Pope meets Italy’s National Olympic Committee

(Vatican Radio) “Sports are at home in the Church” – that’s what Pope Francis told managers and athletes of Italy’s National Olympic Committee Friday.  In a meeting in the Vatican, the Pope congratulated them on Rome’s candidacy as a possible venue for the 2024 Olympics, but quipped; “I won’t be here!”

He observed that Italy’s National Olympic Committee celebrates its first centenary this year and recalled that it draws inspiration from the fundamental values laid out in the Olympic Charter, which places at the forefront the “centrality of the person and the harmonious development of humankind, the defence of human dignity.”  He remarked that the Charter stipulates that sport can contribute to the building of a better world, without wars and tensions, educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind ... in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and loyalty.

“Sport has always favoured a universalism characterized by brotherhood and friendship among peoples, peace and harmony among nations; by respect, tolerance, harmony of diversity,” said the Pope. Sporting events, especially the Olympics, bring together representatives of nations with different histories, cultures, traditions, beliefs and values, he said.  They can open “new routes, sometimes unexpected,”  in overcoming conflicts caused by the violation of human rights.

“The Olympic motto - "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - is not an incitement to the supremacy of one nation over another, of one people over another people,” he continued.  It is a challenge we are all called to – not just athletes, he added: “to make the effort, the sacrifice, to achieve important goals in life, accepting one’s own limitations without being hampered by them but trying to overcome them.”

The Pope encouraged the Committee for its educational work to make sports accessible to everyone, including the weakest and the poorest sections of society - inclusive of people with different disabilities, foreigners, and those who live in the outskirts.  “Sport is not intended to profit, but to further the development of the human person,” added the Pope.

He remarked that the Committee was among the first to welcome an Olympic chaplain: “a friendly presence” expressing the closeness of the Church and to stimulate in athletes a strong sense of “professional spirituality.” He pointed to the Saints who similarly demonstrated “passion, enthusiasm, perseverance, determination” in meeting the challenge of faith. Pope Francis said St. Paul invites us to train 'in the true faith, because physical exercise is useful for a little, while true faith is useful for all, bringing with it the promise of life – both present and future.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope thanks Verona and Catanzaro for crib and tree

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with religious and civil authorities from the Italian cities of Verona and Catanzaro to thank them for the Christmas tree and nativity scene that they donated for St Peter’s Square. The life sized crib figures, given by Verona’s Arena Foundation, and the giant fir tree from Calabria, he said, will be admired by many pilgrims coming to the Vatican from all corners of the globe. Philippa Hitchen reports:


Christmas trees and Nativity scenes touch the hearts of all people with their message of light, hope and love, Pope Francis said. These symbols of Christmas, he continued, have permeated and enriched the culture, literature, music and art of the different Italian regions and remain an important heritage to hand on to future generations. Drawing inspiration from its operatic tradition, staged in the city’s famous amphitheatre, the nativity figures from Verona were originally created for a performance of Donizetti’s two act opera ‘The Elixir of Love’.

Both the crib scene and the tree, Pope Francis said, recall the mystery of the Incarnation and the light that Jesus brought into our world. But they also touch the hearts of those who don’t believe in God because they speak of fraternity, intimacy and friendship, calling us to rediscover the beauty of simplicity, sharing and solidarity.

These Christmas symbols are an invitation to unity and peace, the Pope said, urging us to find room in our lives for God, who does not try to impose himself with arrogance, but rather offers us his love through the fragile figure of a new born baby. 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: The Church is not an entrepreneur but a mother

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis said on Friday that there is much sterility within the Church and the people of God, a sterility that comes from power and egoism.  The Church, he stressed, is a mother and not an entrepreneur. His remarks came during his homily at morning Mass celebrated at the Santa Marta residence.  

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges that includes clips of the Pope's voice:   


The Pope’s reflections on the themes of sterility and motherhood were taken from the biblical account of two miraculous births, those of Samson and John the Baptist, both born to women who were formerly sterile. He said this symbol of sterility as recounted in the Bible is seen as the sign of a human person incapable of moving forward. Therefore the Church, he said, wants to make us reflect on the issue of human sterility. 


Sterility and new Creation

“From sterility, the Lord is able to restart a new lineage, a new life.  And that is the message of today.  When humanity is exhausted and can no longer go forward, grace comes, the Son comes and Salvation comes. And that exhausted Creation gives way to a new creation.”

Today’s message, the Pope continued, is this second Creation that comes when the earth is exhausted.  We are awaiting the newness of God and that’s what Christmas is about. He pointed out that the mothers of Samson and John the Baptist were able to give birth thanks to the action of the Spirit of the Lord and asked what is the message of these biblical accounts?  The reply, he said, is that we must open ourselves to the Spirit of God because we cannot do it by ourselves. 


