Best of 2012 for the Vatican: the Pope's Trip to Lebanon

Among the main events and highlights of the past year, the Vatican points to the Pope's extraordinarily successful trip to Lebanon, the launch of his Twitter account, the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelisation and the "painful and embarassing" Vatileaks scandal. The source says the papal visit to Lebanon was used to express "solidarity and support" for the "imperilled" Christian communities throughout the Middle East and although seen as "a very challenging trip" beforehand it went off remarkably well. 

During the month of September Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Lebanon, where he signed the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente. He also met with Christian and Muslim political leaders. During his visit, the Pope asked Christians to never respond to discrimination with violence.

The Pope said: “It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division.”

One of the most touching moments came during the gathering with youths at the Maronite Patriarchate, “Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” 

The Pope said Muslims and Christians can live together in peace, and cited Lebanon as an example. He added that both religions must build the future of the Middle East together.

The Greatest Threats Against Christians

One of Pope Benedict’s prayer intentions for January is for the plight of Middle Eastern Christians who are “so often discriminated against.” The organisation Release International which serves persecuted Christians worldwide says the continuing upheaval in the Islamic world looks set to pose the greatest threat to Christians in 2013. Andrew Boyd is Press Officer for Release International and he spoke to Vatican Radio’s Susy Hodges about their predictions for the coming year. 

Boyd says Pope Benedict’s prayer intention for January “is extremely appropriate” as Release International believes that Christians face a growing risk of persecution in 2013 owing to the continuing turmoil in the Islamic world. Pointing to the situation in Egypt, he says they learnt from their local partners that “around 100,000 Christians have left the country” since the 2011 parliamentary elections where the Islamic Brotherhood emerged as the dominant party. He says there are many questions marks about the future facing Christians in Egypt and “concern there continues to grow.” 

Another area of the world where there is one “of the greatest immediate threats” to Christians is the situation in Northern Nigeria. Boyd says “there is a clear agenda to drive out Christians from the north” by radical Islamic groups and describes it as “a religious cleansing.” 

In Pakistan, Boyd says persecution against Christians “is increasing in leaps and bounds” and points to the nation’s controversial blasphemy laws. “Once you’ve been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan,” he says, “that’s like a death sentence, whether you’re found guilty or not.”

The situation in North Korea and Eritrea is also a cause of deep concern with “severe and worsening” persecution against Christians. Asked if there are any bright spots in an otherwise gloomy picture, Boyd says despite the threats posed by the upheaval in the Islamic world there is also hope mixed in with these fears. He points to "a growing unity” among the different Christian denominations in these countries and adds: “in that, there’s a great hope for 2013.”

Shocking Message From the Virgin Mary on December 25, 2012 From Medjugorje

The Virgin appeared with little Jesus in Her arms and She did not give a message, but little Jesus began to speak and said :

“I am your peace, live my commandments.”

With a Sign of the Cross, Our Lady and little Jesus blessed the attendance together.

Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas Message to the City and to the World: "Urbi Et Orbi". December 25, 2012

The yearly tradition shaped up with thousands of pilgrims gathered at St. Peter’s Square in anticipation of the Pope’s Christmas message. Benedict XVI stepped out into the main balcony to deliver his speech and issue greetings in over 65 languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Esperanto. The Urbi et Orbi greeting is delivered only a handful of times. They include Christmas, Easter Sunday and on the election of a new pope. The Vatican’s Nativity scene in the heart of St. Peter’s Square also makes its debut on this day. This year’s display varies greatly from years past. 

Pope Benedict XVI has urged people never to loose hope in peace this Christmas, even in situations of conflict such as Syria, or nations afflicted by terrorism such as Nigeria, because the “Truth has sprung out of the earth”, with the birth of Christ.

Below is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI’s Message this Christmas 

“Veritas de terra orta est!” – “Truth has sprung out of the earth” (Ps 85:12).

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, a happy Christmas to you and your families!

In this Year of Faith, I express my Christmas greetings and good wishes in these words taken from one of the Psalms: “Truth has sprung out of the earth”. Actually, in the text of the Psalm, these words are in the future: “Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, /and justice shall look down from heaven. / The Lord himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps” (Ps 85:11-14).

Today these prophetic words have been fulfilled! In Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, kindness and truth have indeed met; justice and peace have kissed; truth has sprung out of the earth and justice has looked down from heaven. Saint Augustine explains with admirable brevity: “What is truth? The Son of God. What is the earth? The flesh. Ask whence Christ has been born, and you will see that truth has sprung out of the earth … truth has been born of the Virgin Mary” (En. in Ps. 84:13). And in a Christmas sermon he says that “in this yearly feast we celebrate that day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’. The Truth, which is in the bosom of the Father has sprung out of the earth, to be in the womb of a mother too. The Truth which rules the whole world has sprung out of the earth, to be held in the arms of a woman ... The Truth which heaven cannot contain has sprung out of the earth, to be laid in a manger. For whose benefit did so lofty a God become so lowly? Certainly not for his own, but for our great benefit, if we believe” (Sermones, 185, 1).

