Pope Francis is pictured in a video screenshot delivering a message to the people of Iraq in advance of his March 5-8 visit. Pope Francis said he will visit as a pilgrim of peace and reconciliation, hoping to strengthen a sense of fraternity among all the nation’s people of every ethnicity and religion. (CNS screenshot/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis told the people of Iraq he was going to their country as a “penitential pilgrim,” asking God’s forgiveness for years of war, persecution and destruction, and as a “pilgrim of peace,” hoping to remind people that they are all brothers and sisters no matter their ethnic or religious identity.

“I will finally be among you,” he said in a video message, released by the Vatican March 4, the day before the trip was to begin.

“I come as a pilgrim, as a penitential pilgrim to implore forgiveness and reconciliation from the Lord after years of war and terrorism, to ask God for consolation for hearts and healing for wounds,” the pope said. “And I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat: ‘You are all brothers and sisters.'”

His March 5-8 pilgrimage of peace, he said, would aim to strengthen a sense of fraternity, “animated by the desire to pray together and to walk together, including with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions,” under the gaze of Abraham, who was born in Iraq and is recognized as patriarch by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

A man sprays water at a poster of Pope Francis in Baghdad March 3, 2021. When the pope visits Iraq March 5-8 he will undertake a risky trip to a war-torn country that has seen recent rockets attacks and is surging with new COVID-19 cases. (CNS photo/Khalid al-Mousily, Reuters)

Speaking directly to the nation’s dwindling Christian population, which has suffered discrimination and persecution over the past two decades, Pope Francis praised them for bearing “witness to faith in Jesus in the midst of the most difficult trials.”

“I am honored to meet a martyred church,” he said. “May the many, too many, martyrs you have known help us to persevere in the humble strength of love.”

Still, he told them, “go forward” and do not allow the pain of the past to destroy hope and trust in God.

Pope Francis said that throughout the years of war and the reign of terror of the Islamic State militants, he thought often of the Iraqi people, especially the Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who suffered so much.

“Now I come to your blessed and wounded land as a pilgrim of hope,” he said.

Pointing to the story of Jonah — recognized as a prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims — and Nineveh, an ancient city in what is now Iraq, Pope Francis contrasted the threatened destruction with the hope that came from the people turning to God.

“Let us be infected by this hope, which encourages us to rebuild and begin again,” the pope said. “And in these hard times of pandemic, let us help each other to strengthen fraternity, to build together a future of peace — together, brothers and sisters of every religious tradition.”

 

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 28, 2021. In his Angelus address, he encouraged people to read the Gospel during Lent and fast from gossip. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People should fast from gossiping and spreading hearsay as part of their Lenten journey, Pope Francis said.

“For Lent this year, I will not speak ill of others, I will not gossip and all of us can do this, everyone. This is a wonderful kind of fasting,” the pope said Feb. 28 after praying the Sunday Angelus.

Greeting visitors in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said his advice for Lent included adding a different kind of fasting “that won’t make you feel hungry: fasting from spreading rumors and gossiping.”

“And don’t forget that it will also be helpful to read a verse from the Gospel every day,” he said, urging people to have on hand a pocket-size edition to read whenever possible, even if it is just a random verse.

“This will open your heart to the Lord,” he added.

The pope also led a moment of prayer for the more than 300 girls who were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen Feb. 26 in Jangebe in northwestern Nigeria.

Adding his voice to statements made by Nigeria’s bishops, the pope condemned the “vile kidnapping of 317 girls, taken away from their school,” and he prayed for them and their families, hoping for their safe return home.

The nation’s bishops had already warned of the deteriorating situation in the country in a Feb. 23 statement, according to Vatican News.

“We are really on the brink of a looming collapse from which we must do all we can to pull back before the worst overcomes the nation,” the bishops wrote in response to a previous attack. Insecurity and corruption have put into question “the very survival of the nation,” they wrote.

The pope also marked Rare Disease Day, held Feb. 28 to raise awareness and improve advocacy and access to treatment.

He thanked all those involved in medical research for diagnosing and coming up with treatments for rare diseases, and he encouraged support networks and associations so people do not feel alone and can share experience and advice.

“Let us pray for all people who have a rare disease,” he said, especially for children who suffer.

