Vatican News

Surprise! Pope makes several impromptu visits

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Vatican Media

Pope Francis greets a sick child as he visits poor, sick people at a center run by the CasAmica Onlus organization on the outskirts of Rome Dec. 7. The visit continued the pope's tradition of doing Friday works of mercy. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) See POPE-SURPRISE-VISITS Dec. 10, 2018.

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis made surprise visits Dec. 7 and 8 to people receiving medical care far from their homes, to a dozen intellectually challenged young people and to the staff of a major Rome newspaper.

The late-afternoon visits Dec. 7 to the CasAmica residence for families with a member needing long-term medical care far from home and to Il Ponte e l'Albero, a therapeutic rehabilitation home, were part of the pope's continuing "Mercy Friday" activities.

Pope Francis began the Friday visits to hospitals, clinics, schools and residential communities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy to demonstrate that mercy involves concrete acts of kindness and solidarity.

Both the CasAmica and Il Ponte e l'Albero are on the extreme southern edge of Rome.

The Vatican said most of the guests at the CasAmica are Italian families, mostly from the south, who cannot afford to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment while their family members are receiving treatment for cancer, leukemia or other serious illnesses. A few of the families, though, come from North Africa and from Eastern Europe.

"The pope rang the doorbell and was welcomed by the personnel on duty, who were dumbstruck at the unexpected visit," the Vatican said. Some of the guests were in the kitchen and some children were in the playroom. "The Holy Father stopped to play and joke with them" before listening to the parents of some sick children and offering them words of comfort.

The visit to Il Ponte e l'Albero came in response to a letter from some of the young people describing "the daily difficulties that come from their mental disadvantages," as well as their desire and efforts to follow the programs their doctors have designed for them.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope sat with the young people, listened to them, responded to their questions and encouraged them. The parents of some of the young people heard the pope was there and arrived in time to embrace him and thank him for the visit.

His visit to the newspaper, Il Messaggero, Dec. 8 also came in response to an invitation. The newspaper is marking its 140th anniversary.

Pope Francis stopped at the newspaper's headquarters in the center of Rome just after leading prayers for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In a video of the visit, posted by the newspaper, Pope Francis confirmed Il Messaggero is his preferred daily paper, even though, he said, "I've been advised against" reading it by some people.

"I wish you the best -- another 140 years," he told the staff.

Pope Francis said journalism should be a service, "explaining things without exaggeration, always looking for the concrete."

Discover the facts, report them and then comment on them, he said. "This is the kind of information we all need."

Algerian martyrs bear witness to dialogue, peace, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

CNS photo/EPA

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, celebrates the beatification Mass for 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war, at the shrine of Notre Dame de Santa Cruz in Oran, Algeria, Dec. 8. (CNS photo/EPA) See POPE-ALGERIA-MARTYRS Dec. 10, 2018.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The lives of 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war are a testament to God's plan of love and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, Pope Francis said.

In a message read Dec. 8 at the beatification Mass for the six women religious and 13 clerics, Pope Francis said it was a time for Catholics in Algeria and around the world to celebrate the martyrs' commitment to peace, but it was also a time to remember the sacrifices made by all Algerians during the bloody war.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, celebrated the Mass in Oran, Algeria, for the martyrs who were killed between 1994 and 1996.

Both Christians and Muslims in Algeria "have been victims of the same violence for having lived, with faithfulness and respect for each other, their duties as believers and citizens in this blessed land. It is for them, too, that we pray and express our grateful tribute," the pope said.

Among those who were beatified were Blessed Christian de Cherge and six of his fellow Trappists -- Fathers Christophe Lebreton, Bruno Lemarchand and Celestin Ringeard as well as Brothers Luc Dochier, Michel Fleury and Paul Favre-Miville -- who were murdered in 1996 by members of the Armed Islamic Group in Tibhirine, Algeria.

Their life and deaths were the subject of the movie "Of Gods and Men," which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

Several months after their deaths, Blessed Pierre Claverie, bishop of Oran, was assassinated along with his driver by an explosive device. According to the website of the Dominican Order of Preachers, his death was mourned also by Muslims who considered him "their bishop."

Pope Francis said that all Algerians are heirs of the great message of love that began with St. Augustine of Hippo and continued with the martyred religious men and women "at a time when all people are seeking to advance their aspiration to live together in peace."

"By beatifying our 19 brothers and sisters, the church wishes to bear witness to her desire to continue to work for dialogue, harmony and friendship," the pope said. "We believe that this event, which is unprecedented in your country, will draw a great sign of brotherhood in the Algerian sky for the whole world."

Pope: Prepare for Christ's birth by recognizing mistakes, sowing peace

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Riccardo Antimiani, EPA

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square Dec. 9 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Riccardo Antimiani, EPA) See POPE-ANGELUS-ADVENT-CONVERSION Dec. 10, 2018.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time for people to think about what they can change about themselves so that they can sow the seeds of peace, justice and fraternity in their daily lives, Pope Francis said.

The Advent season is a call for personal conversion, "humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, our failure" to do one's duty, he said Dec. 9 before praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Celebrating the second Sunday of Advent, the pope said the attitudes of vigilance and prayer that characterize the Advent season and preparations for Christmas include a journey of conversion.

"Let each one of us think, how can I change something about my behavior in order to prepare the way of the Lord?" the pope said.

Preparing the way entails making straight "his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low," the pope said, citing the day's Gospel reading according to St. Luke.

The pope said to think of the valleys as being the result of indifference and cold-heartedness. Filling them, he said, requires reaching out to others -- like Jesus did -- with warmth and attentive care and concern for their needs.

Hills that need leveling, he said, are the bitter, harsh obstacles of pride and arrogance.

