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Mother Cabrini's care for immigrants remains relevant, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2017 / 11:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter Tuesday to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis reflected on the role of their foundress, St. Frances Cabrini, explaining how her example is a fitting guide for the challenges of migration we face today.

“The centennial of the death of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is one of the main events marking the journey of the Church,” the Pope said Sept. 19. “Both because of the greatness of the figure commemorated and because of the contemporary nature of her charism and message, not just for the ecclesial community but for society as a whole.”

With the “inevitable tensions” caused by the high levels of migration around the world today, Mother Cabrini becomes a contemporary figure, he continued.

Pointing to her example, he said “the great migrations underway today need guidance filled with love and intelligence similar to what characterizes the Cabrinian charism. In this way the meeting of peoples will enrich all and generate union and dialogue, not separation and hostility.”

The Pope’s words on Mother Cabrini and immigration were sent to participants in the General Assembly of the Institute of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

They are meeting in Chicago Sept. 17-23, marking the 100th anniversary of the death of their foundress, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.

An Italian missionary, Mother Cabrini died on Dec. 22, 1917 after spending much of her life working with Italian immigrants in the United States.

She spent nearly 30 years traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean as well as around the United States setting up orphanages, hospitals, convents, and schools for the often marginalized Italian immigrants. Her feast is celebrated Nov. 13.

We must not forget, Pope Francis noted, St. Cabrini’s missionary sensitivity, which was not “sectorial, but universal.”

“That is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus,” he said.

Mother Cabrini’s charism gave her the strength to devote herself to Italian immigrants, particularly orphans and miners, the Pope stated, and always in cooperation with the local authorities.

She helped them to fully integrate with the culture of their new countries, accompanying the Italian immigrants in becoming “fully Italian and fully American.” At the same time she worked to preserve and revive within them the Christian tradition of their country of origin, Francis pointed out.

“The human and Christian vitality of the immigrants thus became a gift to the churches and to the peoples who welcomed them.”

In addition to all of this, she accepted the call from God to be a missionary at a time when it would have been considered unusual for women to be sent all over the world to do missionary work with their own charism as consecrated women religious.

But her “clearly feminine, missionary consecration” came from her “total and loving union with the Heart of Christ whose compassion surpasses all limits.”

St. Frances Cabrini's love for the Heart of Christ gave her the evangelical fervor and strength to care for those on the edges of society, Francis said.

“She lived and instilled in her sisters the impelling desire of reparation for the ills of the world and to overcome separation from Christ, an impetus that sustained the missionary in tasks beyond human strength.”

This year’s centennial celebration gives us the opportunity to look at Mother Cabrini and the charism of the Institute of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with “intimate and joyful gratitude to God,” the Pope continued.

“This is a great gift above all for you, the spiritual daughters of Mother Cabrini,” he concluded. “May your whole Institute, every community and every religious receive an abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit that revitalizes faith and the following of Jesus in accordance with the missionary charism of your Foundress.

Pope Francis retools John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2017 / 07:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis issued a new motu proprio changing the legal status of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, making it a theological institute charged with studying marriage and the family from a scientific perspective.

The motu proprio, titled “Summa Familiae Cura,” meaning “Highest Care of Families,” was published Sept. 19 and officially established the John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family, replacing the former institute founded by John Paul II in 1981.

In the document, Francis noted that John Paul II made great strides in the area of the family, first of all with his 1980 Synod of Bishops on the topic and the subsequent publication of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the conclusions of the gathering, “Familiaris Consortio.”

He then established the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in 1981 with the Apostolic Constitution “Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum” in order develop the themes in his 1960 book “Love and Responsibility,” written when he was still Cardinal Wojtyla, and as well as the theology of the body he developed while Pope.

“Since then it has developed a profitable work of theological and pastoral education both in its central headquarters in Rome and in the territorial sections, present on all continents,” Francis said.

While the institute's main headquarters remains in Rome, they have campuses all over the world, including Washington DC, Nigeria, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Korea, among others.

This path of development has continued, Francis said, with the recent 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family, which resulted in Pope Francis' own apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” published in 2015.

In the text, which was signed on the Sept. 8 Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Pope said that in light of the new challenges families today face and increasing cultural changes, he wanted to establish the new entity so that the work of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family can be “better known and appreciated in its fruitfulness and relevance.”

Francis said this is why he chose to make it a theological institute with a scientific perspective, “expanding the field of interest, both in terms of the new dimensions of the pastoral task and the ecclesial mission, as well as in the development of human sciences and the anthropological culture in such a crucial field for the culture of life.”

Composed of six articles, the motu proprio said the new John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and the Family, linked to the Pontifical Lateran University, will officially “substitute” the prior entity, annulling the 1981 constitution that established it.

However, Francis stressed that “the original inspiration” that led to the founding of the original institute will “continue to fertilize the vast field of engagement” of the new entity, “effectively contributing to make it fully correspond to the modern needs of the pastoral mission of the Church.”

The motu proprio stated that the new institute will be a “center of academic reference” on matters of scientific interest regarding marriage and the family, particularly on topics “connected with the fundamental alliance of man and woman for the care of generation and of creation.”

The new institute will be tied to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Academy for Life, and the dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. It will also be required to adapt its structures to offer the necessary personnel, professors, programs and administrative staff needed to carry out its new task.

Students who attend the institute will now be able to obtain various degrees, including a Doctorate, Licentiate or diploma in the Sciences of Marriage and Family.

Although the statutes for the new institute still need to be defined, the leadership will remain the same, and will continue to be headed by the Institute's Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Chairman Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, and the entity's Board of Directors.

Until new statutes are in place, the theological institute will temporarily be governed by the norms under which the previous institute operated.

