Caritas president: ceasefire first step to peace in Holy Land

(Vatican Radio) The president of the Catholic Church’s international aid organization is calling for a permanent ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

In a message, issued Thursday, the president of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, notes this is the third war in five years between the two parties.

Taking into account both sides of the conflict, the Cardinal recognized that, since early July, “almost two million Palestinians in Gaza and people in Israel have been caught up in a devastating war.”

However, the Cardinal went on to take into account the particularly harsh conditions of the war for the people in Gaza, who “have no safe place to hide when the bombs rain down on the densely-populated, small stretch land.”

“They see their children slaughtered, their neighbourhoods razed to the ground … The battlefield is neighbourhoods full of children, women and men,” he said.

Hospitals are “over-burdened with the injured and (the) dead” and schools are being bombed.

He urged Israel and Hamas to put down arms and to see that most victims are innocent people. He recalled the recent meeting of Pope Francis at the Vatican with the presidents of Israel and Palestine and the Pope’s words that, “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare.”

But a permanent ceasefire, the Cardinal stated, is “just the first step on the road to a just peace based on inclusive negotiations across the region.”

The Cardinal said Caritas is also calling for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted, so that Gazans can earn their own living and not rely on humanitarian organizations for their basic needs.

He noted the current material and spiritual aid provided by Caritas workers to the people of Gaza, with great risk to their own lives, invoking prayers for the work of Caritas staff in the region.

Caritas is praying for peace in the Holy Land, for Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost their loved ones, for those who have been killed, and for the “children who live in terror and whose mental scars will run deep … after this war is over,” he said.

The Cardinal concluded, recalling the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and saying yet another prayer is that “despite this terrible time of war and oppression, the souls of Palestinians and Israelis will remain free to believe in a future of justice and peace.” 

Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci:



(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis to Albania: Full schedule

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See has announced the schedule for Pope Francis’ Apostolic Voyage to Albania, set for 21 September 2014. It will be the second visit of a Pope to Albania, after Pope St John Paul II’s visit to the country in 1993.

Pope Francis trip will begin with a welcoming ceremony at Tirana’s “Mother Teresa” international airport, where he will be greeted by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. From the airport the Pope will travel to the Presidential Palace where he will pay a courtesy visit to the President, Bujar Nishani. Afterwards he will address representatives of the civil authorities.

The high point of the Voyage will be the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Mother Teresa Square, followed by the recitation of the Angelus. After Mass, the Holy Father will meet with the Bishops of Albania for lunch at the Apostolic Nunciature.

In the afternoon, Pope Francis will meet with leaders of other religions and other Christian denominations at the Catholic University “Our Lady of Good Counsel.”

The Holy Father will travel to the Cathedral of St Paul in the evening to celebrate Vespers with priests, religious sisters and brothers, seminarians, and members of various lay movements.

The final event on a busy schedule will be a meeting with children of the “Centro Betania,” along with representatives from other charitable institutions of Albania.

Although Pope Francis’ Apostolic Voyage will be only the second visit by a reigning Pope, four other Roman Pontiffs have ties to the country: Pope St Eleutherius, Pope St Caius, and Pope John IV were all born in what is now Albania, while the ancestors of Pope Clement XI also hailed from the country.


(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Card. Tagle: Asia awaits Pope Francis

Vatican Radio) “The Holy Father has captured the imaginations not only of Catholics and Christians in Asia but even of the non-Christians” says Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, the Philippines.

In less than two weeks’ time Pope Francis will embark on his first Apostolic Journey to Asia when he flies to Korea August 14th.   Moreover his first foreign trip of 2015 – confirmed this week by the Vatican – will be a return journey to the continent, this time to Sri Lanka and the Cardinal’s homeland, the Philippines.

In a lengthy interview with Emer McCarthy, Cardinal Tagle says that from the outset of his pontificate, Pope Francis expressed his deep desire to visit the churches of Asia; he speaks of how the Pope has ‘ignited a flame’ in Asian minds; of the importance of Asian Youth Days in faith formation;  of how the Philippines is preparing for the Papal visit in January 2015 and of how the upcoming Synod on the Family is not just about divorced and re-married Catholics.

Listen to the interview:

This is the Pope’s first visit to Asia, has it sparked any interest in wider society is there an awareness that he is coming?

