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    • Utah bishop exhorts faithful to evangelization, renewal (2017/04/28 02:08)

      Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Salt Lake city has urged Utah's Catholics to be steeped in Catholic identity and to sow the Gospel’s seed within the community, leaving their comfort zone behind.

      “Our Church needs more witnesses who can manifest the presence of God in our world,” Bishop Oscar Solis wrote in his April 21 pastoral letter A Springtime of the New Evangelization.

      “It begins in our own conversion through personal encounter with Christ in our life. The love of God we experience compels us to go and share the joy of the Gospel and the beauty of our faith with others.”

      Bishop Solis was installed as Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, and he is the first Philippines-born man to become a bishop in the United States.

      Comparing the newness of spring to Christ's Resurrection, the bishops challenged his diocese to spiritual rebirth and renewed commitment during the Easter season.

      “The resurrection of Christ from the dead brings about new beginnings, offering an opportunity to see and experience things with our minds and hearts renewed.”

      “Society today mocks our efforts to uphold the dignity of life,” said the bishop, acknowledging the “daunting task” ahead.

      “I do not know, exactly, where this path will lead us,” he confessed, but said that “the mission of the Church today remains the same – to bring people closer to God in order to help them encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their lives.”

      Bishop Oscar Solis included an outline of priorities for the diocese to focus on, listing faith formation, Catholic identity, religious vocations, social justice, and ecumenism as necessary for the spiritual growth of the Salt Lake City diocese.

      “For seeds of evangelization to grow and bear fruit, they must be planted and take root in the good soil of our parishes. Parishioners must be given the opportunity to receive the necessary formation to know, live and share their Christian faith,” he said.

      Because “the present culture poses a serious challenge to the practice of our beliefs ... it is necessary for every Catholic to learn more about the essential teachings of Christ and our Church,” he said. “Catechetical formation of our young children and teenagers is so important in this regard. It should bring about transformation of hearts and minds, so that they may fully live and share their faith confidently with great ardor, joy and enthusiasm.”

      He explained that “we find our Catholic identity in the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments,” and these “channels of God’s graces” lead to “nourishment, forgiveness and other spiritual gifts.” He said then there must be a renewed call “for vibrant and uplifting Sunday liturgical celebrations and other forms of worship.”

      “The scarcity of priests and religious is a serious concern,” he reflected, encouraging everyone to “generate greater enthusiasm in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to attend adequately to the spiritual needs of the people. Let us cultivate vocations within the family and in schools accompanied by constant prayers of petition, invitation and witness of our life so that more men and women may be inspired to pursue this path of life.”

      He said that “beyond knowing Christ and learning about God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church,” we must establish “a right personal relationship with God and with one another.”

      “Justice and charity are the other important components of our mission of evangelization. Love for our neighbors and little ones reveals our love for God. Justice sets the right relationship among people that allows us to see in others, in the poor, the unemployed, the addicts, the sick, the least in our society, the undocumented and the refugees, the very face of Christ.”

      Turning to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Solis encouraged a fostesring of “dialogue and encounter,” saying that “Courage and fidelity to our mission come along with mutual respect, understanding and harmony among diverse people and leaders of different faith denominations. Commitment to ecumenism, dialogue and unity is our big contribution to the world and humanity.”

      The bishop identified the hatred within the world occurring between differences in “race or cultural traditions, religion or politics, gender and color of skin.” As an antidote, he proposed “dialogue tempered with charity that allows us to recognize” the dignity of life in refugees, unborn babies, the poor, and the suffering.

      Bishop Oscar Solis emphasized that the Church’s very purpose is “to proclaim the Gospel by the way we believe, love and serve one another,”

      “Therefore, we must not make the mistake of trying to hoard the fullness of God’s goodness within the walls of our Church. But be missionaries of mercy with compassionate hearts and the ability to heal wounds, to warm the hearts of others and be a brother or sister to one another.”

    • Vatican praised, cautioned on dialogue with al-Azhar university (2017/04/27 23:01)

      Rome, Italy, Apr 27, 2017 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading scholar in the Arab world has applauded the goodwill of both the Vatican and the prestigious Islamic al-Azhar university Pope Francis will visit for aiming to increase Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

      But she also issued a warning that goodwill isn't enough for things to change.