In his main address, he reflected on the day’s Gospel reading (Mk 9:2-10) about Peter, James and John witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and their subsequent descent back down to the valley.

The pope said pausing with the Lord on the mountain “is a call to remember — especially when we pass through a difficult trial — that the Lord is risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.”

However, he added, “we cannot remain on the mountain and enjoy the beauty of this encounter by ourselves. Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amid our brothers and sisters and into daily life.”

People must take that light that comes from their encounter with Christ “and make it shine everywhere. Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the mission of a Christian,” he said.

 

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington Jan. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

TAKE ACTION: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has a ‘Voter Voice’ message that can be sent to lawmakers. To send a message to your Representative and Senators in Washington, visit: https://www.pacatholic.org/resources/voter-voice/?vvsrc=%2fHome

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in a 224-206 vote Feb. 25.

A couple days ahead of the vote, the chairmen of five U.S. bishops’ committees said its mandates will “discriminate against people of faith” by adversely affecting charities and their beneficiaries, conscience rights, women’s sports, “and sex-specific facilities.”

The bill, known as H.R. 5 and recently reintroduced in the House, also will provide for taxpayer funding of abortion and limit freedom of speech, the chairmen said in a Feb. 23 letter to all members of Congress.

H.R. 5  amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system and jury duty.

“Human dignity is central to what Catholics believe because every person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion,” they said. “This commitment is reflected in the church’s charitable service to all people, without regard to race, religion or any other characteristic.”

“It means we need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive,” they continued. “It also means that people of differing beliefs should be respected. In this, we wholeheartedly support nondiscrimination principles to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

H.R. 5 “purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations,” they said.

“This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” they said. “As Pope Francis has reflected, however, ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex — gender — can be distinguished but not separated.'”

Signing the letter were: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” the bishops said, further quoting Pope Francis.

“Tragically, this act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience,” the committee chairmen added.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” they said. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The measure first passed the House May 17, 2019, in a bipartisan 236–173 vote, but the Senate did not act on the bill after receiving it. President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.

House leadership pledged to see it reintroduced in the 117th Congress. On Feb. 18, Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, reintroduced it. Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin are expected to reintroduce a Senate version soon.

A group of faith leaders who support the Equality Act who held a webinar for the media Feb. 24 included Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is the outgoing executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby organization.

Network has long supported the measure, she said. “It’s critically important to ensure there is no discrimination in our nation especially with regard to the LGBTQ community.”

In the Catholic faith, all are welcome, she said, “and if all are welcome, all need to be protected. I think the bedrock position of our faith is to welcome and secure safety and the ability to flourish for all.”

Campbell and representatives of other faiths, including Jewish, Muslim and other Christian leaders, said in the webinar that the measure “will not reduce religious liberty,” as protected by the First Amendment and religious exemptions in current law, “but it will reduce religious bigotry.”

However, the U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen said in their Feb. 23 letter that if passed, the Equality Act will “discriminate against individuals and religious organizations based on their different beliefs by partially repealing the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an unprecedented departure from that law and one of America’s founding principles.”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, is a 1993 law that protects religions against government intrusion.

Among its other provisions, the bishops said, the measure would expand “the government’s definition of public places into numerous settings, even forcing religiously operated spaces, such as some church halls and equivalent facilities owned by synagogues or mosques, to either host functions that violate their beliefs or close their doors to their broader communities.”

The USCCB on its website posted an “Action Alert” — https://bit.ly/3qVHIkL — asking Catholics to write to their representatives and senators to urge them to vote against the Equality Act.

Some state Catholic conferences have done the same, including the Montana Catholic Conference. In a Feb. 24 “Call to Action,” it said: “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The Equality Act … in many ways does the opposite and needs to be opposed.”

Editor’s Note: The full text of the bishops’ letter to members of Congress can be found online at https://bit.ly/3dEDhXE.

 

Archbishop Jan Pawlowski, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State and papal delegate, celebrates Mass at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Plock, Poland, Feb. 22, 2021. The Mass marked the 90th anniversary of the first apparition of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska. (CNS photo/Katarzyna Artymiak)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Marking the 90th anniversary of the apparition of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Catholics in Poland expressing his hope that Christ’s message of divine mercy would remain “alive in the hearts of the faithful.”