“The Holy Father has captured the imaginations not only of Catholics and Christians in Asia but even of the non-Christians. They see his sincerity, how he embodies the Gospel truth in a way that is noble, down to earth, so near and yet quite transcendent. In Asia people love that.  While we are very respectful of authority, in our hearts we want to see that transcendent authority in the flesh, coming to us and so we are just fascinated by this and the Holy Father has ignited a flame in the hearts and minds of many Asian people”.

The Pope will attend celebrations for the Asian Youth Day which is in it’s 6th edition, is this the Asian version of the World Youth Day?

“The Asian Youth Day celebration happens in between two World Youth Days (WYD), to bring to the youth here in Asia the fruits of the WYD and also to prepare for the coming WYD.  My former diocese in Emus was the host diocese for the last Asian Youth Day so I was part of the team that welcomed the youth of Asia. So I remember clearly when the youth delegates and I presented the Cross to the next host diocese from Korea. The Asian Youth Day is not as big as the WYD. In fact the organizers want to keep the official delegates to around two thousand, so that the delegates can experience intense formation, intense moments of prayer, intense community building. But because the Pope will be coming I am sure more young people will be invited and I know that the young and not so young from the Philippines are planning to go to Korea to see the Pope”.


What has the reaction been to the announcement of the 2015 Philippines visit how are you preparing for it?

“The Filipino people are just ecstatic!  And what a coincidence! 20 years ago in January, Pope John Paul II came to Manila for the World Youth Day, 1995…that was a pure coincidence but how God works! The historic visit of Pope John Paul encountering the people of the world. Now Pope Francis is following in his footsteps.   But he is not just encountering young people.  He is coming especially to meet with the people who suffered on account of the typhoons and earthquakes that hit the country last year.

Immediately after the Conclave in one of our conversations I invited the Holy Father to Asia, especially the Philippines where you have almost half of the Christian population of all of Asia.  He told me that he would love to go to Asia, especially because due to his age and health reasons Pope Benedict was not able to do a pastoral visit in Asia.  He repeated this to me last June – and this was before the Typhoon – I want to go to Asia.  So he even asked us to start thinking of a program. And since in the Philippines 2014 was dedicated to the laity we thought we could have this as a theme for the Holy Father. Then the Typhoon came. The visit now acquired a new configuration. It’s not just a general or generic visit, but especially to show the Holy Father’s solidarity with the victims and survivors and to pray with these people. And I also hope that he will be inspired by the resilience tenacity and deep faith of the people who have gone through horrible times”.

These next few months will be intensely busy for you.  Not only are you preparing for this papal visit, but you are also one of the three Presidents appointed by the Pope to preside over the October Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. 

“In terms of preparation, this extraordinary synod is linked to the ordinary synod of bishops that will happen next year – so this is quite unique- two consecutive assemblies linked in process and in theme.  This first gathering will set the status quaestionis with the help of episcopal conferences,  experts and observers worldwide we want to see the situation of the family all over the globe. 

Here in the Philippines there was an extensive response to the questionnaire.  Many dioceses really took the survey issued by the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops seriously. So we have a sizable collection of data that will be the core of the contribution of the Philippine Church to the Synod.  I myself saw the need for the evangelization of the family here in the Philippines which is a predominantly Christian, Catholic country”. 

“Attending the preparatory meetings I also realized that part of the richness of the Synod is the diversity of situations, challenges and it is exciting to see how the one Gospel, the one Truth we hold on to could be expressed pastorally in diverse ways”.


Here in the west the main preoccupation ahead of the Synod seems to be with the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics, but there are other issues that perhaps we in the West overlook…

“While not minimizing the importance of that question, for example in most Asian countries – even the not predominantly Christians countries – we do not have divorce. But there is a type of separation that is happening.  Not because couples are fed up with one another or don’t want to see each other anymore or want to abandon the family.  There is a separation of married people due to poverty, due to wars.  This is a painful type of separation.  For example here in the  Philippines we have couples finding employment outside of the country and they bear the pain of being separated from their spouses and families.  But they are willing to be separated out of love.  So poverty, poverty is one big area.  This also leads to the question of forced migration, because poverty  forces people to separate. Here in Asia you still have a lot of refugees and stateless people who are not cared for, imagine the impact on the family.  This is just one of the burning issues in Asia.