In a Sept. 19 press breifing on the motu proprio, Archbishop Paglia said the decision to establish a completely new entity was due to the importance of the family today.

The two key aspects of the new institute, he said, are that it is now “theological” and “scientific.”

Adding “theological” to the title points to “the ecclesial dimension in its fullness, the moral perspective, the sacramental perspective, but the biblical and dogmatic perspective, the perspective of history, of law,” he said.

By adding “sciences,” Paglia said it gives the institute the ability to study and explore topics in the “entire realm of human studies,” including the sociological, anthropological and psychological view from a more scientific perspective.

He said Pope Francis' 2015 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia will be new “magna carta” of-sorts for the institute, noting that Chapter 2 of the document is dedicated to the social and anthropological aspects of the family, while Chapter 4 is dedicated to scripture.

“The family, for Pope Francis, is not simply an abstract reality,” the archbishop said. “Families for Pope Francis are families who today must be helped and accompanied to rediscover their historical task, both in the Church and in society.”

Because of this, he said, there is a special link between the new motu proprio and the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

In addition, he said faculty will not be cut, but rather expanded, bringing in new professors and experts to discuss themes relevant to the the Sciences of Marriage and Family, including those who aren't Catholic.

Because it is a scientific entity and due to its link to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the institute “dialogues with everyone who reflects on this theme,” Paglia said, adding that “it clear that the dialogue with those who aren't Catholic must be done.”

Cardinal Gracias: curial reform is nearing the 'end of the tunnel'

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 01:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly four years after the Pope established his Council of Cardinal advisers to help him in the task of reforming the Roman Curia, one member of the group said their work is wrapping up, and that it could take only a few more meetings to finish what they set out to do.

The ongoing process of reform “is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told CNA Sept. 14.

“It will take two or three more meetings more,” he said, adding that “by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.”

Cardinal Gracias is also President of the Asian Bishops Conference and in 2013 was chosen by the Pope along with eight other prelates from around the world to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform.

He spoke to CNA in a lengthy, sit-down interview after the council – also called the “C9” – concluded their latest round of meetings last week.

As far as the reform goes, Cardinal Gracias said “there won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down.” Rather, it will be “a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today.”

He said a key goal of the C9  is to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council, specifically when it comes to the importance of the role of the laity and women, and incorporating greater synodality and collegiality into the Church's structures.

From the beginning Pope Francis “had very clear what he wanted this group to do,” the cardinal said. “He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision.”

Cardinal Gracias admitted that in the beginning he had doubts as to whether or not they were going in the right direction, and had started to worry what people on the outside might say, since many fruits of the meetings weren't and likely won't be immediately visible. He said he also struggled with doubts about the pace at which they were moving, and believed that things were going “too slow.”

“I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is,” he said, explaining that Pope Francis' Christmas speech to the Roman Curia last year was a “tipping point” for him.

More than anything, there is a change in mentality that's needed, which will take longer than simply reforming the Vatican's structures, he said, but said the group is “rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership.”

In addition to the ongoing curial reform, Cardinal Gracias also spoke about the recent release of Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil 18 months after he was abducted in Yemen. He also spoke about the Pope's upcoming trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and when a possible papal trip to India might take place.


Below are excerpts from CNA's interview with Cardinal Gracias:

You've seen Fr. Tom and you were at his meeting with Pope Francis. How is he doing?

I was pleasantly surprised with calmness with which he came out, because he did not know, to my knowledge, that he was being released. But he said I know people have prayed for me, I'm grateful for the people who were praying for me, but he kept on saying 'Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' And then he told the Holy Father. It was a very moving moment. As soon as the Holy Father came he prostrated in front of the Holy Father and kissed his feet, and he said, 'thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you Holy Father, but just one message I want to give you: Jesus Christ is great. Jesus was with me right through, I could sense the presence of God with me'...And once I thought the Holy Father had tears in his eyes. When Tom kept on speaking about Jesus, this is what he told the Holy Father: please tell the people that Jesus is great! I would say that he's come out of it with an experience of the presence of the Lord, and I think at that moment the Holy Father had tears in his eyes...I met the Holy Father later that afternoon, and he was telling me how impressed he was. He was also surprised with the calmness of the man, with Tom...He was a man who is perhaps strengthened in the faith after this experience, and not bitter about anything. Particularly about his captors, he was very understanding. It was a special experience, very edifying. He needs rest, certainly, he'll have a medical exam and he'll be with his superiors, but eventually he'll go back (to India). So thank God really. It was an anxious moment for the whole Church in India. We didn't know what was happening, but we understood that putting more pressure, in the perspective of the government, could make things more difficult for him. (But) he's not really stressed in any way you can make out. Physically weak, but spiritually strong. When he met the Holy Father, he was weeping right through it. And the Holy Father was very touched, he kissed his hand and blessed him...He felt the comfort and strength of the entire Church. As he said, there was never a moment when he felt abandoned, either by the Church or by God. He kept saying, 'Jesus is great.' So he came out spiritually strengthened in that sense. It was a big relief, a big blessing, and the Holy Father was overjoyed. I think the government of Oman did a very splendid job of helping out...they even brought a Salesian to accompany him on the last plane. It was very human of them, so had the comfort of a spiritual companion.

What role did the Holy See play in working out his release?

They only offered help, they kept the issue open and kept sharing. The Holy See was told he was alive, and the Holy See communicated with the Indian government. In Yemen, the political situation is very fragile, and one doesn't know who is in charge. There are bombardments and all sorts of groups are taking over, so there was always a risk I suppose, that if you tried to liberate him you could have harmed him. But they were always interested, they kept it alive. Every time I came to Rome somebody from the Secretariat of State updated me. The Vatican made sure there was interest. Any information the Holy See had, they shared it with the Indian government, the Omani government, so that was good.

