Historical Meeting Between Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II

The next visit of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II to Pope Francis, scheduled for Saturday, May 11, "could have important and positive results. I also hope that we can resume the thread of theological dialogue to really start to walk towards full communion." This is the wish expressed by the Coptic Catholic Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, recently appointed head of the most important Coptic Catholic Eparchy in Minya, 250 kilometers south of Cairo. 

Pope Tawadros’ visit to Pope Francis occurs 40 years after the meeting which took place in Rome between Pope Paul VI and Shenouda III, Tawadros’ predecessor. On that occasion a theological dialogue between the two Churches began which in 1988 led to an agreement and a joint declaration on Christology that was to put an end to centuries of misunderstanding and mistrust. 

In the Common Christological Declaration, the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox confess to share the same faith in "Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word" that "is perfect in its Divinity and perfect in its Humanity." Since then, though - notes Bishop Fahim Hanna - "that common Christological Declaration has not had practical effects. I hope that with the visit of the new Coptic Orthodox Patriarch to the new Bishop of Rome recent approaches on the spiritual and pastoral can be deepened at a theological and doctrinal level and provide a chance to re-start a thorough theological and respectful dialogue, to embark on a journey that could one day lead us back to full sacramental union".

Pope Francis' Sunday Mass and Angelus Message (Regina Coeli) on April 28, 2013

It was truly a day to remember for 44 people who had come to St Peter’s Square to be confirmed by the Pope. The special Mass on Sunday was organized as part of the Year of Faith and those who received the Sacrament of Confirmation had come from all over the world to be in the Square.

During his homily Pope Francis offered the thousands of people gathered and in particular those being confirmed three short reflections. The Holy Father began by recalling the second reading in Sunday’s liturgy which describes the vision of St John. 

Pope Francis explained that this Saint’s vision of new heavens and a new earth, and then the Holy City coming down from God, reminds us that all of us are journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem, “the happy day when we will see the Lord’s face, and be with him forever, in his love.”

The Pope’s second reflection again focused on the liturgy, that being, the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Quoting from Paul and Barnabas who say that “we must undergo many trials if we are to enter the kingdom of God”, the Holy Father noted, “The journey of the Church, and our own personal journeys as Christians, are not always easy; they meet with difficulties and trials. But he added, that these obstacles are part of the path that leads to God’s glory, just as they were for Jesus, who was glorified on the cross; we will always encounter them in life!”, he said.

Turning to his final point Pope Francis invited the confirmed, and all those present in St Peter’s Square to “remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey!”, he added. He gives us the courage to swim against the tide.

Following the Homily the 44 people being confirmed on Sunday, ranging in age from 11 to 55 who had come from Italy, Romania, Ireland and as far away as the United States and the Cape Verde Islands, made their way to the Pope, where he laid his hands on the head of each person, and anointed their foreheads with holy chrism in the form of a cross.Before the conclusion on this celebration the Holy Father recited the Regina Coeli and he entrusted those newly confirmed to the protection of Mary. He said that the Madonna would help them to be attentive to what the Lord asks of them and to live and walk always according to the Holy Spirit.

In his Regina Coeli address the Holy Father also prayed for the victims of the recent building collapse disaster in Bangladesh which killed scores of people and injured hundreds more. He said, I express my solidarity and deepest sympathy to the families who mourn their loved ones and from my heart I deliver a strong appeal that the dignity and safety of the worker will always be protected.

Finally, as has become customary, the Holy Father made an extended walkabout in St Peter’s square greeting the thousands of faithful.

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

“Dear children! Pray, pray, keep praying until your heart opens in faith as a flower opens to the warm rays of the sun. This is a time of grace which God gives you through my presence but you are far from my heart, therefore, I call you to personal conversion and to family prayer. May Sacred Scripture always be an incentive for you. I bless you all with my motherly blessing. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Religious Freedom Seriously Fading in Syria

The recent destruction of the minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo and the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops, symbolize having crossed a red line in the Syrian conflict. On the battlefield human rights violations, abuses of religious freedom, attacks on places or people motivated by religion are constantly increasing: is the alarm launched by the new Report titled "Protecting and promoting religious freedom in Syria," published in past days by USCIRF, "United States Commission on International Religious Freedom". 

The Commission is an independent bipartisan body of the U.S. Congress created in 1998 to monitor religious freedom in the world and offer recommendations to the U.S. government.The report, states that "government forces have perpetrated religiously motivated attacks against Sunni Muslim civilians and members of religious minority communities" while "sectarian violence and the rhetoric of violence on religious basis" grow. "The condition of religious freedom in Syria is increasingly worrying," marked by the escalation of violence and humanitarian crisis, with a strong impact on all religious communities. 

Peaceful demonstrations began in March 2011 - recalls the Report – they had no sectarian or religious overtones, while President Assad ordered a violent repression and the regime repeatedly stated that it was fighting "Islamist factions." In December 2012, the "Human Rights Council" of the United Nations noted that the conflict had become increasingly polarized and violent, not only among pro-Assad forces and opposition forces, but also along ethnic and religious lines. "The rhetoric of religious violence" has increased, as well as the influx of foreign elements with sectarian and extremist agenda. 

In the war - continues the text - the ethnic and religious identities are intertwined with the political aspects and "whole neighborhoods of the city or the suburbs tend to be dominated by specific religious or ethnic groups." "Religiously motivated attacks are perpetrated by the regime of al-Assad as part of the opposition forces that seek its overthrow, causing severe violations of religious freedom," notes the Commission. Such violations "also threaten Syria's religious diversity, increasing the likelihood of religious violence and retaliation in Syria after the regime, when religious minorities will be particularly vulnerable," warns the text. 

Ruins at the village of Brad near Aleppo where Saint Maron lived

According to opposition sources, the Assad regime and its militants have destroyed more than 500,000 buildings, including homes, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals. Even armed groups in the galaxy opposition, especially foreigners have perpetrated such attacks: The Report cites the ancient synagogue of Damascus, looted and damaged, destruction of Shiite mosques, kidnappings and attacks against Christian leaders and the desecration of churches, such as the historic shrine of Saint Maron, in the village of Barad, near Aleppo.

Pope Francis' Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pope Francis on Wednesday called on Christians to await the coming of the Lord with trust and joy. Speaking to crowds of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Wednesday General Audience, the Pope continued his catechesis on the Creed and reflected on three Gospel texts that – he said – help us to understand the mystery of the Last Judgment and the second coming of the Lord.

“Just as human history began with the creation of man and woman in the image of God” – the Pope explained - “so it will end with Christ’s return and the final judgment”. 

