VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People must end the “senseless war against creation” and help victims of environmental and climate injustice, Pope Francis said.

“We must do this by resolving to transform our hearts, our lifestyles and the public policies ruling our societies,” the pope said in his message for the 2023 World Day of Prayer for Creation.

The Flathead River flows near Glacier National Park in Montana in this file photo from July 2016. In his message for the 2023 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis said that when the faithful keep “a right relationship with God, humanity and nature, then justice and peace can flow like a never-failing stream of pure water, nourishing humanity and all creatures.” (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden)

Some injustices needing immediate responses are “economic policies that promote scandalous wealth for a privileged few and degrading conditions for many others,” the continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures, and “predatory industries” depleting and polluting freshwater sources, he wrote in his message.

The World Day of Prayer for Creation, which will be celebrated Sept. 1, marks the start of the ecumenical Season of Creation. The season concludes Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology. The theme for 2023 is “Let justice and peace flow,” based on the verse from Book of Amos (5:24), “Let justice surge like waters and righteousness like an unfailing stream.”

The verse describes how God wants justice to reign and to “flow forth wherever it is needed,” the pope said in his message.

“God wants everyone to strive to be just in every situation, to live according to his laws and thus to enable life to flourish,” he wrote. When the faithful keep “a right relationship with God, humanity and nature, then justice and peace can flow like a never-failing stream of pure water, nourishing humanity and all creatures.”

The pope recalled his visit to the shores of Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta, Canada, in July 2022, and how many generations of Indigenous peoples found consolation and strength there. It is imperative, he added, that people “harmonize our own rhythms of life with those of creation, which gives us life.”

Unfortunately, he wrote, the heartbeats of so many people do not beat in harmony with the heartbeat of creation and God; “they are not harmonized in justice and peace.”

Too many people “are prevented from drinking from that mighty river,” the pope wrote. “Let us heed our call to stand with the victims of environmental and climate injustice and to put an end to the senseless war against creation.”

Some effects of that war include polluted waterways and rivers drying up, he wrote.

“Consumerist greed, fueled by selfish hearts, is disrupting the planet’s water cycle,” he wrote. “The unrestrained burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests are pushing temperatures higher and leading to massive droughts.”

“Moreover, predatory industries are depleting and polluting our freshwater sources through extreme practices such as fracking for oil and gas extraction, unchecked mega-mining projects and intensive animal farming,” he added.

Christians can “contribute to the mighty river of justice and peace in this season of creation” by transforming hearts, lifestyles and public policies, he wrote.

Individuals must rediscover creation as a gift of love from God and repent of their own personal “ecological sins,” he said in his message. “Let us adopt lifestyles marked by less waste and unnecessary consumption,” put an end to unjust economic policies and phase out fossil fuel development and dependency.

World leaders who will gather for the COP28 summit in Dubai Nov. 30-Dec. 12, he wrote, “must listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel.”

Based on the commitments nations made with the Paris Agreement to restrain global warming, “it is absurd to permit the continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructures,” he added.

“We can and we must prevent the worst from happening,” Pope Francis said. People must come together “like so many streams, brooks and rivulets, merging finally in a mighty river to irrigate the life of our marvelous planet and our human family for generations to come.”

“Let us join hands and take bold steps to ‘let justice and peace flow’ throughout our world,” he wrote.

Presenting the pope’s message at a news conference at the Vatican May 25, Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, provided a few examples of what people can do.

He said people can: organize community screenings of the film, “The Letter: A Message for Our Earth,” which is available free on YouTube Originals and; join the Laudato Si’ Action Platform at; and join networks such as Caritas and the Laudato Si’ Movement.

Tomás Insua, executive director of the Laudato Si’ Movement, said at the news conference that “while most other global leaders, particularly the most powerful ones, remain lukewarm and subservient in way too many cases to corporate interests, Pope Francis continues to be a beacon of moral leadership on this critical issue.”




