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Pope urges Colombian priests at Medellin Mass to 'get involved'

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 03:38
(Vatican Radio) The theme of day four of Pope Francis’ visit to Colombia is “Vocations” and he travelled to the country’s most Catholic city – Medellin – on Saturday to celebrate Mass and to encourage his brother priests to be like Jesus who looked beyond rigid doctrine, cared for sinners and welcomed them in. Reiterating a concept which is clearly a priority for Francis - in Colombia and across the globe - he  said to them: “the Church is not a customs post, it wants its doors to be open”. The overwhelming majority of the some 1 million faithful present at the Mass were wearing white – the colour of peace – and injecting his message with the overreaching leitmotiv of the journey, Francis urged all Colombians to “get involved” in helping each other and to embrace “acts of non-violence, reconciliation and peace.” “Get involved” was the call at the heart of his message to the clergy as he recalled the figure of Jesuit priest Saint Peter Claver and his motto – “Slave of the blacks forever” – because, the Pope said, “he understood as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering.” “Brothers and sisters, the Church in Colombia is called to commit itself with greater boldness, to forming missionary disciples” whom, the Pope said, look at reality with eyes and heart of Jesus: “Disciples who risk, act, and commit themselves”. His appeal is a poignant one in a country where so many hunger for food, dignity and justice, a country in which peace is only possible if the causes of social injustice, inequality and oppression are tackled. Francis’ ‘brother priests’ - as he calls them – have always been committed and continue to be in the forefront in Colombia. Not only as advocates for peace and human rights, but as key figures in making sure the voices of the victims were heard during the recent peace negotiations, in providing demobilization spaces for former guerrillas and developing programmes for their eventual integration in society, as well as offering education and assistance to the poor, to the displaced and the traumatized of the conflict. Colombian priests have an important and difficult responsibility and task as they guide their flocks on the rocky path to reconciliation. To them – Pope Francis said – “Remain steadfast in Christ, in such a way that you manifest him in everything you do.” In Colombia with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni   (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope at Mass in Medellin Colombia: 'Remain steadfast and free in Christ'

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 00:38
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Saturday at the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellín, in both Latin and Spanish, in memory of St. Peter Claver, Jesuit priest, who was an apostle to the African slaves. In his homily, the Pope reflected on the cost of discipleship.  He said one should not feel secure merely by following certain precepts, prohibitions, and mandates, dispensing oneself from the uncomfortable question: “What would God like us to do?” Instead, the Holy Father said God wants us to follow Him in such a way as to focus on the essential , to be renewed, and to get involved . He said these are the three attitudes which must form our lives as disciples. "Missionary disciples", he said, ought to "know how to see, without hereditary short-sightedness; looking at reality with the eyes and heart of Jesus, and only then judging." These, he said, are "disciples who risk, act, and commit themselves." In conclusion, Pope Francis invited those present to remain steadfast and free in Christ, in such a way that they manifest him in everything they do; take up the path of Jesus with all their strength, know him, allow themselves to be called and taught by him, and proclaim him with great joy. Please find below the full text of the official English translation of the Pope's prepared Homily: “The Christian Life as Discipleship” Medellín – John Paul II Airport Saturday, 9 September 2017 Dear Brothers and Sisters, During the Mass on Thursday in Bogotá, we heard Jesus calling his first disciples; the part of Luke’s Gospel which opens with this passage, concludes with the call of the Twelve.  What are the evangelists reminding us of between these two events?  That this journey of following Jesus involved a great work of purification in his first followers.  Some of the precepts, prohibitions and mandates made them feel secure; fulfilling certain practices and rites dispensed them from the uncomfortable question: “What would God like us to do?”  The Lord Jesus tells them that their fulfilment involves following him, and that this journey will make them encounter lepers, paralytics and sinners.  These realities demand much more than a formula, an established norm.  The disciples learned that following Jesus presupposes other priorities, other considerations in order to serve God.  For the Lord, as also for the first community, it is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus.  Jesus’ freedom contrasts with the lack of freedom seen in the doctors of the law of that time, who were paralyzed by a rigorous interpretation and practice of that law.  Jesus does not live according to a superficially “correct” observance; he brings the law to its fullness.  This is what he wants for us, to follow him in such a way as to go to what is essential , to be renewed , and to get involved .  These are three attitudes that must form our lives as disciples.  Firstly, going to what is essential .  This does not mean “breaking with everything” that does not suit us, because Jesus did not come “to abolish the law, but to fulfil it” ( Mt 5:17); it means to go deep, to what matters and has value for life.  Jesus teaches that being in relationship with God cannot be a cold attachment to norms and laws, nor the observance of some outward actions that do not lead to a real change of life.  Neither can our discipleship simply be motivated by custom because we have a baptismal certificate.  Discipleship must begin with a living experience of God and his love.  It is not something static, but a continuous movement towards Christ; it is not simply the fidelity to making a doctrine explicit, but rather the experience of the Lord’s living, kindly and active presence, an ongoing formation by listening to his word.  And this word, we have heard, makes itself known to us in the concrete needs of our brothers and sisters: the hunger of those nearest to us in the text just proclaimed, or illness as Luke narrates afterwards. Secondly, being renewed .  As Jesus “shook” the doctors of the law to break them free of their rigidity, now also the Church is “shaken” by the Spirit in order to lay aside comforts and attachments.  We should not be afraid of renewal.  The Church always needs renewal – Ecclesia semper reformanda .  She does not renew herself on her own whim, but rather does so “firm in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” ( Col 1:23).  Renewal entails sacrifice and courage, not so that we can consider ourselves superior or flawless, but rather to respond better to the Lord’s call.  The Lord of the Sabbath, the reason for our commandments and prescriptions, invites us to reflect on regulations when our following him is at stake; when his open wounds and his cries of hunger and thirst for justice call out to us and demand new responses.  In Colombia there are many situations where disciples must embrace Jesus’ way of life, particularly love transformed into acts of non-violence, reconciliation and peace.   Thirdly, getting involved .  Even if it may seem that you are getting yourself dirty or stained, get involved.  Like David and those with him who entered the Temple because they were hungry and the disciples of Jesus who ate ears of grain in the field, so also today we are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived.  As Christians, help them to be satiated by God; do not impede them or stop this encounter.  We cannot be Christians who continually put up “do not enter” signs, nor can we consider that this space is mine or yours alone, or that we can claim ownership of something that is absolutely not ours.  The Church is not ours, she is God’s; he is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment.  We are simple servants (cf. Col 1:23) and we cannot prevent this encounter.  On the contrary, Jesus tells us, as he told his disciples: “You give them something to eat” ( Mt 14:16); this is our service.  Saint Peter Claver understood this well, he whom we celebrate today in the liturgy and whom I will venerate tomorrow in Cartagena.  “ Slave of the slaves forever ” was the motto of his life, because he understood, as a disciple of Jesus, that he could not remain indifferent to the suffering of the most helpless and mistreated of his time, and that he had to do something to alleviate their suffering.  Brothers and sisters, the Church in Colombia is called to commit itself, with greater boldness, to forming missionary disciples, as the Bishops stated when they were gathered in Aparecida in 2007.  Disciples who know how to see, judge and act, as stated in that Latin-American document born in this land (cf. Medellín , 1968).  Missionary disciples that know how to see, without hereditary short-sightedness; looking at reality with the eyes and heart of Jesus, and only then judging.  Disciples who risk, act, and commit themselves. I have come here precisely to confirm you in the faith and hope of the Gospel.  Remain steadfast and free in Christ, in such a way that you manifest him in everything you do; take up the path of Jesus with all your strength, know him, allow yourselves to be called and taught by him, and proclaim him with great joy.  Let us pray through the intercession of Our Mother, Our Lady of Candelaria, that she may accompany us on our path of discipleship, so that, giving our lives to Christ, we may simply be missionaries who bring the light and joy of the Gospel to all people. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope very happy in Colombia says his spokesman

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 10:45
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis loves being in Colombia. The warm welcome of the people gives him a real “kick” says Greg Burke, papal spokesman and Holy See Press Office Director. Burke was speaking to Vatican Radio at the end of day three of Francis’ 5-day visit to the nation and after a particularly emotional Prayer Meeting for Reconciliation in Villavicencio. Listen to Linda Bordoni's interview with Holy See Press Office Director, Greg Burke: “I think he’s thrilled to be here” he said: “what he sees is a lot of young people, a lot of joyful people and he feeds off that joy.” Burke spoke briefly about how special are the intimate moments that take place every evening in front of the nunciature before the Pope retires for the night. “They are very short, they are organized along different themes” he explained and he recalled the encounter on Thursday evening with a group of disabled children with whom the Pope engaged telling them that “we are all vulnerable” and commenting later: “that was pure theology”. Regarding Friday’s events focussed on Reconciliation in the town of Villavicencio Burke said they were very important for him as “from day one since his election he has been talking about mercy” and to be able to listen to the stories of the victims at the Prayer Meeting and how they have moved forward was very significant because that is what the Pope is about: “he’s about asking forgiveness of God;  he says we learn to ask forgiveness from others and we learn to grant forgiveness and when he sees that in action, it’s incredibly moving for him”. Finally commenting on the sometimes rather “exuberant” enthusiasm of the Colombian people who run after the pope-mobile and try to grab him, Burke says “the Pope is totally calm and even gets a kick out of it.” “Obviously here there’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of youth, so you are going to see a lot of people running after him!” he said. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope at Colombia prayer meeting for reconciliation weeps with victims

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 07:14
(Vatican Radio) White, the colour of peace, was worn on Friday by everyone present at the Prayer Meeting for National Reconciliation in the Colombian town of Villavicencio. Our correspondent Linda Bordoni is in Colombia and sent this report: A disfigured, mutilated and burnt black Christ hung over the gathering, a stark reminder of the evil of violence and death, that as Pope Francis said, breeds more violence and death in an endless cycle of destruction unless that chain is broken by the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He listened intently to the personal testimonies of victims and perpetrators of violence, their terrible stories of suffering and abuse acting as healing memories in the effort to overcome and unite for the good of the nation and all of its children. And then Francis told them that he wasn’t at the meeting in Villavicencio to tell them what to do, but rather to weep with them and embrace them as they help their country take the first, difficult but fundamental steps towards peace. He thanked Luz for the gift of her crutch, a symbol – he said – of the more important crutch we all need which is love and forgiveness. He bowed to Pastora’s powerful and precious witness as she spoke of how the loss of two children to the conflict did not prevent her from conquering hatred and the desire for vengeance. He listened to the stories of former guerrillas Deisy and Juan Carlos thanking them for helping us understand that they too are victims and that there is hope also for those who did wrong. The crowd that lined the streets as Pope Francis was driven to pray and pay tribute to a memorial to the victims of the Colombian conflict also wore white. A black stone on the memorial monument carries the number of those who died, ‘disappeared’ or were displaced: it reads 8 million four hundred and seventy two thousand one hundred and forty three. As Pope Francis said right at the beginning of this heart-wrenching but incredibly uplifting afternoon, he had been especially looking forward to it. It’s no secret he has come to Colombia as a pilgrim of peace and hopefully this simple but powerful time together will be forceful enough to create a deep and definitive fracture in that deadly cycle of violence that can only lead to more division and grief.. In Colombia with Pope Francis, I'm Linda Bordoni   (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia: Key points from reconciliation event in Villavicencio

