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Our only 'fanaticism' should be love, Pope tells Egypt's Catholics

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 29, 2017 / 03:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis told Egyptian Catholics that truly living the faith means ridding ourselves of hypocritical attitudes and focusing on the only obsession that counts: loving others, no matter how hard it is.

“God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity! Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!” the Pope said April 29.

True faith, he said, “is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost, without distinction and without preference.”

Pope Francis spoke to the 15,000 people who attended his Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo as part of his April 28-29 visit to Egypt. The trip comes largely as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the prestigious al-Azhar University, one of the highest institutional authorities in Sunni Islam, which had been strained since 2011.

The visit also takes place in wake of increasing attacks on Egypt’s Coptic community, and as such is meant to show support for Christians as well as cement Catholic-Muslim relations.

Egypt has around 272,000 Catholics and 213 parishes out of a total population of nearly 89 million. The country is predominately Muslim, with Christianity, including Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Catholics, making up only 10 percent of the population.  

In his homily, which was given in Italian with Arabic translation, Francis spoke about the qualities of a sincere faith, pointing out that we are called to love, serve, and help our brothers and sisters – never treating them like an enemy.

True faith, he said, “spurs us on to spread, defend and live out the culture of encounter, dialogue, respect and fraternity.” It also gives us “the courage to forgive those who have wronged us,” and to live out the corporal works of mercy.

Continuing, the Pope said “true faith leads us to protect the rights of others with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we defend our own. Indeed, the more we grow in faith and knowledge, the more we grow in humility and in the awareness of our littleness.”

His words centered on the day’s Gospel passage for the third Sunday of Easter, which tells the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The experience of the disciples, he said, can be summed up in three words: death, resurrection and life.

At first the disciples are full of disappointment and despair, not understanding how God could have allowed Jesus, their Savior, to be crucified, Francis observed. However, Jesus then approaches and walks with them, turning their despair into life.

“They could not understand why Almighty God had not saved him from such a disgraceful death,” he said. “The cross of Christ was the cross of their own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be.”

However, in reality, “it was they who were dead, buried in the tomb of their limited understanding,” the Pope continued, adding: “How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas of God, a god created in the image and likeness of man!”

“How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life!”

Eventually, it is in the “breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist, that the two disciples recognize the Risen Jesus and are “filled with joy, confidence and enthusiasm, ready to bear witness,” he said.

Unless we also “tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognize the face of God.”

It was precisely in this darkness and despair that Jesus approaches and “turns their despair into life,” Francis said, explaining that “when we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the center of our world, then God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection.”

We must follow the same path of the disciples, not remaining in doubt or despair, focused only on the cross, but coming to realize the truth and hope of the resurrection, he said, stressing that “we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power.”

This experience must also translate into how we treat others, he said, saying “the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus teaches us that it is of no use to fill our places of worship if our hearts are empty of the fear of God and of his presence.”

“It is of no use to pray if our prayer to God does not turn into love for our brothers and sisters. All our religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.”

The Pope said that in this sense, it’s useless to be concerned about our image, “since God looks at the soul and the heart and he detests hypocrisy. For God, it is better not to believe than to be a false believer, a hypocrite!”

Just like the disciples saw and believed, returning immediately to Jerusalem to share their experience, the Church also “needs to know and believe that Jesus lives within her and gives her life in the Eucharist, the scriptures and the sacraments,” he said.

Francis concluded by encouraging those present, “filled with joy, courage and faith” like the disciples of Emmaus, to “return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.”

“Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others,” he said.

“Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”

Pope Francis at Cairo Mass: live lives ablaze with charity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass for Egyptian Catholics in the “Air Defense Stadium” in Cairo on Saturday.

In his homily, focused on the Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, which tells of Our Lord’s going to meet the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Holy Father said, “The encounter with the Risen Jesus transformed the lives of those two disciples because meeting the Risen One transforms every life, and makes fruitful what is barren.”

He went on to say, “Faith in the resurrection is not a product of the Church, but the Church herself is born of faith in the resurrection.”

Pope Francis then spoke of the need to proclaim our faith in the resurrection precisely by living in a way that conveys our conviction, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity,” and, “any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him,” and then encouraged the gathered faithful to be like the disciples of Emmaus.