SEPTEMBER 9-10, 2023

For the last several years, the Diocese of Scranton has been working proactively to address the realities of our local church while striving to meet the opportunities and challenges of the coming decade. The Diocese created its Vision 2030 Pastoral Planning Process in order to create vibrant expressions of parish life rooted in the life of Jesus Christ.

The process addresses ongoing parish needs by examining four distinct priority drivers:
Vibrancy of Parish Life 

Condition of Facilities

Financial Viability of a Parish 

Distribution and Availability of Clergy

When a concern regarding one or more priority drivers are present in a parish, or deemed critical by the needs of the diocese overall, the Diocese of Scranton looks to make modifications to parishes in a proactive way so that the Gospel can be announced and the Church’s sacraments celebrated in vibrant parish communities.

Since July 2021, when Saint Nicholas Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Parish came together in a linkage under the leadership of one pastor, numerous meetings and town halls have provided information and resources to parishioners regarding the established priority drivers. Between the two parishes, the number of registered parishioners has dropped by more than 26 percent between 2014 and 2021. In addition, Our Lady of Fatima Parish maintains a significant outstanding parish assessment debt and the two campuses are projected to need more than $1.5 million in facility upgrades over the next decade. In the spirit of the Vision 2030 process, conversation and consultation has taken place within both parish communities in the following ways:

• On March 31, 2022, a Joint Meeting of the Saint Nicholas & Our Lady of Fatima Parish Pastoral and Finance Councils took place focused on the Vision 2030 priority drivers. Small group discussion and large group reporting took place.

• Between May 14/15 and June 11/12, 2022, a series of five weekly bulletin inserts regarding the Vision 2030 priority drivers was distributed to all parishioners in both parishes via the weekly bulletin and parish website.

• On June 14 and June 16, 2022, two Town Hall Meetings were held for parishioners of Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes to discuss the Vision 2030 priority drivers. One Town Hall meeting was held at each church.

• On September 27, 2022, more than 50 parishioners attended a Parish Meeting regarding a possible revenue-generating idea involving the possibility of renovating space at Our Lady of Fatima Parish for childcare programs.

• Between October 2022 and March 2023, an extensive study was performed to determined whether it was financially feasible and in the best interest of all parties to pursue childcare programs for Our Lady of Fatima Parish.

• On January 1, 2023, a bulletin insert was sent to all parishioners indicating that a Transition Team had been formed with representatives of both parishes to continue the process of moving both parishes closer toward consolidation.

• During a series of meetings in March 2023, it was agreed upon by parish and diocesan leadership that the childcare program proposal would not move forward. Discussions regarding next steps for parish consolidation took place.

• On May 11, 2023, a Joint Meeting of the Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Fatima Pastoral and Finance Councils took place. Transition Team members announced the desire to formally bring both parishes together in a consolidation.

• On May 13/14, 2023, all parishioners were informed of the Transition Team’s recommendation to bring the two parishes together in a consolidation via bulletin insert and Mass announcements. A Frequently Asked Questions document was also prepared and distributed to help explain the parish consolidation process.

• On May 24, 2023, more than 100 parishioners attended a Joint Parish Meeting at Saint Nicholas Church regarding the proposed parish consolidation. More than 25 questions or comments were addressed by the Transition Team.

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• On May 27/28, 2023, and June 3/4, 2023, a bulletin insert was shared with all parishioners regarding a two-phase approach to consolidation. The first phase will involve bringing the two parishes together in a consolidation. The second phase will involve studying all aspects of the newly formed parish to determine if a building should be closed/sold.

• On June 27, 2023, at a Joint Meeting of the Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Fatima Pastoral and Finance Councils, parish leaders discussed feedback they had received and began discussing the need for a revised Mass schedule and the prospect of a new name for the consolidated parish.

• On July 12, 2023, Rev. Joseph Verespy sent a letter requesting a consolidation of Saint Nicholas and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes to the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton.

