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Day: April 19, 2016

The joy of normality for the Syrian refugees brought to Rome by Pope

(Vatican Radio) Hassan Zahida and his wife Nour appear dazed and almost unbelieving they are finally safe. Their two-year-old little boy is happily making mud-cakes and  playing with pebbles – just like any other child in the world. They are one of the three families who boarded the plane in Greece with Pope Francis on Saturday at the end of his visit to Lesbos. Here in Rome they are hosted by the Saint Egidio Community that obtained “humanitarian visas” to allow them to make the journey and that is taking care of logistics and helping them find their feet as their requests for asylum are being processed. Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni met them at Saint Egidio premises and asked them to share their feelings as they prepare to hopefully set the foundations for a life of “normality”. Gratitude and appreciation for the gesture and for the stance of Pope Francis – not only for himself but for all refugees – were the first words Hassan expressed followed by a message of encouragement and hope for those who are currently on the move or on the borders and struggling to find protection.        He also tells of how he was certainly not expecting to be boarding the papal plane on Saturday afternoon… Listen : 

Hassan explains that just a couple of days before leaving Lesbos he had been shopping in the city center when the director of the Kara Tepe refugee camp announced that three families present there would be flown to Italy. He didn’t tell us “about the kind of flight or with whom. He didn’t tell us that it was going to be a special flight with the Pope…” He says he only began to understand what all this meant for his family after having spoken to a Saint Egidio person who arranged their visas and took care of details. Hassan said the Pope met the families at the airport and asked about their stories and situations: “we said to them how much we appreciate the efforts he is making for all refugees – for those detained in the Kara Tepe Camp and in the Morìa Camp and for those on the border between Macedonia and Greece”. He says that his message to those who are still trying to enter Europe is to keep hope alive and wait for a new EU policy which will allow them to move on. He says he is sure things will develop following the Pope’s visit to Lesbos. “We will not forget you and we will do all we can to permit you to come (…) to a safe European country” he says. Hassan says his dream is that his claim for asylum will be accepted here in Italy and that he will be able to build a “new safe life here” especially for his child and for his wife. He says that when they fled the violence in Syria they were hoping to find protection in whatever country would accept them. Hassan tells the story of his dramatic four-month journey that took him and his family from their home town of Damascus where he had been conscripted by the army, to Aleppo where Islamic State militants tried to get them to join the Jihad. He says that aided by human smugglers they managed to reach Turkey where they spent three months and had to pay smugglers, again and again as they “waited for the right moment to cross the water”. Hassan was lucky to have had the opportunity to be registered in Greece before the current deal between the EU and Turkey came into effect, allowing for him to be considered a candidate for a humanitarian visa to Italy. Another condition that played into the hands of the Saint Egidio Community that arranged the “welcome” are his “vulnerability” as family. Individuals have less chance of being granted asylum status. Speaking in French, Hassan’s wife Nour has powerful words of gratitude for Pope Francis: “I want to thank the Pope for his gesture. No religious Muslim leader and no Arab President – and I have said this many times – has done anything like this. One hears that we share the same things – the same language, the same faith- but not a single religious leader or Arab President seems to have felt our pain. Only the Pope. The Pope prayed for us, he felt our suffering, he decided to go to Lesbos to see what is really happening. So I want to say: ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for having saved us” she says. Nour says it is her hope that this gesture can influence others and touch all; that it may help change political positions so that the borders are opened for all refugees: “There are so many difficult situations in the camps; there are so many people in need of help. And they are all ‘normal’ people who have had to abandon everything because of the war… all we want is to live in a place where there is freedom, respect for all people, respect for all religions” she says. (from Vatican Radio)…

Pope: Christians with hardened hearts are like orphans

(Vatican Radio) Christians who harden their hearts and refuse to be drawn towards Christ are like orphans, without a father. That was Pope Francis message on Tuesday as he reflected on the daily readings during his homily at Mass in the Vatican’s Santa Marta chapel.
Philippa Hitchen reports: 