“If we believe”. Here we see the power of faith! God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born! “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67:7). Yes, there is a good earth, a healthy earth, an earth freed of all selfishness and all lack of openness. In this world there is a good soil which God has prepared, that he might come to dwell among us. A dwelling place for his presence in the world. This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations. Truth has sprung up, bringing kindness, justice and peace.

Yes, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims. Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

May peace spring up in the Land where the Redeemer was born, and may he grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end to long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.

In the countries of North Africa, which are experiencing a major transition in pursuit of a new future – and especially the beloved land of Egypt, blessed by the childhood of Jesus – may citizens work together to build societies founded on justice and respect for the freedom and dignity of every person.

May peace spring up on the vast continent of Asia. May the Child Jesus look graciously on the many peoples who dwell in those lands and, in a special way, upon all those who believe in him. May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them. I express my hope that, in fulfilling this task, they will esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each, in such a way that they can help to build a fraternal society for the benefit of that noble People and of the whole world.

May the Birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians. May the Redeemer bring help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grant peace to Kenya, where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship.

May the Child Jesus bless the great numbers of the faithful who celebrate him in Latin America. May he increase their human and Christian virtues, sustain all those forced to leave behind their families and their land, and confirm government leaders in their commitment to development and fighting crime.

Dear brothers and sisters! Kindness and truth, justice and peace have met; they have become incarnate in the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. That child is the Son of God; he is God appearing in history. His birth is a flowering of new life for all humanity. May every land become a good earth which receives and brings forth kindness and truth, justice and peace. Happy Christmas to all of you!

Holy Gospel: Feast of the Glorious Birth of the Lord. December 25, 2012

Letter to the Hebrews 1:1-12. 
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.’ But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, and the righteous sceptre is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ And, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.’

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 2:1-20. 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message. December 23, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI prayed the Angelus on Sunday. Addressing pilgrims and tourists gathered in St Peter’s Square beneath the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Holy Father spoke of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elisabeth – the episode narrated during the Gospel reading for the day. “The episode,” said Pope Benedict, “does not represent a mere gesture of courtesy, but dramatises with great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New Testament.” The Holy Father explained that the elderly and yet miraculously fertile Elisabeth represents Israel awaiting the Messiah. Noting that the expression with which Elisabeth greets Mary, “Blessed art thou among women,” is one that in the Hebrew Scriptures is spoken to the warrior women Jael and Judith, whose efforts saved the nation of Israel from peril, Pope Benedict says, “Now, it is spoken to the gentle young woman who shall before too long give birth to the Saviour of the World.” Pope Benedict went on to say that the scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of welcoming. “Wherever there are those who welcome one another, where there is careful attention, wherever there are people who make room for another,” he said, “there is God – and the joy that comes from Him.” 

“Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting to those who are experiencing difficulty, especially the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and little children,” prayed Pope Benedict, “and let us also imitate Elisabeth, who received her guest as God, Himself.” The Pope concluded by asking the faithful to pray that all men might seek God earnestly, and find that it is God Himself who comes first to visit us.” 

After the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, Pope Benedict had greetings for pilgrims in many languages, including English:

I greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at this Angelus prayer. Today, as we approach the Solemnity of our Lord’s Birth among us, let us strive again to make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ child with love and humility before such a great gift from on high. In anticipation, let me already wish you and your families a holy and peaceful Christmas!

Holy Gospel on Genealogy Sunday

Letter to the Romans 1:1-12. 
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Saint
Matthew 1:1-17.
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram,
and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,
and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah,
and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel,
and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor,
and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud,
and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Letter to Baby Jesus by the Seven Years Old Joseph Ratzinger

A Christmas letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Baby Jesus when he was seven years-old demonstrates his devotion to the Sacred Heart and his desire to be a priest. The letter is on display this Advent in the village of Marktl am Inn in Bavaria, where he was born.

"Dear Baby Jesus, quickly come down to earth. You will bring joy to children. Also bring me joy," he wrote in the 1934 letter, published on the Church-affiliated Italian website "I would like a Volks-Schott (a Mass prayers book), green clothing for Mass (clerical clothing) and a heart of Jesus. I will always be good. Greetings from Joseph Ratzinger," he wrote in German cursive hard writing called Sütterlinschrift.

The Ratzinger family. Joseph with his hand on dad's shoulder

The letter, found during the renovation of a house that Joseph Ratzinger's occupied when he was a professor in Regensburg, was published on December 18. The message was discovered in the estate of his sister Mary, who kept the letter after the Pope's house was converted into a small museum dedicated to him.

In Korazym’s view, the “letter was uncommon for a seven-year-old since he did not ask for toys or sweets, which were always in front of the Ratzinger family's nativity for his three brothers."

