodshed.”

On April 16, the pope turned 84 years old and received a large number of emails from the faithful wishing him a happy birthday, at:

The Vatican was then filled with the celebrations in preparation for Holy Week, including Palm Sunday that held a procession in St. Peter's Square. As custom dictates during Easter, the pope washed the feet of 12 priests in memory of the original act committed by Jesus.

On Good Friday, Benedict XVI became the first pope to hold a question and answer session on television. The first question came from a seven year old Japanese girl, many of her friends had died or disappeared after the Japanese earthquake. She asked the pope how God could allow the suffering of children, and he answered:"We don't have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered just like you, because he too was innocent. The true God who comes to life in Jesus is with us. Even in sadness, when we don't have all the answers, God is on our side and that will help us.”

Also as a part of the Holy Week, Benedict XVI attended a Ways of the Cross ceremony at the Colosseum, remembering the forteen stations of Jesus carrying the cross. 

May: The Beatification of Pope John Paul II.
The month of May began with the beatification of John Paul II. Statues and photographs of the polish pope were filling every corner in the city of Rome. The first ceremony was a prayer vigil at the Circus Maximus. There, some two hundred thousand people listened to the testimony of John Paul II's secretary Stanislaw Dzivisz, as well as former Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls, and the nun who was miraculously cured by the pope, Sister Marie Simon Pierre. Many of the pilgrims spent the night camped in front of the Vatican for the ceremony of the first of May.

More than one million pilgrims were trying to enter Saint Peter's Square on that day and tens of thousands of believers were lining up in queues along the road Via della Conciliazione leading to the basilica. Benedict XVI proclaimed:“With our Apostolic authority we concede that the Venerable Servant of God, John Paul II, pope, shall be called henceforth blessed.”

For the ceremony, the remains of John Paul II were exhumed from the Vatican Grottoes and placed in Saint Peter's Basilica. They remained there late into the night as an endless line of pilgrims passed through to pay their respects.

The beatification also served as a chance for the Vatican to hold its very first conference with Catholic bloggers. They came from across the world and brought forth different ideas and concerns in order to build a closer relationship. The pope then traveled to Venice where he took one of the city's Gondola tours and met with local church officials.

Benedict XVI also made history this month by becoming the first pope to make a video call to space. He spoke with a group of astronauts at the International Space Station after the docking of the space shuttle Endeavor. He also answered the questions of the astronauts.

The month of May was also when Osama Bin Laden was killed. The Vatican said that even though he represented violence, a Catholic should not celebrate the killing of any person.

Also in May, the Vatican announced that the Italian Giovanni Angelo Becciu would be the Substitute for General Affairs to the Secretary of State, known as the number 3 spot at the Vatican.

June: The Pope on Twitter With an iPad.
Benedict XVI began the month of June with an important State visit by the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. During the meeting with President Abbas, the pope said that Palestine had a legitimate right to become a state. The pope then took a two day trip to Croatia. It was his 19th international trip since becoming pope. The main purpose was to celebrate the national meeting of families in the capital of Zagreb. He said: "Your daily task of helping the new generation in its formation of faith, marriage preparation and support of families, is a fundamental way to regenerate the Church and to revive the country's social fabric.”

The pope then returned to Rome and took part of the procession of Corpus Christi. After celebrating Mass in the basilica of Saint John Lateran, a procession wound its way through the streets of the Eternal City.

In June the Vatican launched it's news service and a new website: It was inaugurated by the touch of an iPad, as the pope sent his first ever tweet for the launch:"Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! with my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI." The Pope did not actually write the tweet but it was prepared for him, he just clicked to send the tweet. The Vatican also launched a youtube channel, a facebook page and many other applications. The Pope's first tweet has been ranked by the international press among the "top ten of everything" in 2011.

The Church then celebrated the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. The event had a special meaning because it was also the 60th anniversary since Benedict XVI was ordained as a priest. “It is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me”, said the Pope. This feast day is also when the pope receives the newest archbishops named in the past year. This year there were forty. Each of them was given a pallium. It's a white scarf made of wool that carries six black crosses, symbolizing each bishop's unity with the pope.