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 05:50
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday held a prayer service for reconciliation  in Colombia , meeting with both victims and perpetrators of the violence that has plagued the country for over half a century. Here are the highlights from his speech which you can read here : Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report: It wasn’t so much words that Pope Francis wanted to offer Colombia’s injured and bereaved families, but rather a listening ear, a warm embrace and the chance to weep together with them. He pointed to a broken Crucifix that once hung on the altar of a church in the town of Bojayà, site of a massacre of over a hundred people, mainly women and children in 2002. As paramilitaries and guerillas fought for control of a key drug trafficking route, terrified residents fled into the church. Pope: Disfigured Christ shows love is stronger than death FARC fighters launched gas cylinder bombs, one of which went through the roof and landed on the altar, blowing away the arms and legs of the crucified Christ. While Christ has been mutilated and wounded, the pope said, his face remains and reminds us that hatred doesn’t have the last word and that love is stronger than violence and death. He said he was moved by the stories of suffering and anguish he’d just heard, but also by the words of love and forgiveness that speak of life and hope. Pope: Break the cycle of hatred and revenge Pope Francis listened to four people sharing dramatic, personal testimonies of the way they’ve suffered from the conflict, through injuries, the murder of family members or by fighting on one side or the other. He responded to each one, thanking them for their efforts to forgive and thus break the violent cycle of hatred and revenge. It’s a huge challenge to learn to trust and welcome those who’ve committed offenses, the pope acknowledged, but it’s the only way to heal the pain and find peace. Pope: Truth liberates and helps us to trust again It’s also vital to uncover the truth, he said, helping families find out what really happened to their missing relatives or confessing violent crimes carried out in the name of warped ideologies. Finally, Pope Francis prayed that all Colombians might be builders of peace, becoming the hands and feet of the disfigured Christ as they reach out to embrace, console and bless those who weep alone. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope addresses Colombian prayer for National Reconciliation: Full text

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 05:43
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis participated in a prayer for National Reconciliation in the Las Malocas Park in Villavicencio on Friday during his Apostolic Visit to Colombia, expressing his desire to be with the Colombian people who, he said, are carrying in their hearts and their flesh the signs of tragic events they have faced. Addressing the people gathered for the prayer event, Pope Francis said he had been waiting for the moment from the time of his arrival.  He said he wished to be close to the people and to see them with his own eyes, in order to open his heart to their witness of life and faith.  Making the suffering the people of Colombia have gone through his own, the Holy Father said he wished to embrace them all and weep with them, asking them to pray for one another and ask forgiveness together so that together they could go forward in faith and hope. The Pope was moved as he listened to the testimonies of four people. He said their stories were not just of suffering and anguish, but also, and above all, that they were stories of love and forgiveness which speak to us of life and hope; stories of not letting hatred, vengeance or pain take control of our hearts. Please find below the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech: Villavicencio Friday, 8 September 2017 Dear Brothers and Sisters,           I have been looking forward to this moment since my arrival in your country.  You carry in your hearts and your flesh the signs of the recent, living memory of your people which is marked by tragic events, but also filled with heroic acts, great humanity, and the noble spiritual values of faith and hope.  I come here with respect and with a clear awareness that, like Moses, I am standing on sacred ground (cf. Ex 3:5).   A land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends.  Wounds that are hard to heal and that hurt us all, because every act of violence committed against a human being is a wound in humanity’s flesh; every violent death diminishes us as people.           I am here not so much to speak, but to be close to you and to see you with my own eyes, to listen to you and to open my heart to your witness of life and faith.  And if you will allow me, I wish also to embrace you and weep with you.  I would like us to pray together and to forgive one another – I also need to ask forgiveness – so that, together, we can all look and walk forward in faith and hope.           We have gathered at the feet of the Crucifix of Bojayá, which witnessed and endured the massacre of more than a hundred people, who had come to the Church for refuge on 2 May 2002.  This image has a powerful symbolic and spiritual value.  As we look at it, we remember not only what happened on that day, but also the immense suffering, the many deaths and broken lives, and all the blood spilt in Colombia these past decades.  To see Christ this way, mutilated and wounded, questions us.  He no longer has arms, nor is his body there, but his face remains, with which he looks upon us and loves us.  Christ broken and without limbs is for us “even more Christ”, because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people. He came to show us that hatred does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence.  He teaches us to transform pain into a source of life and resurrection, so that, with him, we may learn the power of forgiveness, the grandeur of love.  I thank our brothers and sisters who have shared their testimonies with us, on behalf of so many others.  How good it is for us to hear their stories!  I am moved listening to them.  They are stories of suffering and anguish, but also, and above all, they are stories of love and forgiveness that speak to us of life and hope; stories of not letting hatred, vengeance or pain take control of our hearts. The final prophecy of Psalm 85 – “Mercy and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (v. 10) – follows the working of grace and the petition to God: “Restore us!”  Thank you, Lord, for the witness of those who inflicted suffering and who ask for forgiveness; for the witness of those who suffered unjustly and who forgive.  This is only possible with your help and presence… this is already a great sign of your desire to restore peace and harmony in this land of Colombia.           Pastora Mira, you put it well: you want to place all your suffering, and that of the thousands of victims, at the feet of Jesus Crucified, so that united to his suffering, it may be transformed into blessing and forgiveness so as to break the cycle of violence that has reigned over Colombia.  You are right: violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death.  We must break this cycle which seems inescapable; this is only possible through forgiveness and reconciliation.  And you, dear Pastora, and so many others like you, have shown us that this is possible.  Yes, with the help of Christ alive in the midst of the community, it is possible to conquer hatred, it is possible to conquer death and it is possible to begin again and usher in a new Colombia.  Thank you, Pastora; you have helped us greatly today by the witness of your life.  It is the Crucified One of Bojayá who has given you this strength to forgive and to love, to help you to see in the shirt that your daughter Sandra Paola gave to your son Jorge Aníbal not only a remembrance of their deaths, but the hope that peace will finally triumph in Colombia.            We are also moved by what Luz Dary said in her testimony: that the wounds of the heart are deeper and more difficult to heal than those of the body.  This is true.  Even more important, you realized that it is not possible to live with resentment, but only with a love that liberates and builds .   And so you also began to heal the wounds of other victims, to rebuild their dignity.  This going out of yourself has enriched you, has helped you look ahead, find peace and serenity and a reason to keep moving forward.  I thank you for the crutch you have given me.  Although you still have physical side-effects from your injuries, your spiritual gait is fast and steady, because you think of others and want to help them.  Your crutch is a symbol of the more important crutch we all need, which is love and forgiveness.  By your love and forgiveness you are helping so many people to walk in life.  Thank you.           I wish to acknowledge also the powerful testimony of Deisy and Juan Carlos.  You have helped us to understand that, in the end, in one way or another, we too are victims , innocent or guilty, but all victims.  We are all united in this loss of humanity that means violence and death.  Deisy has said it clearly: you realized that you yourself were a victim and you needed to be given a chance.  So you started to study, and now you work to help victims and prevent young people from falling into the snares of violence and drugs.  There is also hope for those who did wrong; all is not lost.  Of course justice requires that perpetrators of wrongdoing undergo moral and spiritual renewal.  As Deisy said, we must make a positive contribution to healing our society that has been wounded by violence.           It can be difficult to believe that change is possible for those who appealed to a ruthless violence in order to promote their own agenda, protect their illegal affairs so they could gain wealth, or claim – dishonestly – that they were defending the lives of their brothers and sisters.  Undoubtedly, it is a challenge for each of us to trust that those who inflicted suffering on communities and on a whole country can take a step forward .  It is true that in this enormous field of Colombia there is nevertheless room for weeds…  You must be attentive to the fruit… care for the wheat and do not lose peace because of the weeds.  When the sower finds weeds mingled with the wheat, he or she is not alarmed.  Search for the way in which the Word becomes incarnate in concrete situations and produces the fruit of new life, even if it appears to be imperfect or incomplete (cf. Evangelii Gaudium , 24).  Even when conflicts, violence and feelings of vengeance remain, may we not prevent justice and mercy from embracing Colombia’s painful history.  Let us heal that pain and welcome every person who has committed offences, who admits their failures, is repentant and truly wants to make reparation, thus contributing to the building of a new order where justice and peace shine forth. As Juan Carlos has let us glimpse in his testimony, throughout this long, difficult, but hopeful process of reconciliation, it is also indispensable to come to terms with the truth .  It is a great challenge, but a necessary one.  Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.  Together they are essential to building peace; each, moreover, prevents the other from being altered and transformed into instruments of revenge against the weakest.  Indeed, truth should not lead to revenge, but rather to reconciliation and forgiveness.  Truth means telling families torn apart by pain what happened to their missing relatives.  Truth means confessing what happened to minors recruited by violent people.  Truth means recognizing the pain of women who are victims of violence and abuse.           I wish finally, as a brother and a father, to say this: Colombia, open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled.  Fear neither the truth nor justice.  Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it.  Do not resist that reconciliation which allows you to draw near and encounter one another as brothers and sisters, and surmount enmity.  Now is the time to heal wounds, to build bridges, to overcome differences.  It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance, and to open yourselves to a coexistence founded on justice, truth, and the creation of a genuine culture of fraternal encounter.  May we live in harmony and solidarity, as the Lord desires.  Let us pray to be builders of peace, so that where there is hatred and resentment, we may bring love and mercy (cf. Prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi ). I wish to place all of these intentions before the image of the Crucified One, the black Christ of Bojayá: * * * O black Christ of Bojayá, who remind us of your passion and death; together with your arms and feet they have torn away your children who sought refuge in you.   O black Christ of Bojayá, who look tenderly upon us and in whose face is serenity; your heart beats so that we may be received in your love.   O black Christ of Bojayá, Grant us to commit ourselves to restoring your body. May we be your feet that go forth to encounter  our brothers and sisters in need; your arms to embrace  those who have lost their dignity; your hands to bless and console  those who weep alone.   Make us witnesses to your love and infinite mercy.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia at Beatification Mass: 'Reconciliation is not an abstract word'