According to a statement released by the Polish bishops’ conference Feb. 22, the anniversary of the apparition, the pope said he was united in prayer with those commemorating the anniversary at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow and encouraged them ask Jesus “for the gift of mercy.”

“Let us have the courage to come back to Jesus to meet his love and mercy in the sacraments,” he said. “Let us feel his closeness and tenderness, and then we will also be more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.”

In her diary, St. Faustina wrote that she had witnessed a vision of Jesus on Feb. 22, 1931, while she was living at a convent in Plock, Poland.

Christ, she wrote, had one hand raised in benediction and the other resting on his breast, from which emanated two rays of light. She said Christ demanded to have this image painted — along with the words “Jesus, I trust in you” — and venerated.

Her sainthood cause was opened in 1965 by then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, who — after his election to the papacy — would go on to beatify her in 1993 and preside over her canonization in 2000.

Recalling St. John Paul II’s devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska and Christ’s message of divine mercy, the pope said his predecessor was “the apostle of mercy” who “wanted the message of God’s merciful love to reach all inhabitants of earth.”

Pope Francis also marked the anniversary of the apparition during his Sunday Angelus address Feb. 21.

“Through St. John Paul II, this message reached the entire world, and it is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, and who gives us his father’s mercy,” the pope said.

“Let us open our heart, saying with faith, ‘Jesus, I trust in you,'” he said.

 

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington Jan. 10, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

TAKE ACTION: The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has a ‘Voter Voice’ message that can be sent to lawmakers. To send a message to your Representative and Senators in Washington, visit: https://www.pacatholic.org/resources/voter-voice/?vvsrc=%2fHome

 Bishops: If passed, Equality Act will ‘discriminate against people of faith’

WASHINGTON (CNS) — If the House of Representatives passes the Equality Act, its mandates will “discriminate against people of faith” by adversely affecting charities and their beneficiaries, conscience rights, women’s sports, “and sex-specific facilities,” said the chairmen of five U.S. bishops’ committees.

The bill, known as H.R. 5 and recently reintroduced in the House, also will provide for taxpayer funding of abortion and limit freedom of speech, the chairmen said in a Feb. 23 letter to all members of Congress.

H.R. 5 would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, the credit system and jury duty. The House was expected to vote on the measure before Feb. 26.

“Human dignity is central to what Catholics believe because every person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion,” they said, “This commitment is reflected in the church’s charitable service to all people, without regard to race, religion or any other characteristic.”

“It means we need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive,” they continued. “It also means that people of differing beliefs should be respected. In this, we wholeheartedly support nondiscrimination principles to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”

H.R. 5 “purports to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction or gender discordance from discrimination. But instead, the bill represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations,” they said.

“This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct,” they said. “As Pope Francis has reflected, however, ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex — gender — can be distinguished but not separated.'”

Signing the letter were: Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality,” the bishops said, further quoting Pope Francis.

“Tragically, this act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience,” the committee chairmen added.

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” they said. “It would also inflict numerous legal and social harms on Americans of any faith or none.”

The measure first passed the House May 17, 2019, in a bipartisan 236–173 vote, but the Senate did not act on the bill after receiving it. President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the measure if it ever reached his desk.

House leadership pledged to see it reintroduced in the 117th Congress. On Feb. 18, Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, reintroduced it. Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin are expected to reintroduce a Senate version soon.

The full text of the bishops’ letter to members of Congress can be found online at https://bit.ly/3dEDhXE

 

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Since childhood, the typical U.S. Catholic’s response to Lent is giving up, as in “What are you giving up for Lent?”

If you haven’t been keeping track, Catholics in the United States and worldwide — just about everyone, really — have been giving up a lot since the coronavirus pandemic struck 11 months ago, with no clearly defined end in sight. You would need the fingers on both hands to name some of the things that have been lost, not to mention nearly a half-million lives lost in the U.S. alone.

So, given all that, how should a Catholic approach Lent this year?

“Maybe this Lent isn’t the year to give up something, because we’re already doing it involuntarily,” said Marie Dennis, senior adviser to the secretary general of Pax Christi International.