The parables Pope Francis chose to examine are the parable of the wise and foolish virgins that, he said, reminds us that we must be spiritually prepared to meet the Lord when he comes; the parable of the talents, that emphasizes our responsibility to use wisely God’s gifts, making them bear abundant fruit, and here he said: “ I would ask the many young people present to be generous with their God-given talents for the good of others, the Church and our world”; and finally, the parable of the final judgment that “reminds us that, in the end, we will be judged on our love for others and especially for those in need”. 

Pope Francis said that through these parables, our Lord teaches us to await his coming not with fear but with confident trust, ever watchful for the signs of his presence and faithful in prayer and works of charity, so that when he comes he will find us his good and faithful servants.

Pope Francis also turned his attention to the continuing violence in Syria and prayed for the release of two Metropolitan Orthodox Bishops held by unknown kidnappers. The Pope prayed for the rapid release of Bishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and John Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church who were abducted as they travelled to the city of Aleppo on Monday whilst on a humanitarian mission. Their driver was killed. 

The Pope said the kidnapping is yet another sign of the tragic situation in Syria, where violence and bloodshed continue to sow death and destruction. And Pope Francis renewed his appeal for an end to the violence, for a political solution to the crisis, and for necessary humanitarian aid for the population. 

Feast of Saint George

Saint George was a soldier of the Roman army who was tortured and beheaded for his Christian faith in the year 303, in Lydda (in modern day Palestine). He was likely born in Cappadocia, of a Cappadocian father and a Palestinian mother of noble rank. At the death of his father (possibly martyrdom) he moved to Palestine with his mother where he joined the military and apparently served with some distinction, meriting several promotions in rank.

One account of the martyrdom of St. George is Eusebius´ Ecclesiastical History, which relates that when the emperor Diocletian issued an edict "to tear down the churches to the foundations and to destroy the Sacred Scriptures by fire…a certain man, of no mean origin, but highly esteemed for his temporal dignities, stimulated by a divine zeal, and excited by an ardent faith, took it as it was openly placed and posted up for public inspection, and tore it to shreds as a most profane and wicked act." This act of instransigence and holy audacity enraged the emperor who had the man tortured and killed. This man “of no mean origin”, i.e. of nobility, has been identified by more than one ancient source, including Eusebius, as St. George, though most modern historians of the period state that this is unlikely.

St. George is usually depicted in Christian art as a soldier on horseback killing a dragon with a lance. This image is a representation of a popular legend of St. George which first appears in 1265 in a romance titled "The Golden Legend," in which he saved a town terrorized by a dragon with one blow of his lance. The image, however, is also, and more significantly, a powerful symbol of the victory of Christian faith over evil (sometimes interpreted more contextually in the early Church as “paganism”), personified by the devil who is symbolized by the dragon according to the imagery in Revelations.

St. George is invoked as a patron of military causes, not only because he was a soldier, but also, and primarily, due to his appearance to the Christian armies before the battle of Antioch, in which they were victorious, and to King Richard the Lionheart of England during his crusade against the Saracens.

The cult of St.George, while universal, remains strongest in the Eastern Church where he is venerated as “The Great Martyr.” Accounts of early pilgrims identify the seat of the cult of St.George at his burial site in Lydda. The cult has been in existence since the 4th century, soon after his death.

St. George is the patron of soldiers and the patron of many nations, including Palestine; Lebanon; England; Georgia; Malta. He is also the patron of Palestinian Christians and of Boy Scouts. He is invoked by sufferers of herpes, skin diseases, skin rashes, syphilis, and snakebites.

Two Prominent Bishops Kidnapped in Syria

Two prominent Syrian bishops were kidnapped on Monday, April 22nd by armed rebels in the northern province of Aleppo. The Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized in the village of Kfar Dael, on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey. The two bishops are the most senior Church leaders caught up in the conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.

Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim
Bishop Paul Yaziji

The Director of the Vatican Press Office on Tuesday April 23, released a statement on the kidnapping of the Orthodox bishops in Syria: "The kidnapping of the two Metropolitan bishops of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, and the killing of their driver whilst they were carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and the Christian communities in Syria are living. The Holy Father has been informed of this recent, extremely grave act, which comes on top of the increasing violence of the past days and a humanitarian emergency of enormous proportions. Pope Francis is following the events with deep participation and he is praying for the health and the liberation of the two kidnapped bishops. He is also praying so that, with the support and prayers of all, the Syrian people may finally see tangible responses to the humanitarian drama and real hopes of peace and reconciliation rise on the horizon."

Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people. In September of last year, hundreds of Christian families fled Aleppo as rebels and soldiers battled for control of the city, which is the country's largest. At the time, Bishop Ibrahim said, “In its modern history Aleppo has not seen such critical and painful times,” adding, “Christians have been attacked and kidnapped in monstrous ways.”

As fighting continues, thousands of people continue to flee Syria each week. Estimates say that nearly half of them are children. They are in a dire situation and lacking almost everything, from food to medicine and clothing. An emergency communications manager for Save the Children, Hedinn Halldorsson has recently returned from a visit to camps in Jordan and Lebanon. “This is a complex regional crisis that now has entered its third year,” Haldorsson said, calling the crisis, “one of the biggest our teams have seen for years.”

Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus Message (Regina Coeli) on April 21, 2013

On Sunday Pope Francis made a series of appeals following the midday recitation of the Marian prayer, Regina Caeli, with thousands of faithful in St Peter’s Square. Please find below the translation of Pope Francis’ Regina Caeli address this Fourth Sunday of Easter, World Day of Prayer for Vocations:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Fourth Sunday of Easter is characterized by the Gospel of the Good Shepherd - in the tenth chapter of St. John – which we read every year. Today’s passage contains these words of Jesus: " My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one"(10.27 to 30).These four verses contain Jesus’ entire message, the core of His Gospel: He calls us to participate in His relationship with the Father, and this is eternal life.

Jesus wants to establish a relationship with his friends that is a reflection of His relationship with the Father, a relationship of mutual belonging in full trust, in intimate communion. To express this deep understanding, this relationship of friendship Jesus uses the image of the shepherd with his sheep: he calls them, and they know his voice, they respond to his call and follow him. How beautiful this parable is! The mystery of the voice is suggestive: from our mother's womb we learn to recognize her voice and that of our father, from the tone of a voice we perceive love or disdain, affection or coldness. The voice of Jesus is unique! If we learn to distinguish it, He guides us on the path of life, a path that goes beyond the abyss of death.

