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John the Baptist, the Paradox of Advent

Baptista cropped

Second Sunday of Advent, Year C – December 6, 2015

In today’s Gospel text, [Luke 3:1-6] In today’s Gospel text, [Luke 3:1-6] the evangelist who is called the “scriba manuetidinis Christi” (scribe of the gentleness of Christ) by Dante Alighieri, casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents his theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (Luke 2:30-32). Let us consider several historical details offered by Luke in today’s prophetic call story.

Tiberius Caesar succeeded Augustus as emperor in A.D. 14 and reigned until A.D. 37. The fifteenth year of his reign would have fallen between A.D. 27 and 29. Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea from A.D. 26 until 36. The Jewish historian Josephus describes him as a greedy and ruthless prefect who had little regard for the local Jewish population and their religious practices (Luke 13:1). The Herod who is mentioned is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.

Luke not only situates the call of John the Baptist in terms of the civil rulers of that period but he also mentions the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leadership of Palestine. Annas had been high priest from A.D. 6-15. After being deposed by the Romans in A.D. 15 he was succeeded by various members of his family and eventually by his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who was high priest from A.D. 18-36.

Against the backdrop of this sweeping history, the word of God came to John in the Judean desert. Luke is alone among the New Testament writers in associating the preaching of John with a call from God. The evangelist thereby identifies John with the prophets whose ministries began with similar calls. Later on Luke separates the ministry of John the Baptist from that of Jesus by reporting the imprisonment of John before the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21-22). Luke uses this literary device to serve his understanding of the periods of salvation history. With John the Baptist, the time of promise, the period of Israel, comes to an end; with the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit upon him, the time of fulfillment, the period of Jesus, begins.

In his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke will introduce the third epoch in salvation history, the period of the church. In Luke 7:26 John will be described as “more than a prophet”; he is also the precursor of Jesus (Luke 7:27), a transitional figure inaugurating the period of the fulfillment of prophecy and promise.

In describing the expectation of the people (Luke 3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:25-26, 37-38). In Luke 3:7-18 Luke presents the preaching of John the Baptist who urges the crowds to reform in view of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7, 9), and who offers the crowds certain standards for reforming social conduct (Luke 3:10-14), and who announces to the crowds the coming of one mightier than he (Luke 3:15-18).

John: the paradox of Advent

The true prophets of Israel help us in our struggle against all forms of duplicity. John the Baptist is the patron saint par excellence of authenticity. How often our words, thoughts and actions are incoherent! Combined in John the Baptist is the very paradox of Advent: the coming triumph of God manifest precisely in the darkness of the present evil age. John the Baptist heard, experienced and lived God’s liberating word in the desert and was thus able to preach it to others so effectively because his life and message were one. He certainly didn’t mince words. John the Baptist shatters the silence of the wilderness with his cry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Not just “repent,” change the way we live, but repent and prepare for the coming of the kingdom of heaven which will upset all our securities and overturn anything we try to leave in place. The joy and the challenge of Advent is that in Jesus Christ our God is coming, and our aching and longing for God will be met. But this God who comes is disturbing.

There was nothing politically correct about the Baptist’s message. He got right to the point and said what needed to be said. He told the first people who came to him to share. He told the tax collectors to be just. He told the soldiers to make peace.

The Baptist taught the people of his day and our day that the Messiah comes to save us from the powers of duplicity, despair, darkness and death, and to put us back on the path of peace and reconciliation so that we might find our way back to God. John the Baptist’s life and mission remind us how badly we need a Savior to save us, in order that we might be all that we are called to be and do all that we have to do to live in the Light. So often we fail to recognize the one among us who is our Way, our Truth and our Life. This is what Advent is all about: finding our way back to God.

The transformation of our deserts

Advent is a mystery that transforms and not simply informs. Advent remains with its paradoxical combination of waiting and hastening, suffering and joy, judgment and deliverance, apocalyptic woe and eschatological hope. Unfortunately for our culture of instant gratification, hope requires incompleteness. To hope, in the true Advent fashion, is to live with the certainty of unfulfilled desire.

