ATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis called for dialogue and cooperation between neighboring nations and appealed for restraint against any actions that could escalate tensions in the Middle East.

After missiles struck Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Jan. 15 and killed at least four people and wounded six, the pope expressed “my sympathy and solidarity with the victims, all civilians, of the rocket attack.”

Smoke rises over Gaza as seen from Israel Jan. 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Violence and attacks have spread throughout the Middle East region, including Iran’s launch of ballistic missiles late Jan. 15, 2024, on neighborhoods of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, which has left the Iraqi Catholic community feeling unsettled. (OSV News photo/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

“Good relations between neighbors are not built with such actions but with dialogue and cooperation,” he said Jan. 17 at the end of his general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

“I ask everyone to avoid any step that increases tension in the Middle East and other scenarios of war,” he added.

Iran launched 11 ballistic missiles late Jan. 15 at the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, targeting what it said were Israeli “spy headquarters” in Irbil and launched four other missiles at locations allegedly linked to the Islamic State group in northern Syria, according to the Associated Press.

Cardinal Louis Sako, the Iraq-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said the attack on innocent lives was “reckless and irresponsible,” “a blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty and people’s lives and a grave sin according to Islamic law.”

“The responsibility of states, their forums and peoples is to promote the values of peace and coexistence, and to achieve a dignified and happy life for citizens, and not to create wars and conflicts that do not bring peace,” he said in a statement published on the patriarchate’s website.

“The civilized method for resolving outstanding problems is dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” he added.

Meanwhile, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish region, told reporters Jan. 16 while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, “There is no reason for these attacks and there is no excuse,” according to the AP. “These attacks should not remain without a response.”

At his general audience, the pope asked people to not forget all countries in the world that are at war. “Let us not forget Ukraine, let us not forget Palestine, Israel, let us not forget the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who are suffering so much.”

“Let us pray for so many victims of war, so many victims. War always destroys, war does not sow love, it sows hatred. War is a true human defeat,” he said.



Lenten Holy Hour with Bishop Bambera

For the second consecutive year, all of the faithful in the Diocese of Scranton are invited to a Lenten Holy Hour with the Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, to commemorate the Year of Parish Revival for the National Eucharistic Revival.  These gatherings will take place in each of the twelve deaneries of the Diocese of Scranton.

The Lenten Holy Hour for our deanery, the Scranton Deanery, will take place on Wednesday, March 20, at 7 p.m., at Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish (Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church), 1217 Prospect Avenue, Scranton, PA 18505.

During the Year of Parish Revival, which lasts through June 2024, every parish in the country is being invited to offer opportunities to parishioners where they can be healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist – and then be sent out on mission “for the life of the world.”

Mark your calendars and plan on joining Bishop Bambera as we pray for renewal in our devotion to Jesus Christ present to us in the Eucharist. 


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The “first therapy” that must be offered to the sick, and to the world, is a dose of closeness, friendship and love, Pope Francis said in his message for the World Day of the Sick.

“We came into the world because someone welcomed us; we were made for love; and we are called to communion and fraternity,” he wrote in his message for the annual observance Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Pope Francis embraces a sick child during an audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 14, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A connection with other people “is what sustains us, above all at times of illness and vulnerability,” the 87-year-old pope wrote. “It is also the first therapy that we must all adopt in order to heal the diseases of the society in which we live.”

The theme chosen for the 2024 observance is from the Book of Genesis, “It is not good that man should be alone.” It was subtitled, “Healing the Sick by Healing Relationships.”

In his message, released Jan. 13, Pope Francis said Christians believe that “from the beginning, God, who is love, created us for communion and endowed us with an innate capacity to enter into relationship with others.”

“We were created to be together, not alone,” he wrote. “Precisely because this project of communion is so deeply rooted in the human heart, we see the experience of abandonment and solitude as something frightening, painful and even inhuman.”

Pope Francis recalled the horrible pain of loneliness endured by those who were sick or in nursing homes during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and had no contact with their loved ones.

“I share too in the pain, suffering and isolation felt by those who, because of war and its tragic consequences, are left without support and assistance,” he said. “War is the most terrible of social diseases, and it takes its greatest toll on those who are most vulnerable.”