It's interesting that there is still no word on who is responsible...

It's not a terrorist attack, it's a kidnapping. They wouldn't glory in taking him. That has not come out. I spent about half an hour with him before the Holy Father, and he was speaking continuously. I did not at any point attempt to ask him questions, because I think that would be a stress for him. He has got to share...he wants to share it and then I imagine you feel lighter. He's probably just got to rest, and rest and rest, physically and then mentally too, he's got to get it out of his mind. He's not come out of it a broken man at all. I was afraid of that, that he would come out a broken man, but no...It's a moment of grace, a moment of faith, a special experience. The high point was when he told the Holy Father, 'just tell everybody that Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' Just three simple words. That was like the sum of his whole experience, what he meant and why he meant it...he felt not abandoned, I suppose. I hope recovers. I imagine he needs a couple of months really, or maybe more than a couple of months, to really rest. He needs time with the family also, natural circumstances...I'm not sure about this, but I have a feeling that the Omani government decided to bring him to Rome, because they (wanted) to hand him over to the Vatican. I think it was better for him, because I think if he had gone to India he would have been mobbed by everybody. He just needs space to recover, and for doctors to examine him. Physically to see if he's alright, and psychologically also, to be investigated. I think it was a wise decision, but I think it was a decision more of the Omani government.

I don't want to exploit your time, but I wanted to ask a few questions about the process of reform and the C9. You just finished your latest round of meetings...

Yes, we just finished the latest round, the 21st meeting. I can't imagine we've had 21. I didn't realize it's 21 already. I think we are working hard. What's nice is that we're a cohesive group now. In the beginning we were all (gestures). Now we know each other so well and we work together, and of course trying to implement the Holy Father's vision of the Church. Also, one of the things we always say, and it's very clear, before the conclave the cardinals had spoken a lot of their vision of the Church, and we have the texts of what all of the cardinals said, and all the cardinals gave their vision. We picked up from that, the Holy Father picked up from that, his own vision. We've focused so far … it's for a dual purpose that the group was formed: one is to help him help him in the governance of the universal Church, and the second is to revise Pastor bonus, the papal document of St. John Paul II for establishing the Curia and giving the job descriptions and the vision of each dicastery. It's to revitalize, I suppose that's what Pope Francis wants us to do, and to have a new mentality which is applying Vatican II also; how to make the Roman Curia at the service of the Holy Father more effectively, but the Churches at the local level, the Churches in the dioceses, how to make the Roman Curia assist the local Churches to be more effective pastorally, so they can be more vibrant in that sense. So I think the holy Father is satisfied with what's happening. I'm satisfied too with the way we are going ahead. We come for three days and work intensely, we work from 9:00 on the first day to 7:00 (pm) on the last day trying to wrap things up, but lots of work has been done. But it's coming to the end. I think it will take maybe two or three more meetings until we wrap up our conclusions about the dicasteries. Then of course the Holy Father will study the thing and decide. So we're going well. The feedback we receive is the Holy Father is happy, he is satisfied, and he has been using the Christmas messages sometimes to give an indication, a little progress report, so this year's Christmas message (2016). I didn't realize it, but when I read it I realized it's practically giving a progress report of what this group has been doing. I hope that it will make an impact. There won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down. But a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today, and also of answering the vision of the Second Vatican Council: the importance of lay people, synodality, collegiality, then concern about women, getting more women involved, then giving importance to the local Churches. Then reflecting on the role of episcopal conferences in all this, because that's another big issue. So all of this is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon. It will take two or three more meetings more, I foresee at least February, June...by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.

It's been a long process...

It's been a really long process, really, but it's good. I've been in other committees of this sort, in which at the beginning we don't what we're doing, where to begin, and they you find your way and you find your vision. But here it was very clear, the Holy Father had very clear what he wanted this group to do...we were not clear in why we were called and what he wanted to do, but gradually we understood his mind. He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision and he had his people with him. He's there with us, he genuinely doesn't take any other appointments. He's there except the general audience. There are emergencies of course, this time there were lots of things happening, but he participates and he listens to discussion, and every now and then he raises his hand when he wants to speak. It's very odd, but now we're accustomed to it, the Pope raising his hand (laughs) … it's very valuable, he's part of the discussion all the way through, completely inserted right in the thick of it. Certainly he doesn't speak that much, because I think we would feel inhibited and want to go in his direction. So it's just the right amount and at the right time.

Well he's very much about the process, isn't he? He doesn't want to interrupt the process that's happening...

Yes, absolutely. And he's happy. And everybody speaks their mind. We know each other so well, and we know that the Holy Father wants us to speak our minds, so no one is at any stage (overly) conscious that the Pope is there with us, no...but it's going well, I think it's going well. I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is. He's a man of deep faith, the Pope. I remember having spoken to him once about the synod, I was sharing him my anxieties on whether the synods were going well, and he told me, 'Cardinal, I am not worried.' He told me that. I told him I was worried, I don't know what direction we're taking, whether we'll be able in two synods to give your vision. (He said) 'I'm not worried. It'll work out.' He knows what he wants, he's a good Jesuit, and the Jesuits know exactly what they want.

At what point were you convinced that things were going in the right direction?

