Pope Francis expresses “strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unityRead Now
At the end of his general audience on Wednesday, November 30, Pope Francis greeted the Church of Constantinople, and the “beloved Patriarch Bartholomew” on the occasion of the Feast of the Apostle St. Andrew, traditionally held to be the founder of the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Pope Francis expressed his desire to be united to the Patriarch and to the church of Constantinople, offering them his “best wishes for all possible goods, for all the blessings of the Lord, and a warm embrace.”
A delegation from the Holy See, bearing a message from Pope Francis, is in Istanbul for a visit to the Patriarchate on the Apostle’s feast day. The customary visit is reciprocated each year on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome.
The Holy See delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch was accompanied by the Council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and the Undersecretary, Monsignor Andrea Palmieri. The delegation was joined in Constantinople by the Apostolic Nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The delegation took part in the solemn Divine Liturgy offered by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in the patriarchal church of Saint George at the Phanar. They also met with the Patriarch, as well as with the synodal commission on relations with the Catholic Church.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Cardinal Koch delivered an autograph message of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch, accompanied by a gift.
In the message, Pope Francis said the annual exchange of delegations is “a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us” as well as “an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion.” In the journey toward full communion, he said, “we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age.”
Pope Francis also noted “the strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unity expressed by the Great and Holy Council held in Crete in June. The Pope noted that relations between the churches have, at times, been marked by conflicts; “only prayer, common good works, and dialogue,” he said, “can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another.”
The Holy Father also wrote about the importance of theological dialogue, and especially the shared reflection on the relationship between synodality and primacy in the first millennium. This reflection, he said, “can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the Church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled.”
Finally, Pope Francis fondly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders and representatives of various world religions in Assisi. The Assisi gathering, he said, was a joyful opportunity to deepen our friendship, which finds expression in a shared vision regarding the great questions that affect the life of the Church and of all society. He concluded his message with an assurance of prayer and best wishes for the Ecumenical Patriarch, and all those entrusted to his spiritual care.
Vatican 'environment friendly' Christmas tree erected in St. Peter's SquareRead Now
Preparations are under way in St. Peter’s Square for the nativity scene and the Christmas tree which has been erected, as per tradition, in the middle of the square.
This year’s tree is a 25-meter-tall red spruce and is from Trento, in the north of Italy. In its original place, local schoolchildren have planted some 40 new spruce and larch seedlings to replace trees suffering from a parasite that had to be culled. At the end of the Christmas season, the wood from the tree will be used for charity.
The ornaments that will adorn it are ceramic, and have been made by children in hospitals across Italy who are receiving treatment for cancer and other illnesses.
The tree will also shine brightly thanks to the some 18,000 Christmas lights which have been especially chosen in respect of the environment: their LED technology allows for extremely low energy consumption.
The nativity scene is not visible yet but its figures and setting pay tribute to the people who are forced to flee their countries and undertake dangerous journeys across the sea.
According to the International Organization of Migration over 3000 people have died in the Mediterranean this year, but the tally is thought to be higher as many vessels and sinkings go unrecorded.
Hailing from the island of Malta, the Nativity Scene will measure 19 meters in width, and it will feature 17 statues dressed in traditional Maltese costumes as well as a replica of a traditional “Luzzu” Maltese boat.
The boat not only represents tradition - fish and life - but also, unfortunately the realities of migrants who in these same waters cross the sea on makeshift boats to Italy.
Both the Nativity and the Christmas tree will be lit on December 9, and will remain illuminated until Sunday, January 8.
By Giorgio Bernardelli / Vatican Insider
Vatican Insider hears from Etienne Villemain, the man who came up with the idea that ended up in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera”: “In our communities we usually meet the poor at the church entrance. But their place is in the heart of the Church”
Not many get to launch an idea which then appears in black and white in a Pope’s Apostolic Letter. But Etienne Villemain invites us to look beyond: “I don’t think it was a proposal we came up with, it was the Holy Spirit that suggested it to us…”
Etienne is the founder of Lazare, a French association which, for the past decade or so, has brought together young people who have chosen to open the doors to the homeless. He was 20 when he and a friend opened his apartment to a person without a fixed abode for the first time; today, there are 18 such homes in Paris, hosting 300 people in total, a community of homeless people and young volunteers. They were the life and soul of Fratello 2016, the pilgrimage that brought 4000 homeless people from 22 European countries to Rome on the weekend of November 11-13 .
