Vatican News

Pope calls all Catholics to be missionaries of God's mercy

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, leaves the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican in this Oct 3, 2018, file photo. Cardinal Ouellet announced plans for a major international conference at the Vatican in 2022 on the theology of the priesthood. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME (CNS) -- Like the disciples, who experienced Jesus' divine mercy after the resurrection, all Christians are called to become missionaries, sharing the Gospel of God's love and mercy with others, Pope Francis said.

"Today Jesus tells us, too, 'Peace be with you! You are precious in my eyes. Peace be with you! You are important for me. Peace be with you! You have a mission. No one can take your place. You are irreplaceable. And I believe in you,'" the pope said April 11.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday at the Rome Church of the Holy Spirit, just a block away from St. Peter's Square. The church is the Rome Shrine of Divine Mercy, a devotion begun by St. Faustina Kowalska and promoted by St. John Paul II.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, fewer than 100 people were present for the Mass, wearing masks and seated only two people to a pew, except if they were members of the same family.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis thanked those invited: nurses and doctors from the hospital next door, refugees, people with disabilities, priests serving as "missionaries of mercy," inmates from several correctional institutes and representatives of Italy's civil protection service. The pope told them they represent "realities where mercy becomes concrete, draws close and serves those in difficulty."

After reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with those present, the pope greeted each individual personally, shaking hands, blessing them and even posing for a few selfies.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis focused on how, prior to the resurrection, the disciples misunderstood so much of what Jesus said and how they abandoned or even denied him at the hour of his passion and death.

But when the disciples are hovering in fear in the closed room, he noted, the Risen Lord appears to them and "raises them up with his mercy."

"Having received that mercy, they become merciful in turn," the pope said. "It's very difficult to be merciful if you have not been shown mercy."

Saying, "Peace be with you," Jesus sets their troubled hearts at ease and forgives their failings, he said, lifting them up and filling them with the courage they need to be his witnesses.

"The disciples were guilty; they had run away, they had abandoned the master," the pope said. "Sin brings torment; evil has its price. Our sin, as the psalmist says, is always before us."

"Like those disciples, we need to let ourselves be forgiven," the pope said. "Let us ask for the grace to accept that gift, to embrace the sacrament of forgiveness. And to understand that confession is not about ourselves and our sins, but about God and his mercy."

"We do not confess to abase ourselves, but to be raised up," he said, and "we -- all of us -- need this badly."

Speaking to priests, Pope Francis said that anytime they hear someone's confession, they "ought to convey the sweetness of mercy ... the sweetness of Jesus, who forgives everything. God forgives everything."

When Jesus showed the disciples the wounds of his crucifixion, the pope said, he was not simply proving he had risen, but also made it possible for them to see and touch "the fact that God has loved us to the end. He has made our wounds his own and borne our weaknesses in his own body."

The day's first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, recounted how the early Christian community shared everything they had in common. "This is not communism, but pure Christianity," the pope said.

The disciples "discovered that they shared the mission, the forgiveness and the body of Jesus, and so it seemed natural to share their earthly possessions," he said. "Their fears had been dispelled by touching the Lord's wounds, and now they are unafraid to heal the wounds of those in need, because there they see Jesus. Because Jesus is there in the wounds of the needy."

Catholics today, he said, need to ask themselves if they show others the mercy they have been shown by God and if they feed the hungry like Jesus feeds them in the Eucharist.

"Let us not remain indifferent," Pope Francis said. "Let us not live a one-way faith, a faith that receives but does not give, a faith that accepts the gift but does not give it in return.”

After a too-long Lent, cardinal gives ideas for an extended Easter season

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny arrives for a consistory led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Oct. 5, 2019, file photo. Cardinal Czerny, writing in the Vatican newspaper, says after "400+ days" of Lent, Catholics need ways to celebrate a "proportional" Easter. His reference was to the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After what feels like "a truly trying Lent of 400-plus days" because of the coronavirus pandemic, Christians need to "envisage and embrace" a season of Easter faith and hope that goes beyond the traditional 50 days, said Cardinal Michael Czerny.

However, the cardinal wrote in the Vatican newspaper, "there must be no nostalgia for a blithe return to our pre-COVID existence with a sigh of relief that our long Lent is finally over."

The newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published the Canadian cardinal's article April 8 with the headline, "An Easter for rebirth after the long Lent of the pandemic." Cardinal Czerny is undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The ongoing pandemic with its deaths and sickness, its restrictions and economic devastation naturally have left people "disoriented and discouraged," the cardinal wrote. Those sensations are reinforced by "the economic, health, political and environmental problems (and) the long-standing and worsening injustices" the pandemic "keeps uncovering and magnifying."

And while the availability of vaccines is a cause for rejoicing, he said, part of the "sad and shameful 'normal' that we inherited from before COVID is the inability as a global community" to ensure an equitable distribution of the shots.

"Really," Cardinal Czerny wrote, "'back to normal' is never the right path, and most emphatically not correct after what we have seen these past 16 months."

"The poorest paid workers in suspended sectors of the economy -- restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, tourist destinations, entertainment -- are suddenly destitute and left to fend for themselves," he said. "Migrant workers have faced restrictions that make it impossible to reach their place of employment, and then are unable to return home due to lack of money or closed borders."