But at a certain point Jesus, referring to his sheep, says: "My Father, who has given them to me..." (Jn 10,29). This is very important, it is a profound mystery, that is not easy to understand: if I feel attracted to Jesus, if his voice warms my heart, it is thanks to God the Father, who has put in me the desire of love, of truth, life, beauty ... and Jesus is all this to the full! This helps us to understand the mystery of vocation, particularly the call to a special consecration. Sometimes Jesus calls us, invites us to follow him, but maybe we don’t realize that it is Him, just like young Samuel. There are many young people today, here in the square. There are many of you! So many of you young people present today in the square!

I would like to ask you: have you sometimes heard the voice of the Lord which through a desire, a certain restlessness, invites you to follow Him more closely? Have you heard it? I can’t hear you…there you are! Have you had any desire to be apostles of Jesus? Youth must spend itself for high ideals. Do you think so? Do you agree? Ask Jesus what he wants from you and be brave! Be brave, ask Him!!! Behind and before every vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, is always the strong and intense prayer of someone: a grandmother, a grandfather, a mother, a father, a community ... That's why Jesus said, "Pray the Lord of the harvest - that is, God the Father - to send out laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38). The vocations are born in prayer and from prayer, and only in prayer can they persevere and bear fruit. I like to underline this today, the "World Day of Prayer for Vocations." We pray especially for the new priests of the Diocese of Rome, whom I had the joy of ordaining this morning. And we invoke the intercession of Mary. Today there were 10 young men who have said "yes" to Jesus and were ordained priests this morning ... This is beautiful! Let us invoke the intercession of Mary who is the woman who said "yes." Mary said "yes," all her life! She has learned to recognize the voice of Jesus since she bore him in her womb. Mary, Our Mother, help us to know better the voice of Jesus and follow it, to walk the path of life!

Thank you so much for your greeting, but let us also proclaim Jesus loudly... Let us all pray together to the Virgin Mary.

Then the Holy Father appealed for calm in Venezuela following hotly contested presidential elections and for relief for the suffering victims of a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province, mainland China: “I am closely following the events currently taking place in Venezuela. I accompany them with deep concern, with intense prayer and with the hope that just and peaceful ways are sought and found to overcome the serious difficulties the country is going through. I call the beloved Venezuelan people, especially institutional authorities and politicians to firmly reject any type of violence, and to establish a dialogue based on truth, in mutual recognition, in the search for the common good and love for the nation. I ask believers to pray and work for reconciliation and peace. Let us join together in a prayer full of hope for Venezuela, placing it in the hands of Our Lady of Coromoto.

My thoughts also go to those who were affected by the earthquake that struck an area south-west of mainland China. We pray for the victims and for those who are suffering because of the violent earthquake.

This afternoon, in Sondrio, Don Nicolò Rusca, Valtellina priest who lived between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries will be beatified. He was a long serving and exemplary pastor in Sondrio and was killed in the political and religious struggles that afflicted Europe at that time. We praise the Lord for his witness!

I affectionately greet all the pilgrims who have come from different countries: the families, the many church groups, associations, candidates for confirmation, schools. I greet in particular the numerous children of the Diocese of Venice, the catechists of the Diocese of Gubbio led by their Pastor, and the seminary community of Lecce with the ministers of the diocese, and the representation from the Lions Club of Italy. In this "World Day of Prayer for Vocations", founded fifty years ago thanks to the happy intuition of Pope Paul VI, I invite everyone to a special prayer that the Lord will send many laborers for His harvest. May Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, an apostle of prayer for vocations, remind us of this important commitment. I wish you all a good Sunday, have a good lunch!”

Desperate Call From Caritas Lebanon to Help Syrian Refugees

Caritas Lebanon is launching a desperate appeal for international assistance to meet the needs of an overwhelming number of Syrian refugees coming over the border. President of Caritas Lebanon, Fr. Simon Faddoul said: “the situation is getting worse. It’s getting disastrous.” 

Humanitarian agencies and the Lebanese government itself, he says are increasingly unable, without international help, to house the refugees, feed and clothe them. Medical teams are also concerned about a rise in disease under the precarious sanitary conditions.

New Syrian refugees cross the Lebanese borders everyday

“What we have been seeing is unbelievable, reports Fr. Simon. “The numbers are growing in an incredible way. The Lebanese government today in the news is estimating the numbers to be 1.2 million people coming from Syria to Lebanon which means actually more needs, more potential problems of all sorts… and especially, especially the lodging (is a problem). You cannot find a place to house these people. The housing is a very problematic thing; resources are getting all the more scarce. The United Nations has launched an appeal and has really made a warning in that respect. We as NGO’s, we are doing the same because we haven’t had any practical, tangible help so far. The Lebanese government has launched an appeal to fund its activities. Nobody has given the Lebanese government any penny yet. So it’s very problematic. We don’t know where we are heading.”

Fr. Simon says the sudden, chaotic influx of Syrians over recent weeks has been accompanied by a rise in crime and fear. “The Lebanese people are so afraid of this presence, this massive presence throughout Lebanon – in a chaotic manner, without any organization – while the security in Lebanon is not so tight, and so maintained.. so people have their fears of all kinds: socially and security wise and economically. He describes the impact of the refugee presence as increasingly “strangling” to the Lebanese and their livelihoods.

And people are suffering. We are witnessing epidemics, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis (an untreatable sand fly-born skin infection that leaves disfiguring scarring)… things, diseases that I have never heard of personally.” Asked if he fears a renewal of the kind of violence that has periodically erupted between Sunnis, supporters of the Syrian opposition, and pro-Syrian regime Alawites, in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Fr. Simon says “Most certainly, most certainly! Already, the Ministry of the Interior has issued a report which (states that the crime rate has gone up), robberies and whatever else, (by) 120%. And almost, I would say 95% of those (crimes) committed are by Syrians. So the fear is real. And then, the manifestation of kidnapping, every now and then, it’s also scaring people…”

Has the fighting spread from Tripoli to elsewhere in the country?
“No, this is limited to Tripoli, between the Sunnite and the Alawites. They are two (local) neighborhoods (which have been fighting against each other)… Things are…like a fire under the ashes as we say in Lebanese. You remove the ash bit and you’d be surprised (at what lies underneath). Things are not stable…And people say, ok, we live in a very secure zone now – stability, nobody wants war, whatever, all this stuff. But you know better than me that when (violence) breaks out, it breaks out.”