The first thing the Pope wanted was a Schott, one of the first prayer books with the missal in German and a parallel text in Latin. At the time there were two editions in the country, one for adults and one for children. But little Joseph also asked for "green clothing for Mass." The Pope and his brothers used to play the "game of the priest," and their mother, a seamstress, would help them by making clothes similar to those worn by priests, according to an "Inside the Vatican" interview his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, gave a few years ago.

He also asked for a heart of Jesus, referring to an image of the Sacred Heart, which his family was very devoted to. His brother noted that "each year the Nativity would have an extra miniature statue, which was a great joy … We would go with dad into the woods to gather moss and twigs of fir."

In his biography, Pope Benedict the XVI wrote that the volumes he received were "something precious and I could not dream them to have been more beautiful." Along with his letter is another one by then 10-year-old Georg, who wanted sheet music for a song and a white chasuble, the outer vestment worn by priests when they celebrate Mass. A third letter by "Mary," a 13-year-old who wanted a book full of drawings, was also discovered. According to Korazym, "the letters were all on one sheet because the Ratzinger family was not rich." Pope Benedict and his family lived in Aschau am Inn, a small town west of Munich, from 1932 to 1937.

"The Pope was very glad to find the letter and its contents made him smile," said his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, when he inaugurated the small museum at the end of summer. "For him, the smell of musk still belongs to Christmas," he added.

The First ever Nativity Scene

If you missed the feast of Francis of Assisi in October, the Christmas season offers another opportunity to commemorate the saint. Anyone who has erected a nativity scene is following Francis’ 13th-century example.

On Christmas Eve 1223, the saint created the first nativity in the Italian city of Greccio. With the help of a local nobleman, Francis celebrated the birth of Jesus in a cave outside the town. The liturgy featured a hay-filled manger in front of the temporary altar, and as Francis preached, the nobleman arranged to have an ox and a donkey stand at the altar as well.

The Franciscans quickly spread the practice of creating nativity scenes with live animals and actors. Living scenes remained popular, but static nativities also developed, allowing the scene to remain on display for longer periods for meditation.

As the tradition was introduced to new regions throughout the world, nativity scenes adapted to local tastes and customs. Incorporating local elements was especially popular in Francis’ native Italy, where the participants in the scene looked less like biblical figures and more like characters from the local village.

By the 19th century Protestant churches, which initially rejected nativity scenes as a form of idolatrous Catholic superstition, slackened their opposition to the scenes, and their popularity spread through the wider Christian world. On Christmas of 2011, a church in Southampton, England gathered shepherds, angels, and wise men of all sizes in an attempt to break the record for the largest living nativity. At 298 participants, however, they fell well short of the record of 567 people.

Francis’ original nativity was inspired by his trip in 1221 to the Holy Land and Jesus’ traditional birthplace. He was deeply moved visiting the site where God became fully human. Hoping others could enjoy the same profoundly spiritual experience, Francis encouraged believers to make pilgrimages to Bethlehem. By 1223, however, conflict among the powers vying for control of the Holy Land made the trip too dangerous for pilgrims. Francis decided to do the next best thing—bring Bethlehem to the pilgrims.

Accounts of Francis’ original nativity do not include much information about the congregation that gathered. We do not know if the Italian villagers standing in the cold on Christmas Eve nearly eight centuries ago were as moved as Francis was by the idea of an omnipotent God so capable of love and humility that he took the form of a vulnerable infant and was born outdoors among the animals.

The popularity of nativity scenes, however, indicates that over the centuries people were drawn to the possibility of building their own Bethlehem. Setting up a nativity scene not only allows us to remember and celebrate the drama of Jesus’ birth but also the saint so enraptured with that drama that he brought it to life.

Extract From Pope Benedict XVI's Book on Christmas

“Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” was the response of Jesus when asked about paying taxes. His questioners, of course, were laying a trap for him. They wanted to force him to take sides in the highly charged political debate about Roman rule in the land of Israel. Yet there was more at stake here: if Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah, then surely he would oppose the Roman overlords. So the question was calculated to expose him either as a threat to the regime, or as a fraud. 

Jesus’ answer deftly moves the argument to a higher plane, gently cautioning against both the politicisation of religion and the deification of temporal power, along with the relentless pursuit of wealth. His audience needed to be reminded that the Messiah was not Caesar, and Caesar was not God. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish was of an altogether higher order. As he told Pontius Pilate: “My kingship is not of this world.” 

The Christmas stories in the New Testament are intended to convey a similar message. Jesus was born during a “census of the whole world” ordered by Caesar Augustus, the emperor renowned for bringing the Pax Romana to all the lands under Roman rule. Yet this infant, born in an obscure and far-flung corner of the empire, was to offer the world a far greater peace, truly universal in scope and transcending all limitations of space and time.

Jesus is presented to us as King David’s heir, but the liberation he brought to his people was not about holding hostile armies at bay; it was about conquering sin and death forever.