It’s time, Dennis said, to “dig deeper and to think more deeply about what are the lessons that we’re learning from this pandemic. For example, how we’re treating the earth and about the racism and inequality in our own society and inequality around the world when we’re looking at who is being most hurt by the COVID pandemic.

“That would be my practice during Lent,” Dennis said. “That would be to remind myself of the really deep changes that need to be made in our society and in our world as move forth from this pandemic.”

“There is real discernment that is needed this Lent,” said Marian Diaz, a professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago who directs grants to aid Catholic professionals in ministry.

“Many people have been giving and sacrificing on behalf of others during this past year,” Diaz said. “And for those people, I would just ask them to consider what do they need to do to be able to sustain that service? If our God is a God of love who comes to serve us in our creation and incarnation, we also have to consider how we are serving our brothers and sisters, but also how we are serving ourselves. What must we do to sustain ourselves during this time?”

She added, “Maybe sometimes the call is to grow in love for ourselves and we have the supports around us that we need so that we can make it for the long haul in terms of whatever forms of love or service or ministry that is functioning in our life and we’re committed to.”

“I just want to really express empathy for the situation that we all are going through, and the difficulty, not only in terms of the pandemic but the political situation in our country and the situations in our world,” Diaz said.

“I’m beginning to think our best discipline for Lent would be along the lines of ‘Fratelli Tutti’ — a reflection on nonviolence as an ethic and not as some kind of namby-pamby way of avoiding conflict, but nonviolence as a strong, direct confrontation without violence to the violence that’s taking place,” said Franciscan Father Joe Nangle, former co-director of Franciscan Mission Service.

As a religious priest, Father Nangle said his vow of poverty doesn’t give him any special insights on the giving-up concept.

“If you try to live like St. Francis, you kill yourself in this society. It’s a tough call. I try to live simply and let it go at that,” he said. “I think that laypeople are living a much more life of poverty in many ways than many of us religious. I think religious life can be very, very comfortable, I think the average layperson struggles except for the 1%.”

“It has felt like a long Lent,” said Rose Marie Berger, a senior editor at Sojourners magazine, adding: “I started thinking about this a while back.” How far back? “I wrote my Lenten spirituality column four months ago.”

Berger, who told Catholic News Service she misses physically receiving the Eucharist the most, said: “Maybe Lent this year is not so much doing something extra, giving something extra, it’s more spending some deep time in contemplation in what has been taken from us, what we have been forced to sacrifice from the pandemic, what are the sacrifices others have made for us, and where have we been able to give in ways we hadn’t expected to — it’s a reflection on our almsgiving — and in what ways have prayed.”

“I’m a big proponent of what St. John of the Cross says: If you don’t find love, bring love, and then you’ll find it,” said Bishop William D. Byrne, recently installed to head the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. “And so, in this time where we’ve had so much taken away from us, and … to lose hope, to be discouraged, what we need to do is bring hope, and then we’re going to find it. Bring joy, and we’ll find it.”

Bishop Byrne said, “Let’s start with the blessings. It isn’t the negativity, but embrace the positive and bringing that to people each day. In order to do that, you have to look at the other two parts of Lent. There’s prayer and almsgiving. You can’t really bring positivity without prayer. Otherwise, it’s just play-acting.”

He added, “You’ve got to have something at the start of the day. Get your cup of coffee or tea, and get your rosary, get your prayer book and start. Make a conscious effort in the morning and say, ‘I am going to bring positivity to the people I’m going to meet this day. Disarm them with your joy, if you will. Bring hope where we’re feeling hopeless.”

Jesus can be our companion in our suffering, said Becky Eldredge, a spiritual director and author of “The Inner Chapel,” who is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I imagine Jesus him reminding us, ‘I’m here. I’m with y’all. Tell me what you’re going through. Tell me what you’re feeling. Engage me in it,'” she said.

Lent is “an invitation to fix our eyes on Christ right now, right? More than just a giving up, it’s a looking to Christ in the here and now,” Eldredge said.

She suggested “letting Christ draw as near as possible to our suffering. A lot of what I’ve been seeing in retreat work and in (spiritual) direction, we’re keeping Jesus a little at arm’s length, we’re not letting him come close to our suffering.”