The pope ended June by giving away the Ratzinger prize in theology to a Spanish priest, a German Cistercian, and an Italian professor of Christian studies. The award is considered to be the “Nobel prize of theology”.

Daily Gospel: Memory of the Flight into Egypt and the Killing of the Holy Innocents. Thursday, December 29, 2011

Letter to the Hebrews 11:23-31
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 2:13-18
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

After a busy weekend of Christmas ceremonies Pope Benedict welcomed the faithful on Wednesday who had gathered in the Paul VI hall for his last General Audience of 2011. Continuing his catechesis on prayer, the Pope told those gathered that families should be schools of prayer. We must, he continued, follow the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

“May the example of the Holy Family inspire all Christian families to be schools of prayer, where parents and children alike come to know that closeness to God which we joyfully celebrate in these days of Christmas.”The Holy Father explained that prayer is an inescapable model for Christians, because it is through prayer, “that we draw near to God with intimacy and depth”.

Jesus’ unique relationship with his heavenly Father was reflected in the prayer life of the Holy Family and stands at the heart of all Christian prayer. The Pope went on to say that it is important that parents provide an example of prayerful meditation to their children just like Mary and Joseph did.

“In the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we learn to contemplate the mystery of God’s presence and to grow as faithful disciples of Christ. The Gospels present Mary as the supreme model of prayerful mediation on the mysteries of Christ’s life; in praying the Rosary, in fact, we unite ourselves to her contemplation of those mysteries in faith and hope. Saint Joseph fulfilled his vocation as the father of the Holy Family by teaching Jesus the importance of quiet fidelity to work, prayer and observance of the precepts of the Law.” 

Concluding his catechesis Pope Benedict urged the faithful to “rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family. Finally, the Holy Father had greetings for all those in the Paul VI Hall in various languages including English: “I offer a warm welcome to the students and teachers from the Oak International Academies. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, including the pilgrimage groups from Ireland, and the United States, I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in Christ our Newborn Saviour!”

The Best Of 2011 in the Church, Part 1/4

January: Announcement of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II.
2011 began with some unexpected news. On January 14 the Vatican announced the beatification of John Paul II. Father Federico Lombardi the Vatican spokesman said during a press conference on January 14, 2011: “The pope has approved the beatification to take place on the first of May this year. It will be on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, an important date in his life and in his encounter with God.”

During the last weeks of 2010, doctors and experts from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints reaffirmed that the healing of a French nun Marie Simon Pierre couldn't be scientifically explained. The pope then approved the miracle.

Also in January 2011, Pope Benedict XVI visited the children in Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital. He explained the meaning of Christmas to them and blessed the care center for children with spina bifida. One day later he baptized 21 children of Vatican employees. The ceremony took place in the Sistine Chapel.

February: Radio Vatican Turns 80.
On February 2011 Vatican Radio celebrated its 80th anniversary. To kick off the celebration, an exhibit showcasing the most commemorative events of 2011, opened at the Vatican Museum.

During the month of February, the Vatican published new data on the Church. According to its Central Statistics Office, 809 priests were ordained in the 2009. The number actually shows an increase of 1.4% when compared to the last ten years. The continent with the highest vocation growth is Africa.

Also in February, Benedict XVI welcomed Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev to the Vatican. It was actually their first meeting, after the Holy See and Russia established full diplomatic relations. Up until a few months ago, both states only had 'permanent representatives' and not resident ambassadors.

During that month, 68 year old Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran was appointed the new Cardinal Protodeacon, meaning he's in charge of announcing the famous “Habemus Papam,” phrase, once a pope is elected by the conclave.

March: The Pope Publishes a New Book.
In March, Cardinal Marc Ouellet introduced the second volume of Pope's book “Jesus of Nazareth”. The writing reflects on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. For it's release, 1.2 million copies were published in 7 languages. 

Benedict XVI also received the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera at the Vatican. During the meeting, the pope asked about the recovery of miners who were trapped for more than two months 2000 feet below ground.

The pope then met with the executive director of the UN's World Food Programme. They mostly spoke about the humanitarian crisis at that time in Libya.

