Syrian Population Becoming Addicted to Horror!

"The effect of the condition in which we have been living for more than a year is that we are now addicted to horror everyday." This is how the Archbishop of Aleppo of the Armenian Catholics, Boutros Marayati, describes the devastating situation experienced by the inhabitants of the Syrian metropolis, where yesterday dozens of corpses of young victims were found. "There is always new news of massacres, there is the constant noise of bombing, one lives in a state of tension and fear day and night, there is a struggle to survive in a daily life in which there is not even water to drink and fuel to heat homes. As we are overwhelmed by all this," the Archbishop explained, "there is not almost time to become aware of the terrible things in which we are immersed. The massacre at the University a few days ago, where we lost poor Sister Rima, already seems a distant thing." 

Bodies of executed men found recently in a water canal in Aleppo

“With the now familiar rebound of the charges, the government media have blamed the massacre to the jihadist brigades of Jabhat Al-Nusra, while groups of the Coalition of the Opposition spoke of "new terrible massacre perpetrated by the regime." 

“According to the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, the impossibility of verifying the actual dynamics of bloody events makes the condition of the people in turmoil even more alienating: "We feel that there is a deformation of all the information. One cannot just trust what one hears, and there is no possibility to check even the events that occur a short distance from our neighbourhoods. Even now one can hear the noise of explosions, but we do not know where they come from, and against whom they are directed. We are in the middle of a war, but we live it as if we were in the dark, without really understanding what is happening. We wonder when and how all this will end. Let us pray to the Lord, so he can look upon us and protect us."

Meanwhile, the Greek-Catholic priest, Fr. Mtanios Haddad, has launched an appeal for peace in Syria ahead of the Divine Liturgy he will celebrate according to the Byzantine rite this Friday 1 February at 18:00 (CET), in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin, in Rome’s Piazza della Bocca della Verità. During the liturgy he will call for an end to violence in Syria and the Middle East in general. “A democratic opposition centred on dialogue and debate needs to be restored fast to ensure the rights of all Syrian citizens regardless of culture, ethnicity or religion.”

The liturgical celebration is being promoted by the Diocese of Rome and the Greek Catholic Melkite Church. It will be presided over by the Archimandrite Haddad, Patriarchal Apocrisary in Rome and Rector of Saint Mary in Cosmedin since 2006.

Fr. Haddad calls for an end to war and the atrocities that are tearing Syria apart. It is vital we lower our arms and take the path of reconciliation and dialogue as soon as possible, he added. But in order to achieve this, the taps of economic aid used to fund the war, need to be turned off immediately. 

The Melkite priest explained that what is harming the Syrian people are the arms and men, mostly from outside, because this conflict grew as a result of interests outside Syria and the intention is to encourage and prolong the country’s crisis – which is bringing nothing but death and destruction - as much as possible.

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In his Wednesday audience Pope Benedict XVI continued his catechesis on the Creed, reflecting on what it means when we call God the Father Almighty. He said: “It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in the West, the broken families, increasingly absorbing work commitments, concerns, and often the fatigue of trying to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children”.

Yet, he added: “At times communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. Even imagining God as a father becomes problematic, not having had adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of an overly authoritarian and inflexible father, or an indifferent father lacking in affection, or even an absent father, it is not easy to think of God as Father and trustingly surrender oneself to Him.

But the biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a "father", and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation humanity”.

Below is a translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

in last Wednesday’s catechesis we reflected on the words of the Creed: "I believe in God." But the profession of faith specifies this affirmation: God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus I would like to reflect with you now on the first, fundamental definition of God that the Creed presents us with: He is our Father.

It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood. Especially in our Western world, the broken families, increasingly absorbing work commitments, concerns, and often the fatigue of trying to balance the family budget, the distracting invasion of the mass media in daily life are some of the many factors that can prevent a peaceful and constructive relationship between fathers and children.

At times communication becomes difficult, trust can be lost and relationships with the father figure can become problematic. Even imagining God as a father becomes problematic, not having had adequate models of reference. For those who have had the experience of an overly authoritarian and inflexible father, or an indifferent father lacking in affection, or even an absent father, it is not easy to think of God as Father and trustingly surrender oneself to Him.

But the biblical revelation helps us to overcome these difficulties telling us about a God who shows us what it truly means to be a "father", and it is especially the Gospel which reveals the face of God as a Father who loves even to the giving of his own Son for the salvation humanity. The reference to the father figure therefore helps us to understand something of the love of God which remains infinitely greater, more faithful, more total than that of any man. "Which of you, - says Jesus to show the disciples the Father's face - would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, 10or a snake when he asks for a fish? 11If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him"(Mt 7.9 to 11; cf. Lk 11.11 to 13 ). God is our Father because He has blessed and chosen us before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph 1:3-6); he really made us his children in Jesus (cf. 1 Jn 3:1). And, as Father, God lovingly accompanies our lives, giving us His Word, His teachings, His grace, His Spirit.

He - as revealed in Jesus - is the Father who feeds the birds of the sky even though they so not sow and reap, and vests the fields with colours of wonderful colours, with clothes more beautiful than those of King Solomon (cf. Mt 6.26 to 32 and Luke 12.24-28), and we - adds Jesus - are worth far more than the flowers of birds of the sky! And if He is good enough to make " his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45), we can always, without fear and with total confidence, trust in his Father’s forgiveness when go wrong. God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces the lost and repented son (cf. Luke 15.11 ff), He gives himself freely to those who ask (cf. Mt 18.19, Mk 11.24, Jn 16:23) and offers the bread of Heaven and the living water that gives life forever (cf. Jn 6,32.51.58).

Therefore, the prayer of Psalm 27, surrounded by enemies, besieged by evil and slanderers, and seeking help from the Lord, and invoking it, can give its testimony full of faith, saying: " Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in "(v. 10). God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, forgives, saves, with a fidelity that immensely surpasses that of men, opening up to an eternal dimension. "For his mercy endures forever," as Psalm 136 continues to repeat in a litany, in every verse, through the history of salvation. The love of God never fails, never tires of us, it is a love that gives to the extreme, even to the sacrifice of His Son. Faith gifts us this certainty, which becomes a sure rock in the construction of our lives so that we can face those moments of difficulty and danger, experience those times of darkness, crisis and pain, supported by the faith that God never abandons us and is always near, to save us and bring us to life.

It is in the Lord Jesus that we fully see the benevolent face of the Father who is in heaven. It is in knowing Him that we can know the Father (cf. Jn 8.19, 14.7), in seeing Him we can the Father, because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14, 9.11). He is the "image of the invisible God" as defined by the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians, "the firstborn of all creation ... the firstborn of those who rise from the dead", "through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" and reconciliation of all things, “making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven" (cf. Col 1.13 to 20).

Faith in God the Father asks you to believe in the Son, through the action of the Spirit, recognizing in the Cross that saves the final revelation of Divine love. God is our Father giving his Son for us, God is our Father, forgiving our sins and bringing us to the joy of the risen life, God is our Father giving us the Spirit that makes us children and allows us to call Him, in truth, "Abba, Father "(cf. Rom 8:15). This is why Jesus, teaching us to pray, invites us to say "Our Father" (Mt 6.9 to 13; cf. Lk 11:2-4).

