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.

 

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.

 

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.”

A Vatican stamp commemorates Pope Francis’ meeting with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, at the main synagogue in Rome Jan. 17, 2016. (CNS photo/Vatican stamp and coin office)

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ ongoing efforts to promote interreligious dialogue will be highlighted in a new series of Vatican stamps.

The series, which will be released in late February, feature photographs of some of the pope’s meetings over the past six years with leaders of other world religions.

At the end of his weekly general audience Feb. 3, Pope Francis praised the decision of the United Nations to mark an International Day of Human Fraternity Feb. 4.

“I am very pleased that the nations of the entire world are joining in this celebration aimed at promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” the pope said. The U.N. resolution establishing the day “recognizes ‘the contribution that dialogue among all religious groups can make toward an improved awareness and understanding of the common values shared by all humankind.’ May this be our prayer today and our commitment every day of the year.”

The Vatican Philatelic Office said the stamp series illustrates Pope Francis’ teaching in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” that, as the encyclical said, “the different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society.”

A Vatican stamp commemorates Pope Francis’ meeting with Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, supreme patriarch of Thailand’s Buddhist community, in Bangkok Nov. 21, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican stamp and coin office)

“Dialogue between the followers of different religions does not take place simply for the sake of diplomacy, consideration or tolerance. In the words of the bishops of India, ‘the goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love,'” the pope wrote in the encyclical.

The stamp series marks the beginning of the ninth year of Pope Francis’ pontificate, which begins March 13.

The four designs in the series show: The pope’s January 2016 meeting with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome; his February 2019 meeting with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university; Pope Francis’ November 2019 meeting with Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, supreme patriarch of Thailand’s Buddhist community; and his January 2015 meeting with Ndu-Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva, a Hindu leader, in Sri Lanka.

 

Pope Francis greets people during an encounter with the elderly in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 28, 2014, file photo. During his Jan. 31 Sunday Angelus, the pope announced the establishment of a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis announced the establishment of a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly as a reminder of the important role they play as a link between generations.

During his Sunday Angelus address Jan. 31, the pope said the day will be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday of July to coincide with the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents. The first celebration of this day will be July 25.

“It is important for grandparents to meet their grandchildren and for grandchildren to meet their grandparents because — as the prophet Joel says — grandparents, before their grandchildren, will dream and have great desires, and young people — taking strength from their grandparents — will go forward and prophesy,” he said.

Highlighting the Feb. 2 feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the pope said the recognition of Christ as the Messiah by the elderly Simeon and Anna is a reminder that “the Holy Spirit still stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today.”

“Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples,” he said. “They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”

“Grandparents are often forgotten and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on,” he added.

In a statement published shortly after the pope’s announcement, Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, said the yearly event was “a gift to the whole church” that emphasizes the pastoral care of the elderly as “a priority that can no longer be postponed by any Christian community.”

“In the encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ the Holy Father reminds us that no one is saved alone. With this in mind, we must treasure the spiritual and human wealth that has been handed down from generation to generation,” he said.

Cardinal Farrell added that “today, more than ever, we are committed to making every effort to dismantle the throwaway culture and to enhance the charisms of grandparents and the elderly.”

The dicastery said Pope Francis will mark the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly July 25 with an evening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. However, the Mass will be “subject to sanitary regulations in place at the time.”

“Closer to the world day, the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life will announce any further initiatives that will mark the event,” the statement said. “As of now, the dicastery is inviting parishes and dioceses around the world to celebrate this world day at the local level in ways that are suited to their pastoral context.”

 

The Vatican health service began vaccinating employees, residents and retirees with the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 13, 2021, in a makeshift clinic set up in the atrium of the Vatican audience hall. Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI have both said they will be vaccinated. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Both Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI have received the first dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 after the Vatican started vaccinating its employees and residents Jan. 13.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, confirmed the news Jan. 14.

While it was reported widely that Pope Francis received the vaccine Jan. 13, the retired pope’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, told Vatican News that Pope Benedict received his shot the morning of Jan. 14.

The archbishop had told the German Catholic news agency KNA Jan. 11 that the 93-year-old pope, who lives in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens, and his entire household staff wanted to be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine was available in Vatican City State.

He told Vatican News that the retired pope has been following the news “on television, and he shares our concerns about the pandemic, about what is happening in the world, about the many people who have lost their life because of the virus.”

“There have been people he knows who have died because of COVID-19,” he added.

Archbishop Ganswein said the retired pope is still very sharp mentally but that his voice and physical strength have weakened. “He is very frail and only can walk a little with a walker.”

He rests more, “but we still go out every afternoon, despite the cold, in the Vatican Gardens,” he added.

The Vatican’s vaccination program was voluntary. The Vatican health service was giving priority to its health care workers, security personnel, employees who deal with the public and older residents, employees and retirees.