The God who was a highway engineer making new ways through the wilderness, a gardener turning deserts into flower gardens, is now the artist painting a new perspective of the age-old messianic promise of hope. Hope in God cannot stand still, because–as Isaiah reminds us, we hope in a God who is constantly doing a new thing. Does our hope in God hold fast in the face of chaos and confusion in our life? How do we live with the Word of God? How can we live with the silence of God?

Advent teaches us that if we are quiet in our hearts long enough, we will discover the God still carves out highways and turns the desert places of our lives into oases of wonder, life, beauty, even though nothing will be as we expected. Any transformation of the wilderness depends on water. Throughout the Old Testament God is spoken of as the one who gives or withholds water – an image easily understood by people for whom water is a precious and controlled commodity. Few of us in the First World have an idea of drought. Our water piped into our homes deprives us of an image of God as the one on whom our very existence depends; similarly, electricity deludes us in to thinking we have the darkness under control. Together they rob us of daily experiences that could give vibrancy to the Advent invitation to revisit our dependence on God, to revisit our desire for God and to discover through the night of waiting that God does indeed come.

The message of Advent is not that everything is falling to pieces. Nor is it that God is in heaven and all is therefore well with the world. Rather the message of Advent is that when every fixed star on the moral compass is wavering, when all hell is breaking loose on earth, we hear once again the Baptist’s consoling message:

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Yet even with the birth of Jesus, we learn that Jerusalem and Israel still awaited their redemption. The world still awaits its freedom from hunger, war, oppression, violence, persecution and suffering. We all await our redemption. Advent challenges us to look at the ways that we wait, the ways that we long for God, and the ways that we hope. What and who is the source of our Advent hope?

John the Baptist’s life can be summed up in the image of a finger pointing to the one who was coming: Jesus Christ. If we are to take on John’s role of preparing the way in today’s world, our lives also will become the pointing fingers of living witnesses who demonstrate that Jesus can be found and that he is near. Jesus is the fulfillment of our longing, our hoping and waiting. Jesus alone can transform the deserts of our lives into living gardens of beauty and nourishment for the world. Come, Lord Jesus! We need you now more than ever!

[The readings for this Sunday a
re Baruch 5.1-9; Ps 126; Philippians 1.3-6, 8-11; Luke 3.1-6]

(Image: Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Desert by Pier Francesco Mola)

From Parish to Paris: Why the World’s Faithful Are Asking for Climate Action


This photo taken in Basilica of St Denis in Paris, where the petition delivery event took place on November 28. Bernd Nilles, Secretary General of CIDSE; Yeb Saño, leader of the People’s Pilgrimage; Tomás Insua, Global Coordinator of the Global Catholic Climate Movement; Mgr Josef Sayer, Misereor (Germany); Cardinal Cláudio Hummes OFM, President of Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network; Bishop of St Denis (France); Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis. Photo credit: CIDSE.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” These words from the popular prayer attributed to St. Francis come to my mind as international negotiators and the world’s religions gather in Paris seeking to address climate change.

As Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical Laudato Si’, peace and the protection of creation are united goals. His predecessors, and many more leaders from other faiths, have taught likewise. In preparation for the COP21 climate talks, an inspiring number of Catholics have heard this teaching and mobilized globally. Many are now in Paris – a city that has shown the world the meaning of hope – to bring the voice of faith to these negotiations.

Here and around the globe, in interfaith and secular events including today’s massive Global Climate Marches, Catholic climate activists are holding hands with their brothers and sisters from many faith communities – including other Christian denominations, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and so many others. From Sao Paulo to Berlin, from London to Manila, together they cry out for the planet, for the poor and the indigenous, and for future generations so that the world may know peace.  

Yesterday – as Christians prepared to enter Advent, the time of readying oneself for the birth of Jesus Christ – I joined representatives of other faiths to deliver to authorities of the United Nations and the French government (who preside over the COP21) the signatures of over 1,780,000 people from across the world who have signed petitions that implore our leaders to act decisively, before it is too late.

It was a profound honor to represent the 840,000 Catholics – children, men, and women united across continents, cultures, and languages – who have made themselves instruments of God’s peace by signing the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) petition.