The fatherhood of God, then, is infinite love, a tenderness that leans over us, weak children, in need of everything. Psalm 103, the great hymn of divine mercy, proclaims: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" ( vs. 13-14). It is our smallness, our weak human nature, our frailty that becomes an appeal to the mercy of the Lord so that He manifest the greatness and tenderness of a Father helping us, forgives us and saving us.

And God responds to our call, sending His Son, who died and rose again for us; He enters into our fragility and does that which man alone could never do: he takes upon himself the sins of the world, like an innocent lamb, and he re-opens for us the path to communion with God, he makes us true children of God. There, in the Paschal Mystery, the definitive role of the Father is revealed in all its brightness. And it is there, on the glorious Cross, that the full manifestation of the greatness of God as "the Father Almighty" is manifest.

But we might ask: how is it possible to imagine a God almighty looking at the Cross of Christ? At this evil power that arrives at killing the Son of God? We would prefer a divine omnipotence according to our thought patterns and our desires: an "Almighty" God who solves problems, who intervenes to save us from every difficulty, who defeats all adversaries, who changes the course of events and removes all pain. Thus, today many theologians say that God can not be omnipotent otherwise there would not be so much suffering, so much evil in the world. Indeed in the face of evil and suffering, it becomes difficult for many to believe in God the Father and believe Him to be Almighty; some seek refuge in idols, yielding to the temptation to find an answer in an alleged "magic" omnipotence and its illusory promises.

But faith in the Almighty God pushes us to follow very different paths, to understand that God’s thoughts are different to ours and his that God's ways are different from ours , and even his omnipotence is different: it is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force, but is marked by a loving and fatherly freedom. In fact, God, in creating free creatures, in gifting freedom, waived a portion of His power, leaving the power of our freedom. In so doing, He loves and respects the free response of his call to love. As a Father, He wants us to become His children and we live as such in his Son, in communion, in full intimacy with Him. His omnipotence is not expressed in violence, in an adverse power, but in mercy, forgiveness, in accepting our freedom, in an untiring call to conversion of heart, in a seemingly weak attitude, God seems weak if we see Jesus Christ who prays, who allows himself to be killed, but the attitude that is apparently weak, made of patience, gentleness and love, shows that this is the true way of power and strength. This is the power of God and this is victorious. The Wiseman in the Book of Wisdom turns to God: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls"(11:23-24a .26).

Only the truly powerful can endure pain and show compassion, and only the truly powerful can fully exercise the power of love. And God, to whom all things belong because all things were made by Him, reveals His power loving everyone and everything, in a patient waiting for the conversion of us men, whom He wants to have as children. God is waiting for our conversion. The all-powerful love of God knows no bounds, so much so that "He did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). The omnipotence of love is not that of the power of the world, but that of total gift, and Jesus, the Son of God, reveals to the world the omnipotence of the Father giving his life for us sinners. This is the real, authentic and perfect divine power to respond to evil mot with evil, but with good, to insults with forgiveness, murderous hatred with love that gives life. So evil is really defeated, because washed by the love of God, death is finally defeated because it is turned into the gift of life. God the Father raises His Son: death, the great enemy (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), is swallowed up and deprived of its poison (cf. 1 Cor 15.54 to 55), and we made free from sin, we can access our reality of being God's children

When we say "I believe in God the Father Almighty," we express our faith in the power of the love of God which in his Son who died and rose again, defeats hatred, evil, sin and gifts us eternal life, that of the children who want to always be in the "Father's House". Saying, I believe in God the Father Almighty, in His power, in His way of being a father, is always an act of faith, conversion, transformation of our thoughts, our love, our whole way of life.

Dear brothers and sisters, we ask the Lord to sustain our faith and give us the strength to proclaim Christ crucified and risen to help us to truly find the faith and to bear witness to love of God and neighbour. May God grant that we receive the gift of our sonship, to fully live the reality of the Creed, in trusting love of the Father and His merciful omnipotence, the true omnipotence that saves.

Summary in English:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis during this Year of Faith, we now reflect on the Creed’s description of God as “the Father Almighty”. Despite the crisis of fatherhood in many societies, the Scriptures show us clearly what it means to call God “Father”. God is infinitely generous, faithful, and forgiving; he so loves the world that he has given us his only Son for our salvation. As “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), Jesus reveals God as a merciful Father who never abandons his children and whose loving concern for us embraces even the Cross. In Christ, God has made us his adopted sons and daughters. The Cross shows also us how God our Father is “almighty”. His omnipotence transcends our limited human concepts of power; his might is that of a patient love expressed in the ultimate victory of goodness over evil, life over death, and freedom over the bondage of sin. As we contemplate the Cross of Christ, let us turn to God the almighty Father and implore the grace to abandon ourselves with confidence and trust to his merciful love and his saving power. 

Greetings to English speaking pilgrims
I offer a warm welcome to the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from the Republic of Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Pope's Message on World Day of the Sick Released in Arabic for the First Time

Pope Benedict XVI is having his message for this year's World Day of the Sick published in Arabic for the very first time. "The Holy Father probably wants to transmit a message on this day to the Syrian people because it's the first time that his message will be published in Arabic," said Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers.

The Pope's message, drafted in several languages, is centered on the Good Samaritan. It is titled "Go and you, too, do the same," and was released at a Jan. 29 press conference in Rome. The World Day of the Sick is observed annually on Feb. 11 for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and this year it will be held at the Marian shrine of Altötting in Bavaria, Germany.

"The World Day of the Sick was created by Blessed John Paul II 20 years ago," explained Archbishop Zimowski. "Pope John Paul II, a suffering man among the suffering, wanted for suffering to be seen close to Jesus Christ, who suffered for us for our salvation," the archbishop reflected. "He wanted that God's people become more sensitive to the sick and the suffering and that those suffering find a deeper meaning to their suffering," he added. Archbishop Zimowski noted that John Paul II wrote about the Good Samaritan and he taught that “doing good to those who suffer is doing good from one's own suffering.”

For the upcoming World Day of the Sick, the archbishop explained that Pope Benedict is helping people see the good Samaritans of our times. "The message relates to those who have suffered for others like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and Anna Schäffer, a Bavarian saint that offered her life for all humanity," Archbishop Zimowski stated.

"These Good Samaritans offer their time, their heart, and their money to those who suffer, and we recall Mother Teresa of Calcutta and several others," he added. "Each one of us can and must be a Good Samaritan among us, and when we have to suffer, we need to, through our suffering, do good to the world and to humanity," the archbishop said.

Father Jansusz Surzykiewicz, a priest who teaches psychology and theology at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, is also concerned with spiritual health being neglected or forgotten in Germany. "Many Germans say they are spiritual and want to have spiritual support even though they don't want to belong to an institution like the Church," he remarked.

He believes that one way to address this would be for hospitals and institutions to focus on improving patients’ spiritual well-being. "There is a kind of evidence that this is important because people who believe in God are better patients, cope better with stress, and have more confidence within their families," Fr. Surzykiewicz asserted.

The Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt will host a conference Feb. 7 – 8 with the head of German doctors and a professor in philosophy and medicine as guest speakers to discuss how spiritual health can be introduced in German health care.

Chaldean Bishops Meet in Rome to Elect New Patriarch

Bishops from the Iraq-based Chaldean Catholic Church met in Rome for security reasons on Monday for a synod to elect a new patriarch to lead what is one of the world's oldest Christian churches. The synod of around 15 bishops is being held after former patriarch Emmanuel III Delly resigned after reaching the age limit for his post of 85 years.

