(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent an official delegate from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development to Aleppo in Syria.
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, the Pope’s delegate, visited the war-ravaged city on the 18-23 January, accompanied by Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, and Msgr. Thomas Habib, Counselor to the Nunciature.
A statement released on Tuesday by the Dicastery for Integral Human Development said this was the first official visit by representatives of the Holy See after the end of hostilities in Aleppo.
“The delegation was able to meet the Christian communities and their pastors, who expressed their gratitude to the Pope for his constant attention to beloved Syria. In addition, he visited Catholic charitable institutions and a number of refugee camps. In particular, a centre for humanitarian assistance managed by Caritas Aleppo in the Hanano neighbourhood was inaugurated.”
The Vatican delegation also participated in an ecumenical prayer service organized for the week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Another moment of encounter occurred when the delegation met with representatives of Islam, during which “the responsibility of religions to educate for peace and reconciliation was underlined”.
Local civil and religious authorities “paid homage to the delegation, expressing particular gratitude for the Holy Father’s gesture in elevating to the dignity of cardinal the Papal Representative to the country [Cardinal Zenari], and acknowledging in this the Pope’s special closeness to the afflicted Syrian population”.
The statement goes on to detail the importance of the encounters with Catholic charities in the country.
"Finally, the meetings with Catholic charitable entities highlighted the importance of the assistance they provide for the benefit of all the Syrian population. With the support of the universal Church and thanks to the generous contribution of the international community, such aid can be intensified in the future to face the growing needs of the people."
In conclusion, the statement detailed the items currently most needed, which include “food, clothing, education, healthcare, and housing”.
(Vatican Radio) The Vatican has released Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Social Communications. The theme of this year’s message is "Fear not, for I am with you": Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time. The World Day of Social Communications is celebrated in almost all countries on the Sunday before Pentecost. The message is being issued on 24 January, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists.
Listen to the report by Charles Collins:
Please find the full text of the message below:
"Fear not, for I am with you» (Is 43:5):
Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time"
Access to the media – thanks to technological progress – makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false. The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always “grinding”, but it is up to us to choose what to feed them (cf. SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, Epistle to Leontius).
I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.
I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.
I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.
Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?
For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.
This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation. He has told us that we are not alone, for we have a Father who is constantly mindful of his children. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5): these are the comforting words of a God who is immersed in the history of his people. In his beloved Son, this divine promise – “I am with you” – embraces all our weakness, even to dying our death. In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure. That hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5) and makes new life blossom, like a shoot that springs up from the fallen seed. Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.
Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom
To introduce his disciples and the crowds to this Gospel mindset and to give them the right “lens” needed to see and embrace the love that dies and rises, Jesus uses parables. He frequently compares the Kingdom of God to a seed that releases its potential for life precisely when it falls to the earth and dies (cf. Mk 4:1-34). This use of images and metaphors to convey the quiet power of the Kingdom does not detract from its importance and urgency; rather, it is a merciful way of making space for the listener to freely accept and appropriate that power. It is also a most effective way to express the immense dignity of the Paschal mystery, leaving it to images, rather than concepts, to communicate the paradoxical beauty of new life in Christ. In that life, hardship and the cross do not obstruct, but bring about God’s salvation; weakness proves stronger than any human power; and failure can be the prelude to the fulfilment of all things in love. This is how hope in the Kingdom of God matures and deepens: it is “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow” (Mk 4:26-27).
The Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, like a seed that is easily overlooked, yet silently takes root. Those to whom the Holy Spirit grants keen vision can see it blossoming. They do not let themselves be robbed of the joy of the Kingdom by the weeds that spring up all about.
The horizons of the Spirit
Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension. Even though the Lord may now appear more distant, the horizons of hope expand all the more. In Christ, who brings our human nature to heaven, every man and woman can now freely “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). By “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7‑8).
Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate. This confidence enables us to carry out our work – in all the different ways that communication takes place nowadays – with the conviction that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.
Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough. We nurture it by reading ever anew the Gospel, “reprinted” in so many editions in the lives of the saints who became icons of God’s love in this world. Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.