Formed only ten months ago, the GCCM has become a steadfast, faithful, and growing voice. They have joined those from on-the-ground charitable arms of the Church, and with so many others, to cry out for climate justice – as well as for justice’s sister virtues of prudence, temperance, and fortitude, so that we may act properly and soon.

“Inspired by Pope Francis and the Laudato Si’ encyclical,” the GCCM petition states, “we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous 1.5°C threshold, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts.”

We who signed this petition – for indeed I have, too, as have many other cardinals and bishops – know of these impacts. Because fossil fuels have added to the natural blanket of carbon dioxide that surrounds our planet, our atmosphere now holds more and more of the sun’s energy. This reality is worsened, of course, with the devastation of our planet’s forests, such as in the Amazon River and the Congo River basins – as I know intimately through my work with the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network. As human activity slashes so much wondrous acreage of Earth’s forests, our planet loses capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

Today many communities, the most vulnerable especially, feel the results: the sting of drought; the devastation of sudden and massive floods; the shift in species in the waters that families have fished for centuries. The list goes on and it is expected to grow – unless we change our ways. Which, of course, we can.

“Where there is doubt, [let me sow] faith,” the Prayer of St. Francis continues. “Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.”

This prayer is not a passive one. It asks us to live God’s ways and to sow His presence within human history. It asks for the courage to live with sacrificial love for all things and all life that God created.

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis teaches that if we, like St. Francis, “feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Whether that object is a person or our planet, you and I are called to love and care for all that God created – not abuse it. Nor can we stand by while others do so. This is why I happily join the 840,000 of my Catholic sisters and brothers in exhorting the COP21 negotiators to develop the international frameworks needed for a climate of justice – and, yes, for the temperance, prudence, and fortitude that, with God’s grace, protects creation itself and will help bring peace to all the world.

cardinal hummes

*Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, OFM, served as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in the Roman Curia (2006–2010), having previously served as Archbishop of Fortaleza from 1996 to 1998 and Archbishop of São Paulo from 1998 to 2006. A member of the Order of Friars Minor and an outspoken proponent of social justice, he was elevated to the cardinalate in the consistory of February 21, 2001. In 2013 he served as one of the 115 cardinals in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. When the new Pope was elected on March 13, 2013, Cardinal Hummes, who was sitting next to him in the Sistine Chapel, whispered to the Pope, “Don’t forget the poor!” and the Pope said that immediately he remembered St. Francis of Assisi and “the name Francis came into my heart”. When the newly elected Pope Francis appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica that same night shortly after his election, Cardinal Hummes was among the cardinals who accompanied the new pope and stood beside him at his immediate left on the balcony. The Cardinal is now living in retirement in Brazil. Cardinal Hummes is currently President of the Pan-Amazonian Network/REPAM. He is in Paris for the Climate Conference and is part of the REPAM delegation. Feel free to republish this article in English in your various publications.

Pope In CAR: Homily during Mass at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium


On Monday, November 30, 2015, on his last day in Africa, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium, Central African Republic. Below you will find the full text of his prepared remarks:

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Bangui, Barthélémy Boganda Stadium
30 November 2015

We might be astonished, listening to this morning’s first reading, by the enthusiasm and missionary drive of Saint Paul.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15).  These words inspire us to give thanks for the gift of the faith which we have received.  They also inspire us to reflect with amazement on the great missionary effort which – not long ago – first brought the joy of the Gospel to this beloved land of Central Africa.  It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord.  To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in his presence and in the new life and the salvation which he offers us.  For he invites us to cross over to another shore (cf. Lk  8:22).

This other shore is, of course, eternal life, heaven, which awaits us.  Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage.  Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world.  It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love.

But the more immediate other shore, which we are trying to reach, this salvation secured by the faith of which Saint Paul speaks, is a reality which even now is transforming our lives and the world around us.  “Faith in the heart leads to justification” (Rom 10:10).  Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love.