Fr. Simon launches an appeal to the international community and to those listening to Vatican Radio “to all those good hearted people, please, please listen to the suffering of the Syrian people inside Syria and around in the neighboring countries, especially in Lebanon. Lebanon (has) four million inhabitants – we are hosting 1.2 million Syrian people which means more than 25% of the (Lebanese) population has become Syrian. And it’s really crazy, from the humanitarian side, it’s getting uncontrollable. We need every bit of help we can get to reach out to these people and try to find some durable solutions at least for the coming couple of years until the problems are solved and the people can return to their homes.”

Pope Francis Makes Two Appointments in the Maronite Church

On Wednesday, April 17, the Holy Father made the following appointments: 

- Fr. Antoine Tarabay, (from the Lebanese Maronite Order O.L.M.), as bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Sydney of the Maronites (Catholics 150,000, priests 45, permanent deacons 1, religious 47), Australia. The bishop-elect was born in Tannourine, Qadaa of Batroun, Lebanon, in 1967, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1993. Bishop-elect Tarabay was previously superior of the Saint Charbel convent in Sydney, Australia. He succeeds Bishop Ad Abi Karam, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same eparchy was accepted by the Holy Father in conformity with canon 210, para. 1, of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. 

- Fr. Habib Chamieh, (from the Mariamite Maronite Order O.M.M.), as apostolic administrator of the eparchy of San Charbel en Buenos Aires of the Maronites (Catholics 700,000, priests 21, permanent deacons 2, religious 26), Argentina. at the same time elevating him to the dignity of bishop and assigning him the titular see of Nomentum. The bishop-elect was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1966, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992. Bishop-elect Chamieh was previously novice master of the Mariamite Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lebanon. He succeeds Bishop Charbel Georges Merhi, C.M.L., whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same eparchy was accepted by the Holy Father in conformity with canon 210, para. 1, of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

The ordination ceremony for the newly appointed bishops will be held in Bkerke on Saturday, May 25, at 5 pm.  

Pope Francis' Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

in the Creed, we find the affirmation that Jesus "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father." The earthly life of Jesus culminates in the event of the Ascension, that is, when he passes from this world to the Father, and is lifted up to His right hand side. What is the significance of this event? What are the consequences for our lives? What does it mean to contemplate Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father? Let us be guided by the Evangelist Luke.

We begin from the moment Jesus decides to embark on his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem. St. Luke notes: " When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51). While he "ascends" to the Holy City, where his "exodus" from this life will be accomplished, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows that the path that brings him back to the glory of God passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that " the lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it" (n. 661). We too must be clear in our Christian life, that to enter into the glory of God requires daily fidelity to His will, even when it requires sacrifice, when at times it requires us to change our plans. The Ascension of Jesus actually happened on the Mount of Olives, near the place where he had retired in prayer before his passion to be in profound union with the Father; once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to live faithfully to the project God

At the end of his Gospel, St. Luke narrates the event of the Ascension in a very synthetic way. Jesus led the disciples "[out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God "(24.50 to 53). I would like to note two elements of the passage. First, during the Ascension Jesus fulfilled the priestly gesture of blessing and certainly the disciples express their faith with prostration, they kneel and bow their heads. This is a first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest, who with his passed through death and the tomb and rose again and ascended into Heaven; He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favor (cf. Heb 9:24). As St John writes in his First Letter, He is our advocate, our advocate with the Father (cf. 2:1-2). It’s nice to hear this. The first thing we do when we are called by a judge or are called to trial, the first thing we do is look for an advocate to defend us. We have One who always defends us. He defends us from the insidiousness of the Devil, He defends us from ourselves, from our sins. But, dear brothers and sisters, we have this advocate. We must not be afraid to turn to Him, to turn to him with our fears, to ask for his blessing and mercy. He always forgives us, He is our advocate, He always defends us. We must never forget this. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven then reveals to us this reality that is so comforting for our journey: in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was brought to God; He has opened the passage up for us, He is like a leader at the head of the rope when you scale a mountain, who has reached the summit and draws us up to him leading us to God . If we entrust our lives to Him, if we let ourselves be guided by Him we are sure to be in safe hands. In the hands of our Savoir, our advocate.

A second element: St Luke mentions that the apostles, after seeing Jesus ascending to heaven, returned to Jerusalem "with great joy." This seems a bit strange. Typically when we are separated from our families, our friends, in a lasting separation, above all because of death, we are naturally sad, because we will no longer see their face, or hear their voice, we will no longer be able to enjoy their affection, their presence. Instead, the evangelist emphasizes the profound joy of the Apostles. How come? Because, with the eyes of faith, they understand that although subtracted from their eyes, Jesus remains with them forever, He is not abandoning them, and in the glory of the Father, supports them, guides them and intercedes for them.

St. Luke narrates the fact of the Ascension in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, to emphasize that this event is like the ring that engages and connects the earthly life of Jesus to that of the Church. Here St. Luke also mentions the cloud that took Jesus out of sight of the disciples, who remain to contemplate Christ ascending to God (cf. Acts 1:9-10). Then two men in white robes intervene, urging them not to remain looking at the sky, but to nourish their lives and their witness from the certainty that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him ascend into heaven (Acts 1: 10-11). It is an invitation to begin from the contemplation of the Lordship of Jesus, to receive from him the strength to carry and bear witness to the Gospel in everyday life: contemplation and action, ora et labora St. Benedict teaches, are both necessary in our lives as Christians

Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not indicate the absence of Jesus, but tells us that He is alive among us in a new way; He is no longer in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension; He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us. We are never alone in our lives: We have this advocate who waits for us, we are never alone, ​​the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us, and with us there are many brothers and sisters who in silence and obscurity, in their family life and work, in their problems and difficulties, their joys and hopes, live their faith every day and, together with us, bring to the world the lordship of God's love. 

I offer a cordial welcome to the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and I assure them of my prayers for their episcopal ministry. I also greet the priests of 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 England, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

Patriarch Laham Begging for Peace in Syria

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham is begging for peace in Syria, saying the country’s “suffering has gone beyond all bounds." The Damascus-based patriarch estimates that, since the conflict broke out two years ago, up to 400,000 Syrian Christians (possibly more than 25% of the Syrian Christian population) are either displaced within the country or have fled abroad.

In a statement, Patriarch Gregorios reports that since early 2011 more than 1,000 Christians have been killed, that “entire villages have been cleared of their Christian inhabitants” and that more than 40 churches and other Christian centers (schools, orphanages and care homes) lie damaged or destroyed. 

He states that key to the country’s problems are chaos and insecurity, as well as an influx of “fundamentalist Islamists." The patriarch declares that the threat to Christianity in Syria has wider implications for the religion’s future in the region because for decades the country has provided a refuge for faithful from Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.

