Monthly Archives: March 2013

Crucifixion and Resurrection: the Melanesian martyrs

A fragile truce between the warring factions was signed in 2000 but one warlord continued to wage a terror campaign, prompting first one brother, then six others, to set out on a peace mission – a journey from which they never returned. “ It was like a crucifixion, it was like everyone is looking to you and your community to be the hope of the nation and then seven of them die……” Rev. Richard Carter worked for 15 years as chaplain to the Melanesian brothers and was charged with the task of telling the families about the brutal deaths of the seven men. During a recent visit to the Rome Basilica of St Bartholomew on the Tiber Island, where the brothers’ relics are displayed, he talked with Philippa Hitchen about the history of the community and the impact these martyrs for peace had on the lives of people far beyond that remote Pacific region.

Rise in sectarian violence in Burma

“What we’ve seen in the past week in Burma is anti-Muslim violence  spreading from Rakhine state, where it was particularly being targeted against the Rohingya,” says Mark Farmaner, the Director of advocacy group Burma Campaign UK. “We’re very concerned about this because it’s spreading. And there seems to be no steps taken by either the government of Burma or the democracy movement leaders or other religious leaders to try to tackle this.” Farmaner said security must be improved to prevent attacks, and incitements to violence must be stopped. He added “the humanitarian access is a desperate situation there.” He called for full and free humanitarian access. “There’s a whole range of different things the international community could be doing, but at the moment there’s a lot of hand-wringing and not enough action.”

Russia fears escalation in Korea conflict

              2013-03-30 Vatican Radio

 Russia is anxious as a North Korean propaganda video animation posted on the Internet shows rising tensions in its immediate neighbourhood.

It appeared shortly before North Korea announced entering “a state of war” with South Korea, in the latest rhetoric against its neighbour and the United States.

‘DESTROYING’ US PLANE

The video shows a North Korean missile destroying a nuclear-capable American B-2 bomber aircraft, though there was no sign the attack actually happened.

On Thursday, the United States sent a pair of the planes on a first-of-its-kind practice run over the skies of South Korea.

U.S. officials said it was a diplomatic sortie and that the planes returned safely to their basis.

However Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has made clear that Moscow fears the increased military activity near North Korea, which also include joint South Korean and American drills, will escalate the conflict.

‘BUILD-UP MILITARY ACTIVITY’

“We are concerned that, along with this adequate reaction of the Security Council, along with the collective reaction of the world community, unilateral actions are being taken around North Korea, which are manifested in the build-up of military activity,” he told reporters in Moscow. “The situation may slip out of control and fall into a vicious circle.”

And, in an apparent warning to the West, Russia has begun its own military manoeuvres in the Black Sea involving dozens of war ships and planes. The operations are held not far from the former Soviet republic of Georgia where Russia fought a brief war in 2008.

Washington remains sceptical, saying North Korea’s rhetoric only leads to increased isolation.

The tensions have done little to help at least hundreds of thousands of people, including many Christians, who are believed to spent this Easter in North Korean prison camps, known for torture, executions and slave labour.

Rights groups say North Korea is still the most hostile nation in which to live and practice the Christian faith. At least 100,000 or more Christians are believed to be languishing in camps for their refusal to worship nation founder Kim Il-Sung’s cult.

Pope: Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter, 2013 [Full text]

              2013-03-31 Vatican Radio

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4).  What does it mean that Jesus is risen?  It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom.

 

This same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, down to hell – to the abyss of separation from God – this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus and transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life.  Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope.

 

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness.  Because God is life, life alone, and his glory is the living man (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4,20,5-7).

 

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ died and rose once for all, and for everyone, but the power of the Resurrection, this passover from slavery to evil to the freedom of goodness, must be accomplished in every age, in our concrete existence, in our everyday lives. How many deserts, even today, do human beings need to cross!  Above all, the desert within, when we have no love for God or neighbour, when we fail to realize that we are guardians of all that the Creator has given us and continues to give us.  God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14).