In paragraph 22 of the post-Jubilee Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera”, Pope Francis writes that it was his meeting with them that gave him the inspiration to institute a World Day of the Poor, as a concrete sign of the legacy of the Holy Year of Mercy. A Day which, from now on, will be celebrated on an annual basis by the whole Church, on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Sunday before the feast of Christ the King. It was Villemain himself who, introducing his friends to the Pope in the Paul VI hall, had expressly asked him whether the Church could institute a World Day of the Poor.
“I felt immense joy and a great sense of peace when I read that passage of the Apostolic Letter,” he says. “In our communities, we usually meet the poor at the church entrance. Jesus said to us: Whatever you did to them, you did to me. This is what the World Day of Poor is about. Understanding that we can no longer be Christians just by tradition; following Jesus means letting the poor into our lives”.
Francis’ decision is, in a way, the conclusion of a journey: in October 2014 Lazare had endorsed an initial pilgrimage to the Vatican with 200 French homeless people; the Pope received them on that occasion too. “We were all deeply moved by that first encounter,” explains Villemain. “That day, I saw people who were profoundly touched by God’s love. One woman said something that remained impressed on my mind: “I may not have a house to call my own but now I know I have a place in Jesus’ heart”.
It was so that the idea of Fratello 2016 came about in the context of the Holy Year. The international pilgrimage was led by the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, a great friend of Lazare. Then, on Friday 11th – during the audience in the Paul VI hall, along with the proposal for the World Day of the Poor – came the powerful moment of prayer led by Pope Francis surrounded by homeless people who rested their hands on his shoulders and prayed with him. This was a visible sign of what it means for today’s Church to let itself be touched by the poor. “Two days later I had the chance to meet the new Pope before the mass in St Peter’s Square,” the founder of Lazare said. “I gave it another stab: ‘Your Holiness, would you agree to a World Day of the Poor being organised?’ He smiled and answered: ‘Yes’. Then the mass started and during the homily, he said off the cuff: ‘I wish today was the Day of the Poor…’”.
Why is this sign so important? “Because it will help us to understand that people on the street are not a problem for the poor; it is a challenge to all of us;” Etienne says. “It is only by facing up to this problem that Europe can rediscover its Christian roots. Approaching the poor means approaching Christ. It is by opening our doors to them that we discover how poor we ourselves are, placing us in the conditions for a real encounter with Jesus.”
Everyone’s attention now turns to 19 November 2017, when the World Day of the Poor will be celebrated officially for the first time. “The idea is that each nation should ensure moments of encounter with the poor,” he explains. “Of course some will be celebrating it with the Pope; but the important thing is for every local church to be properly involved in the event,so that it can be a chance for everyone to reflect on the poor and pray with them.”
The International Catholic Conference of Scouting for the Europe Mediterranean Region was held in Amman from the 24th till the 27th of November at the center Our Lady of Peace, under the theme “Building Bridges”. Fr. Imad Twal, General Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, who conducted the first session of the meeting, explained how peace is not only a concept but also an aspect of culture and how the scouts can make a difference in the region for a better coexistence.
Following is the text of his address:
Firstly, I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak and for giving me the opportunity to be with you. I hope that by the end of the conference, we can discover the path to contribute to building bridges and removing barriers in order to achieve peace and build a better future.
Achieving peace, in spite of all the changes and crises in the world generally and in the Middle East and the Holy Land (to which I belong) in particular, is without a doubt the most important and talked about matter at the moment. We realize that peace is not only a concept but also an aspect of culture. Thus, the question is, how can we promote this culture of peace in a time when, to borrow a phrase from the comic play As in aria by Titus Plautus, “a man is a wolf to another man” (Homo homini lupus), where he loses his humanity and uses the name of God and religion to achieve his personal gains? How can we renounce violence in order to use our mind and choose the language of dialogue and understanding instead of the language of conflict, so as to build a stable, progressive and prosperous world for everyone?
Let’s take a different look at this matter, from the point of view of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. We focus attention on the youth and their upbringing, for they will be peacemakers and leaders of change, to work towards achieving peace, building and maintaining bridges and removing barriers. Perhaps we can begin to deepen the dialogue, taking into consideration the contemporary challenges, through a three-part mission of “encounter” in the home and family, in the school and university, in the society and church.
