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WYD – Youth Festival Update

 

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Kraków, PolandJuly 21, 2016 –  The Youth Festival for World Youth Day Krakow 2016 aims to unite youth from around the world through entertainment, cultural development and spiritual formation. It will last four days, from July 26 to 29, consisting of various events spread throughout the city.

The Youth Festival is a program of 250 varying events, including art expositions, concerts, sporting events, competitions of different types, and more.

Copa Catolica, the Youth Festival’s largest event, is a soccer tournament in which teams from all over Europe, North America, Central America, South America and Africa will be playing against each other in friendly matches. It will be held from July 26 to 27 at the Com-Com Zone Development Center. On the second day of the Youth Festival, there will be street ball and breakdancing competitions, finishing the day off with the Copa Catolica finals at 20:00 (CEST).

In order to help the youth discover their calling, and with spiritual formation in general, a Vocational Center, “Quo Vadis?”, will be located at Kraków Stadium during the entirety of the Youth Festival. There will be a series of presentations hosted there, such as, “How to live life fully even after a rough beginning,” “Daring to spiritually explore and freely choose,” and “Youth taking action to build a just and peaceful world,” featuring living testimonials in various languages.

The Youth Festival has also prepared a series of lectures, an initiative called Café FM, which will be held at the universities throughout Kraków from July 26 to 27. Lectures will address a range of topics, such as, meditation, social issues, testing one’s faith, etc.

There will also be smaller events – concerts, art expositions featuring local artists and artists from around the globe, etc.  – held in various locations. For example, artist Eugeniusz Mucha, will exhibit his post-war artwork portraying strong religious values; French artist Julian Faux’s heart-shaped mosaic will be on display, a compilation of pilgrim handprints he collected. Last, the Global Catholic Movement will host a Night of Ecology in Krowoderski Park.

The Youth Festival events will be held all throughout the city, but its primary locations are: B?onie Park, Kraków Stadium, the Com Com Zone Development Center and Kraków’s main Universities – AGH, Jagiellonian University and Academia Ignatianum.


Photo credit: World Youth Day

Let’s Go Deeper

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Written by Katie VanLeeuwen

Entering any new situation comes with a certain amount of anxiety for most people. Picture yourself as a young person walking into a crowded cafeteria. The first thing you do is look around to see if there is anyone you know, right? If there are no familiar faces then you pick a random spot to sit. Next you generally go through some awkward introductions, and some safe superficial small talk. When I applied to go to World Youth Day as a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, my initial thought was that it would be similar to the cafeteria experience, except this “cafeteria” would have hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.

Over the past couple of days, while going through orientation with my mission team mates, I’ve realized that this is not necessarily the case. A couple of days ago we were strangers, but now we are already very well connected. Right from the start we all knew that we wanted to get to know each other. At meals we would always be sitting with different people and I’ve really appreciated that acceptance from everyone.

One day at breakfast I found myself sitting in front of someone I hadn’t met yet. There were a few moments of silence while I was tempted just to focus on my meal or to listen to another conversation since I thought that maybe she hadn’t said anything yet because she didn’t want to talk. Finally I made up my mind to say something, and that’s all it took. By the time our conversation ended we had talked about the big life decisions we were discerning, the things we were nervous about or struggled with as missionaries, and the points in some of the talks that had touched us so far. It was so refreshing to be completely open and vulnerable with someone. In those moments before we spoke I was wondering what she thought of me, but those thoughts left as soon as we began sharing. I have discovered a new level of forming connections. A bit of small talk covering the weather, our sleep, and the food selection would definitely not have had the same effect.

Shared experience is a powerful connector. As missionaries, we share the background of our faith and evangelization goals. We also have all gone through the difficult process of figuring out what to pack. Who knew that it could take so much time and consideration just to put a few things in a bag! Sharing these connection points has allowed us to skip some of the small talk stages and go deeper right away.

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When people ask me what I’m looking forward to most at World Youth Day, I’d have to say it would be those unexpected moments of connection and discovery, when you can feel the Holy Spirit leading a conversation. If there was ever an environment that could promote going deeper in conversations with strangers it would be at World Youth Day! The event itself brings us together geographically to a place where we can encounter each other, but I think it is sharing in such an intense experience that will bring us together spiritually to a mindset where we can have those deeper conversations. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will be able to work through these encounters between pilgrims. It would be amazing to help someone form a more personal relationship with Jesus.