After about seven or eight or nine meetings, I was beginning to wonder. My worry was what will the world say? Everybody knows we're meeting over here, but we are very limited in what we say are the fruits. What are these eight men – nine, we became nine after the Secretary (of State) joined – the nine cardinals are coming and discussing here, what's happening? They're not just coming here for debate. I was worried about the fruits not being seen, and the process being too slow. But then, especially after I heard the Holy Father's speech (at Christmas 2016), for me that was it. I was like, wow, there has been a lot done. That was absolutely...this past Christmas, it was like a progress report of this group. I'm in the group, right, but I never realized the number of things we had really discussed. Besides modifying the document, the protection of minors, the economy, updates on these things, general principles of collegiality, synodality, we're thinking about these things. Care of the Curia personnel. It's everything that the Holy Father...he isn't like us, who when we go back home we're fully in the diocese, he has this in mind and he keeps working on this fully afterwards. We go back to our dioceses and are concerned about the local Church, but he certainly follows up with what we say. I've seen it several times. He takes the group very seriously. Every now and then he would ask us to take up some point on the agenda to discuss it a bit, which he wants advice on. I think it's a new system he has started in which he gets feedback from all over the world, and he gets it from the grassroots. I think,  anyway, I hope. We come from different continents and we bring in our own experiences. But it is going well. In fact I really, really think there has been a contribution to the Holy Father, and then the Holy Father takes decisions. I have a feeling this is shared by all now. I have no doubt, this would be the general feeling of all about it. The tipping point was really his speech, but already before that, say about six or seven months before that, we began to see really when we reflected that...perhaps the Holy Father knew that that was in our minds. It was in my mind, and maybe I expressed it indirectly. And the Holy Father once commented also, he said 'we have done this much, so don't get discouraged.' So at one stage he sort of answered that doubt in my mind.

You mentioned that there's also a change of mentality needed. Other than the structural shifts, it seems that the change of mentality will be the more challenging task...

That will take longer. But we hope it will percolate down, because once you have a certain mentality you generally don't change unless the circumstances change, the ambiance changes. And in a certain sense not changing dramatically. That will I think take longer. But I'm positive that it will happen. We're very, very hopeful. We're rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership, and every now and then there is a clear message from him. But it will come about and suddenly we'll realize, oh there has been a change! That's how it will happen. It won't come overnight, but at a certain point we'll realize things have changed. He knows what he wants. And he's happy. Certainly the indication I can see is this way; the relationship he has with the group and the joy he has in being with the group. He says he feels that it has helped him. Thank God. We do what we can. I don't know how or why he chose us, but he's happy. I was very surprised when I got a call from him. I said 'why me? What have I done?' I suppose he knows. I don't know why. I did not know the Holy Father before, we've never been in any other committee before. Only at the conclave. I don't even remember having chatted with him at the conclave, or before the conclave. After the conclave it was true that I was with him. It's true that after I was with the Pope at Santa Marta for a few days. Then we were having meals together – breakfast, lunch and dinner for four or five days. That's the time we came to know each other. So we were thrown together for about a week. It struck me that after his election I was at Santa Marta, because there were five or six cardinals. All the American cardinals were there, the European cardinals, all the ones from close by left and came back (for the installation). I stayed for the installation and then went back to India. And then you share, when you speak. He was very comfortable with us, very comfortable with me. But still, he had to make a choice.

Has he mentioned anything about when a visit to India might take place?

He's very interested. We're working it out, and I'm very hopeful. He would like to come and we would like to have him, and the government would like to have him. But now we must see his program, the government's program, but I'm certain he will come. There are no details at all for the moment. I'm rather certainly positive that we will be able to get the Holy Father, he's interested and I think he's getting more interested. And the people will be excited...we are looking forward. In the beginning, as soon as he was elected, I asked him, 'when are you coming to India?' And he was sort of (disinterested), but gradually he began to like the idea. He's never been to India before. As a Jesuit I think he was supposed to go to Japan, that's what he was telling me. He's going now to Bangladesh and Myanmar. It will be very sensitive. Bangladesh has it's own problems, I believe they have elections next year, and Myanmar has problems to solve, also the refugee problem at the moment. Of late it is continuously on, I believe yesterday or this morning I saw it on CNN, and BBC is reporting on it. It's an issue for the world. I've been there (Bangladesh) a few times. It's a nice Church, concentrated mostly in Dhaka, a living faith. I've been to Myanmar also, I went as a papal legate there some years back, and I found the Church very vibrant. A simple faith, but I'm happy. I think it will mean a lot to the people. It will also strengthen the people. I think the Church is also very vibrant, it's not have any specific difficulty, in my impression as a papal legate about two or three years back, but I was very impressed by the faith and the organization. It was vibrant. The Church was small, but strong and alive. It will make a difference for the Churches, and for the governments I expect.

Will you be there?

I plan to go to both places yes. In all of these trips in Asian I've come along: Sri Lanka, Korea, the Philippines. At the moment I'm president of the Asian Bishops Conference, so I suppose in that capacity I'll have to go.

Remember the witness of your martyrs, Pope tells Japanese bishops

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter to Japanese bishops, Pope Francis urges his brother prelates to use the example of their country's martyrs as an inspiration to continue their mission of evangelization amid modern-day challenges.

In the letter, dated Sept. 14, the Pope recalled the numerous martyrs in Japan, including Paul Miki and his 25 companions, who were killed in hatred of the faith in 1597, during a period of strong persecution in the country.  

Published Sept. 17, the letter was sent to the Japanese bishops ahead of the visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who will be on an official visit to Japan from Sept. 17-26.

Japan holds an important place in the Pope's heart. He wanted to be a missionary in the country while still a young Jesuit, but was unable to go due to health reasons after having part of his lung removed due to a serious pulmonary illness.

In his letter Francis also recalled the recently-beatified Justus Takayama Ukon, a prestigious samurai who chose to live in poverty and exile rather than renounce his faith, as well as the witness of Japan's numerous “hidden Christians,” who from 1600 to the mid-1800s were forced to live their faith clandestinely due to ongoing persecution.