• On August 1, 2023, Bishop Bambera consulted the Diocesan Presbyteral Council (a consultative body of priests from throughout the Diocese) regarding the possible consolidation (extinctive union) between the two parishes. Following a presentation of data, the Presbyteral Council voted in unanimous agreement to the proposal.


As a result of this conversation and consultation, on September 5, 2023, Bishop Bambera signed a formal decree (which is a document that formalizes a decision within the Church) to best address the spiritual needs of the faithful as well as the needs of the Diocese of Scranton. The information from the decree is:

1. The parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Wilkes-Barre, with its sole church of Saint Mary of the Immaculate
Conception, 134 South Washington Street, will be consolidated with the parish of Saint Nicholas in Wilkes-Barre,
with its sole church of Saint Nicholas, 226 South Washington Street, effective October 7, 2023.

2. The name of the newly consolidated parish will be Saint Nicholas-Saint Mary Parish.

3. As a result of this consolidation, Saint Nicholas Church will be designated as the principal church of the newly
consolidated parish and Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church will be designated as the secondary
church of the newly-modified parish.


According to Church law, diocesan bishops alone have the power to “erect, suppress or alter parishes” but can only do so after speaking to the Presbyteral Council and consulting parishioners. In this case, Bishop Bambera has determined that the newly-modified Saint Nicholas-Saint Mary Parish has more than adequate resources to serve the liturgical and sacramental needs of parishioners.

Any parishioner who wishes to read the official decree regarding the consolidation (extinctive union) between Saint Nicholas Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Parish may do so by visiting the Vision 2030 section Diocese of Scranton website ( or by contacting Rev. Joseph Verespy, pastor, Saint Nicholas Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Parish.


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked a group of Italian journalists to shun fake news and a love of scandal, including when covering the Catholic Church and the upcoming assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

This is the official logo for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Originally scheduled for 2022, the synod will take place in October 2023 to allow for broader consultation at the diocesan, national and regional levels. (CNS photo/courtesy Synod of Bishops)

“Help me to narrate this process for what it really is, leaving behind the logic of slogans and pre-packaged stories,” he asked the group Aug. 26 as he accepted the “È Giornalismo” prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to journalism.

Pope Francis told the group he realizes how “speaking of a ‘synod on synodality’ may seem something abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical, of little interest to the general public,” but the whole process, which began in 2021 with listening sessions on the local, national and regional levels “is something truly important for the church.”

At a moment in history “when there is much talk and little listening, and when the sense of the common good is in danger of weakening,” he said, “the church as a whole has embarked on a journey to rediscover the word ‘together.'”

All the baptized must “walk together, question together, take responsibility together for communal discernment, which for us is prayer, as it was for the first apostles: this is synodality,” the pope told the group.

The synod assembly Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican, he said, will bring together bishops, priests, religious and laypeople from around the world with the purpose of “listening together, discerning together, praying together.”

With so much of the world experiencing a “culture of exclusion,” the pope said, the church can model a better way, one in which everyone finds a welcome and no one echoes the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke’s Gospel who says, “I thank you, Lord, because I am not like this, I am not like that” rather than thanking God for his gifts.

Pope Francis explained to the group that St. Paul VI reinstituted the Synod of Bishops at the end of the Second Vatican Council “because he realized that in the Western church synodality had disappeared, whereas in the Eastern church they still have this dimension.”

“Please, let us get used to listening to each other, to talking, not cutting someone’s head off over a word,” but rather learning “to listen, to discuss in a mature way.”

“This is a grace we all need in order to move forward. And it is something the church today offers the world, a world so often so incapable of making decisions, even when our very survival is at stake,” Pope Francis said.

The Catholic Church, he said, is “trying to learn a new way of living relationships, listening to one another in order to hear and follow the voice of the Spirit.”