Eldredge added Catholics can follow Jesus’ “model of doing for others — reminding people, ‘Hey, I’m here for you. Tell me, I can listen to you.’ Show people a fixed point in Christ.”

“In the pandemic, we’ve probably settled into some routines. Some good routines, probably there may have been some unhealthy routines that we’ve settled into,” said Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director assistant director of youth and young adult ministries in the the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Family, Marriage, Laity and Youth.

“If nothing else, it’s a good time to examine what we’ve settled into,” Jarzembowski said. “I know I’ve got some bad habits that have crept into my time. I’ve got the ‘COVID 19’ — I’ve gained 19 pounds. I’ve been more sedentary. I haven’t been as active because I can’t be.”

Lent, he added, is “a time for renewal, a time for reexamining. Lent is about giving up, but it’s a time of renewing, about making some new choices, making some resolutions, I look at it not so much as giving up as what can be renewed, what can be recharged.”

 

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, sprinkles ashes on the head of Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 17, 2021. (CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Lent is a time to reconsider the path one is taking in life and to finally answer God’s invitation to return to him with one’s whole heart, Pope Francis said.

“Lent is not just about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed,” he said, “toward God or toward myself?”

The pope’s remarks came in his homily at Mass Feb. 17 for Ash Wednesday, which included the blessing and distribution ashes, marking the beginning of Lent for Latin-rite Catholics.

Because of ongoing measures in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the Mass and distribution of ashes took place with a congregation of little more than 100 people at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis did not do the traditional walk from the Church of St. Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill to prevent large crowds of people from gathering along the route.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope received ashes on his head from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to about three dozen cardinals, as well as the priests and deacons assisting him at the Mass.

In his homily, the pope said one must bow to receive ashes sprinkled on the crown of the head, which reflects the “humble descent” one makes in reflecting on one’s life, sins and relationship with God.

“Lent is a journey of return to God,” especially when most people live each day ignoring or delaying their response to God’s invitation to pray and do something for others.

“It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends,” he said.

“The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom,” he said, noting the easy temptations along that journey, including yearning for the past, or hindered by “unhealthy attachments, held back by the seductive snares of our sins, by the false security of money and appearances, by the paralysis of our discontents. To embark on this journey, we have to unmask these illusions.”

The way back to God, he said, starts with understanding, like the prodigal son, how “we have ended up with empty hands and an unhappy heart” after squandering God’s gifts “on paltry things, and then with seeking God’s forgiveness through confession.

The pope again reminded confessors that they must be like the father in the story of the prodigal son and not use “a whip,” but open their arms in a welcoming embrace.

“The journey is not based on our own strength. Heartfelt conversion, with the deeds and practices that express it, is possible only if it begins with the primacy of God’s work” and through his grace, the pope said.

What makes people just is not the righteousness they show off to others, “but our sincere relationship with the Father,” after finally recognizing one is not self-sufficient, but in great need of him, his mercy and grace.

The pope asked people to contemplate daily the crucified Christ and see in his wounds, “our emptiness, our shortcomings, the wounds of our sin and all the hurt we have experienced.”

“We see clearly that God points his finger at no one, but rather opens his arms to embrace us,” he said.

It is in life’s most painful wounds, that God awaits with his infinite mercy because it is there “where we are most vulnerable, where we feel the most shame” and where he comes to meet his children again.

“And now,” the pope said, “he invites us to return to him, to rediscover the joy of being loved.”

 

 

A crown of thorns is seen at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, N.J. “Giving something up” for Lent is an act of penance and sacrifice that reminds us of Christ’s sacrifices for us. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Christians pray, fast and give alms during Lent, they also should consider giving a smile and offering a kind word to people feeling alone or frightened because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said.

“Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need,” the pope wrote in his message for Lent 2021.

The message, released by the Vatican Feb. 12, focuses on Lent as “a time for renewing faith, hope and love” through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And, by going to confession.

Throughout the message, Pope Francis emphasized how the Lenten practices not only promote individual conversion, but also should have an impact on others.

“By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others,” he said. “Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain.”

The pope’s message contained several references to his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

For example, he prayed that during Lent Catholics would be “increasingly concerned with ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,'” a quote from the encyclical.

“In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be ‘willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference,'” he said, again quoting the document.

The Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer were preached by Jesus and continue to help believers experience and express conversion, the pope wrote.

“The path of poverty and self-denial” through fasting, “concern and loving care for the poor” through almsgiving and “childlike dialogue with the Father” through prayer, he said, “make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”

Pope Francis emphasized the importance of fasting “as a form of self-denial” to rediscover one’s total dependence on God and to open one’s heart to the poor.

“Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down — like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false — in order to open the doors of our hearts to the one who comes to us, poor in all things, yet full of grace and truth: the son of God our savior.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presenting the message at a news conference, also insisted on the importance of “fasting and all forms of abstinence,” for example, by giving up “time watching TV so we can go to church, pray or say a rosary. It is only through self-denial that we discipline ourselves to be able to take the gaze off ourselves and to recognize the other, reckon with his needs and thus create access to benefits and goods for people,” ensuring respect for their dignity and rights.

Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffe, secretary of the dicastery, said that at a time of “anxiety, doubt and sometimes even despair” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lent is a time for Christians “to walk the way with Christ toward a new life and a new world, toward a new trust in God and in the future.”

 

Lazarus is depicted in stained-glass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 30, 2006. In a decree published Feb. 2, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said Pope Francis has approved adding the memorial of Martha, Mary and Lazarus to the General Roman Calendar. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Recognizing their welcome of and witness to Christ, Pope Francis has approved changing the liturgical feast of St. Martha to include her sister and brother, Mary and Lazarus, on the church’s universal calendar of feast days.

The names of Mary and Lazarus will be added to the July 29 feast on the General Roman Calendar, the universal schedule of holy days and feast days for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church.

The Vatican Feb. 2 published the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments’ decree ordering the change in calendars.

Signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the congregation’s prefect, the decree said Pope Francis approved the memorial for Martha, Mary and Lazarus after “considering the important evangelical witness they offered in welcoming the Lord Jesus into their home, in listening to him attentively, (and) in believing that he is the resurrection and the life.”

“In the household of Bethany, the Lord Jesus experienced the family spirit and friendship of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and for this reason the Gospel of John states that he loved them,” it said. “Martha generously offered him hospitality, Mary listened attentively to his words and Lazarus promptly emerged from the tomb at the command of the one who humiliated death.”

The decree explained that “the traditional uncertainty of the Latin church about the identity of Mary — the Magdalene to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection, the sister of Martha, the sinner whose sins the Lord had forgiven — which resulted in the inclusion of Martha alone on 29 July in the Roman Calendar, has been resolved in recent studies and times,” thus paving the way for celebrating the siblings in one memorial.

A separate congregation decree, also published Feb. 2, said the pope also approved the optional memorial of three doctors of the church: Sts. Gregory of Narek, a 10th-century Armenian monk; John of Avila, the famed 16th-century preacher, confessor and spiritual writer; and 12th-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

Mary Magdalene is pictured in a stained-glass window in the Church of St. Waudru in Mons, Belgium. In a decree published Feb. 2, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said Pope Francis approved adding the memorial of Martha, Mary and Lazarus to General Roman Calendar, the universal schedule of holy days and feast days for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. (CNS photo)

The saints, who hail from both the Eastern and Western church traditions, were declared doctors of the church for their important contributions to theology and spirituality.

In its decree, the congregation explained that those given the title of “doctor of the church” exemplify the “link between holiness and understanding things divine and also human.

“Indeed, the wisdom that characterizes these men and women is not solely theirs, since by becoming disciples of divine wisdom, they have themselves become teachers of wisdom for the entire ecclesial community,” it said. “It is in this light that the holy ‘doctors’ are inscribed in the General Roman Calendar.”

The optional memorial for St. Gregory of Narek will be celebrated Feb. 27, while those for Sts. John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen will be celebrated May 10 and Sept. 17, respectively.

There are currently 36 doctors of the church, including Sts. John Chrysostom, Augustine, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux.

 

A screen capture shows Pope Francis speaking during a Feb. 4, 2021, virtual meeting marking the International Day of Human Fraternity, a new effort to promote dialogue between cultures and religions. The pope was among several world and religious leaders who participated in the meeting. (CNS photo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The world must begin to realize its shared humanity in order to live peacefully, otherwise it risks falling apart in endless conflicts, Pope Francis said.

