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White House advisor reiterates Trump's commitment to religious freedom

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A White House advisor rejected recent concerns that the Trump administration supports the controversial HHS mandate, saying it is simply a matter of timing in finding a “litigation-proof” alternative.

“The administration is not stepping back. It's doing precisely what it should be doing here... because of the way people are attacking Trump executive orders, it's very important that this thing gets done right and be as litigation-proof as possible, knowing full well they're going to get sued anyway,” said White House advisor Leonard Leo, according to Axios.

His comments came amid concerns by religious groups after the Washington Post on Tuesday reported that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court for 60 extra days to negotiate an agreement with East Texas Baptist University and several other plaintiffs challenging the controversial HHS mandate. The Supreme Court last year had instructed the Obama administration to negotiate with the plaintiffs as the next step in the litigation process.

During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised Catholics relief from the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference last October, he pointed to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s support for the mandate, and said “that is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”

After Trump’s election, the plaintiffs challenging the mandate widely expected that the new administration would drop the government’s appeal of the lawsuits, which federal circuit courts may re-examine in the coming months.

Instead of dropping the cases, however, the administration had indicated earlier this week that it intends to take the next step in the litigation process.

According to Axios, “The Trump administration is considering a range of options, from providing blanket exemptions to allowing schemes that would let insurance companies deal directly with employees.”

The HHS mandate was formed under the Affordable Care Act, which required preventive coverage in employer health plans. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services interpreted this to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

After a wave of criticism from religious employers to the original mandate, the Obama administration announced an “accommodation” whereby objecting non-profits would tell the government of their opposition, and their insurer or the third party administrator for the plans would be notified separately to include the coverage.

Many non-profits – including Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor – said that the process still forced them to cooperate in immoral behavior against their consciences. Some critics voiced concern that the cost of coverage would still end up getting passed along to the objecting employers in the form of higher premiums.

Hundreds of non-profits and other plaintiffs filed lawsuits over the mandate, even with the accommodation. Among these plaintiffs is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.

A number of those cases made their way to the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case include East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other dioceses, schools, and charities.

In March of 2016, the Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs explaining whether a compromise could be reached that provided for cost-free contraceptive coverage for employees and yet still respected the religious freedom of the objecting non-profits.

That request, which came after oral arguments and in the middle of the case, was almost unprecedented in its timing.

After both parties outlined ways where they believed both goals could be achieved, the Supreme Court last May sent the cases back to the federal circuit court level, vacated the previous decisions of those courts, ordered the government not to enforce the fines against plaintiffs for not complying with their demands, and instructed the courts to give the parties time to find a solution on which they could agree.

 

Our martyrs' blood unites us, Francis tells Coptic Orthodox patriarch

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis closed his first day in Egypt with a visit to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.

In his April 28 address to the patriarch, Francis said their ecumenical journey is sustained “in a mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.”

Noting how Saint John the Evangelist wrote that Christ came “with water and blood,” Francis said this image serves as a symbol that “by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.”

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!”

The Pope noted that this has tragically been the case even in recent days, when “the innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.”

“Their innocent blood unites us,” Francis continued, telling the patriarch that just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, “so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

“Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, on his first day in Egypt. He is on an official April 28-29 visit to the country, aimed largely at interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.

After arriving at Cairo in the afternoon, Francis made his way to Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, where he met with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb and addressed participants in the International Peace Conference.

He then met with the country’s authorities, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, before heading to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral for his meeting with Tawadros, the last official appointment of the day.

Tawadros is head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.

Francis’ words to the patriarch bear special significance considering his visit comes against the backdrop of recent attacks against Christians in the area, which are part of a general increase in the persecution of Egypt’s 9 million strong Coptic community.

The Islamic State and other Islamists have carried out a series of attacks on Egypt's Christians in recent years, including the beheading of 20 Coptic Orthodox faithful in Libya in 2015, and a series of church bombings.
 