“Filled with joy, courage and faith,” he said, “return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.  Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.  Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”

The Holy Father invoked the protection of Our Lord, Jesus, his Blessed Mother, and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph, over the whole land and people.

“May Our Lady and the Holy Family, who dwelt in this venerable land of yours, enlighten our hearts and bless you and this beloved country of Egypt, which at the dawn of Christianity welcomed the preaching of Saint Mark, and throughout its history has brought forth so many martyrs and a great multitude of holy men and women.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Cairo: full text of homily at Sat AM Mass

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass for Egyptian Catholics in the “Air Defense Stadium” in Cairo on Saturday. Below, please find the full text of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks, in their official English translation.

***********************************

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Holy Mass, Cairo
29 April 2017

As-salamu alaykum!   Peace be with you!

Today’s Gospel of the third Sunday of Easter speaks to us of the journey to Emmaus of the two disciples who set out from Jerusalem.  It can be summed up in three words: death, resurrection and life.

Death.  The two disciples are returning, full of despair and disappointment, to life as usual.  The Master is dead and thus it is pointless to hope.  They feel disappointment and despair.  Theirs is a journey of return, as they leave behind the painful experience of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The crisis of the cross, indeed the “scandal” and “foolishness” of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 2:2), seems to have buried any hope they had.  The one on whom they had built their lives is dead; in his defeat, he brought all their aspirations with him to the tomb.

They could not believe that their Master and Saviour, who had raised others from the dead and healed the sick, would end up hanging on the cross of shame.  They could not understand why Almighty God had not saved him from such a disgraceful death.  The cross of Christ was the cross of their own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be.  But in fact, it was they who were dead, buried in the tomb of their limited understanding. 

How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas of God, a god created in the image and likeness of man!  How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life!

The disciples recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”, in the Eucharist.  Unless we tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognize the face of God.

Resurrection.  In the gloom of their darkest night, at the moment of their greatest despair, Jesus approaches the two disciples and walks at their side, to make them see that he is “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).  Jesus turns their despair into life, for when human hope vanishes, divine hope begins to shine in its place.  “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; cf. 1:37).  When we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the centre of our world, then God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection.  He turns our steps back to Jerusalem, back to life and to the victory of the Cross (cf. Heb 11:34).

After meeting the Risen Lord, the two disciples returned filled with joy, confidence and enthusiasm, ready to bear witness.  The Risen One made them rise from the tomb of their unbelief and their sorrow.  Encountering the Lord, crucified and risen, they discovered the meaning and fulfilment of the whole of Scripture, the Law and the Prophets.  They discovered the meaning of the apparent defeat of the cross.

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair!  For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power. 

Life.  The encounter with the Risen Jesus transformed the lives of those two disciples because meeting the Risen One transforms every life, and makes fruitful what is barren (cf. BENEDICT XVI, General Audience, 11 April 2007).  Faith in the resurrection is not a product of the Church, but the Church herself is born of faith in the resurrection.  As Saint Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

The Risen Lord vanished from the sight of the disciples in order to teach us that we cannot hold on to Jesus as he appeared in history: “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen” (Jn 21:29; cf. 20:17).  The Church needs to know and believe that Jesus lives within her and gives her life in the Eucharist, the scriptures and the sacraments.  The disciples on the way to Emmaus realized this, and returned to Jerusalem in order to share their experience with the others: “We have seen the Risen One… Yes, he is truly risen!” (cf. Lk 24:32).

The experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus teaches us that it is of no use to fill our places of worship if our hearts are empty of the fear of God and of his presence.  It is of no use to pray if our prayer to God does not turn into love for our brothers and sisters.  All our religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.  It is of no use to be concerned about our image, since God looks at the soul and the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7) and he detests hypocrisy (cf. Lk 11:37-54; Acts 5:3, 4)[1].  For God, it is better not to believe than to be a false believer, a hypocrite!

