Pope: Christians are called to bring hope, happiness and life

VATICAN CITY Apr 28, 2011 - Christians are called to bring hope, happiness and life to a world marked by despair, sadness and death, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Believing in Christ and his resurrection means bringing new life to others and "dedicating oneself without reserve to the most urgent and just causes" with God's grace and his logic of love, the pope said April 27 at his weekly general audience.

More than 20,000 people packed into St. Peter's Square, many of them young Italian students who were still off from school for the Easter holidays. Banners commemorating Pope John Paul II and his pontificate were hung between the columns surrounding the square in the run-up to the Polish pope's May 1 beatification.

For his catechesis, Pope Benedict looked at the meaning of Easter and Christ's resurrection for the Christian community.

"Faith in the Risen Christ transforms existence, working in us a continuous resurrection" in which Christians are called to renew themselves every day by putting the values Christ taught into action, he said.

Easter can be lived every day "by putting to death the things of this earth and setting our hearts on the things that are on high," he said, echoing a passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians.

By seeking what is above and not what is on earth, the apostle was not urging people to scorn or alienate themselves from the real world, the pope said.

According to St. Paul, avoiding "what is on earth" means letting go of earthly vices such as "immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and the greed that is idolatry," the pope said, quoting the Letter to the Colossians.

It means "letting die in us the insatiable desire for material things and egoism, which is the root of all sin," the pope said.

Setting one's heart on the things of heaven means searching for and living with "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another," the pope said, again citing St. Paul.

But above all, people must fill their hearts with love so as to become new men and women, he said.

Living the virtues not only transforms one's own life, he said, it is the necessary prerequisite for changing the world in such a way that it promotes full human and social development, which is based on "the logic of solidarity, goodness and respect for the dignity of all."

Love and charity are what bring the "spiritual freedom which can break down any wall," break the bonds of sin, and usher in a new world based on life, justice and reconciliation, he said.

"We cannot keep for ourselves the life and joy" that Christ gave people with his death and resurrection, the pope said; his gift must be shared with others.

"This is our mission: to awaken hope in place of despair, joy in place of sadness, and life in place of death," the pope said.

At the end of the general audience, the pope was flown by helicopter back to the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. The pope was staying at the papal villa from April 24 to April 30.



Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the beatification mass of Pope John Paul II

VATICAN CITY, Apr 28, 2011 - As the countdown continued for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, church and civil authorities put the finishing touches on logistical plans to handle potentially massive crowds at the main events in Rome.

Meanwhile, Vatican officials were heartened at the massive response to online projects designed to make the beatification a universal experience.

Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the beatification Mass in St. Peter's Square May 1. Because no tickets are being handed out for the liturgy, no one really knows how many people to expect. Estimates range from 300,000 to 1.5 million, and crowd control barriers will be set up for blocks around the Vatican.

Immediately after Mass, the faithful can pray before Pope John Paul's unopened casket, which will be set in front of the main altar in St. Peter's Basilica. The veneration is expected to continue most of the day.

A large crowd is also expected for the prayer vigil April 30 at the site of Rome's ancient Circus Maximus racetrack, where Pope Benedict will make a video appearance. Rome church officials have organized that event to underline the strong connection between the Polish pope and the Diocese of Rome.

The French nun whose healing was accepted as the miracle needed for Pope John Paul's beatification will share her story with pilgrims at the prayer vigil. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a member of the Little Sisters of the Catholic Motherhood, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and believes she was cured in 2005 through the intercession of the late pope.

The morning after the beatification, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter's Square. That liturgy, too, is expected to attract tens of thousands of people.

While the size of the crowds remained a mystery, Vatican officials said their online initiatives had already taken the beatification to groups and individuals around the world. For example, the Vatican's special beatification Facebook page at www.facebook.com/vatican.johnpaul2 has had more than 6 million visits and has gained nearly 50,000 followers.