 

So this is the invitation which I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection!  Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of His love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

 

And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.  Yes, Christ is our peace, and through Him we implore peace for all the world.

 

Peace for the Middle East, and particularly between Israelis and Palestinians, who struggle to find the road of agreement, that they may willingly and courageously resume negotiations to end a conflict that has lasted all too long.  Peace in Iraq, that every act of violence may end, and above all for dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort.  How much blood has been shed!  And how much suffering must there still be before a political solution to the crisis will be found?

 

Peace for Africa, still the scene of violent conflicts.  In Mali, may unity and stability be restored; in Nigeria, where attacks sadly continue, gravely threatening the lives of many innocent people, and where great numbers of persons, including children, are held hostage by terrorist groups.  Peace in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the Central African Republic, where many have been forced to leave their homes and continue to live in fear.

 

Peace in Asia, above all on the Korean peninsula: may disagreements be overcome and a renewed spirit of reconciliation grow.

 

Peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain, wounded by the selfishness which threatens human life and the family, selfishness that continues in human trafficking, the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century.  Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth!  Made the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.

 

Dear brothers and sisters, to all of you who are listening to me, from Rome and from all over of the world, I address the invitation of the Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.  Let Israel say: ‘His steadfast love endures for ever’” (Ps 117:1-2).

 

Dear brothers and sisters, who have come from all over the world to this Square, the heart of Christianity, and all of you joining us via communications media, I renew my wishes for a Happy Easter! Bring to your families and your nations the message of joy of hope and peace that each year is powerfully renewed on this day. May the Risen Lord, who defeated sin and death, support us all especially the weakest and those most in need.  Thank you for your presence and the witness of your faith.  A thought and a particular thanks for the gift of these beautiful flowers from the Netherlands.  I affectionately repeat to all of you: May the Risen Christ guide you and all humanity on the paths of justice, love and peace!

Pope Francis has lunch with Rome priests

2013-03-30 Vatican Radio
He said listening to the Pope is an extraordinary experience, and that he puts you at ease, and makes it feel as if you have been heard.

 

“He is not one who listens to you thinking about what to say next,” Msgr. Feroci said. “He listens profoundly; empathetically; richly.”He recounted how during the lunch, Pope Francis joked, listened, reflected, and gave his perspective.  Msgr. Feroci said Pope Francis urged them to be generous in offering confession.

 

“He said, ‘Open the doors of the Church, and then the people will come in…if you keep the light on in the confessional and are available, then you will see what kind of line there is for confession’…The Pope said he was confident of the need of the people of God for priests to open the doors and allow the people to meet God,” Msgr. Feroci told Vatican Radio.Father Mario Pasquale, who had served as a worker-priest for 40 years, told Vatican Radio that he felt “heard” during the meal with the Pope, and that he had the “feeling of being understood.”

 

He said Pope Francis told them he wants to meet the people in the parishes as Bishop of Rome.“You feel that the Pope has a lot of hope in his heart,” Father Pasquale said.  “I had this feeling that this is someone who love the Church and invites you to love the Church, too, to the end – for life – and that it’s worth it.”

 

Welcome Jesus as a friend, Pope encourages at Easter Vigil + Full Sermon Text

  

