Categories

Site Information

 Loading... Please wait...

Vatican News

Cardinal Parolin says he arranged controversial hospital loan, Papal Foundation grant

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State told CNA this week that he is responsible for arranging a controversial loan for the purchase of a bankrupt Italian hospital, and that he arranged with Cardinal Donald Wuerl a grant from the U.S.-based Papal Foundation to cover the loan when it could not be repaid.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin told CNA he felt “compelled” to address the matter “in order to put an end to a controversy that takes away time and resources from our service to the Lord, to the Church and to the Pope, and disturbs the conscience of many Catholics.”

“The operations involving IDI...are ascribable to myself,” Parolin told CNA Nov. 19, while insisting that his actions regarding the IDI were both legal and transparent.

CNA asked Parolin to confirm that he personally had arranged a 2014 loan of 50 million euros from APSA, the Vatican’s central bank, to partially fund the purchase of the bankrupt IDI hospital. The cardinal confirmed that he had.

The IDI was purchased in 2015 by a for-profit partnership of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the religious order that had owned and managed the hospital while it went bankrupt, incurred 800 million euros of debt, and saw some of its former administrators prosecuted and jailed for systematic fraud and embezzlement.

Though Parolin said the arrangement was “carried out with fair intentions and honest means,” the APSA loan is likely to draw scrutiny from European banking regulators, as the loan seems to violate 2012 regulatory agreements prohibiting the bank from making commercial loans.

Those agreements were the result of an on-site inspection by Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s Committee for combating money laundering and terrorist financing, and legally prohibit APSA from providing services to individuals or taking part in commercial transactions.

CNA also asked Parolin to confirm that he had personally devised a plan with Wuerl to request Papal Foundation funds to cover APSA’s bad loan. The cardinal confirmed that he had.

The $25 million grant request was widely understood to be an effort to remove the bad debt from APSA’s ledger before it drew attention, after it became obvious that the debt-ridden and insolvent hospital could not repay its loan to the Vatican central bank.

Wuerl, however, told the Papal Foundation board that the funds were intended to save the IDI from closure by covering short term operating deficits. But lay board members raised questions about whether the cash was really intended to meet an operating shortfall at the hospital, or to cover the bad debt at APSA.

Papal Foundation trustees and donors expressed also skepticism about the amount requested, which was far larger than its normal disbursements, which ordinarily are grants of a few hundred thousand dollars to charities around the world, selected by the Holy See.

After one board member objected to the loan by letter, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was then a member of the board, wrote that raising concerns was “irresponsible, and seriously harmful to The Papal Foundation.” McCarrick was under investigation for sexually abusing minors at the time he intervened in the matter.

Despite objections, the grant was ultimately approved by the Papal Foundation board in a secret ballot - sources inside the foundation told CNA that board members believe all but one of the bishop members voted for it, while all but one of the lay members voted against approving the grant.

Dispersal of the money stalled after the board continued to ask questions about the final destination of the funds.

Two initial installments were sent to Rome in late 2017 and early 2018, totaling $13 million. After internal disagreements about the grant went public, Cardinal Wuerl said he would ask the Vatican to cancel the request and return the funds. In early 2019 Parolin wrote to the board saying the $13 million would be reclassified as a loan, rather than a grant, and would be repaid as credits against future grant requests.

When the grant money stalled, APSA was forced to write off 30 million of the 50 million euro loan, wiping out APSA’s profits for the 2018 financial year.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, head of APSA, acknowledged the loan and its write-off in September, even though APSA is legally prohibited from making loans that finance commercial transactions, due to its 2012 moneyval agreement.

After the Oct. 21 publication of a book that alleged the Vatican was nearly insolvent, Galatino blamed the loan for APSA’s failure to register a profit for the first time in its history.

Parolin answered CNA’s questions this week after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who has widely been reported to have been the driving force behind both arranging the loan and pushing for the Papal Foundation grant, contacted CNA to deny his involvement in those matters. He told CNA that both matters were the "competence" of the Secretary of State, Parolin.

Becciu told CNA by text message earlier this month that he had not known about the APSA loan until after it was arranged, and that he had no part in requesting a grant from the Papal Foundation.

The 2014 APSA loan was arranged over the strong objections of Cardinal George Pell, then serving as the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and charged by Pope Francis with enforcing financial accountability on the Roman Curia. CNA has also reported a loan request for the same purpose had been vetoed by the IOR, the Vatican’s deposit bank, after its president, Jean-Baptiste Douville de Franssu, and Pell agreed that the IDI was unviable and the money would never be repaid.

While Parolin took responsibility for the IDI arrangements, Vatican officials across several dicasteries have told CNA Becciu was involved in organizing both the loan and coordinating the lobbying effort for the Papal Foundation grant. That effort included a visit to McCarrick by the secretary of APSA, Fr. Mauro Rivella, in Washington, DC, shortly after the grant request was made. The visit took place before McCarrick pushed board members to approve the grant, and after an investigation into McCarrick’s sexual misconduct had begun.

Still, Parolin insisted that “as far as I know, Cardinal Becciu had no role whatsoever in” those matters.

Nevertheless, Becciu’s personal connections to the IDI hospital go back at least as far as his appointment to the position of sostituto in 2011.

Shortly after Becciu began working as the second-ranking official in the Secretariat of State, Fr. Franco Decaminada, the IDI’s president - subsequently arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, and laicised for theft and fraud - approached him for support on a proposal that the Secretariat of State supply the IDI with 200 million euros, ostensibly to fund a take over of another hospital by the IDI, which was already teetering on insolvency.

In October, Becciu told CNA he did not recall any such proposal, though it had been reported previously in Italian media. Shortly after that proposal was made, Decaminada hired Becciu’s niece Maria Piera Becciu, as his personal secretary.

In October, CNA asked Becciu if he or his position at the Secretariat of State had played any role in the hiring of his niece at the IDI. He told CNA that “she applied for the position and was hired.”