      “Dialogue is good, generally any dialogue is good. Any kind of debate and any steps to show goodwill, to show a commitment, to show a recognition of the other in principle is very good,” Mariz Tadros told CNA in an interview.

      However, “the extent to which this will translate into a change in eliminating or reducing the appeal of militant Islam, that’s what I’m questioning.”

      Tadros, who spoke over Skype from the U.K., is an author and scholar on persecution in the Arab world. She is currently a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University in the U.K.

      She spoke ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit to Cairo, where he is set to meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the bishops of the local Catholic Church.

      His visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the al-Azhar University, which had been strained since 2011. The imam of al-Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious University attached to it.

      Dialogue picked up between the two after el-Tayyib visited the Vatican in May 2016 with a message condemning the acts of Islamic fundamentalism, culminating a year later in the Pope’s visit to Egypt this weekend.

      However, in addition to the heightened prospect for dialogue, the trip will also have an inevitable undertone of the very real risks Christians still face in Egypt, particularly from extremist factions of militant Islam.

      While Catholic-Muslim dialogue has picked up over the past year, so have attacks against Coptic Christians.

      According to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, there have been at least 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the past four months alone.

      In February 2015, Egyptian society was shocked by the grisly beheading 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful in Libya carried out by ISIS, the video of which was circulated online. The extremists have also claimed responsibility for several other high-profile attacks, including a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December that killed 29 people.

      Most recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9 that left some 45-people dead. The blasts took place on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar commemorating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion and Death.
       
      With these attacks looming closely in the rear-view mirror, many are asking whether the Pope’s attention to dialogue with Islam, particularly his relationship with al-Azhar and his trip to Egypt, will make a difference.

      The debate surrounding al-Azhar

      According to Tadros, the prospect of any dialogue is good and shouldn’t be discouraged. However, she cautioned that despite the well-intentioned gesture of meeting with the Pope and cementing good relations with the Holy See, there is still cause for concern regarding al-Ahar – particularly the university's duplicitous curriculum.

      “When we look at institutions such as al-Azher, there have been many Egyptian non-Islamist Muslims, very progressive Muslims, who have sought to hold al-Azhar accountable for the duality of its discourse,” she said.

      On one hand, “al-Azhar will sit with you and say we love you, we care for you, we’re all one citizenship, we’re all one people.” But on the other hand, “if you look at the syllabi, what they are teaching the generations of scholars that graduate from that university about the religious other, it is horrendous.”

      What they are teaching is “undoubtedly a message that these are infidels, and at best they should be tolerated and at worst, killing them is not such a travesty.”

      If one actually looks at what comes out of al-Azhar, “there’s a massive, massive disconnect between the public discourse and what is being taught to people across the country,” she said, explaining that there have been several moderate Muslim activists who have called on the university to reform their syllabi, including a man who was jailed for his activism, but who has recently been released.

      While al-Azhar is seen by many militant Islamic groups as lacking legitimacy for not following the “right path” of Islam, others have criticized the university for failing to speak out strongly enough when condemning extremist groups such as ISIS.

      Many have asked al-Azhar to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and declare ISIS as “un-Islamic.” In short, it's no longer good enough to simply condemn what they are doing, but the entity itself must be recognized as not being faithful to the Muslim religion.

      “As a Christian you can tell me, 'if you lie that is not consistent with Christianity,' but you are not telling me, 'for shooting people in the name of Christianity, you no longer belong to Christianity.' Do you see the difference?” Tadros said.

      But when it comes to Al-Azhar, they have “consistently cowed away from declaring ISIS as not part of the Islamic community.”

      Although some might say making such a declaration is playing into the game of name-calling and labeling one another as infidels, Tadros stressed that “unless you tell the broader international community that those who kill and maim and commit genocide in the name of Islam no longer are part of the Islamic community, they do not have the right to claim themselves as Muslim,” nothing will change.

      That, she said, is “a very different story and they have cowed away from doing that.”

      Tadros clarified that she is “in no way” saying that dialogue between Pope Francis and al-Tayeeb isn’t good or that it shouldn’t happen. “All I’m saying is let’s not count on that as a way of making militant Islam less appealing.”

      She stressed that there are “a lot of Muslims” that have shown solidarity with Christians in Egypt, including speaking out on their behalf after the most recent bombings earlier this month, proving that not all Muslims espouse the radical views of ISIS or other like-minded branches.