Pope Francis blesses the Easter candle during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on March 30, 2013. Credit: CTV.
At the opening of the liturgy – which Pope Francis concelebrated with numerous cardinals – candles were lit among the faithful and passed in complete silence, illuminating the church as the Easter candle procession reached the altar.
Over 40,000 flowers and plants from Holland were used to decorate the basilica including daffodils and lilies.
Pope Francis also baptized four people during the service, including a 17-year-old U.S. Citizen of Vietnamese descent, a 30-year-old Albanian, a 30-year-old Russian and a 23-year-old Italian.
After the baptisms, a white cloth was placed over each of the four and flame from the main Easter candle was shared with smaller candles which were given to them to hold. Pope Francis then confirmed them as Catholics, making the sign of the cross on their forehead with oil and kissing them each on the cheek. The four also received their first Holy Communion during the Mass.
During his homily, the new Pope said that if following Christ seems difficult, “don’t be afraid.”
“Trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”
If people remember what God has done for them, he noted, they will not fear what lies in store for their lives.
“To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled is what opens our hearts to hope for the future,” he said.
The Pope observed that “newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us.”
“We are afraid of God’s surprises…He always surprises us!” he exclaimed.  However, “Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up.”
Pope Francis reflected on the resurrection narrative from the Gospel reading where the women were sad and afraid to find the tomb of Jesus opened and empty after His death.
“Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future, He is the everlasting ‘today’ of God,” he emphasized.
Because of this, Pope Francis explained, sadness is the wrong place to look for life. “How often does Love have to tell us ‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’” he asked.
“Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness,” Pope Francis noted. That “is where death is” and “is not the place to look for the One who is alive.”
“Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is life!”

Pope: Easter Vigil Homily (Full Text)

   (Vatican Radio) Below we publish the definitive text of Pope’ Francis’ Easter Vigil Homily, March 30th, 2013:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3).  They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would.  They had followed Jesus, they had listened to His words, they had felt understood by Him in their dignity and they had accompanied Him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when He was taken down from the cross.  We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, He had died, His life had come to an end.  Life would now go on as before.  Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to His tomb.  But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body.  It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4).  Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life?  We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do.  Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us.  We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past.  We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises!  He always surprises us!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!  Are we often weary, disheartened and sad?  Do we feel weighed down by our sins?  Do we think that we won’t be able to cope?  Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which He cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to Him.
2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further.  They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer.  And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6).   What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event.  Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind.  Jesus is not dead, He has risen, He is alive!  He does not simply return to life; rather, He is life itself, because He is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10).   Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; He is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human.  And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother.   How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead?  Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is.  That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!  Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is life!  If up till now you have kept Him at a distance, step forward.  He will receive you with open arms.  If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed.  If following Him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust Him, be confident that He is close to you, He is with you and He will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do.
3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil.  The women encounter the newness of God.  Jesus has risen, He is alive!  But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look.  But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith.  And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: “Remember what He told you when He was still in Galilee… And they remembered His words” (Lk 24:6,8).  They are asked to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember His words, His actions, His life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9).  To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future.  May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives. On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in His Resurrection.  May He open us to the newness that transforms.  May He make us men and women capable of remembering all that He has done in our own lives and in the history of our world.  May He help us to feel His presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst.  And may He teach us each day not to look among the dead for the Living One.  Amen.

Pope Francis: ‘I join all of you gathered before the Holy Shroud’

 Pope Francis: 'I join all of you gathered before the Holy Shroud' | Holy Shroud of Turin, Pope Francis
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I join all of you gathered before the Holy Shroud, and I thank the Lord who, through modern technology, offers us this possibility.”
“Even if it takes place in this way, our gaze is not a mere ‘observing’, but rather a veneration. It is a prayerful gaze. I would go further: It is a letting ourselves be looked upon. This Face has eyes that are closed. It is the face of one who is dead and yet, mysteriously, He is watching us and in silence He speaks to us. How is this possible? How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this Icon of a man who has been scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our hearts and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love.”
“Let us therefore allow ourselves to be reached by this gaze, which is directed not to our eyes but to our hearts. In silence, let us listen to what He has to say to us from beyond death itself. By means of the Holy Shroud, the unique and supreme Word of God comes to us: Love made man, incarnate in our history; the merciful Love of God who has taken upon himself all the evil of the world in order to free us from its power. This disfigured Face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life that does not respect their dignity, by war and the violence that afflict the weakest… And yet, the Face of the Shroud conveys a great peace. This tortured body expresses a sovereign majesty. It is as if it let a restrained but powerful energy within it shine through, as if to tell us: have faith; do not lose hope; the power of God’s love, the power of the Risen One, conquers all.”
“So, looking upon the Man of the Shroud, I make Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer before the Crucifix my own: ‘Most High and glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and grant me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may carry out your holy and true command. Amen.’”