Last month, Becciu told CNA that his interest and involvement with the IDI ceased when Cardinal Parolin was appointed Secretary of State.

“Cardinal Parolin assumed the office of Secretary of State [in 2013] and I no longer concerned myself with IDI,” he said.

While taking responsibility for the APSA loan and the Papal Foundation request, Parolin told CNA that the interpretation of those events “by certain media is a different matter, presenting these operations as non-transparent, irregular or even illegal: this, as far as I am concerned, is not the truth.”

But beyond the APSA loan and Papal Foundation grant, other aspects of the IDI purchase have raised serious questions.

In addition to the APSA loan, the Vatican also used 30 million euros diverted from the Bambino Gesu, another hospital under its oversight, to purchase the bankrupt IDI. That money was taken from an 80 million euro grant the Italian government had given the Bambino Gesu.

Cardinal Guisseppe Versaldi, arranged that diversion. At the time, Versaldi led the partnership to buy the IDI, oversaw the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and was the Vatican’s delegate to oversee the Italian province of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, the religious congregation that had owned the hospital, had a partnership with the Vatican to buy it again, and had also been dragged into insolvency.

Wiretaps recorded Versaldi discussing the plan with Giuseppe Profiti, the president of Bambino Gesu, with the two agreeing to conceal the misdirection of the funds from Pope Francis. 

Versaldi and Profiti later denied any wrongdoing, and the cardinal claimed he only wanted to spare the pope the technical details of the efforts to save the IDI. 

In his comments to CNA Parolin also addressed a lament from Becciu, who told CNA this month that while he is uncertain which Vatican officials have suggested he is connected to the IDI affair, he believes he could be the victim of a misinformation campaign, designed to sully his reputation by linking him to the affair.

Parolin does not think that to be the case.

“I believe there is no curial plot. In any case, I am completely extraneous to any operation of the kind: if there were such an operation I would condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Parolin told CNA.

A spokesman for Wuerl told CNA that the cardinal “has no comment beyond reiterating those facts already on the public record regarding the Papal Foundation application process.”  

 


Vatican affirms need for two-state solution after U.S. shift on Israeli settlements

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2019 / 09:40 am (CNA).- The Holy See on Wednesday reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, after recent shifts in U.S. policy threatened to derail hopes of an agreement.

“In the context of recent decisions that risk undermining further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the already fragile regional stability, the Holy See reiterates its position of a two-state solution for two peoples, as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict,” the Vatican press office stated on Wednesday.

The Holy See’s statement was issued two days after the Trump administration announced a reversal of U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the administration now said they did not violate international law.

The settlements are viewed as a significant obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to hopes for a two-state solution.

Previous U.S. administrations have taken varying stances on the legitimacy of the settlements, and the Trump administration reverted to the Reagan administration’s position that the settlements were not illegal. The announcement was a reversal of the Obama administration’s 2016 decision not to veto a UN resolution against the settlements.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Monday.

Pompeo’s announcement contradicted the UN’s position of the settlements being in violation of international law. In December of 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution—with the United States abstaining as a member country—that reaffirmed its existing opposition to the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Internationally, the U.S. move this week was viewed as a significant blow to hopes for a two-state solution. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, called it “the very last nail in the coffin of the two-State solution.”

On Wednesday, the Holy See recognized the legitimacy of the State of Israel within boundaries “recognized by the international community” while also upholding “the same right that belongs to the Palestinian people.”

Both Israel and Palestine, the Vatican said, should settle on an agreement respecting both sides “with the support of the international community and in compliance with United Nations resolutions.”

In 1967, Israel began occupying the West Bank territory after the Six-Day War. Around 400,000 Israelis and 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which includes the Christian Quarter of the Old City.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Israeli sovereignty over existing settlements in the West Bank during his campaign for re-election earlier this year.

The transfer of a hotel in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem to Israeli settlers has also made international news for the possible consequences for the future of the city.

Patriarchs and heads of local churches warned in a statement this summer that a disputed 2005 land deal transferring ownership of the hotel would undermine both the status quo agreement and the integrity of the Christian Quarter of the city, which is home to some of the holiest pilgrim sites in Christianity.


Vatican’s London luxury development company, with ties to alleged financial crime, offered to raze parish rectory

London, England, Nov 19, 2019 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- Developers acting for the Vatican Secretariat of State offered to raze a London parish hall and rectory and replace it with low-cost housing, in order to try to push through a luxury apartment development. The luxury development project involves two recently suspended Vatican employees, and a nest of Vatican-controlled holding companies led by an architect linked to accusations of money laundering and fraud involving Vatican accounts.

In a June 2016 proposal submitted to local authorities in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, a developer seeking permission to develop luxury apartments at 60 Sloane Ave offered London’s St. Pius X parish hall and rectory as a location for building the low-income housing required by law to offset the luxury development.

The inclusion of the parish property in the planning application was facilitated by officials at the Vatican Secretariat of State, who visited the parish and worked with the local Archdiocese of Westminster to secure the cooperation of the parish pastor.

The involvement of the Vatican in developing the proposal comes to light after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who authorized the Vatican’s investment, described the Holy See’s involvement in the real estate development as a matter of ordinary business, denying there was anything suspicious about the transaction.

“It is accepted practice for the Holy See to invest in property, it has always done so: in Rome, in Paris, in Switzerland and also in London,” Becciu said in October, insisting that the deal was “regular and registered according to law.”

The planning application was submitted on behalf of 60 SA Ltd., a private holding company registered in Jersey, a tax shelter in the Channel Islands, which owns the building and in which the Vatican had invested $200 million in borrowed money.

The parish property was that of St. Pius X parish in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood.

Fr. Peter Wilson, pastor of St. Pius X, said officials from the Archdiocese of Westminster visited his parish before the proposal was submitted, along with an unnamed official from the Holy See, who outlined plans for the property, which would have incorporated substantial low-income housing units into a new mixed use development.