The birth of Christ challenges us to reassess our priorities, our values, our very way of life. While Christmas is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also an occasion for deep reflection, even an examination of conscience. At the end of a year that has meant economic hardship for many, what can we learn from the humility, the poverty, the simplicity of the crib scene?

Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize that God made man. It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the stock exchange. Christians should not shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. They work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that – as stewards of God’s creation – we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life. The belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all.

Because these goals are shared by so many, much fruitful co-operation is possible between Christians and others. Yet Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God. Christians have at times throughout history been unable to comply with demands made by Caesar. From the emperor cult of ancient Rome to the totalitarian regimes of the past century, Caesar has tried to take the place of God. When Christians refuse to bow down before the false gods proposed today, it is not because of an antiquated worldview. Rather, it is because they are free from the constraints of ideology and inspired by such a noble vision of human destiny that they cannot collude with anything that undermines it.

In Italy, many crib scenes feature the ruins of ancient Roman buildings in the background. This shows that the birth of the child Jesus marks the end of the old order, the pagan world, in which Caesar’s claims went virtually unchallenged. Now there is a new king, who relies not on the force of arms, but on the power of love.

He brings hope to all those who, like himself, live on the margins of society. He brings hope to all who are vulnerable to the changing fortunes of a precarious world. From the manger, Christ calls us to live as citizens of his heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that all people of goodwill can help to build here on earth.

The Church in Iraq: a Top Priority for Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a Synod of bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church for January, 2013. The aim of the Synod will be to elect a successor to His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on Wednesday. 

The Chaldean Church is the largest Christian group in Iraq, consisting of eight dioceses, 100 parishes and approximately 500,000 faithful. The number has fallen drastically however, since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. During the war and subsequent insecurity, Christians in Iraq were the targets of an often violent persecution including bomb attacks, murders and abductions. This led to a wave of emigration generating a large Iraqi Christian diaspora. 

The Chaldean Church has other dioceses and eparchies in countries including Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It is estimated that the Chaldean population is over one and a half million worldwide.

During the turmoil that ensued the 2003 invasion the Chaldean Church suffered great losses. Most notably, the young priest Father Ragheed Ganni, of the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit, who was killed on 3 June 2007 in Mosul, alongside the subdeacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, after he celebrated mass. Also in Mosul, the Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted on February 29, 2008, and murdered a few days later. 

Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, 85, was elected Patriarch of the Chaldean Church on December 3, 2003, succeeding the late Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid. He was created a Cardinal Bishop by Pope Benedict XVI on November 24, 2007. On that occasion Pope Benedict was said the gesture demonstrated his "spiritual closeness and affection" for Iraqi Christians. The Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church will meet in Rome on 28 January 2013 and will be presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Cardinal Sandri recently travelled to Iraq on a 5 day visit to the capital Baghdad, Kirkuk and Erbil. On December 14th he presided at Mass for the consecration of the restored Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help which was the scene of a terrorist attack October 31, 2010, that left more than 50 faithful and 2 priests dead. 

During his homily, the Cardinal immediately recalled the "testimony offered by many of our brothers and sisters" who "preceded by two young and heroic priests" united forever "their lives to Jesus Christ." He highlighted the "honorable sacrifices" that have allowed the reopening of the cathedral and pointed out that, through the comfort and hope "the Lord encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to ​​communion and testimony." Bringing the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sandri invoked the Lord, so that "the tears shed in this sacred place, become the good seed of communion and witness and bear much fruit." 

Historically, Cardinal Sandri also accompanied the Syro-Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako on a visit to the city’s Great Mosque at the invitation of the local Islamic leaders. There the religious leaders unanimously launched an appeal for Christians and Muslims to work together for peace, without which “there is no civilization or progress". The Holy Father has appointed Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean Church pending the election of the patriarch.

Youhannah Al Yaziji Becomes Patriarch of Antioch and All the East of the Orthodox Church

Metropolitan Youhanna al-Yaziji was elected on Monday the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Levant and Antioch. He will succeed late Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, who passed away on December 5. He will be known as Patriarch Youhanna X. The election was made after a meeting of 20 archbishops at Our Lady of Balamand Monastery in northern Lebanon on Monday morning.

Patriarch Youhanna X

"We have a lot of work ahead concerning youth affairs and universities," the new patriarch said in a speech at the monastery later on Monday. "We share the same fate with our Muslim brothers and we will work together. Our confidence in our people is very deep and our path is the path of the cross," Yaziji added.

Answering a reporter's question, the patriarch stressed that "Christians will remain in Syria and it is their land. Our country suffered a lot of difficult periods, but we will stay in Syria. Throughout history, we have always been with all parties and all groups in Syria," he added. 

Born in Latakia, Syria in 1955, Yaziji earned his school and university education in Syria. He earned a degree in theology in 1978 from the St. John of Damascus Faculty of Theology at the Balamand University and a doctorate in theology in 1983 from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

He was appointed a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1983 and in 1981 he took up teaching liturgy at St. John of Damascus Faculty of Theology at the Balamand University.