In early December, Dr. Andrea Arcangeli, director of the Vatican health service, said they would begin with the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with BioNTech.

Pope Francis had said in a television interview broadcast Jan. 10 that he too would be vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as it was available.

He said that he believed that from an ethical point of view, everyone should take the vaccine because those who did not would not only put their own lives at risk, but also the lives of others.

In a press release Jan. 2, the Vatican’s health services department said it purchased an “ultra-low temperature refrigerator” for storing the vaccines and said it expected to receive enough doses to cover “the needs of the Holy See and Vatican City State.”

The Vatican reported its first known case of infection in early March, and since then there have been another 25 reported cases — including 11 Swiss guards in October.

Pope Francis’ personal doctor died Jan. 9 of complications caused by COVID-19. Fabrizio Soccorsi, 78, had been admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital Dec. 26 because of cancer, according to the Italian Catholic agency SIR, Jan. 9.

However, he died because of “pulmonary complications” caused by COVID-19, the agency said, without providing further details.

 

Pope Francis walks near a figurine of the baby Jesus as he celebrates Mass on the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 6, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In times of doubt and suffering, Christians must not focus on their problems, but instead lift up their eyes to God, who leads them toward the hopeful promise of great things to come, Pope Francis said on the feast of the Epiphany.

“This does not mean denying reality, or deluding ourselves into thinking that all is well. Rather, it is a matter of viewing problems and anxieties in a new way, knowing that the Lord is aware of our troubles, attentive to our prayers and not indifferent to the tears we shed,” the pope said.

The pope celebrated Mass with a little over 100 people, all wearing masks and seated socially distanced from each other, at the Altar of the Chair St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6.

In accordance with an ancient tradition, after the proclamation of the Gospel on Epiphany, a singer from the Sistine Choir chanted the announcement of the date of Easter 2021 (April 4) and the dates of other feasts on the church calendar that are calculated according to the date of Easter.

After celebrating Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus in the library of the Apostolic Palace.

In his Angelus address, the pope said that Christ is “the star who appeared on the horizon, the awaited Messiah, the one through whom God would inaugurate his kingdom of love, of justice and of peace.

“He was born not only for some, but for all men and women, for all peoples,” the pope said.

Christians, he added, “must also be the star for our brothers and sisters” and shine bright “by drawing near to the other, encountering the other, assuming the reality of the other. This is the only way that the light of God, who is love, can shine in those who welcome it and attract others.”

“Woe to us if we think we possess it, that we only need to ‘manage’ it!” he exclaimed. “Like the Magi, we too are called to allow ourselves to be fascinated, attracted, guided, illuminated and converted by Christ.”

Earlier, in his homily at Mass, the pope focused on three phrases proclaimed in the day’s readings that offered “a few useful lessons from the Magi” on “what it means to be worshippers of the Lord.”

“Like them, we want to bow down and worship the Lord,” he said.

Reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, the pope said the words of encouragement — “lift up your eyes” — spoken to the exiled people of Israel are a call to “lay aside their weariness and complaints, to escape the bottleneck of a narrow way of seeing things, to cast off the dictatorship of the self, the constant temptation to withdraw into ourselves and our own concerns.”

Trusting in the Lord, despite problems, gives rise to gratitude, he said, and “our hearts become open to worship.”

On the other hand, he said, focusing exclusively on problems and not looking to God for hope causes “fear and confusion to creep into our hearts, giving rise to anger, bewilderment, anxiety and depression.”

“When we lift up our eyes to God, life’s problems do not go away, but we feel certain that the Lord grants us the strength to deal with them,” the pope said. “The first step toward an attitude of worship, then, is to ‘lift up our eyes.'”

The second phrase — “to set out on a journey” — recalls the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem to worship baby Jesus, he continued.

A journey, he said, always sparks a “transformation, a change” in which one learns new things and finds “inner strength amid the hardships and risks” he or she may encounter along the way.

“Like the Magi, we too must allow ourselves to learn from the journey of life, marked by the inevitable inconveniences of travel,” he said. “We cannot let our weariness, our falls and our failings discourage us.”

Even one’s sins, when one recognizes and repents of them, “will help you to grow,” the pope added.

Pope Francis said the final phrase — “to see” — invites Christians to look “beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive,” and instead follow the example of the Magi who observed the world with a “theological realism” that allowed them to perceive “the objective reality of things and leads to the realization that God shuns all ostentation.”

It is “a way of ‘seeing’ that transcends the visible and makes it possible for us to worship the Lord who is often hidden in everyday situations, in the poor and those on the fringes,” the pope said. It is “a way of seeing things that is not impressed by sound and fury, but seeks in every situation the things that truly matter.”