“I knew that there was somebody from the Holy See coming along, whom I met, but I didn’t know why he was involved,” Wilson said. “The wider provenance of the plan was never vouchsafed to me.”
 
“They were going to knock down the presbytery and build a block of flats here. They told me I could have one flat in the block of flats and my heart rather sank, but who am I to argue with those above my station?”

The low-income housing proposal was turned down by London development authorities, who said it was haphazard, and noted there is no shortage of low income housing in the area of the parish, several miles from the luxury development. The developers eventually offered local authorities £12 million in lieu of the affordable housing requirement, in order for the luxury development to be approved.

The parish proposal suggests the involvement of Vatican officials in the development project was considerably more expansive than initially reported, as Church officials were a part of the development’s early planning details, rather than simply passive investors.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Westminster told CNA it “is often approached by developers or boroughs to take proceeds of the infrastructure levy or help with their social housing quota. Diocesan officers always review these proposals to see whether they offer long term benefits to the community and the mission of the Church.”

Regarding the proposal for St. Pius X, the archdiocese said that “In this instance, the developer, CapInvest, approached us in 2014 with such an offer. 79 St Charles Square was identified as a possible location for redevelopment, providing both accommodation for the parish clergy and a number of much-needed social housing units in the area. We agreed to meet with the developer to commence discussions.”

WRM CapInvest is an investment company owned by Raffaele Mincione, who owned the Chelsea building through a holding company, 60 SA Ltd. Mincione sold a share in the holding company, and eventually the entire thing, to the Secretariat of State. Another of Mincione’s companies, Athena Capital, a Luxembourg investment fund, acted as the vehicle for the Vatican’s investment.

“At no time did the developer disclose any connection between this project and the Holy See. Equally, no one from the Holy See contacted the Diocese about this project. We only became aware of this possible connection when [CNA] contacted [the archdiocese].”

Fr. Wilson told CNA it was a Vatican official who presented the plan to him, alongside archdiocesan officers.

He added that the idea was presented as beyond his power to prevent, despite canonical norms that ensure decisions about parish property are the purview of the pastor, not the Holy See or the local bishop.

The London property investment points to a network unsavory financial actors and unseemly practices involved in the Vatican’s London investment, even amid repeated efforts to bring financial practices into line with international practices and standards.

CNA has reported that the London investment was funded by a $200 million short-term loan arranged through Swiss banks, along with a nearly $50 million 2018 investment in the same property, bringing it completely under Vatican ownership. Rather than buying the building outright from 60 SA Ltd., Mincione’s holding company, the Secretariat of State instead took that company over in 2018, setting up a new London company to control the investment.

According to the Financial Times, Mincione sold his personal stake in the property to the Vatican at “a significantly higher price than he had paid for it two years earlier.”

Last month, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said the investment was unique in some ways, and that the fund in question appeared to be “well managed.” He said that he was working to clear up questions about the project.

“We are working to clear up everything. This deal was rather opaque and now we are trying to clear it up,” Parolin said.

Also last month, former sostituto at the Secretariat of State Cardinal Angelo Becciu strongly denied any impropriety in the deal, responding to what he called “slanderous charges” that he had “played with and tampered with the money of the poor" in the 2014 transaction, the cardinal defended the investment last month, saying it was “accepted practice.”

The London property investment is believed to be at the center of an ongoing investigation by Vatican prosecutors who, in October, raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the Vatican’s own financial watchdog.

Msgr. Carlino

Among those suspended following the raids was Msgr. Mauro Carlino, an official at the Secretariat of State. Carlino was listed in May, 2019, as a director of a company called “London 60 SA Ltd.,” the holding company incorporated in the United Kingdom, through which the Secretariat of State controls the Jersey-based 60 SA Ltd., which in turn owns the property on Sloane Ave.
 
The UK’s registrar of companies lists the Holy See Secretariat of State as the single shareholder and legal person with “significant control” of the London company, and the right to appoint and remove directors. Public records show Carlino was terminated as a director in August, 2019, two months before the Vatican raid.

 

Luciano Capaldo

Among the other registered directors of London 60 SA Ltd. is Mr. Luciano Capaldo, an architect. According to his resumé Capaldo specializes in “real estate valuation” and “project-property design and management.”

In filings officially approved by the Secretariat of State concerning his initial appointment as a director for London 60 SA Ltd. in May 2019, Capaldo was identified as a “Vatican citizen.” A subsequent filing changed Capaldo’s nationality of record to British and Italian.

According to British corporate filing requirements, only an agent of the Secretariat of State or the first officer of the holding company could file a document appointing Capaldo as a director.

In practice this means only Parolin, Becciu, or Dr. Caterina Sansone, who was the company’s sole officer at the time of Capaldo’s appointment, would have filed the legal appointment that listed Capaldo as a Vatican citizen. 

Sansone was among the Vatican employees suspended in the October raid of the Secretariat of State by Vatican prosecutors.

It is not clear whether the document listing Capaldo as a Vatican citizen was in error, or whether the architect had in fact been granted a Vatican passport, but Capaldo himself was required to countersign the document identifying him as a citizen of the Vatican. 

Citizenship of the Vatican City State is sometimes afforded to lay employees working in the curia, but is only granted to those living within the territory of Vatican City itself, and forfeited upon departure. Vatican citizenship has also sometimes been granted to lay people as a personal favor by curial officials, because it confers several benefits, and the Vatican does not assess an income tax.
 
The Secretariat of State issues a small number of passports for travel in the name of the Holy See, reserved to clerics engaged on diplomatic service for the Holy See and carrying with them diplomatic immunity.
 
It is unclear what, if any, role Capaldo has in curial service, or why he might have been granted citizenship by the Secretariat of State if his job is to run a property investment in London.

