Pope Francis met with Benedict XVI first time after his selection

- Pope Francis met with Benedict XVI on Saturday for the first time since his selection, an historic visit that took place in a fraternal atmosphere.

“We are brothers,” Pope Francis told his predecessor before praying side-by-side with him at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.

The March 23 encounter marked the first face-to-face meeting between the two since the March 13 election of the new Pope. The encounter is a unique moment in the history of the Church, which has not had a papal resignation in centuries.

Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio about the meeting.

He said there was “a moving embrace between the two” as they first met on the grounds of the Pontifical Villas.

Both wore a simple white cassock. Benedict XVI toted a white jacket against the cool mountain air. Francis was dressed in the white sash and cape of the pontiff.

A small entourage of at least six accompanied the two for the short drive from the heliport to the residence at Castel Gandolfo Benedict XVI has called home since his resignation on Feb. 28. Those present included Archbishop Georg Ganswein, personal secretary to Benedict XVI who remains prefect of the pontifical household.

Upon arrival, the Pope and his predecessor first prayed together in the chapel and then retired to the papal library. There, they spoke for the better part of an hour.

Fr. Lombardi was unable to share any of the content of their confidential discussions. He did discuss Pope Francis’ present to Benedict XVI. Pope Francis brought an icon of Our Lady of Humility “as a gift for Benedict XVI’s great humility,” the Vatican spokesman said.

“You gave us a great example of humility and tenderness,” Pope Francis told his predecessor, according to the recording of the event made by Vatican Television Center.

World media have put much emphasis on Pope Francis’ evident simplicity and humility in his first days. Some reports insinuate a contrast from the last pontificate, but Benedict XVI too is often described as “meek” by those who know him.

Though this was their first meeting in person, the two had already been in contact since the Argentinean Pope’s election on March 13. Francis called him directly on the night of his election and again for the Pope’s name day, the March 19 Feast of St. Joseph.

Before Benedict XVI stepped down on Feb. 28, he had declared to the College of Cardinal s his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to his eventual successor.

Fr. Lombardi said the Saturday meeting was “a moment of profound and elevated communion.”

He said Benedict XVI “had the opportunity to renew this act of reverence and obedience to his successor, and certainly Pope Francis renewed his gratitude and that of the whole Church for Pope Benedict ’s ministry during his pontificate.”


Homily of Pope Francis on Palm Sunday - 2013

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2013 - Pope Francis celebrated his first Palm Sunday at the Vatican. Preached the crowd in St. Peter's Square that Christ's death on the cross is a source of eternal consolation and joy.

Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).

Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul.

This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light - the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart - of joy, of celebration.

At the beginning of Mass, we too repeated it. We waved our palms, our olive branches. We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil , comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.

The second word. Why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40). But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk who have the sense to see something more in Jesus; they have that sense of the faith which says: here is the Saviour. Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6). He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is precisely here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! It reminds me of what Benedict XVI said to the Cardinal s: you are princes, but of a king crucified. That is the throne of Jesus. Jesus takes it upon himself… Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket. Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware - our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the Cross. Christ’s Cross embraced with love never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.

Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! This is our third word: youth! Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three points, then: joy, Cross, young people.

Let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. She teaches us the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives. May it be so.

Pope Francis testimony gave new strength to the people of Syria

Aleppo, Syria - Mar 25, 2013 - The new pope's testimony gave new strength to the people of Syria, beleaguered by more than two years of war. Mgr Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite archbishop of Aleppo, told AsiaNews that "Francis helps us with his speeches, showing us the way to cope with the tragedy we are going through. He reminds us that we live for Christ and that we must do everything possible to stay close to Jesus, who is the only one who can save us. In Aleppo, but also elsewhere in Syria, bishops, priests, religious and faithful have carved this message in their hearts. Everyone is trying to translate it into action and spread it across their dioceses, parishes and families."