He states that the conflict poses a severe threat to Muslims, pitting one Islamic tradition against another. Patriarch Laham believes that, in spite of the worsening violence, peace remains possible and, in his statement, calls for action from leaders of Arab nations, Europe, the Americas, world organizations and Nobel Peace Prize winners.

He states: “We are sure that, despite our woes, all [of us] Syrians – government, political parties, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Alawites, Christians and Druze – are capable of engaging in dialogue…”. Saying that “there is no safe place left in Syria," he adds: “The whole of Syria has become a battlefield… Every aspect of democracy, human rights, freedom, secularism and citizenship is lost from view and no-one cares.”

He states: “Suffering has gone beyond all bounds. The crisis has mown down thousands upon thousands of soldiers, opponents, civilians, men, women, children, Muslim sheikhs and Christian priests.”

The patriarch’s comments coincide with remarks by fellow Damascus prelate Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar who, said that Christians in Syria “must choose between two bitter chalices: to die or leave." Archbishop Nassar stressed the threat to both Muslims and Christians from explosives, car bombs, snipers and the lack of medical care following a mass closure of hospitals.

In his statement, Patriarch Gregorios goes on to say that Christians are especially at risk from extremists stirring up riots against them. He said Christians were particularly susceptible to losing their religious buildings to armed groups for use as “shields” in the conflict.

The patriarch states: “The future of Christians in Syria is threatened not by Muslims but by … chaos … and the infiltration of uncontrollable fanatical, fundamentalist groups.” He refers to large numbers of Christians suddenly being forced to leave their homes and livelihoods adding: “[They have been] able to salvage little if anything.

“By and large, their houses and possessions have been looted, destroyed and damaged. All of this represents a loss of several million dollars.” He states: “In the face of all these dangers, sufferings and misfortunes that affect all citizens, we wonder whether there can be any other way of speaking or acting than that of war, weapons, violence, hatred and revenge. We very much need a solution.”

The Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians: 'Aid to the Church in Need' has provided ongoing emergency aid – food, shelter and medicine – both in Syria and in neighboring countries, working through leading bishops in the region. More requests for aid are being considered by the charity’s project coordinators.

Pope Francis' Sunday Angelus Message (Regina Coeli). April 14, 2013

Pope Francis prayed the Regina caeli with more than 80 thousand people gathered in St Peter's Square this Third Sunday of Easter. Below, is a translation of his remarks before the traditional Eastertide prayer of Marian devotion:

Dear brothers and sisters, a good day to you!

I would like to touch briefly on the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, which we read in the liturgy of this Third Sunday of Easter. This text says that the first preaching of the Apostles in Jerusalem filled the cities with the news that Jesus had truly risen, according to the Scriptures, and he was the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. The chief priests and the rulers of the city tried to nip the community of Christian believers in the bud. They imprisoned the Apostles, ordering them not to teach in his name. Peter and the other eleven answered, however, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus … exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior … And we are witnesses to these things and so is the Holy Spirit[.](Acts 5:29-32)” So they scourged the Apostles and commanded them not to speak again in the name of Jesus And they went, “rejoic[ing] that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]. (Acts 5:41)” 

And I ask myself: “Where were the first disciples the strength for this their testimony?” Not only: whence came to them the courage to preach and the joy of preaching, notwithstanding the obstacles and violence [they faced]? Do not forget that the Apostles were simple men. They were neither scribes, nor teachers of the law, nor of the priestly class. How could they, with [all] their limits, and opposed by the authorities, fill Jerusalem with their teaching (cf. Acts 5:28)? Only the presence of the Risen Lord with them, and the action of the Holy Spirit can explain this. It was the Lord, who was with them, and the Spirit, who moved them to preach: [this] explains this extraordinary episode. Their faith was based on so powerful and personal an experience of Christ crucified and risen, that they were not afraid of anything or anyone, and even saw their persecution as a badge of honor, that made them capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus and to be like Him, bearing witness [to Him] with their lives.

This history of the first Christian community tells us something very important, which applies to the Church in every age, and so to us: when a person truly knows Jesus Christ and believes in Him, one experiences His presence and the power of His Resurrection in one’s life, and one cannot help but communicate this experience. If it encounters misunderstanding or adversity, one behaves like Jesus in His Passion: one responds with love and with the power of truth.

As we pray the Regina Caeli together, let us ask the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the Church worldwide might proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord with frankness and courage, and bear effective witness through signs of brotherly love – for brotherly love is the most intimate witness we can bear to [the truth] that Jesus is alive and with us, that Jesus is Risen. Let us pray especially for Christians who suffer persecution – [and] in these times, there are many Christians who suffer persecution, a great many, in many countries: let us pray for them from our heart, with love, that they might feel the living and comforting presence of the Risen Lord.

Christians in Syria: Die or Leave

Christians in Syria "must choose between two bitter realities: to die or leave." A dilemma that involves the whole ecclesiastic reality in this battered Country, and is told by the Maronite archbishop of Damascus Samir Nassar in a vibrant testimony. The Catholic archbishop of the Eastern rite outlines the many ways in which death seizes the lives of millions of defenseless civilians, Christians and Muslims, in the war-ravaged Syria: bombs, car bombs, snipers, lack of medical care, malnutrition, and lack of adequate food for diabetics, heart patients and nursing. 

Christians celebrating Holy Mass in Damascus

Before this disaster, everyone thinks of going away, even if the escape somehow "is another way of dying," more slowly. The local Church, despite its fragility, "becomes a wall of tears", to which all are turning everyday "for protection and help in finding a visa to leave." The Syrian Christians – underlines the Maronite Archbishop - "have seen the UN organize since 2005 the systematic departure of Iraqi refugees towards the West," and now feel anguish for "the world’s indifference and silence in front of their long- sad ordeal ... they are abandoned, destined to die without being able to escape ... consulates have been closed for a year and a half."

Archbishop Nassar describes heartbroken pastors who witness the plight of the poor Christians "who do not find any reason to have to die in this senseless war": they have seen their wealthier brothers leave Syria, and now look to the Church as the only reality to ask for help in the shipwreck.

"Pope Francis’ appeal in favor of the beloved Syria resonates in their hearts .... The sister Churches in the whole world pray and show their affection for this little flock, without being able to appease the storm." This situation also poses in front of the pastors problems of conscience: "To advise them to stay could lead to death like a lamb dumb before the butcher. Our martyrdom simply gets longer ... Helping them leave means emptying the Biblical Land of its last Christians. " A dilemma that can only be resolved by relying on the "heart of God", offering the faithful pastoral closeness that helps them perceive the reality of Jesus' words Those who – notes archbishop Nassar 'never disappoint: "Do not be afraid ... I am with you ... ".

