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Vatican News

Holy See responds to High Court’s acquittal of Cardinal Pell

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2020 / 05:15 am (CNA).- The Vatican has welcomed the Australian High Court’s decision to quash Cardinal George Pell’s sexual abuse conviction.

A statement from the Holy See press office, issued April 7, said: "The Holy See, which has always expressed confidence in the Australian judicial authority, welcomes the High Court’s unanimous decision concerning Cardinal George Pell, acquitting him of the accusations of abuse of minors and overturning his sentence.”

“Entrusting his case to the court’s justice, Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence, and has waited for the truth to be ascertained.”

“At the same time, the Holy See reaffirms its commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors."

The High Court handed down its judgement in Brisbane April 7.

The cardinal, now 78, was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two 13-year-old choir boys after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997. He maintained his innocence throughout his long legal battle.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he would have had to serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

As a convicted child sex offender, Pell had been held in solitary confinement for extra protection from other inmates. He was not permitted to celebrate Mass. 

After the High Court ruling he was released from the high-security Barwon Prison and driven to another location.

Pope Francis prays for the unjustly condemned after Pell conviction overturned

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2020 / 04:24 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed at Mass Tuesday for all those who have been persecuted by an unjust sentence, offering the prayer hours after Australia’s High Court overturned a child sex abuse conviction against Cardinal George Pell, releasing him from prison.

The pope did not mention Pell by name at the April 7 Mass in the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta, noting at the beginning the persecution Jesus suffered at the hands of the doctors of the law, who acted against him with aggressive persistence despite his innocence.

“I would like to pray today for all the people who suffer an unjust sentence because of aggressive persistence [against them],” Pope Francis said.

In his homily, the pope spoke about each person’s election by God, from before his or her birth, to be a servant and child of God.

“The Lord has chosen us from the womb,” he said, explaining that, though each of us have sinned and will sin again, the attitude of a servant of God is to repent and ask for forgiveness.

The pope said: “there are, in life, falls: each of us is a sinner and can fall and have fallen,” and noted that only Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary are completely without sin.

“But what matters,” he continued, “is the attitude before the God who elected me, who anointed me as a servant; it is the attitude of a sinner who is capable of asking for forgiveness.”

He pointed to St. Peter’s repentance after he denied Christ three times, explaining that, by contrast, those who do not see and repent of their sins “open the heart to Satan.”

“This is what happened to Judas,” he said.

The pope emphasized that every person has been called to be a servant, just as the prophet Isaiah prophesied about Jesus: “For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb (Isaiah 49:5).”

“None of us fell into the world by chance, by accident,” he said. “I was born with the destiny of being a son of God, of being a servant of God, with the task of serving, constructing, building.”

He underlined that Jesus served until death, which is an example of the way each of us is also called to serve.

“To serve is not to demand for each of us some benefit other than serving. It is glory, to serve; and the glory of Christ is to serve until he annihilates himself, until death, death on the Cross.”

According to Pope Francis, to move away from the vocation to serve is to move away “from the love of God.”

He urged Catholics to “think today of Jesus, the servant, faithful in service” and to remember the vocation and duty to serve.

“We ask for the grace to persevere in service,” he said. “Sometimes with slips, falls, but with the grace at least to cry [for our sins] like Peter cried.”

Analysis: Freed from prison, will Cardinal Pell now face Vatican trial?

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 10:20 pm (CNA).- The High Court of Australia ordered the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell on Tuesday. 

While Pell’s criminal trials in Australia are now at an end, the same accusations which saw him first convicted, then denied appeal, then acquitted, must now be addressed by the Church’s own legal process. That canonical process, on hold while the Australian justice system ran its course, can now begin.

While many of Pell’s supporters might consider any further legal ordeal for the cardinal to be unnecessary, even cruel, Vatican efforts to restore faith in its ability to handle accusations of sexual abuse fully and fairly – no exceptions – mean that there will have to be some kind of canonical process.

The necessity for some canonical process to formally address the accusations against Pell does not, however, mean it need be lengthy. While the pope alone is competent to determine how a case against a cardinal proceeds, in practice Francis is almost sure to depute the process to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – something provided for in the motu proprio Sacromentorum sanctitatis tutela. Unless there is pressing evidence on both sides of the case, the CDF rarely convenes a full trial-  especially when the matter has received a full litigation in a secular court.