Usually after a retreat or some type of powerful experience we tend to feel the spiritual high drop off as we go back to “normal” life. However, Fr. Raymond de Souza presents another way of thinking when he says that a pilgrimage experience is actually a greater sense of what life is supposed to be since it is closer to what we will experience in heaven. I’m hoping that after World Youth Day, we will be able to continue going deeper in conversations and skipping all of that “cafeteria talk”.

 

God created us for relationships with Him and with others, so I’m excited to see how He plans to use the common experience of World Youth Day to draw His universal church together in Krakow and beyond.

 


kKatie VanLeeuwen is a 20 year old missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach. She is a Prince Edward Islander with a love for lupins, red dirt roads, and beaches. She is currently studying biology and psychology, but in her spare time she also enjoys gardening and being creative in the kitchen.

Follow her on Instagram!

@katie.i.vanleeuwen

 

Photos: Katie VanLeeuwen

What is your interior disposition this World Youth Day?

“If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient. But I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.” – St. Therese of Lisieux 

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Written by Celine Diaz

In an ideal world, I would be entering World Youth Day in a super reflective state after months and months of contemplation. But the truth is, I’m far from that. Like many other pilgrims, I am so knee-deep in school and work responsibilities that finding time to breathe, let alone reflect, has been an immense challenge (kudos to those of you who are more mentally prepared for this pilgrimage than I am).

It seems to me that we are all entering World Youth Day in different states of life. Some of us are spiritually high, oozing with enthusiasm and excitement for the events that are about to unfold. Others are crawling to World Youth Day in a state of spiritual dryness, desperate for ‘living water’ to quench their thirst.

Despite whatever state we’re in or intentions we have, there seems to be a common thread that unites us all: an over-fixation on the past or the future. But this World Youth Day, I believe God is asking us for more: not only to entrust our past and future to Him, but to be fully present with Him now.

My hope and prayer for my World Youth Day experience is not just related to outcome, but rather interior disposition. It’s so fitting that today’s Gospel was about Martha and Mary. So far, leading up to this event, I have undeniably been a Martha – busy, distracted, fretting incessantly. But it’s not too late for me to return to the present and simply “sit at the Lord’s feet.”

I pray for the peace to have a still heart and the courage to let myself be exposed, vulnerable, and loved by God in my poverty. Despite the mayhem that is going on in and around me, despite all the unanswered questions that still linger in my head, despite the unresolved shards of brokenness – I pray for the grace to simply let God find me and love me here, to let Him meet me where I am, without hiding or shying away … That is my hope this World Youth Day.

Like I said earlier: we’re all going into World Youth Day with different dispositions. But one thing is for certain: God will meet us wherever we are. So let’s keep our eyes peeled, for we will find Him. Or rather, He will find us.

Hold nothing back. Bring everything to Him. Let’s shed our masks, ditch the facades, and dare to be honestwith ourselves, with others, and especially with God.

“When I look into the future, I am frightened. But why plunge into the future? Only the present moment is precious to me, as the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power to change, correct, or add to the past; neither sages nor prophets do that. And so what the past has embraced, I must entrust to God.” – St. Faustina


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Celine Diaz is a 23 year-old student from Vancouver, BC, who is currently working as a Social Media Coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division and a Communication Assistant for Simon Fraser University. For empowering, honest, and inspiring stuff, check out her personal blog at www.RealTalkBlogs.com and follow her on Twitter @celinedizz

Photo credit: http://darlingmagazine.org/be-still/

Behind Vatican Walls: Holy See Press Office

 

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, papal spokesman, arrives for a Vatican press conference Feb. 5. The Jesuit priest retired as head of Vatican Radio, but has stayed on as Vatican spokesman. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See VATICAN-COMMUNICATIONS-LOMBARDI Feb. 22, 2016.

There were significant resignations and several important nominations behind Vatican walls this week. The long expected retirement of Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi finally came to pass.  As well some high anticipated appointments were finally made and they speak volumes about the new Roman Curia.

After ten years at the head of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Lombardi will hand over the reins on August 1. Two lay people will step into the role of director and vice-director of the press office. American Greg Burke, a former journalist and an Opus Dei numerary who has been serving the Vatican’s communication operations since 2012 and was appointed vice director of the press office earlier this year. The new vice director of the Holy See press office is a Spanish laywoman, Paloma Garcia Ovejero. Not only is this the first time a woman is appointed to one of the key leading roles in the press office, it is the first time two lay people with extensive communications and media experience are entrusted with the leadership of the press office.