      However, while not all Muslims are extremists, she said history has proven that no matter how much dialogue is done, fundamentalism will never entirely disappear from Islam.

      When asked if she thought this was a realistic eventual outcome of the dialogue between the Vatican and al-Azhar, she said “absolutely not.”

      “I think that is the biggest myth that exists in the West and it’s a myth that history has dispelled and is it a myth, the perpetuation of which, only serves to increase the vulnerability of religious minorities in the Middle East. In fact, I would say it directly contributes to it.”

      The growing threat of militant Islam “is one that we should not take lightly,” she said, “because they are networked.”

      “Even though organizationally they follow different leaders, there are links between them, they are well-resourced, they are recruiting people globally from around the world, and they represent an existential threat to Christians and religious pluralism and all kinds of pluralism in the region.”

      So while the importance of dialogue as an expression of finding common values and forging friendships across religions should be appreciated, it should only be valued to the extent that true goodwill and respect for the religious other result, she said.

      “But I do support those who challenge their effectiveness in making militant Islam more appealing or undermining its power and influence and implications for Christian minorities.”

      A history of persecution

      Christian persecution has happened on and off for centuries in Egypt, but this intolerance recently spiked in the 1970s under President Anwar Sadat, who empowered radical Islamists, but was assassinated by fundamentalist army officers in 1981.

      A period of higher tolerance ensued after Sadat's death, but attacks targeting Christians picked back up during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

      The 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring, had overthrown Hosni Mubarak, a military officer who had been Egypt's president since 1981. The following year Morsi, of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected Egyptian president.

      On July 3, 2013, Egypt's military ousted Morsi, and in August began a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Violence then spread across the country, with Islamists killing hundreds of people from August to October. Churches were vandalized, burned, and looted, as were the homes and businesses of Christians.

      In January 2014, the interim government approved a new constitution, leading to the May 2014 election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the country’s new president. The elections were boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other political groups.

      Tadros explained that part of the chaos after the revolution was due to “a complete breakdown in public safety and law and order” in which police left the streets and organized groups of “thugs” took over, meaning public safety was no longer a guarantee.

      With a lack of secure borders given the crisis in Egypt and the collapse of nearby Libya, extremists became emboldened, and began smuggling and trading weapons with greater confidence and ease.

      Radical Islam also began to take on different forms in this time, Tadros said, explaining that whereas previously terrorists were homegrown and committed smaller acts of violence, the rise of factions such as ISIS looking to impose maximum damage through suicide bombs is new.

      “The fact that ISIS is now a player is a game-changer,” she said, explaining that with an increase in deadly attacks, there is greater need for security. However, she voiced doubt that the current state of emergency declared by el-Sisi in wake of the April 9 bombings will be effective in terms of protecting Copts.

      From a scholarly and historic point of view, emergency law has done nothing, she said, noting that it was implemented by both Mubarak and Morsi when they were in power, “and in both cases it was not conducive to the well-being of the Egyptian population in general.”

      Since his election el-Sisi has been praised for receiving representatives from both the Orthodox and Catholics, as well as Protestants.

      However, even though the situation has “officially” improved under el-Sisi, who has said and done the right things, Tadros said the improvement is due not so much to el-Sisi’s efforts as it is to the fact that Morsi was driven from power.

      “The situation under el-Sisi is very complicated, because on the one hand there is an improvement in the Copts’ everyday experience. Not directly as a consequence of any of el-Sisi's policies by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an unintended outcome of ousting Morsi,” she said.

      “Never in the modern history of the Copts have they been such a target of militant targeting as they are today,” she said, explaining that if fundamentalists want to target Copts, there is realistically little that can be done to stop them.

      How can Christians be helped?

      With Christians in Egypt increasingly becoming a target of systematic violence and a bleak prospect of effective help from the government, Tadros suggested several things that can be done now to help the 9 million-strong Coptic community in Egypt.

      First, “security is crucial,” she said, explaining that the ability to ensure basic protection of schools, places of worship such as churches and monasteries, and faith-based organizations, “is extremely important.”

      Another essential help is “drying out the sources of funding,” Tadros said, noting that currently “we do have a problem with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries funding Islamist movements.”