The decision of faith is so strong that more than 2,000 Syrians havebraved bombs and the danger of attacks to take part in yesterday's Palm Sunday Mass in Aleppo's Greek Melkite Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

"It was a moving service," the prelate said. "The church was overflowing with people from different parts of the diocese, this despite the atmosphere of war and violence that struck our city."

Archbishop Jeanbart said that he based his Palm Sunday sermon on the pope's words. "I reminded the faithful that Christ is with us in this tragedy and that he would not let us down, that peace would come."

For the prelate, violence, war and Islamic radicalism have not stopped people from hoping and changing their hearts.

"In Syria," he said, "Muslims cannot convert to Christianity. If they did, they would put their lives at risk. Nevertheless, a few days ago, a man told me that he wanted to become Christian and would like to be baptised. This is an exception in our community, but it is a strong sign of the power of Jesus and the Christian message. "

With a population of 300,000, Aleppo's Christian community is the third largest in the Arab world after Beirut and Cairo.

Under siege for almost eight months, the city has seen its central districts and suburbs divided between Islamic rebels and the Syrian army with houses and buildings used in the fighting.

The Syrian air force has completely destroyed Aleppo's old city, a UNESCO heritage site, forcing thousands of residents to flee.

Recently, in Khan al-Assal, a few kilometres from the city, chemical weapons were used on civilians. (S.C.)


Nepalese greet the new Pope Francis

Kathmandu - Mar 19, 2013 - With torchlight processions and prayer vigils across the country the Nepalese, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists thank and greet the new Pope Francis. For the occasion on 13 March the day of his election, many Christian families decorated their homes to celebrate and March 17 all the Catholic churches of the country celebrated a solemn mass in honor of the Pope. Functions that were also attended by non-Christians.

Ganesh Parajuli, a Catholic from Kathmandu says that "this is a historic event for the whole family. We lit candles and prayed together for Francis, and that by his example and his faith in God he will help our communities and give a message of hope to this nation hit by instability and social and political chaos. "

The period of the Vacant See, Conclave and the election of the new pope led many believers to renew their faith in God and to spread His message even among Hindus and Buddhists. Binod Gurung, head of the Nepal Catholic Society explains that "Catholics in Nepal have grown in confidence and are beginning to spread the Christian message in the country to help our people out of the atmosphere of pessimism and fatalism caused by seven years of institutional crisis."

According to Gurung, "the elections for the new constituent assembly will be an important test not only for politicians, but for the whole country and will determine if the new republic will pursue a secular state and religious freedom in the future. We ask the Pope to pray for Nepal and for our poor".

Engaged for decades in charitable and educational projects (including schools and universities), the Christian communities, Catholic and Protestant, have taken a leading role in the Nepalese society, especially in the poorest regions of the country. In recent years, thanks to greater religious freedom, the number of Christians has increased following the fall of the monarchy, which for centuries forbid any religion other than Hinduism. According to the census of 2011, Catholics and Protestants are about 1.5% of the population. In 2006 there were only 0.5%. In six years the Catholics increased from 4 thousand to 10 thousand.


Pope Francis chooses silver ring, pallium style like his predecessors

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2013 - With his fisherman's ring and the pallium -- the main symbols of the Petrine office -- Pope Francis chose styles in continuity with two of his predecessors. The fisherman's ring Pope Francis chose is made of gold-plated silver and is based on the same design of a papal ring handed down from Pope Paul VI's personal secretary. It shows an image of St. Peter holding the two keys -- one key represents the power in heaven and the other indicates the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth. The ring, which represents the pope's role as a "fisher of men," was designed by a late-Italian artist, Enrico Manfrini, who was very close to Pope Paul and his late-secretary, Archbishop Pasquale Macchi. Pope Francis had about three models of rings to choose from, said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, and the pope chose the design that Manfrini gave Archbishop Macchi for Pope Paul. Pope Francis' ring was made from the same wax cast of the ring meant for Pope Paul, who never wore it, Father Lombardi said. During the installation Mass March 19, Pope Francis received the newly made ring from the dean of the College of Cardinal s, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano.


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