The decision the CDF will face is how, and if, to proceed with the preliminary investigation.

As a first step, the CDF will have to determine if the accusations against Pell rise to the level of “a semblance of truth,” that is they are not “manifestly false or frivolous.” 

Following the High Court’s decision, which repeatedly pointed out the lack of any supporting evidence for the accusations of Pell’s lone accuser, it is entirely possible that the CDF could chose to rule that the accusations against Pell do not meet even this most basic criterion and dismiss the charges out of hand, as the Victoria police did with several of the more obviously false allegations collected by its open-ended investigation into Pell.

This would have the benefit of sending the most emphatic message possible that Rome views the accusations against Pell as absurd, and by implication his original conviction a farce. But, it could also represent something of a setback for the Vatican’s aim to be seen to give every accusation a formal examination.

A more likely way ahead may be for the Congregation to open a preliminary investigation, the bulk of which would likely consist of the court documents from Pell’s trial and appeals. This investigation could then conclude, as the High Court did, that there is simply no evidence to support the charges against Pell, and a considerable diversity of evidence arguing for his innocence.

Under the legal terms of Pell’s appeal, the High Court could only consider the “reasonableness” of the jury’s decision to convict in the light of the standard of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. But nothing prevents the CDF from examining the same evidence and pronouncing that it positively establishes Pell’s innocence and dismissing the case at the pre-trial phase.

Another option, one which would be seen to follow the canonical process to the full, would allow Pell’s sole accuser to present his accusations and testimony directly to officials from the CDF, assuming he is willing. The CDF would also take depositions from Pell and from as many of the witnesses at the trial as possible – all of whom appeared in Pell’s favor – before proceeding to issue a decision.

Whatever process is followed, almost no one expects a canonical court in Rome to find Pell guilty, given the overwhelming evidence he has now presented in his own defense.

Victoria Court of Appeal judge Mark Weinberg noted, in his opinion dissenting from the decision to uphold Pell’s conviction, that the cardinal had been made to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt; an inverted burden of proof many observers feel he cleared.

Throughout Pell’s three-year legal battle, Rome has remained studiously non-committal about the cardinal’s case.

At each stage of proceedings, the Vatican press office released no more than flat acknowledgments of the case’s progress, noting that Pell had a right to exhaust every appeal, and expressing faith that the Australian justice system would run its course.

That course has now been run.

Whatever statements are released in Rome welcoming the end of Pell’s legal battle while underscoring the Church’s commitment to child protection, the real measure of the Vatican’s opinion on the case will come from the speed, nature, and verdict of the canonical process which must now follow.

For Cardinal Pell, it likely cannot come soon enough.

Raphael revisited: Vatican offers virtual tour 500 years after artist's death

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- Monday, April 6 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Raphael, the Renaissance painter responsible for “The School of Athens” and “The Transfiguration.”

While the Vatican Museums was due to unveil the last phase of restoration of its Raphael Rooms this week, the restored frescoes remain hidden from the public after coronavirus restrictions closed the museums a month ago. However, the Vatican is encouraging people to make virtual museum visits to “admire, even from a distance, the splendor of Raphael's art.”

Art historian Elizabeth Lev shared with CNA her advice for Catholics who wish to spend some time contemplating Raphael’s works of art during the coronavirus quarantine.

“From his early Oddi altarpiece painted when was about 19 or 20 to the fresco of the School of Athens, to his dazzling tapestries and his architectural feat of a portico decorated with scenes from the Bible, it's easy to understand why Raphael was hailed as an exemplar of ‘Catholic excellence,’” Lev said April 6. 

“Raphael produced some very powerful altarpieces and, in some cases, even created new types of iconography, especially in the Madonna of Foligno and his St Cecilia panel in Bologna. He reinvented the ‘sacred conversation,’ which are paintings where saints dialogue with Mary and Jesus, welcoming viewers into greater prayer and contemplation,” she said.

The Vatican Museums offer a virtual tour of the Raphael Rooms with a 360 degree view of each room. Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the four rooms in the Apostolic Palace which formed part of the papal apartments. 

The School of Athens fresco placing Plato alongside Aristotle can be viewed in the Room of the Segnatura, along with illustrations of the cardinal and theological virtues. 