Vatican citizenship could carry with it the benefit of access to banking privileges either of the Holy See’s two financial institutions, the IOR, which functions as a deposit bank, and APSA, which acts as the Vatican’s reserve bank and sovereign wealth fund. Such funds have been used in the past by private individuals seeking to skirt international banking regulations and external scrutiny of business deals.

According to the terms of an agreement reached with Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, following a 2012 on-site inspection, exempting it from future inspections, APSA was required to close a number of accounts held for private individuals, including senior churchmen and Vatican citizens. Senior sources at APSA and the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that several of these accounts are still in operation but had been anonymized following the Moneyval agreement.

“Essentially, named accounts became private numbered accounts,” one senior official told CNA. “Looking at the account ledgers, there is no way to tell the difference between an individual or institution as the account holder, it’s just a number.”

“They were supposed to all be closed down, and some of them were. But no one is being made to do anything - some of the accounts are still very much on the books.”

Imvest

Though apparently living in London, Capaldo is a major shareholder and former chairman of an Italian real estate company called Imvest, which describes its business as “buying and selling real estates, as well as managing the construction of buildings, blocks and lots mainly for individual clients” and “facility management and services of territories and properties for tenants, private clients and public institutions.”

Among the company’s principal shareholders is a private, family-owned Italian bank named Banca Finnat Euroamerica S.p.A., which is controlled by the Nattino family.

In 2017, Italian financial authorities froze 2.5 million euros is assets belonging to Giampiero Nattino, who was then the bank’s chairman, saying that he had used personal accounts held at both IOR and APSA to commit a string of offences, including market manipulation, and had provided false information to Italian financial authorities.

In 2017, Italian police said Nattino had used Vatican accounts to carry out “a complex stock operation which resulted in criminal behaviour regarding market manipulation,” despite the 2012 directive to APSA to close such accounts.

The police action followed a 2011 investigation by Vatican authorities into Nattino. At that time, investigators identified Nattio as the owner of a portfolio of accounts at APSA which they suspected were used for money laundering and market manipulation. Authorities questioned why he had banking privileges at APSA at all.

The balance of Nattino’s accounts, some 2 million euros, was transferred to Switzerland shortly before the 2012 regulations were due to come into force. The Vatican investigation noted the “dubious origin and dubious final destination of the funds in the closing of” Nattino’s portfolio.

Another large stakeholder in Capaldo’s company Imvest is FEG International Assets SA, an anonymously incorporated company in Luxembourg formerly run by Gianluigi Torzi.

FEG and Torzi were named recently in a commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court. Also named as respondents in the suit were Giancarlo Andreella and his former company, Odikon Services PLC, of which Torzi was also a director. Odikon, formerly known as Beaumont Investment Services PLC, it is currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority. Capaldo served as a director of Odikon Services until November 2018.

Imvest’s largest shareholder is Meti Capital, of which Capaldo also a part owner. Meti Capital’s largest owner (48% stake) is Yield Corporate Advisor Ltd., incorporated in Malta and owned by Andreella. Another major shareholder in Meti is Beaumont Investment/Odikon Services.

Imvest was raided by Italian authorities in May 2018 and several directors indicted on charges of preparation and submission of false budgets. Among those indicted was Alfio Marchini, a Roman real estate entrepreneur, and twice-failed candidate for Mayor of Rome for the 5 Star Party. That trial is pending.


Pastor of vibrant Arkansas parish named Bishop of Shreveport

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Tuesday appointed Msgr. Francis Malone, pastor of an Arkansas parish known for having generated many priestly vocations, as the next bishop of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Malone, 69, is the pastor of Christ the King in Little Rock, Arkansas, a parish which has produced at 6 priests and 6 seminarians since 2006. Before he became pastor in 2001, the parish had not had any vocations.

“Msgr. Francis Malone ... showed me how pure joy can be infectious, and that made me want to be a priest from an early age,” Daniel Wendel, a seminarian from Christ the King parish, wrote on the Diocese of Little Rock website this year.

Other seminarians and parishioners pointed to Msgr. Malone’s example as among the reasons why their parish has drawn many men to the priesthood. Malone himself credited Eucharistic Adoration.

“Our parish had no seminarians until after we inaugurated perpetual adoration,” Msgr. Malone told Arkansas Catholic in 2013.

“There can be no coincidence that since PEA [Perpetual Eucharitsic Adoration] began, we have had 11 men step forward to begin the process of discernment that leads to the altar,” he said.

As bishop-elect of the Diocese of Shreveport, Malone will succeed Bishop Michael Gerard Duca who led the diocese for ten years until Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Baton Rouge in June 2018.

Born in Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 1950, Malone was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Little Rock at the age of 26. Before becoming pastor at Christ the King, Malone served as pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, St. Anne Church, St. Michael Church, St. Mary of the Mount Church, and rector at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, among other assignments.

Malone is a canon lawyer, who earned his J.C.L. at the Catholic University of America in 1989. He is also holds multiple degrees from the University of Dallas, where he studied history as an undergraduate, and went on to earn master’s degrees in both divinity and education.

He has served as Chancellor of Ecclesial Affairs for the Diocese of Little Rock since 2008. Previously he was vicar general 2002-2006, managing editor of Arkansas Catholic Newspaper & director of communications in 1995, and chaplain of Rogers Memorial Hospital in 1983.

He was named a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in 2002 and a protonotary apostolic in 2010.

Malone will be the third bishop of Shreveport, a diocese created in 1986. The Diocese of Shreveport has a total population of 812,200, of which 41,335 are Catholic.


Witnesses better than initiatives in parish-based evangelization, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 09:57 am (CNA).- Having a lot of parish initiatives is not the best way to reach people on a deeper level, Pope Francis said Monday, adding that evangelization is about giving a witness to personal encounter with Christ.

“Our parishes are invaded by many initiatives, where often, however, it does not affect the lives of people in depth,” he said Nov. 18 in the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI hall.

