Prayers For The Geneva II Peace Conference

The leaders of the Christian Churches in Syria have launched a renewed campaign of prayer to support peace efforts in view of the Geneva 2 Conference, calling for the end of the war and concrete steps towards national reconciliation.

In his message, Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Patriarch of Damascus, invites the Syrian Christians to gather in prayer for the success of the Conference, while calling on all Christians in the world to join this intention: "Let us pray for true reconciliation in Geneva II", says the message, noting that "the key to the success of Geneva II is national reconciliation based on faith, on fundamental human rights".From the Geneva 2 Conference the establishment of a "transitional government" is expected that could include representatives of the incumbent government and representatives of opposition groups. Among the many difficulties that the Geneva 2 Conference has to deal with, is to know and decide who truly represents the people of Syria and which countries should be invited to participate.

As noted in a statement by the organization "Middle East Concern" , with offices throughout the Middle East, "violence continues to rage in many parts of Syria, causing death, injury and trauma, with severe restrictions for access to food and medical care. Humanitarian crisis is now a problem as much as the violence of the conflict". MEC recalls the scourge of kidnappings and specific cases of persecution, such as "religiously motivated violence against Christians". The NGO invites all the faithful in the world to join the Syrian Christians in prayer so that the Conference puts an end to the crisis in Syria and for delegates to consider the needs and welfare of the Syrian people a priority. The wish expressed is that also the urgency of the millions of Syrians displaced within the country or in neighboring countries are taken into account.

The Pope Of The Poor, Or A Game Changer?

When a Vatican cardinal presented a message from Pope Francis to the World Economic Forum, it might have been the first time a papal message actually has been read out in Davos, but it certainly wasn't the first time a Pope has spoken out on economic justice.

Beginning in the late 19th century, almost a dozen Popes have issued a long series of documents devoted to defense of the poor which are known as "Catholic social teaching." All that moral leadership, however, has not produced a notably more just world.

Is there any reason to believe that Francis could make a difference where so many of his predecessors haven't?A recent estimate by Oxfam, a UK-based charitable group, claims that 85 people on earth control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population, despite 120 years of papal exhortations.

The surprising answer is yes, just maybe.

To begin, the first Pope from the developing world brings a degree of credibility on matters of economic justice that other world leaders lack. That's not merely because of his origins, but because of his lifestyle choices in favor of simplicity and humility.
Thiss is the Pope, after all, who famously spurned a papal limo to take the bus after his election with the other cardinals, who wears the same brown shoes he sported in Argentina, and who rejected the papal apartment in favor of a modest room in a Vatican residence for clergy.

His aversion to ostentation is already the stuff of legend, so when Francis talks of a "poor church for the poor," people take him seriously.

Francis also has amassed massive deposits of political capital over his first 10 months in office, with approval ratings around the world that politicians and celebrities have to view with unalloyed envy.

That's why, for instance, political leaders these days are beating a path to the Pope's door. Francis recently welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin, he'll meet French President Francois Hollande on Friday, and theWhite House announced that U.S. President Barack Obama will make a pilgrimage to the Vatican to meet Francis on March 27.

What's the subject for the Obama/Francis summit? According to a White House statement, it's "their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality."

In many ways Francis has become the new Nelson Mandela, meaning the world's leading source of moral authority. The difference in the Pope's case is that he combines personal charisma with the institutional authority of leading the world's largest Christian church, with more than 1.2 billion followers in every corner of the planet.

Catholicism is also the only world religion with its own diplomatic corps, as the Vatican is a sovereign state with bilateral relations with 180 nations. That gives the church a unique platform to act as a voice of conscience in global affairs.

In other words, Francis has some serious cards to lay on the table in the high-stakes poker game of global economic reform.

It's easy to say that no one person -- even a Pope who's also one of the most popular figures on the planet -- can bring down entrenched systems of power. Of course, that's what people said about Communism too, before Pope John Paul II set the dominoes in motion in Poland that led to the collapse of the Communist system in 1989.

Whether Francis will have the same luck defending the poor remains to be seen, but it's certainly not obvious that the smart money is against him.

Holy Gospel on the Second Sunday After Epiphany

Second Letter to the Corinthians 4:5-15. 
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint John 1:35-42. 
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God! ’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

Pope Francis' Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, January 15, 2014

During his general audience, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the Sacrament of Baptism, emphasizing that we are called to use the grace we receive in order to become “missionary disciples.” “We are one community, and living together our faith is not an ornament, but rather is something essential for the Christian life, (...) for testimony and for evangelization,” the Pope explained in his January 15 general audience.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he stated to the pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square, “today we continue our catechesis on the sacrament of baptism by reflecting on how, through baptism, we become members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church.”

The Second Vatican Council, noted the Pontiff, “expressed this truth, insisting that this sacrament incorporates us into the People of God; it makes us members of one People that walks throughout history.”

“In every generation, through baptism, we are reborn to the new life of grace and called to be witnesses of the Gospel before the world,” the Pope continued. “Grace is transmitted through the baptismal fountain and the People of God walks in time, disseminating God’s blessing.”

Therefore, “Baptism makes us ‘missionary disciples’ within the communion of the Church,” he said, highlighting that “each one of us becomes a missionary disciple.”

“On the one hand, we never stop being disciples, learning, receiving; on the other, we are called to the mission, to share what we have received, what we live,” the Pope observed, which is “the experience of love, of faith in the Trinity.”

“There is a close bond, then, between our rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit, our responsibility to live this new life within the Church, in our families and our parishes, and our mission to bring the Gospel to others as channels of God’s grace.”