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 03:29
(Vatican Radio)  “Reconciliation is not an abstract word” Pope Francis told Colombians as he celebrated Mass in the city of Villavicencio , and he appealed to them to open a door to “every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict” because, he said, “when victims overcome the temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace”. The Pope’s words came during a Beatification Mass celebrated in the Colombian town which is seen as a symbolic model for reconciliation. Villavicencio,  at the heart of an area which was once besieged by rebels, overwhelmingly backed the President’s peace plan and has taken the step of welcoming back the FARC whose leaders have pleaded for forgiveness and launched a development project. The Mass comes on the second day of Francis’ visit to Colombia which is cantered on the theme “Reconciliation with God, among Colombians and with Nature.” And the two Catholic priests beatified during the ceremony – Bishop Jesus Jaramillo and Father Pedro Ramirez – are intimately identified with Colombia’s conflict and provide strong testimonies in a nation in desperate need of forgiveness and healing. Both of them, Pope Francis said, are “a sign of the expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness,” a sign of the closeness of the Gospel and of the Church to its people. Pope Francis’s call to Colombians to overcome what he called the “understandable” temptation of vengeance is key to the divided country’s reconstruction as is the inclusion of the many groups of victims of the conflict in the government’s plan for a peaceful future. That’s why some 112 different communities of indigenous people were present as were thousands of victims from all walks of life. The Pope’s beautiful homily included other key themes for reconciliation including the need to overcome chauvinistic attitudes towards women. Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, Francis said it is a powerful commentary of a world in which “psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident.” Overcoming that violence, he said, is also key to the sort of full reconciliation that recovery from  conflict requires. And perhaps, most poignant of all was his call to reconcile with a “weeping” environment. Villavicencio is the door to the Colombian Amazon rainforest, home to many of the displaced or threatened indigenous communities and to the nation’s rich and wonderful natural heritage. Quoting from his own encyclical “Laudato Sì” and from a Colombian songwriter he described the trees as weeping  witnesses to so many years of violence and said that  “the violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in water, in air, in all forms of life”.” Saying “yes” to reconciliation – Pope Francis concluded – means saying “yes” with Mary and singing with her the wonders of the Lord who wishes Colombia to be reconciled: “a promise made also to its descendents forever”. In Colombia with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia prays for victims of Mexico quake and Hurricane Irma

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 01:45
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said he is close to all those suffering the consequences of the devastating earthquake that has struck Mexico and that he is praying for them and for all those affected by Hurricane Irma . The Pope’s words of vicinity and concern came at the conclusion of a Beatification Mass on Friday in the Colombian town of Villavicencio during his five-day apostolic journey to Colombia. Decrying the fact that the powerful earthquake that rocked Mexico on Thursday night has caused death and destruction the Pope said he is spiritually close to “those who have lost their lives and to their families”. He went on to say that he is also following closely the crisis situation caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean region “as it leaves many victims and huge material damage in its wake, while causing thousands of people to be displaced.” “I am following the situation with my heart and I am praying for them” the Pope said and he asked those present at the Mass to join him in his intention. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia: celebrates Mass, beatifies 2 martyrs in Villavicencio: Full text

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 00:19
(Vatican Radio) “Mary is the first light who announces night’s end, and above all, the impending day”, Pope Francis said during Mass on Friday to celebrate the Nativity of Mary and the beatification of two martyred Colombian clerics in Villavicencio. Keeping to the theme of his visit to Colombia, that of ‘Reconciliation and Peace,’ the Holy Father reflected on how Mary transmitted God’s light. She reflected the rays of that light in her home which she shared with Joseph and Jesus, reflecting it also in her people, her country and that home which is common to all mankind: creation, he said. Referring to the genealogy of Jesus from the day's Gospel, he made a comparison with that of the people of Colombia whose genealogy also can be traced.  He said Colombia's is a genealogy full of stories, many of love and light; others of disagreement, insults, even of death. Speaking about the two Colombian martyrs whom he beatified during Mass, the Pope called Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, Bishop of Arauca, and the priest of Armero, Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, "a sign of an expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness". Please find below the official English translation of the Pope's prepared Homily: “To be reconciled in God, with Colombians and with Creation” Villavicencio Friday, 8 September 2017 “Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, is the new dawn that proclaims joy to the whole world, for from you has been born the sun of justice, Christ our God” (cf. Antiphon for the Benedictus ).  The feast of the birth of Mary shines its light over us, just as the gentle light of dawn radiates above the vast Colombian plain, this beautiful landscape whose gateway is Villavicencio, and shines its light too upon the rich diversity of its indigenous peoples.    Mary is the first light who announces night’s end, and above all, the impending day.  Her birth helps us to understand the loving, tender, compassionate plan of love in which God reaches down and calls us to a wonderful covenant with him, that nothing and no one will be able to break. Mary knew how to transmit God’s light, and she reflected the rays of that light in her home which she shared with Joseph and Jesus, reflecting it also in her people, her country and that home which is common to all mankind: creation. In the Gospel, we have heard the genealogy of Jesus ( Mt 1:1-17), which is not a “simple list of names”, but rather a “living history”, the history of the people that God journeyed with; by making himself one of us, God wanted to announce that the history of the just and of sinners runs through his blood, that our salvation is not a sterile entity found in a laboratory, but rather something concrete, a life that moves forward.  This long list tells us that we are a small part of a vast history, and it helps us not to claim excessive importance for ourselves; it helps us elude the temptation of over-spiritualizing things; it helps us not withdraw from the concrete historical realities in which we live.  It also integrates in our history of salvation those pages which are the darkest and saddest, moments of desolation and abandonment comparable to exile. The mention of women – though none of those referred to in the genealogy has the category of the great women of the Old Testament – allows us a particular rapprochement: it is they, in the genealogy, who tell us that pagan blood runs through the veins of Jesus, and who recall the stories of scorn and subjugation.  In communities where we are still weighed down with patriarchal and chauvinistic customs, it is good to note that the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history. And within all this we see Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Mary with her generous yes permitted God to take charge of that history.  Joseph, the just man, did not allow his pride, passions or zeal to expel him from this light.  The narration lets us know, before Joseph is even aware, what has happened to Mary.  His decision, made before the angel helped him to understand what was happening around him, shows his human qualities.  The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity; and today, in this world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph is presented as a figure of the respectful and sensitive man.  Even though he does not understand the wider picture, he makes a decision favouring Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life.  In his hesitation as how best to act, God helped him by enlightening his judgment. The people of Colombia are God’s people; here too we can write genealogies full of stories, many of love and light; others of disagreement, insults, even of death… How many of you can tell of exile and grief!  How many women, in silence, have persevered alone, and how many good men have tried to put aside spite and resentment, hoping to bring together justice and kindness!   How can we best allow the light in?  What are the true paths of reconciliation?  Like Mary, by saying yes to the whole of history, not just to a part of it.  Like Joseph, by putting aside our passions and pride.  Like Jesus Christ, by taking hold of that history, assuming it, embracing it.  That is who you are, that is who Colombians are, that is where you find your identity.  God can do all this if we say yes to truth, to goodness, to reconciliation, if we fill our history of sin, violence and rejection with the light of the Gospel.  Reconciliation is not an abstract word; if it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance.  Reconciliation means opening a door to every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict.  When victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace.  What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so.  We need only one good person to have hope!  And each of us can be that person!  This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts.  This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices.  Recourse to reconciliation cannot merely serve to accommodate unjust situations.  Instead, as Saint John Paul II taught: “[Reconciliation] is rather a meeting between brothers who are disposed to overcome the temptation to egoism and to renounce the attempts of pseudo-justice.  It is the fruit of sentiments that are strong, noble and generous that lead to establishing a coexistence based on respect for each individual and on the values that are proper to each civil society” ( Letter to the Bishops of El Salvador , 6 August 1982).  Reconciliation, therefore, becomes substantive and is consolidated by the contribution of all; it enables us to build the future, and makes hope grow.  Every effort at peace without a sincere commitment to reconciliation is destined to fail. The Gospel text we have heard culminates in Jesus being called Emmanuel, God-with-us.  That is how the Gospel of Mathew both begins and ends: “I will be with you always, to the close of the age” ( Mt 28:20).  This promise is fulfilled also in Colombia: Monsignor Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, Bishop of Arauca, and the martyred priest of Armero, Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, are a sign of this, an expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness. In these beautiful surroundings, it is up to us to say yes to reconciliation; may our yes also include the natural environment.  It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and to subjugate.  One of your countrymen sings this in a beautiful way: “The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence.  The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth” (Juanes, Minas Piedras ).  “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” ( Laudato Si’ , 2).  We need to say yes with Mary, and sing with her “the wonders of the Lord”, for as he has promised to our fathers, he helps all nations and peoples, he helps Colombia which today wishes to be reconciled; it is a promise made also to its descendants forever. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to beatify Fr. Ramirez in Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:37
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ‎will declare Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez Ramos ‎ of Colombia “Blessed”, which is a step away from final sainthood.  Both were martyred for their faith in the last century.  The Pope will beatify them at a morning Mass on Friday in Villavicencio, some 94 kms southeast of the Colombian capital Bogota.   On July, Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Fr. Ramirez, killed during  the outbreak of Colombia’s civil war known as “La Violencia”.  Refused to abandon his people Born in La Plata on Oct. 23m 1899, Fr. Ramirez was ordained to priesthood in 1931.  He served as the pastor of Chaparral then of Cunday and later of El Fresno before opting for Armero , where he was killed on April 10, 1948.   When violence between the liberals and conservatives erupted, families in Armero offered to smuggle him out of the area to safety but he refused to abandon his people.  The rebels burst into his church and dragged him to the town square where they lynched and mutilated him.  Trinitarian Father Antonio Doménico Sáez Albéniz, the postulator or promoter of the cause of beatification and canonization of Fr. Ramirez, told Vatican Radio that he was a very faithful priest given much to prayer, especially to the Eucharist, and quite demanding in questions of morality of the people.  As he was about to be taken to the town square by the rebels, he wrote down his last declaration, thanking the bishop for having posted him in Armero and expressing his gratitude to the Church.  He said he was ready to shed his blood for his people .  Fr. Saez said Fr. Ramirez is a martyr because he died for his faith and for justice .  With several Protestant sects and Communists active there, Armero was not a particularly religious town.  Several priests assigned to Armero before him had given up and gone away but Fr. Ramirez volunteered to go there.  Faithful to the last The postulator said that with the eruption of violence in 1948 in Bogota, Armero also was involved, with Fr. Saez was accused of everything.  Some women persuaded him to go into hiding, but the priest said he had “consulted his Lord” who asked him to say on.  While being dragged to the square amidst insults, Fr. Ramirez forgave those about to kill him, Fr. Saez said.   The messge of Fr. Ramirez is one of fidelity , which he expressed in the profound awareness of his priesthood, Fr. Saez added.   (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope to beatify Bishop Jaramillo in Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:36
(Vatican Radio)  One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ Sept. 6-11 Apostolic visit to Colombia, is to offer the nation  emerging from decades of armed conflict, two martyrs to imitate in their task of peace, reconciliation and nation building.  At a morning Mass on Friday in Villavicencio, some 94 kms southeast of the capital Bogota, Pope Francis will declare Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca and Father Pedro María Ramírez Ramos Blessed, which is a step away from final sainthood.  Both were killed for their faith in the last century. Critic of rights abuses A strong critic of the armed rebel group, the National Liberation Army ( ELN ), Bishop Jaramillo, a member of the Xaverian Missionaries of Yarumal, spoke out against the group’s atrocities in the conflict and a drug war .  Opting to be the voice of the poor and the marginalized, he came to be known as a zealous and caring pastor, fighting against social injustice.  The ELN, that on Monday agreed to a temporary ceasefire with the Colombian government, killed Bishop Jaramillo  on Oct. 2, 1989, after kidnapping him. Zealous pastor Redemptorist priest, Fr. Antonio Marrazzo, the postulato r or promoter of the beatification and canonization of Bishop Jaramillo, spoke to Vatican Radio about his martyrdom.  He said the 73-year old bishop preached the Gospel not just by word but more by promoting the human person .  He joined the Xaverians who were reaching out to Colombia’s remote and abandoned regions inhabited by peasants and the natives .  He set up institutions for their uplift and also started a hospital for them. Fr. Marazzo noted that Bishop Jaramillo lived at a time when the armed guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were born.  The ELN, active in the area of the bishop, criticized and calumniated him and his apostolate.  The group also falsely denounced the bishop for misappropriating the salaries of teachers from an institution set by the government in collaboration with the bishops’ conference.  Serene in his last moments The postulator said that Bishop Jaramillo was killed for his faith because he was a stumbling block to the ELN ideology.  The bishop was on a parish visit along with two priests, when they were abducted by the rebels.  The bishop asked that the priests be allowed to go.  One of the priests came back to the spot where they were abducted and found the tortured body of Bishop Jaramillo with several bullet wounds.  Fr. Marazzo noted that Bishop Jaramillo is well known to Colombians, including young people, particularly for his integrity of life and total fidelity to Christ.  From the two priests who were abducted by the rebels, Fr. Marazzo said, they came to know that the bishop was serene in his last moments, knowing he was doing God’s will.   The fact that Pope Francis is himself beatifying Bishop Jaramillo, is not just a sign of hope but also an invitation and an exhortation to the people to forge ahead in promoting the human person in his/her integrity.  (from Vatican Radio)...