Let us thank the Lord for his presence and for the strength which he gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief.  Let us thank him for the acts of solidarity and generosity which he inspires in us, for the joy and love with which he fills our families and our communities, despite the suffering and violence we sometimes experience, and our fears for the future.  Let us thank him for his gift of courage, which inspires us to forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us, and to work to build a more just and fraternal society in which no one is abandoned.  In all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us.  I join you in thanking the Lord in his mercy for all the beautiful, generous and courageous things he has enabled you to accomplish in your families and communities during these eventful years in the life of your country.

Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination.  In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore.  All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil.  How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war!  How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable…

We know that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go.  Certainly we need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel.  May the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has just begun in your country, be an occasion to do so.  Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep.  The Apostle Andrew, with his brother Peter, did not hesitate to leave everything at Christ’s call: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:20).  Once again, we are amazed at the great enthusiasm of the Apostles.  Christ drew them so closely to himself, that they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with him.

Each of us, in his or her heart, can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely.  The cry of “those who bring good news” resounds all the more in our ears, precisely when times are difficult; that cry which “goes out through all the earth… to the ends of the earth” (Rom 10:18; cf. Ps 19:4).  And it resounds here, today, in this land of Central Africa.  It resounds in our hearts, our families, our parishes, wherever we live.  It invites us to persevere in enthusiasm for mission, for that mission which needs new “bearers of good news”, ever more numerous, generous, joyful and holy.  We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it.  For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?

We too, like the Apostles, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future.  The other shore is at hand, and Jesus is crossing the river with us.  He is risen from the dead; henceforth the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow him.  Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country.

May the Virgin Mary, who by sharing in the Passion of her Son, now shares in his perfect joy, protect you and encourage you on this path of hope. Amen.

Pope In CAR: Address to Muslim Community


On Monday, November 30, 2015, on the final day of his first Apostolic Visit to Africa, Pope Francis met with the Muslim Community in Bangui, Central African Republic. Below you will find the full text of his prepared remarks:

Address of Pope Francis
Meeting with the Muslim Community
Bangui, Central Mosque
November 30, 2015

Dear Muslim friends, leaders and followers of Islam,

It is a great joy for me to be with you and I thank you for your warm welcome.  In a particular way I thank Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi for his kind words of greeting.  My Pastoral Visit to the Central African Republic would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.

Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.  We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such.  We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives.  Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace.  Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years.  They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good.  Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.  God is peace, salam.

In these dramatic times, Christian and Muslim leaders have sought to rise to the challenges of the moment.  They have played an important role in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all.  I would like express my gratitude and appreciation for this.  We can also call to mind the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions, by welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world.

We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one or another faction.  I strongly urge you to make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession.  The Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, with the cooperation of all her sons and daughters, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent.  It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefitting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right.

Dear friends, I invite you to pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events.

May God bless you and protect you!

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In CAR: Unscripted Address at Prayer Vigil in Bangui


Here is a ZENIT transcription and translation of the address Pope Francis gave this evening in Bangui, Central African Republic, at a prayer vigil outside of the cathedral. The Pope had just completed a ceremony to open the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy and celebrated Mass.

Pope Francis’ Unscripted Address at Prayer Vigil in Bangui

Central African Republic, November 29, 2015

I greet you with my deepest affection. This young person who has spoken in your name has said that the banana tree is your symbol. The banana is a symbol of life that grows, reproduces and gives its fruit with so much nutritional energy. The banana is resistant; I think this clearly indicates the path that is set out in this difficult moment, of war, hate, division. The path of resistance.

This friend said that some of you want to leave. To flee from challenges is never a solution. Resistance is needed. To have the courage of resistance and of fighting for good. One who escapes doesn’t have the courage to give life.

The banana tree gives life and reproduces and gives more life because it stays in place. Some of you ask me: What can we do? What do we need to do to resist? I’ll give you two or three ideas that can be useful for this resistance.

First of all is prayer, because it is powerful. Prayer overcomes evil. Prayer brings one close to God who is All-Powerful. I ask you, do you pray? Don’t forget this.

Second, work for peace, and peace is not a document that is signed and then put up some place. Peace is made each day. Peace is a craft, a handiwork. It’s made with the hands. Someone could ask me, “Father, how can I be a craftsman of peace?”