"Another global threat not suspended by the pandemic is climate change," the cardinal wrote. While "the onset of COVID-19 was sudden and specific, climate change is a long-term affair that began its modern course with the Industrial Revolution. Despite the differences, they combine in their ethical, social, economic, political and global relevance: They affect everyone on earth, and above all the life of the poorest and most fragile."

But, Cardinal Czerny said, "veritable sanctuaries and schools of solidarity" have been formed and blossomed during the pandemic, whether taking the form of online gatherings or rallying volunteers to shop for the elderly or distribute food aid to those in need.

"Our hope, though battered during the pandemic, is not lost," he said.

Christians can live and spread their Easter joy by undergoing "an effective conversion which could decelerate, arrest and eventually reverse the climate crisis," by advocating for a fair and speedy distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and by "welcoming new members into our communities and parishes, into our schools and economy, into our culture and society."

Especially after a Lent that seems to have begun in February 2020 and just kept going, Cardinal Czerny said, "what Easter should bring -- should always bring but should especially bring this year -- is a ringing and life-changing boost in faith and hope: 'Do not be afraid!' The Risen Lord is with us."

UPDATE: Christ's victory over death proclaims a second chance for all, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves and Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Pope Francis uses incense as he celebrates Easter Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 4, 2021. (CNS photo/Paolo Galosi, pool)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Easter liturgies -- with the fire, sharing of light from the paschal candle, the renewal of baptismal promises and the proclamation that Jesus has risen -- assure people that it is never too late to start again, Pope Francis said.

"It is always possible to begin anew, because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures," the pope said April 3 during his celebration of the Easter Vigil.

With Italy in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis celebrated a pared-down vigil at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica with an estimated 200 people present and returned the next morning with a similarly small congregation for Easter Mass and to give his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

The vigil was simpler than usual, but there still was the blessing of the fire, which blazed at the foot of the basilica's main altar, and the lighting of the Easter candle. Then, the darkened basilica slowly began to glow with the light of candles being shared by the concelebrants and the faithful present.

In his homily at the vigil, the pope said the Gospel proclamation of the resurrection and the angel's invitation to the women at Jesus' tomb to "go to Galilee" was a call to return to "the place where the Lord first sought them out and called them to follow him."

Although his followers often misunderstood Jesus and even abandoned him "in the face of the cross," he still urges them to "begin anew," the pope said.

"In this Galilee," the pope said, "we learn to be amazed by the Lord's infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats."

The pope said the call to return to Galilee also means to set out on a new path, away from the tomb and from indulging in grief.

Like those at the tomb, he said, "many people experience such a 'faith of memories,' as if Jesus were someone from the past, an old friend from their youth who is now far distant, an event that took place long ago, when they attended catechism as a child."

"Let us go to Galilee, then, to discover that God cannot be filed away among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises," he said. "Risen from the dead, Jesus never ceases to amaze us."

The call to go to Galilee -- a region inhabited by "those farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem" -- is a reminder for Christians to go out to the peripheries and imitate Jesus who brought the presence of God to those who were excluded.

"The Risen Lord is asking his disciples to go there even now, to the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities," the pope said. "There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties and hopes."

Pope Francis said Jesus calls on all Christians today to "overcome barriers, banish prejudices" and to recognize the Lord "here in our Galilees, in everyday life."

"If on this night, you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed or a dream shattered," he said, "open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter: 'Do not be afraid, he has risen! He awaits you in Galilee.'"

As is customary, Pope Francis did not preach at the Easter morning Mass, which featured the chanting of the Gospel in both Latin and Greek.

With Italy on another lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pope gave his Easter blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) standing inside St. Peter's Basilica rather than from the balcony overlooking a full St. Peter's Square.

"The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula," the pope said before giving the blessing. "It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor."

The pope offered prayers for the sick and those who have died of COVID-19 and for the doctors and nurses who have made "valiant efforts" to care for the pandemic's victims.

And he had special words of Easter hope for young people struggling in isolation from their friends. "Experiencing real human relationships, not just virtual relationships, is something that everyone needs, especially at an age when a person's character and personality is being formed," he said.

"I express my closeness to young people throughout the world and, in these days, especially to the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love," he said.

Pope Francis prayed for many places in the world where the need to fight the pandemic has not silenced the weapons of war and violence.

"This is scandalous," he said. "Armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened."

The Gospel witnesses to the Resurrection, he said, "report an important detail: the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet and side. These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint."

"May the light of the risen Jesus be a source of rebirth for migrants fleeing from war and extreme poverty," he prayed. "Let us recognize in their faces the marred and suffering face of the Lord as he walked the path to Calvary. May they never lack concrete signs of solidarity and human fraternity, a pledge of the victory of life over death that we celebrate on this day."

And, while the pandemic restrictions meant simpler and smaller Vatican celebrations of Easter, Pope Francis noted that in many places the limitations are stricter and even prevent people from going to church.

"We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely," he said.

Calling again for a fair and speedy distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the pope said that "in embracing the cross, Jesus bestowed meaning on our sufferings, and now we pray that the benefits of that healing will spread throughout the world."

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