Pope emphasises God’s mercy during torch-lit Via Crucis

         

 

Pope Francis, who earlier presided at a two-hour-long service in St Peter’s Basilica commemorating Christ’s Passion, sat on a balcony overlookng the Colosseum for the torch-lit ceremony. Various groups and people from different parts of the world carried a wooden cross from one to another of the fourteen stations. The Sistine Chapel Choir sang refrains to prayers in Latin, while an Italian actress helped read spiritual meditations that had been written earlier by young Catholics from Lebanon.

“We now continue this Via Crucis in our daily lives,” Pope Francis told those gathered in his final remarks. “Let us go forward waiting for the Resurrection of Christ — who loves us very much!” he added.

A choir of Maronite priests and seminarians from Lebanon then concluded the evening with a haunting chant in Arabic.

God never condemns

Pope Francis’ homily during the Via Crucis

Dear Brother and Sisters,

Thank you for having taken part in these moments of deep prayer. I also thank those who have accompanied us through the media, especially the sick and elderly.

I do not wish to add too many words. One word should suffice this evening, that is the Cross itself. The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Remember this! God judges us by loving us! If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns, he only loves and saves.

 

Dear brothers and sisters, the word of the Cross is also the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us. Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the Cross upon themselves as Jesus did. This evening we have heard the witness given by our Lebanese brothers and sisters: they composed these beautiful prayers and meditations. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to them for this work and for the witness they offer. We were able to see this when Pope Benedict visited Lebanon: we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others. That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world: a sign of hope.

We now continue this Via Crucis in our daily lives. Let us walk together along the Way of the Cross and let us do so carrying in our hearts this word of love and forgiveness. Let us go forward waiting for the Resurrection of Jesus – who loves us very much! He is all love!

Pope Francis gave this homily during the Via Crucis at the Colosseum in Rome on 29 March 2013

Vatican: Passion of Our Lord Sermon [Full text]

              2013-03-29 Vatican Radio

The Holy Father stood as three deacons, two Franciscans and  a Dominican, chanted the account of the Passion according to St. John.  As is tradition, the papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered the Good Friday Sermon, this year titled “Justified as a Gift through Faith in the Blood of Christ”.

 

He began by describing the Easter Triduum as the ‘high point’ of the current Year of Faith: “Today we can make the most important decision in our lives: to believe… that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification”. Unlike Adam and Eve, he added, we must not  hide from the presence of God, because of our sin.  Instead we must recognize our need to be justified; that we cannot justify ourselves.

 

Fr. Cantalamessa continued that faith in the Risen Christ, like satellite images and infrared photography, helps us see world in new light.  It helps us to see beyond misery, injustice; because we know “in Christ dead and risen, the world has reached its final destination” a new heavens, a new earth have begun.

 

The Papal preacher then turned his attention to the Cross as a powerful tool for Evangelization.

 

He noted that while the Cross sometimes separates unbelievers from believers, seen as madness by some and the ultimate symbol of love by others, “in a deeper sense it unites all men”, because “Christ died for everyone”.  Thus, evangelization is a mystical gift that comes from the cross of Christ.  It is not a conquest, not propaganda; it is sharing gift of God to world through Christ.

 

Citing Kafka, Fr. Cantalamessa said we must do everything to prevent Church from becoming a structure that impedes the Gospel message with dividing walls, ‘starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris’.

 

The Franciscan Friar concluded: “We must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins. This was the mission that was received one day by a man who prayed before the Crucifix of San Damiano: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church”.

 

Below we publish the official text of the 2013 Good Friday Sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica, preached by Capuchin Friar Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household:

 

JUSTIFIED AS A GIFT THROUGH FAITH IN THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

 

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith in his blood. He did this to show his righteousness […] to prove at the present time that he is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus”(Rom 3:23-26).We have reached the summit of the Year of Faith and its decisive moment. This is the faith that saves, “faith that overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5)! Faith – the appropriation by which we make ours the salvation worked by Christ, by which we put on the mantle of his righteousness. On the one hand there is the outstretched hand of God offering man His grace; on the other hand, the hand of man reaching out to receive it through faith. The “new and everlasting Covenant” is sealed with a handclasp between God and man.