      “They have to be named and shamed, and even if it goes to the point of economic sanctions against any country that funds Islamist movements, that would significantly help the Christians,” she said, adding that this is “one of those unintended outcomes: if you remove their sources of income, they can’t buy arms, and therefore their ability to strike is significantly decreased.”

      A third option Tadros mentioned is the growth and promotion of solidarity among the different churches in the region. As an example, the scholar noted how Pope Francis called Coptic Pope Tawadros personally to offer his sympathies after the April 9 attacks.

      “We need to see more of that,” she said, stressing the need for Christians of all rites and practices to band together, because “divided we fall, united we’re strong.”

      Finally, she pointed to the importance of raising awareness in international Christian communities of the “existential threat” that Christians in the Middle East face.

      “We’re no longer talking about what we saw in Egypt four or five years ago where it’s a number of Muslim mobs burning a number of houses,” she said. “We are now talking about a broader, new strategic plan to eliminate Christianity from the region.”

      The global community, she said, needs to “raise awareness and sensitize their congregations of the need to support the churches in the Middle East” in various ways, such as through prayer and concrete initiatives that will help those who have lost everything to rebuild their lives.

      Another important aspect is “strengthening local Christian civil society,” she said, “because sometimes Church leadership, such as in the case of Egypt, find themselves in a position where they can’t come out and criticize governments, there’s too much at stake.”

      “So you need Christian civil society that play the role of monitoring the situation, raising alarm bells when they see signs of genocide and of strengthening local initiatives.”

      Holding governments accountable is also part of the equation, she said, sometimes by “criticizing the government, and sometimes mobilizing against government policy if it’s not going to be conducive to citizenship.”

    Catholic News Agency - USA

    • Utah bishop exhorts faithful to evangelization, renewal (2017/04/28 02:08)

      Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Salt Lake city has urged Utah's Catholics to be steeped in Catholic identity and to sow the Gospel’s seed within the community, leaving their comfort zone behind.

      “Our Church needs more witnesses who can manifest the presence of God in our world,” Bishop Oscar Solis wrote in his April 21 pastoral letter A Springtime of the New Evangelization.

      “It begins in our own conversion through personal encounter with Christ in our life. The love of God we experience compels us to go and share the joy of the Gospel and the beauty of our faith with others.”

      Bishop Solis was installed as Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, and he is the first Philippines-born man to become a bishop in the United States.

      Comparing the newness of spring to Christ's Resurrection, the bishops challenged his diocese to spiritual rebirth and renewed commitment during the Easter season.

      “The resurrection of Christ from the dead brings about new beginnings, offering an opportunity to see and experience things with our minds and hearts renewed.”

      “Society today mocks our efforts to uphold the dignity of life,” said the bishop, acknowledging the “daunting task” ahead.

      “I do not know, exactly, where this path will lead us,” he confessed, but said that “the mission of the Church today remains the same – to bring people closer to God in order to help them encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their lives.”

      Bishop Oscar Solis included an outline of priorities for the diocese to focus on, listing faith formation, Catholic identity, religious vocations, social justice, and ecumenism as necessary for the spiritual growth of the Salt Lake City diocese.

      “For seeds of evangelization to grow and bear fruit, they must be planted and take root in the good soil of our parishes. Parishioners must be given the opportunity to receive the necessary formation to know, live and share their Christian faith,” he said.

      Because “the present culture poses a serious challenge to the practice of our beliefs ... it is necessary for every Catholic to learn more about the essential teachings of Christ and our Church,” he said. “Catechetical formation of our young children and teenagers is so important in this regard. It should bring about transformation of hearts and minds, so that they may fully live and share their faith confidently with great ardor, joy and enthusiasm.”

      He explained that “we find our Catholic identity in the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments,” and these “channels of God’s graces” lead to “nourishment, forgiveness and other spiritual gifts.” He said then there must be a renewed call “for vibrant and uplifting Sunday liturgical celebrations and other forms of worship.”

      “The scarcity of priests and religious is a serious concern,” he reflected, encouraging everyone to “generate greater enthusiasm in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to attend adequately to the spiritual needs of the people. Let us cultivate vocations within the family and in schools accompanied by constant prayers of petition, invitation and witness of our life so that more men and women may be inspired to pursue this path of life.”

      He said that “beyond knowing Christ and learning about God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church,” we must establish “a right personal relationship with God and with one another.”