Pope Francis' Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On the third day he rose again: the salvific meaning and purpose of the Resurrection

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good day!

in the last Catechesis we have focused on the event of the Resurrection of Jesus, in which women have played a special role. Today I would like to reflect on its meaning for salvation. What does the Resurrection mean for our lives? And why, without it, is our faith in vain? Our faith is based on the death and resurrection of Christ, just like a house built on foundations: if they give in, the whole house collapses. On the Cross, Jesus offered himself taking sins upon himself our and going down into the abyss of death, and in the Resurrection he defeats them, he removes them and opens up to us the path to be reborn to a new life. St. Peter expresses it briefly at the beginning of his First Letter, as we have heard: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you"(1:3-4).

The Apostle tells us that the Resurrection of Jesus is something new: we are freed from the slavery of sin and become children of God, that we are born to a new life. When does this happen to us? In the Sacrament of Baptism. In ancient times, it was normally received through immersion. Those to be baptized immersed themselves in the large pool within the Baptistery, leaving their clothes, and the bishop or the priest would pour water over their head three times, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then the baptized would emerge from the pool and put on a new vestment, a white one: they were born to a new life, immersing themselves in the death and resurrection of Christ. They had become children of God. In the Letter to the Romans Saint Paul writes: you " For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father! '"(Rom. 8:15). It is the Holy Spirit that we received in baptism that teaches us, leads us to say to God, "Father." Or rather, Abba Father. This is our God, He is a father to us. The Holy Spirit produces in us this new status as children of God, and this is the greatest gift we receive from the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. And God treats us as His children, He understands us, forgives us, embraces us, loves us even when we make mistakes . In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah said that even though a mother may forget her child, God never, ever forgets us (cf. 49:15). And this is a beautiful thing, beautiful!

However, this filial relationship with God is not like a treasure to be kept in a corner of our lives. It must grow, it must be nourished every day by hearing the Word of God, prayer, participation in the sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist and charity. We can live as children! We can live as children! And this is our dignity. So let us behave as true children! This means that each day we must let Christ transform us and make us like Him; it means trying to live as Christians, trying to follow him, even if we see our limitations and our weaknesses. The temptation to put God to one side, to put ourselves at the center is ever-present and the experience of sin wounds our Christian life, our being children of God. This is why we must have the courage of faith, we must resist being led to the mentality that tells us: "There is no need for God, He is not that important for you". It is the exact opposite: only by behaving as children of God, without being discouraged by our falls, can we feel loved by Him, our life will be new, inspired by serenity and joy. God is our strength! God is our hope!

Dear brothers and sisters, we must first must firmly have this hope and we must be visible, clear, brilliant signs of hope in world. The Risen Lord is the hope that never fails, that does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). God’s hope never disappoints!. How many times in our life do our hopes vanish, how many times do the expectations that we carry in our heart not come true! The hope of Christians is strong, safe and sound in this land, where God has called us to walk, and is open to eternity, because it is founded on God, who is always faithful. We should never forget this; God is always faithful! God is always faithful! Be risen with Christ through Baptism, with the gift of faith, to an imperishable inheritance, leads us to increasingly search for the things of God, to think of Him more, to pray more. Christianity is not simply a matter of following commandments; it is about living a new life, being in Christ, thinking and acting like Christ, and being transformed by the love of Christ, it is allowing Him take possession of our lives and change them, transform them, to free them from the darkness of evil and sin.

Dear brothers and sisters, to those who ask us our reasons for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), let us point to the Risen Christ. Let us point to Him with the proclamation of the Word, but especially with our resurrected life. Let us show the joy of being children of God, the freedom he gifts us to live in Christ, who is true freedom, freedom from the slavery of evil, sin and death! In looking to our heavenly home, we will also have a new light and strength in our commitment and in our daily efforts. It is a precious service that we give to our world, which is often no longer able to lift its gaze upwards, it no longer seems able to lift its gaze towards God.

I am pleased to greet the visitors from the NATO Defense College and I offer prayerful good wishes for their service to international peace and cooperation. I also extend a warm welcome to the group of “Wounded Warriors” from the United States, with heartfelt prayers that their pilgrimage to Rome will bear rich spiritual fruit for them and their families. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Australia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Canada and the United States, I invoke the Risen Lord’s gifts of joy and peace.

Pope Francis' Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated Mass in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, during which he officially took possession of the Basilica.
Below the full text of the Pope's homily:

It is with joy that I am celebrating the Eucharist for the first time in this Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with great affection: the very dear Cardinal Vicar, the auxiliary bishops, the diocesan presbyterate, the deacons, the men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I offer my greetings, too, to the mayor and his wife, and to all the civil authorities. Together let us walk in the light of the risen Lord.

1. Today we are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as “Divine Mercy Sunday”. What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one which always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up and leads us on.

2. In today’s Gospel, the Apostle Thomas personally experiences this mercy of God, which has a concrete face, the face of Jesus, the risen Jesus. Thomas does not believe it when the other Apostles tell him: “We have seen the Lord”. It isn’t enough for him that Jesus had foretold it, promised it: “On the third day I will rise”. He wants to see, he wants to put his hand in the place of the nails and in Jesus’ side. And how does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time, he does not close the door, he waits. And Thomas acknowledges his own poverty, his little faith. “My Lord and my God!”: with this simple yet faith-filled invocation, he responds to Jesus’ patience. He lets himself be enveloped by divine mercy; he sees it before his eyes, in the wounds of Christ’s hands and feet and in his open side, and he discovers trust: he is a new man, no longer an unbeliever, but a believer. 

Let us also remember Peter: three times he denied Jesus, precisely when he should have been closest to him; and when he hits bottom he meets the gaze of Jesus who patiently, wordlessly, says to him: “Peter, don’t be afraid of your weakness, trust in me”. Peter understands, he feels the loving gaze of Jesus, and he weeps. How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – how much tenderness is there! Brothers and sisters, let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!

Let us think too of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus: their sad faces, their barren journey, their despair. But Jesus does not abandon them: he walks beside them, and not only that! Patiently he explains the Scriptures which spoke of him, and he stays to share a meal with them. This is God’s way of doing things: he is not impatient like us, who often want everything all at once, even in our dealings with other people. God is patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive. Let us remember this in our lives as Christians: God always waits for us, even when we have left him behind! He is never far from us, and if we return to him, he is ready to embrace us.

