Vatican News

Every call of God is a call of love, pope says

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Pope Francis leads the midday recitation of the Angelus Jan. 17, 2021, from the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When a person senses God's call, it can be intimidating or frightening, Pope Francis said, but Christians can be sure that the call flows from God's love and that responding to the call will be a means of sharing God's love.

"Each one of God's calls is an initiative of his love," the pope said Jan. 17 before reciting the Angelus prayer. "God calls to life, he calls to faith and he calls to a particular state in life: 'I want you here.'"

Livestreaming his Angelus address from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis focused on the day's Gospel reading, which recounted Jesus calling Andrew and Simon Peter to be his disciples.

Pope Francis said it is interesting to note that when the two ask Jesus where he is staying, Jesus does not respond with information, but with an invitation, "Come and you will see."

And another thing "that catches our attention: 60 years later, or maybe more," St. John wrote in his Gospel that "'it was about four in the afternoon' -- he wrote the time," the pope said. "Every authentic encounter with Jesus remains alive in the memory; it is never forgotten."

Life is a series of God's calls, the pope said. "God's first call is to life, through which he makes us persons; it is an individual call because God does not make things in sets. Then God calls us to faith and to become part of his family as children of God.

"Lastly," he said, "God calls us to a particular state in life -- to give of ourselves on the path of matrimony, or that of the priesthood or the consecrated life. They are different ways of realizing the plan God has for each one of us, always a plan of love."

"The greatest joy for every believer is to respond to that call, offering one's entire being to the service of God and one's brothers and sisters," the pope said.

God's call, he said, can "reach us in a thousand ways -- including through other people or happy or sad events."

Sometimes people are tempted to say "no" to God's call out of fear or because "it seems to be in contrast to our aspirations" or they believe it may be too demanding, the pope said.

"But God's call is always love," he said. "We need to try to discover the love behind each call, and it should be responded to only with love."

At the end of his Angelus address, Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Sulawesi, Indonesia, where an earthquake Jan. 15 and dozens of aftershocks left at least 46 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands homeless.

The pope also encouraged Catholic to participate in the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

'Words can be kisses,' but also 'swords,' pope writes in new book

By  Catholic News Service

Capuchin Father Emiliano Antenucci presents an image of Our Lady of Silence to Pope Francis at the Vatican March 22, 2019. Silence, like words, can be a language of love, Pope Francis wrote in the introduction to a new book by in Italian by Father Antenucci. (CNS photo/courtesy Father Emiliano Antenucci) 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Silence, like words, can be a love language, Pope Francis wrote in a very short introduction to a new book in Italian.

"Silence is one of God's languages and it also is a language of love," the pope wrote in the book, "Don't Speak Ill of Others," by Capuchin Father Emiliano Antenucci.

The Italian priest, encouraged by Pope Francis, promotes devotion to Mary under the title "Our Lady of Silence."

In the new book, Pope Francis quoted St. Augustine: "If you keep silent, keep silent by love; if you speak, speak by love."

Not speaking ill of others is not "just a moral act," he said. "When we speak ill of others, we sully the image of God that is in each person."

"The correct use of words is important," Pope Francis wrote. "Words can be kisses, caresses, medicine, but they also can be knives, swords or bullets."

Words, he said, can be used to bless or to curse, "they can be closed walls or open windows."

Repeating what he has said on many occasions, Pope Francis said compared people who throw "the bombs" of gossip and slander to "terrorists" sowing destruction.

The pope also quoted St. Teresa of Kolkata's familiar phrase as a lesson in holiness accessible to every Christian: "The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace."

"One begins with silence and arrives at charity toward others," he said.

The pope's brief introduction ended with a prayer: "May Our Lady of Silence teach us the correct use of our tongues and give us the strength to bless everyone, peace of heart and joy in living."

Cardinal Pell: Vatican financial reform making progress

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

Australian Cardinal George Pell is pictured in a screen grab addressing a Zoom webinar on transparency in the Catholic Church Jan. 14, 2020. Cardinal Pell said recent measures to centralize the church's checks and balances represent "massive progress" in Pope Francis' financial reform efforts. (CNS screen grab/Zoom) 

ROME (CNS) -- While questions remain about dubious financial dealings in the past and about future uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vatican's steady move toward financial transparency is on the right track, said Cardinal George Pell, former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.

During a Jan. 15 webinar on transparency in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Pell said that Pope Francis' efforts to reform the Vatican's finances, including a recent measure that removed financial assets from the control of the Vatican Secretariat of State, would hopefully bring much-needed accountability.

"There's no doubt that if implemented appropriately and well, it represents massive, massive progress," Cardinal Pell said at the webinar sponsored by the Global Institute of Church Management and the church management program at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

In the new law, published Dec. 28, the pope ordered the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, also known as APSA, to manage all bank accounts and financial investments belonging to the Vatican Secretariat of State.