(Vatican Radio) The great wonders of the priesthood of Christ, who offered Himself, once for all, for the forgiveness of sins; and who now intercedes for us before the Father; and who will return to bring us with Him: those are the three stages of the priesthood of Christ highlighted by Pope Francis during his homily at the morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. The Pope also warned of the “unforgivable blasphemy”: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Listen to our report:
The priesthood of Christ was at the centre of the Pope’s homily on Monday. His reflection was taken from the day’s first Reading, from the Letter of Hebrews, which speaks about Christ as the Mediator of the Covenant God has made with human beings. Jesus is the High Priest, and the priesthood of Christ is the great wonder, the greatest wonder, which makes us sing a new song to the Lord, as the Responsorial Psalm says.
The three stages of the priesthood of Christ: He offers Himself; He intercedes for us; He will return to bring us to the Father
The priesthood of Christ takes place in three stages, the Pope said. The first is the redemption: while the priests of the Old Covenant had to offer sacrifices every year, “Christ offered Himself, once for all, for the forgiveness of sins.” With this marvel, “He has brought us to the Father… He has re-created the harmony of creation,” the Pope noted. The second wonder is what the Lord is doing now – that is, praying for us. “While we pray here, He is praying for us” “for each one of us,” Pope Francis emphasized: “now, living, before the Father, He intercedes,” so that the faith might not falter. How often, in fact, are priests asked to pray, the Pope said, because “we know that the prayer of the priest has a certain force, especially in the sacrifice of the Mass.” The third wonder will be when Christ returns; but this third time will not be in relation to sin, but rather, it will be “to establish the definitive Kingdom,” when He will bring all of us to the Father:
“There is this great wonder, this priesthood of Jesus in three stages – that in which He pardons sins, once for all; that in which He intercedes now for us; and that which will occur when He returns. But there is also the contrary: the ‘unforgivable blasphemy.’ It’s hard to hear Jesus saying these things, but He says it, and if He says it, it is true. ‘Amen I say to you, all will be forgiven the children of men’ – and we know that the Lord forgives everything if we open our hearts a bit. Everything! The sins and even the blasphemies they speak – even blasphemies will be pardoned! – but the one who will have blasphemed the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in eternity.”
“The unforgivable blasphemy”: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, will not allow itself to be forgiven
To explain this, the Pope referred to the great priestly anointing of Jesus, which the Holy Spirit accomplished in the womb of Mary; as priests, in the ceremony of ordination, are anointed with oil:
“Even Jesus as the High Priest received this anointing. And what was the first anointing? The flesh of Mary with the work of the Holy Spirit. And he who blasphemes about this, blasphemes about the foundation of the love of God, which is the redemption, the re-creation; blasphemy about the priesthood of Christ. ‘But the Lord does not forgive that wickedness?’ [you might ask]. ‘No! The Lord forgives everything!’ But one who says these things is closed to forgiveness. He doesn’t want to be forgiven! He doesn’t allow himself to be forgiven! This is the ugliness of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: It does not allow itself to be forgiven, because it denies the priestly anointing of Jesus, accomplished by the Spirit.”
Do not close your heart before the wonders of the priesthood of Christ
In conclusion, the Pope returned to the great wonders of the priesthood of Christ, and also to the “unforgivable blasphemy” – unforgivable “not because the Lord does not want to forgive everything, but because this [person] is so closed that he does not allow himself to be forgiven: the blasphemy against this wonder of Jesus”:
Today it would be good for us, during the Mass, to consider that here on the altar the living memorial is made – because He will be present here – of the first priesthood of Jesus, when He offers His life for us. There is also the living memorial of the second priesthood, because He will pray here. But also, in this Mass – we will say it after the Our Father – there is that third priesthood of Jesus, when He will return, and [that is] our hope of glory. In this Mass, let us think about these beautiful things. And let us ask for grace from the Lord that our hearts might never be closed – might never be closed! – to this wonder, to this great, freely-given wonder.”