True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane.  It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost, without distinction and without preference.  It makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome, but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped.  It spurs us on to spread, defend and live out the culture of encounter, dialogue, respect and fraternity.  It gives us the courage to forgive those who have wronged us, to extend a hand to the fallen, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to visit the imprisoned, to help orphans, to give drink to those who thirst, and to come to the aid of the elderly and those in need (cf. Mt 25).  True faith leads us to protect the rights of others with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we defend our own.  Indeed, the more we grow in faith and knowledge, the more we grow in humility and in the awareness of our littleness.

Dear brothers and sisters,

God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity!  Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!

So now, like the disciples of Emmaus, filled with joy, courage and faith, return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.  Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.  Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!

May Our Lady and the Holy Family, who dwelt in this venerable land of yours, enlighten our hearts and bless you and this beloved country of Egypt, which at the dawn of Christianity welcomed the preaching of Saint Mark, and throughout its history has brought forth so many martyrs and a great multitude of holy men and women.

Al Masih qam!  Bi-l-haqiqa qam!

Christ is risen!  He is truly risen!

 

[1] Saint Ephraim exclaims: “Just tear off the mask that covers the hypocrite and you will see only corruption” (Sermon). “Woe to them that are of a double heart”, says Ecclesiasticus (2:14, Vulg).  

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Cairo: impromptu exchange with young people

(Vatican Radio) Friday evening saw an unscripted moment between Pope Francis and a group of some three hundred young people gathered in the small square before the entrance to the Apostolic Nunciature in Cairo, where the Holy Father stayed the night between Friday and Saturday.

After supper, the Holy Father went to greet the young people gathered the square, saying, “Good evening to you all, I'm glad to find you!”

“I know you have come on pilgrimage,” he continued, “is it true? If it is true, it is because you are brave!”

He went on to say, “[Saturday], we will have the Mass in the stadium, all together, and we will pray together and sing together and celebrate together! Before retiring [for the night], I would like to pray with you.”

Then Pope Francis prayed the Our Father with the young people, who recited the prayer in Arabic. “[N]ow,” he said, “I would like to give you the blessing, but before I do, each of you should think about the people about whom you care the most; think also of the people for whom you do not care, and in silence each of you pray for these people: for those whom you love and those you don’t love,” Pope Francis instructed.

Then he gave the Apostolic Blessing to the young people and all the people they carried in that moment in their hearts.

Pope Francis concluded the encounter with the words, “Long live Egypt!”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope in Egypt: Catholics and Copts recognise shared baptism

(Vatican Radio) In a common declaration, signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Catholics and Copts declare for the first time that they will recognise each other’s sacrament of baptism.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report:

The joint statement was made public following a meeting of the Catholic and Coptic leaders in Cairo on Friday. It comes forty-four years after Pope Paul VI first met with the previous Coptic Pope Shenouda III in May 1973. That encounter marked a milestone in relations, following centuries of separation, and it led to the setting up of a Commission for theological dialogue with the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the new common declaration, Francis and Tawadros recall the progress made since then and call for a deepening of their shared roots in faith through common prayer. In particular the statement calls for a common translation of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

Catholics and Copts, it says, can witness together to the shared values of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for creation. The declaration calls for intensified prayers for all Christians who are persecuted and killed for their faith, especially in Egypt and the Middle East.

Most significantly, the statement also resolves an issue which has been a constant source of tension in the dialogue between Copts and Catholics: that of insisting on a second baptism for Christians who convert from one Church to another. Today, the two popes declare, “we will not repeat the baptism that had been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other”. 

Please find below the full text of the Common Declaration

1.   We, Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, give thanks to God in the Holy Spirit for granting us the joyful opportunity to meet once more, to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer. We glorify the Almighty for the bonds of fraternity and friendship existing between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. The privilege of being together here in Egypt is a sign that the solidity of our relationship is increasing year by year, and that we are growing in closeness, faith and love of Christ our Lord. We give thanks to God for this beloved Egypt, the “homeland that lives inside us,” as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III used to say, the “people blessed by God” (cf. Is 19:25) with its ancient Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman heritage, the Coptic tradition and the Islamic presence. Egypt is the place where the Holy Family found refuge, a land of martyrs and saints.