Never hate. And if someone does evil, seek to forgive him. Nothing of hate. A lot of forgiveness. The two things go together: nothing of hate, a lot of forgiveness. If you don’t have hate in your heart, if you forgive, you will be the victor, because you will be victors in the most difficult battle of life, victors in love. And through love comes peace.

Do you want to be losers or winners in life? Which do you want? (They respond, “Winners!”) You only win on the path of love, on the path of love. And is it possible to love an enemy? Yes. Can one who has done evil be forgiven? Yes. Like this, with love and with forgiveness, you will be victorious. You will be victors in life; love will never leave you defeated.

I wish the best for you. Think of the banana, of resistance when faced with difficulties. To flee, to escape isn’t the solution. You have to be courageous. Do you understand what it means to be courageous? Courageous in forgiveness, courageous in love, courageous in building peace.

Do you agree? Let’s say it together: Courageous in forgiveness, in love, in peace. (The crowd responds).

Dear Central African youth, I am so pleased to meet with you. Today, we have opened this Door, [the Holy Door of the cathedral for the Jubilee of Mercy] it signifies the door of God’s mercy. Trust in God, because he is merciful. He is love. He is able to give us peace. And that’s why I said a bit ago that it is necessary to pray in order to resist, to love, to not hate, to be craftsmen of peace.

Thank you for being here. Now, I will go inside to hear the confessions of some of you. Are your hearts ready to resist? Yes or no? (The crowd responds.)

Are your hearts ready to fight for peace? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready to forgive? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready for reconciliation? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready to love this beautiful homeland? (The crowd responds.) And I go back to the beginning, are your hearts ready to pray?

Now, I ask you as well that you pray for me, so that I can be a good bishop, so that I can be a good Pope. Will you promise me that you’ll pray for me? Now, I give you the blessing, to you and to your families, asking the Lord that he gives you love and peace.


Good night and pray for me!

Pope In CAR: Homily during Mass with Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Leaders


On Sunday, November 29, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated Mass with priests, consecrated persons and lay leaders in Bangui, Central African Republic. Below you will find the full text of his prepared homily:

Homily of Pope Francis
Mass with Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Leaders
Bangui, Cathedral
29 November 2015

On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country.  From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment.  Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts.  Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.

But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).

Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation.  We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need.  This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion.  It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8).  Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45).  Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn.  This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation.  Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47).  Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy.  This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us.  As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).

In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission.  First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice.  Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due.  Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon.  These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15).  He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings.  And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16).  Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice.  This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love.  In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8).  In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love.  In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great.  For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12).  Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).

Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail.  After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28).  If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel.  It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas.  God is stronger than all else.  This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships.  Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word.  And that word will be love!

To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death!  Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace.  As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens.  May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13).  

Reconciliation. Mercy. Forgiveness. Peace.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In CAR: Address to Evangelical Communities


On Sunday, November 29, 2015, Pope Francis met with various Evangelical Communities at the Faculty of Evangelical Theology in Bangui, Central African Republic. Below you will find the full text of his prepared remarks:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Meeting with Evangelical Communities
Bangui, Faculty of Evangelical Theology
November 29, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to be able to meet you in this Faculty of Evangelical Theology.  I thank the Dean of the Faculty and the President of the Evangelical Alliance of Central Africa for their kind words of welcome With fraternal affection I greet each of you and, through you, all the members of your communities.  All of us are here in the service of the risen Lord who assembles us today; and, by virtue of the common baptism we have received, we are sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to men and women of this beloved country of Central Africa.

For all too long, your people have experienced troubles and violence, resulting in great suffering.  This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent.  For it is Christ’s own flesh which suffers in his dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education.  There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones.

God makes no distinctions between those who suffer.  I have often called this the ecumenism of blood.  All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil.  Here I wish to express my closeness and solidarity to Pastor Nicholas, whose home was recently ransacked and set on fire, as was the meeting-place of his community.  In these difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone his tenderness, compassion and mercy.  This shared suffering and shared mission are a providential opportunity for us to advance together on the path of unity; they are also an indispensable spiritual aid.  How could the Father refuse the grace of unity, albeit still imperfect, to his children who suffer together and, in different situations, join in serving their brothers and sisters?