However, in his speech Pope Francis noted that the “impressive history of holiness” in Egypt isn’t limited to the witness of the martyrs, because “no sooner had the ancient persecutions ended than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.”

“Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity,” he said, explaining that given this shared patrimony, he comes to Egypt “as a pilgrim.”

Francis noted that while the two Churches haven’t always gotten along given both theological and non-theological differences, their 1973 joint declaration, signed by Blessed Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III, allowed them, “with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity.”

Equally important and timely, he said, “are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and Savior and King.”

The strengthening of this bond between their Churches, Francis said, means they can no longer move forward with the idea that each can go their own way, because this would “betray” Christ's prayer that his disciples “all be one.”

While the journey isn’t always easy, the Lord exhorts them to persevere, he said, explaining that “we are not alone. We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the Jerusalem above.”

Quoting the Gospel of St. Mark, founder of the See of Alexandria, Pope Francis pointed out Christ's question to St. Peter: “who do you say that I am?”

Even today “many people cannot answer this question,” Francis said, noting that “there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.”

Because of this, Coptic Orthodox and Catholics are called to bear witness to Christ together and “to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.”

As both Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, “we can always join in speaking this common language of charity,” he said, explaining that before completing some charitable task, “we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus.”

“Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity,” he said, praising the patriarch for his support of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, particularly through his establishment of the National Council of Christian Churches.

Francis closed his speech praying that the two of them would be able to “set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace,” under the special care and guidance of Mary, the Mother of God.

At their meeting, Francis and Tawadros signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”

Notably, they declared that they “will seek sincerely not  to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.”

“We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.”

Arkansas executions damage 'our whole society,' Catholic group says

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 28, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days, Catholics offered prayers for the prisoners, the victims, and their families, saying the executions have diminished the whole society.

“Catholic Mobilizing Network is deeply saddened by the events in Arkansas last night,” Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said on Friday. “Our prayers are with all the victims’ families and all those involved in carrying out these four executions.” Catholic Mobilizing Network fights for an end to the death penalty.

Arkansas carried out its fourth execution in eight days late on Thursday night. The state had originally planned to conduct eight executions in 11 days, which would have been the largest number of executions in so short a span of time since the death penalty was re-instated there in 1976.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock wrote the state’s Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1, asking him to commute the sentences of the eight men to life in prison without parole.

“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means,” Bishop Taylor stated.

One of the eight inmates, Ledell Lee, was put to death on April 20. Two others, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, were executed on Monday in the first double-execution in the U.S. since 2000. The lawyers for Williams tried unsuccessfully to win a last-minute stay of his execution with claims that Jones’s execution by lethal injection “appeared to be torturous and inhumane.”

The inmate executed on Thursday, Kenneth Williams, 38, had been convicted of a 1998 killing of Dominique Hurd, but after he escaped from prison he was convicted again in 1999 on capital murder charges for the killing of Cecil Boren.

Williams reportedly scored a 70 on an IQ test, “squarely within the intellectual disability range” which would make him ineligible for the death penalty, the Fair Sentencing Project claimed. His lawyers requested a last-minute stay of his execution but were denied by the state Supreme Court, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Four of the eight planned executions were halted by courts for various reasons – one for a hearing for DNA evidence, another for a 30-day public comment period after the state’s parole board had recommended clemency, and two others tied to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of a case about the rights of inmates to access an independent mental health professional to determine their competency for execution.

The four executions in eight days, Clifton said, showed “the brokenness of the death penalty system.”

“These four men represented all who are on death row: the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, those who are too poor to afford proper counsel, those who have experienced abuse and severe trauma as children, and even some who maintained their innocence,” she stated.

Jones and Williams, executed on Monday, had both reportedly been sexually abused as children, according to the Fair Sentencing Project. Jones had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he committed his capital crime, while Williams had been pimped out by his mother for sex as a minor, in exchange for benefits like lodging and food stamps.