Openess to the newness of God

“This too makes me think of our mother Church and of so much sterility within our Mother Church: when because of the weight of the hope in the Commandments, that pelagianism that all of us carry within our bones, she becomes sterile.  She believes she is capable of giving birth… no, she can’t!  The Church is a mother and only becomes a mother when she opens to the newness of God, to the strength of the Spirit.  When she says to herself: “I do everything, but I’ve finished, I can’t go forward!”, the Spirit comes.”


A mother and not an entrepreneur

Pope Francis then went on to reflect on the sterility within the Church and her openness to becoming a mother through her faith.

“And today is also a day to pray for our Mother Church, because of so much sterility within the people of God.  A sterility arising from egoism, from power … when the Church believes she can do everything, that she can take charge of the consciences of the people, walk along the road of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, along the road of hypocrisy, yes, the Church is sterile. Let’s pray. That this Christmas our Church may be open to the gift of God, that she may allow herself to be surprised by the Holy Spirit and be a Church that gives birth, a mother Church. Many times I think that in some places the Church is more like an entrepreneur than a mother.”

The Pope concluded his homily by imploring the Lord for the grace of fertility and motherhood within our Church so that above all the Church is a mother, just like Mary.   

(from Vatican Radio)

Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene

(Vatican Radio) Pilgrims visiting St Peter’s square during these final weeks of Advent can begin to enjoy a little reminder of Christmas at home, with the lighting up of the Vatican’s Christmas tree and the unveiling of the Nativity Scene on the evening of Friday 19th of December.

For many years the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree was hardly followed in Italy, but in 1982 Pope John Paul II had a tree put up in the square, bringing the Polish tradition firmly into the Vatican. Since then, many different countries and regions of Europe have taken turns in donating a tree to the Pope.

This year’s tree, which is 70 years old, was donated by the southern Italian region of Calabria, which Pope Francis visited in June of this year.

In his encyclical “Lumen Fidei” Pope Francis used the image of the branches of a tree to illustrate the spreading of faith out from God into the world.   

The tree stands 25.5 metres tall, weighs 8 tons and has what’s known as a twin trunk, that is to say that two separate trunks have fused together to form a single tree trunk. This feature is also used symbolically, to show that man is never alone on his journey through this life, but is always joined by the Lord.

The Nativity scene is titled “The Nativity scene in Opera,” The figurines in the scene are donated by the “Verona for the Arena” foundation, and are inspired by the famous opera productions staged in the Verona Opera Arena, especially  Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera “The Elixir of Love.”

One hope is that the scene will help to showcase and promote Italian Opera in the world, but there’s also a more profound hope underneath.

The title play’s on the two meanings of the Italian word “opera,” which can mean either the theatre production or the verb “to work.”

So the “Nativity scene in Opera” also highlights the work that God brought about the Nativity of Jesus Christ.   

(from Vatican Radio)

Cardinal Parolin: on Holy See’s role in US/Cuba agreement

(Vatican Radio)  Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the (Vatican) Secretary of State, said on Thursday that Pope Francis played a very significant role in facilitating the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Parolin spoke of the Holy See’s satisfaction over the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and praised the leaders of the two nations for their courageous decision.


Please listen to the interview and also find below the full written transcript of Cardinal Parolin’s remarks in English:  


Q.  What was the specific role of Pope Francis – the first Pope to come from the South American continent?  

A. I would like to repeat the satisfaction of the Holy See for this important step in the relations between the United States and Cuba.  And also to stress that the role of the Holy Father was very significant in this conclusion.  Of course, in the sense that since the beginning of his pontificate, he has stressed the importance for the person and the groups and people to meet together.  What we have called the culture of encounter.  I think that this is the proper word.  But his teaching then, his teaching which also pointed out this importance and this necessity.  At the same time, the help to the two parties, the United States and Cuba, writing to the two presidents and stressing the importance of finding a solution to their historical differences. 


Q.  What was the Holy See’s diplomatic role in these negotiations? 

A. In this case, the Holy See has tried to facilitate the dialogue between the two parties according to the, let’s say, the objective that the Holy Father Pope Francis has given to the diplomacy of the Holy See.  Which is of course traditional in its history, but now he (it) has (a) new  accent (emphasis) because of the situation, the particular situation of our world – which is to build bridges between persons and groups and nations.  And then it was, let’s say, a service of facilitating and of promoting the dialogue between the two parties.