He assumed the position of dean of the faculty from 1988-1991 and 2001-2005. 
He became the head of the Our Lady of Balamand Monastery from 2001 to 2005.
In 2008 he was elected as the Metropolitan of western and central Europe.

The Vatican Supports the New State of Palestine

It was their fifth meeting but this time was the first time Pope Benedict XVI and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas met face to face after the UN General Assembly voted in favour of recognizing Palestine as a UN non-member observer state – a status which only the Holy See had held previously.

As the communiqué issued at the end of the audience stated, the meeting between the two leaders lasted twenty five minutes. The two felt that the recognition of Palestine as a UN non-member observer state “should encourage the engagement of the international community to find the right and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The language used was extremely cautious and balanced but should be read within the context of the heated protests launched by Palestinian Catholics against the building of Israeli settlements in Eastern Jerusalem straight after the UN vote.

The Holy See made its position very clear in a declaration issued in light of the General Assembly vote. It essentially welcomed Palestine’s successful recognition as a non-member state observer state of the UN and picked up on the issue of Jerusalem’s status as the holy city of the three great monotheist religions. Importantly, Abbas’s gift to the Pope was a ceramic mosaic with a view of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre and the English inscription: "Presented by President Mahmoud Abbas President of the State of Palestine”.

During their meeting, Benedict XVI and Abbas (Abu Mazen) discussed the difficult situation in the Middle East, which is "troubled by numerous conflicts," starting with the one in Syria and the two expressed the hope that "the courage for reconciliation and peace will be found." They also talked about the difficult situation faced by Christian’s in the region and bout how the contribution of Christian communities can ensure the “common good for the territories and the whole region.”

For Palestine and Abu Mazen - who had eagerly awaited a “yes” vote from the UN – the New York victory was above all one of symbolic value, as over 130 states voted in favor and only nine against. Of course the UN vote will have significant practical implications. Palestine will now be able to appeal to international bodies that form part of the UN system, such as the International Criminal Court.

The Palestinian leader’s two-day visit to Rome was an occasion to thank not just the Vatican but Italy as well – the country voted in favor of Palestine’s new status at the last minute, having abstained over the past few months – and to confirm the Palestinian National Authority’s commitment to relaunching negotiations for the peace process with Israel. After his meeting with the Pope Abu Mazen saw Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and the Democratic Party leader, Pierluigi Bersani. Later on, he also meet with the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.

Bombing in Kirkuk During Cardinal's Mass

Terrorist attacks struck on Sunday, December 16, the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, causing nine deaths (including 2 children) and more than fifty injuries. Two coordinated attacks – carried out with two car bombs and seven bombs placed on the sides of the roads - targeted two Shiite mosques on the outskirts of the city. But the explosions were felt distinctly even in the Chaldean Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, during the celebration of the Mass presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, causing anxiety among many worshipers. 

Iraqi citizens on the site of the explosion inspecting damages 

With the sequence of bloody events going on in the disputed territories between the government in Baghdad and the autonomous administration of Iraqi Kurdistan - new attacks in the region caused even on Monday December 17 the death of at least 11 people. On Sunday December 16, before the solemn celebration of Mass in the Chaldean, Arabic and English language (which was also attended by Archbishop Louis Sako and the Apostolic Nuncio Giorgio Lingua) Cardinal Sandri had visited the largest Sunni mosque in Kirkuk, meeting a qualified delegation of islamic representatives. The imam of the mosque, Ahmad Amin, had received the Cardinal inviting him to convey his feelings of esteem and respect to the "Holy Father", and praised the initiatives of collaboration and dialogue locally inspired by Archbishop Sako. Similar concepts were also expressed by Shaykh Shi'ite Abbas Fadhil, and by the other leader of the local Sunni community, Ali Iman. 

Responding to reporters after Mass, Cardinal Sandri had reaffirmed the importance of protecting the permanence of indigenous Christian communities in Iraq, noting that without the Christians that Country would lose its historical identity. Cardinal Sandri visited the governor of Kirkuk, the Kurdish Necmettin Karim, who greeted him with respect, condemning the attacks as a result of a strategy of terror designed and built by external power to sabotage the tradition of peaceful coexistence that characterized the relations between the different ethnic and religious groups in the region. Then the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches moved to Erbil, where he met with Mas'ud Barzani, president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. "Cardinal Sandri’s visit," confides Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako "was an important time for all of us. After nine years an official representative of the Holy See visited Iraq. Thanks to Cardinal Sandri’s visit we also perceived the affection and concern of Pope Benedict XVI for us Christians in Iraq and for all Iraqis."

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message on December 16, 2012

To Italy and to the world who complains of unfair taxes, of power without pity, the economic crisis in which there is no justice, you can find inspiration in the words of John the Baptist. This is what Benedict XVI said in his reflection before the Angelus with the faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square, where a giant Christmas tree stands since a couple of days. 