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Burke graduated from Columbia’s School of Journalism and worked as a correspondent for the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and Fox News network. Garcia Ovejero has a journalism degree from Madrid’s Universidad Complutense and a masters in management strategies and communication from New York University. She has worked for Spain’s COPE news network since 2006. (COPE is the media outlet owned by the Spanish Bishops Conference).

For his part Fr. Lombardi has been looking forward to this retirement. He was named director of the Holy See also served as director of Vatican Radio and director of the Vatican Television Center (CTV). In 2013 Pope Benedict XVI named Msgr. Eduardo Vigano the director of CTV and in February of this year the new Secretariate for Communication took over the administration of Vatican Radio.

Higher up the structure of the Roman Curia members were appointed to the Secretariat for Communications. Thirteen prelates and three lay people were appointed to the secretariate. Of those three lay people, two are women. Kim Daniels is the cofounder of Catholic Voices USA and a consultant on religious liberty issues for the USCCB. Leticia Soberón Mainero is an expert in communication with a degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a Psychologist. The only layman appointed to the secretariat, Markus Schächter, is a professor of ethics and Mass Media at the Munich School of Philosophy.

These choices signal several changes: a less Italian curia is taking shape. Out of all these appointments, there is only one Italian. Bishop Marcello Semeraro is the only Italian prelate appointed to the Secretariat for Communication. The other appointees come from different regions of the world and represent a variety of cultures.

Second, the laypeople being tapped to take on key roles in the press office and the secretariat overseeing it have solid communication credentials behind them. Certainly these people move in church circles in their home countries, but they are known for their professional experience.

In many ways we may be looking at the blueprint for the Roman Curia of the future.


Photos: CNS

Pope Francis’ Video Message to Poland

Several days before his Apostolic Journey to Poland on the occasion of the XXXI World Youth Day, Pope Francis has sent a video in Italian to young people of Poland that was broadcast this evening at 8:00 p.m. across the Polish nation. Below is the English translation of the Holy Father’s Message that was sent from the Vatican to Poland.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The 31st World Youth Day is fast approaching. I look forward to meeting the young people from throughout the world gathered in Kraków and having the opportunity to meet the beloved Polish nation. My entire visit will be inspired by Mercy during this Jubilee Year, and by the grateful and blessed memory of Saint John Paul II, who instituted the World Youth Days and was the guide of the Polish people in its recent historic journey towards freedom.

Dear young people of Poland, I know that for some time now you have been preparing, especially with your prayers, for this great encounter in Kraków. I thank you heartily for everything that you have done, and for the love with which you have done it. Even now I embrace you and I bless you.

Dear young people from throughout Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania! I also bless your countries, your hopes and your journey to Kraków, praying that it will be a pilgrimage of faith and fraternity. May the Lord Jesus grant you the grace to experience personally his words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).

I am very anxious to meet you and to offer the world a new sign of harmony, from many races, languages, peoples and cultures, but all united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy. 

I now turn to you, dear sons and daughters of the Polish nation! For me, it is a great gift of the Lord to visit you. You are a nation that throughout its history has experienced so many trials, some particularly difficult, and has persevered through the power of faith, upheld by the maternal hands of the Virgin Mary. I am certain that my pilgrimage to the shrine of Czestochowa will immerse me in this proven faith and do me so much good. I thank you for your prayers in preparation for my visit. I thank the bishops and priests, the men and women religious, and the lay faithful, especially families, to whom I will symbolically bring the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The moral and spiritual “health” of a nation is seen in its families. That is why Saint John Paul II showed such great concern for engaged couples, young married couples and families. Continue along this road!

Dear brothers and sisters, I send you this message as a pledge of my affection. Let us keep close to one another in prayer. I look forward to seeing you in Poland!

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Europe X World Youth Day: Adventure, Pilgrimage, or Both?

 

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written by Risabella Roque

World Youth Day… In Europe…?! WITH THE POPE?!?! I’M IN.

Upon hearing the news two years ago that the next World Youth Day would be in Europe, my thoughts went immediately to my sister. For how many years had we dreamed of going on an epic tour of Europe! And for long had we yearned to experience a World Youth Day!?