“We have opened our doors, we have offered everyone the opportunity to participate, we have taken into account everyone’s needs and suggestions,” he said. “We want to contribute together to building a church where everyone feels at home, where no one is excluded.”

The church is for everyone, he said. “There are no first-, second- or third-class Catholics, no. All together. Everyone. It is the Lord’s invitation.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In the eyes of the world it would appear “absurd” to begin helping the poor and struggling for justice by spending time in adoration before the Eucharist, Pope Francis said, but that is precisely what an Italy-based religious order has been doing for 100 years.

Pope Francis greets members of the Sister Disciples of Jesus in the Eucharist at the end of a meeting in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Aug. 25, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“In the face of immense needs and with almost no resources at their disposal, what sense did it have to tell the sisters to get on their knees in adoration and reparation,” the pope said Aug. 25 as he joined a celebration of the centenary of the Sister Disciples of Jesus in the Eucharist.

But the practice worked, Pope Francis told the sisters and their collaborators at the meeting in the Vatican audience hall.

The prayers and adoration of the early members of the congregation “generated a contagious force, which soon led them to undertake and promote works of material, cultural and spiritual redemption far exceeding all expectations,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Acknowledging Ukraine’s celebration of Independence Day Aug. 24, Pope Francis pleaded with thousands of visitors at his weekly general audience to keep praying for peace in the country.

Noting that Aug. 24 also is the feast of St. Bartholomew, the apostle, the pope entrusted to him “dear Ukraine, so harshly tried by the war.”

A Ukrainian flag waves in the crowd gathered as Pope Francis recites the rosary with young people who are ill at the Chapel of Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima, Portugal, Aug. 5, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

But then departing from his prepared text and looking directly at the crowd in the Vatican audience hall, he said: “Brothers and sisters, let’s pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are suffering so much. The war is cruel. So many children disappeared, so many people dead.”

According to the Ukrainian government’s “Children of War” website, 503 children had been killed as of Aug. 23 and more than 19,500 children have been forcibly taken to Russia.

“Please,” the pope said, “pray. Do not forget tormented Ukraine.”

Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The country had declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In his weekly video message, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said that while Ukrainians “give thanks to the Lord God for the precious gift of freedom,” in the context of war “we are gaining a deeper understanding of the meaning of freedom, of what it entails to be free individuals, and recognizing that in order to guarantee the right of existence for the Ukrainian people, it is essential to have our own state.”

“The main pillars for building this state include respect for human dignity and the preservation of freedom,” the archbishop said.

“Freedom is a spiritual category. Being free is not limited only to escaping oppression or foreign domination,” he said. “True freedom involves being free for something. We recognize that the highest form of freedom is manifested in love, in the act of sacrificing oneself for God and neighbor.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Thanking a group of European lawyers for their attention to environmental protection laws, Pope Francis said he was preparing another document on the subject.

“I am writing a second part to Laudato Si’ to update it on current problems,” the pope told the lawyers Aug. 21 during a meeting in the library of the Apostolic Palace. He provided no further information.

Pope Francis speaks to a delegation of European lawyers in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Aug. 21, 2023. Thanking the lawyers for their advocacy of environmental protection laws, the pope announced he was writing another document on the environment. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

“Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home” was the title of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter on the need for an “integral ecology” that respects the dignity and value of the human person, helps the poor and safeguards the planet.

The pope made his remark in the context of thanking the lawyers for their “willingness to work for the development of a normative framework aimed at protecting the environment.”

“It must never be forgotten,” he said, “that future generations are entitled to receive from our hands a beautiful and habitable world, and that this entails grave responsibilities toward the natural world that we have received from the benevolent hands of God.”

Members of the group Pope Francis met with represented presidents of European bars and legal associations who signed a declaration in 2022 calling on members of the European Union and Council of Europe to uphold and respect the rule of law, especially in times of crisis like that created by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“These times of social and economic crisis, as well as a crisis of identity and security, challenge the democracies of the West to provide an effective response, while remaining faithful to their principles,” particularly the promotion of democracy and respect for freedom and human dignity, he said.