Pope Francis began his sermon by recalling the question that the skeptical Jews kept asking Jesus every time he performed a miracle, preached in the temple or pointed the way to the Father:
 “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
That question, which the Pope said the Scribes and Pharisees repeat in many different ways, springs from a heart that is closed and blind to the faith. As Jesus explains in today’s Gospel reading, “you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep”. Being part of God’s flock, he said, is a grace which requires an open heart.
“My sheep hear my voice”, Jesus says in that reading, “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand”. Have these sheep studied how to follow Jesus and then believed, the Pope asked? No, he said, citing the words from St John’s Gospel, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all”. It is the Father who gives the sheep to the shepherd. It is the Father who draws our hearts to Jesus.
The hardness of the Scribes and Pharisees’ hearts, is a drama which continues all the way to Calvary, the Pope said. They see the works that Jesus performs but they refuse to believe he is the Messiah. Even after the Resurrection, the Pope recalled, this drama continues as the soldiers guarding the tomb are told to say they’d fallen asleep in order to give credit to the story that the disciples had stolen the body of Christ. Not even the witness of those who saw the Risen Christ was able to reach those who refused to believe. And this has its consequences, the Pope said, because they are orphans who have denied their Father.
These doctors of the law, he went on, had closed hearts, they thought they were their own masters but in fact they were orphans because they had no relationship with the Father. They talked about their fathers, Abraham and the patriarchs, but these were distant figures and in their hearts they were orphans because they would not let themselves be drawn to the Father.
On the contrary, the Pope said, reflecting on the first reading for the day, the news that reached Jerusalem of the many pagans who heard the disciples preaching in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch and turned to the faith, shows what it means to have a heart open to God. Like Barnabas, he said, who is sent to Antioch to confirm these rumours and is not scandalized by the conversion of the pagans but accepts this novelty and lets himself be drawn by the Father to Jesus.
Pope Francis concluded by saying Jesus invites us to be his disciples but to be so, we must let ourselves be drawn by the Father towards Him. The humble prayer we can say is: ‘Father, lead me to Jesus, help me to know Jesus’ and the Father will send the Spirit to open our hearts and lead us to Him. A Christian who doesn’t allow himself to be led by the Father is an orphan, but we have a Father who can lead us to Jesus.
(from Vatican Radio)…

Cardinal Ravasi meets IOC President over upcoming Vatican conference

(Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, met on Monday with the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. Meeting at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, the two men discussed the “Sport at the Service of Humanity” Conference scheduled to take place from 5 to 7 October at the Vatican Synod Hall. Supported by the IOC and the United Nations, it will be the first global conference on faith and sport. The meeting will gather leaders from all areas of society to look at how faith and sport can use their respective influence to promote positive values. Pope Francis is expected to open the conference, which will also feature keynote speeches by Mr. Bach and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “It will be an occasion to come together to face up to the great challenges of contemporary society, which are shared interests for the world’s sporting and religious communities: how to live with respect for all, with increased understanding of each other’s traditions and values, more full and healthy lives, more integrated communities,” Cardinal Ravasi said. “Sport is also of such fundamental importance for education, allowing young people especially to open up to the trials of life, putting themselves to the test, crossing boundaries, meeting opponents on a fair playing field while striving to the best they can be, in some sense aiming for the Transcendent,” the Cardinal added. President Bach said the role of sport is “always to build bridges, it is never to build walls.” “Sport stands for dialogue and understanding which transcend all differences. Sport, and the Olympic Movement especially, understands the global diversity of cultures, societies and life designs as a source of richness,” Mr. Bach said. “The first global conference on faith and sport will be the perfect opportunity to reflect how sport and its values can support social change, community development and the promotion of peace and human rights along with faith principles across all religions,” concluded the IOC President. (from Vatican Radio)…

Pope Francis to Centro Astalli: 35 years of service, witness

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday delivered a video message to the administration, staff, volunteers, and guests of the Centro Astalli welcome centre for refugees in Rome, which is operated by the Society of Jesus through the Jesuit Refugee Service in Italy. The Centro Astalli is marking the 35 th anniversary of its founding. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Holy Father’s remarks in the video message *********************************** Dear refugees, volunteers, workers  and friends of the Centro Astalli , During this year of Mercy, we’re marking the 35 th anniversary of Jesuit Service for refugees in Italy, an activity that has been above all a walk together, as one people. And this is beautiful and just! We must continue with courage: “ I was a stranger and you invited me in ” cfr Mt 25,35 I was a stranger… Each one of you refugees who knock on our doors has the face of God and is the body of Christ. Your experience of pain and hope reminds us that we are all strangers and pilgrims on this Earth, welcomed by someone with generosity and without any merit. Whosoever has fled his own land due to oppression, war,  nature defaced by pollution and by desertification, or the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources, as you have, is a brother with whom we share bread, homes and life. Too many times you have not been welcomed: forgive the closure and indifference of our society that fears the change in lifestyle and mentality that your presence asks for. Treated as a burden, a problem, a cost, instead you are a gift. You are the testament to how our gracious and merciful God can transform the pain and injustice that you suffer into a love for all. For, each one of you can be a bridge that unites distant peoples, which makes the meeting of different cultures and religions possible, a road to rediscover our common humanity. …and you invited me in. I was a stranger and you invited me in . Yes, the Centro Astalli is a concrete, daily example of this welcome, born of the prophetic vision of Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ. It was his dying wish, [expressed] at a refugee center in Asia. Thanks to you all, women and men, lay and religious, workers and volunteers, because in fact you show that if we walk together we are less afraid. I encourage you to continue. 35 years is only the beginning of a journey that is ever more necessary, the only way for a reconciled co-existence. Always be witnesses of the beauty of this encounter. Help our society to listen to the voice of refugees. Continue to walk with courage by their side, go with them and be guided by them: the refugees know the roads that lead to peace because they know the acrid odor of war.  (from Vatican Radio)…