It was being held as a security precaution in Rome instead of Baghdad where the patriarchate is based. The church recognises the authority of the pope and the Vatican but retains its own hierarchy. Its official language is Aramaic -- the language that would have been spoken by Jesus Christ -- and it traces its origins back to the Apostle Thomas.

Bishops came from Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul but also from Europe and North America where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian exiles have moved in the decade since the 2003 US-led invasion. The duration of the synod is not predetermined. Among those in attendance was Monsignor Antoine Audo, bishop of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo and head of the Catholic charity Caritas-Syria.

Christians were singled out for discrimination following the US-led invasion and were identified as supposed allies of Western "crusaders". Clergymen were killed and abudcted while several churches were bombed. The Chaldean Church had 550,000 followers in Iraq before 2003 and 150,000 in the diaspora. It now has around 150,000 followers in Iraq and 550,000 abroad.

It faces the challenge of engaging with Iraqi society despite ongoing violence and Islamist threats and the burning question of whether to stay in the country or join the massive recent exodus. "We need a leader who can help us see the future and who can bring people together," Louis Sako, the bishop of Kirkuk, told Vatican Radio.

The Chaldean Church recognised Rome's authority in 1551 but a union only became definitive in 1830. The synod is being presided by Argentinian cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

The Pope Honors the Maronite Church Again

According to a note issued by the Holy See through the secretary of State of the Vatican Cardinal Bertone , the Pope has appointed the Maronite patriarch to write and prepare the meditations for the Stations of the Cross he will preside over - as he does every year - on the evening of Good Friday in Rome’s Coliseum. Cardinal Béchara Rai was entrusted with the task – the note explains – and the texts will be prepared under the guidance of the Maronite patriarch, by two Lebanese young people and will follow the traditional 14 Stations. The note also specifies what pushed the Pope to make this choice: “Inviting the whole Church to remember the Middle East, its problems and Christian communities in the land, in their prayers.” 

The Way of the cross at the Coliseum

It is the first time since the rite was reintroduced by Paul VI in 1964 that young people have been asked to write the texts for the Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum. The fact that the Pope made this choice ahead of this year’s World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro is significant. There appears to be in continuity with last year, when the Pope chose a married couple, Anna Maria and Danilo Zanzucchi for the task, ahead of the World Meeting of Families in Milan. Obviously, the most striking thing about Benedict XVI’s choice is that the young people are Lebanese. The Pope visited Lebanon last September to promulgate the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in the Middle East. The Pope’s meeting with young people on the field in front of the Maronite Patriarchate of Bkerké was one of the key moments of the trip. Among the groups of young people present, there were some Christians who had come from Syria. Benedict XVI’s message to them was: “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.” 

It is easy to imagine that today’s ordeal will be reflected in the texts that the two young people from Lebanon (whose identity is yet to be revealed) are preparing together with Cardinal Béchara Rai. Lebanon experiences the repercussions of the struggle in Damascus first hand both because of Lebanon’s fragile political balance and because of the hundreds and thousands of Syrian refugees making their way to its borders to flee the war. 

But the Pope’s choice is not just intended as a reminder to the world about the tragedy of war and fundamentalism. The choice of the young Lebanese people to come up with the texts for the Stations of the Cross in the Year of Faith also appears to be a way to see whether the Christian message can reach the hearts of a generation that even in Beirut today feels the pull of secularisation. 

Hence, in the speech he delivered in Bkerké, the Pope invited the young people of Lebanon not to seek escape through drugs and pornography in the face of all the current upheavals. He also asked the social network generation to develop “initiatives that give meaning and a basis to your existence, contrasting superficiality and easy consumerism.”

Feast of Saint Ephrem the Syrian

On January 28, the Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christian honors Saint Ephrem of Syria, a deacon, hermit, and Doctor of the Church who made important contributions to the spirituality and theology of the Christian East during the fourth century. Roman Catholics celebrate his feast on June 09.

In a 2007 General Audience on St. Ephrem’s life, Pope Benedict XVI noted that St. Ephrem became known as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” for the hymns and writings that sang the praises of God “in an unparalleled way” and “with rare skill.”

Ephrem was born in the city of Nisibis in approximately 306. Traditions differ on the question of his family background, with some sources attesting that his father was at one time a pagan priest. Other sources suggest that his family either was, or later became, entirely Christian.

During his youth, and prior to his baptism at age 18, Ephrem committed certain sins that continued to trouble him in later years. In one incident, he caused the death of a neighbor’s cow by chasing it into an area where it was killed by a wild animal. Another source of shame was his temporary doubt regarding God’s providential direction of events.

A sense of God’s care for him, however, was reinforced by an incident in which he was falsely accused of theft and imprisoned. An angel appeared to Ephrem, informing him that he would be shown an example of God’s providence. Through a complex series of events, Ephrem’s innocence was ultimately vindicated, in fulfillment of the angel’s words.

Soon after this ordeal, Ephrem received baptism and began to consider the salvation of his soul more seriously. He embraced an ascetic lifestyle under the direction of an elder, who gave him permission to live as a hermit. Ephrem supported himself with manual labor, making sails for ships, while living in a remarkably austere manner with few comforts and little food.

Ephrem’s spiritual director and friend, Bishop James of Nisibis, died in 338. Soon after, Ephrem left his solitude and moved to Edessa in present-day Turkey. Ordained as a deacon in Edessa, he was known for sermons which combined articulate expressions of Catholic orthodoxy with urgent and fruitful calls to repentance.

The deacon was also a voluminous author, producing commentaries on the entire Bible as well as the theological poetry for which he is best known. Ephrem used Syriac-language verse as a means to explain and popularize theological truths, a technique he appropriated from others who had used poetry to promote religious error.

An effective evangelist and opponent of heresy, Ephrem was also known as a compassionate spiritual director, who warned new converts not to attempt excessive works of penance.

Late in his life, the deacon made a pilgrimage to the city of Caesarea, where God had directed him to seek the guidance of the archbishop later canonized as Saint Basil the Great. Basil helped Ephrem to resolve some of his own spiritual troubles, giving him advice which he would follow as he spent his final years in solitary prayer and writing.

Near the end of his life, Ephrem briefly left his hermitage to serve the poor and sick during a famine. His last illness came in 373, most likely from a disease he contracted through this service.

When his own death approached, he told his friends: “Sing no funeral hymns at Ephrem’s burial … Wrap not my carcass in any costly shroud: erect no monument to my memory. Allow me only the portion and place of a pilgrim; for I am a pilgrim and a stranger as all my fathers were on earth.”

St. Ephrem of Syria died in June of 373. Soon after his death, he was remembered in a public address by his contemporary Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who closed his remarks by asking Ephrem’s intercession.

“You are now assisting at the divine altar, and before the Prince of life, with the angels, praising the most holy Trinity,” said Gregory. “Remember us all, and obtain for us the pardon of our sins.”

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message. January 27, 2013

“What does Sunday, the day of the Lord, mean for us? It is a day for rest and for family, but first of all a day for Him”, tweeted Pope Benedict XVI this Sunday shortly after concluding the midday Angelus prayer with the thousands of pilgrims – mostly Romans – who had flocked to St Peter’s Square.

