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Day: April 5, 2017

Holy See calls for end to Syria violence

(Vatican Radio) A senior Vatican archbishop has urged all sides of the Syrian conflict to end violence and restore solidarity in the wake of a deadly chemical gas attack.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, called for increased funding from the international community for displaced people and refugees during an address at the European Union in Brussels.
The conference, called “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, came just one day after 72 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in an chemical weapons attack in the north of the country.
Archbishop Gallagher said: “The Holy See invites all parties to the Syrian conflict to spare no effort to end the seemingly endless cycle of violence, to restore that sense of solidarity that is the basis of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
“While the crisis has entered, regrettably and painfully, into its seventh year, the Holy See remains deeply concerned about the tremendous human suffering, affecting millions of innocent children and other civilians who remain deprived of essential humanitarian aid, medical facilities and education, and urges that international humanitarian law be fully respected, particularly with regard to the protection of civilian populations, guaranteeing them access to necessary medical assistance.
“Furthermore, the Holy See also expresses its concern for the conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees.”
He spoke of the Holy See’s deep concern for the “vulnerable situation of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East, who suffer disproportionately the effects of war and social upheaval in the region, to such an extent that their very presence and existence are gravely threatened.”
The Archbishop’s words come as Pope Francis deplored the “ carnage ” of the gas attack in Idlib province during his Wednesday General Audience and appealed for a halt to the tragedy.
Archbishop Gallagher pledged a renewed humanitarian assistance by the Church in 2017, building on the $200 million of aid given by Catholic charities last year.
The conference brought together 70 countries  and international organisations from across the world and was chaired jointly by the European Union, the United Nations and several national governments.
It comes a year after a summit in London at which the international community pledged significant financial support for humanitarian assistance in Syria and promoted a political solution to the crisis.
(Richard Marsden)
(from Vatican Radio)…