“Fear of civil unrest and acts of violence, the prospect of destabilizing change and the need to act effectively in confronting emergency situations, can result in the temptation to make exceptions or to restrict – at least provisionally – the rule of law in the effort to find easy and immediate solutions,” the pope said.

“For this reason,” he told them, “I appreciate your insistence, in one of your proposals, that ‘the rule of law should no longer be subject to the slightest exceptions, including in times of crisis.’ For the rule of law stands at the service of the human person and aims to protect the dignity of each, which admits of no exception.”

The pope cautioned, however, that laws promoting the dignity of the human person must be based on the truth about human beings, their divine origin and their ultimate destination. “Without the constant effort to pursue the truth about the human person, in accordance with God’s plan, individuals become the measure of themselves and their actions.”

“Today, in effect, we are witnessing a tendency to claim more and more individual rights, without taking into account the fact that every human being is part of a social context in which his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself,” the pope said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians must stand firm in their faith but that is not the same as being rigid and unwilling to bend out of compassion for another, Pope Francis said.

God is love and “the one who loves does not remain rigid. Yes, they stand firm, but not rigid; they do not remain rigid in their own positions, but allow themselves to be moved and touched,” the pope said Aug. 20 before reciting the midday Angelus prayer with an estimated 10,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis greets visitors in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to pray the Angelus Aug. 20, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Among the crowd were 29 seminarians who had just arrived to begin their studies at the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome. Pope Francis gave them a shoutout and wished them “a good formation journey.”

In his main talk, Pope Francis commented on the day’s Gospel reading, Mt 15:21-28, which tells the story of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus brushes her off since she is not Jewish. But he sees her persistent faith and grants her request.

“Later,” the pope said, “the Holy Spirit would push the church to the ends of the world,” but at that point Jesus was preaching to the Jews.

“Faced with her concrete case, he becomes even more sympathetic and compassionate,” the pope said. “This is what God is like: he is love, and the one who loves does not remain rigid.”

“Love is creative,” he said. “And we Christians who want to imitate Christ, we are invited to be open to change.”

In the life of faith and in relationships with others, the pope said, people need to pay attention and to be willing “to soften up in the name of compassion and the good of others, like Jesus did with the Canaanite woman.”

Of course, he said, another aspect of the story is the woman’s strong and insistent faith that Jesus could heal her daughter.

The woman “probably had little or no awareness of the laws and religious precepts” of Judaism, but she draws near to Jesus, prostrates herself and has a “frank dialogue” with him, the pope said.

“This is the concreteness of faith, which is not a religious label but is a personal relationship with the Lord,” he said.

Pope Francis asked people to consider whether they show the compassion and flexibility of Jesus and the bold faith of the Canaanite woman.

“Do I know how to be understanding and do I know how to be compassionate, or do I remain rigid in my position?” he suggested they ask. “Is there some rigidity in my heart, which is not firmness? Rigidity is bad, but firmness is good.”

“Do I know how to dialogue with the Lord? Do I know how to insist with him? Or am I content to recite beautiful formulas?” he continued.

Pope Francis also drew attention to the ongoing conflict in Niger where a military coup overthrew the president in late July and where the bishops have opposed the idea of other countries in the region using their military to restore democracy.

“I join the bishops’ appeal in favor of peace in the country and for stability in the Sahel region,” the pope said. “I accompany with my prayers the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible for everyone’s benefit.”

“Let us pray for the dear people of Niger and let us also pray for peace for all populations wounded by war and violence,” he said. “Let us especially pray for Ukraine, which has been suffering for some time.”

LISBON, Portugal (CNS) – Pope Francis asked the 1.5 million young people who attended World Youth Day to take “what God has sown into your hearts” back to their home countries and build a joyful church that is open to all.