Similar pages have been opened at the www.pope2you.net site aimed at younger audiences and on the Vatican's YouTube channel. They offer photos, tributes, key quotes and video highlights of Pope John Paul's pontificate. The beatification events will be live-streamed at many of the sites, ensuring worldwide participation.

"Six years have passed since John Paul's funeral, and the world of communications has changed greatly, with many more online opportunities available to the church," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who was coordinating several of the Internet efforts.

"Moreover, John Paul II was much loved by the younger generations who use the new media. He is a figure who adapts well to the Web, because he left us with a wealth of images and spoken words that one is happy to see and listen to again in their original context," he said.

The Diocese of Rome has also launched a multilingual beatification website that offers the diocesan-approved prayer asking for graces of Pope John Paul in 31 languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Russian and Swahili.

The beatification date was chosen carefully. May 1 is Divine Mercy Sunday, a day with special significance for Pope John Paul, who made it a church-wide feast day to be celebrated a week after Easter. The pope died April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

May 1 is also Europe's "labor day" holiday, which meant the beatification events would not disrupt the normal business of Rome. Many Romans were planning to leave the city for the weekend, although church leaders said Italians would still be the biggest national group attending the beatification. Poles were expected to be the second-largest group, followed by pilgrims from Spain and the United States.

The Vatican has used the run-up to the beatification as a teaching moment about the sainthood process, emphasizing that Pope John Paul will be declared "blessed" not for his achievements as pope but for the way he lived the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love.

Church officials have announced that in the Diocese of Rome, where Pope John Paul served as bishop, and in all the dioceses of his native Poland, his feast day is to be inserted automatically into the annual calendar. Oct. 22 was chosen as the day to remember him because it is the anniversary of the liturgical inauguration of his papacy in 1978.

Other places can petition the Vatican to insert the Oct. 22 feast day into their liturgical calendar. Likewise, parishes and churches can be named after "Blessed Pope John Paul" in Rome and Poland, with other requests considered on a case-by-case basis.

Throughout the universal church, Catholics will have a year to celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving for the pope's beatification.

The Vatican has published the text of the opening prayer -- formally the "collect" -- for his feast day Mass. The English text reads: "O God, who are rich in mercy and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II should preside as pope over your universal church, grant, we pray, that, instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the sole redeemer of mankind. Who lives and reigns."

Following the beatification ceremonies, Pope John Paul's casket will be relocated to the Chapel of St. Sebastian in the upper level of St. Peter's Basilica. He had been buried in the grotto beneath St. Peter's, but the new resting place is more easily accessible to the steady stream of pilgrims who come to see the pope's tomb.

Not long after Pope John Paul's death, Pope Benedict set him on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause. Even so, church experts needed years to review the massive amount of evidence regarding the late pope, including thousands of pages of writings and speeches.

More than 120 witnesses were interviewed, and studies were conducted on Pope John Paul's ministry, the way he handled suffering and how he faced his death. The Vatican took special care evaluating the reported miracle in France, and Vatican officials emphasized that no procedural shortcuts were taken. The process was completed relatively quickly: six years and one month from death to beatification is a modern record in the church.


Pope Benedict XVI prayed for freedom, justice and peace in Easter mass

VATICAN CITY, Apr 25, 2011 -   In an Easter blessing to the world, Pope Benedict XVI prayed that Christ's resurrection may open paths of "freedom, justice and peace" for troubled populations of the Middle East and Africa.

The pope urged an end to violence in Libya and Ivory Coast, assistance to refugees flooding out of North Africa and consolation for the victims of the Japanese earthquake. He prayed for those persecuted for their Christian faith, and praised their courage.

He spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica April 24 in his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and to the world), after celebrating Mass for nearly 100,000 people in St. Peter's Square. Broadcast to many countries and live-streamed on the Internet, it was the last major event on the 84-year-old pontiff's heavy Holy Week schedule.

Pope Benedict said the resurrection of Christ must not be viewed as "the fruit of speculation or mystical experience." It happened in a precise moment and marked history forever, giving human events new strength, new hope and new meaning, he said.