Colombians seeking peace and reconciliation

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 20:30
(Vatican Radio) Colombians are looking not just for peace – a word which can have political connotations – but also for reconciliation as Pope Francis visits the country this week. That was the message of Father Mauricio Urbina , a priest of the Archdiocese of Bogotà, an assistant to Cardinal Rubén Salazar and pastor of a parish in the nation’s capital. “Colombia has been a country that has suffered from different… fractures, we can say, along its history, so reconciliation inside the families, and even inside the same church, is very important for us, and I would hope would be the main topic,” said Fr Urbina, speaking with Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni. EVANGELIZATION Asked about the Pope’s message for priests and religious, which the Holy Father will give on Saturday in the city of Medellín, Fr Urbina said he thought the Church in Colombia has been heading in the direction already pointed out by Pope Francis: Going out of the sacristies, going out of “our own places, our own houses, of our own, also, mental ideas” to evangelize the many Colombians who are waiting for the Gospel. He said he would “receive and hope for” a word in that sense.” RECONCILIATION With the world’s attention focused on Colombia, Fr Urbina said he hoped Colombia would be seen as a “place where we can reconcile [with] each other.” Referring to the theme of the Apostolic Visit – “Let us take the first step” – he emphasized that the first step is “toward Christ.” Colombians, he said, “are taking the first step, not towards violence, not towards division, but towards unity, towards making a new reality out of this country that has suffered so much for so many years.” Father Urbina noted the importance of hearing the voices of the victims of decades old conflict, especially during a meeting with the Holy Father at Villavicencio on Friday. He said it is important to hear the voices of the victims themselves, but also to have their voices heard through the Pope. It is important, he said, to see how Colombians have suffered – but also to see how they are willing to be reconciled to one another. Listen to the full interview of Father Mauricio Urbina with Linda Bordoni: (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope: “vulnerability is the essence of man”

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 08:43
(Vatican Radio) Concluding a long day in Bogotá, which began with an official welcome ceremony and ended with the celebration of Holy Mass in the presence of over one million people, Pope Francis was given a goodnight and goodbye display of fireworks from the city that sees him depart for Villavicencio Friday on day 3 of his apostolic journey to Colombia. And before turning in for the night at the Apostolic nunciature, the Pope was greeted by a crowd of singing faithful and a group of children and teenagers with mental disabilities waiting for a word and the comforting touch of the man who never fails to uphold their rights and their human dignity. And sure enough, Pope Francis – who must have been very tired – did not hasten by, but took time to look each of them in the eyes, hugging them fiercely to his chest. “Vulnerability” a visibly moved Pope said “is the essence of the human person”. “We are all vulnerable, he continued, except for the Lord himself”. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope denounces thick darkness that threatens Colombia

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 07:47
(Vatican Radio) Amongst the over one million faithful attending the Papal Mass in Bogotá on Thursday there were thousands of victims of Colombia’s conflict and groups of Venezuelan refugees on the run from violence and misery in their own country. The former in search of the strength needed to forgive, the latter hoping for consolation and support, support they have been receiving from the Churches on the border between the two countries, and from Venezuelan and Colombian Bishops who are setting up an emergency pastoral programme in response to the situation. In the city's Simon Bolivar park, the deeply religious faithful listened in sombre silence as Pope Francis denounced the “thick darkness'' that sparks violence and takes human lives in Colombia and elsewhere. He said such darkness is a “thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority, the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims.'' The Pope has described himself as a “pilgrim of peace” in Colombia which is trying to take the first steps of a difficult post-conflict process. A process set off by the signing of a peace deal between the government and FARC rebels who have disarmed and converted into a political party, and just last week the announcement of a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN rebel group. Essential steps on the road to peace for sure, but true peace does not yet reign in Colombia where ongoing violence by paramilitary groups and a fistful of smaller rebel militias continues to displace communities and create power vacuums in territories now being taken over by paramilitaries and drug traffickers. So, well aware of his flock’s deep need for words of enlightenment indicating the direction and beauty of human existence, Pope Francis reminded the faithful to trust in the Lord “whose word – he said - is fruitful even where the hostility of human darkness” destroys and plunders. “We need to call out to one another, to signal each other” he said, to see each other again as “brothers and sisters, companions on the way, partners in this common cause which is the homeland”. The Pope concluded his homily quoting the theme of this intense day of faith, support, comfort and commitment in Bogotà: leave selfishness, fears and paralysis behind – he said - and become “artisans of peace, promoters of life”. In Bogotà with Pope Francis, I’m Linda Bordoni (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Bogota: Full text‎

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 06:44
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated his first public Mass on Colombian soil on Thursday evening at the Simon Bolivar Park ‎in Bogota, encouraging Colombians‎ to keep trusting in Christ in the ‎difficult journey towards peace and reconciliation. He pointed to the figure of St. Peter in the day’s Gospel who heeded to Christ’s ‎exhortation to put out into the deep and came up with a wonderful catch. Noting that, like anywhere else, in Colombia too there is darkness such as injustice, ‎social inequality, corruption, selfishness, disrespect for human life, vengeance and hatred. The Holy Father said, “Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared ‎risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him…” Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's prepared homily: Homily: “Artisans of Peace, Promoters of Life” Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 The Gospel writer tells us that the calling of the first disciples happened along the shore of Lake Gennesaret, where the people came together to hear a voice capable of guiding them and illuminating them; it was also the place where fishermen used to bring their tiring days to an end, where they looked for sustenance in order to live a dignified and happy life, one not lacking the basic necessities.  It is the only time in the whole Gospel of Luke that Jesus preaches near the Sea of Galilee.  On the open sea their hopes for a bountiful catch are turned into frustration with what seem to be pointless and wasted efforts.  According to an ancient Christian interpretation, the sea also represents the vastness where all peoples live; because of its turmoil and darkness, it evokes everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it. We use similar expressions to define crowds: a human tide, a sea of people.  That day, Jesus had the sea behind him, and in front of him a crowd that followed him because they knew how deeply moved he was by human suffering… and they knew of his impartial, profound, and true words.  Everyone came to hear him; the word of Jesus has something special that leaves no one indifferent; his word has the power to convert hearts, to change plans and projects.  It is a word demonstrated by action, not academic findings, cold agreements, removed from people’s pain; for his is a word valid both for the safety of the shore and the fragility of the sea. This beloved city, Bogotá, and this beautiful country, Colombia, convey many of the human scenarios presented by the Gospel.  Here too the crowds come together, longing for a word of life to englighten all their efforts, and to indicate the direction and beauty of human existence.  These crowds of men and women, the young and the elderly, dwell in a land of unimaginable fertility, which could provide for everyone.  But here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life: the darkness of injustice and social inequality; the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all; the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims.  Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness with the command he gives to Peter in the boat: “Put out into the deep sea” (Lk 5:4).  We can get tangled up in endless discussions, adding up failed attempts and making a list of all the efforts that have ended in nothing; just like Peter, we know what it means to work without success.  This nation knows this all too well, given that in a period of six years, from its beginning, there were sixteen presidents, and the country paid dearly for its divisions (the “foolish homeland”); the Church in Colombia knows also about unsuccessful and fruitless pastoral work…, but, like Peter, we too are able to trust the Master, whose word is fruitful even where the hostility of human darkness renders so many attempts and efforts fruitless.  Peter is the man who resolutely accepts Jesus’ invitation, to leave everything and follow him, to become a new fisherman, whose mission is to bring to his brothers the Kingdom of God, where life is made full and happy. But the command to cast out the nets is not directed only to Simon Peter; he was directed to put out into the deep, like those in your homeland who first recognized what is most compelling, like those who took the initiative for peace, for life.  Casting out the nets involves responsibility.  In Bogotá and in Colombia a vast community journeys forwards, called to conversion in a healthy net that gathers everyone into unity, working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother’s womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization.  Great multitudes of people in Bogotá and in Colombia can also become truly vibrant, just and fraternal communities, if they hear and welcome the Word of God.  From these evangelized multitudes will arise many men and women transformed into disciples, who with a truly free heart, follow Jesus; men and women capable of loving life in all its phases, of respecting and promoting it. We need to call out to one another, to signal each other, like fishermen, to see each other again as brothers and sisters, companions on the way, partners in this common cause which is the homeland.  Bogotá and Colombia are at the same time the shore, the lake, the open sea, the city through which Jesus has passed and passes, to offer his presence and his fruitful word, to call out of  darkness and bring us to light and to life.  He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms;  to go into the boat of every family, that sanctuary of life; to make space for the common good above any selfish or personal interests; to carry the most fragile and promote their rights. Peter experiences his smallness, the immensity of the word and the power of Jesus; Peter knows his weakness, his ups and downs…, as we all know our own, as is known in the history of violence and division of your people, a history which has not always found us sharing the boat, the storm, the misfortunes.  But in the same way as Simon, Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him; to give up our fears which do not come from God, which paralyze us and prevent us becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope urges CELAM to empower youth, laity and women