But even in rich countries at peace, he said, “old age and sickness are frequently experienced in solitude and, at times, even in abandonment.”

When a culture emphasizes the individual, “exalts productivity at all costs, cultivates the myth of efficiency,” he said, it “proves indifferent, even callous, when individuals no longer have the strength needed to keep pace.”

“It then becomes a throwaway culture, in which ‘persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor or disabled, ‘not yet useful’ –like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly,'” he said, quoting his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

The pope said such thinking is reflected in “certain political decisions that are not focused on the dignity of the human person and his or her needs, and do not always promote the strategies and resources needed to ensure that every human being enjoys the fundamental right to health and access to healthcare.”

But, he said, the human dignity of sick and vulnerable also is abandoned when health care is seen simply as the provision of procedures and medication, rather than as caring for the whole person and involving the family in creating a network of support.

“Brothers and sisters,” he wrote, “the first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. To care for the sick thus means above all to care for their relationships, all of them: with God, with others — family members, friends, health care workers — with creation and with themselves.”

Addressing those who are ill, Pope Francis said: “Do not be ashamed of your longing for closeness and tenderness! Do not conceal it, and never think that you are a burden on others.”

And he called on all Catholics, “with the love for one another that Christ the Lord bestows on us in prayer, especially in the Eucharist,” to “tend to the wounds of solitude and isolation” found particularly among the sick.

“In this way,” the pope said, “we will cooperate in combating the culture of individualism, indifference and waste, and enable the growth of a culture of tenderness and compassion.”

Editor Note: The full text of the pope’s message in English can be found at:

At his General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square last week, Pope Francis called for this Friday, October 27, 2023, to be a Day of Fasting, Penance and Prayer for the intention of peace in the world, especially in Israel and Palestine.
In making his announcement, the Holy Father said that “war does not solve any problems, it only sows death and destruction. It increases hatred, multiples revenge. War erases the future.”
All clergy and lay faithful throughout the Diocese of Scranton are being encouraged to observe this Day of Fasting, Penance and Prayer for Peace.
Parishioners in the Diocese are always encouraged to join in person, or via our televised and livestream Daily Mass celebration from the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on Friday at 12:10 p.m.
Let us ask Our Lady, Queen of Peace, to intercede for us as we pray for peace in our world.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church must continue discerning its future by listening to everyone, starting with the poorest and excluded, after the assembly of the Synod of Bishops closes its first session, participants said in a letter addressed to the “People of God.”

The two-and-a-half-page letter published Oct. 25 recounted the spirit and activities of the assembly’s first session, held at the Vatican Oct. 4-29, and looked ahead to the assembly’s second session, expressing hope that the months leading up to October 2024 “will allow everyone to concretely participate in the dynamism of missionary communion indicated by the word ‘synod.'”

Participants in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops meeting in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Oct. 25, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“This is not about ideology, but about an experience rooted in the apostolic tradition,” the synod assembly wrote.

While the letter does not raise specific topics or questions to be addressed in the assembly’s next session — a synthesis report reflecting the work of the first session and next steps is expected to be published Oct. 28 — it did say that to “progress in its discernment, the church absolutely needs to listen to everyone, starting with the poorest.”

“It means listening to those who have been denied the right to speak in society or who feel excluded, even by the Church,” the letter said, specifying the need to listen to victims of racism, particularly Indigenous populations. “Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.”

The letter made special reference to the need for listening to the laity, catechists, children, the elderly, families and those who want to be involved in lay ministries and “participate in discernment and decision-making structures” of the church.

It also specified that the church must gather more experiences and testimonies from priests, bishops and consecrated persons, while being “attentive to all those who do not share her faith but are seeking the truth.”

The drafting of the letter was approved by the synod assembly and was discussed both during small group working sessions and among the entire assembly Oct. 23, the synod general secretariat said.

It began by recounting the “unprecedented experience” of men and women participating in discussions and exercising voting rights in a synod assembly by virtue of their baptism and not based on ordination.

The assembly, it said, took place in a “world in crisis, whose wounds and scandalous inequalities resonated painfully in our hearts, infusing our work with a particular gravity, especially since some of us come from countries where war rages.”

The letter also highlighted the “significant room for silence” made at the Pope Francis’ invitation, meant to “foster mutual listening and a desire for communion in the Spirit among us.”