Young pilgrims, including the 21 from the Diocese of Scranton who made the trip to Portugal, constantly reflected on the pope’s main point during the official welcome ceremony for World Youth Day Aug. 3: in the church there is room for “everyone, everyone, everyone.”

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the Way of the Cross during World Youth Day at Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 4, 2023. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

He asked the jubilant crowd of flag-waving young people to repeat the refrain with him in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park and shouts of “todos, todos, todos” – “everyone” in Spanish and Portuguese – spread throughout the crowd.

As he did often during the trip, the pope solicited engagement from the crowd, asking them to repeat after him or consider in silence a question he posed.

Yet was during his meeting Aug. 2 with Portuguese bishops, priests, religious and pastoral workers that the pope first issued his “todos” message.

“Please, let us not convert the church into a customs office” where only the “just,” “good,” and “properly married” can enter while leaving everyone else outside, he said. “No. The church is not that,” he said, rather it is a place for “righteous and sinners, good and bad, everyone, everyone, everyone.”

Asked during his inflight news conference Aug. 6 how the church can be for everyone when women and gay people are excluded from some sacraments, Pope Francis said that “the church is open to all, but then there is legislation that regulates life inside the church.”

“This does not mean that (the church) is closed. Each person encounters God by their own way, inside the church, and the church is mother and guides each one by their own path,” he responded.

At 86 years old, Pope Francis showed no sign of slowing down for the 42nd international trip of his pontificate, which he jokingly told journalists on the flight to Lisbon will “make me young again.”

The pope’s packed agenda had three to four official events per day, and he added private meetings with several groups and individuals at the Vatican nunciature in Lisbon where he was staying. Among them was a group of abuse survivors who met with the pope for over an hour Aug. 2, during which they “dialogued about this plague” of abuse, the pope said.

The pope celebrated Mass with 1.5 million young people sprawled across Lisbon’s riverside Tejo Park Aug. 6 and told them not to be afraid of pursuing their great dreams to change the world.

“Let’s all repeat this phrase in our hearts: ‘Don’t be afraid,’” Pope Francis told the crowd. “Jesus knows the hearts of each one of you, the successes and the failures, he knows your hearts. And today he tells you, here in Lisbon for this World Youth Day: ‘Don’t be afraid.’”

In addition to listening the testimonies of young people and fielding questions from some of them during public events, Pope Francis had a chance for more direct interactions with several young people during the trip. He heard the confessions of three pilgrims and ate lunch with a group of 10 young people Aug. 4.

The pope later shared that he spoke to one young man who had previously considered taking his own life and said youth suicide is a problem today, noting the challenge is especially prevalent in places where universities and the job market are very demanding.

After the closing Mass, the pope announced that Seoul, South Korea, would be the location for the next World Youth Day in 2027, drawing great applause from the South Korean delegations scattered throughout the crowd.

The previous morning, Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima, where he again put aside his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff, focusing on Mary and skipping over an expected prayer for peace in the world.

He later said that “I prayed to Our Lady, and I prayed for peace” before a statue of Our Lady of Fátima, but “I did not advertise.”

In the shrine’s Chapel of the Apparitions, marking the exact spot where the three Portuguese children claimed to see Mary in 1917, he said the open-air chapel “is like a beautiful image of the church, welcoming, without doors, so that all can enter.”

During the Aug. 6 press conference, Pope Francis also brushed off concerns about eyesight issues that arose after he joked that his glasses “aren’t working” at one of his events and continued to largely improvise his remarks for the rest of his trip. And he said his health and recovery from abdominal surgery in June is “going well.”

LISBON, Portugal (CNS) – Before a sea of waving flags representing countries large and small from across the globe, Pope Francis told some 500,000 singing, shouting and swaying young people that God has called each person to him by name, not their social media handle.