The pontiff has revealed some interesting subjects such as justice and charity, taxes and honesty, power and respect, which are needed in our contemporary society, concluding that "the signs of the Baptist are always up to date in our complex world, and things would be much better if each one observed these rules of conduct. "

Recalling the Gospel of today's Mass, which presents the figure of John the Baptist, the Pope commented on the words of the Baptist when asked "What should we do?" ( Lk 3,10.12.14) "The first response - said the pope - is addressed to the crowds in general. The baptist says:" He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise "(v. 11). Here we can see a criterion of justice, enlivened by charity. Justice asks to overcome the imbalance between those who have and those who lack the necessary superfluous; charity urges us to be attentive to each other and to meet his needs, instead of finding justifications to defend their interests. justice and charity are not opposed, but both are necessary and complement each other. "Love will always be necessary, even in the most just society," because "there will always be situations of material need where is indispensable aid in the form of concrete love of neighbor. "

"The second answer - said the pope - John gives it some" tax "that is, tax collectors on behalf of the Romans. Already for this tax collectors were despised, and also because it often took advantage of their position to steal. To them the Baptist says not to change jobs, but not to require anything more than what has been set (see verse. 13). The prophet, in God's name, do not ask exceptional gestures, but above all the honest fulfillment of duty. First step toward eternal life is always keeping the commandments, in this case the seventh: "Thou shalt not steal."

"The third answer - he concluded - about the soldiers, another category with a certain power, and therefore tempted to abuse it. To soldiers John says:" Do not oppress and extort money, be content with your wages "(v. . 14). Again, the conversion starts with honesty and respect for others, an indication that applies to everyone, especially for those with more responsibility. "

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims of Friday’s mass murder of school children in Newtown, Connecticut on Sunday. Speaking in English to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with him on this third Sunday in Advent, the Holy Father renewed expressions (first offered on Friday in a Message of condolence to the Diocese of Bridgeport, of which Newtown is part) of his profound grief over the incident, as well as his promises of prayers for the victims and spiritual closeness to their families. The Pope went on to call all the faithful everywhere to renew their prayer and action in favor of the cause of peace.

After the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI appealed for the families of the capital give hospitality to young people who come from 28 December to 2 January in Rome for the European meeting organized by the Taizé Community. "I thank the families - said the pope - who, according to Roman tradition of hospitality, made themselves available to accommodate these young people. Because, thanks to God, the demands are higher than expected, I renew the appeal already addressed in the parishes, so that other families, with great simplicity, can make this beautiful experience of Christian fellowship. "

Among the greetings in Italian, the Pope greeted the children of Rome come for the traditional blessing of the statues of Baby Jesus, which will be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve, "Beloved, - he said - as I bless the little statues of Jesus that you will put in your crib, I cordially bless each of you and your families, as well as educators and the Roman Oratory Center."

Finally the Pope addressed the English Speaking pilgrims saying:"I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. I was deeply saddened by Friday’s senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut. I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer. May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain. During this Advent Season, let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace. Upon those affected by this tragedy, and upon each of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!"

Christmas Decoration in Bkerke

Holy Gospel on Sunday of the Revelation to Saint Joseph.

Letter to the Ephesians 3:1-13. 
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to 
Saint Matthew 1:18-25. 
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

The Vatican Christmas Tree

A young boy named Mario had the honor of lighting a majestic Christmas tree in Saint Peter's Square on the evening of December 14. At 5:00 p.m., the lights of the 70-foot silver fir donated by the small town of Pescopennataro, Italy bathed the iconic square in a soft white light.

The 21 meter high Christmas tree at Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

"Christmas trees are a sign of God's light, which continues to shine despite attempts to put it out," Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from Molise, the region where the tree came from. People gathered to sing Christmas carols and read Bible passages about Jesus' birth at Saint Peter's Square after the tree was lit.

"Within the diocese there's this little town called Pescopennataro, which has given the Holy Father this tree to enrich the festivity of Christmas and give splendor to St. Peter's Square," the Bishop Domenico Scotti of the Trivento diocese said during the celebration. "This tree lives in a very particular town of Pescopennataro; it has very interesting characteristics. But that which gives more vigor to the whole territory is that this tree has such a majestic presence," added the bishop.

A young Italian girl at the square also liked the new tree. “This tree is really beautiful, and I like the fact that it's so tall,” Serena Iluotso said, adding that its height matches the size of the buildings in the square. "I like Christmas, especially because there are a lot of presents," she added.

The tree, which is placed on the right of the Nativity scene still under construction, arrived at the Vatican on December 6 and the decoration of the tree was done on December 10. The region of Alto Molise has over 2,600 different plant species. "This helps understand the reality of the region of Alto Molise, which is a garden," Bishop Scotti explained. "When one has the possibility of visiting it, one realizes that there is a very beautiful richness of the nature."

Pope John Paul II began the tradition of having a Christmas tree placed in St. Peter's Square in 1982. This time it came from Pescopennataro, a town with a population of only 300 people. After Christmas, the tree will be used to create children's toys, so that the wood is not wasted.