It was also in March when the only Catholic minister in Pakistan's government was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti died at 42. He was in charge of the country's religious minorities. He had received several death threats after trying to repeal the blasphemy law in Pakistan, the law which provides the death penalty against anyone who insults Islam or the prophet Mohammed.

In preparation for Easter, the pope and cardinals from the Curia took a spiritual retreat. This spiritual exercise was a preparation for the big event of the year, the beatification of John Paul II.”

Near the end of the month, Benedict visited the Ardeatine Caves near Rome, where the German army shot 335 civilians in 1944. For this historic visit, he was accompanied by the Chief Rabbi of Rome. Benedict called the massacre a “grave offense to God.”

Toward the end of the month, the pope blessed the new parish of St. Corbinian at Infernetto in Rome. The church is located in the south of the city in an area called “Infernetto,” where the city's coal used to be produced. The parish is named after the patron saint of the pope's home country of Germany, as a gift from Rome to the German bishops.

The Maronite Church elected a new Patriarch on the 15th of March after a three days spiritual seclusion by the maronite bishops in Bkerke. Mar Beshara Peter Al Rahi becomes the 77th maronite patriarch after the resignation of patriarch cardinal Mar Nasrallah Peter Sfeir.

Daily Gospel: Feast of the Adoration of the Magi, December 28, 2011

Book of Revelation 21:9-10, 21-27.
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 2:1-12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel." ’Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Daily Gospel: Feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen the First Martyr, December 27, 2011

Second Letter to the Corinthians 11:1-9
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you. Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 23:29-39, 24:1-2
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets." Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.  ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." ’As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

The Maronite Patriarch's Traditional Christmas Message

“I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: A savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:1-11) 

1. In the middle of the night, 2011 years ago, the light of the glory of God shone on simple shepherds over the Bethlehem cave, and his angel came to announce to them and through them to the whole world, the Good News: “A savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” At the same time, in the skies over Persia, a unique star appeared, prompting pagan scholars to see it as a sign of the birth of the King of the Ages to come (Matthew 2:1-2). They came to Bethlehem: simple shepherds from near, and rich magi scholars from afar. They prostrated in homage before the Divine Child and presented Him with the gifts of their faith, hope and love. He reciprocated by sharing with them the Divine nature. We, in Lebanon, the East and in the countries of expansion, likewise prostrate before the nativity cave to be enlightened by the Light of Truth announced to the whole world, and to be sanctified by the grace of the Divine life bequeathed to us. The echo of the words of Pope Leo the Great, resounds in the depths of our hearts saying, "Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and become a sharer in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct” (Sermon 21, On the Feast of the Nativity, Para 3). 

Mar Beshara Peter Al rahi pronouncing the Christmas Message From Bkerke

2. It is a joyous occasion for me, on behalf of the Patriarchal See, His Beatitude and Eminence Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, their Excellencies the Bishops, the priests, monks and nuns, and all the helpers here to express our best wishes to our brothers and sisters in Lebanon, the Middle East and the countries of expansion and to all citizens here and broad, at the birth of our Lord Jesus, Redeemer and Savior of all people, and the coming of the New Year 2012. Prayers accompany these good wishes so that the Divine Child may shower an abundance of graces and goodness, and bless the coming year with peace, tranquility and a dignified life. 

3. Christmas: a Cave, a Star and a Tree. 
The Cave reminds us of the Incarnation of the Word of God, as Luke recounted in his Gospel. It also presents us with examples to emulate, such as humility and poverty, two models that Christ our Lord followed because of his love for humanity, impelling us to change from within, through the grace of the One who entered our humanity. “The Son of God,” says Pope Leo the Great, “has so united Himself with us and us with Him that the descent of God to man’s estate became the exaltation of man to God’s” (Sermon 27, On the Feast of the Nativity, Para 2). 