Pope Francis gives his blessing to young people during the World Youth Day welcome ceremony at Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 3, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“You are not here by mistake,” he told the mass of people in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park Aug. 3 for the welcome ceremony for World Youth Day. “You, you, you, over there, all of us, me, we were all called by our names.”

While social networks know young people’s names, tastes and preferences, “all this does not understand your uniqueness, but rather your usefulness for market research,” he said at his first World Youth Day event.

The “illusions” of the virtual world “attract us and promise happiness” but later show themselves to be “vain, superfluous things, substitutes that leave us empty inside,” the pope said. “I’ll tell you something, Jesus is not like that; he believes in you, in each one of you and us, because to him each one of us is important, and that is Jesus.”

Among the young people sprawled across the park under the Lisbon sun for hours before the pope’s arrival was 18-year-old Tyler Nguyen from Colorado; he told Catholic News Service that social media posed the greatest challenge to young people practicing the faith, “since Catholics are often perceived online as being extreme.”

But in the church, Pope Francis said, “there is space for everyone, and when there isn’t, please, let’s work so that there is — also for who makes mistakes, for who falls, for who it is difficult.”

Departing from his prepared speech, he asked all the young people to “repeat with me: ‘Everyone, everyone, everyone!'” before waves of “todos, todos, todos” — “everyone” in Spanish and Portuguese — spread throughout the crowd.

“That is the church,” he said, “the mother of all; there is room for all.”

Throughout the crowd there were flags from countries with large Catholic populations such as Spain and Brazil, but also proudly displayed banners from countries where Catholics represent a small portion of the population.

Sona Kc, a 26-year-old Catholic convert from Hinduism, was one of four people sitting under the flag of Nepal before the pope’s arrival. She told CNS the gathering of young people for the pope’s official welcome to WYD was “the most Catholics I have ever seen all together.”

She said she was particularly struck by Pope Francis’ invitation for all young people, not only Catholics, to participate in World Youth Day, and appreciates his efforts to involve young people in the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

After a greeting from Cardinal Manuel do Nascimento Clemente of Lisbon, young people read messages in various languages sent to the pope asking for advice and sharing the personal challenges they face in life and in the faith, from migration problems and hunger to hopelessness and a loss of faith.

But rather than give direct responses, the pope told the young people that asking questions is “often better than giving answers, because one who asks remains restless, and restlessness is the best remedy for routine, which is sometimes a form of normalcy that numbs the soul.”

Pope Francis urged them to ask never stop asking themselves questions and to bring them before God in prayer. “Life goes on giving answers, we just have to wait for them,” he said.

“I invite you think — this is so beautiful — that God loves us as we are, not how we would like to be or how society wants us to be, as we are,” he said looking up from his prepared text. “He loves us with the limits we have, with the defects we have, and with the desire we have to keep moving forward in life!”

“God loves us like that; believe it, because God is the Father,” he said over cheers from the crowd. He then gestured toward an icon of Mary alongside him onstage. “It’s not easy,” he said, but “we have a great help in the mother of the Lord. She is our mother, too.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has appointed more than 450 participants, including dozens of religious men and women and laypeople from around the world, to attend the first general assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality in October.

And that list is not even complete, Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, told reporters at a Vatican news conference July 7. More names are going to be added to the list of nonvoting members, such as experts and representatives of non-Catholic Christian communities, he said.

This is the official logo for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Originally scheduled for 2022, the synod will take place in October 2023 to allow for broader consultation at the diocesan, national and regional levels. (CNS photo/courtesy Synod of Bishops)

For now, the list of voting members is complete, numbering 363 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay men and women — a first in the history of the synod. Pope Francis made significant changes to who can be a voting member of the synod on synodality and he gave women the right to vote in the synod.

Out of the 364 members who can vote, which includes the pope, 54 are women — either lay or religious; the number of cardinals appointed as members also is 54.

More than a quarter of all the voting members, that is 26.4%, are not bishops, according to the 21-page list of the appointments released July 7 by the Vatican.