“The long line of martyrs and confessors of the faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, had in common a deep love for the Son of God, renouncing their own civil status or other aspects of their own social condition, all in order to gain Christ,” the Pope said in the letter.

With this “spiritual heritage” in mind, the Pope addressed the bishops directly, saying they have inherited this witness and “with gentle solicitude continue the task of evangelization, especially caring for the most weak and promoting the integration of faithful from different backgrounds into the community.”

He thanked them for their commitment to the poor, as well as their efforts in cultural education, interreligious dialogue and in caring for creation, as well as the emphasis the Church in Japan places on mission.

“If the Church was born Catholic (that is, universal), it means that it was born 'going out,' that it was born missionary,” Francis said, adding that it is love of Christ which compels us “to offer our lives for the Gospel.”

“Such dynamism dies if we lose missionary enthusiasm. For this reason life is strengthened in giving it, and weakens in isolation and agitation,” he said, noting that those who “make the most” of the chances life offers are the ones “who leave the safe shore and become passionate about the mission of communicating life to others.”

Francis then turned to the passage in the Gospels when Jesus tells his disciples they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”

Both salt and light operate in service, he said, explaining that as salt, the Church has the task of “preserving from corruption and giving flavor,” while as light she “prevents darkness from prevailing, ensuring a clear vision of reality and the purpose of existence.”

Jesus' words in this passage are also “a strong call to fidelity and authenticity,” he said, and told the bishops that God has entrusted a “great spiritual and moral mission” to the Church in Japan.

While there are “no small difficulties” in the country due to a lack of clergy, religious and a limited participation of lay faithful, the Pope stressed that “the scarcity of workers cannot reduce the commitment to evangelize.”

Current challenges, he said, “cannot make us resigned nor defer to an irenic and numbing dialogue, even if some problematic situations arouse considerable concern.”

He pointed examples of these challenges, the Pope referred to the high rates of divorce and suicide among youth; the numerous people who live “totally disengaged from social life;” the presence of religious and spiritual “formalism;” moral relativism; religious indifference and “the obsession for work and earnings.”

A society that runs on economic development as a consequence creates a class of poor, marginalized and excluded persons, he said, explaining that this goes not just for the materially poor, but also “those who are spirituality and morally like this.”

“In this peculiar context, the need for the Church in Japan to constantly renew the choice for the mission of Jesus, both in salt and in light, becomes urgent,” he said. “The genuine evangelistic strength of your Church, which comes from being a Church of martyrs and confessors of the faith, is a great asset to guard and develop.”

Francis then stressed the need for a “a solid and integral” priestly and religious formation, which he said is “a particularly urgent task today” thanks to the widespread promotion of the “culture of the provisional.”

This mentality also leads youth to believe “that it's not possible to truly love, that nothing stable exists and that everything, including love, is relative to circumstances and the needs of feeling,” he said.

Because of this, a key step in the formation process is to help those tasked with it to “understand and experience in depth the characteristics of Jesus' love, which is free, involves self-sacrifice and is merciful forgiveness,” the Pope said.

“This experience renders us capable of going against the current and trusting the Lord, who does not delude. It's the witness Japanese society is so thirsty for.”

Pope Francis closed his letter by pointing to the presence of ecclesial movements in the country. With their “evangelistic impulse and witness,” he said these movements can be of great help “in the pastoral service and mission 'ad gentes' (to the nations).”

“These realities contribute to the work of evanglization,” he said, adding that as bishops, “we are called to know and accompany the charisms that they carry and make them part of our work in the context of pastoral integration.”

Francis closed his letter praying that the Lord would “send workers into his Church in Japan and support you with his consolation,” and gave them his blessing.

Pope Francis: God’s love is shown in his forgiveness of our sins

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2017 / 09:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis spoke about the limitless love of God, and how it leads him to forgive us time and time again; something we must strive to do for others, no matter how many times they’ve sinned against us.

“The forgiveness of God is a sign of his overwhelming love for each of us; it is the love that leaves us free to move away, like the prodigal son, but that awaits our return every day; it is the enterprising love of the shepherd for the lost sheep; it is the tenderness that welcomes every sinner who knocks at his door.”

“Heavenly Father, our father, is full and full of love and wants to offer it to us, but he cannot do it if we close our hearts to love for others,” the Pope said Sept. 17.

Continuing, Francis pointed out how Jesus teaches us this in the Our Father, when he directly links the forgiveness we ask of God with the forgiveness we give to our brothers and sisters in the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In his Angelus address Sunday Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, where St. Peter asks Christ: "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?"

To Peter, seven already seems like the maximum amount of times we should forgive the same person, Francis said. And maybe to us it seems like twice is already a lot.

But Christ's response is that we must forgive seven times seventy times, “that is to say always. You always have to forgive,” he said. Christ confirms this by telling a parable, the Pope continued, a parable which shows "the inconsistency of the one who was forgiven before and then refuses to forgive."

The king in the parable is a generous man who when his servant begs for forgiveness of a large debt he has compassion on him and forgives him.

The servant on the other hand refuses to forgive a much smaller debt of a fellow servant and "behaves in a ruthless way," having him thrown in prison.

"The incoherent attitude of this servant is also ours when we refuse forgiveness to our brothers," the Pope said. "While the king of the parable is the image of God who loves us with a love so abundant of mercy from embracing us, loving us and forgiving us continually."

“Since our Baptism God has forgiven us, remitting an insoluble debt: original sin. But that's the first time. Then, with unlimited mercy, He forgives us all the faults as soon as we show even a little sign of repentance," the Pope said. "God is so merciful."

When we are tempted to behave as the servant did toward his fellow servant, closing off our hearts to those who have offended us and come to apologize, we must remember the words of the Heavenly Father, he stated.

He told the ruthless servant: "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?"