I can mention another area, the families in Asia are becoming the locus for inter-religious dialogue.  Inter-religious dialogue and you think right away of theologians schools of philosophy etc…but now it is happening in the family and how are we equipping the Catholic partner to engage in a serious interreligious dialogue with their spouses and how can a family be family in an inter-religious setting.  And we say if the families could discover the secret than maybe they can led it to wider society, so diversity in religious affiliations would not be a deterrent to peace and unity”.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Vatican hosts conference marking World Day against Trafficking

(Vatican Radio) The first World Day against Trafficking in Persons is being marked on Wednesday July 30th, with a call to action to step up the fight and support the survivors. Whether it’s child labour in Southeast Asia, organ trading in Central America, sex trafficking in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, child soldiers in Africa, or exploitation in the United States, it’s a problem which touches virtually every part of our global community.  In a statement the UN leader Bank Ki-Moon spoke about the need to cut off funding for the traffickers, while at the same time tackle the root causes of human trafficking such as poverty, inequality and ignorance.

Philippa Hitchen reports: 

Here in the Vatican on Tuesday the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, together with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the ecumenical Global Freedom Network, hosted a video conference with America’s top official on monitoring human trafficking, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca. Speaking from his Washington office, he talked about the recently released U.S. Report on Trafficking in Persons, highlighting the journey that trafficked people make from victim to survivor.

Tracking progress being made in 188 countries around the world, the report focuses on a triple paradigm of ‘prevention, protection and prosecution’.  It’s filled with personal stories about men, women and children who’ve escaped from slavery and are now helping in the fight against the traffickers. Talking to journalists about the millions of people still falling victim to this crime,  Ambassador CdeBaca said there has been an important shift in the way trafficking is being defined:

“Trafficking was defined as moving people across international borders… that defined out hereditary slavery in Mauritania, Mali and other parts of West Africa ….”

But does that mean we’re making progress against the trafficking gangs? Certainly the Ambassador listed numerous countries – from the UK to Chile, Sudan to Haiti – that have introduced new anti-trafficking laws but he said there is still not enough political will to tackle the more hidden forms of this widespread phenomenon

 “What we’ve seen around the world is that governments will always try to reclassify things so they are not defined as human trafficking to protect their fishing industry, to protect their palm oil industry, to protect their charcoal industry, to protect their ability to bring in nannies or people to come and build their stadiums for upcoming sporting events..…”

Ambassador CdeBaca stressed the important role the Church has played in defining trafficking as a crime against humanity, pushing it higher up the public agenda. But he said it’s vital to work closer together with all those dealing with the problem to find effective prevention strategies

“My biggest concern is that as a global community we tend to chase the last tragedy….so last year we were suddenly all concerned about fire safety in Bangladeshi garment factories… instead of dealing with the labour recruiters that are feeding people into these factories, or the retailers, asking why they let this slavery happen…we’re concerned about getting fire extinguishers in the factories… so a little bit of change happens but not enough systemic change to bring us closer to our goal.”

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Holy See issues a plea for peace to embassies

(Vatican Radio) In an effort to promote peace, The Vatican Secretary of State issued a “nota verbale” to all the embassies accredited to the Holy See. This statement included the texts of Pope Francis’ most recent addresses that called for peace, particularly in the Middle East.

Mgr Dominique Mamberti explained to Vatican Radio how the Holy See on various levels have expressed its closeness to the current situation in the Middle East. The Holy Father has demonstrated his concern for the families in Mosul, inviting the world to pray for them. He has also contacted personally the Chaldean and Syrian Patriarchs, encouraging their pastors and flock to be strong in hope.

Concretely, the Holy Father has sent financial help to families through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Mgr Mamberti, in explaining the “nota verbale” initiative of the Holy See, stressed how much the situation in the Middle East touches on the violation of human rights. With this gesture, the Holy See asks the international community to take the question of peace to heart. 

Listen to the report by Andrew Summerson:  

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Dates confirmed for Pope Francis’ trip to Sri Lanka, Philippines

(Vatican Radio)  The Holy See Press Office issued a comunique Tuesday confirming the dates of the Apostolic Trip of the Holy Father in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Accepting the invitation from the civil authorities and the Episcopate, His Holiness Francis will make an Apostolic Trip to Sri Lanka from 12 to 15 January and in the Philippines from 15 to 19 January 2015. The program for the trip will be published shortly.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope’s August prayers to focus on refugees fleeing violence.