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 06:27
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis ’ eagerly awaited discourse to the leaders of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM) provided a rich and colourful canvas of ideas and proposals for an integral response to the many challenges of the continent in this time of change. Francis has deep-rooted ties to CELAM, an institution founded in the 1950s and that has produced a series of key documents for the Church in the continent including the pivotal “Aparecida” document authored by the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. That Aparecida document, based on the belief that the Church needs to “rid itself from all expired structures that do not favour the transmission of the faith” is widely seen as a sort of a manifesto for Pope Francis’ pontificate, and surfaces again and again in his vision of the role of the Church today. His speech to CELAM leaders, on this special Thursday in Bogotá, confirmed Bergoglio’s firm conviction that the only way for them to take forward their continental mission is by empowering young people, women and lay people, expanding their role and trusting them to help the Church rise to the many challenges it faces. The Pope reaffirmed his trust in CELAM and reminded those present that its mission is to place Jesus’ message of salvation at the very heart of the Church “making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of its structures, the results of its labours, the fruitfulness of its ministers, and the joy they awaken.” And echoing words he has already pronounced in more than one occasion since his arrival in Colombia, “Without joy, he said, we attract no one.” He spoke of the need for closeness and encounter which, he said, are the means used by God “who in Christ always draws near to meet us” and said that “If we do not set out with him on our mission, we quickly become lost and risk confusing our vain needs with his cause.” He underlined the fact that “mission with Jesus in Latin America today” means being concrete and warned his brother bishops against being paralyzed in “air-conditioned offices” urging them to “speak to men and women in their concrete situations” in “one-on-one contact”. Francis also addressed CELAM’s role in encouraging intra-continental unity both in the Church and wider society and praised its work to build bridges, tear down walls, integrate diversity and promote encounter and dialogue. “No lasting construction in Latin America can do without this essential foundation” he said. Francis’ long and complex discourse ended with a call to the Church in Latin America to put trust and hope in three elements: its young people, women, and laity. He urged CELAM to invest time and resources in training young people and in empowering lay Catholics whom he described as protagonists in the Church. And he had strong words for the role of women without whom – he said - the Church will lose its power “to be continually reborn,” and that “if we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.” And with yet another reference to Aparecida’s core message, he concluded saying that Latin America’s deepest problems will not be resolved by “textbook answers” and “talk show platitudes” but through “that Christian simplicity hidden to the powerful, yet revealed to the lowly.”     (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis addresses the Conference of Latin American Bishops