The Room of Constantine was the last of the Raphael Rooms to undergo restoration, a project which began in the 1980s. The virtual tour of the Room of Constantine displays paintings of Constantine’s baptism, vision of the cross, and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge before the restoration. 

One room in the Vatican Museums’ Pinacoteca, or painting gallery, displays Raphael’s Crowning of the Virgin, Madonna of Foligno, and The Transfiguration

“In this very unique week, I would propose reflecting on Raphael's Transfiguration painted just before he died and placed upon his tomb during his funeral,” Lev said. “In this work, Raphael paints two distinct areas, the lower section where the apostles attempt to heal a boy possessed by demons (Mark 9:17-29) and then the upper section where Jesus reveals himself to Peter, James and John and God the Father announces ‘This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.’”

“People are afraid and confused, trying to control things they cannot and struggling pointlessly in the shadows. But lifting one's gaze, one sees Jesus. Everything is subordinate to Him, and he appears as transfigured, a dynamic, powerful light that can repel the encroaching darkness. What an inspiring way for us to envision Jesus during these dark days,” she said.

Lev also recommends Raphael’s Madonna and Child paintings, such as The Alba Madonna in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“These were small devotional works, meant for contemplation in the home, appropriate for all of us who are housebound,” she said. “He did endless variations on them, so there is something for everyone -- versions where Joseph hovers protectively, others where young John and Jesus cavort.”

Born Raffaello Sanzio in 1483 in Urbino, Italy, Raphael went on to work in Rome from 1508 to 1520, serving Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X.

Raphael died at the age of 37 on Good Friday, April 6, 1520. He is buried in the Pantheon, which had already been consecrated as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs, where the artist’s tomb remains on display.  

“He was brilliant and tremendously successful. When he died at the age of 37 he was already running the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company: the largest studio of the Renaissance,” Lev said.

Earlier this year, the Vatican Museums displayed 10 of Raphael’s tapestries in their original place in Sistine Chapel for one week. The tapestries, commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515, depict the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

Raphael painted the Apostolic Palace at the same time as Michaeangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel

“Michelangelo was eight years his senior and was already working in the Sistine chapel when Raphael arrived to paint the apartments of Pope Julius. The two had completely different perspectives on painting. Raphael’s was more similar to Leonardo’s, with careful backgrounds and elegant compositions, while Michelangelo's figures were sculptural and monumental,” Lev explained.

“As these two Titans clashed stylistically, the world's greatest works of art were born,” she said.

The Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, the Chiaramonti Museum, the New Wing, the Niccoline Chapel, and the Room of the Chiaroscuri can also be viewed via virtual tour on the Vatican Museums website.

Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale exhibition center had also opened a major exhibition on Raphael this year, which brings together 200 works of art from Louvre, the Uffizi and elsewhere. This exhibition was forced to close 72 hours after its March 5 opening due to the Italian government’s closure of all museums in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

A video posted on YouTube by the exhibition center allows quarantined Italians and art lovers around the world to catch a glimpse of the paintings displayed in this exhibition originally scheduled to end June 2. 

“Most of us lead very busy lives that were abruptly halted by the quarantines. As we are all required to exercise the virtue of patience these days, we can also rediscover the skill of looking carefully at things, appreciating details and the value of serenity. And nowhere are those qualities better expressed than in the art of Raphael,” Lev said.

Vatican Major Penitentiary: Mercy does not cease amid coronavirus

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 11:21 am (CNA).- In an Easter letter to confessors on Saturday, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary wrote that while 'social distancing' is necessary amid the coronavirus, 'mercy does not cease'.

Despite the restrictions placed by many civil and ecclesial governors, “Mercy does not cease and God does not distance himself,” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Major Penitentiary, wrote April 4.

“The social distancing required for health reasons, while necessary, cannot and must never turn into ecclesial distancing, let alone theological-sacramental distancing,” he added.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Holy See's tribunal with responsibility for the internal forum and indulgences.

Cardinal Piacenza recalled his March 19 decree granting plenary indulgences to those suffering from Covid-19, asd well as health-care workers, their family, and those who care for them in any capacity; as well as an attached note on the sacrament of confession calling for reflection on its “urgency and centrality.”