What is needed here is reconciliation and asking for forgiveness for one's mistakes, he said. Even though taking the first step is not easy, "the Lord helps us in this, if we are of goodwill."

"We cannot give up in the face of negative situations of closure and refusal," he said; "we must not let ourselves be subdued by the world's mindset because the center of our life is Jesus and his word of light, love and consolation."

St. John the Baptist, he said, invited the people around him to conversion "with strength, vigor and severity. Nonetheless he knew how to listen," how to act with tenderness and be forgiving.

"Today, as well, Christ's disciples are called to be his humble but courageous witnesses in order to rekindle hope, to make it understood that, despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit."

People must pray for help in preparing the way of the Lord, "beginning with ourselves and for spreading around us seeds of peace, justice and fraternity with steadfast patience," he said.

Update: Vatican publishes pope's Christmas schedule

By Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis venerates a figurine of the baby Jesus at the start of Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 24, 2017. As usual, the pope has a full schedule of Christmastime liturgies planned for December and January. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-CHRISTMASTIME Dec. 10, 2018.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has a full schedule of Christmastime liturgies planned for December and January, including the customary baptism of newborn babies Jan. 13, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

The Vatican published the pope's Christmas schedule Dec. 10, reconfirming liturgies originally announced in late October.

The Masses and special celebrations include:

-- Dec. 24 at 9:30 p.m., the Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Dec. 25 at noon, Christmas message and blessing "urbi et orbi" ("to the city and the world") from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Dec. 31 at 5 p.m., first vespers for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, followed by eucharistic exposition, the singing of the "Te Deum" hymn of praise in thanksgiving for the year that is ending and benediction.

-- Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. in St. Peter's Basilica, Mass for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and for the World Day of Peace.

-- Jan. 6 at 10 a.m., Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany.

Earlier, the Vatican had announced that on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13, Pope Francis would celebrate a morning Mass in the Sistine Chapel and baptize infants.

He is scheduled to travel to Panama Jan. 23-28 for World Youth Day.

Update: Everyone must respect the basic human rights of all human beings, pope says

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The fundamental rights of all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, must be respected and protected in every situation, Pope Francis said, marking Human Rights Day, Dec.10.

"While a part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees their dignity denied, ignored or infringed upon and their fundamental rights ignored or violated," he said.

Such a contradiction leads one to ask "whether the equal dignity of all human beings -- solemnly proclaimed 70 years ago -- is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every circumstance," he said in a written message.

The message was read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at a Dec. 10-11 conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University discussing the "achievements, omissions and negations" in the world of human rights today.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 10, 1948. It detailed core principles that guaranteed the fundaments rights of every person.

In his message, Pope Francis said, "numerous forms of injustice" still exist in the world today, which seems to have no qualms about exploiting, rejecting and even killing human beings.

Those whose basic human rights continue to be violated, he said, include: the unborn, who are "denied the right to come into the world"; those who lack the necessary means to live a decent life; those who are denied an adequate education; those who lack work or are forced to work in slave-like conditions; those who are detained in inhumane conditions, who are tortured or are denied the possibility of redeeming their lives; and victims of "forced disappearances" and their families.

In addition, he said, there are those who live "in an atmosphere dominated by suspicion and disdain, who are the targets of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence because of their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion."

"Finally," the pope wrote, "I cannot forget all those who are subjected to multiple violations of their fundamental rights in the tragic context of armed conflict while the unscrupulous merchants of death get rich off the price of their brother and sisters' blood."

Everyone is called to play his or her part "with courage and determination" to stop those ongoing violations of basic human rights and promote respect for the fundamental rights of every person, "especially those who are 'invisible,' those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, foreign or detained, those who live on the margins of society or are rejected."

Pope Francis appealed to all world leaders "to put human rights at the center of their policies," including policies concerning development, "even when that means going against the tide."

Speaking at the conference, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the declaration was intended to "combine the values of humanity with the formulations of rights" to prevent violence and eliminate inequality.

"It is not just a question of defining rights on the basis of abstract peaceful coexistence or environmental or climate-based sustainability, but of reflecting on the basic criteria for coexistence between people," Cardinal Parolin said.

However, he said, there are signs that the shared values that were once the fabric of the document are unraveling, so the world must have "the courage to rewrite legislation to bring values back to the center."

The cardinal, like other Catholic commentators on the universal declarations' 70th anniversary, noted the push for a recognition of new rights, such as abortion or euthanasia.

Perhaps, he said, what is needed is a dialogue about values. "Words like dignity, liberty and responsibility are already in the language and aspirations of the human family; in fact, without them, it is not possible to speak of human rights" or hope for the conditions of peace, security, development and cooperation that should flow from a universal recognition of human rights.

"Perhaps the time has come to launch a broad reflection and consultation in the church on human rights, indeed I would say almost on the future of humankind, becoming aware that the classic question, 'Who are you?' has been replaced by the highly insidious one: 'What rights do you want to have?'" Cardinal Parolin said.

In Brussels, Pax Christi International marked the anniversary of the human rights declaration, saying the current period in history is a time to celebrate its achievements and to examine current challenges to its implementation.

"We have become acutely aware from our partners and friends that human rights and those who seek to protect them are increasingly under attack," a statement from the Catholic peace organization said. "The tireless guardians of these universal rights are faced with a shrinking space in which to do their work."

Despite the challenges, the organization said it remained hopeful because human rights defenders and people working to protect the environment and toward disarmament "remain steadfast in their nonviolent struggle."

The anniversary gave Pax Christi the opportunity to reiterate its calls to end violence and violent conflicts to stop human rights violations; eliminate nuclear weapons as a human rights issue; demand safeguards for human rights in areas in the mining of vital metal and fuels; support civil society in their nonviolence work for human rights; support the 2030 time frame for the sustainable development goals as a key factor in advancing human rights.

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