2.   Our deep bond of friendship and fraternity has its origin in the full communion that existed between our Churches in the first centuries and was expressed in many different ways through the early Ecumenical Councils, dating back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the contribution of the courageous Church Father Saint Athanasius, who earned the title “Protector of the Faith”. Our communion was expressed through prayer and similar liturgical practices, the veneration of the same martyrs and saints, and in the development and spread of monasticism, following the example of the great Saint Anthony, known as the Father of all monks.

     This common experience of communion before the time of separation has a special significance in our efforts to restore full communion today. Most of the relations which existed in the early centuries between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church have continued to the present day in spite of divisions, and have recently been revitalized.  They challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3.   We recall with gratitude the historic meeting forty-four years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after many centuries when our mutual bonds of love were not able to find expression due to the distance that had arisen between us.  The Common Declaration they signed on 10 May 1973 represented a milestone on the path of ecumenism, and served as a starting point for the Commission for Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, which has borne much fruit and opened the way to a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.  In that Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic tradition, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God ... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”.  It was also acknowledged that “the divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments” and that “we venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light”, the “Theotokos”.

4.    With deep gratitude we recall our own fraternal meeting in Rome on 10 May 2013, and the establishment of 10 May as the day when each year we deepen the friendship and brotherhood between our Churches.  This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism.  For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.

5.    We are aware that we still have far to go on this pilgrimage, yet we recall how much has already been accomplished.  In particular, we call to mind the meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Saint John Paul II, who came as a pilgrim to Egypt during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.  We are determined to follow in their footsteps, moved by the love of Christ the good Shepherd, in the profound conviction that by walking together, we grow in unity.  May we draw our strength from God, the perfect source of communion and love.

6.    This love finds its deepest expression in common prayer.  When Christians pray together, they come to realize that what unites them is much greater than what divides them.  Our longing for unity receives its inspiration from the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21).  Let us deepen our shared roots in the one apostolic faith by praying together and by seeking common translations of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

7.    As we journey towards the blessed day when we will at last gather at the same Eucharistic table, we can cooperate in many areas and demonstrate in a tangible way the great richness which already unites us.  We can bear witness together to fundamental values such as the sanctity and dignity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for all of creation, entrusted to us by God.  In the face of many contemporary challenges such as secularization and the globalization of indifference, we are called to offer a shared response based on the values of the Gospel and the treasures of our respective traditions.  In this regard, we are encouraged to engage in a deeper study of the Oriental and Latin Fathers, and to promote a fruitful exchange in pastoral life, especially in catechesis, and in mutual spiritual enrichment between monastic and religious communities.

8.    Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace.  Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being.  We share a concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt.  All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country. Religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, rooted in the dignity of the person, is the cornerstone of all other freedoms.  It is a sacred and inalienable right.

9.    Let us intensify our unceasing prayer for all Christians in Egypt and throughout the whole world, and especially in the Middle East.  The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation.  For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

10.  The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity.  Once again, the martyrs are our guides.  In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians.  So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.

11.  In obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the Church, keeps her throughout the ages, and leads her to full unity – that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed:

      Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart,will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.  This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.

       We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.

12.   Let us, then, be guided by the teachings and the example of the Apostle Paul, who writes: “[Make] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:3-6).

Cairo, 28th April 2017

(from Vatican Radio)

Catholics and Copts must speak "the common language of charity"

(Vatican Radio) In a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Tawadros II on Friday, Pope Francis said the two communities must oppose violence and work more closely together to witness to Christ in the world.  

Listen to our report:

Recalling the first encounter of a Catholic and a Coptic pope, Paul VI and Shenouda III in May 1973, following centuries of separation, Pope Francis spoke of the theological progress, but also the realization that “it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations”.

Shared faith and baptism

Alongside the ecumenism of gestures, words and commitments, he stressed, there is an effective spiritual communion grounded in a shared faith and common baptism. Calling for Orthodox and Catholics to speak “the common language of charity”, Pope Francis urged all Christians to work more closely together to carry their faith to the world.

In particular he praised the Orthodox leader for his efforts to promote good relations through the establishment of a National Council of Christian Churches.

Ecumenism of blood

This deepening of the ecumenical journey, Pope Francis said, is mysteriously sustained by the blood of the many martyrs, from past centuries but also of the present day. Recalling the “innocent blood of defenceless Christians” killed in recent terror attacks, he said “strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity”.