Emphasizing how we are “called to transmit to faith,” Pope Francis explained that “no one is saved alone,” and that “we are all called, despite our limitations, to proclaim to others the grace received in Baptism.”

Turning to the Church in Japan as an example of how “small communities of the faithful” have survived “clandestinely for over two centuries thanks to the grace of baptism,” the pontiff expressed his hope that their example would “help us to appreciate more fully the profound mystical, communitarian and missionary dimensions of our baptism.”

Bringing his weekly address to a close, the Pope invited all present to “take their Baptism seriously, being disciples and missionaries of the Gospel, by word and example itself.”

Pope Francis then extended personal greetings to pilgrims present from various countries around the world, asking that “God bless you, and the Holy Virgin take care of you.”

Pope Francis Makes New Appointments in the Maronite Church

On Monday, January 13, the Holy Father erected the new apostolic exarchate for the Maronite faithful resident in Western and Central Africa, in ad Ibadan, Nigeria.

- appointed Rev. Simon Faddoul, president of Caritas-Lebanon, as the first apostolic exarch without episcopal title, and as apostolic visitor for the Maronite faithful resident in Southern Africa.

- appointed Bishop Georges Chihane, eparchal vicar of Cairo and Sudan of the Maronites, as apostolic vistor for the Maronite faithful resident in the countries of North Africa nost included in the eparchal territory.

- appointed Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, emeritus of Mossul, Iraq, and bishop of the Syro-Catholic patriarchal curia, as apostolic visitor for the faithful of Syrian rite resident in Western Europe.

Pope Francis To Name 16 New Cardinals

In the wake of Pope Francis’ eagerly anticipated announcement of the names of the new Cardinals, the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, offered the following observations:

The Pope has adhered to the rule of 120 Cardinals under 80 years of age who will be eligible to vote in a papal election. Currently there were 13 seats “vacant”; 3 others will be “vacant” by the end of May. So the Pope has chosen 16 electors.

Of the 16 eligible to vote, 4 are members of the Curia (i.e., ¼ of the total) and 12 are residential archbishops or bishops, all from different countries .

The distribution of electors who are residential prelates is well distributed among the different continents: Two from Europe, three from North and Central America, three from South America, two from Africa, and two from Asia.

The choice of Cardinals of Burkina Faso and Haiti shows concern for people struck by poverty.

Two residential prelates were chosen from places not traditionally considered Cardinalatial Sees (namely, Perugia in Italy, and Cotabato on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines).

Among the Cardinals who are not electors, one should notice Archbishop Capovilla, the secretary of Pope John XXIII (who will soon be canonized during the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council).

Archbishop Capovilla, aged 98, is the oldest of the Cardinals-elect; the youngest, Bishop Langlois (55 years old).

Monthly Meeting of the Maronite Bishops, January 08, 2014

Lebanon looks like Prometheus, the mythological greek friend of mankind, punished by the gods for having brought to men the gift of fire. In the same way, the Land of the cedars is affected because in an area of the world torn by sectarian strife, from ethnic-religious cleansing to clashes to impose obscurantist regimes. Thus, resorting to Greek mythology, the monthly Assembly of the Maronite bishops - was held on Wednesday, January 8 in the patriarchal seat in Bkerké under the presidency of Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai - who described the condition of the Country in this dramatic historical moment, calling on all the Lebanese "to renew their act of faith in Lebanon as an entity and as a formula, preserving the role and the mission carried out in the region and within the international community".

The sectarian and political reasons invoked to justify "the reign of terror that one tries to impose with car bombs, with growing instability and various attacks", reads the final communiqué of the Assembly, pose all Lebanese together in front of the responsibility to avoid their homeland to be turned into a devastated land".Lebanon has lived without a government for nine months. The vetoes of opposing political blocks paralyze the Country's political life, as they approach the presidential elections, scheduled for next May. The bishops in their statement urge all parliamentarians "to take charge of their duties", hastening to form a government that measures up to the dramatic moment experienced by the Country and ensuring the continuity of vital institutions.

Holy Gospel on Sunday of the Finding of the Lord in the Temple

Letter to the Hebrews 7:11-19. 
If perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood for the people received the law under this priesthood what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of him, ‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’ There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 2:41-52. 
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. 

Bkerke is Against a "Fait Accompli" Government in Lebanon

The highest representatives of the Maronite Church are opposed to the formation of a "fait accompli" government that does not represent the balance of political forces operating in the Country of the Cedars. This was declared by Bishop Boulos Nabil El-Sayah, with reference to the considerations attributed to the Maronite Curia. "The Maronite Patriarch is against the formation of a "fait accompli" government because such a step could exacerbate the political impasse", said Bishop El-Sayah in an interview published in the newspaper Al-Joumhouria. The idea of creating such a government, according to the Maronite Bishop, is a danger to "the entire Lebanese society", because it risks aggravating the conflicting tendencies that already afflict the Country after the recent new wave of attacks.

The political stalemate in Lebanon which began eight months ago because of the vetoes of the two political blocs - the coalition on March 8 and the coalition on March 14 – appears to be untenable, now that the Country seems to be falling back into chaos. The March 8 coalition - which includes the Hezbollah Shiite party and the Free Patriotic Current, led by the Maronite general Michel Aoun - has proposed the formation of a government that confers 9 ministers in each of the two opposing blocs and 6 ministers to centrist independents. This proposal contrasts with the idea of a "neutral" government, which wants Hezbollah out of the government and this would have the likely side effect of postponing the presidential elections, scheduled for next May.