It was a day with many important anniversaries: International Holocaust Remembrance Day, World Day of Prayer for the Holy Land, and World Leprosy Day. The Holy Father spoke of how Sunday is a propitious day for people to entrust themselves, their prayers and intentions to the Lord, because on Sunday, through the Eucharist and living to His life-giving Word, we have a direct channel of communication to the Lord.

Below is a translation of the Holy Father’s Angelus address: 

Dear brothers and sisters!

Today's liturgy presents to us, brought together, two separate pieces of the Gospel of Luke. The first (1:1-4) is the prologue, addressed to a certain "Theophilus", as this name in Greek means "friend of God", we can see him in every believer who opens himself to God and wants to know the Gospel. The second passage (4.14 to 21), however, presents us with Jesus who "through the power of the Spirit" goes to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath. As a true believer, the Lord does not avoid the weekly liturgical rhythm and joins the assembly of his fellow citizens in prayer and in listening to the Scriptures. The ritual involves the reading of a text from the Torah or the Prophets, followed by a comment. On that day, Jesus stood up to read and found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that begins: "The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners"(61:1-2). Origen says: "It is no coincidence that he opened the scroll and found the chapter of the reading that prophesies about him, this was the work of God's providence" (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke, 32, 3). Jesus, in fact, after the reading, in a silence full of attention, said, " Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:21). St. Cyril of Alexandria says that '"today", located between the first and the final coming of Christ, is related to the ability of the believer to listen and repent (cf. PG 69, 1241). But, in an even more radical sense, Jesus himself is the "today" of salvation in history, because he brings he completes the fullness of redemption. The word "today", very dear to Saint Luke (cf. 19.9, 23.43), brings us back to the Christological title preferred by the Evangelist, that of "savior" (sōtēr). Already in the infancy narratives, it is present in the words of the angel to the shepherds: " For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord" (Lk 2:11). 

Dear friends, this Gospel passage also challenges us "today". First of all, it makes us think about how we live Sunday: as a day of rest and for the family, moreover as the day to devote to the Lord, by participating in the Eucharist, in which we are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ and his life-giving Word. Second, in our scattered and distracted era, this Gospel invites us to ask ourselves about our ability to listen. Before we can speak of God and with God, we need to listen, and the liturgy of the Church is the "school" of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us. Finally, he tells us that every moment can be propitious for our conversion. Every day (kathçmeran) can become the today of our salvation, because salvation is a story that continues for the Church and for every disciple of Christ. This is the Christian meaning of "carpe diem": seize the day in which God is calling you to give you salvation!

May the Virgin Mary always be our model and our guide to recognize and welcome the presence of God our Savior and of all humanity every day of our lives.

Greetings in English 
I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus prayer. In today’s Gospel Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in his own person, as he proclaims new sight to the blind and freedom to captives. In this Year of Faith, especially through the Sacraments, may we deepen our confidence in Christ and embrace his grace which sets us free. May God bless you and your loved ones!

Holy Gospel on Sunday of the Righteous and the Just

Letter to the Hebrews 12:18-24. 
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 25:31-46. 
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 

Cardinal Al Rahi Launches a Day of Solidarity for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

On Sunday, January 27 in convents, shrines and nearly one thousand parishes of the Maronite Church, funds will be collected for the activities supported by Caritas Lebanon in favor of Syrian refugees who have found precarious refuge in the Lebanese territory. The special day of solidarity was called by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al Rahi, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, with an appeal to all members of the Church led by him. Even in the schools and academic institutions related to the Patriarchate will take initiatives to channel donations to all Syrian refugees, "without distinction." 

The Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon territory by UN bodies are about 220 thousand. "Actually," explains Fr. Simon Faddoul, President of Caritas Lebanon "Syrian refugees in Lebanon are many more. Probably they exceed the figure of 400 thousand. Many are living in desperate conditions, made even more unbearable due to the harsh winter this year. " Caritas Lebanon - said Fr. Faddoul - already directly assists more than 50 thousand displaced Syrians, distributing food, clothing, medicines, stoves for heating, hygiene products. 

On Sunday, according to the Patriarch’s indications, in all the Eucharistic liturgies celebrated in the Maronite churches, prayers will be dedicated to all the victims of the conflict and for peace in Syria. In his appeal, Cardinal Al Rahi calls for prayers for peace "in Lebanon, Syria and in all the Arab countries " so that the Lord will "inspire local and international leaders to seek peaceful ways to end the violence and war, and to find the right solutions ". For Christians - recalls the Patriarch - the aid to be offered to the brothers not only responds to a noble humanitarian sentiment, but also to the invitation by Jesus himself. 

The Patriarch - who will celebrate Sunday Mass in the patriarchal see of Bkerké according to the intentions indicated in the appeal - in particular cites the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: "Come, blessed by my Father, you inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you gave me hospitality, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to visit me ... When you do it also for the last of my brothers, you do it for me."

Monthly Message of the Virgin Mary to the World on January 25, 2013 From Medjugorje

“Dear children! Also today I call you to prayer. May your prayer be as strong as a living stone, until with your lives you become witnesses. Witness the beauty of your faith. I am with you and intercede before my Son for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

A Future For Middle East Christians?

The situation in the Middle East "is worrying, as are certain things that one hears on the Arab Spring by certain leaders." This is how the appeal on the future of the Middle Eastern Christians begins launched today by the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako. The message, published exclusively by Fides Agency, hopes for an initiative of the Holy See and the universal Church to mobilize the international community in support of Christians in the Middle East. 

A very symbolic picture for Iraqi christians...

According to Mgr. Sako, the "mixture of ethnicities, religions and languages" present in the Middle East inevitably leads to tensions and conflicts, because in that region of the world "a criterion of citizenship able to integrate everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity they belong has never been established." Disruptive processes now taking place in Iraq - and that in the future may also affect Syria - according to the Archbishop "worsen the situation," because in the voids of institutional power safety is no longer guaranteed and open spaces for action concerning criminal and extremist groups. In this context, the Christians in the Middle East uncertainty is easily transformed into anxiety and fear. 

"We wonder if it is still possible to think of a harmonious way of living together " the Chaldean Archbishop writes, referring to the discrimination suffered by those who do not follow what he calls the "State religion". A condition that, according to Monsignor Sako, is aggravated by the Middle East strategies put in place by the various geopolitical parties: "The international community" writes the Archbishop, with clear reference to the Syrian conflict "believes that we can improve the situation by supporting an uncertain program to reach democracy through weapons! The result is the clash between armed opposition and a system that destroys everything. 

Mgr. Sako said that the aid of the Church to the Christians of the Middle East is manifested in ever more concrete forms. "It is said that Christianity has flourished here and that our presence is important," notes the Archbishop of Kirkuk." According to the Archbishop "these churches of apostolic origin deserve adequate support from the universal Church in their mission of communion and witness". An "international support, favored by the universal Church, would be a great help to try to ensure a decent life for all." In particular, the Holy See is recognized by the Archbishop of the Eastern rite of having a "crucial role" to "guarantee Christians the opportunity to live in their Country." But they call into question the responsibility of the native Christians, as well as those of Muslims. 