"The relationship our diocese has with the Pope is that John Paul II was in Agnone, a city of our diocese, and my predecessor welcomed him and it was a very beautiful moment," he said. "From that moment we began a relationship, which became stronger with the Holy See."

"With John Paul II, many faithful enlarged their hearts, and with Pope Benedict XVI we also have a beautiful relationship …” Bishop Scotti said.

Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon Call for Dialogue

Catholic leaders in Lebanon urged their people to work toward dialogue and to reject violence and war. In a statement following their annual meeting in early December, members of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon expressed their concern about "the repercussions of bloody events in the region, especially in Syria," and the impact on Lebanon's "internal unity and our security and civil peace" as well as its effect on the economy, trade and tourism.

Cardinal Al Rahi presiding the annual meeting 

They called upon the Lebanese to "show solidarity with the peoples of the region fighting for justice, dignity and freedom to decide their own destiny, while rejecting violence and war" and working for peace and justice "through dialogue, negotiation and national reconciliation."

The meeting was held at Bkerke, the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church, north of Beirut, and was chaired by Cardinal Bechara Al Rahi, the Maronite patriarch.

The Church officials recognized Caritas, the Church's charitable aid agency, for its efforts in providing aid to Syrian refugee families and children in Lebanon, particularly in the border areas of the Bekaa Valley and the north of Lebanon, as well as helping those trapped in some Syrian villages.

They called upon the faithful to "deepen the culture of dialogue" in all possible areas, including schools, universities and within the family, in social encounters as well as in the political arena. Church leaders also called for dialogue in developing a new electoral law. They also urged the formation of a new government in Lebanon that would organize elections within the period allowed by the constitution.

Christians of Iraq: Convert to Islam or Die

Advent of light and shadow for Iraq's Christians, who celebrate the reopening of the cathedral of Baghdad but they must undergo the same new - and heavy - threats by a radical Shiite Muslim leader. From studies of a television broadcaster based in Egypt, Ayatollah Al Baghdadi launches a fatwa against religious minority on the eve of Christmas: "Conversion to Islam or death." However, the power of faith overcomes the fear of violence as witnessed by the celebrations for the "rebirth" of the Syrian Catholic cathedral in the capital, the scene of a bloody attack at the end of October 2010.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad which was the
target of a terrorist attack on October 2010 claiming 58 lives

In an interview last December 13 on Egyptian television Al Baghdadia , the Shiite ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi issued a fatwa against Christians in Iraq.Labeling them as "polytheists" and "friends of the Zionists", the extremist leader stressed that they must choose "either Islam or death," while "their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims." Al Baghdadi is known for his positions proclaiming "Al jihad" (the holy war for Islam)  and for attacking the Americans in the past during their presence in the country, and today he lives in Syria and supports the armed opposition.

Catholic sources confirm that it is "a very serious fatwa," but "it is unlikely that people will be upset too much." The government pays "attention" to these proclamations extremists, however it is possible that such words can "create panic in some areas of the capital," where Christians "are few."

This morning meanwhile Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, presided over the re-dedication ceremony of the restored Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The place reopened yesterday for the faithful and for worship, the Cathedral was the scene of a massacre carried out by a group of al Qaeda, which killed about 50 faithful and two priests on October 31, 2010.

During the homily, the cardinal immediately recalled the "testimony offered by many of our brothers and sisters" who "preceded by two young and heroic priests" have "united forever their lives to Jesus Christ." He pointed out the "honorable sacrifices" that have allowed the reopening of the cathedral and pointed out that, through the comfort and hope "the Lord encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to ​​communion and testimony." Bringing the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sandri invoked the Lord, because "the tears in this sacred place, the good seed of communion and witness bear much fruit."

Cardinal Sandri is in Iraq for a five-day official visit, which began on December 13, in addition to the consecration, he took part in the Christmas concert organized for the Year of Faith in Armenian cathedral in the capital, while in the next day he is planning to visit Kirkuk and Erbil in the north. 

Syrian Christians Targeted by Radical Islamists

In the area of Latakia, Tartus and Tal khalakh, and in the "Valley of the Christians", "there is chaos: Islamist militias and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation of general instability. The Christian civilians are kidnapped and targeted by armed groups who have fundamentalist ideology": this is the alarm raised by His Excellence Mgr. Elias Sleiman, Maronite Bishop of Latakia who, in a note, expresses strong concerns about the fate of the Christian population of Syria. "Christians, one tenth of the Syrian population - remarks the Bishop - do not stand up against one or the other faction fighting, but just want peace, dialogue and reconstruction of the country. For our faith we do not believe in violence, but in reconciliation. Now we fear greatly the radical Islamists: there are many fundamentalist mercenaries who want to alter the nature of the Syrian people and incite sectarian war." 