Please find below the address of Pope Francis to Pope Tawadros II in Cairo

The Lord is risen, he is truly risen!  [Al Massih kam, bilhakika kam!]

Your Holiness, Dear Brother,

Only a short time has passed since the great Solemnity of Easter, the heart of the Christian life, which we were blessed this year to celebrate on the same day.  We thus joined in proclaiming the Easter message and, in a sense, relived the experience of the first disciples who together “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” that day (Jn 20:20).  This paschal joy is today made all the more precious by the gift of our joining to worship the Risen One in prayer and by our renewed exchange, in his name, of the holy kiss and embrace of peace.  For this, I am deeply grateful: in coming here as a pilgrim, I was sure of receiving the blessing of a brother who awaited me.  I have eagerly looked forward to this new meeting, for I vividly recall the visit Your Holiness made to Rome shortly after my election, on 10 May 2013.  That date has happily become the occasion for celebrating an annual Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics.

            As we joyfully progress on our ecumenical journey, I wish particularly to recall that milestone in relations between the Sees of Peter and Mark which is the Common Declaration signed by our predecessors more than forty years ago, on 10 May 1973.  After “centuries of difficult history” marked by increasing “theological differences, nourished and widened by non-theological factors”, and growing mistrust, we were able that day, with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is “perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity” (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 10 May 1973).  Yet equally important and timely are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as “our Lord and God and Saviour and King”.  With these words, the See of Mark and the See of Peter proclaimed the lordship of Jesus: together we confessed that we belong to Jesus and that he is our all. 

            What is more, we realized that, because we belong to him, we can no longer think that each can go his own way, for that would betray his will that his disciples “all be one… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).  In the sight of God, who wishes us to be “perfectly one” (v. 23), it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations, much less of those centuries of history and traditions that estranged us one from the other.  In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, “there is no time to lose in this regard!  Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality” (Address at the Ecumenical Meeting, 25 February 2000).  Consequently, not only is there an ecumenism of gestures, words and commitment, but an already effective communion that grows daily in living relation with the Lord Jesus, is rooted in the faith we profess and is truly grounded on our baptism and our being made a “new creation” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) in him.  In a word, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Hence, we constantly set out anew, in order to hasten that eagerly awaited day when we will be in full and visible communion around the altar of the Lord.

            In this exciting journey, which – like life itself – is not always easy and straightforward, but on which the Lord exhorts us to persevere, we are not alone.  We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26).  Among them, surely Peter and Mark in particular rejoice in our encounter today.  Great is the bond uniting them.  We need only think of the fact that Saint Mark put at the heart of his Gospel Peter’s profession of faith: “You are the Christ”.  It was the answer to Jesus ever urgent question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29).  Today too, many people cannot answer this question; there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.

            Together, then, we are called to bear witness to him, to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.  As Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, we can always join in speaking this common language of charity: before undertaking a charitable work, we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus. Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity.

            It is with this constructive apostolic spirit that Your Holiness continues to show a genuine and fraternal attention for the Coptic Catholic Church.  I am most grateful for this closeness, which has found praiseworthy expression in the National Council of Christian Churches, which you have established so that believers in Jesus can work together more closely for the benefit of Egyptian society as a whole.  I also greatly appreciated the generous hospitality offered to the thirteenth Meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which took place here last year at your invitation.  It is a promising sign that the following meeting took place this year in Rome, as if to bespeak a particular continuity between the Sees of Mark and Peter.

            In the sacred Scriptures, Peter seems in some way to reciprocate the affection of Mark by calling him “my son” (1 Pet 5:13).  But the Evangelist and his apostolic activity are also fraternally associated with Saint Paul, who, before dying a martyr in Rome, mentions Mark’s great usefulness in his ministry (cf. 2 Tim 4:11) and speaks of him frequently (cf. Philem 24; Col 4:10).  Fraternal charity and communion in mission: these are the messages that the word of God and our own origins have bequeathed to us.  They are the evangelical seeds that we rejoice to water together and, with God’s help, to make grow (cf. 1 Cor 3:6-7).