According to Mgr. Sako, the Middle Eastern Christians must avoid the "trap of nationalism" and always re-propose all "forms of love lived and preached in the New Testament." While Muslims "have to update the application of the teaching of the Koran." The ideal re-proposed by Mgr. Sako is that of "positive secularism" that "respects religion." A glance - eg surfaced in the Declaration on Religious Freedom promulgated by the Second Vatican Council - for which "human rights do not remain suspended in the air, separated from the concrete people who should be able to exercise them."

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI picked up his audience catechesis on the Profession of Faith Wednesday morning with a reflection on how Abraham, as the father of believers, teaches Christians to “go against the grain” in societies where God has become the “great absentee” and “possession” the idol to be worshiped. 

Speaking to a packed Paul VI hall, despite the storm that swept Rome all morning, Pope Benedict said : “Faith makes us pilgrims on earth, inserted into the world and history, but on the way to the heavenly homeland. Believing in God makes us carries of values which often do not coincide with the prevailing fashion and opinion, it requires us to adopt criteria and a conduct which do not belong to the common way of thinking. The Christian should not be afraid to go "against the grain" to live his or her faith, resisting the temptation to "conform". In many societies God has become the "great absentee" and there are many and diverse idols now in His place, above all possession. And also the significant and positive progress in science and technology have produced in humans an illusion of omnipotence and self-sufficiency, and a growing self-centeredness, which has created many imbalances within relationships and social behaviours”. 

Below is a translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in this Year of the faith, I would like to start today to reflect with you on the Creed, the solemn profession of faith which accompanies our lives as believers. The Creed begins, "I believe in God." It is a fundamental affirmation, deceptively simple in its essence, but which opens the infinite world of our relationship with the Lord and with His mystery. Believing in God implies attachment to him, welcoming his Word and joyful obedience to His revelation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, "Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself" (n. 166). Being able to say that we believe in God is therefore both a gift and a commitment, it is divine grace and human responsibility, in an experience of dialogue with God who, out of love, "speaks to men as friends" (Dei Verbum, 2), speaks to us so that, in faith and with faith, we enter into communion with Him.

Where can we hear God speaking to us? Holy Scripture is fundamental, in which the Word of God becomes audible for us and nourishes our life as "friends" of God. The entire Bible recounts God’s revelation to humanity, the entire Bible speaks of faith and teaches us faith by telling a story in which God carries out His plan of redemption and makes Himself close to man, through many luminous figures of people who believe in Him and trust Him, to the fullness of the revelation of the Lord Jesus.

In this regard, chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews is most beautiful, which speaks of faith and highlights the great biblical figures who lived and became a model for all believers: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen"(11.1). The eyes of faith are thus able to see the unseen and the heart of the believer can hope beyond all hope, just as Abraham, who Paul says in Romans "believed, hoping against hope" (4.18 ). 

In fact I would like to focus my attention on Abraham, because he is the first major reference point when speaking about faith in God, the great patriarch Abraham, role model, father of all believers (cf. Rom 4.11 to 12 ). The Letter to the Hebrews presents him as follows: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God"(11.8 to 10).

The author of Hebrews refers here to the call of Abraham, narrated in the Book of Genesis. What does God ask of this great patriarch? He asks him to leave, abandoning his country and to go to the country that He will show him, "Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). How would we respond to an invitation like that? It is, in fact, a departure in the dark, not knowing where God will lead him, it is a journey that calls for obedience and radical trust, which only faith can access. But the darkness of the unknown is illuminated by the light of a promise: God adds a reassuring word to His command that opens a future of life in its fullness to Abraham: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great; ... All the families of the earth will find blessing in you"(Gen 12,2.3). 

The blessing in Holy Scripture, is related primarily to the gift of life that comes from God, and manifests itself primarily in fertility, in a life that is multiplied, passing from generation to generation. And the blessing is also connected to the experience of owning a land, a stable place to live and grow in freedom and security, fearing God and building a society of men loyal to the Alliance, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (cf. Ex 19:6).

So Abraham, in the divine plan, is destined to become the "father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17.5; cf. Rom 4:17-18) and to enter into a new land to live. But Sara, his wife, is sterile, unable to have children, and the country to which God leads him far from his native land, is already inhabited by other peoples, and will never really belong to them. The biblical narrator emphasizes this, although very discreetly: When Abraham arrived in the place of God's promise: "the Canaanites were then in the land" (Gen 12:6). The land that God gives to Abraham does not belong to him, he is a stranger and will remain so forever, with all that this entails: having no intentions of possession, always averting their poverty, seeing everything as a gift. This is also the spiritual condition of those who agree to follow the Lord, who decide to leave, accepting His call, under the sign of His invisible but powerful blessing. And Abraham, the "father of believers," accepted this call, in the faith. St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: "He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “Thus shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body as [already] dead (for he was almost a hundred years old) and the dead womb of Sarah. 20He did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God 21and was fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to do"(Rom 4.18 to 21).

Faith leads Abraham to on a paradoxical journey. He will be blessed, but without the visible signs of blessing: he is promised he will become a great nation, but with a life marked by the barrenness of Sarah his wife; he is brought to a new home but will have to live there as a foreigner, and the only possession of the land that he will be allowed will be that of a piece of land in which to bury Sarah (cf. Gen 23.1 to 20). Abraham was blessed because, in faith, he was able to discern the divine blessing going beyond appearances, trusting in God's presence even when His ways appear mysterious to him.

What does this mean for us? When we say, "I believe in God," we say, like Abraham: "I trust you, I entrust myself to You, Lord," but not as Someone to run to only in times of difficulty or to whom to dedicate a few moments of the day or of the week. Saying "I believe in God" means grounding my life in Him, letting His Word guide each day, in the concrete choices without fear of losing something of myself. When, in the Rite of Baptism, we are asked three times: "Do you believe?" In God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church and the other truths of faith, the triple response is in the singular: "I believe," because it is my personal existence that reaches a turning point with the gift of faith, it is my life that must change, convert. Each time we participate in a Baptism we should ask ourselves how we live the great gift of faith every day.

Abraham, the believer, teaches us faith, and, as a stranger on earth, shows us the true homeland. Faith makes us pilgrims on earth, inserted into the world and history, but on the way to the heavenly homeland. Believing in God makes us carries of values which often do not coincide with the prevailing fashion and opinion, it requires us to adopt criteria and a conduct which do not belong to the common way of thinking. The Christian should not be afraid to go "against the grain" to live his or her faith, resisting the temptation to "conform". In many societies God has become the "great absentee" and there are many and diverse idols now in His place, above all possesion. And also the significant and positive progress in science and technology have created in humans an illusion of omnipotence and self-sufficiency, and a growing self-centeredness, which has created many imbalances within relationships and social behaviours. 

And yet, the thirst for God (cf. Ps 63.2) has not been extinguished and the Gospel message continues to resonate through the words and deeds of many men and women of faith. Abraham, the father of believers, continues to be the father of many children who are willing to walk in his footsteps and set out in obedience to the divine call, trusting in the benevolent presence of the Lord and accepting His blessing to be a blessing for all. It is the blessed world of faith to which we are all called, to walk without fear following the Lord Jesus Christ. And sometimes it is difficult journey, one that even knows trial and death, but one that is open to life, in a radical transformation of reality that only the eyes of faith can see and enjoy in abundance.