When Pope Francis met with the Catholic scouts and girl guides in Italy, he praised their educational mission in which children and young people are engaged. He said: “I’m confident that this organization is capable to convey to the church a new enthusiasm for evangelization and a new ability for dialogue.” He also urged them to build bridges in society. “As a scout movement, you are called to build bridges in a society which is accused to putting up barriers.” He further accentuated the importance of taking part in the pastoral work of the Church.
As Catholic scouts, we must have the conviction and belief in the vital role that a sound education and upbringing play in the development of societies and people and in accepting society’s cultural diversity.
“So many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures and languages but with one aim, that of rejoicing that Jesus is living in our midst. To say that Jesus is alive means to rekindle our enthusiasm in following him, to renew our passionate desire to be his disciples. What better opportunity to renew our friendship with Jesus than by building friendships among yourselves! What better way to build our friendship with Jesus than by sharing him with others! What better way to experience the contagious joy of the Gospel than by striving to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations!” (Pope Francis, Poland 2016)
Let’s look at the concept of coexistence and building bridges in the Holy Land and how the Catholic scout contributed successfully, since their founding, to successfully implementing this concept in reality:
The Holy Land:
It comprises the cities east and west bank of the Jordan River, where Arab Muslims and Christians live. When we say “Arab Christians” we emphasize their Arabic identity and Christian presence as citizens who have rights and responsibilities before the Law and the Constitution. Here we are talking about the strong relationship between eastern Christians and Muslims in their daily life, which involves living, working, and celebrating religious holidays together such as Christmas and Ramadan.
King Abdullah II of Jordan has always emphasized the important role that upbringing and education plays in the future of youth. He said during “The Challenges Facing Arab Christians” Conference that “our main concern is that such an entrenched negative perception and the state of isolation between the followers of the different religions might undermine the social fabric. This requires all of us to focus on education, and the way we bring up our children to protect the generations to come. This is the responsibility of families and other educational institutions, as well as mosques and churches.”
Lieutenant General Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, once said “Try your best to make a difference in this world, and leave the world a little better for having been here.” That is the mission of the Scout Movement, which works towards building bridges and removing barriers to build a better life and a developed world. A way in which this may be done is by contributing to social, ecological, humanitarian and voluntary work.
Father Jacques Sevin, who introduced scouting to the Catholic world, was the first to see that the Scouting Movement can be used to spread the spirit of fraternity and service, which meet youths’ expectations. He adopted the British scouting model and implemented it in France, adding a Catholic and religious dimension to it. But how did he do that?
Religious education should unite and be part of the normal upbringing: in his book “Scouting”, Sevin wrote: “Religion is at the heart of Scouting, because the aim of Scouting is the development of the whole human being. We are before a full presence in education and faith, and Scouting is a real implementation that draws the attention of the youth through instilling Scouting spirituality in the celebrations of the Church”. Fr. Sevin founded the congregation of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem and he took a text of Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, adapting it to become the scout prayer.
Incorporation of Christian scouting into the Biblical dynamic movement of Salvation History. Fr. Sevin once wrote “Scouting is the starting a new understanding of the world by appreciating God’s creation.” This is how the desire to know the Gospel (which is the essence of God’s revelation) started, so Scouting had to show God’s work and to deepen faith through its activities and programs.
Scouting is the place of the revelation of the Good News, so is the lived experience. Reading Bible passages is not enough, we need to implement God’s word and His presence through fraternal love in group activities. Living one’s religion in Scouting deepens the spiritual dimension in the Bible.
We have the theology of the Incarnation and People of God. Scouting is compared to People of God who camped in the desert and tried to discover the way to God. Scouting is the journey of an alliance with God, which is realized by serving others. “The Scout is proud of his faith and lives by it all his life.”
Scouting, through prayer and austerity, seeks to implement the word of God. Scouting is a path of revelation through the life of camp. Scouting is austere through service. The experience gained from scouting is persistence and living in the steps of faith.
Scouting that adopts the spirit of initiative taking, experiencing nature and searching for physical development, is a theological justification and real presence in the Incarnation. By this I mean, by the words of Fr. Sevin once wrote: “Camping life is a testimony of staying in God’s tent for the spiritual development of the true scout.”
How do we build bridges and peace in today’s world?