The pope also decreed that the Secretariat for the Economy would monitor the administration of the funds made by APSA, which handles the Vatican's investment portfolio and real estate holdings.

Among the questionable investments made by the Secretariat of State was a majority stake purchase in a property in London's Chelsea district that incurred significant debt, which Cardinal Pell said could have been avoided.

"A good deal of the present troubles, especially the London troubles, they might even have been prevented," he said. "They certainly would have been recognized earlier."

During his time as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, he added, who was "controlling sections of the money" was a "secondary issue," because what truly mattered "was that it was managed well, that the money wasn't wasted, (and) that we were getting a good return on our investments."

Cardinal Pell said the financial losses on the London property alone were "very, very significant."

"The Vatican is not a big operation by world standards," so the success of "this centralization with APSA depends how faithfully and competently it's done, that it's directly under the supervision and ultimately control" of the Secretariat for the Economy, he said; "the Secretariat for the Economy has got to have the effective power to stop things when they need to be stopped."

He also highlighted the importance of the pope's plan to "set up a single board of highly competent and expert people to manage the investments," emphasizing that after the financial pressures caused by the current pandemic, it "will be absolutely vital."

The Australian cardinal commented on the recent news that the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) overestimated by the equivalent of more than US$1.5 billion the amount of money transferred from the Vatican to Australia between 2014 and 2020.

In December, AUSTRAC had reported that $2.3 billion Australian dollars (US$1.8 billion) in Vatican funds had been transferred in more than 40,000 transactions to Australia from the Vatican.

However, after it was discovered that the number was miscalculated due to a computer coding error, AUSTRAC amended its report and said there were only 362 transfers from the Vatican to Australia during that time, with a total value of AU$9.5 million.

Calling the error made by Australia's financial watchdog "a spectacular error," Cardinal Pell said Vatican authorities "were quite rightfully resistant and rather displeased by the accusation that AU$2 billion went through in that time" and that AUSTRAC's clarification "is good news for the Vatican."

"It looked as though Australia, and to some extent possibly New Zealand, has been a little bit wobbly and weak in their vigilance over money laundering but that's for them to ascertain to what extent that is true. But all is not well there," Cardinal Pell said.

"I must say, I wickedly took a little bit of consolation as a Vatican employee when I was to learn that AU$2 billion wasn't money laundered" during the time he served as prefect of the secretariat, he said. "And also 'schadenfreude' -- rejoicing in the misfortune of others -- which is not recommended for us Christians."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

Bedside care: Rome priest chronicles ministering while sick with COVID-19

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

This is the hospital room of Father Valerio Bortolotti, taken Nov. 29, 2020, the first Sunday of Advent, at the Umberto I hospital in Rome. He was hospitalized in late November for pneumonia caused by COVID-19, but he took his Mass kit with him so he could minister to patients who requested his care. (CNS photo/Father Valerio Bortolotti, Facebook page of Don Valerio Bortolotti) Editors: best quality available.

ROME (CNS) -- Before Nov. 19, Father Valerio Bortolotti's Facebook posts had been the usual updates and reminders about parish activities, formation courses and video-recorded Masses outdoors with lax mask usage among the celebrants.

But when he ended up in a hospital that evening with pneumonia caused by COVID-19, he decided to keep his followers aware of his condition and of life "on the inside" in a crowded COVID-19 recovery ward in Rome where he serendipitously became the ward's chaplain.

With bits of humor, sadness, hope, extreme fatigue and waves of delirium, the 57-year-old Father Valerio adopted the "nom de plume" Father "Viruslerio" and crafted a lengthy series of "news reports," patient-personality profiles, musings, prayer requests and poetic odes in dialect dedicated to his new companion, coronavirus.

The entries, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 7, total more than 6,400 words and are abundantly illustrated with colorful emojis -- such as red hearts, blue microbes and the Italian "sign of the horn" gestures equivalent to "knocking on wood" -- since his sole writing device was his smartphone.

He shared on Facebook Jan. 14 a compilation of the series in a 40-page document, titled, "God, the Virus and I: The Semi-demented Chronicles of Contagion with Grace."

The most poignant stories are about the patients and staff he gets to know, putting himself at the service of these men and women God has "put in this house that you have entrusted to me."

"A virus brought me here to (the hospital), but my guide is Christ the King," he wrote.

He describes: Imul, 33, a gas attendant from Bangladesh, who lay shivering from cold and fear. The priest tried to reassure him saying the intravenous fluids everyone was getting were the ones given to the rapidly recovered U.S. President Donald Trump; Mario, 88, a metalworker who lives near the Vatican, married 72 years and nicknamed "Meatloaf" for his big beefy build; and Aurelio, a nurse who had just started taking his vacation days and got sick.

