VATICAN CITY (CNS) – During Lent this year, residents of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives, decided to clean out their closets and give away things other people could use. “You can’t imagine how much stuff there was,” the pope said.

Leading his weekly general audience April 5, the pope said Holy Week is the perfect time to simplify one’s life and let go of things, especially of wounds, sin and past offenses that keep one from living in hope.

“Look at the wardrobe of your soul: How many useless things do you have, how many silly illusions?” he asked.

Pope Francis said that in his “other diocese,” Buenos Aires, when he would go around the city — “now I can’t do that because they won’t let me” — he would look at people’s faces and always was struck by how many seemed sad or completely distracted, “without peace, without hope.”

Pope Francis greets a young woman as he rides in the popemobile in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican during his weekly general audience April 5, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

So, he said, the sadness and disappointment of Jesus’ disciples after his arrest and death are completely understandable to most people.

People wonder, “Why is there so much evil in the world – look, there is evil in the world. Why do inequalities continue to increase and why is that long-awaited peace not arriving? Why are we so attached to war, to hurting one another?” the pope said. “And there is the feeling that times gone by were better and that in the world, perhaps even in the church, things are not going the way they once were.”

Such thoughts, he said, are signs that “hope sometimes seems to be sealed behind the stone of mistrust” just as Jesus was sealed behind the stone of his tomb.

For Jesus’ disciples, then and now, the cross is the key to restoring hope.

The cross, “the most terrible instrument of torture,” is the greatest sign of God’s love, he said. “Having become the tree of life, that wood of death reminds us that God’s beginnings often begin with our ends.”

“In the black holes of our disappointed expectations,” the pope said, God’s love fills believers with a hope that never disappoints.

With the hope born of the cross, he said, people can be “healed of the sadness with which we are sick, be healed of the bitterness with which we pollute the church and the world.”

Through Jesus’ wounds God heals sinful humanity, Pope Francis said.

“We, too, are wounded; who isn’t wounded in life?” he said. “Who does not bear the scars of past choices, of misunderstandings, of hurts that stay inside and that we struggle to overcome?”

“God does not hide from our eyes the wounds that have pierced his body and soul. He shows them to show us that a new passage can be opened at Easter: to make of one’s wounds holes of light,” the pope said, before imagining someone responding, “But, Your Holiness, don’t exaggerate.”

Pope Francis told the crowd it was not an exaggeration.

“I ask you, what do you do with your wounds, the ones that only you know? You can let them fester in resentment, in sadness, or I can unite them with Jesus’ wounds, so that my wounds also become bright,” he said.

“Yes, our wounds can become springs of hope when, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves or hiding them, we dry the tears shed by others,” the pope said.

The choice, he said, is either to “lick my own wounds” or to reach out “to heal, to help others.”

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis asked people to spend time in Holy Week praying for the conversion of those who foment war.

And, thinking of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, he prayed for “the mothers of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers who have fallen in the war. They are mothers of dead sons. Let us pray for these mothers.”

SCRANTON – The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, has announced that parishes may once again resume the practice of distributing the Precious Blood to the faithful at Masses beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2023.

For the last three years during the COVID-19 pandemic, the distribution of the Precious Blood at Mass had been suspended out of an abundance of caution to protect the health and safety of the faithful.

In making his announcement, Bishop Bambera stressed that resuming the practice of distributing the Precious Blood to the faithful is at the discretion of the pastor, administrator or parish life coordinator.

Altar wine is is seen in this 2019 file photo. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

Not every parish may be ready to immediately resume this practice and Communion from the chalice was optional even before the pandemic. Some parishes may feel it is better to reintroduce the Precious Blood from the chalice gradually or even wait until after flu season is completely over.

As always, it is the choice of each individual whether to receive under both forms or under one form only. Those who receive under only one species are not deprived in any way of the fullness of the Lord’s Presence.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has also announced that its parishes may begin offering the Precious Blood at Masses beginning Holy Thursday as well.

Many other dioceses – including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Youngstown, Ohio – have already lifted this restriction and have not seen any significant increases in viral transmission.

SCRANTON – Throughout the Diocese of Scranton’s 155-year history, teaching the Catholic faith to its young people has been one of its most fundamental missions.

To ensure Catholic school education will continue for decades to come, the Diocese of Scranton is launching “Our Faith. Our Students. Our Future.” – a new strategic growth planning process.

The process will build upon the many successes the 19 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton have seen over the last few years and proactively address challenges along the way.

“As we examine our current state, we are poised and ready for this planning process and see it as an opportunity to make our extraordinary Catholic school education in the Diocese of Scranton available for generations to come,” Kristen Donohue, Diocesan Secretary of Catholic Education/Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said.

Over the last several years, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Scranton have distinguished themselves in several different ways. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students, families, educators, administrators and priests worked together to be innovative and became a benchmark for other schools to follow.