In his letter to confessors, the Major Penitentiary wrote: “Mercy does not cease because where ordinary celebration of the sacrament is impossible, we are committed to pray, to console, to present souls to divine Mercy, fulfilling that priestly role of intercessors, which was conferred on us on the day of ordination.”

“Mercy does not cease because we all need the closeness and the 'caress' of Jesus, which also materializes in a moment of listening and dialogue, capable of opening a perspective of hope and light, in this circumstance of trial.”

Mercy “is expressed in the pastoral creativity of so many confreres,” he said, “who try in every way to make themselves close to the people entrusted to them, giving testimony of faith, courage, fatherhood, fully living their priesthood.”

Nor does mercy cease “because the sacrifice of the Holy Mass does not cease, even if celebrated without the physical presence of the people, from which every grace flows for the Church and for the world.”

Cardinal Piacenza wrote that “from the Cross, the bloody sacrifice of Christ, the possibility of salvation and reconciliation is given to all men; salvation also flows from the Eucharistic celebration, the bloodless sacrifice of Christ, the current re-presentation of the bloody one. In this sense, despite today's dramatic circumstances, we are called to rediscover the centrality of the priestly ministry and, above all, what is essential in it: the work of Christ more than ours, the sacramental implementation of salvation, of which we are ministers, that is, servants.”

“Mercy does not cease but is expressed in every consideration to which the pandemic pushes us, in the rediscovery of the values for which it is worth living and dying, in the rediscovery of silence, of adoration and of prayer, in the rediscovery of the closeness of the other and, above all, of God.”

Neither does mercy cease, he said, “at the celebration of the sacred liturgy, which faithfully actualizes the mysteries of salvation, but becomes lived charity, which extends a helping hand to those who suffer,  and through the priestly ministry God's forgiveness is offered.”

“Mercy does not cease even towards those who have been called to eternity because each of them is reached by the prayers of suffrage in the paschal certainty that with death, relationships are not broken but are transformed, strengthened, in the communion of saints.”

Cardinal Piacenza concluded urging that confessors “entrust this time, our ministry of Reconciliation, and this Easter so anomalous, to the protection of the Holy Virgin, Mother of Mercy in the certainty of her intercession so that each and every one may be given that new life, which is the yearning of every believer and of every man.”

Moving 'Vicar of Christ' title in Vatican yearbook is ‘theological barbarism’, says cardinal

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A cardinal has criticized the Vatican’s official yearbook after it listed the term Vicar of Christ to a section headed “historical titles” in its latest edition, published March 25. 

A Vatican spokesman said the change merely highlights the historical dimension of the title.

Under the heading “historical titles”, the yearbook lists the designations “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God."

On Thursday, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s former doctrinal chief, described the change as an act of “theological barbarism.”

In a commentary for the German weekly Die Tagepost, the cardinal said that, while the Annuario is issued by the Vatican Secretariat of State via the Vatican Publishing House, it is “only an address book and lacks any teaching authority.”

As in the 2019 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the new edition has a single page describing the pope as “Francis, bishop of Rome.” But instead of heading a subsequent page with the title "Vicar of Christ." as it did in 2019, the 2020 edition has the pope’s baptismal name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, followed by a brief biography.

Mueller argued that the next section, marked “historical titles”, mixed the term Vicar of Christ with designations that “have nothing to do with primacy and have only grown historically but [have] no dogmatic meaning, such as ‘Sovereign of Vatican City State’.”

“It is a theological barbarism to devalue the Pope's titles ‘Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ and visible head of the whole Church’ as a mere historical ballast,” he wrote.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, told the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that the yearbook was not declaring that the title Vicar of Christ was merely of historical significance. 

If that were the case, Avvenire reported, the title would simply have been removed. Bruni cited Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to drop the title “Patriarch of the West” from the Annuario in 2006. This was widely understood to be an ecumenical gesture aimed at healing the centuries-long breach between Catholics and other Christians. 

Bruni said that the titles were classified as “historical” because they are tied historically to the title bishop of Rome. A new pope acquires them the moment he is elected in a conclave.  

The Annuario Pontificio, which contains more than 2,000 pages and has a distinctive red cloth binding, contains a directory of the Roman Curia, as well as the names and addresses of the world’s bishops and official Vatican statistics.