Dear friends, the lack of unity among Christians is a scandal, above all because it is contrary to God’s will.  It is also a scandal when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart, and the many forms of opposition which the Gospel of Christ encounters.  I appreciate the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation existing between the Christians of your country, and I encourage you to continue on this path of common service in charity.  It is a witness to Christ which builds up unity.

With increasing intensity and courage, may you add to perseverance and charity, a commitment to prayer and common reflection, as you seek to achieve greater mutual understanding, trust and friendship in view of that full communion for which we firmly hope.

I assure you of my prayerful support along the path of fraternal charity, reconciliation and mercy, a path which is long, yet full of joy and hope. May God bless you! May he bless your communities!

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope In CAR: Impromptu Address at Refugee Camp


Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff words at the St. Sauveur Refugee Camp in the Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui:

I greet all of you here.
I tell you that I read what the children had written [on signs], “peace”, “forgiveness”, “unity” and so many things … “love”. We must work and pray and do everything for peace. But peace without love, without friendship, without tolerance, without forgiveness, is not possible. Each of us has to do something. I wish you, to you and to all Central Africans, peace, a great peace among you. May you live in peace regardless of your ethnicity, culture, religion, social status. But everyone in peace! Everyone! Because we are all brothers. I would like for us to say together: “We are all brothers.” [The people repeat: “We are all brothers”] Another time! [“We are all brothers”]. And for this, because we are all brothers, we want peace.
And I give you the Lord’s blessing. May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And pray for me! Pray for me, did you hear? [“Yes!”]

Deacon-structing Creation: Part 1


Many people have asked me either how we came to work on a project about the environment, or how we ended up with the format that we ended up with. My response is always that we began with one question, “why should we care for the environment?” and we tried to be honest and thorough with the answers (I think you can do this with any question of Faith or Morality – if you are honest with the questions and with the answers, you will always arrive at Truth). Each response led us to more questions and that’s basically how Creation developed.

For most of us, it’s no surprise that we should take care of the environment. We are told that we need to take care of the earth; protect endangered species, minimise our waste, use less energy – For some, it’s to ensure a future for the generations to come; for others, it’s because the earth is sacred. Then, there are others who do not seem overly concerned. Still, we are bombarded with messages from both sides. And even those who agree that we should care for our planet do not agree on a more fundamental question: Why?

When you ask a Christian why we should care for the earth or even why we should care about caring for the earth, you may be told that the creation story from Genesis calls us to conquer the earth:

“God said to them, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”

(Genesis 1:28)

Just looking at that passage led me to many, many more questions. To begin looking for answers I travelled to Houston, to the Faculty of Sciences at the University of St. Thomas (LINK). There I met Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE. She is a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist and an Environmental Engineer. She is also the Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Studies at the University. Since I met her in 2010, we’ve featured her many times on our Salt + Light programs. She became my partner in our quest to find an answer to our question.

Without giving it all away (we want you to watch the series), Sr. Damien did give us a few basic pointers about Catholic environmentalism (she’s been teaching this stuff for years). She also begins by looking at the book of Genesis:

“The fact that God said that it was good, I think reflects that intrinsic good, the beauty.”

In our series, we hoped to understand as much as possible what the Genesis creation story can tell us about creation. For example, according to Genesis, creation happens in a very orderly and hierarchical manner, from the least complex to the more complex. For Sr. Savino, just that knowledge fills her with a sense of wonder.

And so we couldn’t ignore the sense of wonder. That’s really where we felt it all begins. This is a quality that all humans have – we may lose it as we get older, but we all have it. I don’t think other creatures have the capacity to wonder at things. For many scientists, like Sr. Savino, this very quality is what leads them to love the science, and because they love it, they want to know more. Every scientist we spoke with said that this desire for learning always begins with a basic love that is rooted in our sense of wonder at things.