Like many other Vancouver, BC pilgrims, I wanted to combine both dreams into one epic adventure. Europe, a foreign and exotic continent full of culture, languages, (and accents!) that I’ve fallen in love with time and time again. World Youth Day, the largest gathering of young people in the world! And even better, to be gathered altogether to celebrate the Catholic faith! I would be able to check both things off my bucket list in the summer of 2016!

Fast forward two years and I’m here! My younger sister, Ina, and I began our European tour (#EUROQUE) just over a week ago and it STILL hasn’t hit me that I’m actually backpacking across Europe and that I’m FINALLY going to attend World Youth Day.

risabella 2Amidst the chaos and excitement of my Eurotrip preparations, I see now how little I’ve prepared for the spiritual portion of my trip: World Youth Day. For the Europe half, I watched countless YouTube videos on ‘how to pack the perfect pack’, read one too many ‘Top Things to See in (insert city here)’ blog posts, and compiled long-winded Google Documents with my sister to plan out every leg of this trip to the max.

But what have I done to prepare for the World Youth half of my pilgrimage? Have I increased my prayer time? Did I purposefully ask family and friends for prayer requests and intentions to bring to the Holy Father? Am I as logistically prepared for the Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day itself as I am for the rest of my #EUROQUE tour?

Sadly, no. I didn’t do anything to incorporate any JPII or Divine Mercy-related spiritual reading into my prayer time. I haven’t committed the World Youth Day prayer to memory. I don’t recall researching anything about Kraków, short of how far the airport was to Bolonia Park. I even opted to leave my Bible at home because it didn’t ‘fit’.

I’ve been so focused on getting as many adventures accomplished that I lost focus of the true meaning of this trip: to meet my brothers and sisters in faith and recharge my missionary heart by learning for their example. (AND MEET THE POPE, OBVS.)
But what can I do with less than three days until the start of the Days in the Diocese? I know from previous missions that you can only get as much as you put in.

I’m giving 150% of my focus to World Youth Day just as I have been giving to the adventure half of my trip so far. I’m praying for those pilgrims making their way to Kraków right now, for their safety and protection. I’m praying for those young people unable to attend World Youth Day that they will still join us in this historic event and be just as inspired.

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With Days in the Diocese just days away, I am excited to immerse myself in Polish tradition and to experience their culture firsthand. I am most looking forward to learning more of the Polish language and practicing my phrases! I’m hoping to meet young people struggling with same day to day challenges as myself,  a young adult practicing their faith in a secular world. I hope to be inspired by their witness so that I may also grow in fervour and faith. I look forward to forming an even more connected universal community, especially in this digital age! Keeping in touch will be easier than ever!

Ultimately, I open my heart completely to God that he will speak to me through my fellow pilgrims and speakers. I hope to learn more of His mercy and fall ever more in love with my Saviour.

To keep myself accountable in making this experience more pilgrimage than adventure, I’ve given myself a few goals to complete during World Youth:

  1. Mentally present > physically present
  2. Take an opportunity each day to approach a fellow pilgrim I don’t know well and befriend them.
  3. As it will inevitably be a grueling two weeks (Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day), I know my body will fall to illness. When this happens, I hope that I’ll be able to find the JOY in that suffering, as Christ did.

risabelle squareHello! My name is Risabella Roque and I hail from the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I am a full-time literary enthusiast, cheese connoisseur and lover of all things yellow. When I’m not studying linguistics and psychology at Simon Fraser University, you can find me reading, on an adventure, or napping.

Follow my #EUROQUE adventures on social media!
@risabellamegan/@theroamincatholics risabellamegan.wordpress.com

Photos by Risabella Roque

 

 

 

 

En Route To World Youth Day!

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Written by Kiara Smyth and St. Dominic Savio World Youth Day Group

Excited.  Nervous.  Hopeful.  Energized.  Overwhelmed.

These are some of the words my group and I used to explain how we are feeling as we sit on our first airplane heading to World Youth Day in Krakow.  Two of us have been to WYD before, eleven of us have not, but for all of our emotions are running high.  In the words of some of my group members, here’s a little bit of where these emotions are coming from:

The Highs – Excited, Hopeful, Overwhelmed

  • This will be my first ever WYD, so I’m excited for this new experience.  I’ve never been to an international event like this before or to an event with so many Catholics, so this will be really cool.
  • I’ve been to the past two World Youth Days, and both of them were amazing, but also very different, so I’m excited to see what this one has in store.  The energy at the past two WYDs was incredible, so I’m already getting energized just thinking about it!
  • I can’t wait to listen to Pope Francis.  He’s a very inspirational man, and gives me hope for the future of the church and the world.
  • I’m looking forward to experiencing the sense of community and hanging out with young Catholics from around the world.  At the last WYD in Rio, I met a lot of great people, and I’m sure that will happen again!
  • I’m looking forward to strengthening my relationship with Jesus through encountering him at mass and through WYD events.
  • I can’t wait to celebrate my faith with everyone at WYD!