"The entire cosmos is rejoicing today," and every person open to God has reason to be glad, he said.

But the joy of Easter contrasts with "the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence," the pope said.

He prayed that "the splendor of Christ reach the peoples of the Middle East, so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence." In Libya, he said, diplomacy and violence need to take the place of armed fighting, and the suffering must have access to humanitarian aid.

The pope alluded to the civil unrest that has spread throughout northern Africa and the Middle East, encouraging all citizens there, especially young people, to work for a society where poverty is defeated and where "every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person." The refugees who have fled the conflicts deserve a generous response by other populations, he added.

The pope said the many forms of suffering in "this wounded world" make the Easter message all the more meaningful.

"In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us," he said. He then offered Easter greetings in 65 languages, including Chinese, Hindi and Swahili.

The pope arrived at the Easter liturgy in an open jeep, riding through a crowd that overflowed the square into adjacent streets. Many of the pilgrims were Poles who had already arrived in Rome for the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.

As clouds gave way to sunshine, the pope celebrated Mass on an altar surrounded by flower gardens of yellow narcissus, cream-colored roses and blue delphiniums -- all donated and shipped to Rome by Dutch florists.

After the Gospel reading, an Orthodox choir sang a hymn of psalms of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, marking the fact that the Catholic and Orthodox celebration of Easter fell on the same day this year.

In a lengthy Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica the night before, the pope baptized and confirmed six adults from Albania, China, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland. He poured holy water from a golden shell over each catechumen's head, and later accepted offertory gifts from the newly baptized.

In a sermon, he analyzed why the Christian's sense of environmental responsibility is directly connected to the core beliefs of the faith.

"We relate to God the creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation," he said. "Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives."

The trajectory of salvation history, which reaches a summit with Christ's resurrection, reaches all the way back to creation, he said. For the Christian, he said, the account of creation is not about the scientific process involved, but something deeper: it says that the source of everything is not pure chance, but "creative reason, love and freedom."

The pope rejected an evolutionary account that excludes a divine purpose.

"It is not the case that the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it," he said.

"If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then life would make no sense," he said. "Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason."

The pope said Easter was a good time for Christians to remind themselves that the faith embraces everything about the human being, from his origins to his eternal destiny.

"Life in the church's faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations," he said.

On Good Friday, the pope presided over a nighttime Way of the Cross liturgy at Rome's Colosseum, where tradition holds that early Christians were put to death. Kneeling on a platform on a hillside facing the ancient amphitheater, the pope opened the ceremony with a prayer that drew attention to the constant struggle between good and evil in human history.

He appeared to refer to the priestly sex abuse scandal when he spoke of the "hour of darkness" when "an emptiness of meaning and values nullifies the work of education, and the disorder of the heart disfigures the innocence of the small and the weak."

The meditations for the 14 Stations of the Cross were written this year by an Augustinian nun, Mother Maria Rita Piccione. The texts encouraged Christians to develop the ability to listen to the subtle voice of God that speaks through the human conscience, and not to ignore the needs of the poor and suffering in their midst.

In a closing talk, the pope said that reliving the drama of Christ's crucifixion demonstrates that the cross is not a triumphal symbol but rather the sign of "God's immense love" for humanity.


Pope's brother apologizes to abuse victims at his former school

WARSAW, Poland -- The brother of Pope Benedict XVI apologized to child victims of sexual abuse at his former school even though he said he was unaware of the alleged incidents.

"There was never any talk of sexual abuse problems and I had no idea that molestation was taking place," Msgr. Georg Ratzinger said, recalling his 30 years as choirmaster at the school that trains the elite boys' choir of the Regensburg Cathedral.

His comments came during an interview with the German newspaper Neue Passauer Presse March 9.