Saying "I believe in God" leads us, then, to set out, to continually go beyond ourselves, just as Abraham, to bring the certainty that comes from faith: the certainty into our daily reality, that is, the presence of God in history, even today, a presence that brings life and salvation, and opens us to a future with Him for a fullness of life without sunset.

Summary in English: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis for this Year of Faith, we now turn to the Creed, the solemn profession of our faith as Christians. At the beginning of the Creed, we say “I believe in God”. Faith is our response to the God who first speaks to us, makes himself known and calls us to enter into communion with him. We hear God speaking to us in the Scriptures, which recount the history of his revelation, culminating in the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ. A central figure in this history of revelation is Abraham, the father and model of all believers (cf. Rom 4:11-12). Sustained by God’s blessing and trusting in his promises, Abraham set off into the unknown. Like Abraham, we too are called to let faith shape our thoughts and actions in accordance with God’s saving word, even when this runs contrary to the thinking and ways of this world. With the eyes of faith, we discern God’s presence and his promise of eternal life beyond the realities of this present existence. In opening ourselves to God’s blessing, we become in turn a blessing for others.

Greeting to English speaking pilgrims:

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I offer a warm welcome to the faculty and students of the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, with cordial good wishes for their studies. I also greet the military chaplains from the United Kingdom recently returned from Afghanistan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the pilgrim and student groups from the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message. January 20, 2013

"One of the most serious sins that disfigures the face of the Church is its visible lack of unity, especially the historical divisions that have separated Christians and which have not yet been completely resolved." This is what Benedict XVI said in his reflection before the Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square. The Pope's words are due to the fact that for more than 100 years, 18 to 25 January, the Christian world celebrates the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, "a moment - explained the pope - always welcome by believers and communities, which awakens in all the desire and spiritual commitment to full communion".

Experts often say that the ecumenical momentum in Churches - especially non-Catholic ones- is fading. But Benedict XVI fondly remembers "the vigil I celebrated about a month ago, in this square, with thousands of young people from across Europe and the ecumenical community of Taizé: a moment of grace in which we experienced the beauty of being one in Christ. " The young people of Taizé in fact wanted to celebrate their European meeting at the end of 2012in Rome.

The pope encouraged "everyone to pray together so that we can achieve," What the Lord requires of us "(cf. I 6.6 to 8), as this year's the theme for the week implies, a theme chosen by some Christian communities in India , inviting all to walk with determination towards the visible unity of all Christians and to overcome, as brothers in Christ, any kind of unjust discrimination. "

The Pope then recalled that, as usual, January 25, at the end of the week, he will preside at Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, with the presence of representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities.

Previously, Benedict XVI commented on the Gospel of the Mass today (II Sunday, year C), which shows the miracle of the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-12), where Jesus performed the miracle of changing water into wine. With this sign, "Jesus reveals himself as the Bridegroom, the Messiah, who came to establish the new and eternal covenant for his people, in the words of the prophets:" As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you "( Is 62:5). And the wine is a symbol of this joy of love, but it also alludes to the blood that Jesus will pay in the end, to seal his covenant of marriage with humanity "

"The Church, said the pope - is the bride of Christ, who makes it holy and beautiful with His grace. However this bride, made up of human beings, is always in need of purification."

And before the Marian prayer, the Pope added: "Dear friends, as well as praying for Christian unity I would once again ask you to pray for peace because, unfortunately, so that in the different conflicts in act the massacres of unarmed civilians ceases, that there is an end to all violence, and that the courage is found for dialogue and negotiation. For both these intentions, we invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mediatrix of Grace. "

Holy Gospel: Sunday of the Priests. January 20, 2013

Saint of the day: St Euthymius the Great, Confessor. 

First Letter to Timothy 4:6-16 
If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus,  nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe. These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 12:42-48 
And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, "My master is delayed in coming", and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak Becomes Patriarch of the Catholic Coptic Church in Egypt

On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI sent a personal letter to the newly elected Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, “joyfully” granting him full ecclesial communion.

With this letter the Holy Father formally confirms the election of the 62 year-old former bishop of Minya by the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Coptic Church, which took place January 15th. 

The 11 bishops of this Eastern Catholic Church based in Egypt had gathered last week in Cairo to elect a successor to Patriarch Antonios Naguib. Seventy seven-year-old Antonios Naguib became Patriarch in the spring of 2006 and in November 2010, Benedict XVI created him cardinal. He was also General Relator at the Synod of Bishops for the Churches of the Middle East. In December 2011, Patriarch Naguib suffered an intracranial haemorrhage. 

His Successor Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak was born on 19 August 1955 in Beni-Chokeir, Asyut Governorate. He studied Philosphy and Theology on the St. Leo’s Patriarchal Seminary in Maadi (a suburb of Cairo) and was ordained a priest in 1980. For the following two years he served in the Parish of Archangel Michael in Cairo. Being sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University he received his doctorate in dogmatic theology. Between 1990 and 2001 he was the rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Maadi. In October 2002 he was elected Bishop of Minya. 

The offices of the Patriarchate are located in Cairo, but the largest concentration of Coptic Catholics has always been in Upper Egypt. In recent times there has been some migration to other parts of the country. The church now has seven dioceses, all of them in Egypt. 

In his letter the Pope writes to the new Patriarch: “May the Lord help you in your ministry "Father and Head" to proclaim the Word of God, so that it is lived and celebrated with piety according to the ancient spiritual and liturgical traditions of the Coptic Church! May all your faithful find solace in the paternal solicitude of their new Patriarch!”.

List of the Top 10 People of the Church in 2012

Each year, Inside the Vatican magazine chooses 10 people who are believed to be examples of great courage, fidelity to the Church and heroic Christian charity. The choice for "Person of the Year 2012" was Pope Benedict XVI. He passed through the crucible of the "Vatileaks" scandal and continued to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season. 

But no Pope has ever been listed on the “Top Ten” because, in a sense, it has been taken for granted that the Pope is inevitably at the center of the struggle for the faith in the world today.

Below is the list of the top ten people of the Church:

1- Msgr. Charles Scicluna. The Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sexual abuse. On October 6, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malta and Titular Bishop of San Leone.

2- Barbara Castro Garcia. A spanish mother who died after postponing her cancer treatments to save her baby.

3- Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. Archbishop of Paris and President of the French Bishops’ Conference builds coalition in opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

4- Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan. Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference leads a defense of unborn life and Christian marriage and values in society.

5- Asia Bibi. Pakistani Christian woman arrested and sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam in 2009. Her case received worldwide attention. The Pope called for clemency for Asia.

6- Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan. Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, he has spoken out against military dictatorship and violence, and urged dialogue with Muslims.

7- Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai. Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, he is one of the key leaders of the Christian communities in the Middle East.

8- Archbishop Georg Gänswein. The Pope’s private secretary, named Prefect of the Papal Household and Archbishop of Urbs Salvia.

9- Cardinal Antonio Cañizares. Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has supported the faithful application of Summorum Pontificum.

10- Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin. This Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, China, has been under house arrest since July 7, 2012, following his courageous actions at his episcopal ordination.

Cardinal Al Rahi Among the Top 10 People of the Church in 2012

In much of the Middle East, Christians face grave difficulties. But in Lebanon, for generations a “mod­el” of religious coexistence, Christians have lived in relative security and peace. A leader in the effort to keep this so is Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, 72, head of Lebanon’s Eastern-rite Maronite Church. For his tireless efforts to defend Lebanon’s “model” of peaceful coexistence and to assist the Christians of the Middle East, he is honored by Inside the Vatican magazine as one of the “Top Ten People” of 2012. 