This requires a mind-set that does not place false ideas of “security” as the primary purpose of life. As you know the primary purposes are concerned with love; with hope; and with justice. And as such be promoted by building walls and dividing humanity. At best, building walls may lead to a “cease fire;” but destroys and chance of mutual respect, love, and care for each other – and especially care of the most vulnerable in society. It is here that scouting is at its best; in the narrative of love and hope, and not of war and division. Build bridges of love and not walls of war.
Building bridges and achieving peace won’t become a reality without first becoming peacemakers in our individual lives and then in the lives of others. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” said Mahatma Ghandi.
The mission of the Holy Land: is an example of cultural, religious and social diversity in a land that suffers from an identity conflict (Palestinian-Israeli conflict), so how can we find harmony as Arabs (ethnicity) and Christians (identity) in the Holy Land, where there are different cultures and social classes, and use this difference to work together to achieve peace?
Here we have national, ethnic, human and religious responsibilities.
Openness: Openness builds and develops; it does not destroy. It respects differences and the views of others.
The Scouting youth: if we trust our youth and our ability to instil what we want in their Scout’s honour; we would succeed in creating a better future. Scouting is a fertile land to build bridges and a universal fraternity between scouts. As Baden Powell said “A Scout is a friend to Scouts around the world and the people around him/her.”
Brothers don’t fight each other. If we befriended people in other countries, we won’t need to wage war. This is the best way to prevent any future wars and achieve peace permanently.” And it is the adopted philosophy of the World Scout Jamboree for the scout is the apostle of peace.
Nowadays, the church nowadays faces many challenges. Our Pope has talked about relativism, the social, political and cultural crisis and the negative aspect of the media and globalization.
We have a real and practical answer on how to face these challenges just like the reality of the early church. How did the church stay strong after the Pentecost? How did it grow? What are its pillars and source of its strength?
It was all done through faith in the work and revelations of the Holy Spirit but most importantly belief in the Bible.
Scouting was suitable for gaining experience, talking and teaching to face challenges.
The Gift of faith: what is it?
Realizing the gravity of these challenges is the first step to overcome them through helping the youth. St. Paul urged the youth to seek for the truth. Look before you cry, search with love and service, renounce the devil and listen to the cries of the world and Christians, for choosing the ideal life is not an extra test but an essential one.
The church realizes that the youth are the gift of faith that it gives, but how? By learning about the love of forgiveness when God intervened in our life, and sent His son who built a new humanity. God whose Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Through the education provided by the Church, youth are given a clear image about authentic faith through her teachings and belief in spreading love, faith and spreading hope. We have to listen to the youth and respect them. Adults should be credible role models if youth are to accept directions; for credibility is the foundation of growth in the relationship between the church and society.
Let’s look at life from a new perspective, where bridges are ties while roadblocks are the obstacles. From this viewpoint, You control your life. You can choose to build bridges or roadblocks. In practice, we should develop our innate sense of commitment, leadership skills, and integration with the other members of the group all the while being aware of the surrounding environment, in order to build a more humane world. Prayer and team work will provide greater efficacy.
Pope Francis said “the person who wants to build walls instead of bridges is not Christian”. As a final recommendation, we should pay a close attention to the importance of Christian education and this is where the mission of the church, parish and the faithful lies. We must have hope. The future shape or condition of the church lies in the hands of our youth. Education methods are changing and directing and forming young minds is not easy. Youth today require elders to support and accompany them in nurturing and caring for their faith testimony.
The bridge that you build will allow you to meet people on the other side. You can build it through love, warmth, communion, understanding, forgiveness and acceptance of diversity. It would your best achievement if you extend your hand to others and help them grow and succeed.
In conclusion, when we build bridges, we allow God to work through us. We plant the seeds of love and faith. We make Him present in humanity. We love God by loving others.
ACN issues report on spiral persecution for religious reasons around the worldRead Now
By Inés San Martín/ cruxnow.com
A new report from the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need finds a mounting spiral of violence and persecution for religious reasons around the world, including what it describes as the lethal impact of the rise of "Islamist hyper-extremism."
“Why don’t you talk about us? It is because we’re not European?”
This was the challenging question posed by Sister Guadalupe Rodrigo, an Argentine-born missionary in the Middle East to hundreds gathered last April in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York for the congress, dedicated to the theme of anti-Christian persecution.
“Do you remember the attacks in Paris? The reaction of the people was spectacular, the media, the social networks… It happened on a Friday. Imagine there was another attack on Saturday. And then one on Sunday,” she said. “Imagine what the reaction would have been.”
“This happens every day in Syria,” she deadpanned.