“Trust,” the synod assembly wrote, is what “gives us the audacity and inner freedom that we experienced, not hesitating to freely and humbly express our convergences, differences, desires and questions.”

“Day by day, we felt the pressing call to pastoral and missionary conversion,” the assembly said. “For the Church’s vocation is to proclaim the Gospel not by focusing on itself, but by placing itself at the service of the infinite love with which God loved the world.”

The letter also shared that homeless people near St. Peter’s Square were asked about their expectations of the church on the occasion of the synod and they replied: “Love!”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis again called for the release of hostages taken from Israel by Hamas militants and for allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“I am always thinking about the serious situation in Palestine and Israel,” the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 25.

Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Oct. 25, 2023. (OSV News photo/Yasser Qudih, Reuters)

“I encourage the release of hostages and the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” he said, and “I continue to pray for those who suffer, to hope for avenues toward peace in the Middle East and martyred Ukraine and in other regions wounded by war.”

More than 200 people were believed to be held by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza after their attacks on Israel Oct. 7. While some aid was coming in from Egypt, Israel has imposed a full blockade on Gaza.

The pope spoke the morning after Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations, told the Security Council that although dialogue seems impossible right now, it is the “only viable option for a lasting end to the cycle of violence” that has plagued the Holy Land.

“Amidst the escalating violence, it is imperative for the authorities of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine to demonstrate audacity to renew their commitment toward a peace based on justice and respect for the legitimate aspirations of both sides,” said the archbishop.

“The Holy See remains convinced that the two-state solution still offers hope for such a peace,” he said during a Security Council open debate Oct. 24 on “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.”

“In the most absolute terms and unequivocally,” the archbishop said, the Holy See condemns “the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas and other armed groups” against Israel.

“Thousands were barbarically killed and wounded. Others were taken hostage,” he said. “These crimes demonstrate utter contempt for human life and are unjustifiable,” he said, repeating the pope’s call for the release of hostages.

The “distressing escalation of violence,” the archbishop said, has caused “deplorable levels of suffering” in a land that is “so dear to Christians, Jews and Muslims.”

At the same time, Archbishop Caccia said that “the criminal responsibility for terrorist acts is always personal and can never be attributed to an entire nation or people,” for example, by blaming all Palestinians or even all the people of Gaza for the actions of Hamas and allied groups.

Israel’s right self-defense, like the right of every nation attacked, “must always comply with international humanitarian law, including the principle of proportionality,” he said.

The Vatican is seriously concerned about the “unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza, which has claimed thousands of lives and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. Israel’s “total siege” of the territory is causing “indiscriminate suffering among the population, including due to shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies.”

Archbishop Caccia repeated Pope Francis’ call for “the urgent facilitation and the continuation of humanitarian corridors so that aid can reach the entire population.”

(OSV News) – Amid wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, this year’s World Mission Sunday is “even more important” than ever, said an executive from the U.S. offices of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The universal Catholic Church marked the observance Oct. 22, and the collection taken up that day forms the primary financial support for the societies, which have a presence in some 1,100 dioceses in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific Islands and parts of Europe.

Lay missionary Josseline Montes Jiménez, right, teaches religious acclamations to members of Los Monckis, a street gang, during a May 18, 2023, visit to their hangout in Monterrey, Mexico. (OSV News photo/Nuri Vallbona, Global Sisters Report)

Pope Francis’ theme for the 2023 World Mission Sunday was “Hearts on fire, feet on the move,” which recalls the encounter between two disciples and the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35).

In an Oct. 18 message he recorded for the Pontifical Mission Societies and posted by the societies on X (formerly Twitter), Pope Francis said that World Mission Sunday was about “worship and mission.”

Speaking in Spanish, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “recognize the Father and worship him in spirit and truth, and go out to announce that message. Not as one who proselytizes, but as one who shares a great grace.”

He described it as a mission “shared with brothers,” that says “this is what I feel, this is the grace I received, I pass it on to you, I give it to you.

“You can do this if you are capable of worshipping,” said Pope Francis.

With “the ongoing situation in the world,” World Mission Sunday “should actually open us to be even more generous,” Ines San Martin, vice president of marketing and communications for the societies’ U.S. office, told OSV News from Rome ahead of the observance. “Now more than ever, the church in the Holy Land needs us, the church in Ukraine needs us.”