“In the safest learning environment possible, schools not only opened their doors for in-person education, but did so with compassion,” Donohue continued. “We continued to focus on allowing each student the opportunities to grow to his/her God-given potential. We continued to monitor academic growth through regular assessments, using this data to provide responsive and appropriately rigorous, differentiated instruction.”

It is from this position of strength that Diocesan Catholic schools will plan for the future.

“I am hopeful that when this process is complete, we won’t simply set goals and objectives for our 19 schools for the next five or 10 years,” the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to make Catholic education affordable and accessible to a new generation of students who we will welcome into our schools.”

Bishop Bambera is hopeful the strategic growth planning process will give everyone a voice in shaping the future. Whether it is through surveys, interviews, working groups or simply praying for the planning process, the bishop is hopeful everyone will participate.

“I want to stress that we are not going into this process with some preconceived ideas or plans to change or to reorganize our system. We did that already,” Bishop Bambera added. “Instead, we need to assess the current reality, we need to define what our priorities are and we need to continue to do everything we can to develop a strong, financially sustainable vision for our Catholic schools allowing them to remain vibrant and strong.”

For the last two years, enrollment in many Catholic schools has increased, so one of the challenges ahead is examining best practices for recruitment and retention of students and school families in order to continue seeing increases in enrollment.

Likewise, overall financial stability, addressing aging infrastructure, and recruiting and retaining dedicated teachers and administrators will be critical.

“We need to face our challenges with the same strength, creativity and confidence seen throughout the past four years,” Donohue noted.

The areas of focus for the strategic growth planning process will align with the National Standards and Benchmarks of Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools: vibrant Catholic identity; academic excellence; governance, leadership and engagement; and operational vitality and financial stability.

The timeline for “Our Faith. Our Students. Our Future” will be divided into phases and take between one and two years to complete. The first phase involves data collection and analysis. The second phase focuses on the development of the strategic plan itself and the third phase involves implementation.

Bishop Bambera said the planning process will allow our Catholic schools an opportunity to grow, learn, change, improve, and move closer to the vision that God has for us.

“It’s important for us to look at where we are, to take this moment and be proactive, to reflect, to think, to pray and to plan for how we can be better – and how we can take where we are – and really carry it into the future,” he said.

Additional information and updates on “Our Faith. Our Students. Our Future” will be available on the Diocese of Scranton website as the process progresses.

SCRANTON – The liturgies of Holy Week began with the celebration of Mass for Palm Sunday, April 2, in parishes around the Diocese of Scranton.

At the Cathedral of Saint Peter, hundreds gathered as the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant for the 12:15 p.m. liturgy.

“God is love, and the cross of Christ, which looms over the message of the scriptures this day, is the supreme proof, the historical demonstration of this reality,” Bishop Bambera said during his homily. 

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, begins the blessing of the palms in the Cathedral Prayer Garden April 2, 2023.

On Palm Sunday, the Church celebrates Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem to accomplish the Paschal Mystery of His death and resurrection. The Gospels record the arrival of Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, while the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches on the street and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The bishop began the Mass by blessing palms in the Cathedral Prayer Garden and then processing down Wyoming Avenue to enter the Cathedral.

“We’re reminded in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians that although He was God, Jesus emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, a servant,” Bishop Bambera explained. “He sought, according to His Father’s plan, to embrace the brokenness and suffering of our world in order to save us from ourselves and to give us a way forward in life.”

Bishop Bambera will also celebrate Masses for the Sacred Paschal Triduum at the Cathedral of Saint Peter.

On Holy Thursday, April 6, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which marks the day on which Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and the priestly Order, will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m.

On Good Friday, April 7, the Commemoration of the Passion and Death of the Lord will begin at 12:10 p.m.

Holy Saturday, April 8, is the day that the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer, meditating on His passion and death and awaiting His resurrection. Bishop Bambera will be the principal celebrant and homilist of the Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral beginning at 8 p.m.

On the Holy Night of Easter, many individuals who have participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) will become fully initiated Catholics by the celebration of their Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of the Eucharist for the first time. This year, 162 people are expected to celebrate in parishes throughout the Diocese. They join tens of thousands of other individuals throughout the world who will become members of the Church that night.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord is the most joyous day in the Church year. This joy overflows into the 50 days of the Easter season, which concludes on Pentecost Sunday. On Easter Day, Bishop Bambera will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at 10:00 a.m. at the Cathedral.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The unborn, migrants, the elderly and the disabled are “living icons” of Jesus that call Christians to draw close to those who feel abandoned just as Christ did on the cross, Pope Francis said.