"Anyone who has experienced the joy, peace, and inner freedom that comes from being forgiven can open themselves to the possibility of forgiving in turn," he noted.

Concluding, Francis turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who he said "helps us to be more and more aware of the gratuitousness and greatness of the forgiveness received from God."

May she help us to become as "merciful as He is, the good Father: slow to anger and great in love."

Catholic youth have something to say – and the Church is listening

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As preparations continue for next year's Synod of Bishops on young people, the Vatican hosted young adults and global experts for a seminar in Rome aimed at listening to the experiences of youth from around the world.

“So far we can see everyone allowing us time. The progression from the first day to today, is that they've given us more time to speak and given the microphone to the youth to share their thoughts and feelings,” Caroline Montefrio, 28, told CNA Sept. 14.

“And I guess that's a direction led by the Holy Spirit to know that the Church really wants to listen to us.”

Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Congregation of Bishops, told CNA that “the Church is the mother, so she needs all her children and in particular those who are young because they are the present moment of the Church and the present moment of our society and the world.”

“And they’re also the future, our future, our hope, of the Church and of the world as well. If we manage to give this testimony of happiness, of joy, and of life lived to the fullest, I believe we will also manage to walk with our youth and proclaim Jesus as well.”

The Sept. 11-15 seminar was led by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and included young adults from almost every continent. The schedule included presentations from experts as well as time for young people to share their experiences.

Small working groups made up of people of various ages and vocations also were a large part of the week’s work.

Topics during the preparatory seminar included, among other things, technological advancement and migration and their effect on youth. Originally from the Philippines, but raised in Dubai, Montefrio said that the challenge of migration is something that she could relate to.

“I know there are other youth like me, who lack that sense of identity. Because you're not from this country, and you're also not from your home country,” she said.

“To know that the Church focuses on your identity as a son or daughter of God and your identity as part of the bigger Catholic Church, that's a good starting point to know where you are in life and how this leads up to your purpose in life.”

Because the theme for the October 2018 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is formally “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” vocation was a large topic at the seminar, and something various young participants named as important elements of their lives.

Ashleigh Green, from the Diocese of Broken Bay, Australia said that she thinks the process of finding your vocation is necessary for living “a full and meaningful life.”

“Because at the end of the day, everyone has a purpose and everyone has something to contribute and God has a plan for everyone, so it's up to all of us to search for what it is that God's calling us to in our life.”

Green said that one thing that helped her in discerning her vocation, besides prayer and time in silence, was the presence of good mentors in her life.

Kerishé Higgins, 29, and a youth director in Jamaica, also noted the importance of accompaniment. She mentioned that at a time when she was deeply struggling with her faith, lack of support was very apparent.

“At that moment, there was no one who was journeying with me, there was no one who was walking with me,” she told CNA. “And so you see the need for that accompaniment. That person who understands the faith, who is trying to live out their faith.”

No one is perfect, she acknowledged, but what is important is that you have a community of people who are all trying to live out the call to sainthood, to holiness. “That constant striving,” she said.

Her hope for the outcome of the synod is that “we recognize that as a community each person has a part to play and that we play that part.” But to do that, young people need the support of the Church, she said.

Particularly in education and training to help people understand what their role is, how they can contribute, even how they can contribute to the development and support of another person in turn – whether that’s in their own neighborhood or across the world in a place that needs help.

“And I think that's what I have personally been trying to do and that's what the synod is trying to teach us, to tell us how is it that we are going to try to live out this call to holiness, that it’s not just one-on-one, but it’s a community,” she said.

“And that's what the Church should be. It should be that home of community where we come together and we journey and we grow and we love each other.”

Green said that in Australia they carried out a survey of 15,000 young people, and one issue identified by participants as important to their lives was mental illness. Green said she thinks the loss of community is one reason for the high rates of mental illness.

“To experience that community in our parishes through all of the various liturgical aspects and the social aspects is something that's really, really important.”

The seminar follows a conference in April which focused on World Youth Day, but also included two days of presentations and discussion on the preparatory document for the 2018 synod.

According to an April 6 statement, Cardinal Baldisseri said it’s important to note that the upcoming synod is not being put on by young people or about them as subjects of study, but that it is for them, and that is why it is important they are included.

“A lot of young people, particularly in Australia, give up on the Church before even giving it a go, out of fear that they can't talk about the issues that are important to them. That they wouldn't feel welcomed in the Church,” Green said.

“So I really hope that from this synod, more young people do feel like they have a place in the Church and that they don't have to fit into a small box to feel like they're welcome here. And that's what Pope Francis has been emphasizing all along, that this synod isn't just for young Catholics…but that it's called a synod on youth and that it’s for everyone.”

Alexey Gotovsky contributed to this report.

Vatican recalls priest from US as child porn investigation opens

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2017 / 06:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Friday that after being informed by U.S. officials of a possible breach of child pornography laws on the part of a Holy See diplomat, it has recalled the priest in question and an investigation has been opened.

According to a Sept. 15 Vatican communique, on Aug. 21 the U.S. State Department notified the Vatican Secretariat of State, “through diplomatic channels, of a possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images by a member of the diplomatic corps of the Holy See accredited to Washington.”

The priest was recalled and is currently in Vatican City. Information regarding the findings of the U.S. State Department was passed along to the Vatican's Promoter of Justice, who opened an investigation “and has already commenced international collaboration to obtain elements relative to the case.”

The Vatican declined to identify the diplomat, or confirm his nationality. CNA contacted the apostolic nunciature in Washington D.C. for further details, but they declined to comment.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. State Department had asked the Vatican to lift the priest's diplomatic immunity, but the request was denied.

The priest will likely face a canonical proceeding, overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a criminal trial overseen by the courts of the Vatican City State.