I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father; it impresses me because it always gives me great hope. Think of that younger son who was in the Father’s house, who was loved; and yet he wants his part of the inheritance; he goes off, spends everything, hits rock bottom, where he could not be more distant from the Father, yet when he is at his lowest, he misses the warmth of the Father’s house and he goes back. And the Father? Had he forgotten the son? No, never. He is there, he sees the son from afar, he was waiting for him every hour of every day, the son was always in his father’s heart, even though he had left him, even though he had squandered his whole inheritance, his freedom. The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about him, and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach: he is back! And that is the joy of the Father. In that embrace of the son there is all of this joy: he is back! God is always waiting for us, he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence, hope – always! A great German theologian, Romano Guardini, said that God responds to our weakness by his patience, and this is the reason for our confidence, our hope (cf. Glaubenserkenntnis, Würzburg, 1949, p. 28). It is like a dialogue between our weakness and the patience of God, a dialogue that, if we will engage in it, gives us hope. 

3. I would like to emphasize one other thing: God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. Jesus tells Thomas to put his hand in the wounds of his hands and his feet, and in his side. We too can enter into the wounds of Jesus, we can actually touch him. This happens every time that we receive the sacraments with faith. Saint Bernard, in a fine homily, says: “Through the wounds of Jesus I can suck honey from the rock and oil from the flinty rock (cf. Deut 32:13), I can taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (On the Song of Songs, 61:4). It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of his heart. Thomas understood this. Saint Bernard goes on to ask: What can I count on? On my own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as he is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits” (ibid., 5). This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love. Saint Bernard even states: “So what if my conscience gnaws at me for my many sins? ‘Where sin has abounded, there grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20)” (ibid.). But some of us may think: my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable, my unbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people. But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him. How many times in my pastoral ministry have I heard it said: “Father, I have many sins”; and I have always pleaded: “Don’t be afraid, go to him, he is waiting for you, he will take care of everything”. We hear many offers from the world around us; but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love. For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important thing to him; even if we are sinners, we are what is closest to his heart.

Adam, after his sin, experiences shame, he feels naked, he senses the weight of what he has done; and yet God does not abandon him: if that moment of sin marks the beginning of his exile from God, there is already a promise of return, a possibility of return. God immediately asks: “Adam, where are you?” He seeks him out. Jesus took on our nakedness, he took upon himself the shame of Adam, the nakedness of his sin, in order to wash away our sin: by his wounds we have been healed. Remember what Saint Paul says: “What shall I boast of, if not my weakness, my poverty? Precisely in feeling my sinfulness, in looking at my sins, I can see and encounter God’s mercy, his love, and go to him to receive forgiveness.

In my own life, I have so often seen God’s merciful countenance, his patience; I have also seen so many people find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him: Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds, wash it away with your blood. And I have always seen that God did just this – he accepted them, consoled them, cleansed them, loved them.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his tenderness, so beautiful, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.

After the Mass, from the Loggia of the Archbasilica, the Holy Father greeted the faithful gathered outside the church, and offered them his blessing: 

Brothers and sisters, 
Buona sera! I thank you so much for your company in today's Mass. Thank you so much! I ask you to pray for me. I need it. Don't forget this. Thanks to all of you! And let us all go forward together, the people and the Bishop, all together, going forward always in the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus. He is always at our side. 
May God bless you! 
(He blessed the people.)
Many thanks! See you soon!

Holy Gospel: First Sunday After The Resurrection: New Sunday. April 07, 2013

Saint of the day: St John Baptist De La Salle, Confessor.

Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:11-21. 
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint John 20:26-31. 
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Call of the Maronite Bishops, April 03, 2013

On April 3, 2013, the Maronite bishops held their monthly meeting under the chairmanship of his Beatitude and Eminence, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Raï, with the participation of his Beatitude and Eminence the Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, and in the presence of the superior generals. After expressing their wishes for Easter to their sons and to all Lebanese, and gave thanks to God for having given the church a new Supreme Pontiff, in the person of the Pope Francis, and after discussing the situation in the country, the fathers have decided, due to the historical responsibility that falls on the Maronite Patriarchate, to send to the Lebanese in general and more particularly to those in charge, the following call:

The feast of the Resurrection is the victory of life over death and freedom over slavery, notably on slavery of sin which command humankind and which extends to the social-political structures. This Feast encourages us to make the reading of our critical reality which is at the mercy of more than a sin against the entity and the State. Also we decided to remind and to warn: Lebanon needs the spirit of Easter and to be relieved of acts committed against it. He needs a deep repentance due to the severe decline in attachment to the State, decline which failed to impair the entity. This manifests brilliantly in the weakening of the love of the homeland in many. This weakening goes hand in hand with the eclipse of the spirit of national and political responsibility among many officials in the public sector, and Lebanon finds itself prisoner of the political divisions at the risk of losing its national unity, existence of any condition.

The moment of truth has come. People in charge, we appeal to your conscience: the country is not a place for private projects, nor a field of experiments, nor a card in the hands of anyone or any State or party. The great responsibility that lies on you incites you not to falter before what threatens the State, its unity and cohesion. Lebanon cannot survive if each party seeks to impose on others by ignoring the truth on which the Country is based, namely, the National Pact, which is summed up in this: Lebanon is a country for all, its affairs are the responsibility of all in solidarity, without that one or the other category monopolizes anything. The national pact is now threatened by one-sided directives contrary to the spirit of the agreement. In fact,  agreements are only based on the postulates of the constitution, not on equations imposed by such and such.

These postulates require policy-makers to take account, inter alia, of the following:

1 - The Lebanese people shall not serve as fuel for any political conflict, they are citizens who have fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution which in the first place: the right to life, to freedom and progress, and no one is allowed to take away these rights. It is therefore incumbent on policymakers to protect these rights by not curbing the political power to personal considerations, and in not turning security agencies into negotiators with those who violate these rights. Policy makers have to comply with the procedures of the constitution, to separate security from politics for the good of all, not to make of security agencies political divisions, categorical or even regional, in order to neutralize them. We have all experienced the lack of seriousness in security and Lebanon should not slide into insecurity.

2 - The vacancies at the level of the executive positions makes no service to anyone, it rather introduces the country in a State of political chaos that nobody can guess the outcome. The experiences of previous governments show that any Government which founding, objective and goals are not purely Lebanese, i.e., not imbued by the constitution and the Covenant or based on the good of the citizens, resembles a building built on sand. Similarly, any Government deprived of general overview will fail, and any Government that stumbles at the start will end up being paralyzed. All this invites us to reflect deeply on what we need from Lebanese Governments, and the interests served by these Governments.