Passion Sunday – April 09, 2017

Introduction: The Church celebrates this sixth Sunday of Lent as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. This is the time of year we stop to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. What we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in him, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption.  Attentive participation in the Holy Week liturgy will deepen our relationship with God, increase our Faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. Today’s liturgy combines contrasting moments, one of glory, the other of suffering:  the royal welcome of Jesus in Jerusalem and the drama of His trial, culminating in His crucifixion, death and burial. The Holy Week liturgies present us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus. Just as Jesus did, we, too, must lay down our lives freely by actively participating in the Holy Week liturgies.  But let us remember that Holy Week can become “holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week.  During this week of the Passion — passionate suffering, passionate grace, passionate love and passionate forgiving – each of us is called to remember the Christ of Calvary and then to embrace and lighten the burden of the Christ Whose passion continues to be experienced in the hungry, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the aged, the lonely and the outcast. The African-American song asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to a tree?” The answer is yes, a definite yes. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting ‘Hosanna!’ and later ‘Crucify Him!’
First reading, Isaiah 50:4-7: Today’s first reading, the third of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs, like the other three, foreshadows Jesus’ own life and mission. In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 40-55, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant.  These four songs are about a mysterious figure whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people.  In the original author’s mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. However, Jesus saw aspects of His own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus’ life.  In today’s Psalm, the Psalmist puts his trust in Yahweh for deliverance and salvation.  The context of this day’s worship also conveys Jesus’ confidence in God’s protection in the midst of His trial and crucifixion.
Second Reading, Philippians 2:6-11 is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of Who Jesus is and how His mission saves us from sin and death.  It is a message that Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ.  “Jesus was Divine from all eternity.  But he didn’t cling to that. Rather He emptied Himself and became human.  He accepted further humbling by obeying [the constraints of the] human condition even unto death by crucifixion.  So, God highly exalted Him, giving Him the highest title in the universe.”  Christians reading this passage today are joining the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus’ life and mission.  We’re singing their song and reciting their creed during this special time of the year when we remember the most important things Our Lord did.
The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from His admirers, who paraded with Him for a distance of two miles:  from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem.  Two-and-a-half million people were normally present to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover.  Jesus permitted such a royal procession for two reasons: 1) to reveal to the general public that He was the promised Messiah, and 2) to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Zephaniah (3:16-19): “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion…. see now your King comes to you; He is victorious, triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zech. 9:9).  (The traditional “Palm Sunday Procession” at Jerusalem began in the fourth century AD when the Bishop of Jerusalem led the procession from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Ascension).  In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Matthew.  We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus. 
Exegetical notes on part I of today’s Gospel:   1) Jesus rides on a lowly donkey:  In those days, kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace.  I Kings 1:38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation.  Jesus entered the Holy City as a King of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.  The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that   had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant.  
2) The mode of reception given:  Jesus was given the royal reception usually reserved for a King or military commander.  I Maccabees 13:51ff describes such a reception given to the Jewish military leader Simon Maccabaeus in 171 BC.  II Maccabees 10:6-8 refers to a similar reception given to another military general, Judas Maccabaeus, who led the struggle against the Roman commander, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and liberated the Temple from the Romans in 163 BC.
3) The slogans used: The participants sang the “Hallel” Psalm (Psalm 118), and shouted the words of Psalms 25 and 26.  The Greek word “hosiana” originally meant “save us now” (II Samuel 14:4).  The people sang the entire Psalm 118 on the Feast of the Tabernacles when they marched seven times around the Altar of the Burnt Offering.  On Palm Sunday, however, the people used the prayer “Hosanna” as a slogan of greeting.  It meant “God save the King of Israel.”
4) The symbolic meaning of the Palm Sunday procession: Nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the “Pass Over,” but the lamb which was to be sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.
5) Reaction of Jesus:  Before the beginning of the procession, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41-42), and when the procession was over, He cleansed the Temple (Lk 19:45-46).  On the following day, He cursed a barren fig tree.
Life Messages: We need to answer 5 questions today: 1) Does Jesus weep over me?  There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one.”   Are we ready to imitate the prodigal son and return to God, our loving Father, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection?
2) Am I a barren fig tree?  God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness.  Am I a barren fig tree?  Or, worse, do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness?
3) Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with His whip?  Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God. 
4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart?  Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”?  Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy.  Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them.  Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives.  And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with Whom we will be spending eternity.  Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary.  Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives.  It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.
5) Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus?   As we “carry Jesus” to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later.  Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him.  Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms.  Such a one betrays the Christian message.  Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service.
6) Can we face these questions on Palm Sunday? Are we willing to follow Jesus, not just to Church but in our daily life?  Are we willing to entrust ourselves to Him even when the future is frightening or confusing, believing God has a plan? Are we willing to serve Him until that day when His plan on earth is fulfilled? These are the questions of Palm Sunday.  Let us take a fresh look at this familiar event.  We might be surprised at what we see.  It could change us forever.(Source: Fr. Anthony Kadavil)
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope meets with Catholic-Muslim delegation from Britain

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Wednesday with English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and four Muslim leaders from Britain who came to highlight the deep-rooted interfaith relations among the different religious communities in the UK today.
For the past three decades, Nichols and other Catholic leaders have been working to develop strong ties with local Muslim communities. Among some of the practical, grass roots initiatives that have resulted are the setting up of shared food banks for the needy and the welcoming of newly arrived refugee families.
Just two weeks ago, Cardinal Nichols stood side by side with the Archbishop of Canterbury plus Muslim and Jewish leaders in London to condemn the terror attack at the Houses of Parliament. As prayers were said for the victims, the cardinal read out a message from Pope Francis offering condolences to the grieving families and solidarity with the whole nation.
Just ahead of the papal audience in the Vatican, Philippa Hitchen sat down with Cardinal Nichols and two of the Muslim leaders on the delegation, Muhammad Shahid Raza, originally from India and Syed Ali Raza Rizvi, originally from Lahore in Pakistan. They highlight the importance of standing together to combat hatred, intolerance and violence in the name of religion