(Vatican Radio) A series of earthquakes and devastating winter weather have caused “new and harsh trials for our brothers and sisters of Central Italy,” especially in the provinces of Abruzzo, Le Marche, and Lazio, Pope Francis said on Sunday during his weekly Angelus address.
“I am close to them with prayer and with affection for families” whose loved ones are among the victims,” the Holy Father continued. He also encouraged all those taking part, “with great generosity,” in works of aid and assistance, as well as the local churches “who devote themselves to alleviating suffering and difficulties.”
Pope Francis concluded his remarks by leading the people gathered in St Peter’s Square in prayer for all those affected by the disasters.
(Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted that we are currently in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has for its theme this year “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us.”
He noted that the week will conclude in Rome next Wednesday with the ecumenical celebration of Vespers at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. “I invite you to persevere in prayer,” the Pope said, “so that the desire of Christ, ‘That they all might be one,” may be accomplished.”
(Vatican Radio) At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis focused on the early days of Jesus ministry, in Galilee. This region, the Holy Father noted, was a kind of crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Mesopotamian hinterlands. Because of the presence of large numbers of pagans, for the Jews Galilee was seen as a geographical periphery. Little was expected from Galilee in terms of the story of salvation – but it was precisely here that the light of the Gospel began to be diffused throughout the world, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles.
Here, following St John the Baptist, Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. But unlike the Baptist, who waited for the people to come to him, Jesus chose the life of a wandering prophet, going out to meet the people.
Pope Francis noted that Jesus didn’t simply proclaim the Gospel, He sought out companions to associate with Himself in His mission of salvation. He chose simple fisherman, Peter and Andrew, James and John, calling them not in an extraordinary manner, but in the routine of their daily lives. The fishermen, called to be “fishers of men”, responded immediately to Jesus call.
“We, Christians of today,” the Pope said, “have the joy of proclaiming and bearing witness to our faith because of that first announcement, because there were those humble and courageous men who responded generously to the call of Jesus.”
Our awareness of the beginnings of the Christian mission, he continued, “raises up in us the desire to bring the word, the love, and the tenderness of Jesus into every context, even the most impervious and resistant. All the spaces of human life are ground in which to sow the seed of the Gospel, that it might bear the fruits of salvation.”
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday celebrated Mass at the Cathedral Archbasilica of St John Lateran for the conclusion of the Jubilee for the 800th anniversary of the papal confirmation of the Order of Preachers – the Dominicans.
In his homily, the Holy Father contrasted two opposed “human scenarios”: a “‘carnival’ of worldly curiosity, on the one hand; and on the other, the “glorification of the Father through good works.”
Saint Paul, in the Letter to Timothy, warns against the worldly curiosity that sees men and women, with “itching ears,” always seeking after new teachers, “fables,” strange doctrines, ideologies. The very human tendency to seek novelties, the Pope said, “finds the ideal environment in the society of appearances, of consumption… Even the truth is “made-up”, covered with cosmetics to appear novel and attractive.
Against this worldly “carnival” atmosphere stands the opposite scenario, found in the words of the Jesus in the Gospel: “that they may glorify your heavenly Father.” The passage from a pseudo-festive superficiality to glorification comes about “through the good works of those who, having become disciples of Christ, are become “salt” and “light.”
This, the Pope said, “is the response of Jesus and of the Church, this is the solid support in the midst of a ‘fluid’ environment: good works, which we are able to accomplish thanks to Christ and His Holy Spirit, and which cause to rise up in the heart thanksgiving to the Father, and praise.
Today, Pope Francis said, concluding his homily, “we give thanks to the Father for the work that Saint Dominic, full of the light and the salt of Christ, accomplished 800 years ago; a work at the service of the Gospel, preached with words and with his life; a work that, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, has helped so many men and women to not lose themselves in the midst of the ‘carnival’ of worldly curiosity, but rather sense the taste of sound doctrine, the taste of the Gospel; who, in their turn, have become light and salt, doers of good works… and true brothers and sisters who glorify God, and teach others to glorify God, by the good works of their lives.
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