            The deepening progress of our ecumenical journey is also sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.  Saint John tells us that Jesus came “with water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6); whoever believes in him thus “overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5).  With water and blood: by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.  How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!  The venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church bears eloquent witness to this.  Even in recent days, tragically, the innocent blood of defenceless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us. Most dear brother, just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.  Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.

            The impressive history of holiness of this land is distinguished not only by the sacrifice of the martyrs.  No sooner had the ancient persecutions ended, than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.  Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea (cf. Ps 106:21-22) were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity.  With veneration for this shared patrimony, I have come as a pilgrim to this land that the Lord himself loves to visit.  For here, in his glory he came down upon Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:16), and here, in his humility, he found refuge as a child (cf. Mt 2:14).

            Your Holiness, dearest brother, may the same Lord today grant us to set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace.  On this journey, may the Virgin Mary take us by the hand, she who brought Jesus here, and whom the great Egyptian theological tradition has from of old acclaimed as Theotokos, the Mother of God.  In this title, humanity and divinity are joined, for in his Mother, God became forever man.  May the Blessed Virgin, who constantly leads us to Jesus, the perfect symphony of divine and human, bring yet once more a bit of heaven to our earth.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis addresses Egypt's civil authorities: Full text

(Vatican Radio) Full text of Pope Francis address to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps. 

Click here to see our report.

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Heliopolis, Egypt

28 April 2017

Mr President,

Honourable Members of Government and Parliament,
Distinguished Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

I thank you, Mr President, for your cordial words of greeting and for your kind invitation to visit your beloved country.  I have vivid memories of your visit to Rome in November 2014, my fraternal meeting with his Holiness Pope Tawadros II in 2013, and my meeting last year with the Grand Imam of the University of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyib.

I am happy to be here in Egypt, a land of ancient and noble civilization, whose vestiges we can admire even today; in their majestic splendour they appear to withstand the passing of time.  This land is significant for the history of humanity and for the Church’s tradition, not only because of its prestigious past – that of Pharaohs, Copts and Muslims – but also because so many of the Patriarchs lived in Egypt or passed through it.  Indeed, Egypt is often mentioned in the sacred Scriptures.  In this land, God spoke and “revealed his name to Moses” (JOHN PAUL II, Welcome Ceremony, 24 February 2000: Insegnamenti XXIII, 1 [2000], 248), and on Mount Sinai he entrusted to his people and to all humanity the divine Commandments.  On Egyptian soil the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph found refuge and hospitality.

The generous hospitality shown more than two thousand years ago remains in the collective memory of humanity and is a source of abundant blessings that continue to expand.  As a result, Egypt is a land that in some sense we all feel to be our own!  As you say, “Misr um al-dunya” – “Egypt is the mother of the world”.  Today too, this land welcomes millions of refugees from different countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq, refugees whom you make praiseworthy efforts to integrate into Egyptian society.

Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence.  I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.

This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice.  Certainly this aim will become a reality if all are willing, together, to turn words into actions, authentic aspirations into commitments, written laws into enforced laws, by drawing on the innate genius of the Egyptian people.

Egypt thus has a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.  Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters.

I think in a particular way of all those individuals who in recent years have given their lives to protect your country: young people, members of the armed forces and police, Coptic citizens and all those nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.  I think also of the murders and the threats that have led to an exodus of Christians from northern Sinai.  I express my gratitude to the civil and religious authorities and to all those who have offered welcome and assistance to these persons who have suffered so greatly.  I also think of the victims of the attacks on Coptic churches, both last December and more recently in Tanta and Alexandria.  To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured.

Mr President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can only encourage the bold efforts being made to complete a number of national projects and the many initiatives of peace-making, both within the country and beyond its borders, aimed at that development in prosperity and peace which its people desire and deserve.

Development, prosperity and peace are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.  They are also goals that demand hard work, conviction and commitment, adequate planning and, above all, unconditional respect for inalienable human rights such as equality among all citizens, religious freedom and freedom of expression, without any distinction (cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Chapter 3) .  Goals, too, that require special consideration for the role of women, young people, the poor and the sick.  Ultimately, true development is measured by concern for human beings, who are the heart of all development: concern for their education, health and dignity.  The greatness of any nation is revealed in its effective care of society’s most vulnerable members – women, children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and minorities – lest any person or social group be excluded or marginalized.