Moulana Muhammad Shahid Raza begins by saying they bring a message of “thanks and gratefulness for the kindness and sympathy the Muslim community has always received from Vatican”. He also highlights their “great appreciation” for Cardinal Nichols and the Catholic Church in the UK which made the audience possible.
The cardinal notes that Muslim leaders like Muhammad Shahid Raza have been working on interfaith relations in Britain for the past 30 years and he hopes the papal audience will serve to encourage that work. He also thanks the pope for his message of solidarity following the incidents in Westminster two weeks ago.
Moulana Syed Ali Raza Rizvi says that “when people see the reality of faith leaders together,” it shows clearly that “what a few criminals are doing is different to what faith leaders are saying”. Standing together, he says, “has a very positive reflection” showing that faith does not divide, but rather it unites people.
He continues by noting that “in difficult times, people look to faith communities” and the projects that Muslims and Christians are working on together, especially with refugees “gives a very positive image of faith in the 21st century”. In recent years, he adds, the cardinal has helped “not just [to] bring us together but [to] create a friendship and that has made us increasingly respectful of each other and our communities”.
Cardinal Nichols says he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are seeking to “create a platform from which the Muslim voice can be heard in the UK” . Following the recent terror attack, he says, “Muslims all over the country stood up and said not in our name, Islam is a religion of peace and we condemn these actions” but that voice is not heard. He says he hopes that one of the tangible results of the papal audience is “the right amplification of this voice in our midst”. 
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope prays for victims and families of Russia bomb attack

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is praying for the victims of a bomb attack in Russia and for all those affected by the tragedy.
Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience , the Pope turned his attention to the “serious attack of the past days in the St. Petersburg subway”, which he said, caused victims and a sense of loss and confusion in the Russian population.
A bomb exploded in a carriage of the St. Petersburg subway on Monday killing 14 people and injuring 50 others.
“While I entrust all those who are tragically deceased to the mercy of God, I express my spiritual closeness to their loved ones and to all those who are suffering because of this dramatic event” he said. 
Investigators say they have searched the home of the suspected suicide bomber behind Monday’s deadly explosion on the St. Petersburg subway.
Russian investigators said they suspect a 22-year old Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen of having detonated the bomb.
Another bomb, hidden in a bag, was found and de-activated at another St. Petersburg station just half an hour before the blast.
The investigators have also reportedly arrested 6 people in St. Petersburg on suspicion of  “aiding terrorist activities.”  They said that at this moment there is no evidence of connection or acquaintance of the detained with executor of the terrorist action in the St. Petersburg metro”.
(from Vatican Radio)…

Pope at Audience: ‘God’s love basis of our hope’

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis continued his catechesis on Christian hope during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, saying that God’s infinite love is the basis for all our hope.
Listen to Devin Watkins’ report:

Reflecting on the First Letter of the apostle Peter, Pope Francis at his General Audience invited Christians to imitate the Lord’s redemptive suffering by bearing witness to God’s infinite love as revealed on the Cross.
He said God’s love as sealed in the resurrection is the basis of all our hope.
“Our hope is not a concept, it is not a sentiment, it is not a mobile phone, it is not a heap of riches! Our hope is a Person, it is the Lord Jesus Whom we recognize as living and present in us and in our brothers, because Christ is risen.”
The Holy Father went on to say that Christian hope is not theoretical but must be lived and witnessed in our daily lives.
Our hope, he said, “must necessarily be released outwards, taking the exquisite and unmistakable form of gentleness, respect and goodness towards our neighbour, to the point of forgiving those who do us harm.”
He said this contrasts with the attitude of the Mafiosi, who believe “evil can be defeated by evil”, because they “do not have hope”.
Pope Francis then invited all to be suffer for good in the large and small situations of daily life and to offer a blessing instead of evil.
This, he said, “is the proclamation of God’s love, a love without bounds, that is inexhaustible, that never runs out and constitutes the true basis for our hope.”
Please find below the official English translation of the Pope’s catechesis:
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The First Letter of the apostle Peter is extraordinarily rich. We must read it once, twice, three times to understand its extraordinary import: it succeeds in bringing great consolation and peace, showing how the Lord is always by our side and never abandons us, especially in the most delicate and difficult times of our lives. But what is the “secret” of this Letter, and in particular of the passage we have just listened to (cf. 1 Pt. 3:8-17)? This is a question. I know that you will take the New Testament, look for the First Letter of Peter and read it very slowly, to understand the secret and the strength of this Letter. What is the secret of this Letter?
1. The secret resides in the fact that this text is rooted directly in Easter, in the heart of the mystery we are about to celebrate, thus allowing us to perceive all the light and joy that spring from the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ is truly risen, and this is a beautiful greeting we can give each other on the day of Easter: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen!”, as many peoples do. Let us remember that Christ is risen, He lives in our midst, and abides in each one of us. This is why St. Peter strongly urges us to adore Him in our hearts (cf. v. 16). There the Lord made His dwelling at the moment of our Baptism, and from there He continues to renew us and our life, filling us with His love and with fullness of Spirit. This is why the Apostle reminds us to acknowledge the hope that is in us (cf. v. 16): our hope is not a concept, it is not a sentiment, it is not a mobile phone, it is not a heap of riches! Our hope is a Person, it is the Lord Jesus Whom we recognise as living and present in us and in our brothers, because Christ is risen. Slavic peoples, when they greet each other, instead of saying “Good morning” or “Good evening” on the days of Easter, they greet each other with this “Christ is risen!”. “Christos voskrese!”, they say to each other, and they are happy to say so! And this is the “Good morning” and “Good evening” they offer one another: “Christ is risen!”
2. We understand, then, that we cannot give a reason for this hope at a theoretical level, but above all through the witness of life, both within the Christian community and outside it. If Christ is living and abides in us, in our heart, then we must also allow Him to be made visible, not to hide Him, and to act in us. This means that the Lord Jesus must increasingly become our model: our model of life and that we must learn to behave as He behaved. Do what Jesus did. The hope that abides in us, then, cannot remain hidden inside us, in our heart: it would be a weak hope, that does not have the courage to come out and let itself be seen; but our hope, as is clear in the Psalm 33 cited by Peter, must necessarily be released outwards, taking the exquisite and unmistakable form of gentleness, respect and goodness towards our neighbour, to the point of forgiving those who do us harm. A person who does not have hope is not able to forgive; he is not able to give the consolation of forgiveness and to receive the consolation of forgiveness. Yes, because this is what Jesus did, and in this way He continues to do so through those who make space in their heart and their life for Him, in the awareness that evil is not vanquished with evil, but with humility, mercy and gentleness. Mafiosi think that evil can be defeated with evil, and so they seek revenge and do all those things we know about. But they do not know what humility, mercy and gentleness area. And why? Because Mafiosi do not have hope. Think about this.
3. This is why St. Peter affirms that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (v. 17); this does not mean that it is good to suffer, but that when we suffer for good, we are in communion with the Lord, Who accepted to suffer and to be put on the cross for our salvation. So when, in the smallest or the largest situations of our life, we too accept suffering for good, it is as if we sprinkled the seeds of resurrection, the seeds of life around us, and made the light of Easter shine in the dark. This is why the Apostle urges us always to respond “blessing” (v. 9): blessing is not a formality, or merely a sign of courtesy, but rather a great gift that we are the first to have received, and that we have the possibility of sharing with our brothers. It is the proclamation of God’s love, a love without bounds, that is inexhaustible, that never runs out and constitutes the true basis for our hope.
Dear friends, we understand also why the apostle Peter calls us “blessed”, when we must suffer for justice (cf. v.13). It is not only for a moral or ascetic reason, but it is because each time we take the side of the last and the marginalized, or that we do not respond to evil with evil, but instead forgive without vengeance, forgiving and blessing, every time we do this we shine as living and luminous signs of hope, thus becoming an instrument of consolation and peace, in accord with the heart of God. And in this way we go ahead with sweetness and gentleness, being amiable and doing good even to those who do not wish us well, or who harm us. Onwards!
(from Vatican Radio)…