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for the month of August was released on Tuesday and focuses on “refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes” that they may “find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights”.

Ahead of the papal appeal the French government announced that it is ready to help facilitate asylum in its territory for Christians and other minorities fleeing an Islamist onslaught in Northern Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a joint statement on Monday that they are taking steps to ease the suffering of Christians now fleeing northern Iraq en masse.

Support growing in France for the religious minority being run out of their homeland in northern Iraq by ISIS jihadists, with thousands taking part in demonstrations of support this weekend in various cities across France.

Meanwhile a French Church delegation led by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, has travelled to Iraq in a sign of solidarity with the Christian community there. The group includes Bishop Michel Dubost, of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes , who told Vatican Radio there is some concern that the situation in Gaza is overshadowing the plight of  Eastern Christians and what is happening to them:

“The images on our television speak clearly: what we see is Gaza. But we have no images of what is happening in Syria and Iraq. Yet the Christians here are really suffering! There is little or no mention of this so we are trying our best to bring this suffering to public attention”.

Bishop Dubost also denounces the  failure of the international community to intervene to find a solution.  He says the US led invasion of 2003 opened a “Pandora's box, which has done more harm than good” and warns that the so-called "Caliphate" appears to be very well financed with an alarming access to resources and media.  This, he adds, should be of global concern.

The French bishop says that their mission is to first of all a show of solidarity for the Iraqi people.  The French delegation wants to meet the people who are suffering, tell them face to face that they are spiritually present beside them and hear their stories.

“Sure, it's a small consolation”, he concludes “but when someone is suffering it is important to listen to them and be close. We ask the Lord to change hearts. There are no other solutions! We go to Iraq as poor people, but the poor can change the world!”

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope in Caserta asks pardon for persecution of Pentecostals

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis returned to the southern Italian city of Caserta on Monday for a private visit to the Pentecostal community known as the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation. The Pope first met the founder of the community, Pastor Giovanni Traettino, during his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires and over the past year he has met and received groups of Pentecostals at his Santa Marta residence here in the Vatican.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report:  

After greeting the pastor and his family, Pope Francis was welcomed by over 200 Evangelicals who had travelled to Caserta from around Italy, as well as from the U.S. and South America.

"Carissimo Papa Francesco, amato fratello mio, la nostra gioia é grande……"

Calling the Pope, my beloved brother, Rev Traettino said the Evangelical community was deeply grateful for the visit which would have been unthinkable until very recently. Many Evangelicals, he said, pray daily for the Pope and see his election as the work of the Holy Spirit.

"….la Sua elezione al vescovo di Roma sia stato opera dello Spirito Santo…."

Pardon and reconciliation were the themes at the heart of the Pope’s words as, to loud applause he asked forgiveness for the words and actions of Catholics who have persecuted Pentecostals in the past.

"…..Chiedo perdono per quelli Cattolici che non hanno capito…."

All of us are sinners, the Pope stressed, but all of us must continue to walk boldly in the presence of Our Lord. Quoting from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Pope Francis spoke of the diversity of the Body of Christ but he stressed that diversity is reconciled to unity through the action of the Holy Spirit.

"…….così la Chiesa é una nella diversità….."

Following the encounter, Pope Francis then had lunch with members of the Pentecostal community in Caserta and returned by helicopter to the Vatican later on Monday afternoon 

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

2013 saw largest crackdown on religions in recent memory

(Vatican Radio) The annual International Religious Freedom Report has been released in the US, chronicling 2013 as one of the worst years for religious freedom.

The report mandated by the US Congress details where and when the universal right to religious freedom was neglected and protected, upheld and abused. In its introduction it states that in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory”.

In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, “the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self. After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike. In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict”.

Elsewhere, in the Central African Republic, “widespread lawlessness and an upsurge in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims reportedly resulted in at least 700 deaths in Bangui in December alone and the displacement of more than one million people throughout the country during the year”.

Anti-Muslim violence in “Meikhtila, Burma, led to up to 100 deaths and an estimated 12,000 displaced residents from the area in early 2013. This event showed that mob violence against Muslims was no longer confined to western Rakhine State, where over 140,000 persons have also been displaced since 2012”.