In recent years Christians and other minorities in the Middle East have not only suffered violence and persecution, they have been victims of kidnapping, hanging, crucifixion, executions and sexual enslavement, but also abandonment, she said.
“The West has turned its back on us,” said Rodrigo, who’s been serving in the Middle East for 20 years.
The situation she described doesn’t happen only in Syria, where UNICEF estimates half a million children live under siege, almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid and basic services.
Speaking to Asia News, Father Vincent Bimal Rozario, the chaplain of Mathbari who was tied and gagged during the assault, said that despite assurances from the police for increased protection, seeing how these incidents continue to happen, he’s concerned about the safety of the community.
In 2014, a local convent was attacked and two nuns assaulted and raped.
These are not isolated cases, in isolated communities, but part of a trend that continues to grow: Violence, persecution and executions for religious reasons, including of Christians around the world.
According to the latest report from the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), presented in the United Kingdom last week, the situation is getting steadily worse.
The Religious Freedom in the World report was compiled by in-country experts, including journalists, academics and commentators, and examines the degree to which nation states uphold the principle of religious freedom and the impact of destabilizing extremist groups within society.
The report even speaks of a new form of religiously motivated violence, described as “Islamist hyper-extremism.”
This phenomenon, the study found, has had a “toxic impact regarding religious liberty around the world:” From June 2014 to June 2016, one in five countries in the world has seen at least one attack by Islamic extremists, from Austria to Sweden, including 17 African nations.
It’s worth noting, as the study does, that one of the characteristics of this extreme radicalization are systematic attempts to annihilate or drive out all groups who don’t conform to their outlook, including other Muslims who are either moderate or of different traditions.
For instance, Asad Shah, an Ahmadiyya Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow, was killed in March 2016 by another Muslim because he had wished his Facebook friends a happy Easter.
The study, conducted in 196 countries, also found that in parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, but also in parts of Africa and the Asian sub-continent, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity, intending to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.
Yet the findings aren’t reduced to a growing religious intolerance in these regions, nor is it only of Islamic origin.
In Europe, for instance, there has been an upsurge of anti-Semitic attacks, a trend that according to the report came to the world’s attention with the January 2015 attacks on a kosher restaurant in Paris two days after the killings at the office of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine. Australian Jews recorded 190 anti-Semitic incidents in 18 months between 2014 and 2015.
Also in Europe, the arrival of refugees fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria because of hyper-extremism has had its ripple effects, including the rise of right-wing and populist groups, discrimination and violence against minority faiths and a decline of social cohesion.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016, urged the international community to encourage Burma to uphold religious freedom.
Whay is the government’s response? Drafting a “Protection of Race and Religion Laws,” which would eliminate a person’s right to convert and to marry someone outside “their race and religion.”
According to the report, in more than half of the 28 Asian countries studied, the lack of religious freedom is either high or medium, and in only 21 percent of them there’s no reason for concern at all.
The situation is worse in the Middle East, where there’s a lack of religious freedom in the 16 countries studied. Persecution is medium or high in 87 percent of these countries.
In Europe, according to the study, there’s a reason for concern over religious freedom in the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Denmark, and Germany, while the situation is even more worrying in Cyprus and Greece.
One in three people live in a country with no religious freedom, and one in six Christians live in a country where they’re persecuted.
All in all, despite improvements in a handful of countries from the 2012-2014 study, the report says the situation has worsened in 11 of the 23 countries with less religious freedom, adding to a spiral of violence Pope Francis has dubbed “a piecemeal war” or a third war in pieces.
Although some would like to blame religious beliefs for the world’s violence, those who’ve fallen victim to religiously motivated hatred disagree.
“If we are to break the cycle of violence threatening to engulf our world, we need to replace war with peace,” Syriac-Catholic Father Jacques Mourad wrote in the foreword of the ACN report.
Mourad knows what he’s talking about: In 2015 he was kidnapped by ISIS and together with a deacon held in a 19-by-10-foot bathroom that served as their prison cell for 84 days, until they managed to escape.
“In this day and age more than ever, it is time to cast aside religious hatred and personal interests and learn to love one another as our faiths call us to do,” he writes.
By Anugrah Kumar/ Christian Post
As Iraqi forces' battle for Mosul lingers on, survivors from nearby Christian areas that have been liberated are returning to find their places of worship desecrated, just as a historic church building in the town of Keramlis on the Nineveh Plains had been converted into a military-style base with tunnels constructed under it.