The Church has published a yearbook in various forms since 1716.

Pope creates emergency fund to tackle coronavirus in mission territories

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has created an emergency fund for those affected by coronavirus in mission countries.

The pope has earmarked $750,000 for the fund, Agenzia Fides reported April 6. 

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, said the pope was seeking to mobilize “the Church’s entire vast network to face the challenges ahead”.

“In her task of evangelization, the Church is often on the front lines of major threats to human well-being,” he said. 

“In Africa alone, there are over 74,000 religious sisters and over 46,000 priests operating 7,274 hospitals and clinics, 2,346 homes for elderly and the vulnerable, and educating over 19 million children in 45,088 primary schools. In many rural areas they are the only providers of healthcare and education.”

The new fund will be based at the Pontifical Mission Societies, a worldwide group of missionary societies under the pope’s jurisdiction. The pope channels support to more than 1,000 dioceses, mainly in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon, through the group.

Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said the pope had established the fund to support the Church in mission territories as it responds to the coronavirus crisis. 

“Through the Church’s activity of preaching the Gospel and of practical aid through our vast network, we can show that no one is alone in this crisis,” he said.

Individuals can make donations to the fund via the administration office of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome.

As of April 6, more than 70,000 people had died from coronavirus and more than 1.2 million tested positive for the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

God will judge us by how we treated the poor, says Pope Francis

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Many people suffering from poverty are victims of the “structural injustice” of today’s global economy, Pope Francis said in his daily Mass homily on Monday.

“We will be judged for our relationship with the poor,” Pope Francis said on April 6.

The pope said that the first question Jesus will ask at the final judgment will be: “How did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in hospital? Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because I was there.”

In his homily via livestream from Casa Santa Marta, the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Pope Francis focused on these words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

“When Jesus says: ‘You always have the poor with you,’ it means: ‘I, I will always be with you in the poor. I will be present there,’” Pope Francis explained.

The pope said that many of today’s poor are “hidden” because they are “ashamed to show that they are not making ends meet.”

“It is a part of the cityscape to have poor people. However, the vast majority of the poor are victims of economic policies, of financial policies. Some recent statistics make the summary like this: there is a lot of money in the hands of a few and so much poverty in many … and this is the poverty of so many victims of the structural injustice in the global economy,” he said.

Pope Francis then told the story of the time he visited an abandoned factory in Buenos Aires where middle-class families took refuge after being evicted for not paying rent.

“They went there because they could not pay the rent. The new poor, who must leave the house because they cannot pay, go there. It is that injustice of the economic or financial organization that brings them so. And there are many, many [people] to the point that we will meet them in the judgment,” he said.

“And this is not being a communist, this is the heart of the Gospel: we will be judged on this,” the pope added.

In the Gospel of John, he noted, Judas thought of money, but did not care for the poor because he was a thief.

“This story of the unfaithful administrator is always current,” Pope Francis said. “We think of some charitable or humanitarian organizations that have many employees.”

The pope said that there are many humanitarian organizations that use sixty percent of their funds to pay the salaries of their many employees. “It is a way of taking money from the poor,” he said.

During his daily Mass, Pope Francis also asked people to pray for overcrowded prisons.

“Where there is overcrowding - many people there - there is a danger, in this pandemic, that it will end in a serious disaster. We pray for those responsible, for those who have to make decisions in this, to find a right and creative way to solve the problem,” the pope said.

Pope Francis on Palm Sunday: Let us stand before the crucifix in our homes

Vatican City, Apr 5, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis offered Mass in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica and urged Catholics quarantined at home to remember "what really matters" in life: loving God and serving others.

“The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love,” Pope Francis said April 5 in his Palm Sunday homily.

Holy Week liturgies at the Vatican are taking without the presence of the public this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the Palm Sunday broadcast, the pope said that Catholics can look to the suffering Christ as an example of a life lived completely in the service of others.

“In these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One -- look, look at the crucifix, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve,” he said.

Pope Francis said that the coronavirus pandemic has allowed people to see that “the real heroes” are not the “famous, rich and successful people,” but are those who “are giving themselves in order to serve others.”

“May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others,” he said.

Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica with the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello and the Byzantine icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, near the altar. Both icons were present in St. Peter’s Square during the pope’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27.