In his homily for Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square April 2, the pope reflected on the phrase Jesus uttered on the cross in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and which echoed through the square when sung in the responsorial psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Pope Francis gives his homily at Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 2, 2023. (CNS photo/Chris Warde-Jones)

“Christ, in his abandonment, stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves abandoned, for in them we see not only people in need, but Jesus himself,” he said.

According to the Vatican gendarmes, some 60,000 people were present in St. Peter’s Square for the Mass.

Fighting off coughs as he began his homily but otherwise speaking without difficulty, Pope Francis said that in his Passion, Jesus experienced the distance of God so he could be “completely and definitively one” with humanity.

The pope was released from the hospital April 1 after a four-day stay for treatment of bronchitis. He processed into St. Peter’s Square on the popemobile wearing his winter coat on an early spring day in Rome.

In his homily, Pope Francis highlighted the many “abandoned Christs” that exist in society: “the poor who live on our streets and that we don’t have the courage to look at, migrants who are no longer faces but numbers.”

He also recalled those who are “discarded with white gloves: unborn children, the elderly left alone, who could be your mom or dad,” as well as the “sick whom no one visits, the disabled who are ignored, and the young burdened by great interior emptiness with no one prepared to listen to their cry of pain and who don’t find another path but suicide.”

Putting his prepared text aside, Pope Francis remembered Burkhard Scheffler, a German homeless man who died in November “alone and abandoned” under the colonnade that surrounds St. Peter’s Square.

“He is Jesus to each one of us,” said the pope.

“So many are in need of our watch, so many are abandoned,” he said. “I also need Jesus to caress me, to come close to me, and that’s why I go to find him in the abandoned, in those who are alone.”

At the beginning of the celebration, Pope Francis stood at the obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square to bless the palms carried there by some 400 people. He then proceeded to the altar by car.

The pope delivered the homily after listening to the account of Jesus’ Passion from St. Matthew’s Gospel, but Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, vice dean of the College of Cardinals, was the main celebrant at the altar.

After Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square and thanked them for their prayers that “have intensified in the past days.”

“Thank you, truly,” he said.

SCRANTON – The faithful of Mary, Mother of God Parish are showing love and compassion to men and women in the Scranton area who are experiencing homelessness.

During the six weeks of Lent – starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Palm Sunday – parishioners filled two tents with umbrellas, backpacks, tarps, more tents, plastic cutlery and disposable coffee cups.

Organizers started what they called a “Fill the Tent” campaign and could not be happier with the results.

“For Lent, we wanted to do a special project to help those in need. We have worked with Keystone Mission in the past providing meals. We’ve done underwear and boxer drives for them,” Jennifer Pitts, a member of the church’s Community and Service Committee, said. “We had a great idea about getting tents and filling them with items that homeless people need right now.”

Members of the Mary, Mother of God Parish Community and Service Committee held a “Fill the Tent” collection during Lent for Keystone Mission. Pictured, from left: Ruth Ann Jones; Rev. Cyril Edwards, V.E., pastor, Mary, Mother of God; Donna Zupp; Cole Wheaton; Jean Shields; Brandy Wheaton; Jennifer Pitts; and Roman Wheaton. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

To help raising awareness about the collection – and the issue of homelessness in general – the parish put two green tents in the entranceway of the Holy Rosary Church building.

“Whatever we ask for here, people are very generous,” Donna Zupp, Community and Service Committee member, added. “They are just wonderful and people love to give, especially at this time of year.”

Ruth Ann Jones, who has grown up attending the parish, says many people know the important work that Keystone Mission does and they feel the items collected will be given out to those most in need.

“There are many nights it could be pouring rain and you just think of all those people that are out there that don’t have a roof over their head and count on a tent or a sleeping bag, anything you can give them, to make their lives just a little more comfortable,” Jones explained.

Similar to the work done by Catholic Social Services, Keystone Mission helps provide individuals experiencing homelessness with food and shelter during the daytime hours.

“One of the other things they asked for were bus passes, which is really a great idea, so we’ve had a large donation of those also,” Zupp said.

This Lent, Mary, Mother of God Parish has focused its work around the theme of being “ambassadors of Christ,” and members of the church’s Community and Service Committee feel the collection for the area’s homeless fit in perfectly with that.

“We’re all disciples of Jesus and we’re doing His work and we’re doing a great job here in North Scranton,” Pitts said.

“Our parish is wonderful. We’ve always had such a giving parish and not that we have a parish that comes from a lot of money but they do give from their heart and they give whatever they can, which is quite a bit,” Jones added.

WILKES-BARRE – During the Season of Lent, the faithful of Our Lady of Hope Parish have not only been focusing on prayer and fasting – but also almsgiving – and young people in their community will directly benefit.

As Holy Week approached, dozens of bags filled with soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and more filled the side of the Park Avenue church as parishioners continued donating hygiene products for those in need.