“The oldest church has to help the youngest church currently suffering so much due to the devastation of war. We at TPMS strive to model peace by supporting all those suffering from conflicts around the world,” Msgr. Kieran Harrington, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said.

The societies’ worldwide network, which operates at the service of the pope, consists of four organizations designated as pontifical by Pope Pius XI in 1922.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith supports the evangelization efforts of the local church; the Missionary Childhood Association educates children about their part in the church’s missionary outreach; the Society of St. Peter the Apostle trains the next generation of missionary clergy and consecrated religious; and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious focuses on forming clergy, religious and pastoral leaders more deeply in their role as evangelizers.

The collection taken up on World Mission Sunday forms the primary financial support for the Pontifical Mission Societies, with U.S. Catholics donating about $30 million in 2022.

The generosity of the nation’s Catholic faithful “cannot be underscored (enough),” said San Martin.

“World Mission Sunday is a concrete response to what is happening in the world,” she said.

Cardinal Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the U.S., noted in a reflection for the autumn 2023 issue of Mission magazine, published by the societies, that the collection makes it possible “to provide annual subsidies to missionary dioceses, and to directly support mission seminaries and religious formation houses, the education of children in mission schools, the building of chapels and churches, as well as sustaining homes for orphaned children, the elderly and the sick.”

The support is far more than financial, said San Martin.

“When we say that (the societies) feed the poor, we do mean hunger, but we also mean the hunger of the soul,” said San Martin. “And World Mission Sunday is a great response to give peace — not just material peace, but also spiritual peace to those in need.”

Having a missionary spirit “means we truly are open to our brothers and sisters, and (we are) sharing with others the joy that comes from having met Christ,” she said.

That joy can help to build peace among communities and nations, San Martin said.

“Do you really hate your brother when you see Christ in him?” she said.

Yet “the problem is that we have in many ways given up our missionary animations,” San Martin admitted. “It should be a desperate need (for us) to go out and spread the Gospel, to really answer the great command (of Christ) to make disciples of all nations.”

World Mission Sunday is an opportunity for Catholics to recommit themselves to fulfilling that task, she said, adding “it truly does start with knowing that Jesus died for us to save us.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – St. Thérèse of Lisieux, long one of Pope Francis’ favorite saints, teaches Christians “the little way” of love, self-giving, concern for others and complete trust in the mercy of God, the pope said in a new document.

“At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he wrote. “In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.”

Pope Francis carries a white rose as he approaches a reliquary containing the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux before the start of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 7, 2023. He announced he was planning on issuing an apostolic letter dedicated to her for the 150th anniversary of her birth. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Published Oct. 15, the pope’s letter is titled, “C’est la Confiance,” the opening words of her phrase, “It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to Love.”

The papal letter is subtitled, “On confidence in the merciful love of God.”

“At a time of great complexity, she can help us rediscover the importance of simplicity, the absolute primacy of love, trust and abandonment, and thus move beyond a legalistic or moralistic mindset that would fill the Christian life with rules and regulations and cause the joy of the Gospel to grow cold,” the pope wrote.

In the letter, the pope explained that he chose not to release the document on her feast day, Oct. 1, or the 150th anniversary of her birth last Jan. 2 or the 100th anniversary of her beatification, which was celebrated in April, because he wanted to “transcend” those celebrations and emphasize how her life and writings are part of the “spiritual treasury” of the church.

Pope Francis has spoken often about his devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who also is known by her religious name, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, or as St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, because she described herself as a little flower in God’s garden.

But there is another flower connection as well. While still archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis told journalist Sergio Rubin in 2010, “When I have a problem I ask the saint, not to solve it, but to take it in her hands and help me accept it, and, as a sign, I almost always receive a white rose.”

And the pope closed his new exhortation with a prayer: “Dear St. Thérèse, the church needs to radiate the brightness, the fragrance and the joy of the Gospel. Send us your roses! Help us to be, like yourself, ever confident in God’s immense love for us, so that we may imitate each day your ‘little way’ of holiness.”