The possession of child pornography is considered a “canonical crime” in the Church, and in 2010 Benedict XVI added it to the list of “most grave delicts,” meaning crimes dealt with directly by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and can result in dismissal from the clerical state.

According to Article 4 of Law 8 of the Vatican City State, which was instituted by Pope Francis in 2013, child pornography is defined as “any representation, by whatever means, of a minor engaged in real of simulated explicit sexual activities as well as any representation of the sexual parts of a minor for primarily sexual purposes.”

Vatican law establishes six possible penalties of hefty fines and prison time, for those found guilty of either staging, trading or offering child pornography to others:

To date, the most high-profile Vatican diplomat to ever be charged is the late Polish Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic.

After allegations of sexual misconduct arose in 2013, Wesolowski resigned from his post, and in 2014 a canonical trial was opened against him by the tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which found him guilty of sexual abuse.

As a result, he was dismissed from the clerical state. The former prelate was to be indicted for the possession of child pornography in 2015, however, he died before the criminal trial began.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the matter is “a serious issue,” and voiced hope that the Holy See would be “forthcoming” with further details.

DiNardo said that while the bishops don't have all the facts, “we reaffirm that when such allegations occur, an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation should begin in cooperation with law enforcement and immediate steps be taken to protect children.”

“The protection of children and young people is our most sacred responsibility.”

Pope Francis: When it comes to evangelization, don't be stuck in your ways

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2017 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with new bishops at the end of their training course at the Vatican, reminding them to be both humble in their work and open to better ways of evangelizing other than just “the way it's always been.”

“Discernment is a remedy for the immobility of 'it has always been so' or 'we take time,'” the Pope said Sept. 14.

“It's a creative process that is not limited to the application of methods. It is an antidote against rigidity, because the same solutions are not good everywhere. Do not be imprisoned by the nostalgia of having only one answer to apply in all cases.”

He continued, warning that to have an easy, one-size-fits-all answer might soothe our performance anxiety, but it threatens to make our lives “dried up.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with participants in the annual training course for new bishops held in Rome and organized by the Congregation of Bishops and the Congregation of Eastern Churches.

He reminded them how important it is that they have humility, especially for the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone,” he said.

“And, in the end, we will all be measured not on the accounting of our works but on the growth of God's work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the 'Shepherd and keeper of our souls' (cf. 1 Pt. 2:25).”

Discernment, the Pope continued, requires humility and obedience. “Humility with regard to your own projects.”

“Obedience with regard to the Gospel, the ultimate standard; to the Magisterium, who guards it; to the norms of the universal Church, which serve it; and to the concrete situation of people,” who are looking to draw from the Church what will be most fruitful to their salvation,” he said.

In achieving this, Francis encouraged the bishops to “cultivate an attitude of listening, growing in the freedom to give up your point of view (when it is partial and inadequate), to assume that of God.”

Listening is necessary, because the bishop’s discernment is always a community action, he said, it does not disregard “the richness of the opinion of his priests and deacons, of the People of God, and of all those who can offer him a useful contribution” – even those which are more concrete than formal.

Discernment is a gift of the Spirit to our Church, the Pope noted. So although bishops may have many personal responsibilities in their job, they are also called to live their own discernment “of Pastor as a member of the People of God, or in ever-ecclesial dynamics, at the service of the koinonìa,” the Christian community.

“The bishop is not the self-sufficient ‘father’ and not even the frightened and isolated ‘Lone shepherd.’”

This is why the bishop must be aware of the great gift, the “Spiritus Principalis” entrusted to him at his ordination, the Pope said.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Church, in the episcopal consecration prayer, derived an expression from the Miserere in which the person praying, after exposing his failure, implores the Spirit to grant him immediate and spontaneous generosity in obedience to God, “so fundamental to those who lead a community.”

“Discernment, therefore, is born in the heart and mind of the bishop through his prayer when he meets people and situations entrusted to him with the Divine Word pronounced by the Spirit,” he said.

It is in the intimacy of prayer that a bishop grows his inner freedom to make good decisions, both in ecclesial and personal matters. “Only in the silence of prayer can one learn the voice of God, perceive the traces of his language, access his truth.”

He explained that bishops and leaders in the church must strive to grow in the kind of discernment which dialogues with the faithful “in a patient and courageous accompanying process.”

Then it can “mature the capacity of each – faithful, families, priests, communities, and societies – all called to advance in the freedom to choose and accomplish the good that God wants.”

Because discernment isn’t just for the wise, clear-sighted, or perfect, he said. God often shows himself to the most humble, in fact.

So true discernment, he continued, is an open and necessary process. It’s not about set formulas or repetition. “The Shepherd is called to make available to the flock the grace of the Spirit, who knows how to penetrate the folds of the real and to take account of its nuances to reveal what God wants to achieve at all times.”

Pope appoints new under-secretaries to CDF and Congregation for Clergy

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis' appointment of Fr. Matteo Visioli as the new under-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following the appointment on Tuesday of Fr. Andrea Ripa as under-secretary of the Congregation for Clergy.

Fr. Visioli, 51, replaces Fr. Giacomo Morandi, who had been under-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2015 and was promoted to secretary of the dicastery on July 18. Fr. Ripa, 45, was appointed Sept. 12 and replaces Mons. Antonio Neri, who died on June 5.

Both canonists, Fr. Visioli is the author of more than 30 articles and books in the area of church law, including the topics of ecumenical dialogue, the mystery of communion, and the right to receive the sacraments.

He also has several forthcoming publications, including one on confessionalism and the doctrinal principles of the Second Vatican Council, which will be published in the Journal of Law and Religion from Cambridge University Press.

Fr. Visioli was born in Parma, Italy on July 20, 1966, and ordained a priest in May 1992.