Mar Beshara Peter Al Rahi, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East

His people love Rai as a father. He is resolute in his defense of them. But this very resoluteness has stirred controversy. For example, Rai has said he fears an overthrow of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, even though the United States and other Western powers have supported the rebels against Assad. Assad’s overthrow could lead to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rai observes, bringing greater difficulties for Syrian Christians. “All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion except for Syria,” Rai told Reuters March 4. “Syria stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state... The closest thing to democracy [in the Arab world] is Syria.” 

This remark raised eyebrows throughout the world. Yet, precisely because he is blunt and outspoken, Rai is one of the key protagonists in the Middle East peace process. One of Rai’s first initiatives after being named Patriarch on March 15, 2011, was to organize a meeting in Bkerké, seat of the Patriarchate of Beirut, at the foot of the Shrine of Our Lady of Harissa. He brought together the leaders of the main Maronite political currents: Amin Gemayel, Michel Aoun, and Samir Geagea Sleiman Frangié. 

Two months later, he brought together representatives of the various faiths in Lebanon. They drafted a joint document at Bkerké and proclaimed: “At a time when many Arab countries are the scene of events of historic importance, the Lebanese formula is valued more than ever. It provides for the respect for individual and public freedoms, religious and political, and we reaffirm the importance of the commitment of all of us Lebanese to the democratic parliamentary system.” The document reaffirmed the principle of “national unity among all Lebanese” and a “commitment to a culture of dialogue” that “respects different points of view, however radical they may be.” The document also stressed “the importance of regulating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the key to peace, security and stability, based on the liberation of all the occupied Arab territories.” And there was an invitation to young people “to stay connected to their land and to their homeland, to preserve them from generation to generation,” remaining loyal to their faith and “open to pluralism.” 

Beyond politics, however, the real task of the Patriarch is to care for his Maronite community spiritually. In fact, it seems vocations are not lacking either among the clergy or among religious men, though there is a decline in women religious. “At Byblos, the theology students have never dropped below the number of 25,” Rai says. “Every year there are three or four ordinations. Of 80 priests, I have ordained 63.” In the Maronite community, there is a married priesthood, and the priests have families. “In small, isolated mountain parishes,” Rai said, “married priests are very useful. They can be helped by their families.” He added: “In everyday life, no distinction is made between married and celibate priests. We never had divorces, only in one case a separation. In addition, the priests are married before the diaconate and usually with young women already well integrated as catechists and animators in the life of the parish or Catholic associations. So they live a stable family life, basically serene, very useful for their service to the Church.” 

Bechara Rai was born in 1940, and in the last consistory in November he received the cardinal’s hat, as had three of his predecessors. This was an important celebration for the Maronite faithful who still had the images of Benedict XVI’s visit to Beirut in September fresh in their memory. During that visit, Pope Benedict met with Lebanon’s young people in the square just in front of the patriarchate. “We have preserved all the talks and sermons that he gave when he came to Lebanon,” Rai said. “It’s really a roadmap that he has shown us, and that’s why every time we listen to him, he gives us courage and makes us understand that we should not be afraid of the challenges and difficulties that everyone knows. Yes, it’s true: we are experiencing very difficult times with the conflicts that are going on, the rise of fundamentalism, war, terrorism, political divisions... Despite all this, however, there is always trust in God and in the Church, which must always be a messenger of peace and stability. This is what the Holy Father always repeated. My commitment, and that of all my bishops, is to live up to his intentions. The key challenge is to move forward, re-create, re-build our internal unity, and then support our fellow Christians in the Middle East and create stronger relationships to the Muslims to lighten up a bit the tensions caused by the radicals and fundamentalists. These are the biggest challenges that we want to deal with.”

Egyptian Coptic Catholic Patriarch Resigns

The Coptic Catholic leader who suffered an intracranial haemorrhage a year ago is stepping down. His successor will be appointed within the next few days and will have the task of developing common strategies with Orthodox Copts.

Patriarch Antonios Naguib

Like the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church will also soon have a new leader. The Synod of Coptic Catholic bishops has accepted Patriarch Antonios Naguib’s resignation letter. The eleven bishops of this Egypt-based Eastern Catholic Church met to choose his successor who is to receive Ecclesiastical Communion from the Bishop of Rome. The name of the new Patriarch could be announced by the end of the week. 

Seventy seven-year-old Antonios Naguib became Patriarch in the spring of 2006 and in November 2010, Benedict XVI created him cardinal. Naguib had taken a pragmatic rather than scaremongering approach to the Arab Spring upheavals and the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution on 25 January 2011 with the occupation of Tahrir Square. He put himself forward as one of the more “interventionist” representatives among the ranks of Eastern Catholic bishops. 

In an interview with Italian monthly newspaper 30Giorni in February 2011, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch had thanked “young patriots who led everyone to reject a flawed situation that had reigned in the country for too long,” he had taken on board the defensive position adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood from the start and had recognised the determining role the army played in pushing Mubarak to resign. 

In the months that followed, the Patriarch continued to make unexpected evaluations of the Egypt’s uncertain landscape. Then, on 31 December 2011, Antonios Naguib survived an intracranial haemorrhage, from which he never fully recovered. 

The Bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos William, relieved him from his responsibilities as deputy Patriarchal Vicar in February 2012.Anba Kyrillos is among the few figures who are considered as likely successors to Naguib. Some younger bishops have also come to the fore in recent months as likely candidates, including the 51-year-old Auxiliary Bishop of Coptic Catholics in Alexandria, Botros Fahim Hanna and the 57-year-old Bishop of Giza, Antonios Aziz Mina. 

Last week, the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri visited Egypt to see what the general feelings are like within the Coptic Catholic Synod.

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience. Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Torrential rains swept St Peter’s Wednesday as pilgrims huddled in queues waiting to enter the Paul VI hall for the weekly audience with Pope Benedict XVI. In his catechesis the Holy Father continued his series of lessons on the Year of Faith, focusing this week on God’s Revelation of Himself to humanity in Jesus Christ.
“During the Christmas season we celebrated the mystery of the Incarnation as the culmination of God’s gradual self-revelation to Israel, a revelation mediated by those great figures such as Moses and the Prophets who kept alive the expectation of God’s fulfilment of his promises. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is truly God among us, “the mediator and the fullness of all revelation” (Dei Verbum, 2). In him, the ancient blessing is fulfilled: God has made his face to shine upon us (cf. Num 6:25). As the Incarnate Son, the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5), Jesus does not simply speak to us about God; he shows us the very face of God and enables us to call him our Father. As he says to the apostle Philip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). May our desire to see the Lord’s face grow through our daily encounter with him in prayer, in meditation on his word and in the Eucharist, and thus prepare us to contemplate for ever the light of his countenance in the fullness of his eternal Kingdom”.