Having packed a Mass kit in his bag for the hospital, Father Bortolotti celebrated Mass late in the evening when his IV drip was disconnected, the nurses' rounds were over and the hallways were quiet. Even though they were in a non-critical care unit for COVID-19 patients, he still anointed the sick and offered last rites.

He described these quiet moments conferring the sacraments as seeing "grace passing concealed, in gestures of care, the care of (God) who loves his frightened child."

Sometimes he also posted a photograph, for example of his makeshift "chapel" -- a tiny alcove where supplies and a defibrillator were stored by a small room where an elderly woman named Lena lay. He celebrated Mass for her the night before she died, and he celebrated a funeral Mass the next day in his own room.

He celebrated another funeral Mass when Gianfranco died, holding the liturgy in front of the man's empty bed. It was then that "I saw a crucifix, there on the wall, forgotten. I had just been thinking that day how I wanted one" and there it was, left behind by the deceased, the Rome-based priest wrote.

He took it down and hung it on his IV stand as a complementary "medicine from on-high."

Speaking with the doctor in charge of the ward, he noted the great sadness belying her professional "detachment" when she said they can't help but grow fond of their patients.

The priest thought of the many lives she must have seen slip away from her care. He wrote he prayed for her to have the strength to go on and to believe "these relationships have not been lost. In heaven, we will celebrate, without the masks."

COVID-19 and ecumenism: Pandemic prompts prayer, action

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Volunteer Bob Spiller restocks shelves with provisions at an ecumenical food pantry based at First Presbyterian Church of Northport, N.Y., Jan. 14, 2021. The pantry is sponsored by 12 local houses of worship, including St. Philip Neri Church in Northport, to serve the needs of people in the Northport and East Northport communities. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions have had an impact on the Catholic Church's relationships with other Christian churches, but the effects were not all bad.

Around the globe, Christians of different denominations have and continue to practice what Pope Francis has called the "ecumenism of charity," working together to care for the sick, support the mourning and feed the hungry.

And the boom of online liturgies and conferences have given many Christians greater opportunities to participate in the worship and liturgies of their Christian neighbors and to "attend" online conferences and workshops with them.

For many people, the 2021 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25 will be another occasion of virtual ecumenical prayer.

But while the number of attendees will be extremely limited because of the pandemic, Pope Francis still plans to close the week by presiding over an ecumenical evening prayer service at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Most people will watch online.

But all relationships require face time, and that goes for the Catholic Church's relationships with other Christian churches as well, said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The COVID-19 precautions meant that dozens of ecumenical meetings over the past year were moved online.

"We find that video conferencing is very good for organizational, practical meetings, but makes ecumenical dialogue much more difficult in effect, because in dialogue you need the back and forth of exchange and discussion and reaction, which is very difficult on video," the bishop said.

The official theological dialogues of the Catholic Church and its ecumenical partners usually involve research and work in small groups before the theologians and church leaders meet in person over the course of several days. Those meetings include prayer and formal sessions, but also meals and time for relaxing together.

The informal moments and opportunities for conversation are very important, Bishop Farrell said, because "you can thrash out problems, you can overcome doubts" and really get to know the theologians representing the churches.

Staff of the pontifical council missed those real connections, he said, but postponing most of their travel also gave them an opportunity to devote more time to special projects: In December the council published "The Bishop and Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Vademecum"; work is progressing on a summary of what ecumenical documents say about topics such as the sacramentality of the church or ministry in the church; and "remote preparation" has begun for the celebration in 2025 of the 17th centenary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which "is fundamental for all Christians because it settled Christological questions and gave us the Creed."

In addition to the Week of Prayer, two upcoming events have significant ecumenical aspects, Bishop Farrell said, referring to the Catholic Church's celebration Jan. 24 of the Sunday of the Word of God and Pope Francis' planned trip to Iraq in March.

Reading, studying and praying with the Scriptures "is fundamental to ecumenical life," because it is fundamental in the life of every Christian, Bishop Farrell said.

"We have to read the Scriptures and we have to be familiar with them, because this is God's revelation and the foundation of everything that we are," he said. "In the past, there was a kind of hesitancy to encourage Catholics to read the Bible but that belongs to a different era, which we have overcome."

The pope's possible trip to Iraq March 5-8 will have obvious ecumenical importance, and not only because Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Christians live side by side there and for decades have been committed to promoting Christian unity.

"It's the pope's desire to be close to those who have really suffered, and everybody knows that Christians in in that area of the world and, in particular in Iraq, have undergone tremendous suffering in recent times and in recent decades," Bishop Farrell said. "It will certainly be an ecumenical journey insofar as he will meet members of other churches, visiting a country where there is very normal and ordinary collaboration between all the Christians. They stand together."

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