Speaking to Catholics who take part in “parish cells,” small, neighborhood-based prayer and study groups in Italy, he said, “you too are entrusted with the task of reviving, especially in this period, the life of our parish communities.”

“This will be possible insofar as [parishes] become, above all, a place to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the mystery of his death and resurrection,” he explained. “Only from here can we think that the work of evangelization becomes effective and fruitful, capable of bearing fruit.”

He noted that many people, for different reasons, are no longer attending their parish, arguing that “it is therefore urgent that we recover the need for the encounter to reach people where they live and work.”

“If we have encountered Christ in our lives, then we cannot just keep it for ourselves. It is crucial that we share this experience also with others; this is the main road to evangelization,” he said. “When the encounter is the fruit of Christian love, it changes lives because it reaches the hearts of people and touches them in depth.”

Parish cells are a ministry begun by Msgr. Michael Eivers, an Irish priest who served as a missionary in Nigeria before becoming a parish priest in Miami. Eivers died in 2017 at the age of 87. Parish cells can now be found around the world.

The pope urged Catholics to “never tire of following the paths that the Spirit of the Risen Lord” puts before them, including initiatives which allow for a deep witness of Christian discipleship, but he warned against expecting to always see the fruits of one’s evangelical labors.

Though it is human to want to see positive outcomes and results, he reminded Catholics that there is no promise from the Lord they will see them.

“Jesus did not tell the disciples that they would see the fruits of their work. He only assured that the fruits would endure. This promise also applies to us,” he stated.

“Do not hold back any fear of the new, and do not slow down your steps [among] the difficulties that are inevitable in the way of evangelization,” he added.

“When one is a missionary disciple, then enthusiasm can never fail!”


Pope Francis calls use of nuclear weapons 'immoral' ahead of Japan trip

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 05:01 am (CNA).- In a video message to the country of Japan Nov. 18, Pope Francis said he prays that the power of nuclear weapons will never again be used in the world.

Japan “is very aware of the suffering caused by war,” the pope said in his native Spanish. “Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. Using nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Pope Francis will be in Japan Nov. 23-26, part of a six-day trip which will begin in Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to Tokyo, the pope will travel to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he is expected to speak about peace and against the use of nuclear weapons at memorials to the victims of the 1946 atomic bombings.

He will also meet with victims of Japan’s “triple disaster,” when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The theme of the visit to Japan is “protect all life.”

In his video message, Francis said “this strong instinct, which resonates in our hearts, to defend the value and dignity of every human person, acquires particular importance in the face of threats to the peaceful coexistence that the world has to face today, especially in armed conflicts.”

Pope Francis has been vocal in his opposition to nuclear arms throughout his pontificate. In a message to the United Nations in March 2017, he said their total elimination is both “a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative.”

Catholics make up less than .5% of people in Japan, a largely secular country where most of the population identifies as Buddhist or Shinto.

The pope said cooperation between religions is important for peace, and he hopes his visit will encourage people “on the path of mutual respect and encounter that leads to a safe and lasting peace that does not go back in time.”

“Peace is that beautiful, that when it is real, it does not recede: it is defended with teeth,” he said.

Francis is also expected to speak about care for the environment while in Japan. He said he wants to promote a protection of life “which includes the earth, our common home,” symbolized in the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms.

He will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981.

This will be Francis’ 32nd international trip in his over six years as pope. Japan and Thailand will be his seventh foreign trip of 2019, and 10th and 11th countries visited this year.

 


President of Vatican's financial watchdog authority ends term

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2019 / 04:48 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Monday that René Brüelhart, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) has ended a five-year term and Pope Francis has chosen his successor.

Brüelhart told Reuters Nov. 18, that he resigned from the position, which has no official term limits.

According to the statement from the Holy See press office Nov. 18, Brüelhart’s successor will be announced after the conclusion of Pope Francis’ trip to Thailand and Japan Nov. 20-26.

The delay in the nomination is “necessary for the respect of previous official commitments of the person concerned and the resolution of some internal procedures of the Holy See,” Holy See press office director, Matteo Bruni, said in a separate statement.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee suspicious financial transactions; it is charged with ensuring that Vatican banking policies comply with international financial standards.

Brüelhart, 47, is a Swiss lawyer. Pope Francis named him the first lay president of the board of directors of the AIF on Nov. 19, 2014. He had served as director of the AIF since 2012.

The person designated by Pope Francis to be the next president of AIF is “a figure of high professional profile and accredited competence at an international level,” the Vatican statement reports.

“In this way the continuity of the institutional action of the AIF is ensured in this moment of particular commitments at an internal and international level,” it continued.

The AIF works alongside other financial entities in the Vatican, including the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy, both of which were established by Pope Francis as part of his ongoing reform of the Roman Curia.

The authority’s 2019 report, released May 21, stated that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the Vatican City State’s financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.

The report showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017. SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.

The AIF’s director, Tomasso Di Ruzza, was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his position Oct. 23, after he had been among five Vatican employees suspended after an Oct. 1 raid of offices within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and AIF.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State is currently at the center of a financial scandal involving a Vatican bank, the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, and millions of euros from misallocated government grants.

 

This story was updated at 5:30am MST.


Pope Francis: The poor, unborn, and elderly are neglected in the frenzy of modern life

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- On the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that the poor and most vulnerable can be left behind in the frenetic haste and self-centeredness of the modern world.

“How beautiful it would be if the poor could occupy in our hearts the place they have in the heart of God,” Pope Francis said in his homily Nov. 17.

“In the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now, anyone left behind is viewed as a nuisance. And considered disposable. How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the 3rd annual World Day of the Poor with the theme “the hope of the poor will never be disappointed.”

“Amid so many penultimate and passing realities, the Lord wants to remind us today of what is ultimate, what will remain forever. It is love, for ‘God is love,’” he said.