O how impoverished we are and in great need for God’s love to abide in our hearts this Christmas, as it abided in the heart of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the hearts of the saints! O how impoverished we are for that love that would enrich us with human sentiments and ethics in our dealing with others and in all our communication, especially on the part of the authorities and representatives of the nation in Parliament and the Cabinet, that we may live the beauty of “communion and love” in our own family, in our social family and in our national family. Communion, first and foremost, is union with God at the committed spiritual level and union with all people at the level of relations, where every individual, group and member of society may give his/her cumulative worth; thus, a diverse and integrated society is established. Love is the bond of that communion, its springhead and its goal. 

O how impoverished we are and how much we need humility before God and man that we may be able to leave the darkness of pride and egoism; the darkness of pretension and self sufficiency; the darkness of refusal of the one who differs in opinion and aspirations; from the darkness of forcefulness, haughtiness and the branding of others with treachery! 

O how impoverished we are and how much we need the virtue of poverty of self and enrichment in God; poverty manifested in detachment from personal interest and from personal material and sectarian gains at the expense of the common good. Every person in authority is in need of this virtue; the one who is without it, is the weakest of the weak. 

4. Christmas is a Star; and that Star is Christ is the “Word of God made flesh” (John 1:14), Who entered into a perpetual dialogue with every person, enlightening him on the path of life, revealing to him the splendor of truth amidst the darkness of perplexity and of lies. This Star led the magi to the new born Messiah. When the Star vanished over Jerusalem, the magi logically went looking for Him at the king’s palace, where might, culture and knowledge were, but He was not born there. God does not appear where worldly power dwells, or where there is the power of riches or the power of weapons, or the power of authority. But the Word of the Holy Scriptures informed them that He was to be born in Bethlehem and that Word appeared anew in the Star which led them to the place of His birth among the humble and the lowly. There, the King of the world was born, to indicate that His Kingship is freedom and love. This King is not born except in the hearts of the truly free: those free from self, from their own whims, from their own perversions and from the enticements of the world. The King is born in the hearts of those who truly love God and love each and every person. They alone respect freedom in all its dimensions and witness to this love in their works and the exercise of their responsibilities. Come brothers and sisters; let us search for the Star in the Word of God, Who erected His tent in the Church and made of Her “the pillar of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). 

5. Christmas is a Tree, decorated and lit. This, in fact, is the Church, sparkling with the light of Christ, Her founder Who abides in Her; in fact, She is one with His Mystery. She is Christ in His fullness. This is how the Apostle John saw her: “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband to be a new earth and a new heaven” (Revelation 21:1-2). This reality is present wherever people live in communion and love, vertically united to God through the Divine Word, prayer and the grace of the sacraments and, horizontally united with all people through solidarity, connection, cooperation and integration. 

The Christmas Tree, with its twinkling lights is the Face of the Church reflecting Christ, the Light of the Nations. Glad tidings of joy are proclaimed to all people through His Gospel. His Gospel is the light of truth to minds, the light of healing grace to souls and the reviving light of love to hearts. This sparkling Church, like the Christmas Tree, is charged by Her Master to proclaim His Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15); this Gospel decorates the Church with saints, prophets, martyrs and confessors. Come all you Christians! Let us decorate the Church with different kinds of talents and gifts, which the Holy Spirit poured out upon us and upon every person that we may be an “added value” in our society. 

6. Greetings to all from in front of the Cave, Star and the Tree. 
You who are in Lebanon we salute you and congratulate you on the Feast. Come let us build the nation with its mission, and live in the diversity of our Christian and Muslim communities among others, and in the diversity of our cultures, aspirations, opinions, and political and national choices, along with the beauty of our unity, solidarity and connections, and be for each other and our Lebanese society an added value. This is how Christians and Muslims wanted Lebanon to be when they invented their National Pact in 1943, and committed to living together, to be an added value for each other. After nearly seventy years of experience, let us renew our National Pact through a new social contract and continue writing the history of groups that have decided to live together in peace and overcome each crisis that comes their way by virtue of their geopolitical position. Let us build an “added value” state with stability and radiance of its role on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean, within the Arab milieu, and the international community. 