“Jesus ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ ... His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love,” he said.

The pope asked: “What can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned?”

“We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains,” he said.

Pope Francis said that just as God the Father sustained Jesus in the suffering in his Passion, the Lord also supports each person whose love and service of others is a via crucis in itself.

“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you,’” Pope Francis said. 

The pope led the Angelus prayer following the Palm Sunday Mass. He urged Catholics to learn from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gazed upon her crucified son with inner silence and “the gaze of the heart.”

“Beloved, let us set out with faith this Holy Week, in which Jesus suffers, dies and rises again. People and families who cannot participate in liturgical celebrations are invited to gather in prayer at home, also helped by technological means,” he said.

“Let us cling spiritually to the sick, to their families and to those who treat them with self-sacrifice; let us pray for the dead, in the light of paschal faith,” Pope Francis said.

Sin starts with giving in to small temptations, Pope Francis warns

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2020 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Before we commit a sin, there were usually small temptations which we let grow in our soul, eventually making excuses for ourselves and our fall, Pope Francis said during Mass Saturday.

“That process which makes us change our hearts from good to bad, which takes us downhill,” he said April 4, is “something which grows, slowly grows, then infects others and ultimately excuses itself.”

Speaking from the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta, the pope advised first seeking forgiveness, and then reflecting on the temptations which preceded your fall into sin, considering also whether you have led others to sin.

“When we find ourselves in a sin, in a fall, yes, we must go to ask the Lord for forgiveness, it is the first [step] that we must take,” he urged.

But then ask yourselves, he said: “How did I come to fall there? How did this process start in my soul? How did it grow? Who have I infected? And how in the end did I justify myself for falling?”

Francis argued that “the devil is cunning” and usually tempts people to sin gradually: “it starts with a little thing, with a desire, an idea grows, infects others and ultimately, justifies itself.”

This process of temptation is illustrated in the day’s Gospel from St. John, he said.

In the Gospel, the chief priests and the Pharisees have met to discuss Jesus, who is causing them anxiety because through his signs, many Jews have begun to believe in him, and they feel they must do something.

The high priest Caiphas said Jesus should be killed, defending the decision with his prophecy, saying “it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people.”

Quoting the Gospel, Francis said “from that day therefore they decided to kill him.”

He explained that the Pharisees and chief priests justified killing Jesus to themselves, because if they did not, the occupying Romans “will destroy our temple and our nation,” but what brought them to this decision was a gradual process that “began with small concerns in the time of John the Baptist and then ended in this assembly.”

After this meeting, “everyone went home quietly,” the pope noted. They felt this was the decision they had to make.

This, the pope said, is “a figure of how temptation operates in us.”

Before Mass, Francis had noted that in difficult times, such as the present coronavirus pandemic, people are given the opportunity to do good.

But there are also plenty of people, he said, who take advantage of the moment for their own profit.

“Let us pray today that the Lord give us all a righteous conscience, a transparent conscience, which can be seen by God without being ashamed,” he urged.

In his homily, the pope recalled once again that behind every sin there is temptation, “which started small, which has grown.”

“All of us, when we are overcome by temptation, end up calm, because we have found a justification for this sin, for this sinful attitude, for this life not according to the law of God. We should have the habit of seeing this process of temptation in us,” he advised, adding that “the Holy Spirit enlightens us in this inner knowledge.”


Cardinal Turkson brings rosaries to Rome hospital treating coronavirus patients

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson visited Rome’s largest hospital on Friday, encouraging staff and handing out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.

“I bring you the pope’s embrace. You are not alone in the fight against the coronavirus!” Turkson, who is prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, told hospital staff and chaplains April 3, according to a press release.

The cardinal, who was accompanied by the two undersecretaries of the dicastery, met with staff and told them he was bringing the greeting of Pope Francis to all of the coronavirus patients and their families.

The three Vatican officials also handed out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis and assured hospital personnel of “the prayer and support of the Church in this difficult moment of struggle against the pandemic and of physical and spiritual trial,” the release stated.  

Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic is Rome’s largest general hospital and a teaching hospital for the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the Gemelli hospital is working in partnership with one of Rome’s dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, the nearby Columbus Hospital.