Santa Barbara Church in Keramlis, an ancient Assyrian town about 18 miles southeast of Mosul, now has tons of rubble and earth piled on it and a network of tunnels dug under it, according to BBC, which visited Christian areas in Iraq.
Militants from Islamic State, a Sunni terror group also known as ISIS had been using the church building as a military-style base, survivors found.
The majority of the residents of Keramlis fled after ISIS invaded it after seizing Mosul and surrounding areas two years ago. The Christian residents were told to convert to Sunni Islam or leave the town. Thousands of them fled to Iraq's Kurdish region and hundreds of others to neighboring countries, Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
"They (ISIS) are the grandsons of Satan," Basma al-Saoor, a Christian survivor, was quoted as saying.
The St. Addai Church in the same town is also a scene of destruction. Its confessional had been turned into a closet, a tomb had been desecrated and red prayer benches were burned. Parish priest, Father Paul Thabet, was quoted as saying that those responsible must be brought to justice.
In nearby Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian-majority town about 20 miles southeast of Mosul and which was also liberated recently, homes and churches had also been damaged or destroyed. Now it's a shattered town, with ruins and bullet holes on buildings.
Iraq's ancient Assyrian city of Calah, mentioned in the Bible's first book Genesis and also known as Nimrud, has its monuments and statues destroyed by IS militants due to their "non-Islamic" character. Located on the Nineveh Plains about 20 miles south of Mosul, the excavated remains of the city have been reduced to rubble.
"It is part of cultural cleansing," Michael Danti, academic director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the American Schools of Oriental Research, was quoted as saying. "ISIS tries to destroy cultural diversity and is targeting the cultural memory by attacking places like Nimrud and Hatra," a nearby archeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage site still under control of ISIS.
In the ongoing battle for Mosul, which began about six weeks ago, about 100,000 U.S.-backed government and Kurdish forces are closing in on up to 6,000 ISIS fighters.
The terror group uses brutal methods to torture and punish those who it considers to be its enemies, including Muslims who do not believe in its version of Islam. Christians and other minorities are among its main targets.
"We must be prepared for the Advent of Jesus Christ who will come unexpectedly"Read Now
Pope Francis on Sunday, November 27, reflected on three “visits” of Christ Our Lord, saying that we must be ever prepared for this guest who will come unexpectedly.
The Pope spoke of this theme today, on this first Sunday of Advent, before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
The first of Our Lord’s visits happened in the Incarnation, the Holy Father said; the second visit is “in the present” as the Lord “visits us continually every day, he journeys at our side and is a consoling presence.”
“And,” the Pope continued, “at the end will be the last visit, which we profess each time we recite the Creed, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.’”
The Gospel of today’s Mass tells us of this last visit, Francis noted, as it “highlights the contrast between the normal development of things and the daily routine and the sudden arrival of the Lord.”
“The Gospel doesn’t want to make us afraid, but rather to open our horizons to the final, greater dimension, that relativizes everyday things and at the same time, makes them valuable and decisive. A relationship with the God who comes to visit us gives a distinct light, a weight, a symbolic value, to everything,” the Pope said.
This perspective brings an “invitation to sobriety,” he added, and the warning to keep the things of this world in their proper perspective, that is, to govern them and not allow them to govern us.
If we fail to do this, “we cannot perceive that there is something much more important: our final encounter with the Lord who comes for us,” the Pope said.
We have to learn that we cannot depend on earthly securities, Francis reminded. The Lord is coming, and he comes “to introduce us into a dimension that is greater and more beautiful.”
The Holy Father concluded by drawing attention to Mary’s role in Advent: “Our Lady, the Virgin of Advent, helps us to not consider ourselves the owners of our lives, to not resist when the Lord comes to change our lives, but to be ready to allow ourselves to be visited by Him, this delightful and awaited guest, even though He will dismantle our plans.”
Gianni Valente/ Vatican City
President-elect of the United States Donald Trump has dedicated some telling - albeit few in number - tweets, frequently changing his tone. Among them is a declaration of admiration which refers to humility as the alleged “common denominator” between Francis and himself.