In addition, three of the four black inmates originally scheduled for execution were killed, Clifton said, while three of the four white inmates originally slated for execution received stays by the courts.

An AP reporter present at Williams’ death reported that he “lurched and convulsed on the gurney” as the drugs for his lethal injection were administered. According to the state’s three-drug protocol, midazolam – a sedative – is given first, followed by vecuronium bromide to paralyze the subject, completed with potassium chloride which is mean to stop the heart.

Williams was heard “speaking in tongues,” according to the AP’s Kelly Kissel, and as the drugs were administered through an IV he was then seen lurching on the gurney coughing, with his chest “pumping” according to one witness.

His attorney noted the reports of Williams’ reactions to the injection and called for an investigation to see if the execution was “botched.” Other recent lethal injection executions have been allegedly “botched,” most notably the 2015 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma where the inmate was seen writhing on the gurney for nearly 45 minutes after the drugs were administered.

Clifton maintained that Williams’ death, as well as the double-execution on Monday, “have raised concerns of possible complications related to the use of controversial drugs.”

“Our whole society has been diminished by these four executions,” she concluded.

 

 

Pope tells Egypt's authorities they have key role in brokering peace

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 10:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shortly after landing in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced violent fundamentalism in his speech to civil authorities, telling them they have a special role in helping quell extremism.

“Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence,” the Pope said April 28.

“I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”

Pope Francis spoke to political and civil authorities, including Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after landing in Cairo for his two-day trip to the country.

The visit will focus largely on interreligious and ecumenical dialogue in a bid to both strengthen Catholic-Muslim relations and support Egypt’s persecuted Coptic community.

After touching down around 2 p.m. local time, the Pope stopped by the prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. There he addressed participants in the International Peace Conference before heading to his meeting with authorities.

In his speech to Egypt’s leaders, Francis voiced his gratitude for the invitation to come, saying that due to the country’s rich cultural and religious history Egypt is the misr um al-dunya, or “mother of the world,” a phrase commonly known by Egyptians.

He commented on how the Holy Family went to Egypt in order to find “refuge and hospitality” after fleeing Herod. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.

“This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice,” the Pope said.

Because of this, Egypt has “a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.”

“Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters,” he said, recalling the many youth, police, and Coptic citizens who have become “nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.”

Among these victims, he said, are those affected by recent violence and threats that have prompted a Christian exodus from northern Sinai, and the death some 45 people killed by bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9.

“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he said.

Pope Francis then offered his praise for various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace “are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.”

He also spoke on the importance of keeping one’s focus on the human being above all else, because they are “the heart of all development.”

Pointing to the “fragile and complex” state of today’s world, which he has frequently dubbed a “third world war fought piecemeal,” Francis said a firm condemnation of violence is needed.

“It needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God,” he said, thanking el-Sisi for clearly speaking out on this.

“All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them,” the Pope said, adding that God “never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.”

“He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence.” The true God, he said, “calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

The Pope said it is the duty of everyone, regardless of nation or religion, to unite in proclaiming that “history does not forgive” hypocrites who preach justice but practice injustice, or who talk about equality and then discard others.

“It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.”

Francis stressed that we are bound “to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”

Egypt, which once saved other peoples from famine, is called “to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity,” he said, explaining that this means issuing a harsh condemnation of all violence and terrorism.

By simultaneously building peace and fighting terrorism, Egypt will give proof that al-din lillah wal watan liljami (religion belongs to God and the nation to all), he said, referring to the motto of the nation's 1952 revolution.

As the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions, the region, with the help of Egypt, the Pope said, “can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace.”

“From great nations, one can expect no less!” he said, noting how this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Egypt.

Pope Francis voiced his hope that these relations will continue to be strengthened, particularly through his visit.

He closed with an appeal for peace, which he said is “a gift of God, but also the work of man” which must be “built up and protected.”