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 04:29
(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis appreciated the efforts of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) of making their conference a home at the service of communion and the mission of the Church in Latin America. The Pope’s words came on Thursday, when he met the Executive Committee of CELAM in the Apostolic Nunciature after his meeting with the Bishops of Bogota. He recalled his last meeting with them four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro and the mention he made then of the  pastoral legacy of Aparecida which he said is  a treasure yet to be fully exploited. The renewed awareness born of an encounter with the living Christ he said, requires that his disciples foster their relationship with him; otherwise, the face of the Lord is obscured, the mission is weakened, pastoral conversion falters. He called them to carry out their mission by one to one contact and to make a Church able to be a sacrament of unity and hope. He entrusted his brother bishops of CELAM, the local Churches that they represent, and all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the protection of Our Lady under the titles of Guadalupe and Aparecida. Please find below the full text of the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech:  Meeting with the Executive Committee of CELAM Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 Dear Brothers,           I thank you for our meeting and for the warm words of welcome by the President of the Latin American Episcopal Council.  Were it not for the demands of my schedule, I would have liked to visit you at the CELAM offices.  I thank you for your thoughtfulness in meeting me here.           I appreciate your efforts to make this continental Episcopal Conference a home at the service of communion and the mission of the Church in Latin America, as well as a centre for fostering a sense of discipleship and missionary spirit.  Over these decades of service to communion, CELAM has also become a vital point of reference for the development of a deeper understanding of Latin American Catholicism .  I take this occasion to encourage your recent efforts to express this collegial concern through the Solidarity Fund of the Latin American Church .           Four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, I spoke to you about the pastoral legacy of Aparecida, the last synodal event of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean.  I stressed the continuing need to learn from its method, marked in essence by the participation of the local Churches and attuned to God’s pilgrim people as they seek his humble face revealed in the Virgin fished from the waters .  That method is also reflected in the continental mission , which is not meant to be a collection of programmes that fill agendas and waste precious energies.  Instead, it is meant to place the mission of Jesus at the heart of the Church, making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of her structures, the results of her labours, the fruitfulness of her ministers and the joy they awaken.  For without joy, we attract no one.           I went on to mention the ever-present temptations of making the Gospel an ideology, ecclesial functionalism and clericalism.  At stake is the salvation that Christ brings us, which has to touch the hearts of men and women by its power and appealing to their freedom, inviting them to a permanent exodus from themselves and their self-absorption, towards fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters.           When God speaks to us in Jesus, he does not nod vaguely to us as if we were strangers, or deliver an impersonal summons like a solicitor, or lay down rules to be followed like certain functionaries of the sacred.  God speaks with the unmistakable voice of the Father to his children; he respects the mystery of man because he formed us with his own hands and gave us a meaningful purpose.  Our great challenge as a Church is to speak to men and women about this closeness of God, who considers us his sons and daughters, even when we reject his fatherhood.  For him, we are always children to be encountered anew.           The Gospel, then, cannot be reduced to a programme at the service of a trendy gnosticism, a project of social improvement or the Church conceived as a comfortable bureaucracy, any more than she can be reduced to an organization run according to modern business models by a clerical caste.           The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples.  The Church is a Mystery (cf. Lumen Gentium , 5) and a People (cf. ibid., 9).  Better yet, in the Church the Mystery becomes present through God’s People.           Hence my insistence that missionary discipleship is a call from God for today’s busy and complicated world, a constant setting out with Jesus, in order to know how and where the Master lives.  When we set out with him, we come to know the will of the Father who is always waiting for us.  Only a Church which is Bride, Mother and Servant, one that has renounced the claim to control what is not her own work but God’s, can remain with Jesus, even when the only place he can lay his head is the cross.           Closeness and encounter are the means used by God, who in Christ always draws near to meet us.  The mystery of the Church is to be the sacrament of this divine intimacy and the perennial place of this encounter.  Hence, the need for the bishop to be close to God, for in God he finds the source of his freedom, his steadfastness as a pastor and his closeness to the holy people entrusted to his care.  In this closeness, the soul of the apostle learns how to make tangible God's passion for his children.           Aparecida is a treasure yet to be fully exploited.  I am certain that each of you has seen how its richness has taken root in the Churches you hold in your hearts.  Like the first disciples sent forth by Jesus on mission, we too can recount with enthusiasm all that we have accomplished (cf. Mk 6:30).           Nonetheless, we have to be attentive.  The essential things in life and in the Church are never written in stone, but remain a living legacy.  It is all too easy to turn them into memories and anniversaries to be celebrated: fifty years since Medellín, twenty since Ecclesia in America , ten since Aparecida!  Something more is required: by cherishing the richness of this patrimony ( pater/munus ) and allowing it to flourish, we exercise the munus of our episcopal paternity towards the Church in our continent.           As you well know, the renewed awareness born of an encounter with the living Christ requires that his disciples foster their relationship with him; otherwise, the face of the Lord is obscured, the mission is weakened, pastoral conversion falters.  To pray and to foster our relationship with him: these are the most essential and urgent activities to be carried out in our pastoral mission.           When the disciples returned excited by the mission they had carried out, Jesus said to them: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place” ( Mk 6:31).  How greatly we need to be alone with the Lord in order to encounter anew the heart of the Church’s mission in Latin America at the present time.  How greatly we need to be recollected, within and without!  Our crowded schedules, the fragmentation of reality, the rapid pace of our lives: all these things might make us lose our focus and end up in a vacuum.  Recovering unity is imperative.           Where do we find unity?  Always in Jesus.  What makes the mission last is not the generosity and enthusiasm that burn in the heart of the missionary, even though these are always necessary.  It is rather the companionship of Jesus in his Spirit.  If we do not we set out with him on our mission, we quickly become lost and risk confusing our vain needs with his cause.  If our reason for setting out is not Jesus, it becomes easy to grow discouraged by the fatigue of the journey, or the resistance we meet, by constantly changing scenarios or by the weariness brought on by subtle but persistent ploys of the enemy .           It is not part of the mission to yield to discouragement, once our initial enthusiasm has faded and the time comes when touching the flesh of Christ becomes very hard .  In situations like this, Jesus does not feed our fears.  We know very well that to him alone can we go, for he alone has the words of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:68).  So we need to understand and appreciate more deeply the fact that he has chosen us.           Concretely, what does it mean to set out on mission with Jesus today, here in Latin America?  The word “concretely” is not a mere figure of speech: it goes to the very heart of the matter.  The Gospel is always concrete, and never an exercise in fruitless speculation.  We are well aware of the recurring temptation to get lost in the cavils of the doctors of the law , to wonder how far we can go without losing control over our own bailiwick or our petty portion of power.           We often hear it said that the Church is in a permanent state of mission .  Setting out with Jesus is the condition for this.  The Gospel speaks of Jesus who, proceeding from the Father, journeys with his disciples through the fields and the towns of Galilee.  His journeying is not meaningless.  As Jesus walks, he encounters people.  When he meets people, he draws near to them.  When he draws near to them, he talks to them.  When he talks to them, he touches them with his power.  When he touches them, he brings them healing and salvation.  His aim in constantly setting out is to lead the people he meets to the Father.  We must never stop reflecting on this.  The Church has to re-appropriate the verbs that the Word of God conjugates as he carries out his divine mission.  To go forth to meet without keeping a safe distance; to take rest without being idle; to touch others without fear.  It is a matter of working by day in the fields , where God’s people, entrusted to your care, live their lives.  We cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by our air-conditioned offices, our statistics and our strategies.  We have to speak to men and women in their concrete situations; we cannot avert our gaze from them.  The mission is carried out by one to one contact. A Church able to be a sacrament of unity           What lack of focus we see all around us!  I am referring not only to the squandering of our continent’s rich diversity, but also to a constant process of disintegration.  We need to be attentive lest we let ourselves fall into these traps.  The Church is not present in Latin America with her suitcases in hand, ready, like so many others over time, to abandon it after having plundered it.  Such people look with a sense of superiority and scorn on its mestizo face; they want to colonize its soul with the same failed and recycled visions of man and life; they repeat the same old recipes that kill the patient while lining the pockets of the doctors .  They ignore the deepest concerns present in the heart of its people, the visions and the myths that give strength in spite of frequent disappointments and failures.  They manipulate politics and betray hopes, leaving behind scorched land and a terrain ready for more of the same, albeit under a new guise.  Powerful figures and utopian dreams have promised magic solutions, instant answers, immediate effects.  The Church, without human pretensions, respects the varied face of the continent, which she sees not as an impediment but rather a perennial source of wealth.  She must continue working quietly to serve the true good of the men and women of Latin America.  She must work tirelessly to build bridges, to tear down walls, to integrate diversity, to promote the culture of encounter and dialogue, to teach forgiveness and reconciliation, the sense of justice, the rejection of violence.  No lasting construction in Latin America can do without this unseen yet essential foundation.           The Church appreciates like few others the deep-rooted shared wisdom that is the basis of every reality in Latin America.  She lives daily with that reserve of moral values on which the life of the continent rests.  I am sure that, even as I say this, you can put a name on this reality.  We must constantly be in dialogue with it. We cannot lose contact with this moral substratum, with this rich soil present in the heart of our people, wherein we see the subtle yet eloquent elements that make up its mestizo face – not merely indigenous, Hispanic, Portuguese or African, but mestizo : Latin American!           Guadalupe and Aparecida are programmatic signs of the divine creativity that has bought this about and that underlies the popular piety of our people, which is part of its anthropological uniqueness and a gift by which God wants our people to come to know him.  The most luminous pages of our Church’s history were written precisely when she knew how to be nourished by this richness and to speak to this hidden heart.  For it guards, like a spark beneath a coat of ashes, the sense of God and of his transcendence, a recognition of the sacredness of life, respect for creation, bonds of human solidarity, the sheer joy of living, the ability to find happiness without conditions.           To speak to this deepest soul, to speak to the most profound reality of Latin America, the Church must continually learn from Jesus.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus spoke only in parables (cf. Mk 4:34).  He used images that engaged those who heard his word and made them characters in his divine stories.  God’s holy and faithful people in Latin America understand no other way of speaking about him.  We are called to set out on mission not with cold and abstract concepts, but with images that keep multiplying and unfolding their power in human hearts, making them grain sown on good ground, yeast that makes the bread rise from the dough, and seed with the power to become a fruitful tree. A Church able to be a sacrament of hope           Many people decry a certain deficit of hope in today’s Latin America.  We cannot take part in their “moaning”, because we possess a hope from on high.  We know all too well that the Latin American heart has been taught by hope. As a Brazilian songwriter has said, “hope dances on the tightrope with an umbrella” (João Bosco, O Bêbado e a Equilibrista ).  Once you think hope is gone, it returns where you least expect it.  Our people have learned that no disappointment can crush it.  It follows Christ in his meekness, even under the scourge.  It knows how to rest and wait for the dawn, trusting in victory, because – deep down – it knows that it does not belong completely to this world.           The Church in these lands is, without a doubt and in a special way, a sacrament of hope.  Still, there is a need to watch over how that hope takes concrete shape.  The loftier it is, the more it needs to be seen on the faces of those who possess it.  In asking you to keep watch over the expression of hope, I would now like to speak of some of its traits that are already visible in the Latin American Church. In Latin America, hope has a young face           We often speak of young people and we often hear statistics about ours being the continent of the future.  Some point to supposed shortcomings and a lack of motivation on the part of the young, while others eye their value as potential consumers.  Others would enlist them in trafficking and violence.  Pay no attention to these caricatures of young people.  Look them in the eye and seek in them the courage of hope.  It is not true that they want to return to the past.  Make real room for them in your local Churches, invest time and resources in training them.  Offer them incisive and practical educational programmes, and demand of them, as fathers demand of their children, that they use their gifts well.  Teach them the joy born of living life to the full, and not superficially.  Do not be content with the palaver and the proposals found in pastoral plans that never get put into practice.           I purposely chose Panama, the isthmus of this continent, as the site of the 2019 World Youth Day, which will propose the example of the Virgin Mary, who speaks of herself as a servant and is completely open to all that is asked of her (cf. Lk 1:38).  I am certain that in all young people there is hidden an “isthmus”, that in the heart of every young person there is a small strip of land which can serve as a path leading them to a future that God alone knows and holds for them.  It is our task us to present the young with lofty ideals and to encourage them to stake their lives on God, in imitation of the openness shown by Our Lady. In Latin America, hope has a woman’s face           I need not dwell on the role of women on our continent and in our Church.  From their lips we learned the faith, and with their milk we took on the features of our mestizo soul and our immunity to despair.  I think of indigenous or black mothers, I think of mothers in our cities working three jobs, I think of elderly women who serve as catechists, and I think of consecrated woman and those who quietly go about doing so much good.  Without women, the Church of this continent would lose its power to be continually reborn.  It is women who keep patiently kindling the flame of faith.  We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote the ecclesial and social impact of all that they do.  They accompanied Jesus on his mission; they did not abandon him at the foot of the cross; they alone awaited for the night of death to give back the Lord of life; they flooded the world with his risen presence.  If we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.  Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism.  For they are on the front lines of the Latin American Church, in their setting out with Jesus, in their persevering amid the sufferings of their people, in their clinging to the hope that conquers death, and in their joyful way of proclaiming to the world that Christ is alive and risen. In Latin America, hope passes through the hearts, the minds and the arms of the laity           I would like to repeat something I recently said to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.  It is imperative to overcome the clericalism that treats the Christifideles laici as children and impoverishes the identity of ordained ministers.           Though much effort has been invested and some steps have been taken, the great challenges of the continent are still on the table.  They still await the quiet, responsible, competent, visionary, articulated and conscious growth of a Christian laity.  Men and women believers, who are prepared to contribute to the spread of an authentic human development, the strengthening of political and social democracy, the overturning of structures of endemic poverty and the creation of an inclusive prosperity based on lasting reforms capable of preserving the common good.  So too, the overcoming of inequality and the preservation of stability, the shaping of models of sustainable economic development that respect nature and the genuine future of mankind, which unfettered consumerism cannot ensure, and the rejection of violence and the defence of peace.           One more thing: in this sense, hope must always look at the world with the eyes of the poor and from the situation of the poor.  Hope is poor, like the grain of wheat that dies (cf. Jn 12:24), yet has the power to make God’s plans take root and spread.           Wealth, and the sense of self-sufficiency it brings, frequently blind us to both the reality of the desert and the oases hidden therein.  It offers textbook answers and repeats platitudes; it babbles about its own empty ideas and concerns, without even coming close to reality.  I am certain that in this difficult and confused, yet provisional moment that we are experiencing, we will find the solutions to the complex problems we face in that Christian simplicity hidden to the powerful yet revealed to the lowly.  The simplicity of straightforward faith in the risen Lord, the warmth of communion with him, fraternity, generosity, and the concrete solidarity that likewise wells up from our friendship with him.           I would like to sum up all of this in a phrase that I leave to you as a synthesis and reminder of this meeting.  If we want to serve   this Latin America of ours from CELAM, we have to do so with passion , a passion that nowadays is often lacking.  We need to put our heart into everything we do.  We need to have the passion of young lovers and of wise elders, a passion that turns ideas into viable utopias, a passion for the work of our hands, a passion that makes us constant pilgrims in our Churches.   May I say that we need to be like Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo, who was never really installed in his see: of the twenty-four years of his episcopacy, eighteen were passed visiting the towns of his diocese.  My brothers, please, I ask you for passion, the passion of evangelization.           I commend you, my brother bishops of CELAM, the local Churches that you represent, and all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the protection of Our Lady under the titles of Guadalupe and Aparecida.  I do so, in the serene certainty that God who spoke to this continent with the mestizo and black features of his Mother, will surely make his kindly light shine in the lives of all. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope in Colombia tells young people to dare to dream big

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 03:12
(Vatican Radio) Calling himself a pilgrim of peace and hope Pope Francis urged some 22,000 young people  gathered in Bogotá’s Bolivar Square not be afraid of the future: “Dare to dream big, he said, I want to invite you to that great dream today”. And of course Pope Francis was asking them to make that dream of a peaceful future for Colombia come true. He’s been very clear that his presence here at this crucial moment in which all Colombians are called to overcome fear and division is a concrete sign of encouragement and support. Just minutes earlier he had told the Bishops to give their flock the courage “to take the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering”. As the government tries to push forward its programme for reconciliation and reconstruction, it has become increasingly clear that one of the major obstacles lies in the deep divisions that wound Colombian society. That’s why young people are so important in the process as they represent the future and are those who have the most to lose or to gain. “Do not let anyone rob you of joy”, the Pope said to them, “look after that joy which unites everyone” in the knowledge that the flame of Jesus’s love is sufficient to set the whole world ablaze.  “How could you not be capable of changing this society?” The Pope did not shy away from highlighting the fact that young Colombians have “endured difficult and dark moments and how contexts of death, pain and division can impact one so deeply “that they have left you half-dazed”. But he also lingered over the fact that for young people it is so easy to encounter one another: all you need is a good coffee, a good drink, a football game – he said – and you teach us that the culture of encounter is not in thinking, living or reacting to everyone in the same way, but in “knowing that beyond our differences we are all part of something greater that unites and transcends us; we are part of this wonderful country”.  And touching on another fundamental and thorny issue of the Colombian peace process, Francis said that youthfulness makes one capable of forgiving and leaving behind what has hurt us to look to the future without the burden of hatred. “Colombia – he said to the young people – needs you!" With Pope Francis in Bogotà, I'm Linda Bordoni     (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis in Colombia: Key points from speech to bishops