Q.  The roles of President Obama and the Cuban President were also important in these negotiations…

A. Of course, of course.  I would like to, just to highlight the courage they had in this decision.  It is a decision, I think...very important and of course, not everybody agrees with that but I think that it was important from the side of the two presidents to have the courage and the strength to make such a decision.  And I think that we have really, finally, at the end, to thank God who inspired such good sentiments and intentions (of) the two leaders.  Hoping that this example could be taken by many other leaders in the region and in the world and to try, really, to overcome differences and conflict through negotiation and through dialogue.

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope to New Ambassadors: Task of Ambassador, through small steps, is to bring peace

Vatican City, 18 December 2014 (VIS) -This morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father received in audience the ambassadors of the following nations, presenting their Credential Letters:

      - Mr. Vaanchig Purevdorj of Mongolia,

      - Mr. Sean Mcweeney, Q.C., of The Bahamas,

      - Mr. Edward D.A. Lambert of Dominica,

      - Mr. Philip Sang’ka Marmo of Tanzania,

      - Mrs. Louise Bang Jespersen of Denmark,

      - Mr. Dato’ Mohd Zulkephli Bin Mohd Noor of Malaysia,

      - Dr. Francois Xavier Ngarambe of Rwanda,

      - Mr. Jari Petteri Luoto of Finland,

      - Mrs. Janet Lowe of New Zealand,

      - Sheikh Mouclary Diarra of Mali,

      - Mr. Kokou Nayo Atsumikoa M’Beou of Togo,

      - Mr. Shameem Ahsan of Bangladesh, and,

      - Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser bin Ahmad Ali Al-Thani of Qatar.

The Holy Father welcomed the new ambassadors with the following words: “I warmly welcome you and hope that every time you enter this house that you feel at home. I extend our welcome and respect for you and for your peoples and the heads of your governments. I greet you and wish your work to be fruitful, to be fertile. The work of an ambassador lies in small steps, small things, but they always end up making peace, bringing closer the hearts of people, sowing brotherhood among peoples. This is your job, but with little things, tiny things. Today we are all happy because we have seen how two peoples, distanced for so many years, made a step nearer one another yesterday. That was brought about by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Your job is noble work, very noble. I wish it to be fruitful, fertile, and may God bless you. Thank you.”

Pope to children: Jesus is your best friend

(Vatican Radio) Italian Catholic Action is one of the most active lay movements in Italy today and is made up of both adults and children and it was to the children of this group that the Pope extended his Christmas greetings on Thursday.

This year these boys and girls have been focusing on a particular theme "Everything to be discovered" and Pope Francis, reflecting on this slogan had some useful tips for the children present.

Listen to Lydia O'Kane's report

Firstly, the Holy Father said, “never give up” because Jesus’ plan for you is to be built together with, parents,  brothers, sisters, friends, classmates, and catechism.

Imparting more words of wisdom, the Pope told the children to concern themselves with the needs of the poorest and those who suffer and he also asked them to donate time to their parishes.

In another point Pope Francis stressed how important it is to love the Church and to love oneself and he called on the young to be apostles of peace and serenity adding that misunderstandings can be overcome because united Jesus, everything is possible. He then urged all present to talk to Jesus who, he said, is the greatest friend that never leaves us.

The Pope, then said to the children, “what do you think? Do you feel like putting into practice this proposal.” He continued by saying,"(I think you already living out a lot of these things.”

Pope Francis concluded by saying, “with the grace of his birth, Jesus wants to help you take a step even stronger, more confident and more joyful to become his disciples.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: pleased about U.S. and Cuba agreement

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis spoke on Thursday at his joy over the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, two nations who have been estranged for many years, saying this was a result of diplomacy. His remarks came in a  brief off-the-cuff address to non-resident Ambassadors to the Holy See; Bahamas, Bangladesh, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Tanzania  and Togo. He said the work of an Ambassador is to take small steps aimed at building peace, bringing the hearts of people closer together and sowing brotherhood between peoples and nations. 

Please find below an English translation of the pope’s remarks to the non-resident Ambassadors:

“I give you a warm welcome and I hope that every time you come here you feel as though at home. Our welcome and our respect (are) for you and also for your people and the Heads of your Governments.  I greet you all and hope your work will be fruitful. The work of an Ambassador is a job of taking small steps, doing small things but whose aim always is to build peace, to bring the hearts of people closer together and sow brotherhood between peoples.  This is your work, but done with small things, very small things.  And today we are all happy because yesterday we saw two nations, who were estranged for so many years, take a step to bring them closer together. This was achieved by Ambassadors, by diplomacy. Yours is a noble, very noble work. I hope it will be fruitful and may God bless you. Thank you.” 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope: God walks in history with us and adjusts it’s course

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday invited the faithful to rely on God even in the darkest hours, even if sometimes we do not understand how He is working, because he always walks with us in the history of Salvation.