Pope Francis warned that there is a great temptation in today’s world to try to know and to do everything “right now” that can cause one to lose sight of what is most important: “We no longer find time for God or for our brother and sister living next door.”

“How often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is ‘now or never,’” Pope Francis said.

“To us, these are front page news, but the Lord puts them on the second page,” he said. “That which will never pass away remains on the front page: the living God, infinitely greater than any temple we build for him, and the human person, our neighbor, who is worth more than all the news reports of the world.”

The pope explained that the antidote to frantic haste is the Christian virtue of perseverance.

“Perseverance entails moving forward each day with our eyes fixed on what does not pass away: the Lord and our neighbor,” he said. “Let us ask that each of us, and all of us as Church, may persevere in the good and not lose sight of what really counts.”

Following the Mass and Angelus prayer, Pope Francis will share a free lunch with nearly 1,500 poor people invited to dine in the Paul VI Hall and nearby colleges. A medical clinic set up in St. Peter’s Square also offered free medical services to those in need in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor.

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the medical clinic Nov. 15 and announced the creation of a new 4-story homeless shelter right off the St. Peter’s Square colonnade, which he called “the Palace of the Poor.”

The homeless shelter, staffed by the Sant'Egidio community, will have two floors of dormitories that can sleep 50 men and women, a kitchen to provide breakfast and dinner, and a recreation area for fellowship, educational programs, and psychological counseling.

“The poor person who begs for my love leads me straight to God,” Pope Francis said.

In his Angelus address, the pope thanked Catholics in dioceses and parishes around the world for their work in solidarity with the poor, which he said gives hope to the most disadvantaged.

“The Lord calls us to collaborate in the construction of history, becoming, together with Him, peacemakers and witnesses of hope in a future of salvation and resurrection,” he said.

Pope Francis established  the World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. It is celebrated each year on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, one week before the Feast of Christ the King.

“The poor facilitate our access to heaven: this is why the sense of the faith of God’s People has viewed them as the gatekeepers of heaven,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Even now, they are our treasure, the treasure of the Church,” he said. “For the poor reveal to us the riches that never grow old, that unite heaven and earth, the riches for which life is truly worth living: the riches of love.”


Pope Francis: Women’s voices are needed in Vatican leadership

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Saturday that more women are needed in positions of leadership in the Vatican.

“We must move forward to include women in advisory positions, also in government, without fear,” Pope Francis said Nov. 16 in a meeting with the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“Yes, of course, also as heads of dicasteries,” the pope said, adding that he had considered two women for the appointment last week of the new prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy for which Francis ultimately selected Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves.

Pope Francis said that it is important to always remember: “The place of women in the Church is not just as functionaries.”

“Women’s advice is very important,” he said. “The role of women in ecclesial organization, in the Church, goes further and we must work on this as well because a woman is the image of ‘Mother Church.’”

Pope Francis commended the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life for having two women under-secretaries in their leadership. Both women are married with children.

The pope told the Vatican dicastery -- created in 2016 to promote the pastoral care of the family and the mission of the lay faithful -- not to “clericize the laity.”

He reflected: “So many times it happened in the other diocese [Buenos Aires], a parish priest came and told me: ‘I have a wonderful lay person, he knows how to do everything, everything. Do we make him a deacon?’”

Francis lamented that too often he sees permanent deacons become “first-class altar boys or second-class priests” rather than “custodians of service.”

“This, on clericalization, is an important point,” he said.

With the papal audience, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell concluded its first Plenary Assembly Nov. 13-16 on the identity and mission of the laity in the world.

The pope told the dicastery staff to “feel with the heart of the Church,” and to move from thinking from a local perspective to a universal perspective.

“The dicastery of which you are a part should, above all else, help the many disciples of Christ to live in daily life in conformity with the baptismal grace they have received,” he said.

“There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith with humility and sincerity, become great lights for those who live next to them,” Pope Francis said.


Vatican Museums opens exhibit with newly restored Renaissance Marian paintings

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Vatican Museums opened Thursday an exhibit of recently restored paintings of the Virgin Mary by early Renaissance painter Carlo Crivelli.

“The Vatican painting gallery has the privilege of having three large scale paintings by Crivelli,” Vatican Museums’ Curator Guido Cornini told CNA.

“Crivelli is a relatively rare artist, so not many collections in the world may claim the presence of a nucleus of more paintings together,” he said.

The restorations were made possible by members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, the fundraising branch of the Vatican Museums that started in the United States in 1983.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See co-hosted the exhibition opening at the Vatican museums in celebration of the 35 years of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See.

“U.S. Patrons fund approximately 80 percent of all restoration projects at the Vatican Museums,” U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich said at the exhibit opening Nov. 13.

“Through their work, the Patrons ensure that the unique spiritual and cultural mission of the Vatican Museums continues to flourish, and that these works of art endure and inspire millions each year and for generations to come,” she said.

Each year the Vatican Museums curators put together a “wish book” of art pieces in the museums that most urgently need restorations. This is then sent to donors, who can commit to funding the restoration of a particular work of art.

For the Crivelli pieces, the restoration process consisted of many stages, Cornini explained.

“It is more than presenting the painting with a superficial cleaning,” he said. The restorer, diagnostic laboratory, art historian, and/or archeologist must work together to determine the best means of restoration and then execute it in meticulous process that can take over a year.

“You have to get through a long ... phase in which more historical information is being gathered both through the archives and compare this with a careful reading of the literature existing on that particular panel painting and then you prepare the proposal of a ‘therapy’ to follow, much like you would do with a medicine," Cornini said.

The restoration of the Crivelli paintings involved removing the “over-painting” from previous restorations to recover the original vibrant colors under the surface.

Carlo Crivelli (1463-1494) was an early Renaissance painter from Venice, known for his use of gold in the late Gothic style.