The hospital’s foundation started a COVID-19 research unit to help fight the virus and to coordinate the research efforts throughout Italy.

As of April 3, there are more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rome’s region of Lazio, with nearly 1,400 of these patients being treated in the hospital. The reported number of deaths is 199.

A rosary for an end to the coronavirus was broadcast live on national Italian television from the St. Joseph Moscati chapel of the Gemelli hospital April 2. The rosary concluded with a prayer for the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II on the anniversary of his death.

'In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,' Pope Francis says in Holy Week video

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a video message to Catholics around the world, urging them amid the global coronavirus pandemic to hope, solidarity with those who suffer, and to prayer.

“In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,” Pope Francis said in  an April 3 video, speaking about the upcoming Holy Week which will begin on Sunday, and culminate with Easter.

“We will celebrate Holy Week in a truly unusual way, which manifests and sums up the message of the Gospel, that of God’s boundless love,” the pope said.

“And in the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound,” Pope Francis said. “This paschal faith nourishes our hope.”

Christian hope, the pope said, is “the hope of a better time, in which we can be better, finally freed from evil and from this pandemic.”

“It is a hope: hope does not disappoint, it is not an illusion, it is a hope. Beside each other, in love and patience, we can prepare a better time in these days.”

The pope expressed solidarity with families, “especially those who have a loved one who is sick, or who have unfortunately experienced mourning due to the coronavirus or other causes.”

“These days I often think about people who are alone, and for whom it is more difficult to face these moments. Above all I think of the elderly, who are very dear to me. I cannot forget those who are sick with coronavirus, people who are in hospital.”

“I also remember how many are in financial straits, and are worried about work and the future, a thought also goes out to prison inmates, whose pain is compounded by fear of the epidemic, for themselves and their loved ones; I think of the homeless, who do not have a home to protect them.”

“It is a difficult time for everyone,” he added.

Amid that difficulty, the pope praised “the generosity of those who put themselves at risk for the treatment of this pandemic or to guarantee the essential services to society.”

“So many heroes, every day, at every hour!”

“Let's try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let's be generous; let's help those in need in our neighborhood; let's look for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let's pray to the Lord for those who are tried in Italy and in the world. Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love.”

More than one million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, and at least 60,000 have died. The pandemic has led to a global financial crash, in which tens of millions have lost jobs in recent weeks. While some parts of the world are now thought to be on the downslope of the viral spread, many nations have locked themselves down in the midst of the pandemic, or in the hope of quelling it early in its spread within their borders.

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, more than 120,000 people have contracted it, and there have been almost 15,000 recorded deaths from the virus. 

To conclude his video, the pope urged tenderness and prayer.

“Thank you for allowing me into your homes. Make a gesture of tenderness towards those who suffer, towards children, and towards the elderly,” Pope Francis said. “Tell them that the pope is close and pray, that the Lord will soon deliver us all from evil.”

“And you, pray for me. Have a good dinner.”

Vatican extends lockdown measures through Easter Monday

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Holy See has extended its lockdown measures through April 13, the Monday of the Octave of Easter, in accordance with Italy’s recently extended national lockdown, the Vatican announced Friday.

St. Peter’s Basilica and square, the Vatican Museums, and several other public offices in the Vatican City State have been closed for more than three weeks. Originally scheduled to last through April 3, these measures have now been extended an additional nine days.

A total of seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed among Vatican employees to date. 

According to a statement from Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See press office, departments of the Roman Curia and of the Vatican City State have continued working only “in essential, obligatory activities which cannot be deferred.”

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, but the Holy See press office director has repeatedly said that Vatican City is implementing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in coordination with the Italian authorities.

During the Vatican lockdown, which went into effect March 10, the city state’s pharmacy and supermarket remain open. Instead the mobile post office in St. Peter’s Square, the photo service office, and bookstores are closed.

The Vatican continues “to ensure essential services to the Universal Church,” according to a March 24 statement.

Cardinal Parolin says he hopes closed churches will reopen soon

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State said Friday that he hoped churches closed because of the coronavirus crisis would be reopened “as soon as possible.”

In an interview published on the Vatican News website April 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said he was disturbed by reports of Catholics dying without the Sacrament of the Sick and expressed concern about the disease’s impact on impoverished countries. 