He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University, receiving licenses in theology in 1994 and canon law in 1996. The following year he received a specialization in jurisprudence. He received a doctorate in canon law in 1999.

Fr. Visioli held the position of Episcopal Vicar of the Church-World sector from 1999-2008 and was a member of the Committee for the Entities and the Ecclesiastical Property of the Italian Bishops' Conference from 2001-2008.

He also ministered to parishes in the province of Parma and since 1999 has been head of the Legal Office for the Diocese of Parma.

He is presently the President of Caritas Children Onlus and Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Care for the diocese.

He is the director and professor of the Inter-diocesan Institute of Religious Sciences, “S. 'Ilario di Poitiers,” as well as a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Studium Generale Marcianum of Venice.

Fr. Ripa was born in Rimini, Italy on January 5, 1972 and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rimini in 2004. He received his license in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University in 2006 and his doctorate in canon law in 2010.

His doctoral thesis was titled, “The missed innovation: the probative value of the parties' declarations from the 1983 Code to Dignitatis Connubii, the contribution of case law of the Sacred Roman Rota.”

He received a diploma of a Roman Rota lawyer in 2013 and has published multiple scientific articles.

Fr. Ripa was a professor of matrimonial and canon law for the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences in Rimini and of the “General Norms” at the Lugano Faculty of Theology and the Pontifical Lateran University.

He was also a judge and vicar of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Flaminio in Bologna.

He has been a part of the Congregation for Clergy since 2013 and in addition to Italian, knows English, French, Spanish and Latin.

Fr. Tom to Pope Francis: I offered my suffering for you and the Church

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2017 / 11:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just one day after being released from 18 months of captivity, Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil shared an emotional meeting with Pope Francis, saying that throughout his time as a prisoner, he offered his suffering for the Pope and the Church.

According to a Sept. 13 article published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the encounter took place at the Pope's residence in the Vatican's St Martha guesthouse immediately after the general audience on Wednesday.

Photos of the encounter show an emotional scene as Fr. Uzhunnalil bends down to kiss the Pope's feet, after which the Pope tenderly gives the priest his blessing.

While Fr. Uzhunnalil appeared with an overgrown beard in the majority of photos published during his time in captivity, today's pictures show him clean-shaven and dressed in clerics.

According to L'Osservatore Romano, Fr. Uzhunnalil thanked the Pope, saying “(I) prayed for you every day, offering my suffering for your mission and for the good of the Church.” These words, the newspaper reports, moved the Pope to tears.

A Salesian missionary, Fr. Uzhunnalil first garnered the world's attention when he was kidnapped March 4, 2016, during an attack on a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden, Yemen, that left 16 people dead, including four Sisters.

His international profile grew when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday, which were later discredited. After that, numerous photos and videos were released depicting Fr. Uzhunnalil, thin and with an overgrown beard, pleading for help and for his release, saying that his health was deteriorating and he was in need of hospitalization.

In comments to L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Uzhunnalil said he couldn't celebrate Mass while in captivity, but “every day inside, in my heart, I repeated the words of the celebration.”

The priest remarked that he would continue to pray “for all those who were beside me spiritually,” and offered a special word of remembrance for the 16 people who died during the attack in which he was kidnapped.

He also offered thanks to the government of Oman, in particular Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, and to the Holy See for their role in brokering his release.

On his part, Pope Francis embraced Fr. Uzhunnalil and told him that he would continue to pray for him, as he had every day while the priest was imprisoned. Visibly moved, the Pope then gave the priest his blessing, L’Osservatore Romano reported.

Accompanying Fr. Uzhunnalil was Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and a member of the Pope's Council of Cardinal advisers.

In comments to L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that after this “terrible experience, the essential message that Tom is about to convey is that 'Jesus is great and loves us.'”

He recalled the words of the priest, who after being released said, “Truly, every day I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone.”

In a Sept. 13 letter, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, Major Rector of the Salesian order, said Fr. Uzhunnalil arrived to their community around 6 p.m. Sept. 12, having flown to Rome directly from the Muscat airport in Oman.

He said Fr. Uzhunnalil will stay with them for a few days in order to ensure that he has medical treatment and time to rest, and also “to be able to embrace him in the name of all brother Salesians and the entire Salesian family.”

Artime said that while they were aware that discussions were underway with the priest's kidnappers, the community did not know that Fr. Uzhunnalil had been freed until he was already on his way to Rome.

He stressed that “the Salesian Congregation was not asked for any ransom payment,” and said they are unaware of any payment that may have been made to ensure Fr. Uzhunnalil's release.

The rector offered his thanks to the various parties involved in securing Fr. Uzhunnalil's release, as well as all those who kept the priest in their prayers.

Fr. Uzhunnalil's freedom, he said, “is a motivation to continue to respond in the future with utmost fidelity and authenticity to the call and to the charism he has entrusted to us, and to which Fr. Tom has given his life: the announcement of Jesus and his Gospel, preaching to young boys, girls and youth throughout the world, among them, the poor and abandoned.”

In a separate article published on the Salesian Information Agency, it was noted that after his arrival, one of Fr. Uzhunnalil's first requests was to pray in the Salesian community's chapel in the Vatican, and to celebrate Mass.

Due to the necessity of immediate medical examinations, he was not able to celebrate Mass right away, but he asked if he could go to confession before the medical staff arrived, since he not had the opportunity while in captivity.

The article says Fr. Tom was treated to a traditional Indian meal later that night. In sharing his experience with the community, the priest said he never once felt that his life was in danger, and that at one point, his captors provided medicine for his diabetes.

No official date was given for when Fr. Uzhunnalil will return to India, however, he is expected to go back to Kerala within a few days.