"I'm deeply sorry for anyone whose spiritual or physical integrity was injured by abuse," said Msgr. Ratzinger, who was choirmaster between 1964 and 1994. "Today, such things are condemned even more because of greater sensitivities. I also condemn them, and simultaneously ask pardon from the victims."

Msgr. Ratzinger recalled that the priest who headed the school from 1953 until his death in 1992 had slapped boys in the face, but said he had not considered such punishments "particularly brutal."

"If I'd known the exaggerated vehemence with which the director acted, I would have reacted," Msgr. Ratzinger told the newspaper in his native Bavaria. "But at that time, it was the way of dealing with mistakes or the deliberate nonfulfilment of duties. I was happy when caning was totally banned in 1980, and I felt internally relieved."

However, a former pupil at the school, Frank Wittenbrink, now a composer, told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that the teaching staff must have known about other forms of abuse.

"There was a contrived system of sadistic punishments, connected with sexual desire," said Wittenbrink, who graduated in 1967. "The school leader chose two or three of us boys each evening from the dormitory and took us to his apartment, where he gave us wine and masturbated with minors. Everyone knew about this."

The statements appeared as the president of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, prepared for a March 12 meeting with Pope Benedict to discuss the scandal which erupted in late January.

Meanwhile, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, recently named to oversee abuse claims for the German church, welcomed an invitation from Germany's minister for families, Kristina Schroder, to join a round-table discussion examining abuse beginning April 23. Parent, teacher and trade union groups also will be represented.

"We ourselves have already said a meeting of all socially relevant groups would be very helpful," Bishop Ackermann said in a March 8 statement on the German bishops' conference Web site. "The minister's invitation is an important step toward the joint goal of speedily tackling this entire problematic issue."

Abuse claims have been reported to date in at least 17 of the German church's 27 dioceses, with the most recent allegations surfacing March 8 and 9 against Catholic institutions in Hildesheim, Dusseldorf and Limburg, as well as in Bavaria against a Franciscan Capuchin house at Burghausen and a Benedict ine monastery at Ettal.

Speaking to journalists March 9, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the church's efforts to confront the accusations, which include opening a hot line for victims and updating 2002 church guidelines on abuse reporting. The efforts indicated, she said, a "very serious wish to deal with the problems."

However, the justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper March 9 that the church also needed to "give a clear signal to the victims," such as by suggesting "voluntary compensation" in case where legal claims had lapsed.

The press office of the German bishops' conference in Bonn declined to answer inquiries from Catholic News Service about abuse claims.

Bishops in neighboring Austria and in the Netherlands also considered responses to abuse claims.

In Austria, Abbot Bruno Bauer of St. Peter's Abbey in Salzburg resigned March 8 after he was accused of an act of abuse committed 40 years ago. The Der Standard newspaper reported that an unnamed man contacted the ombudsman for the Salzburg Archdiocese about the incident in late 2009 after Abbot Bauer was elected to oversee the abbey.

Salesian Father Herman Spronck, the most senior member of his order in the Netherlands, agreed March 1 to investigate claims of child abuse at a monastery.

The Dutch bishops' conference announced an independent inquiry March 9 into allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests at church schools and apologized to victims.

The inquiry follows reports of at least 200 accusations of abuse.

"The number of reports of abuse in former Catholic educational establishments requires further investigation," the bishops said after a meeting in the central city of Zeist.

By Jonathan Luxmoore - CNS


Pope Benedict to visit Rome Synagogue

Rome, Italy, Oct.03,2009 On the eve of the Jewish New Year, which was celebrated on September 19 this year, Benedict XVI sent the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, a telegram of good wishes and friendship. In it, he confirmed that he will soon visit the synagogue of Rome, "animated by the profound desire to manifest my personal closeness and that of the whole Catholic Church" to the Jewish community.

The synagogue in Rome will be the third one visited by Benedict XVI, after the synagogue in Cologne in August of 2005 and the Park East synagogue in New York, in April of 2008. Before him, John Paul II had visited the synagogue in Rome on April 13, 1986.


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