Father John Terry, pastor, Our Lady of Hope Parish, Wilkes-Barre, looks over hygiene items donated by parishioners during the Lenten Season. The items will all be distributed to local young people in the community. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

“Every Lenten Season, we always have some encouragement for our people to be able to show some form of almsgiving, the sharing of what they have,” Father John Terry, pastor, said. “Over the years, we’ve always tried to figure out who is in need in our area.”

The parish’s Social Concerns Committee helped spearhead the collection – which will benefit local teenagers.

“As we went along, it went from basic things like toothpaste and shampoo and underarm deodorant to other things as well, like items for young boys and girls going through the change of life,” Father Terry added. “Our parishioners were most responsive. This is a very fine community of people and they respond to all charitable outreach.”

Deacon Joseph DeViza is happy that so many people were generous in responding to the call to help.

“Our Social Concerns Committee has really come alive with all of this and it has been wonderful,” Deacon DeViza said. “It is one person caring for another.”

Deacon DeViza knows first-hand the needs that many local teenagers face having previously worked at the Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre.

“When kids are being supported by community structures, such as this parish community, it makes a big difference,” he added. “The more support that teenagers and families can get, the better off they’re going to be in the long run.”

While Our Lady of Hope Parish is no stranger to helping its community, its leadership is encouraging other religious and charitable groups to join them in providing a helping hand to young people.

“We’ve planted a seed and it is beginning to grow and flower and blossom. It is something really nice and beautiful for our children,” Father Terry said.

LARKSVILLE – As the month of March ended, so too did a series of 12 Lenten Holy Hours celebrated by the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton.

Beginning at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Carbondale Feb. 23 and ending at Saint John the Baptist Parish in Larksville March 29, Bishop Bambera joined the faithful of each deanery to proclaim and adore the presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Hundreds of faithful attended each of the Lenten Holy Hours – meaning overall that several thousand people experienced the love of Jesus poured forth from the Cross.

Organized to help highlight the National Eucharistic Revival that has been underway for nearly one year – the Lenten Holy Hours were a time for the Church to discover anew the life-giving strength of the Eucharist – the living presence of Jesus among us.

During his homily at each stop, Bishop Bambera emphasized three important realities that he hoped the faithful would take from each Holy Hour.

First, through the Eucharist, we learn that we are incorporated into Christ’s Paschal Mystery – His suffering, death and resurrection – through which we are saved.

Bishop Bambera stated,

“‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,’ Saint Paul reminds us, ‘you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.’ What does that mean for us? It means that we do not suffer alone, for Christ suffers with us. It means that the deaths that we experience are known and grieved by Christ. It means that like Jesus who rose, despite our suffering and deaths, we have hope for new life in this world and the world to come.”

“But to make this mystery our mystery, Christ, in the Eucharist, first beckons us to remove the facades that we so often use to mask our troubles and disappointments, our suffering and pain, our failures, sins and death and to come to him as we are to be forgiven, healed and created anew through the power of his resurrection. His death is our death. His rising to new life is our rising as well.”

Second through the Eucharist, we are bound together as brothers and sisters.

Bishop Bambera continued,

“Recall the words of Pope Benedict in this first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, ‘I cannot possess Christ just for myself … Communion draws me out of myself towards him and thus also towards unity with all Christians.’ That means that while the love of God given to us through Christ is without conditions, it is not without consequences. Communion with the Eucharistic body of Christ must be accompanied by our communion with the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church – our brothers and sisters.”

Third, Through the Eucharist, we are sent forth on mission – to be the living presence of Jesus in our world today.

The bishop noted,

“Saint Paul challenges the Corinthians, ‘You who share the same bread and cup receive the same Christ in the Eucharist, and as such, you become one with each other and with the Lord whom you receive.’ You become one with your husband, your wife; one with your child; one with the neighbor you find intolerable; one with the person of color or ethnic background or lifestyle that you’d rather not accept; one with the poor.”

“Eucharist compels us, brothers and sisters, to remember that we not only receive the risen Christ but also are called to something more. Early in his pontificate, Saint John Paul II wrote to the bishops of the world about the gift of the Eucharist. As he spoke of the sublime gift of God in the sacramental presence of Jesus that we honor and adore this night, he also said this: ‘The authentic sense of the Eucharist is that it becomes the school of active love for my neighbor. If authentically received, Eucharist must make us grow in awareness of one another.’”

As he concluded his remarks each evening, Bishop Bambera told the faithful there is nothing that cannot be forgiven and healed by Jesus.

“Allow his mercy and forgiveness to envelop your lives and to recreate your spirits,” Bishop Bambera ended by saying. “Trust in His promise to save. Open your hearts and let His love fill you with peace. Receive Christ and then, filled with His life, become Christ for our broken world.”

To read Bishop Bambera’s full homily from the Lenten Holy Hours, visit the Bishop’s Office page here on the Diocesan website.