In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.  Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.

All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them.  He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.  He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5).  The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.

It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.  History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.  It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.  It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.

History instead honours men and women of peace, who courageously and non-violently strive to build a better world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).

Egypt, in the days of Joseph, saved other peoples from famine (cf. Gen 47:57); today it is called to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity.  It is called to condemn and vanquish all violence and terrorism.  It is called to pour out the grain of peace upon all hearts that hunger for peaceful coexistence, dignified employment and humane education.  Egypt, in building peace and at the same time combatting terrorism, is called to give proof that “al-din lillah wal watan liljami”religion belongs to God and the nation to all”, as the motto of the Revolution of 23 July 1952 states.  Egypt is called to demonstrate that it is possible to believe and live in harmony with others, sharing with them fundamental human values and respecting the freedom and the faith of all (cf. Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Article 5).  Egypt has a special role to play in this regard, so that this region, the cradle of the three great religions, can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace (cf. Message for the 2014 World Day of Peace, 4).  From great nations, one can expect no less!

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Arab Republic of Egypt, which was one of the first Arab countries to establish such relations.  Those relations have always been characterized by friendship, esteem and reciprocal cooperation.  It is my hope that my Visit may help to consolidate and strengthen them.

Peace is a gift of God, but also the work of man.  It is a good that must be built up and protected, respecting the principle that upholds the force of law and not the law of force (cf. Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, 1).  Peace for this beloved country!  Peace for this whole region, and particularly for Palestine and Israel, for Syria, for Libya, Yemen, for Iraq, for South Sudan.  Peace to all people of good will!

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to greet with affection and a paternal embrace all the Egyptian people, who are symbolically present in this hall.  I also greet my Christian sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, who live in this country: Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics.  May Saint Mark, the evangelizer of this land, watch over you and help all of us to build and achieve the unity so greatly desired by our Lord (cf. Jn 17:20-23).  Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt.  You are an integral part of this country, and over the course of the centuries you have developed a sort of unique rapport, a particular symbiosis, which can serve as an example to other nations.  You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict (cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 24 and 25).

Thank you for your warm welcome.  I ask the Almighty and One God to fill all the Egyptian people with his divine blessings.  May he grant peace and prosperity, progress and justice to Egypt, and bless all her children!

“Blessed be Egypt my people”, says the Lord in the Book of Isaiah (19:25).

Shukran wa tahya misr!  Thank you and long live Egypt!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope thanks charity organization for generous service to the Church

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 07:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis met with members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, telling them that in a world full of desperation, their charitable assistance helps the Church spread a message of hope to those most in need.

“Today’s world, so often torn by violence, greed and indifference, greatly needs our witness to the Gospel message of hope in the redemptive and reconciling power of God’s love,” he said April 27.

He voiced his gratitude to the organization “for your desire to assist the Church’s efforts to proclaim that message of hope to the ends of the earth and to work for the spiritual and material advancement of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in developing countries.”

Pope Francis met with members of the Philadelphia-based charitable organization Thursday morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. They are gathered in Rome April 26-29 for their annual pilgrimage, during which they present the Pope with their annual contribution to his charities.

The Papal Foundation was established by U.S. Catholics in 1988 under St. John Paul II, to whom it offered its first donation of financial support in April 1990.

Since then, the organization, according to their website, has provided more than $111 million in grants and scholarships, the funds of which go toward building up the Church, educating and preparing leaders, and caring for vulnerable people, both young and old, throughout the world.

The primary purpose of the organization is to provide financial support for the Pope’s charities, with the commitment “to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church as we bring the love of Christ to a world in need.”

In 2015, the Papal Foundation awarded almost $15 million in grants and scholarships to various projects around the world, including to churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals, convents and monasteries, and in the areas of humanitarian aid, communications, and education.

Last year the foundation donated a whopping $10 million to support the Pope’s numerous global charitable initiatives.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he was happy to greet the group on their visit, particularly in the joy of the Easter season, when the Church “celebrates the Lord’s victory over death and his gift of new life in the Holy Spirit.”