Although she died at the age of 24 in a cloistered convent, her passion for sharing the Gospel through her prayers and example led Pope Pius XI to declare her patroness of the missions in 1927, and her writings led St. John Paul II to proclaim her a doctor of the church in 1997.

“In the heart of Thérèse,” Pope Francis wrote, “the grace of baptism became this impetuous torrent flowing into the ocean of Christ’s love and dragging in its wake a multitude of brothers and sisters. This is what happened, especially after her death. It was her promised ‘shower of roses.'”

The “little way” of St. Thérèse is a path to holiness anyone can follow, the pope said. It is about recognizing one’s own smallness and trusting completely in God’s mercy.

“This is the ‘sweet way of love’ that Jesus sets before the little and the poor, before everyone. It is the way of true happiness,” the pope said.

In place of a notion of holiness that is individualistic and elitist, one “more ascetic than mystical, that primarily emphasizes human effort,” he said, “Thérèse always stresses the primacy of God’s work, his gift of grace,” trusting that he would bring her to heaven one day.

Even in speaking about the Eucharist, her desire to receive Communion took second place to “the desire of Jesus to unite himself to us and to dwell in our hearts,” the pope said. “Her gaze remained fixed not on herself and her own needs, but on Christ, who loves, seeks, desires and dwells within.”

In his exhortation, Pope Francis focused on St. Thérèse’s reflection of St. Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ with each part or member having a role to play in the functioning of the entire body.

But she did not see herself as the foot or the ear or the eye or the hand, as described in First Corinthians, the pope said. “In the heart of the church, my mother, I shall be love,” she wrote.

“This heart was not that of a triumphalistic church, but of a loving, humble and merciful church,” the pope wrote. “Thérèse never set herself above others but took the lowest place together with the Son of God, who for our sake became a slave and humbled himself, becoming obedient, even to death on a cross.”

Rediscovering love as the heart of the church can be “a great source of light” for Catholics today, Pope Francis said. “It preserves us from being scandalized by the limitations and weaknesses of the ecclesiastical institution with its shadows and sins, and enables us to enter into the church’s ‘heart burning with love,’ which burst into flame at Pentecost thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“It is that heart whose fire is rekindled with each of our acts of charity,” he wrote. “‘I shall be love.’ This was the radical option of Thérèse, her definitive synthesis and her deepest spiritual identity.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In a visit of under 30 hours to Marseille, France, Pope Francis highlighted his key appeals and positions concerning migration and the mandate for people of faith to care for the “stranger” in one’s land.

With just four main events and accompanying speeches, “I hope I have the courage to say everything I have to say,” he told the journalists flying with him from Rome for the Sept. 22-23 trip.

Pope Francis presides over Mass at the Vélodrome Stadium for Mass in Marseille, France, Sept. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

What he said, in essence, has been the main thrust of his whole pontificate: The world must choose either the path of human fraternity and cooperation to have any kind of peaceful future or choose the downward spiral of indifference, division and confrontation. And, most importantly, the faithful must be exemplary models of the right path of sharing and caring for the outcast with joy and compassion.

The trip to the port city of Marseille was less about the city or nation and more about the Mediterranean Sea it touches.

The Mediterranean has been a constant concern of this pope. It is the most dangerous migration route in the world, according to the International Organization for Migration. The minimum estimated number of recorded deaths between 2014 and 2022 is more than 24,000 people.

No other place comes close: minimum estimates for the same period for the Sahara Desert are 5,323 fatalities, and the estimate for the U.S.-Mexico border crossing stands at 3,761 people dead.

“We need deeds, not words,” Pope Francis said during a powerful moment when he led a minute of silence with bishops from around the Mediterranean, local religious leaders and groups assisting migrants.

All migrants are people who have names, faces, hopes and dreams, he said at a memorial overlooking the sea, and those “who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued. It is a duty of humanity; it is a duty of civilization!”

The pope praised humanitarian groups that carry out rescue missions and condemned those who block them; opponents claim the groups encourage people to attempt illegal crossings. The pope said impeding these rescue efforts are “gestures of hatred against one’s brother” and he appealed for “balance.”

The cultural and religious diversity on display at the memorial ceremony and in Marseille underlined another important message of the pope: diversity can be an opportunity, not a threat. He praised the city’s long-standing active dedication to interreligious dialogue and mutual cooperation on concrete issues promoting fraternity and peaceful coexistence.