The Lows – Nervous, Overwhelmed

  • I’m worried about getting lost among all the people at WYD and in a new city!
  • I’m feeling a little overwhelmed because I’ve never been to a WYD before so I don’t really know what to expect.  It seems like there is going to be so much going on, which is sweet, but also overwhelming.
  • I’ve been to WYD before, and there are definitely challenges that come with the pilgramage, from getting around the city, to dealing with the crowds, to coping with the weather, to navigating group dynamics.

Why the Lows don’t bring us down

  • We have such a great group!  A lot of us are cousins which is awesome, but also for the past three years, as a whole group we’ve grown really close and sincerely enjoy hanging out together.  While we know we will get on each other’s nerves at times, the fact that we have spent a lot of time together and formed strong friendships will get us through our challenges!
  • I’m trying to always remember the ultimate reason why I’m going on this pilgrimage: to strengthen my faith and spend time with God.  No matter what we face, I know that God is here beside us, guiding us and bringing us through.
  • What I’ve learned from the past WYDs is that it’s never what I expect it to be, but its always what I need it to be; God always come through for me!

As our flight prepares to land, we will see what God has in store for us this WYD!


Kiara Smyth is from Edmonton, Alberta leading the St. Dominic Savio World Youth Day group to Poland for Krakow 2016. Stay tuned to follow their journey from Edmonton to Krakow!

When I First Saw Pope Francis

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Story and Photos by James Ramos

I really couldn’t feel my legs anymore.

My knees lean against the concrete bench that won’t move in front of my group, almost like a church pew kneeler. The crowd behind me presses against my back and 10 a.m., the supposed time of Pope Francis’ arrival to Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, ticks closer and closer.

Emotions and discomfort runs high. To my left, a claustrophobic lady asks for room to breathe. To my right, an even older lady tries to sit on the bench. There isn’t much room, but I tell her to take all the space you need.

My group that surrounds me — a team of social media journalists — doesn’t talk much. Our photographers grapple with a metal fence that corrals us, my other teammates behind me work the crowd handing out Pope Francis #PopeEmoji fans. I look down, triple-checking my own test shots then a roar of noise erupts down the street.

When my heart exploded

“He’s here! He’s here!” I hear a girl scream. Cassie is shaking. The entire crowd around me vibrates with the most energy I’ve ever felt in my life.

I lift my camera to my eye — I’m a journalist after all. I raise my iPhone higher above my camera, finger on Snapchat’s trigger — I’m a millennial after all.

The Fiat rolls up — I don’t have time to breathe — a man dressed in white steps out. He’s taller than I expect. I see his skull cap. He turns slightly. My heart explodes. It’s really him! It’s the pope!

The humble Fiat pulls away and Pope Francis greets those around him. Then he turns around and looks at us and the crowd is deafening.

My camera shutter is firing off a million times, I’m Snapchatting this whole thing, my heart is still exploding and I forget to breathe. He turns towards the church, walking up the steps into the Cathedral Basilica to celebrate Mass with the men and women religious of Philadelphia. And suddenly, he’s gone. The Holy Doors are closed, and then I remember to breathe. My chest feels tight and my eyes feel dry. Did I even blink? He was so close to me, I could have (badly) thrown a football to him.

I turn to those around me, “Wasn’t that amazing? Did you see his smile? He waved at us! He looked at us!”

When I heard “He looked at us!” I had just scrolled to a picture where Pope Francis seems to be looking directly at me. His eyes are dead into the center of my camera. They pierce the lens and, still leaning against the bench, they pierced my heart. He saw me. I’m sure he was looking at the hundreds around me, also in a chaos, but that photo captured a silent gaze of love.