The cardinal said: “The suspension of celebrating the liturgy was necessary to avoid large gatherings. However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible. Jesus is present there in the Eucharist; priests continue to pray and celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful who cannot participate there. It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.” 

Parolin acknowledged the suffering of Catholics who are currently deprived of the Sacraments because they are living under lockdown.

“I would like to say that I share their sorrow,” he said. “But I would like to recall the possibility of making a spiritual communion, for example.” 

“Moreover, Pope Francis, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the gift of special indulgences to the faithful, not only to those affected by COVID-19, but also to healthcare providers, family members and all those who care for them in various ways, including through prayer.” 

“In a vigil like this one, there is also another aspect that must be highlighted and reinforced. This is possible for everyone: to pray with the Word of God; to read, to contemplate, to welcome the Word who is coming. With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word.”

The cardinal said he was troubled by stories of Catholics dying alone without the consolation of the Sacraments. 

“This is one of the consequences of the epidemic that, in a certain sense, upsets me,” he said. “I have read and heard dramatic and moving stories. When, unfortunately, a priest cannot be present at the bedside of a person who is dying, every baptized person can pray and bring comfort by virtue of the common priesthood received with the Sacrament of Baptism.”  

“It is beautiful and evangelical to think that at this difficult time, in some way, even the hands of doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, who every day comfort, heal or accompany the sick in their last moments, become the hands and words of all of us, of the Church, of the family that blesses, says goodbye, forgives and comforts. It is God's caress that heals and gives life, even eternal life.”

Parolin said that he was especially worried about how coronavirus would affect developing countries. 

He said: “Unfortunately, we are facing a pandemic and the virus is spreading like wildfire. On the one hand, we see how many extraordinary efforts are being made by developed countries. Many sacrifices have been made by ordinary individuals, families and national economies, to effectively tackle the health crisis and combat the spread of the virus.” 

“On the other hand, however, I must confess that I am even more concerned about the situation in the less developed countries. There, healthcare facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.”  

“The Holy See’s vocation is to consider the entire world. It seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media.”

He continued: “There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others.”

Parolin confirmed that there were currently seven coronavirus cases among Vatican employees. All of them had passed the critical phase and were now improving, he said.

The cardinal, who works closely with Pope Francis, said that the pope was searching for new ways to reach out to people suffering around the world. 

“Pope Francis is seeking every way possible to be close to people throughout the world,” he said. “Contact with people has always been fundamental for him, and he intends to maintain this, even if in a new and unprecedented way.” 

“The daily live broadcast of the Holy Mass from Santa Marta is a concrete example. The constant prayer for the victims, their families, healthcare personnel, volunteers, priests, workers, families is another. All of us collaborators are trying to help him maintain contact with the Churches in all the countries of the world.”

He explained that Vatican officials were seeking to ensure that as many people as possible could follow the liturgies of the Easter Triduum while confined to their homes.

“We have studied different options than the traditional ones,” he said. “In fact, it will not be possible to welcome pilgrims, as has always been the case. In full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”

Pope Francis names new bishop of Belleville, Illinois

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, and named his successor.

Bishop Braxton submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in June 2019. His successor is Fr. Michael G. McGovern, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

Bishop Braxton was appointed as the eighth Bishop of Belleville in 2005, replacing Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, who is now Archbishop of Washington. 

Bishop Braxton’s tenure at times has been marked by controversy. In 2008, he issued a public apology for spending restricted mission funds on liturgical vestments, altar linens, and office furniture. He said he had mistakenly believed he had discretionary power over the money he used. He has also been criticized over his handling of clerical abuse, but has defended his record. 

Considered one of the leading voices in the United States Church on racial issues, the bishop has written many articles on African American Catholics, which have been translated and published abroad. 

According to a biography on Belleville diocese’s website, his hobbies included whale watching, inline skating and white water rafting.

Fr. McGovern, 55, has served as pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, since 2016. In February this year, he was named interim episcopal vicar of Vicariate I of the Chicago archdiocese, which comprises 51 parishes. 

According to a biography on the website of Vicariate I, he grew up in a large Catholic family in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. After graduating from St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University, he entered Mundelein seminary in 1990. He was ordained by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. He has served as a member of the presbyteral council and college of consultors of the Chicago archdiocese.