3 - Meeting the constitutional deadlines is the best proof of the sincerity of the different parties regarding the safeguarding of democracy and the constitution. These parties are responsible for lifting the political tutelage after the lifting, o how Sung, the military guardianship. A new electoral law is neither a point of view nor a negotiation. It is an obligatory question which cannot be overlooked. It is a question of law and fair application guaranteed by the national pact and the constitution. As a result, the laxity in electoral law which ensures the true representation of all, touches the bottom of the Pact and no one, in our opinion, is able to bear the results. Indeed, the Pact is not a matter of numbers, it is rather related to the nature of the Lebanese identity. Therefore, after studying for seven years electoral bills, members do not have the right not to ratify the fairer act, the more equitable and that suits all Lebanese, a law which replaces the 60 and avoids the country to renew the current status.

4 - The economic situation threatens the country to a bleak future. It is therefore the duty of the political class to reform. Indeed, the economy is one of the fundamental factors of stability. It is not a private resource annexing and endangering the country and the citizen.

5 - The question of the sovereignty of the State directs everyone to seek to assert the neutrality of Lebanon and its integration into the regional and international routes. Lebanon is neither a map nor a scene for parties to achieve their aims. We want it to be a beacon, not a small lantern, on the Mediterranean. This requires that people in charge be persuaded of the usefulness of this neutrality, and to work for getting a clear national and general will on this subject, and to seek to persuade international and regional instances of the positive role that Lebanon may play, free from regional conflicts, if it is given to its people to live in peace.

if Lebanon fails to return to what it was for all, a land of encounter and coexistence, a democratic State on the Mediterranean, its existence would no longer have any value. This requires a decision from all Lebanese , and no one else will replace them to make this decision.

Pope Francis' Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we turn to the Catechism of the Year of Faith. In the Creed we repeat this phrase: "He rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures". This is the very event that we are celebrating: the Resurrection of Jesus, the center of the Christian message that has resounded since the beginning and has been handed down so that it may reach us today. Saint Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth: "For I handed on to you …what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve"(1 Cor 15:3-5). This brief confession of faith announces the Paschal Mystery, with the first appearances of the Risen Christ to Peter and the Twelve: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our hope. Without this faith in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus our hope would be weak, but it wouldn’t even be hope, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our hope. The Apostle says: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins" (v. 17). 

Unfortunately, there have often been attempts to obscure faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, and doubts have crept in even among believers themselves. A watered down faith, as we would say, not a strong faith. This is because of superficiality, sometimes because of indifference, occupied by a thousand things considered more important than the faith, or because of a purely horizontal vision of life. But it is the Resurrection that gives us the greatest hope, because it opens our lives and the life of the world to the eternal future of God, to full happiness, to the certainty that evil, sin, death can be defeated. And this leads us to live everyday realities with more confidence, to face them with courage and commitment. The Resurrection of Christ shines a new light on these daily realities. The Resurrection of Christ is our strength!

But how was the truth of faith in Christ’s Resurrection transmitted? There are two kinds of witness in the New Testament: some are in the form of the profession of the faith, namely, synthetic formulas that indicate the center of the faith. Instead, others are in the form of an account of the event of the Resurrection and the facts connected to it. The form of the profession of faith, for example, is what we have just heard, or that of the Letter to the Romans where Paul writes: " for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved "(10.9). From the earliest days of the Church, faith in the Mystery of Death and Resurrection of Jesus is steadfast and clear. 

Today, however, I would like to dwell the second, on testimony in the form of the accounts that we find in the Gospels. First, we note that the first witnesses to this event were the women. At dawn, they go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and find the first sign: the empty tomb (Mk 16:1). This is followed by an encounter with a Messenger of God who proclaims: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, he is not here, he is risen (cf. vv. 5-6). The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart. This should also be the same in our lives. Let us feel the joy of being Christian! We believe in the Risen One who has conquered evil and death! Let us also have the courage to "go out" to bring this joy and light to all the places of our lives! The Resurrection of Christ is our greatest certainty, it is our most precious treasure! How can we not share this treasure, this beautiful certainty with others! It’s not just for us it’s to be transmitted, shared with others this is our testimony!

Another element. In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses. In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands. In our journey of faith it is important to know and feel that God loves us, do not be afraid to love: faith is professed with the mouth and heart, with the word and love.

After the apparitions to women, there were others: Jesus becomes present in a new way: He is the Crucified One, but his body is glorious; He did not return to an earthly life, but a new condition. At first they did not recognize him, and only through his words and deeds were their eyes opened: the encounter with the Risen Lord transforms, it gives new strength to faith, an unshakable foundation. The Risen Christ also reveals Himself to us with many signs: Sacred Scripture, the Eucharist, the other Sacraments, charity, these gestures of love bring a ray of the Risen One. 

Let us be enlightened by the Resurrection of Christ, let us be transformed by His power, so that through us the signs of death give way to signs of life in the world! I saw that there are many young people in the Square! Young boys and girls, to you I say bring forth this certainty the Lord is Alive and walks beside us on our life’s journey! Bring forth this hope, be anchored in this hope, the hope that comes from heaven! Be anchored and bring forth the hope! You witnesses of Christ bring forth hope to this world that is aged by wars and sin! Go forward young people!

Message Of The Virgin Mary To Nonbelievers on April 02, 2013 From Medjugorje

“Dear children; I am calling you to be one with my Son in spirit. I am calling you, through prayer, and the Holy Mass when my Son unites Himself with you in a special way, to try to be like Him; that, like Him, you may always be ready to carry out God’s will and not seek the fulfillment of your own. Because, my children, it is according to God’s will that you are and that you exist, and without God’s will you are nothing. As a mother, I am asking you to speak about the glory of God with your life because, in that way, you will also glorify yourself in accordance to His will. Show humility and love for your neighbor to everyone. Through such humility and love, my Son saved you and opened the way for you to the Heavenly Father. I implore you to keep opening the way to the Heavenly Father for all those who have not come to know Him and have not opened their hearts to His love. By your life, open the way to all those who still wander in search of the truth. My children, be my apostles who have not lived in vain. Do not forget that you will come before the Heavenly Father and tell Him about yourself. Be ready! Again I am warning you, pray for those whom my Son called, whose hands He blessed and whom He gave as a gift to you. Pray, pray, pray for your shepherds. Thank you.”