      “Justice and charity are the other important components of our mission of evangelization. Love for our neighbors and little ones reveals our love for God. Justice sets the right relationship among people that allows us to see in others, in the poor, the unemployed, the addicts, the sick, the least in our society, the undocumented and the refugees, the very face of Christ.”

      Turning to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Solis encouraged a fostesring of “dialogue and encounter,” saying that “Courage and fidelity to our mission come along with mutual respect, understanding and harmony among diverse people and leaders of different faith denominations. Commitment to ecumenism, dialogue and unity is our big contribution to the world and humanity.”

      The bishop identified the hatred within the world occurring between differences in “race or cultural traditions, religion or politics, gender and color of skin.” As an antidote, he proposed “dialogue tempered with charity that allows us to recognize” the dignity of life in refugees, unborn babies, the poor, and the suffering.

      Bishop Oscar Solis emphasized that the Church’s very purpose is “to proclaim the Gospel by the way we believe, love and serve one another,”

      “Therefore, we must not make the mistake of trying to hoard the fullness of God’s goodness within the walls of our Church. But be missionaries of mercy with compassionate hearts and the ability to heal wounds, to warm the hearts of others and be a brother or sister to one another.”

    • Revised health care bill still has 'serious flaws', US bishops maintain (2017/04/27 19:01)

      Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading U.S. bishop expressed grave concerns Thursday about a revised health care bill which the House may vote on within days.

      The bill is an effort replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

      “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,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated April 27.

      Although the American Health Care Act was scuttled in March before a planned floor vote due to lack of support, an amended version of the bill was introduced in Congress this week, garnering the support of members of the House Freedom Caucus – which was instrumental in blocking AHCA last month.

      The amended version includes allowing states to drop Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care, emergency services, and mental health and substance abuse services.

      Bishop Dewane, who had serious concerns about the AHCA, said the new bill does not fix those concerns, especially regarding ensuring access to affordable health care for vulnerable populations.

      “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,” he said.

      “Sadly, some of the recently proposed amendments – especially those designed to give states flexibility – lack apparent safeguards to ensure quality of care,” he said. “These additions could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.”

      The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, called on Congress on Thursday to pass a bill that would honor conscience protections, respect the “sanctity of life”, and provide more “access to medical care for all, especially for the poor and single mothers,” as well as “empowering health sharing ministries as an affordable health care option for lower-income Americans.”

      “We want to see an American health care system where people have access to care but where doctors and patients are making decisions consistent with their conscience and religious freedom,” Louis Brown, Esq., director of (CMF) CURO, stated, noting that premium increases and a decrease in the number of available health plans meant that “too many impoverished families do not have access to the quality medical care they deserve.”

      In an earlier, March 17 letter to Congress, Bishop Dewane had outlined his chief concerns about the AHCA while praising certain aspects of it, including its barring of funding of abortions in tax credits and health plans and stripping funding from abortion providers.

      However, the bill lacked sufficient conscience protections for doctors and health care providers, he said.

      Additionally, the replacement of federal subsidies for purchasing health insurance with tax credits could disproportionately benefit the younger and wealthier while making affordability an issue for sicker and older populations, he said. Premiums for many elderly persons could rise significantly, he warned.

      A 30 percent premium fine for a significant gap in health coverage could also persuade some not to purchase health insurance at all, he added.

      Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, was also among the opponents of AHCA in March.  He said he could not support the bill, despite its pro-life protections, because of how other provisions would “likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”

    Catholic News Agency - Vatican

    • Pope thanks charity organization for generous service to the Church (2017/04/27 09:25)

      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.”

    • Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities (2017/04/27 02:08)

      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.

       

    newAdvent.org:

    • Vatican reverses decision, allows Festing to take part in Order of Malta election...
      The Vatican has reconsidered an earlier instruction forbidding the Order of Malta’s former Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing from attending the election of his successor this week. According to sources within the order, Fra’ Festing will be coming to Rome to vote in the Saturday election partly because his absence as a professed knight would have invalidated the ballot...
    • Hippos can't swim. So how do they move through water?
      People are talking about hippos this week, at least in part because the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved baby hippopotamus, Fiona, is now three months old—a milestone that seemed uncertain when she was born prematurely in January. Fiona’s doing great—so great that she’s “a little bit dangerous to actually cuddle and snuggle” anymore...

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