“It is my hope that your pilgrimage to the Eternal City will strengthen you in faith and hope, and in your commitment to promote the Church’s mission by supporting so many religious and charitable causes close to the heart of the Pope,” he said.

“Each of us, as a living member of Christ’s body, is called to foster the unity and peace that is the Father’s will, in Christ, for our human family and all its members,” he continued.

Francis then said a “vital” part of their commitment to the work of the foundation is to pray for “the needs of the poor, the conversion of hearts, the spread of the Gospel, and the Church’s growth in holiness and missionary zeal.”

He also asked them to not forget to pray for him.

“Dear friends, with these words of encouragement, and with great affection, I commend you and your families to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church,” he concluded. “To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abiding joy and peace in the Lord.”

U.S. Bishops Chairman Urges House Members To “Insist on Changes” To Proposed Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON—As the U.S. House of Representatives appears poised to vote on the American Health Care Act (HB 1628), Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, stressed that remaining flaws in the bill will harm poor and vulnerable people and called on members to insist upon changes.

"It is deeply disappointing to many Americans that, in modifying the American Health Care Act to again attempt a vote, proponents of the bill left in place its serious flaws, including unacceptable modifications to Medicaid that will endanger coverage and affordability for millions of people, according to reports," said Bishop Dewane. "Sadly, some of the recently proposed amendments—especially those designed to give states flexibility—lack apparent safeguards to ensure quality of care. These additions could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages."

In an earlier letter sent to Representatives on March 17, Bishop Dewane had urged members of the U.S. House of Representatives to correct provisions that would place a per capita cap on Medicaid funding to states, as well as to ensure adequate, quality coverage for those who are part of the recent Medicaid expansion, among other things. Bishop Dewane also called for conscience protections for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health care services and against mandates like the contraception and sterilization regulatory requirement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The American Health Care Act includes some praiseworthy features, among them restricting funding which flows to abortion providers and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that cover it," noted Bishop Dewane. "But the AHCA, as it now stands, creates new and grave challenges for poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants. The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities."

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, American Health Care Act (AHCA), respect for life, human dignity, health care, affordability, abortion, poverty, immigration.

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has donated the rent for a private Italian beach that allows disabled people to enjoy the shore, the charity that manages the project announced this week.

The group Work of Love, a Catholic non-profit, has rented part of the Little Madonna beach located near Rome since 2012 in an effort to give disabled people better access to the beach. It is equipped with ramps, walkways and specialized beach chairs and water-friendly wheelchairs, and includes amenities such as a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers.

The beach is run by a group of volunteers and specialized FINP (Italian Swimming Federation Paralympic) staff and is open every day of the week during peak summer swimming season.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told CNN Pope Francis gave the group an undisclosed sum to "support the project that helps disabled youth and in particular to cover the cost of the annual rent for the beach known as the Little Madonna."

The beach is the only one of its kind in the region, and was created to allow all people to enjoy the beach “without architectural and mental barriers,” the group states on their site.

In a statement, the charity said they received the donation with "enthusiasm and astonishment."

It is not the first time Pope Francis has sponsored trips to the beach. Last summer, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Insider that the Holy Father had been treating Rome’s homeless to beach trips followed by pizza parties, sometimes with the Pope himself serving up a slice.

He said the van would take about 10 people each day to go swimming on the Italian coast, nearly 20 miles from Rome. The archbishop drove the van, while passengers sang and listened to the radio. At the beach, each guest was offered a swimsuit and towel and afterwards was treated to pizza.

“We certainly are not saving the world with some of these initiatives, we are not solving the problems of the homeless in Rome, but at least we are restoring to them a little dignity,” Archbishop Krajewski said at the time.

Other initiatives carried out by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of the Pope include a dormitory, barber services and showers for those in need. In 2015, the Pope invited a group of homeless people in Rome to the Sistine Chapel. In 2016, he invited 2,000 homeless people and migrants to the circus. Pope Francis also sent an electronic scooter to an elderly couple with disabilities, who had difficulty getting around. He has also given Christmas gifts to poor migrants and umbrellas to the homeless.