When I finally sit down

Mass starts, and it’s the Gospel. I realize I’m not actually attending this Mass, just listening, and also remember that I can’t feel my legs. I tap my knees, still pushed against the bench, good, they’re still there. I need to sit down, but the crowds aren’t moving. They’re expecting him to exit the church the same way he came in, but I doubt that and wade through people to find a place to sit.

All the benches are taken, but there are several shady trees, and the grass looks soft. I find a big tree with a small older lady sits beneath it, reading a book. She looks friendly, and with a deep sigh of relief, plant myself under the green canopy. She looks over at me and smiles. “You were up at the front, weren’t you?” she asks.

I simply nod and show her the photo of the Argentine pontiff looking at me.

Her eyes and smile are as big as mine. “He’s looking at you! He’s making eye contact with you. That’s such an intensely personal experience, and so special,” she explains, reaching over and squeezing my shoulder. “You should feel very special.”

Before I can do anything, my eyes well up and tears start to fall. Seeing this, she lovingly pats my hands in a motherly way. They’re joyful tears, tears of thanksgiving.

When I look ahead, I also look back

I attended World Youth Day in Madrid, but never got to see the pope up close like in Philadelphia. As I prepare my heart and soul to once again encounter the Universal Catholic Church, just as I did in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families, I am setting no expectation. I ask for your prayers, and will bring you with me on this pilgrim journey with the pope.

Now with just days before I see the Holy Father again in Krakow, I think back to my time under that tree with my friend in Philadelphia. Dozens of families finally make their way to the park, setting up picnics around our tree.

To my right, a father rolls a small orange ball to his young child. The little boy can’t seem to pick up the rubber ball and seems content with just pushing it. His dad takes his hand, placing it under the ball and lifts it so it will drop. His little face lights up when he sees the ball fall and bounce on the grass. The ball keeps rolling, and he chases after it.

Under the shade of a towering leafy tree, I can feel my legs again. My new friend leans back over: “Peace be with you.”


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James Ramos is a storyteller and designer with the Texas Catholic Herald in Houston. Follow his #Krakow16 journey on Twitter, Instagram, and his blog. He’s also great at high fives, loves group selfies and is terrible at #PokemonGo.

Pope Francis’ Video Message for Peace in Syria

The following is the transcript of the video message that Pope Francis has sent on the occasion of the campaign for peace in Syria promoted by Caritas Internationalis on the theme: “Syria, peace is possible”:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I want to speak to you about something that saddens my heart a lot: the war in Syria, now in its fifth year. It is a situation of unspeakable suffering that the Syrian people are victims of, forced to survive under bombs or to find escape routes to other countries or areas of Syria that are less war-torn: to leave their own home, everything… I also think about the Christian communities, which I give my full support to for the discrimination they have to bear.

So I want to turn to all the faithful and those that are committed, with Caritas, to the construction of a more just society. While the people suffer, incredible quantities of money are being spent to supply weapons to fighters. And some of the countries supplying these arms are also among those that talk of peace. How can you believe in someone who caresses you with the right hand and strikes you with the left hand?

I encourage all, adults and young people, to live the Holy Year of Mercy enthusiastically to overcome indifference and proclaim with strength that peace in Syria is possible! Peace in Syria is possible!

For this, we are called to embody this Word of God: “I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. “They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah, 29,11)

The invitation is to pray for peace in Syria and for its people at prayer vigils, at awareness- raising initiatives in groups, parishes and in communities, to spread the message of peace, a message of unity and hope. Works of peace then follow prayer. I invite you to call on those who are involved in peace negotiations to take these agreements seriously and to make every effort to facilitate access to humanitarian aid.

Everyone has to recognise that there is no military solution for Syria, but only a political solution. The international community must therefore support the peace talks heading towards the construction of a government of national unity.

Let’s join forces, at all levels, to ensure that peace in beloved Syria is possible. Now that really will be a great example of mercy and love lived for the good of all the international community!

May the Lord bless you and may Mary Most Holy protect you. Thank you.

Blessing of Pallia and Mass on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

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During mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, at 9.30 am in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father Pope Francis blesses the Pallia, (plural of pallium) taken from the Confession of the Apostle Peter for new the Metropolitan Archbishops appointed during the past year. The Pallium will then be imposed on each Metropolitan Archbishop by the Pontifical Representative in the respective Metropolitan See in each country.