“Today, there is no time for indifference,” the pope said Feb. 4 at a virtual event commemorating the first International Day of Human Fraternity.

“We cannot wash our hands of it, with distance, with disregard, with contempt. Either we are brothers and sisters or everything falls apart. It is the frontier, the frontier on which we have to build; it is the challenge of our century, it is the challenge of our time,” he said.

The pope was among several world and religious leaders who took part in the Feb. 4 virtual event, which was hosted in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince.

Among those taking part in the online global meeting were Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, and António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations.

This is a promotional image for the Feb. 4 International Day of Human Fraternity. Pope Francis was among several world and religious leaders who participated in a virtual meeting Feb. 4 to mark the celebration, which has been established by the United Nations. (CNS photo/Vatican Newsm handout)

The date chosen for the event marks the day in 2019 that Pope Francis and Sheikh el-Tayeb signed a document on promoting dialogue and “human fraternity” during his apostolic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity was established after the pope’s visit to implement concrete proposals toward fraternity, solidarity and mutual understanding proposed in the document.

The event also included a presentation of the committee’s Zayed Award for Human Fraternity to Guterres and to Moroccan-born Latifa Ibn Ziaten.

Accepting the award, Guterres thanked Sheikh el-Tayeb and Pope Francis for “pushing humankind to come together in unity, in dialogue to promote peace, to promote fraternity, to promote the unity that is necessary to address all the challenges to defeat hate and to make sure that human solidarity wins the battles we are facing.”

Ziaten was honored for her work in France in promoting peace and dialogue to young people who often fall prey to extremist ideology. Ziaten established the Imad Association for Youth and Peace, which she founded after her son, a French soldier, was murdered in 2012 by a Muslim extremist in Toulouse.

Congratulating her for the award, the pope said that despite the pain of losing a child, Ziaten risked her life to “dare to say, ‘We are brothers and

This is the logo for the Feb. 4 International Day of Human Fraternity, a new effort to promote dialogue between cultures and religions. Pope Francis was among several world and religious leaders who participated in a virtual meeting Feb. 4 to mark the celebration, which has been established by the United Nations. (CNS photo/Vatican News, handout)

sisters’ and to sow words of love.”

“Thank you being the mother of your son, of so many boys and girls; for being a mother of this humanity that is listening to you, learning from you the path of fraternity,” he said.

Thanking the pope and Sheikh el-Tayeb for the award, Ziaten said the recognition “will really help me in my fight, my work today.

“I lost a son, but today I reach out to many children. Today I’m a second mother to many children I saved in detention centers, in homes, in schools so they don’t fall into hatred,” she said.

In his address, the pope began by greeting participants as “sisters and brothers” and affectionately greeted Sheikh el-Tayeb as “my brother, my friend, my companion in challenges and risks in the struggle for fraternity.”

The pope thanked the grand imam “for his company on the path of reflection and the drafting” of the document on human fraternity.

“Your testimony helped me a lot because it was a courageous testimony. I know it was not an easy task. But with you we could do it together and help each other. The most beautiful thing of all is that first desire of fraternity turned into true fraternity. Thank you, brother; thank you,” he said.

The pope also thanked Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, secretary-general of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, calling him “l’enfant terrible” of the project, a French expression meaning a successful person who uses unorthodox or innovative methods to achieve their goals.

The pope thanked Salam for his efforts and lauded him as “hard-working, full of ideas” and one “who helped us to move forward.”

Fraternity, he continued, not only means respecting and listening to others “with an open heart,” it also means remaining firm in one’s own convictions; otherwise “there is no true fraternity if one’s own convictions are negotiated.”

“We are brothers and sisters, born of the same father; with different cultures and traditions, but all brothers and sisters. And while respecting our different cultures and traditions, our different citizenships, we must build this fraternity, not negotiate it,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said the International Day of Human Fraternity was a moment of listening, of sincere acceptance and “of certainty that a world without brothers and sisters is a world of enemies.”

“It not only takes a war to make enemies,” the pope said. “It is enough with that technique — it has become a technique — that attitude of looking the other way, of getting rid of the other as if he or she didn’t exist.”