Like a handful of other trips, the prime purpose of the pope’s visit was to encourage a major event being held there; in this case, it was part of a church-led series of meetings that brings bishops from around the Mediterranean region together with a variety of other leaders and young people.

The meetings, which began in Bari, Italy, in 2020, recognize that the complex problems of migration, human trafficking, environmental degradation, conflict and economic disparities between North and South require strategies and solutions that involve multiple nations and sectors of society.

In a lengthy speech at the final session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” at the Pharo Palace Sept. 23, the pope covered all of that as well as some hot-button political issues.

The duty to protect the dignity and foster the well-being of every migrant is no different from the duty to protect the unborn, the elderly, young people who lack guidance, exploited workers, families and those who are escaping violence and persecution, he said, effectively condemning moves or current measures to support abortion, “assisted dying,” cutbacks to social or economic opportunities and to not recognize the rights of refugees or deny them full citizenship.

“Indeed, the real social evil is not so much the increase of problems, but the decrease of care,” especially for the most vulnerable, he said.

When it comes to migration, people have the right to not have to flee their homes, he said in that speech, and this calls for greater global justice.

“The Mediterranean mirrors the world,” he said, with the North exuding “affluence, consumerism and waste” while the South or developing countries are “plagued by instability, regimes, wars and desertification” and look to who are well-off.

The change needed for “peace to take root,” he said, is for communities to treat newcomers as brothers and sisters, “not as troublesome problems,” to integrate them and give them dignity through coordinated, equitable, legal and regular channels of entry.

His other message in Marseille was for the faithful. He asked bishops to be joyful and merciful helpers, eager to lift the burdens of “a weary and wounded humanity.”

He asked priests at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde to be like Jesus, looking at people, not to judge, but to lift them up, and to help “free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges and fears against which they cannot prevail alone.”

The pope’s final event, a huge joyful Mass in the city’s Vélodrome Stadium Sept. 23, gave him the chance to renew people’s hope and trust in God, who “makes possible even what seems impossible.”

Given so many challenges and needs in today’s world, Christians, more than ever, need to trust in the Lord, see his work in the world and be moved by his Spirit to help others.

With so much indifference, insensitivity “to everything and everyone,” selfishness, cynicism and sadness in the world, he said, “our life and the life of the church, France and Europe need this: the grace of a leap forward, a new leap in faith, charity and hope.”

The trip was a prelude to the Sept. 24 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which was celebrated in Marseille by Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Echoing the pope’s words, he said in his homily that the world must commit to ensuring migration pathways that are “orderly and safe, guaranteeing that everyone’s rights and dignity are respected. This requires knocking on doors, expanding regular migration channels and the chance to become ‘full citizens.'”

“Because all have in common the same hope: to be able to guarantee a dignified life for themselves and their families,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis said he knows people wonder why he traveled close to 6,000 miles to Mongolia to visit a Catholic community of only 1,450 people.

“Because it is precisely there, far from the spotlight, that we often find the signs of the presence of God, who does not look at appearances, but at the heart,” he told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience Sept. 6.

Pope Francis smiles at visitors at the end of his talk about his four-day trip to Mongolia during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 6, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Following his usual practice of speaking about a trip at the first audience after his return, the pope said that during his Sept. 1-4 stay the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, he encountered “a humble and joyful church, which is in the heart of God,” but one that was excited to find itself at the center of the universal church’s attention for a few days.

“I have been to the heart of Asia, and it has done me good,” the pope said.

The missionaries who arrived in Mongolia in 1992 “did not go there to proselytize,” the pope said. “They went to live like the Mongolian people, to speak their language, the language of the people, to learn the values of that people and to preach the Gospel in a Mongolian style, with Mongolian words.”

The universality of the Catholic Church, he said, is not something that “homogenizes” the faith.

“This is catholicity: an embodied universality, which embraces the good where it is found and serves the people with whom it lives,” the pope said. “This is how the church lives: bearing witness to the love of Jesus meekly, with life before words, happy with its true riches, which are service to the Lord and to our brothers and sisters.”

The Catholic Church recognizes God at work in the world and in other people, he said. Its vision, and its heart, is as expansive as the sky over the Mongolian steppe.