Offering his greetings to the various Christian groups present in Egypt, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics, the Pope prayed that St. Mark, who evangelized the region, would intercede for them in helping to establish unity.

“Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt,” he said. “You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict.”

Pope Francis in Egypt: To kill in the name of God is blasphemy

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his first speech in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced all forms of violence and hatred, saying that they are blasphemous when carried out in the name of God, or under the pretense of religion.

“Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.”

“Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear 'No!' to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” he said April 28.

Pope Francis spoke to participants of an International Conference on Peace held at al-Azhar University as part of his April 28-29 visit to Cairo. The visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the university, which had been strained since 2011.

Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, also spoke at the conference. He is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the University attached to it.

In his speech, Francis emphasized the role of religious leaders in ending violence and promoting peace, saying they are called “to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity” and is based not on “authentic openness” to God, but on selfishness.

“We have an obligation,” he continued, “to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.”

The Pope explained that violence and faith, belief and hatred, are incompatible, asking those present to affirm this with him. “Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological,” he said.

Francis reflected on the historical value Egypt has placed on education, saying it is absolutely necessary for the future and the proper education of the next generations that they make decisions based on peace.

“To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness,” he said.

In his speech, the Pope illustrated several points with symbolism taken from Mount Sinai, a mountain in Egypt believed to be the site of the biblical Mount Sinai.

Also called the “Mount of the Covenant,” Mount Sinai, he said, “reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).”

Mount Sinai is held to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, according to both the Christian and Islamic traditions. At the center of these commandments, the Pope emphasized, “addressed to each individual and to people of all ages” is the command: “Thou shalt not kill.”

“Above all and especially in our day, religions are called to respect this imperative, since…it is essential that we reject any ‘absolutizing’ that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”

Pope Francis also called out the increasing move toward secularism in society, saying that abandoning religion is not the answer to fundamentalism – religion itself holds the answer.

We are often caught between relegating religion to the private sphere or – on the other hand – not properly distinguishing between the religious and political. But religion is the antidote to a “banal and uninspired life” that has forgotten the existence of eternity, he said.

But religious faith must be “born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God,” otherwise it does not liberate mankind, but “crushes” it, he warned.

Continuing, Francis praised the cooperation between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue for their work as a “concrete and encouraging example” of dialogue and encounter between different religions and cultures.

“National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states,” he said.

“It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.”

Pope Francis addresses Egypt's civil authorities: Full text

(Vatican Radio) Full text of Pope Francis address to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps. 

Click here to see our report.

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
to Government Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps

Heliopolis, Egypt

28 April 2017

Mr President,

Honourable Members of Government and Parliament,
Distinguished Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

I thank you, Mr President, for your cordial words of greeting and for your kind invitation to visit your beloved country.  I have vivid memories of your visit to Rome in November 2014, my fraternal meeting with his Holiness Pope Tawadros II in 2013, and my meeting last year with the Grand Imam of the University of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad Al-Tayyib.

I am happy to be here in Egypt, a land of ancient and noble civilization, whose vestiges we can admire even today; in their majestic splendour they appear to withstand the passing of time.  This land is significant for the history of humanity and for the Church’s tradition, not only because of its prestigious past – that of Pharaohs, Copts and Muslims – but also because so many of the Patriarchs lived in Egypt or passed through it.  Indeed, Egypt is often mentioned in the sacred Scriptures.  In this land, God spoke and “revealed his name to Moses” (JOHN PAUL II, Welcome Ceremony, 24 February 2000: Insegnamenti XXIII, 1 [2000], 248), and on Mount Sinai he entrusted to his people and to all humanity the divine Commandments.  On Egyptian soil the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph found refuge and hospitality.

The generous hospitality shown more than two thousand years ago remains in the collective memory of humanity and is a source of abundant blessings that continue to expand.  As a result, Egypt is a land that in some sense we all feel to be our own!  As you say, “Misr um al-dunya” – “Egypt is the mother of the world”.  Today too, this land welcomes millions of refugees from different countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq, refugees whom you make praiseworthy efforts to integrate into Egyptian society.

Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence.  I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.

This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice.  Certainly this aim will become a reality if all are willing, together, to turn words into actions, authentic aspirations into commitments, written laws into enforced laws, by drawing on the innate genius of the Egyptian people.

Egypt thus has a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.  Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters.

I think in a particular way of all those individuals who in recent years have given their lives to protect your country: young people, members of the armed forces and police, Coptic citizens and all those nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.  I think also of the murders and the threats that have led to an exodus of Christians from northern Sinai.  I express my gratitude to the civil and religious authorities and to all those who have offered welcome and assistance to these persons who have suffered so greatly.  I also think of the victims of the attacks on Coptic churches, both last December and more recently in Tanta and Alexandria.  To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured.

Mr President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I can only encourage the bold efforts being made to complete a number of national projects and the many initiatives of peace-making, both within the country and beyond its borders, aimed at that development in prosperity and peace which its people desire and deserve.

Development, prosperity and peace are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.  They are also goals that demand hard work, conviction and commitment, adequate planning and, above all, unconditional respect for inalienable human rights such as equality among all citizens, religious freedom and freedom of expression, without any distinction (cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Chapter 3) .  Goals, too, that require special consideration for the role of women, young people, the poor and the sick.  Ultimately, true development is measured by concern for human beings, who are the heart of all development: concern for their education, health and dignity.  The greatness of any nation is revealed in its effective care of society’s most vulnerable members – women, children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled and minorities – lest any person or social group be excluded or marginalized.

In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.  Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.

All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them.  He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.  He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5).  The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.

It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.  History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different.  It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.  It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.

History instead honours men and women of peace, who courageously and non-violently strive to build a better world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).

Egypt, in the days of Joseph, saved other peoples from famine (cf. Gen 47:57); today it is called to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity.  It is called to condemn and vanquish all violence and terrorism.  It is called to pour out the grain of peace upon all hearts that hunger for peaceful coexistence, dignified employment and humane education.  Egypt, in building peace and at the same time combatting terrorism, is called to give proof that “al-din lillah wal watan liljami”religion belongs to God and the nation to all”, as the motto of the Revolution of 23 July 1952 states.  Egypt is called to demonstrate that it is possible to believe and live in harmony with others, sharing with them fundamental human values and respecting the freedom and the faith of all (cf. Egyptian Constitution of 2014, Article 5).  Egypt has a special role to play in this regard, so that this region, the cradle of the three great religions, can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace (cf. Message for the 2014 World Day of Peace, 4).  From great nations, one can expect no less!

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Arab Republic of Egypt, which was one of the first Arab countries to establish such relations.  Those relations have always been characterized by friendship, esteem and reciprocal cooperation.  It is my hope that my Visit may help to consolidate and strengthen them.

Peace is a gift of God, but also the work of man.  It is a good that must be built up and protected, respecting the principle that upholds the force of law and not the law of force (cf. Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, 1).  Peace for this beloved country!  Peace for this whole region, and particularly for Palestine and Israel, for Syria, for Libya, Yemen, for Iraq, for South Sudan.  Peace to all people of good will!

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to greet with affection and a paternal embrace all the Egyptian people, who are symbolically present in this hall.  I also greet my Christian sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, who live in this country: Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics.  May Saint Mark, the evangelizer of this land, watch over you and help all of us to build and achieve the unity so greatly desired by our Lord (cf. Jn 17:20-23).  Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt.  You are an integral part of this country, and over the course of the centuries you have developed a sort of unique rapport, a particular symbiosis, which can serve as an example to other nations.  You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict (cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 24 and 25).

Thank you for your warm welcome.  I ask the Almighty and One God to fill all the Egyptian people with his divine blessings.  May he grant peace and prosperity, progress and justice to Egypt, and bless all her children!