Sr. Savino remembers those feelings as a little girl climbing trees and playing outside. She describes it like this:

“When I went to university, I took a botany class and just fell in love with it again. And it really was… I’d say it’s a love relationship, not how you would love a person, but I just came to love creation. And I wanted to learn how to speak the language of creation.”

Pope Benedict introduced the term, “The Grammar of Creation”. This is what Sr. Savino discovered at a very young age – even before she thought she would ever be a religious sister. She wanted to be a scientist. We knew then that what the Church teaches about why we should care for creation includes learning to read that “grammar of creation”.

Something else we found –this time, by looking at creation itself— is that evolution paints a picture of creation that is full of variation and many different possibilities; it is a process that is excessive.

In episode one, Physics professor, Jim Clarage says:

“Nature doesn’t always find the minimal way or the easiest way to do things. In many ways nature is very extravagant. You could have had all of human salvation history with just one planet earth but now we know that’s no how it is. There are now thousands of planets we know actually exist around other stars, so you have to ask if God is going to create all of this and nature is going to do things the simplest way. Why making 10 billion is stars the simplest way to make a planet?”

The sense of wonder makes us want to learn about things, to study them, but more basically, it is what makes us want to take care of things. And the Genesis narrative reinforces this by telling us that God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31).

This, of course led us to the question of intrinsic goodness vs. instrumental goodness. Why are things good? If we study Genesis, we can see that they are both there. Perhaps one of the roots of the ecological crisis is that we do not find the balance between the intrinsic and the instrumental good of created things. If things are only good for their usefulness to us, then “subdue” and “dominate” mean something very different than if things are good just because they are.

When we looked at what the Catholic Church had to offer to this ecological debate, we felt that it was a ‘middle road’, so to speak. We don’t have to protect all of nature and never touch it. We can use it. But how do we do this while at the same time respecting the inherent goodness, or dignity of created things.

See how one answer leads to more questions?

And so we knew we had to look at the meaning of the word “respect.”

Come back next week and learn more about how we developed our series, Creation.

CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Pope In CAR: Address to Authorities and Diplomatic Corps


On Sunday, November 29, 2015, Pope Francis arrived in the Central African Republic for the final leg of his first Apostolic Visit to Africa. Below you will find the full text of his address at the Presidential Palace in Bangui:

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Meeting with Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps
Bangui, Presidential Palace
November 29, 2015

Madam Interim Head of State,
Distinguished Authorities,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of International Organizations,
My Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to be here with you.  I would first like to express my appreciation for your warm hospitality and to thank Madam Interim Head of State for her kind words of welcome.  In this place, which is in some sense the home of all Central Africans, I am pleased to express, through you and the other authorities of the country present, my affection and spiritual closeness to all your fellow citizens. I would like also to greet the members of the Diplomatic Corps and the representatives of the International Organizations, whose work recalls the ideal of solidarity and cooperation which needs to be cultivated between peoples and nations.

As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalization of its social and political life, I come to this land for the first time, following my predecessor Saint John Paul II.  I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope.  For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point.  It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history.

To brighten the horizon, there is the motto of the Central African Republic, which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers: Unity-Dignity-Labour.  Today, more than ever, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African.  Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country.  Unity, dignity, labour!  Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted.

First unity.  This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples.  It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, avoiding the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession.  Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer.  Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others.

Then, dignity.  This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterize men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect.  Each person has dignity.  I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the “Zo kwe zo”, the country where everbody is somebody.  Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person.  Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential.  Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity.  In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man.

Finally, labour.  It is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. Saint Paul tells us that “children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (II Cor 12:14).  The work of parents expresses their love for their children.  And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvellous land by wisely exploiting its many resources.  Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity.  In this regard, echoing my Encyclical Laudato Si’, I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet.  The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort.  The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: “The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home”.

It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots.

The history of the evangelization of this land and the sociopolitical history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour.  In recalling the pioneers of evangelization in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work.  With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation.  I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission.  In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to “promoting the good of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14), to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age.

For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organizations.  I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity, in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels.

To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness.  Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts!  May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice.  May God bless you all!  Thank you