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 02:56
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ met on Thursday with Colombia’s bishops, encouraging them to provide practical guidance and spiritual leadership at this crucial moment of their nation’s history. Below are the key points from that speech, which you can read here : Gabriel Garcia Marquez , Colombia’s Nobel prize winning novelist, and, of course, the Bible, provided inspiration for the pope, as he explored the “complex reality of the Colombian Church” and urged the bishops to accompany people on the path of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Pope quotes ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ Like the pope, Garcia Marquez, who died three years ago, was strongly influenced by his grandmother. She told him stories that inspired him to write his iconic novel ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, described in a New York Times review as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." Pope urges bishops to combat fear Quoting from that book, Pope Francis talked about the distinct kind of moral courage that peace requires, unlike war, which follows “the basest instincts of our hearts”. He spoke of fear as “a poisoned root, a bitter fruit and a painful legacy of every conflict”. Pope: “Sacrament of the first step” To combat fear, he urged the Church leaders to be “guardians and sacrament of the first step”, reflecting the theme of this intense four day visit. He spoke of key Old Testament texts where we see God taking “the first step” towards us – in creation, in the Garden of Eden, in making Abraham the father of many nations, before finally sending his Son Jesus, as the definitive, irreversible step. Pope: Listen to diverse voices of Colombian Church As he’d challenged Colombia’s president to be more inclusive, so he challenged the country’s bishops to include the many different experiences and expressions of Church, especially its African roots and its Amazonian, indigenous wisdom and spirituality. Pope: Unique role of Church in reconciliation Recalling the visits of two of his predecessors, Pope Paul in 1968 and John Paul II in 1986, Pope Francis said he hadn’t come with a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather he reminded the bishops that they do have a unique role to play in preaching peace and reconciliation.   Pope: Preach the word of God in people’s hearts Just as Garcia Marquez spoke of “the tenacious advantage of life over death” which helped his characters survive all kinds of odds, so the pope urged Colombia’s bishops to place their trust in God’s love, finding the freedom and credibility to help people write a new chapter in their nation’s history. (from Vatican Radio)...