How is Pope Francis’ relationship with Trump going to unfold? This is one of the question marks over the new US Administration under President-elect Donald Trump. Everyone will recall the sparks that flew between Trump and the Bishop of Rome over the issue of the ant-immigration wall, when Francis celebrated Mass just metres away from the US-Mexican border. But there are other lesser-known remarks which the US’ next “Commander in Chief” addressed to the current Successor of Peter on Twitter. A mixed bag of opinions and comments, which even included a declaration of admiration which refers to humility as the alleged “common denominator” between Pope Francis and himself.
So far, the incident that occurred during Francis’ visit to Mexico last February, seems to provide the basis for predicting the nature of the Pope’s future relations with the President-elect. Trump picked a fight during an interview with Fox television; when asked to comment on the Mass Francis was due to celebrate with migrants in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso (Texas), he referred to the Pope as “a very political person” who “doesn't understand the problems our country has” nor “the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico”. He also emphasised that, in his opinion, Mexico had “got him to do it (to celebrate mass in Ciudad Juarez, Ed.). Because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they are making a fortune and we are losing”.
On the return flight to Rome, the Pope was very frank in his remarks about the opinions Trump had expressed, stating that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”. Trump’s media response was that “for a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful”. Referring to a hypothetical jihadist attack on the Vatican, he retorted: “I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened”.
The sheer thought of an imminent clash between the world’s most powerful political leader and the Bishop of Rome is already tickling the conditioned reflexes of the global media system. But Obama’s successor had already voiced various thoughts and opinions regarding Francis way before the words exchanged via the media last February. Trump’s comments began right from the moment Bergoglio was elected Pope. A string of clichés, boutades and declarations about how different the Pope’s “style” was to his but also expressions of respect.
Trump began in the early hours of March 14, 2013, just hours after the Conclave had taken place, expressing the usual wishes “to my Catholic friends on the selection of Pope Francis I to lead the Catholic Church. People that know him love him!” Just days later, he turned his nose up at Pope Francis decision on the first day of his pontificate to go and settle his hotel bill at the “Domus” in Rome’s Via della Scrofa: “I don't like seeing the Pope standing at the checkout counter (front desk) of a hotel in order to pay his bill. It's not Pope-like!” Trump tweeted on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 19, the day on which the Pope celebrated Mass for the inauguration of his pontificate. In response to those who pointed out that the Pope, unlike Trump, did not feel the need to boast about how great he was, the future President joked: “That’s why I’ll never be Pope!” But it was on first Christmas of Francis’ pontificate, in the magical atmosphere of New York, full of festive lights and goodwill, that Trump found the right words to express his fascination with the Bishop of Rome, but the reason he gave added an unexpected twist: “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” This affectionate remark about the Pope garnered over 5000 retweets.
Trump’s tweets about Pope Francis are not just the alleged points in common and differences between the two. In April 2014, the presidential elections were still a long way off. Perhaps Trump had already considered running for President, who knows. In the meantime, he was having some fun on Twitter too and in the midst of his swashbuckling social media adventures, he decided to drag in Pope Francis. He was asked who would be his dream guest on The Celebrity Apprentice, an American television show which he himself hosted and has been broadcast on NBC since 2008. He drily responded: “The Pope!”
In actual fact, the US President-elect took an interest in Vatican affairs even before Pope Francis came along. He even commented on Benedict XVI’s decision to resign from the papacy, expressing his thorough disapproval in his usual rough and frank manner: “The Pope should not have resigned—he should have lived it out. It hurts him, it hurts the church...”
Francis has performed the final act marking the conclusion of the extraordinary Jubilee. But the time of mercy continues
"O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Just after the schola cantorum finished pronouncing this verse, Francis closed the heavy Holy Door, having stood before it in silent prayer. The very same Door he opened during the inauguration of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, just under a year ago, on 8 December 2015, in the presence of his predecessor.
It is thus that a widely celebrated Jubilee - experienced in all dioceses across the world, not just Rome - came to an end. A Jubilee that was not marked by grand events but a widespread invitation to conversion. Although it would be impossible to give precise figures, there are many testimonies that show a significant rise in the number of confessions. And although the Holy Year is drawing to an end, the time of mercy is not: on Monday 21 November, the Apostolic Letter "Misericordia er Misera" is being published. This letter is intended by Francis as a sign, that although the Holy Door is closing, the merciful action of God and Church will continue.
In "The Name of God is Mercy", the book Francis published in January 2016, he said: "Yes, I believe that this is a time of mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she takes care of them, she makes them feel loved, And so, as I said, and I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairós, our era is a kairós of mercy, a time of opportunity."