The international group of missionaries working in Mongolia have discovered “the beauty already there,” he said. “I, too, was able to discover something of this beauty” by meeting people, listening to their stories and “appreciating their religious quest.”

“Mongolia has a great Buddhist tradition, with many people who live their religiosity in a sincere and radical way, in silence, through altruism and mastery of their own passions,” the pope said. “Just think of how many hidden seeds of goodness make the garden of the world flourish, while we usually only hear about the sound of falling trees!”

People naturally notice the noisy and scandalous, the pope said, but Christians must try to discern and recognize what is good in others and in the world around them.

“Only in this way, starting from the recognition of what is good, can we build a common future,” he said. “Only by valuing others can we help them improve.”

Pope Francis said one thing that was very clear was how the Mongolian people “cherish their roots and traditions, respect the elderly and live in harmony with the environment.”

“Thinking of the boundless and silent expanses of Mongolia, let us be stirred by the need to extend the confines of our gaze — please, extend the confines, look wide and high, look and don’t fall prisoner to little things,” the pope said. That is the only way “to see the good in others and be able to broaden our horizons and also to broaden our hearts to understand and to be close to every people and every civilization.”



ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (CNS) – Greeted with “aaruul,” a dried yogurt cheese, which he tried, Pope Francis arrived in Ulaanbaatar for a four-day visit.

A boy gives Pope Francis scarves as he arrives at the headquarters of the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Sept. 1, 2023. Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the prefect, will host the pope at the prefecture during his four-day visit to the country. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

After the nine-hour, overnight flight from Rome, the pope’s arrival Sept. 1 was low key. Battsetseg Batmunkh, Mongolia’s foreign minister, met him at Chinggis Khaan International Airport and had a brief meeting with him in the airport VIP lounge.

Afterward, the pope was driven into the city for a day of rest at the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Mongolia, the Apostolic Prefecture of Ulaanbaatar.

During his flight from Rome, the pope, who had said he was going to the “heart of Asia,” told reporters traveling with him that Mongolia is a vast country with a very small population and a great culture that needs to be understood more with the senses than with the intellect. He also suggested they listen to the music of 19th-century Russian composer Alexander Borodin, who wrote “In the Steppes of Central Asia.”

The ITA plane carrying the pope flew over northern China rather than over Russia, giving the pope an opportunity to send greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping, keeping with the custom of sending a telegram as he flies over a country.

“I send greetings of good wishes to your excellency and the people of China as I pass through your country’s airspace enroute to Mongolia,” the papal telegram said. “Assuring you of my prayers for the well-being of the nation, I invoke upon all of you the divine blessings of unity and peace.”

The Vatican and China have had a rocky relationship for decades, and tensions have continued even since Pope Francis and Chinese leaders first signed an agreement in 2018 on the naming of bishops for Chinese dioceses.

In fact, in July Pope Francis regularized a bishop who had been appointed by the government in April without consulting the Vatican, an appointment that drew a Vatican protest. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Vatican later recognized the appointment for the “greater good of the diocese.”

Researchers estimate China has about 12 million Catholics, who are split between those whose leaders have joined the patriotic association and those who refuse to do so. The U.S. State Department and a variety of human rights organizations continue to report excessive restrictions and even persecution of religious believers in China, including Catholics.

Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong was expected to lead a delegation of Hong Kong Catholics to Ulaanbaatar for the papal visit. Catholic missionaries in Mongolia also expected some Catholics from mainland China to arrive to see the pope, although America magazine reported Aug. 31 that a department of the Communist Party issued an order forbidding bishops and faithful from crossing the border for the papal visit.

Also during the flight to Mongolia, a Spanish journalist gave Pope Francis a canteen riddled with bullet holes. A priest in Lviv, Ukraine, had sent her the canteen, explaining that the soldier who was carrying it was hit by Russian machine-gun fire and survived. He donated the canteen to the parish. Pope Francis blessed the canteen, which will be returned to the church.

Pope Francis also was asked about his comment that there is a strong, reactionary element in the Catholic Church in the United States; the comments made to Jesuits in Portugal at the beginning of August were published later by the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica.

The pope said he knew some people were upset by the remarks, but the church must keep moving forward.