Destruction in the Syrian cities as fighting continues

"The Christian faithful - he explains - even if threatened, do not take up arms because they do not want power. We want peace, not weapons, as pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Lebanon." Expressing concern that Syria "will become another Iraq, with a mass exodus of the faithful," Mgr. Sleiman reiterates that "the Syrian Church, in its various forms and denominations, is in solidarity with those who want to remain in their own land." To this he adds, "we do a lot for refugees in the Valley of the Christians, Latakia, Tartus, who are more than 100 thousand. The Christian refugees had come here because it was more stable than in other areas where the fighting raged. But now the conflict has arrived here and there is no more stability, while chaos increases. Our land is a land of martyrs, we will not leave - the Bishop prophesies - even if we are or will be under pressure. We are strong in faith, in spite of the trials and will always try to be a factor of cohesion and a sign of reconciliation in the Syrian society, today and tomorrow, " he concludes. 

About 150 thousand Christians live in fear in more than 40 villages in the so-called "Valley of the Christians" in western Syria. The valley ("Wadi al Nasara"), a historical stronghold of the Syrian Christians, mostly Greek Orthodoxs, received in recent months thousands of refugees from Homs and other cities and provinces. Today Christians are under Islamist militias fire who have settled in the Crusader fortress "Krak des Chevaliers", built in the eleventh century by a Muslim emir, rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers and today UNESCO world cultural heritage. For days the militias from the hill on which the fortress stands, have been firing nonstop against the villages below. In the area barricades were in fact erected by the regular Syrian army, militants’ target. The Christian civilians are "collateral victims" that are affected without any care! In recent days, a rain of fire hit the village of Howache, destroying several houses, killing three young Christians, injuring many civilians. The families of the village cry Iyad Salloum, 30, Fady Haddad, 34, while another young man died in the hospital of Our Lady of Hosn. And, in recent weeks, the Christian community in the valley had already counted nine other deaths. "Christians - a local priest reported the tragic situation - are very fragile and they want to be neutral, but today our valley is beset by violence and instability that confuse and frighten us. Violence covers and nullifies everything: we are not able to be instruments of dialogue and cohesion, as we want to be." The priest asks the warring parties to "not hit civilians gratuitously, to respect the neutrality of the Christians for their faith and identity, they want to be a factor of reconciliation."

Holy Gospel on the Feast of Saint Nehemtallah Al Hardini, December 14.

Letter to the Romans 12:1-8. 
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to 
Saint Matthew 4:18-25 
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his  brother, casting a net into the lake for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Articles in the Draft Egyptian Constitution Endanger Religious Freedom

Even during the demonstration organized by President Morsi's supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Beltagui went back to inciting the crowd against Christians, claiming that 60 percent of participants in demonstrations against the government belong to the Coptic Church. An argument put forward already three days ago by Khairat al-Shater, supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Auxiliary Bishop of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts, Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, denounces the attempt to slide the conflicts that shake the Country on sectarian contrast, "the strategy", says Mgr. Hanna "is to find a scapegoat to hide the disaster of a policy that has destroyed the unity of the nation. This is extremely dangerous. But it seems to me that people have perceived that it has to do with diversive operations of propaganda." Bishop Hanna wants to highlight that the opposition to the text of the draft constitution is not generic and indistinct, and highlighted a few items regarding religious matters.

Protesters against the new draft constitution of President Mursi

"Article 2 is not a problem. Everyone here accepts the legal criteria that recognizes the principles of the Sharia as a fundamental source of legislation. 

Article 3, which is new, guarantees Christians and Jews to use their canonical principles to regulate the personal and religious issues in their communities. It may appear as a guarantee of autonomy. But in fact there is no glimmer of religious freedom and the ability to freely choose their religion. 

Article 4 confers the power to interpret the law at the Sunni University of Al Azhar, and not the Supreme Court. Now in Al Azhar moderate positions prevail, but who can say how things will evolve in the future?  

Article 44 sets the constitutional basis for a possible blasphemy law, which is doing so much damage in other countries with a Muslim majority. Some articles enshrine a role of social groups in safeguarding ethics and public morals, and could be used to establish foreign police officers to pursue individual behavior inconsistent with religious precepts. 

Finally, Article 219 makes it clear that the interpretation of the Sharia law should be in accordance with the rules established in the early centuries of Islam. Thus one recognizes the possibility of intervention to interpretative schools in conflict with each other, with an implicit preference for those most followed by the Salafis."

Video of Pope Benedict XVI's First Tweet

Pope Benedict XVI sent out his first-ever message via Twitter under his personal Twitter handle: @pontifex, on Wednesday. “Dear friends,” wrote the Holy Father, “I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” The Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Mons. Paul Tighe, told Vatican Radio the event was, “An extraordinary moment,” adding that the attention to the event within the “Twitter-sphere” itself was quite impressive: more than 2 thousand re-tweets in under two minutes. It is also understood that the Holy Father’s followers have already topped the 1 million mark. Through the course of the afternoon, the Holy Father will be responding to a series of questions chosen from those submitted to #askpontifex.