Crivelli used many of the latest innovations in painting at the time, but on the other hand, his style displays a nostalgia for medieval art, Cornini explained.

Perhaps his best known pieces are “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius” (1486) and “Saint Thomas Aquinas” (1476).

The three newly restored pieces of art on display in the exhibit are a five-panel polyptych, “Madonna and Child with Saints” (1481), “Madonna and Child” (1482), and a “Pieta” (1488-1489).

“We are blessed with having these three important pictures, which were restored in past months, and we are now able to present them ... with the different histories behind each of them,” Cornini said.

The curator added that the three paintings mark the different stages in the development in Crivelli's style.

The exhibit, “Crivelli’s gold,” is on display in the Vatican’s Pinacoteca Museum Nov. 14 until Jan. 21, 2020.

Rachel Lanz contributed to this report.


Pope Francis names Archbishop Gabriele Caccia ambassador to the United Nations

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Saturday named Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia the next Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York.

“I hope to be able to fulfill well the new task Pope Francis has entrusted to me, seeking to bring the light of Catholic social teaching to the discussions and debates of the international community,” Caccia said of his appointment Nov. 16.

Archbishop Caccia will succeed Archbishop Bernardito Auza, whom Pope Francis appointed Apostolic Nuncio to the Kingdom of Spain and to the Principality of Andorra in October.

Caccia has spent nearly 30 years in the Vatican’s diplomatic service working in nunciatures in Tanzania, Lebanon, the Philippines, and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in Rome.

Most recently, Caccia has been serving as the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines since September 2017.

He studied at the Vatican’s Diplomatic School, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, where he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) and at the Pontifical Gregorian University for a a Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL). Prior to this, he served three years as a parish priest in his home diocese, the Archdiocese of Milan.

Pope Benedict XVI ordained Caccia a bishop in 2009 and named him Apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon. His episcopal motto is “We have believed in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16).

Caccia will arrive in New York to assume his new position as Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations on January 16, 2020.

“The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations will greatly benefit from his rich diplomatic experience and impressive priestly and human qualities,” Archbishop Auza said of his successor.

“In the two years he has spent in my home country the Philippines, he has endeared himself so deeply to the Filipinos,” he said.

Archbishop Caccia will be the seventh Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations since the Holy See became a Permanent Observer State at the UN in 1964.

The Holy See’s mission at the United Nations is of key importance for the Holy See’s diplomatic work. It aims to communicate the Catholic Church’s centuries of experience to assist the U.N. in realizing peace, justice, human dignity, and humanitarian cooperation and assistance.

“Next year, the United Nations will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding,” Caccia said. 

“I look forward to helping the Holy See assist the United Nations in renewing its commitment to the pillars of its Charter, preventing the scourge of war, defending human dignity and rights, promoting integral development, and fostering respect and implementation of international law and treaties,” he said.


Pope Francis braves rain to visit homeless in St. Peter’s Square

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- On a rainy Friday in Rome, Pope Francis popped over to St. Peter’s Square to greet the poor and homeless receiving treatment at a mobile medical clinic this week.

A now-annual tradition leading up to the World Day of the Poor, the mobile clinic offers free visits with specialists to Rome's poor and homeless population.

During his brief “Mercy Friday” visit to the clinic Nov. 15, which took place around 4:40 p.m., Pope Francis also greeted and thanked the health care workers and doctors who donated their time to the clinic this week.

According to a Vatican press release Nov. 15, the health clinic has been seeing hundreds of patients each day, most of whom hear about it through word of mouth.

During his visit, Pope Francis was greeted with applause from the patients in the lobby and medical offices.

“The Holy Father spoke with everyone; a smile and a word of support for each,” the press release states.

He also said a short prayer during the encounter.

The services offered include general medicine, cardiology, infectious diseases, gynecology, obstetrics, podiatry, dermatology, rheumatology, and ophthalmology. A laboratory for clinical analysis is also present.

Afterward the pope stopped for a few minutes at a new location of the Apostolic charity office, located just outside St. Peter's Square on extra-territorial Vatican property.

Pope Francis established the annual World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016.

This year, the pope will celebrate the third World Day of the Poor with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 17, followed by a lunch at the Vatican with over 1,000 poor and homeless people invited as guests.

The theme is taken from Psalm 9: “The hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”


Pope’s private meetings in Thailand, Japan focus on ordinary people

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 10:04 am (CNA).- Among Pope Francis’ scheduled meetings during next week’s visit to Japan and Thailand are a series of encounters with ordinary Catholics, including the sick and disabled, which will mainly take place away from the spotlight.

These quiet encounters, especially with those on the margins of society, have become a hallmark for Francis, known for his gestures of humility and love of spending time with ordinary people, removed from cameras and media.

Besides meetings with heads of state, which are always reserved in nature, Francis’ trip to Thailand Nov. 20-23 will include personally greeting 40 sick and disabled people, who will be brought to the hall of the St. Louis Hospital in Bangkok Nov. 21.

Friday Nov. 22, after Mass with young people in Bangkok’s Cathedral of the Assumption, the pope will also greet 10 employees of the curia of the Church in Thailand.

As customary during the pope’s trips, he will also spend time with Thailand’s Jesuits.

In Japan, Pope Francis will greet the wife and son of deceased American photojournalist Joe O’Donnell, who photographed the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 and 1946.

He will also spend a little time in Tokyo with about 20 young people who take part in the activities of the pontifical foundation Scholas Occurentes, which Pope Francis founded in 2013.

The pope’s final morning in Japan, Nov. 26, will be spent at the Catholic Sophia University, where he will celebrate a private early morning Mass with Jesuits in the university chapel. After breakfast, he will visit elderly and ill priests of Japan.

According to Vatican statistics, there are about 1,400 diocesan and religious priests in Japan.

One symbolic encounter, which could possibly take place in Tokyo, is a greeting between Pope Francis and ex-death row inmate Iwao Hakamada.