After the rite of blessing of Pallia, the Pope presides at Mass with the new metropolitan archbishops. As usual on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Patrons of the City of Rome, present at the Holy Mass is a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, led the delegation sent by His Holiness Bartholomew I and led by His Eminence Methodios, Metropolitan of Boston, accompanied by His Excellency Job, Archbishop of Telmessos, and Reverend Patriarchal Deacon Nephon Tsimalis.

During the Mass, after the reading of the Gospel, the Pope pronounced the homily below:

The word of God in today’s liturgy presents a clear central contrast between closing and opening. Together with this image we can consider the symbol of the keys that Jesus promises to Simon Peter so that he can open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not close it before people, like some of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus reproached (cf. Mt 23:13).

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-11) shows us three examples of “closing”: Peter is cast into prison; the community gathers behind closed doors in prayer; and – in the continuation of our reading – Peter knocks at the closed door of the house of Mary, the mother of John called Mark, after being set free.

In these three examples of “closing”, prayer appears as the main way out. It is a way out for the community, which risks closing in on itself out of persecution and fear. It is a way out for Peter who, at the very beginning of the mission given him by the Lord, is cast into prison by Herod and risks execution. And while Peter was in prison, “the church prayed fervently to God for him” (Acts 12:5). The Lord responds to that prayer and sends his angel to liberate Peter, “rescuing him from the hand of Herod” (cf. v. 11). Prayer, as humble entrustment to God and his holy will, is always the way out of our becoming “closed”, as individuals and as a community. It is always the eminent way out of our becoming “closed”.

Paul too, writing to Timothy, speaks of his experience of liberation, of finding a way out of his own impending execution. He tells us that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength to carry out the work of evangelizing the nations (cf. 2 Tim 4:17). But Paul speaks too of a much greater “opening”, towards an infinitely more vast horizon. It is the horizon of eternal life, which awaits him at the end of his earthly “race”. We can see the whole life of the Apostle in terms of “going out” in service to the Gospel. Paul’s life was utterly projected forward, in bringing Christ to those who did not know him, and then in rushing, as it were, into Christ’s arms, to be “saved for his heavenly kingdom” (v. 18).

Let us return to Peter. The Gospel account (Mt 16:13-19) of his confession of faith and the mission entrusted to him by Jesus shows us that the life of Simon, the fishermen of Galilee – like the life of each of us – opens, opens up fully, when it receives from God the Father the grace of faith. Simon sets out on the journey – a long and difficult journey – that will lead him to go out of himself, leaving all his human supports behind, especially his pride tinged with courage and generous selflessness. In this, his process of liberation, the prayer of Jesus is decisive: “I have prayed for you [Simon], that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). Likewise decisive is the compassionate gaze of the Lord after Peter had denied him three times: a gaze that pierces the heart and brings tears of repentance (cf. Lk 22:61-62). At that moment, Simon Peter was set free from the prison of his selfish pride and of his fear, and overcame the temptation of closing his heart to Jesus’s call to follow him along the way of the cross.

I mentioned that, in the continuation of the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, there is a detail worthy of consideration (cf. 12:12-17). When Peter finds himself miraculously freed from Herod’s prison, he goes to the home of the mother of John called Mark. He knocks on the closed door and a servant by the name of Rhoda comes. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in disbelief and joy, instead of opening the door, she runs to tell her mistress. The account, which can seem comical, and which could give rise to the “Rhoda complex”, makes us perceive the climate of fear that led the Christian community to stay behind closed doors, but also closed to God’s surprises. Peter knocks at the door. Behold! There is joy, there is fear… “Do we open, do we not?…”. He is in danger, since the guards can come and take him. But fear paralyzes us, it always paralyzes us; it makes us close in on ourselves, closed to God’s surprises. This detail speaks to us of a constant temptation for the Church, that of closing in on herself in the face of danger. But we also see the small openings through which God can work. Saint Luke tells us that in that house “many had gathered and were praying” (v. 12). Prayer enable grace to open a way out from closure to openness, from fear to courage, from sadness to joy. And we can add: from division to unity. Yes, we say this today with confidence, together with our brothers from the Delegation sent by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to take part in the celebration of the Holy Patrons of Rome. Today is also a celebration of communion for the whole Church, as seen by the presence of the metropolitan archbishops who have come for the blessing of the pallia, which they will receive from my representatives in their respective sees.

May Saints Peter and Paul intercede for us, so that we can joyfully advance on this journey, experience the liberating action of God, and bear witness to it before the world.


CNS photo/Paul Haring