“Blessed be Egypt my people”, says the Lord in the Book of Isaiah (19:25).

Shukran wa tahya misr!  Thank you and long live Egypt!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis: Egypt's unique role in the Middle East

(Vatican Radio) In his address to leaders of government and civil institutions in Egypt, Pope Francis focused on the country’s role in seeking solutions to the complex issues that face the Middle East.

Listen to Christopher Wells' report:

Egypt, he said, “has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence” – violence he attributed to diverse factors such as the desire for power, the arms trade, social problems, and religious extremism. He recalled in particular the victims of attacks on Coptic churches in December, and more recently in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

Pope Francis said “this destiny and role of Egypt” is also the reason for the call for an Egypt where “no one lacks bread, freedom, and social justice.” This aim, he said, can be achieved if all are willing to work together to turn words and aspirations into reality. “Development, prosperity, and peace are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.” He reminded those present, however, that “true development is measured by concern for human beings, who are the heart of all development.”

The Holy Father also spoke out against violence, especially violence carried out in the name of God. He said, “The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among His children, believers and non-believers alike.”

“History honours men and women of peace,” he continued. Although “peace is a gift of God,” Pope Francis said, it is also “the work of man.”

Pope Francis closed his speech with affectionate greetings for all of the Egyptian people, especially, as he said, “my Christian sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters” – not only Catholics, but Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestants. The presence of Christians in Egypt, he said, is not “new or accidental, but ancient, and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope at Al-Azhar; religious leaders must 'unmask' violence and hatred

(Vatican Radio) Religious leaders must denounce violations of human rights and expose attempts to justify violence and hatred in the name of God. That was Pope Francis’ message on Friday at the International Peace Conference taking place at the Al-Azhar conference centre in Cairo. The Pope’s words came at the start of his two day trip to Egypt, following a courtesy visit to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Listen to our report:

After listening to an opening address by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the Pope spoke of Egypt’s “inestimable cultural heritage”, saying such wisdom and open-mindedness is urgently needed today to ensure peace for present and future generations.

Calling for respectful interreligious dialogue, Pope Francis said the only alternative to a culture of civilized encounter is “the incivility of conflict”. Recalling the visit of St Francis to the Sultan in Egypt eight centuries ago, he called for dialogue based on sincerity and the courage to accept differences.

Speaking of the covenant which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Pope said that religion cannot simply be relegated to the private sphere but, at the same time, religion must not be confused with the political sphere or tempted by worldly powers that seek to exploit it.

Faith and violence are incompatible

At the heart of the law given to Moses, the Pope continued, is the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Violence, he stressed, “is the negation of every authentic religious expression” and religious leaders are called to “unmask” violence and selfishness masquerading as sanctity. Together, he insisted, “Let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred”, upholding instead “the sacredness of every human life”.

Weapons 'feed the cancer of war'

Echoing the words of Sheik Al-Tayeb, Pope Francis also reiterated his appeal for an end to the arms trade, saying that if weapons are produced and sold, “soon or later they will be used”. Only by bringing to light “the murky manoeuvrings  that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented”, he said.

Peacemakers, not populism

Finally the Pope stressed the importance of working to eliminate poverty and to combat the current rise of populism that does not promote stability and peace. Every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared solutions, he warned, is “a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence”. What our world needs, he said, is peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation, not instigators of destruction”.

Please find below the full address of Pope Francis at the International Conference for Peace in Cairo's Al-Azhar Conference Centre

As-salamu alaykum!    Peace be with you!

I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this International Peace Conference.  I thank the Grand Imam for having planned and organized this Conference, and for kindly inviting me to take part.  I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.

A land of civilizations 

From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was synonymous with civilization.  Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage, made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of architecture and figurative art.  The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future.  Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations.  Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.

Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed.  Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics.  Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves.  Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone.  Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator. 

Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures.  In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example.  Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.