Militants in Pakistan “killed more than 400 Shia Muslims in sectarian attacks throughout the year and more than 80 Christians in a single church bombing; the government arrested and jailed a number of those responsible for sectarian attacks, but it generally failed to prevent attacks”.

Both Shia Muslims and Christians “faced violent and deadly attacks in Egypt, and Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continued to face discrimination and prejudice, as were others who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam. In Iran, officials threatened, detained and harassed members of almost all non-Shia religious groups”.

Hindus and other ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh faced increased harassment and physical attacks amidst political turmoil while in Sri Lanka violent Buddhist nationalist groups destroyed mosques and churches while security forces simply stood by.

China prosecuted family members of self-immolators, imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, continued its harassment of members of house churches and unregistered Catholic bishops and priests, and sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs who were seeking asylum overseas.

Throughout Europe, “the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity”.

And yet, amidst the darkness of religious strife lay inspiring and unheralded acts of interfaith solidarity. “Following the deadly Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan resilient Muslim community members formed human chains around churches during services in a show of solidarity and to stand up against senseless violence. In Egypt, Muslim men stood in front of a Catholic church to protect the congregation from attacks”.

“And after an increase of mosque attacks in the United Kingdom, a local orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch team began assisting Muslim leaders to ensure safe access to mosques and alert them to possible attacks”.


The full report is available here.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis gives interview to Argentinian newspaper

(Vatican Radio) To mark the first 500 days of the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Argentinian weekly “Viva” (a supplement of the newspaper El Clarín) on Sunday published the first excerpts of an interview with Pope Francis conducted earlier this month.

Pope Francis reflected on many things - including his memories of his youth, social issues such as immigration, and even the secret of happiness.

“The Romans have a saying, which can be taken as a point of reference, they say: ‘Campa e lascia campà’ …live and let live,” said Pope Francis. “That’s the first step to peace and happiness.”

He mentioned the Argentine novel "Don Segundo Sombra," written by Ricardo Güiraldes.

"In 'Don Segundo Sombra' there is a very beautiful thing, a man who looks back on his life. He says that in youth he was a rocky stream that carried everything ahead;  As an adult, he was a running river, and that in old age, he felt movement, but it was ‘”remansado” [dammed; ie slowed, quiet]. I would use this image of the poet and novelist Ricardo Güiraldes, the last adjective “remansado”. The ability to move with kindness and humility, calmness of life," said the Pope.

He also mentioned the importance of leisure: reading, art, playing with children. Pope Francis said when he was in Buenos Aires, he would often ask young mothers how often they play with their children.

“It was an unexpected question,” he said.  “It is hard. The parents go to work and come back when the children are asleep.”

Pope Francis also said Sundays should be shared with the family, noting that when he visited Campobasso, the workers did not want to work on Sundays.

Speaking about young people, the Holy Father said ways needed to be found to help them find work, noting lack of opportunities can lead to people falling into drug use, or even lead to suicide.

“I read the other day, but I do not telegraph it as a scientific fact, that there were 75 million young people under the age of 25 unemployed,” he said.  The Pope suggested the youth could be taught skilled work, which would allow them the “dignity of bringing home the bacon.”

He also spoke to the newspaper about the international situation, including the increasing number of conflicts and wars across the globe.

“War destroys,” said Pope Francis.  “And we must shout out for peace. Peace sometimes gives the idea of quietness, but it is not quiet, it is always an active peace.”

The Holy Father also spoke about those fleeing the horrors of war and other calamities, and how many countries are not generous in helping refugees.  He said Europe fears speaking about immigration, but he praised Sweden for its policies, noting that despite their small population, they have allowed in hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

The Pope also spoke about environmental issues, and how mankind continues to waste the bounty given by God.

"When, for example, you want to make use of a mining method that extracts more than other methods, but it contaminates the water, it doesn’t matter,” he said.  “And so they go on contaminating nature. I think it's a question that we do not face: humanity, in the indiscriminate use and tyranny over nature, is it committing suicide?"

In the interview, the Pope also reiterated the Church grows by attraction, not proselytizing.

“The worst thing you can do is religious proselytizing, which paralyzes,” he said.

When asked by the interviewer about the possibility of winning a Nobel Prize, Pope Francis said he had not considered it, but added the pursuit of awards and doctorates were not part of his agenda.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)