7. You who are in the countries of the Middle East we salute you with the best wishes of Christmas, in peace and hope, as you endure the tribulations of wars, conflicts and conflicting claims, having before your eyes and consciences many questions concerning the future and our common destiny. In the midst of darkness, may the light and glory of God shine on you as on the night of the Nativity of Christ the Lord when the angels chanted: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth and good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). We look forward with you, through the wishes of Christmas and the New Year, to the birth of a real Arab Spring, one of peace and stability based on religious, cultural and ethnic pluralism, equality of citizenship and democracy, and distanced far from the singleness of race, religion, confession and opinion. 

8. You who are in the countries of the expansion and under every sky we salute you and congratulate you on this Feast. May the light of Christ the Lord shine upon you with all His gifts and graces, and unite us with the joy of His Nativity, for He has been united with every person through His Incarnation. To you are our best wishes that the New Year may be filled with peace, goodwill and success. To us and to all people in the darkness of this world, the proclamation of the heavens is renewed: “To us is born a Savior” (Luke 2:11). And we proclaim the message of peace and hope: “Christ is born! Halleluiah”

Feast of Saint Stephen First Christian Martyr

Just after Christmas, the Catholic Church remembers its first martyr, and one of its first deacons, Saint Stephen. Roman Catholics celebrate his feast on December 26, while Eastern Catholics honor him one day later. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke praises Saint Stephen as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” who “did great wonders and signs among the people” during the earliest days of the Church. 

Luke's history of the period also includes the moving scene of Stephen's death, witnessed by Saint Paul before his conversion, at the hands of those who refused to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Stephen himself was a Jew who most likely came to believe in Jesus during the Lord's ministry on earth. He may have been among the 70 disciples whom Christ sent out as missionaries, who preached the coming of God's kingdom while traveling with almost no possessions. 

This spirit of detachment from material things continued in the early Church, in which Saint Luke says believers “had all things in common” and “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” But such radical charity ran up against the cultural conflict between Jews and Gentiles, when a group of Greek widows felt neglected in their needs as compared to those of a Jewish background. Stephen's reputation for holiness led the Apostles to choose him, along with six other men, to assist them in an official and unique way as this dispute arose. Through the sacramental power given to them by Christ, the Apostles ordained the seven men as deacons, and set them to work helping the widows. 

As a deacon, Stephen also preached about Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets. Unable to refute his message, some members of local synagogues brought him before their religious authorities, charging him with seeking to destroy their traditions. Stephen responded with a discourse recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He described Israel's resistance to God's grace in the past, and accused the present religious authorities of “opposing the Holy Spirit” and rejecting the Messiah. 

Before he was put to death, Stephen had a vision of Christ in glory. “Look,” he told the court, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” The council, however, dragged the deacon away and stoned him to death. “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’” records Saint Luke in chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” 

The first Christian martyrdom was overseen by a Pharisee named Saul, later Paul, and still later Saint Paul, whose own experience of Christ would transform him into a believer, and later a martyr himself.


Daily Gospel: Feast of the Felicitation to the Virgin Mary, December 26, 2011

Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-14
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 1:46-55
And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Message of the Virgin Mary For the World on December 25, 2011 From Medjugorje

“Dear children! Also today, in my arms I am carrying my Son Jesus to you, for Him to give you His peace. Pray, little children, and witness so that in every heart, not human but God's peace may prevail, which no one can destroy. It is that peace in the heart which God gives to those whom He loves. By your baptism you are all, in a special way called and loved, therefore witness and pray that you may be my extended hands to this world which yearns for God and peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

The Maronite Patriarch's Homily on Christmas

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

The Maronite Patriarch Mar Beshara Peter Al Rahi celebrated his first Holy Mass on Christmas day at Bkerke as Head of the Maronite Church. The Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and the first lady were attending as well as his excellence the ambassador of the Vatican, along with several other governmental and political figures.

The beautiful Christmas tree in front of the church of the Resurrection
at Bkerke front yard

During his homily the Patriarch said that Christmas call is glory, peace and hope. This call is entrusted to us. Christ is the glory, peace and hope of mankind. This is how he is God's gift to the world. The news of the birth of Jesus reached out to the poor and simple shepherds of Bethlehem through the angel: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11). They ran to the place where they were told, they believed and knelt down before him. The good news reached also to the rich and wise men in the Orient through the star in the sky of the Persian land. They went to the place and they also believed and knelt down before him.