Hakamada, 83, was released from death row after 48 years. A boxer, he had been convicted in 1966 of a quadruple murder but was released in 2014 when new DNA evidence led to a suspension of his sentence. He is currently awaiting retrial by Japan’s supreme court.

Hakamada was baptized in prison on Christmas Eve 1984. His sister wrote to the Vatican in May asking for Francis to meet her brother when in Japan.

Holy See press office director Matteo Bruni said Nov. 15 that no meeting between the two is on the program, but that the bishops of Japan have invited Hakamada to take part in Francis’ final Mass in Tokyo Nov. 25.

A meeting between the two could take place on the sidelines there, especially fitting as the theme of the pope’s trip in Japan is “Protect all life.”

Francis has also been vocal regarding his opposition to the use of the death penalty. In 2018, the Vatican changed the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the issue, calling it “inadmissible.”

Both of the pope’s translators for this trip are also personal choices.

In Japan, Francis’ interpreter will be an Argentine Jesuit sent to Japan by Pope Francis when he was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.

While in Thailand, the pope will have his second cousin, a Salesian missionary, at his side acting as translator.

Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, Pope Francis’ second cousin, has been a missionary in Thailand for over 50 years.

Pope Francis’ six-day journey to Asia will focus on the themes of peace, especially nuclear disarmament, dialogue with other religions, and defense of the environment, Bruni said Nov. 15.

Another motivation behind the trip is to encourage the small Catholic communities, which in Japan have deep historic roots.

In both countries, Catholics make up less than half a percent of the population.

In a video message sent Friday to the people of Thailand, Pope Francis said that during his trip he will “have the opportunity to meet with the Catholic community of Thailand to encourage them in faith and in the contribution they make to the whole of society.”

“I trust that my visit will contribute to highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue, mutual understanding and fraternal cooperation, especially in the service of the poor, the needy and in the service of peace: at this moment we need to work so hard for peace,” he added.


Vatican delegation in Iran discuss human rights with Muslim leaders

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A Vatican delegation traveled to Tehran this week to discuss opportunities for Catholics and Muslims to serve humanity together.

“Muslims and Christians, along with all persons of good will who do not profess any particular religion, are called to promote fundamental human rights for everybody, everywhere, at all times,” participants in the interreligious meeting concluded in a final statement released by the Vatican Nov. 15. 

The interreligious colloquium in Iran focused on shared values found within Shia Islam and Catholicism. The event was organized by the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Iranian government’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

At the end of the colloquium, participants agreed to a final statement of broad support for fundamental human rights, religious freedom, environmental protection, and service to others.

“Freedom of conscience and of religion is the cornerstone of the edifice of human rights and therefore should be preserved and promoted,” the final statement of the conference declared.

In Iran, Muslim converts to Christianity have suffered persecution and arrest by the Iranian government, according to a 2019 report by the  U.S. Council for International Religious Freedom. At least 171 Christians were arrested in Iran in 2018, the report found.

Among the Iranian participants in the colloquium were Iranian clerics and diplomats: Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, Ayatollah Dr. Ahmad Beheshti, Ayatollah Dr. Reza Ramezani, and Ayatollah Abolghasem Alidoust Abarghouei. 

Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, co-chaired the colloquium along with Dr. Abuzar Ibrahimi Turkaman, president of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

Cardinal Ayuso has degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies, in addition to a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Granada. He previously served as dean of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome. Pope Francis named made Ayuso a cardinal in Oct. 2019.

The Tehran colloquium was the 11th interreligious dialogue meeting between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization since 1996. The participants decided to hold the next colloquium in Rome in 2021.

“Service to others, especially the sick, the poor and the needy, is of capital importance to Christians and Muslims,” the colloquium’s final statement declares. “Serving others witnesses to the universal love of God for all human beings, because He created everyone and everything, and cares for all His creation with the same love.”


Pope Francis' message to those suffering 'at the foot of the cross'

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 03:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told those who are sick and suffering Friday that the world needs their prayers.

“You, who are at the foot of the cross, perhaps alone, isolated, abandoned, homeless, expelled from your family or from your country, victims of alcohol, prostitution, disease. Be aware that God loves you. God especially listens to your prayer,” Pope Francis said in a video message Nov. 15 to pilgrims in Lourdes, France.

“Brothers and sisters, I need you all, each one of you,” the pope said. “The world suffers and your prayer moves the Lord.”

In the message, Pope Francis greeted those gathered in Lourdes, France Nov. 14-17 for the World Day of the Poor.

Millions of people travel to Lourdes each year to pray at the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 under the title “the Immaculate Conception,” and manifested  healing spring water.

“It is Mary who welcomes us here. She is the Immaculate. She appeared to Bernadette, a poor shepherdess. It is good news for all of us who recognize ourselves as poor and small: ‘What God has hidden from the wise and learned, he has revealed to the little ones,’” Pope Francis said.

“You who are small, you who are poor, fragile, you are the treasure of the Church. You are in the heart of the pope, in the heart of Mary, in the heart of God,” he said.

Pope Francis established the annual World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016.

This year, the pope will celebrate the World Day of the Poor with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 17 followed by a lunch at the Vatican with over 1,000 impoverished people invited as guests.

In his video message, Pope Francis invited each person to “live the sacraments,” adding that they are gifts from the Church.

“I invite you to discover especially confession, the sacrament of forgiveness in which God shows us his tenderness and frees us,” the pope said. He also invited the sick to receive the sacrament of anointing.

Pope Francis said that to receive the Eucharist is to welcome God into one’s body and soul, filling it with faith and joy.

“Do you want to be a Christian? Ask for the baptism,” he added.

“Let us ask the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, to inspire acts of charity, of benevolence towards those around us,” he said. “There is no one so poor as to have nothing to give.”

“Love saves the world and God wants to go through us to save the world,” Pope Francis said.