Below a translation of the Holy Father’s full catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
the Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, affirms that the intimate truth of the Revelation of God, shines for us "in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all Revelation" (n. 2 ). The Old Testament tells us how God, after creation, despite original sin, despite the arrogance of man who wants to take the place of his Creator, again offers the possibility of His friendship, especially through the covenant with Abraham and the journey of a small nation, that of Israel, which He chooses not with the criteria of earthly power, but simply out of love. It is a choice that remains a mystery and reveals the way of God calls some not to exclude others, but so they become bridges that lead to Him. Electing, always electing the other. In the history of the people of Israel we can retrace the steps of a long journey in which God makes Himself known, reveals Himself, enters into history in words and actions. For this work He uses mediators, such as Moses, the Prophets, the Judges, who communicate His wishes to the people, remind us of the need for fidelity to the covenant and keep alive expectation for the full and definitive realization of the divine promises. 

And it is the realization of these promises that we have contemplated in Christmas: God's Revelation reaches its peak, its fullness. In Jesus of Nazareth, God truly visits His people, He visits humanity in a way that goes beyond all expectations: He sends His only begotten Son who became man. Jesus tells us something about God, he does not simply speak about the Father, but is the revelation of God. In the Prologue to his Gospel, Saint John writes: "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed Him"(Jn 1:18). 

I would like to focus on this "has revealed Him". In this regard, St. John, in his Gospel, speaks to us of a significant fact, that we have just heard. Approaching the Passion, Jesus assures his disciples, urging them not to be afraid and to have faith; then, he begins a dialogue with them in which he speaks of God the Father (cf. Jn 14.2 to 9). At one point, the apostle Philip asks Jesus, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us" (Jn 14:8). Philip is very practical and concrete, he says what we all want to say: he asks to "see" the Father, to see His face. The answer of Jesus, not only to Philipp but to all of us, introduces us to the heart of the Church's Christological faith; For the Lord says: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).This expression summarizes the novelty of the New Testament, the novelty that appeared in the cave of Bethlehem: God can be seen, he showed his face is visible in Jesus Christ. 

The theme of "seeking the face of God", the desire to see this face, to see how God really is, is present throughout the Old Testament, so much so that the Hebrew term pānîm, which means "face", occurs no less than 400 times, 100 of which refer to God. Yet the Jewish religion, by prohibiting all images, because God can not be depicted - as their neighbors did with the worship of idols, and from this the prohibition of images in the Old Testament- seems to totally exclude "seeing" from worship and piety. What does seek the face of God mean then, for the pious Israelite, recognizing that there can be no image? The question is important: on the one hand it is as if to say that God can not be reduced to an object, like an image that can be picked up, but neither can anything can take God’s place; on the other, it is affirmed that God has a face, that He is a "You" that can enter into a relationship, that He is not closed within Heaven looking down upon humanity. God is certainly above all else, but He turns to us and hears, sees and speaks to us, makes covenants, He is capable of love. Salvation history is the history of this relationship of God with humanity, of this relationship in which He progressively reveals Himself to man, making Himself and His face known. 

Right at the beginning of the year, on January 1, we heard, in the liturgy, the beautiful prayer of blessing over the people: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!"(Numbers 6:24-26). The splendour of the divine face is the source of life, it is what allows us to see reality; and the light of his countenance is our guide in life. In the Old Testament there is a figure which is connected in a very special way the theme of the "face of God”; Moses, whom God chose to free the people from slavery in Egypt, to gift the Law of the covenant and to lead them to the Promised Land. In chapter 33 of the Book of Exodus, it is said that Moses had a close and confidential relationship with God: "The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks with his friend" (v. 11). By virtue of this confidence, Moses asks God: "Show me thy glory," and the Lord's answer is clear: "I will will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name ... But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives ... Here is a place near me ... so that you may see my back; but my face is not to be seen "(vv. 18-23). On the one hand, then, there is a face to face dialogue, as friends, but on the other there is the impossibility, in this life, of seeing the face of God, which remains hidden; its’ vision is limited. The Fathers say this: you can only see my back, which means that you can only follow Christ and see from behind the mystery of God. We can only follow God, seeing his back. 

Something new happens, however, with the Incarnation. The search for the face of God receives an incredible sea change, because we can now see this face: it is that of Jesus, the Son of God who became man. In Him the path of God's Revelation that began with the call to Abraham is fulfilled, He is the fullness of this Revelation because he is the Son of God, he is both a "mediator and fullness of all Revelation" (Dogmatic Constitution. Dei Verbum, 2), and in Him the content of Revelation and Revelator coincide. Jesus shows us the face of God and teaches us the name of God in the priestly prayer at the Last Supper, He says to the Father: "I have manifested thy name to the men ... I made known your name to them " (cf. Jn 17,6.26). The term "name of God" means God as the One who is present among men. God had revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush, to be invoked, giving a concrete sign of His "existence" among men. All this finds fulfillment and fullness in Jesus: He inaugurates a new modality of God's presence in history, because he who sees Him sees the Father, as he tells Philip (cf. Jn 14:9). Christianity - says Saint Bernard - is the "religion of the Word of God," which is not, however, "a written and mute word, but an incarnate and living one" (Hom. super missus est, IV, 11: PL 183, 86B). In the of patristic and medieval tradition a special formula is used to express this reality: Jesus is the Verbum abbreviatum (cf. Rom 9.28, referring to Isaiah 10:23), the short and substantial Word of the Father, of whom he told us everything. In Jesus all of the word is present. 

In Jesus even mediation between God and man is fulfilled. In the Old Testament there is a host of figures who preformed this task, particularly Moses, the deliverer, the guide, the "mediator" of the covenant, as defined by the New Testament (cf. Gal 3:19; Acts 7 , 35, Jn 1:17). Jesus, true God and true man, is not simply one of the mediators between God and man, but is "the mediator" of the new and everlasting covenant (cf. Heb 8:6; 9.15, 12.24), "For there is one God- St Paul says - There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human "(1 Tim 2:5, Gal 3:19-20). In him we see and meet the Father, in Him we can invoke God as "Abba, Father" in Him we are gifted salvation. The desire to really know God, to see his face is in every man, even the atheists. And we consciously have this desire to see just who He is and what He is for us. But this desire is only realized by following Christ, so we see his back and finally, see, God as a friend, His face in the face of Christ. It is important that we follow Christ not only in times of need and when we find space in our daily tasks, but with our very lives. 

Our entire existence should be directed to the encounter with Him, to love Him; and, love of neighbour must also have a central place, a love that, in the light of the Crucifix, enables us to recognize the face of Jesus in the poor, the weak, the suffering. This is only possible if the true face of Jesus has become familiar to us in listening to His Word, and especially in the mystery of the Eucharist. In the Gospel of St. Luke the passage of the two disciples of Emmaus, who recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, is significant. For us, the Eucharist is the great school in which we learn to see the face of God, where we enter into an intimate relationship with Him and learn at the same time to turn our gaze to the final moment of history, when He will fill us with the light of His face. On earth we walk towards this fullness, in the joyful expectation for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The day after tomorrow, Friday, January 18, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, which this year has the theme: "What the Lord requires of us," inspired by a passage from the prophet Micah (cf. Mi 6, 6 - 8). I invite everyone to pray, asking God with insistence for the great gift of unity among the disciples of the Lord. May the inexhaustible power of the Holy Spirit encourage us in a sincere commitment to the search for unity, so that together we may all profess that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the pilgrimage groups from Australia and the United States of America. My particular greeting goes to the pilgrims from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. I also welcome the deacons from Saint Paul Seminary and the many college and university students present. May the light of the Lord’s face shine upon all of you and fill you with his richest blessings of joy and peace!