The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others.  The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all.  Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.

An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility.  For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict.  To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness.  In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.

In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: “We live under the sun of the one merciful God…  Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun”.   May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter.  May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.

A land of covenants 

In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the religions shone in this land.  Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted “a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community”.   Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good.  Such “covenants” are urgently needed today.  Here I would take as a symbol the “Mount of the Covenant” which rises up in this land.  Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).

This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment.  On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society.  At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished.  Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it.  Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain.  As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life.  These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling.  We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal.  For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone.   At the centre of this “decalogue”, there resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13).  God, the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly “covenant”.  Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any “absolutizing” that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.

As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute.  We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam.   Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.

            Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear “No!” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.  Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred.  Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological.  Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him.  Let us say together: the more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in the love of our neighbour. 

            Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever.   Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism,  our task is that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship.  For our part, as Christians, “we cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God’s image”.   Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer “a place of genuine fraternity”, God assures all those who trust in his love that “the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain”.   Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.

            It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise.  These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.

            In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence.  Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used.  Only by bringing into the light of day the murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented.  National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task.  So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states.  It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.

    As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

(from Vatican Radio)

Why the devil hates Mary – especially during exorcisms

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 28, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian priest Sante Babolin said that Satan is behind several recent attacks in various parts of the world against the Virgin Mary, noting that she is a powerful advocate for him during exorcisms.

“In my experience – so far I have performed 2,300 rites of exorcism – I can say that the invocation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary often provokes significant reactions in the person being exorcized,” he told Mexican weekly Desde la Fe.

Fr. Babolin, who also taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, said that “in face of the failure of the onslaught by non-believers, now, in order to offend and confound the Catholic people, the Virgin Mary, whom the devil hates, is being attacked.”

Desde la Fe noted the recent events of the Spanish drag queen Borja Casillas, who masqueraded as the Virgin Mary and mocked her in a performance, as well as a woman who dressed up as the Virgin Mary and simulated an abortion during a protest in Argentina.

The Italian exorcist said that “as proof of this hatred” of the devil toward the Mother of God, “while I was insistently invoking the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the devil answered me: 'I can't stand That One (Mary) any more and neither can I stand you any more.'”

Fr. Babolin also noted that “the Second Vatican Council declares that Mary, daughter of Adam, in accepting the divine message, became the Mother of Jesus, and embracing with her whole heart and without the hindrance of any sin the saving will of God, consecrated herself totally, as the servant of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son.”

The priest pointed out the passage in the book of Genesis – which is evoked in the Rite of Exorcism – where God says to the serpent that “she will crush your head.”  

In this ritual, he said, the exorcist says to the devil: “Most cunning serpent, you shall no more dare to deceive the human race, persecute the Church, torment God's elect and sift them as wheat (...) The sacred Sign of the Cross commands you, as does also the power of the mysteries of the Christian Faith (...) The glorious Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, commands you; she who by her humility and from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception crushed your proud head.”

Fr. Babolin also said that “the strongest reactions” of the devil during the exorcism occur “when references are made to her apparitions.”

Because of this, he frequently pronounces the name of Holy Mary with her titles of Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe. In the latter case, he said, “I use this formula: 'Holy Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Tepeyac.'”

The exorcist warned that “the instrument the (the devil) normally uses to trap us is money, since it offers the possibility of satisfying the impulses that converge in pleasure and power.”

Satan “subjugates us to himself manipulating the truth and offering us his dazzling light, showing us his version of 'freedom' and promising us the instant gratification of our whims.”

“As far as interpersonal communication, the sense of sight overtakes the sense of hearing; and consequently the image over the word; that is to say, desire precedes reflection,” he said.

Fr. Babolin encouraged Catholics to denounce attacks on the faith as well as to organize and participate in prayer events, pray the Rosary, and participate in Masses at places where offenses were committed.