Pope Francis meets Colombia’s bishops: Full text ‎

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 01:30
(Vatican Radio)  “Colombia needs that watchfulness, proper to you as bishops, to sustain its courage ‎in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards ‎abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so ‎much suffering.” Pope Francis made the exhortation on Thursday evening to the bishops of Colombia, where he is on an Apostolic Visit on Sept. 6-11. In a lengthy discourse at the Cardinal’s Palace in Bogota, the Holy Father also exhorted the bishops on various issues of their pastoral duties, such as family and life, young people, priests, religious, vocations and the laity. Commenting on the theme of his apostolic visit - ‎“Let’s take the first step” – he urged them never to forget that “God is the Lord of the first step”,  which he said is a “compass” that will keep them “from going astray”. He particularly urged them to preach reconciliation to the hearts of men and women, leading them to be responsible for their brothers and sisters. Below, please find the official English translation of the Pope's prepared speech: Address: Meeting with the Colombian Bishops Bogotá Thursday, 7 September 2017 Peace be with you This was the greeting of the Risen Lord to his little flock after he triumphed over death.  Let it be my own greeting to you at the beginning of my visit. Thank you for your words of welcome.  I am pleased that my first steps in this country have brought me to meet you, the Colombian bishops.  Through you, I embrace the whole Church in Colombia; I hold all your people in my heart, the heart of the Successor of Peter.  I am very grateful for your ministry as bishops, and I ask you to carry it out with renewed generosity.  I offer a particular greeting to the retired bishops, and I ask them, by their prayers and their discreet presence, to continue to sustain the Bride of Christ to whom they devoted themselves so generously. I have come to proclaim Christ, and to undertake a journey of peace and reconciliation in his name.  Christ is our peace!  He has reconciled us with God and with one another! I am convinced that Colombia has one remarkable feature: it has never been a goal fully attained, a destiny completely achieved, or a treasure totally possessed.  I think of the nation’s human riches, its vast natural resources, its culture, its luminous Christian synthesis, the heritage of its faith and the memory of its evangelizers.  I think of the irrepressible joy of its people, the unfailing smile of its youth, its characteristic fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and to his Church and, above all, its indomitable courage in resisting threats of death not merely proclaimed but often experienced at first hand.  All this recedes, hides itself, from those who come here as foreigners bent on domination, while offering itself freely to those who touch its heart with the meekness of a wayfarer.  Such is Colombia. For this reason, I have come to your Church as a wayfarer, a pilgrim.  I am your brother, desirous of sharing the risen Christ for whom no wall is impenetrable, no fear insurmountable, no disease incurable. I am not the first Pope to speak to you in your home.  Two of my great predecessors were your guests here.  Blessed Paul VI came immediately after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council to encourage the collegial realization of the mystery of the Church in Latin America, as did Saint John Paul II in his memorable Apostolic Visit of 1986.  The words of both are a lasting resource; the guidelines they set forth, and the marvellous synthesis that they proposed regarding your ministry as bishops, are a legacy to be treasured.  I wish that everything I say to you may be received in continuity with their teachings. Guardians and sacrament of the first step “Let’s take the first step”.  This is the theme of my visit and this is the first thing I would say to all of you.  You know very well that God is the Lord of the first step.  He constantly goes before us.  Sacred Scripture everywhere speaks of God as exiled from himself for love.   So it was when there was only darkness, chaos, and God, going forth from himself, brought all things into being (cf. Gen 1:2.4).  So it was when he walked in the Garden and saw the nakedness of his creatures (cf. Gen 3:8-9).  So it was when, as a pilgrim, he dwelt in the tent of Abraham, leaving him with the promise of an unexpected fertility (cf. Gen 18:1-10).  So it was when he appeared to Moses herding the goats of his father-in-law and opened new horizons before him (cf. Ex 3:1-12).  So it was when he refused to turn away from his beloved Jerusalem, even when she prostituted herself in the byways of infidelity (cf. Ez 16:15).  So it was when he migrated with his glory towards his people exiled in slavery (cf. Ez 10:18-19). Then, in the fullness of time, God chose to reveal the true name of the first step, his first step.  That name is Jesus, and that step is irreversible.  It is born of the freedom of a love that precedes all else.  For the Son is himself the living expression of that love.  Those who acknowledge and accept him receive the freedom always to take, in him, that first step.  They have no fear of getting lost if they step out of themselves, for they have the down payment of the love coming from God’s first step, a compass that keeps them from going astray. Preserve, then, with holy fear and reverence, that first step which God has taken towards yourselves and, through your ministry, towards the people that he has entrusted to your care.  Realize that you are a living sacrament of that divine freedom which is unafraid to go forth from itself out of love, that has no fear of being impoverished by surrendering itself and needs no strength other than that of love. God goes before us.  We are only branches, not the vine.  So do not silence the voice of the One who has called you, or delude yourselves into thinking that the success of the mission entrusted to you depends on your own meagre virtues or the benevolence of the powers that be.  Instead, pray fervently when you have so little to give, so that you will be granted something to offer to those who are close to your hearts as pastors.  In the life of a bishop, prayer is the vital sap that passes through the vine, without which the branches wither and bear no fruit.  So keep wrestling with God, even more so in the night of his absence, until he gives you his blessing (cf. Gen 32:25-27).  The wounds of that important daily wrestling in prayer will be for you a source of healing.  You will be healed by God, so that you can in turn bring healing to others. Show clearly that you are a sacrament of God’s first step Indeed, showing clearly that you are sacraments of God’s first step will demand a constant interior exodus.  “There is no mightier invitation to love than to anticipate in loving” (Saint Augustine, De catechizandis rudibus, I, 4.7, 26: PL 40).  Consequently, every area of your episcopal ministry should be marked by the freedom to take the first step. The premise for the exercise of the apostolic ministry is a readiness to draw close to Jesus, leaving behind all that we were, in order to become something we were not (Saint Augustine, In. Psal.,121, 12: PL 36). I urge you to be vigilant not only as individuals but as a collegial body, ever docile to the Holy Spirit, with regard to this constant point of departure.  Where it is lacking, the features of the Master fade from the faces of his disciples, the mission is blocked and there is a weakening of that pastoral conversion which is nothing other than a renewed impulse to preach the Gospel of joy today, tomorrow and the day following (cf. Lk 13:33).  That same concern filled the heart of Jesus, leaving him without a place to lay his head, intent only on carrying out to the end the Father’s will (cf. Lk 9:58.62).  What other future do we have?  To what other dignity can we aspire? Do not use the yardstick of those who would have you be mere functionaries, bowing to the dictatorship of the present.  Instead, keep your gaze fixed on the eternity of the One who chose you, ever ready to accept his own decisive judgment. While acknowledging the complex reality of the Colombian Church, it is important to preserve the uniqueness of its varied and legitimate strengths, its pastoral sensitivities, its regional peculiarities, its historical memories and its wealth of distinct ecclesial experiences.  Pentecost means that everyone ought to be able to hear the message in his or her own language.  So continue to seek communion among yourselves.  Never tire of building it through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the plague.  Make every effort to take the first step, trying to understand each other’s way of thinking.  Allow yourselves to be enriched by what others can offer you and build a Church that can offer this country an eloquent witness of the progress that can be made when things are not left in the hands of a small group.  The role of the Ecclesiastical Provinces in relation to the Gospel message is fundamental, for the voices that proclaim that message are diverse and concordant. So do not rest content with a watered-down compromise that leaves the minority quietly impotent while dampening those hopes that should be courageously entrusted to God’s power rather than to our own weak efforts. Show particular sensitivity towards the Afro-Colombian roots of your people, which have contributed so greatly to shaping the face of this land. Touching the flesh of Christ’s body I would ask you not to be afraid to touch the wounded flesh of your own history and that of your people.  Do so with humility, without the vain pretension of self-serving activism, and with a heart undivided, free of compromise and servility. God alone is Lord; since we are his shepherds, our hearts must not be subservient to any other cause.           Colombia needs that watchfulness, proper to you as bishops, to sustain its courage in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering.  That watchfulness is needed for renouncing the easy yet irreversible path of corruption and for patiently persevering in the construction of a res publica capable of combatting poverty and inequality.           This is an arduous but necessary task; the path is steep and the solutions are not easy to find.  From the height of God, which is the cross of his Son, you will receive strength; with the kindly gaze of the Risen Lord, you will make your way forward; attentive to the voice of the Bridegroom whispering in your hearts, you will find the criteria to discern anew, at every moment of uncertainty, the right road to take.           One of your distinguished writers said of a certain fictional character of his that, “He did not realize that it is easier to begin a war than to end one” (Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad, Chapter 9).  All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of moral courage.  War follows the basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves.  The same author then went on to say: “He did not understand that many words were needed to explain what war was like, if one alone was enough: fear” (ibid., Chapter 15).  I need not speak to you about such fear, a poisoned root, a bitter fruit and a painful legacy of every conflict.  I would only encourage you not to stop believing that there is another way.  Know that you have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear; the Spirit himself bears witness that you are children, destined for an inheritance of glorious freedom (cf. Rom  8:15-16).           With your own eyes you see, and you are aware as are few others, how marred is the face of this country.  You are guardians of the basic parts that make the nation one despite all its wounds.  For this very reason, Colombia has need of you, so that it can show its true face, filled with hope despite its imperfections.  So that it can engage in mutual forgiveness despite wounds not yet completely healed.  So that it can believe that another path can be taken, even when force of habit causes the same mistakes to be constantly repeated.  So that the courage can be found to overcome everything that generates misery in the midst of so many treasures.           I encourage you, then, to strive to make your Churches wombs of light, capable of giving birth, even amid great poverty, to the new children that this land needs.  Find shelter in the humility of your people, and recognize their hidden resources of humanity and faith.  Listen to how greatly their ravaged humanity yearns for the dignity that only the Risen Lord can give.  Do not be afraid to abandon your apparent certitudes to seek the true glory of God, which is the living man. The word of reconciliation           Many people can help with the challenges facing this nation, but your mission is unique.  You are not mechanics or politicians, but pastors.  Christ is the word of reconciliation written on your hearts.  You have the power to preach that word not only in pulpits, in ecclesial documents or newspaper articles, but also in the hearts of individual men and women.  You have the power to proclaim it in the inner sanctum of their consciences, where they hope to hear the heavenly voice that proclaims: “Peace to those whom God loves” (Lk 2:14).  You must speak that word with the frail, lowly yet invincible resource of God’s mercy, which is capable of averting the pride and cynicism of selfish hearts.           The Church seeks only the freedom to speak that word.  She has no need for alliances with this or that party, but only the freedom to speak to the heart of every man and woman.  There, they are free to face their anxieties; there, they can find the strength to change the course of their lives.           The human heart, so often misled, wants to see life as a vast warehouse for depositing everything it accumulates. For this very reason, the question needs to be put: What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, if his soul remains empty? (cf. Mt 16:26).           From your lips as legitimate shepherds of Christ, Colombia has a right to be challenged by the truth of God, who never ceases to ask: “Where is your brother?” (cf. Gen 4:9).  That question may not be silenced, even if those who hear it can do no more than lower their gaze in embarrassment and stammer in shame that they sold him, perhaps for the price of a fix of narcotics or for some misguided notion of reasons of state, or even for the false belief that the end justifies the means.           I ask you to keep your gaze ever fixed on concrete men and women.  Do not talk about “man”, but about human persons, loved by God and composed of flesh and bones, history, faith, feelings, disappointments, frustrations, sorrows and hurts.  You will see that this concrete approach will unmask cold statistics, twisted calculations, blind strategies and falsified data, and remind you that “only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). A Church on mission           While acknowledging the generous pastoral work that you continue to carry out, let me now share with you some of my heartfelt concerns as a Pastor who wants to encourage you to be more and more a Church on mission.  My predecessors have already insisted on a number of these challenges: the family and life, young people, priests, vocations, laity and formation.  Despite the enormous efforts that have been made, in recent decades it has become perhaps even harder to find effective ways to express Church’s maternity in begetting, nourishing and accompanying her children.           I think of Colombia’s families, of the defence of life from the maternal womb to its natural conclusion, of the scourge of violence and alcoholism that often affect entire households, of the weakening of the marriage bond and the absence of fathers, with the tragic effects of insecurity and a sense of abandonment.  I think of young people threatened by spiritual emptiness and seeking to escape through drug use, frivolous lifestyles and a rebellious spirit.  I think of your many generous priests and the challenge of supporting them in their daily decision to remain faithful to Christ and the Church, while some few continue to propose the easy way out, avoiding genuine commitment and remaining isolated and self-centred.  I think of the lay faithful throughout your local Churches who continue to gather together in response to the call of God, who is communion, even as many people are proclaiming the new dogma of selfishness and the death of solidarity.  I think of the immense efforts made by so many people to grow in faith, making it a radiant light for their hearts and a lamp to guide the first step.           I offer you no recipes, much less do I intend to leave you a list of things to do.  Still, I would ask you, as you carry out in communion your demanding mission as the bishops of Colombia, to maintain your serenity.  Although you know very well that, during the night, the evil one continues to sow weeds, imitate the patience of the Lord of the harvest and trust in the good quality of his grain.  Learn from his patience and generosity.  He takes his time, because his loving gaze sees far into the distance.  If love grows weak, the heart becomes impatient, anxious to be busy about many things, hounded by the fear of failure.  Believe above all in the smallness of God’s seeds.  Trust in the power hidden in his yeast.  Let your hearts be drawn to the great beauty that leads us to sell everything we have, in order to possess that divine treasure.           Indeed, what more powerful gift can you offer to the Colombian family than the quiet strength of the Gospel of love, that generous love which unites a man and a woman, and makes them an image of Christ’s union with the Church, givers and guardians of life?  Families need to know that in Christ they can once more become a luxuriant tree capable of providing shade and bearing fruit in every season, sheltering nests of life in its branches.  Nowadays so many people glorify trees that offer no shade, trees that bear no fruit, branches bare of nests.  May your own starting point be a joyful witness to the fact that happiness is to be found elsewhere.           What can you offer to young people?  They love to feel loved; they distrust those who write them off; they look for integrity and they want to be involved.  Accept them with the heart of Christ and make room for them in the life of your Churches.  Do not undersell their hopes and expectations.  Be fearless in clearly and calmly reminding everyone that a society under the spell of drugs suffers a moral metastasis that peddles hellfire, sows rampant corruption and creates fiscal paradises.           What can you give to your priests?  The first gift is to be fathers to them, assuring them that the hand that begot and anointed them continues to be part of their lives.  In this digital age, it is not hard for us to reach our priests instantly.  Yet the paternal heart of a bishop cannot be content with an occasional, impersonal and formal communication with his priests.  A bishop has to be concerned about where and how his priests are living.  Are they truly living as Jesus’ disciples?  Or have they found other forms of security, like financial stability, moral ambiguity, a double life, or the myopic illusion of careerism?  Priests have a vital and urgent need for the physical and affective closeness of their bishop.  They need to know that they have a father.           Priests frequently shoulder the burden of the Church’s daily activity.  They are in the front lines, continually surrounded by persons with difficulties who look to them for pastoral assistance.  People approach them and appeal to their hearts.  Priests have to feed the crowds, but God’s food is never something to be merely handed out.  On the contrary, it can only come from our own poverty, which encounters God’s bounty.  To dismiss the crowds and to feed oneself on the little that one can unduly appropriate is a constant temptation (cf. Lk 9:13).           So be vigilant for the spiritual grounding of your priests.  Keep leading them to that Caesarea Philippi where each of them, from his own Jordan experience, can hear Jesus ask once more: Who do you say that I am?  The reason for the gradual decay that often leads to the death of discipleship is always to be found in a heart no longer able to answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of God” (cf. Mt 16:13-16).  The result is seen in a loss of the courage to give freely of oneself, in interior confusion, and in the weariness of a heart no longer capable of accompanying the Lord on his way to Jerusalem.           Show particular concern for the ongoing formation of your priests, from the first moment they hear God’s call in their hearts.  The recently published Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis is a valuable resource whose implementation will help the Church in Colombia in her efforts to respond to the gift of God, who never ceases to call so many of her sons to the priesthood.           I ask you also to show concern for the lives of consecrated men and women. They represent an evangelical rebuke to worldliness.  They are called to purify every residue of worldly values in the fire of the Beatitudes lived sine glossa and in total self-abnegation for the service of others.  Do not look upon them as “useful resources” for the works of the apostolate, but hear in them the Bride’s cry of consecrated love: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).           Be concerned too for the formation of your laity, who are responsible not only for the strength of their faith communities, but in great part for the Church’s presence in the area of cultural, political and economic life.  Formation in the Church involves coming into contact with the living faith of the ecclesial community and appropriating the treasure of experiences and responses that the Holy Spirit awakens, for he is the one who teaches all things (cf. Jn 14:26).           I would now turn my thoughts to the challenges facing the Church in Amazonia, a region of which you are rightly proud, because it is an essential part of the remarkable biodiversity of this country.  Amazonia is for all of us a decisive test whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit.  I think particularly of the profound wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, and I ask myself if we are still capable of learning from them the sacredness of life, respect for nature, and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring fulfilment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions.           For this reason, I encourage you not to abandon the Church in Amazonia to itself.  Creating an “Amazonian face” for the pilgrim Church in this land is a challenge for all of you; and it calls for an increasingly conscious missionary support on the part of all the dioceses and the entire clergy of the nation.  I am told that in some native Amazon languages the idea of “friend” is translated by the words, “my other arm”.  May you be the other arm of Amazonia.  Colombia cannot amputate that arm without disfiguring its face and its soul. Dear brothers:           Let us now turn in spirit to Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá, whose image you were thoughtful enough to bring from her Shrine to the magnificent Cathedral of this city, so that I too might venerate her.           As you well know, Colombia cannot achieve that true renewal to which she aspires, unless it is granted from on high.  Let us ask this of the Lord through the Blessed Virgin.           Just as in Chiquinquirá God renewed the splendour of the countenance of his Mother, may he continue to shine his heavenly light on the face of this entire country and accompany the Church in Colombia with his gracious blessings. (from Vatican Radio)...

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