Jesus Christ is the real peace, he is the peace for all humanity and he is the prince of peace. With his birth peace was born in the world, and with his cross God reconciled with the World. Peace is a gift from God that we accept, and that we build everyday to become peacemakers: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9). Peace is the fruit of justice, and peace upon the world comes by enforcing justice upon every human being. No one can obstruct justice or politicize it.

Jesus is our hope, this hope was born in the hearts of human beings on the day of birth of the prince of peace, of mercy and of justice. This hope has become the duty of the church as well as the civil authorities to enforce justice, peace and truth in society.

The Maronite Patriarch urged the government to work toward a Lebanon free of weapons and called on it to grant amnesty to Lebanese who fled to Israel in 2000. He said that it is the duty of the state alone, entrusted with the security of its citizens and peace in the country, to collect weapons and place them under the sole control of the legitimate Lebanese forces so that Beirut and all of Lebanon can become weapons free. The state needs to be the sole authority on matters relating to security and defense and it has to bring the tasks of defense and security forces under the sole authority of the political power and bolster confidence in its armed forces.

The Patriarch also urged the government to issue an amnesty law for Lebanese who fled to Israel in 2000 saying that we have to reunite the Lebanese and issue an amnesty law for those who forcibly fled under difficult circumstances and took refuge in Israel fearing oppression. He also said corruption in the country needed to be eradicated and called on the state to help citizens face deteriorating economic conditions.

We become peacemakers when we strengthen economic and living conditions and  put an end to corruption and then we can resolve conflicts and begin reconciliation, the Patriarch said. He also spoke about the need to have a reliable judicial authority as a way to help end crimes and oppression and that the judicial authority should enjoy complete autonomy and protection and it should be able to put an end to oppression and crime. Finally His Beatitude expressed his hopes with regards to implementing justice and having judges who have courage, integrity and dignity.

Pope Benedict XVI's Traditional Christmas Message: "To the City and the World"

Christ is born for us! Come to save us! Those were Pope Benedict’s words to the city and the World this Christmas Day.

As the sun shone and the bands played, the Holy Father on the dot of 12 midday came out onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica for the traditional Urbi et Orbi message. The Pope asked the faithful to repeat the words “Come to save us”! in spiritual union with the many people who are experiencing particularly difficult situations, people who have no voice.

Those people included the many thousands affected by insecurity, hunger and food shortages in the Horn of Africa. The Pope appealed to the international community during his message to continue to offer assistance to those displaced from that region and as he put it “whose dignity has been sorely tried”. Staying on the continent of Africa, Pope Benedict prayed also that political stability would reign in the Great Lakes Region of Africa and South Sudan.

The Holy Father during his message recalled the birthplace of the Christ Child and prayed that Prince of Peace would bring stability peace and dialogue between Israeli’s and Palestinians, an end to violence in Syria and reconciliation in Iraq and Afghanistan. May the Lord also grant, said the Pope, “renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.”

2011 saw a number of natural disasters occur in the world and Pope Benedict turned his attention to South East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines and to those who have been stricken by severe floods. He also prayed that the birth of Saviour would bring about shared solutions in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

This address focusing on peace, stability and reconciliation was followed by Christmas greetings given by the Pope given in over 65 languages including Italian, Tamil, Irish, Arabic and Hebrew. The Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message came less than 24 hours after the Holy Father celebrated the traditional Christmas Eve Mass in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica.

Those gathered including the faithful and members of the diplomatic corps listened as Pope Benedict told them that the Christmas celebration had become too commercial and there was a need for people to look to the simplicity of the occasion to discover true “joy and true light”. 

Below is the full text of the Pope's Urbi et Orbi Message on Christmas, 25 December 2011:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!
Christ is born for us!
Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all. This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high.

Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Ps 40:2). This is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means “Saviour” (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!” The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.).

God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance. Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12).

The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: “Come to save us!” Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice. Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried. May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods. May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good. May the birth of the Saviour support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to him; let us receive him into our lives. Once more let us say to him, with joy and confidence: “Veni ad salvandum nos!”