The Pope’s words came during his homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni

"God’s will has been to save us in history" - the Pope said - our Salvation "is not sterile, as in a laboratory. No! It’s history. He has walked through history with his people. "Therefore – he said - "there is no salvation without history. And to get to the point: history goes back a long time":

"And so, step by step, history is made. God makes history, we make history; and when we fail, God makes adjustments and sets history back on course, walking with us all the time. If this is not clear to us, we will never understand Christmas! We will never understand the Incarnation of the Word! Never! It’s a story that goes forward in time. 'Father, is history over with the story of Christmas?'; 'No! The Lord continues to save us in history. And he walks with his people. '"

In this story - Pope Francis continued – there are those chosen by God, those people that He chooses "to help his people to move forward," like Abraham, Moses, Elijah. For them "there are some bad times", "dark moments, awkward moments, bothersome moments". Perhaps they are people who just want to live peacefully, but "the Lord inconveniences them. The Lord inconveniences us to make history! So often he puts us on roads that we don’t want to walk". So much so that Moses and Elijah, at a certain point, would rather die, but then they trust in the Lord.

The Gospel of the day speaks of "another bad moment in the history of salvation", that of Joseph who discovers that his betrothed, Mary, is pregnant: "He suffers, he sees the village women chatting in the market; and he suffers. ‘This is a good one, I know her! She is a woman of God. What has she done to me? It’s not possible!” If he accuses her, she will be stoned. But that is not what he wants to do, even although he does not understand. He knows that Mary "is incapable of being unfaithful." "In difficult moments such as these" - the Pope said - "those chosen by God to make history, must take the problem on their shoulders, without understanding." Like that – he said - "the Lord makes history."

"That’s what Joseph does. The man who in the worst moment of his life, the most obscure, takes the problem upon himself. And he takes the blame in the eyes of others in order to protect his bride. A psychoanalyst could perhaps say that this dream of Joseph’s is the condensation of anxiety, which seeks to be expressed... let them say what they will. But what did Joseph do? After awaking from the dream he took Mary as his bride. 'I do not understand, but the Lord spoke to me and said she will give birth to a son who will appear to be my son!'".

"To make history with His people - the Pope said – for God means to walk and to put his chosen ones to test." In the end He saves them: "Let us always remember, with confidence, even in the worst moments, even in times of illness, when we realize we have to ask for the Last Rites because there is no way out, to say: 'Lord, history did not start with me and will not end with me! You go ahead, I am willing to come with you'. And to put ourselves in the hands of the Lord. "What then do those who are chosen by God teach us?

"That God walks with us, that God makes history, that God puts us to the test and that God saves us in the worst moments, because He is our Father. And according to Paul He is our daddy. May the Lord help us to understand this mystery of Him walking with His people in history, of testing His elected ones, as well as the greatness of their hearts as they take upon themselves the pains, the problems, even the blame for our sins – Let us walk forward with Jesus across history. "

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope urges Lutherans and Catholics to take further steps towards unity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Thursday with a delegation of German Lutheran and Catholic leaders, urging them to continue working towards the goal of unity among all Christians. The delegation was headed by the presiding bishop of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, Gerhard Ulrich, together with members of the ecumenical commission of the German Catholic Bishops Conference. Philippa Hitchen reports:


In his words to the German Church leaders, the Pope said half a century of significant progress in the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics is grounded in sincere friendship and growing cooperation between the two communities. He said the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed 15 years ago in the Bavarian city of Augsburg, is a milestone which enables us to continue with confidence along the ecumenical journey  which St John Paul II described as an essential task of the Catholic Church.

Noting how the bells in all cathedrals across Germany were rung last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II decree on ecumenism, the Pope said we must celebrate past progress, while looking towards the future with hope. While the goal of full unity sometimes seems to be clouded by different views of the nature of Church, Pope Francis said we must never resign ourselves but rather be focused on the next step forward.

The Pope noted with pleasure that the bilateral dialogue commission of the German bishops conference and the Lutheran Evangelical Church is concluding its work on the theme of God and human dignity. He noted that all questions regarding the family, marriage, sexuality and human life are essential issues that must not be ignored out of fear of jeopardising our ecumenical consensus.

Finally Pope Francis looked ahead to the fifth centenary of the Reformation which Lutherans and Catholics will be commemorating together in 2017, not as “a triumphalistic celebration”, but as a “profession of our common faith in the One, Triune God”. He said may this event encourage us all, with the help of God and the support of the Holy Spirit, to take further steps towards reconciliation and unity. 

(from Vatican Radio)