Utah bishop exhorts faithful to evangelization, renewal

Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Bishop of Salt Lake city has urged Utah's Catholics to be steeped in Catholic identity and to sow the Gospel’s seed within the community, leaving their comfort zone behind.

“Our Church needs more witnesses who can manifest the presence of God in our world,” Bishop Oscar Solis wrote in his April 21 pastoral letter A Springtime of the New Evangelization.

“It begins in our own conversion through personal encounter with Christ in our life. The love of God we experience compels us to go and share the joy of the Gospel and the beauty of our faith with others.”

Bishop Solis was installed as Bishop of Salt Lake City on March 7, and he is the first Philippines-born man to become a bishop in the United States.

Comparing the newness of spring to Christ's Resurrection, the bishops challenged his diocese to spiritual rebirth and renewed commitment during the Easter season.

“The resurrection of Christ from the dead brings about new beginnings, offering an opportunity to see and experience things with our minds and hearts renewed.”

“Society today mocks our efforts to uphold the dignity of life,” said the bishop, acknowledging the “daunting task” ahead.

“I do not know, exactly, where this path will lead us,” he confessed, but said that “the mission of the Church today remains the same – to bring people closer to God in order to help them encounter Christ and rediscover the presence of God in their lives.”

Bishop Oscar Solis included an outline of priorities for the diocese to focus on, listing faith formation, Catholic identity, religious vocations, social justice, and ecumenism as necessary for the spiritual growth of the Salt Lake City diocese.

“For seeds of evangelization to grow and bear fruit, they must be planted and take root in the good soil of our parishes. Parishioners must be given the opportunity to receive the necessary formation to know, live and share their Christian faith,” he said.

Because “the present culture poses a serious challenge to the practice of our beliefs ... it is necessary for every Catholic to learn more about the essential teachings of Christ and our Church,” he said. “Catechetical formation of our young children and teenagers is so important in this regard. It should bring about transformation of hearts and minds, so that they may fully live and share their faith confidently with great ardor, joy and enthusiasm.”

He explained that “we find our Catholic identity in the celebration of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments,” and these “channels of God’s graces” lead to “nourishment, forgiveness and other spiritual gifts.” He said then there must be a renewed call “for vibrant and uplifting Sunday liturgical celebrations and other forms of worship.”

“The scarcity of priests and religious is a serious concern,” he reflected, encouraging everyone to “generate greater enthusiasm in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to attend adequately to the spiritual needs of the people. Let us cultivate vocations within the family and in schools accompanied by constant prayers of petition, invitation and witness of our life so that more men and women may be inspired to pursue this path of life.”

He said that “beyond knowing Christ and learning about God’s commandments and the teachings of the Church,” we must establish “a right personal relationship with God and with one another.”

“Justice and charity are the other important components of our mission of evangelization. Love for our neighbors and little ones reveals our love for God. Justice sets the right relationship among people that allows us to see in others, in the poor, the unemployed, the addicts, the sick, the least in our society, the undocumented and the refugees, the very face of Christ.”

Turning to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, Bishop Solis encouraged a fostesring of “dialogue and encounter,” saying that “Courage and fidelity to our mission come along with mutual respect, understanding and harmony among diverse people and leaders of different faith denominations. Commitment to ecumenism, dialogue and unity is our big contribution to the world and humanity.”

The bishop identified the hatred within the world occurring between differences in “race or cultural traditions, religion or politics, gender and color of skin.” As an antidote, he proposed “dialogue tempered with charity that allows us to recognize” the dignity of life in refugees, unborn babies, the poor, and the suffering.

Bishop Oscar Solis emphasized that the Church’s very purpose is “to proclaim the Gospel by the way we believe, love and serve one another,”

“Therefore, we must not make the mistake of trying to hoard the fullness of God’s goodness within the walls of our Church. But be missionaries of mercy with compassionate hearts and the ability to heal wounds, to warm the hearts of others and be a brother or sister to one another.”