Those the pope appointed to take part in the Oct. 4-29 synod include 169 cardinals or bishops representing national bishops’ conferences; 20 cardinals or bishops representing Eastern Catholic churches; five cardinals or bishops representing regional federations of bishops’ conferences; and 20 heads of Vatican dicasteries, which includes one layman, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.

The bishops appointed to attend from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are: Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota; and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

The pope also appointed five religious men and five religious women to represent the International Union of Superiors General and the Union of Superiors General.

There are an additional 50 papally appointed members, the majority of whom are cardinals and bishops, but they include 11 priests, religious and 1 layman and 1 laywoman. Those from the United States include: Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington; Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston; Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle; and Jesuit Father James Martin.

Another novelty is a large group of non-bishop voting members who represent the “continental assemblies” and are named “witnesses of the synodal process.” There are 10 members in each group divided by continent: Africa; North America; Latin America; Asia; Eastern Churches and the Middle East; Europe; and Oceania, for a total of 70 individuals who are all priests, religious or lay men and women.

The group for North America includes: Richard Coll, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the USCCB in Washington; Cynthia Bailey Manns, the adult learning director at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minnesota; Catherine Clifford, a theology professor and expert on the Second Vatican Council; Canadian Sister Chantal Desmarais, a Sister of Charity of St. Mary; Father Iván Montelongo of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas; and Sister Leticia Salazar, chancellor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California.

Among the 16 who are part of the synod’s ordinary council include: U.S. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; Canadian Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec; and Australian Archbishop Anthony C. Fisher of Sydney.

Nine members will serve as delegate presidents of the assembly and they include: Bishop Flores of Brownsville; Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak; one priest, Italian Father Giuseppe Bonfrate; one nun, Mexican Sister of St. Joseph María de los Dolores Palencia; and one consecrated laywoman, Momoko Nishimura of Japan. Pope Francis will serve as president and Cardinal Mario Grech as the synod’s secretary-general.

The list of nonvoting members is not complete, Cardinal Grech said.

That list released July 7 included two spiritual assistants: British Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe and Italian Benedictine Mother Maria Ignazia Angelini. All synod participants will be expected to attend a three-day retreat before the synod begins in early October.

All of the 57 nonvoting “experts and facilitators” listed as of July 7 are priests and religious and lay men and women. They include: U.S. Sister Maria Cimperman, who is a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart; Jesuit Father David McCallum; and Australian theologian Tracey Rowland.

The theme of the synod is: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” and synod members will be called upon to continue to carry forward a “process of spiritual discernment” that was begun in 2021 and continue with a second synod assembly in 2024.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Catholics who celebrate the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly July 23 can receive a plenary indulgence, which is a remission of the temporal punishment due for one’s sins, the Vatican said.

In a decree issued July 5, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, said that a plenary indulgence will be extended “to grandparents, the elderly and all the faithful who, motivated by the true spirit of penitence and charity,” attend Mass or other services to celebrate the world day and that the indulgence can “also be applied as suffrage for the souls in purgatory.”

The decree states that the indulgence will also apply to “the faithful who dedicate adequate time to visit in person or virtually, through means of communication, elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty” such as the sick, abandoned and disabled on July 23.

The indulgence also is available to the elderly who are ill and “unable to leave their homes for serious reasons” but who nonetheless “will unite spiritually with the sacred services of the world day, offering to the merciful God their prayers, pains and sufferings of their lives,” granted they satisfy the requirements for the indulgence

To receive a plenary indulgence, a person must show detachment from sin, go to confession, receive the Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the pope.

Pope Francis celebrated the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly in 2021 and decreed that it be observed each year on the Sunday closest to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents. The theme for this year’s world day is “His mercy is from age to age,” from St. Luke’s Gospel.

Cardinal Piacenza asked priests to make themselves available to hear confessions with a “ready and generous spirit.”