 

We have the opportunity to make, on this day, the most important decision of our lives, one that opens wide before us the doors of eternity: to believe! To believe that “Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification” (Rom 4:25)! In an Easter homily of the 4th century, the bishop pronounced these extraordinarily modern, and one could say existentialist, words: “For every man, the beginning of life is when Christ was immolated for him. However, Christ is immolated for him at the moment he recognizes the grace and becomes conscious of the life procured for him by that immolation” (The Paschal Homily of the Year 387 : SCh, 36 p. 59f.).

 

What an extraordinary thing! This Good Friday celebrated in the Year of Faith and in the presence of the new successor of Peter, could be, if we wish, the principle of a new kind of existence. Bishop Hilary of Poitiers, converted to Christianity as an adult, looking back on his past life, said, “before meeting you, I did not exist”.

 

What is required is only that we do not hide from the presence of God, as Adam and Eve did after their sin, that we recognize our need to be justified; that we cannot justify ourselves. The publican of the parable came to the temple and made a short prayer: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner”. And Jesus says that the man returned to his home “justified”, that is, made right before him, forgiven, made a new creature, I think singing joyfully in his heart (Lk 18:14). What had he done that was so extraordinary? Nothing, he had put himself in the truth before God, and it is the only thing that God needs in order to act.

 

***Like he who, in climbing a mountain wall, having overcome a dangerous step, stops for a moment to catch his breath and admire the new landscape that has opened up before him, so does the Apostle Paul at the beginning of Chapter 5 of the letter to the Romans, after having proclaimed justification by faith:

 

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5: 1-5).

 

Today, from artificial satellites infrared photographs of whole regions of the Earth and of the whole planet are taken. How different the landscape looks when seen from up there, in the light of those rays, compared to what we see in natural light and from down here! I remember one of the first satellite pictures published in the world; it reproduced the entire Sinai Peninsula. The colors were different, the reliefs and depressions were more noticeable. It is a symbol. Even human life, seen in the infrared rays of faith, from atop Calvary, looks different from what you see “with the naked eye”.

 

“The same fate”, said the wise man of the Old Testament, “comes to all, to the righteous and to the wicked…I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well”(Ecc 3:16; 9:2). And in fact at all times man has witnessed iniquity triumphant and innocence humiliated. But so that people do not believe that there is something fixed and sure in the world, behold, Bossuet notes, sometimes you see the opposite, namely, innocence on the throne and lawlessness on the scaffold. But what did Qoheleth conclude from all this? ” I said in my heart: God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for everything” (Ecc 3:17). He found the vantage point that puts the soul in peace.

 

What Qoheleth could not know and that we do know is that this judgement has already happened: “Now”, Jesus says when beginning his passion, “is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”(Jn 12:31-32).

 

In Christ dead and risen, the world has reached its final destination. Human progress is advancing today at a dizzying pace and humanity sees new and unexpected horizons unfolding before it, the result of its discoveries. Still, it can be said that the end of time has already come, because in Christ, who ascended to the right hand of the Father, humanity has reached its ultimate goal. The new heavens and new earth have already begun. Despite all the misery, injustice, the monstrosities present on Earth, he has already inaugurated the final order in the world. What we see with our own eyes may suggest otherwise, but in reality evil and death have been defeated forever. Their sources are dry; the reality is that Jesus is the Lord of the world. Evil has been radically defeated by redemption which he operated. The new world has already begun.

 

One thing above all appears different, seen with the eyes of faith: death! Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He did not return from whence he came, as Lazarus did who returned to life to die again. He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him. Death is no longer a wall against which every human hope is shattered; it has become a bridge to eternity. A “bridge of sighs”, perhaps because no one likes to die, but a bridge, no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything. “Love is strong as death”, says the song of songs (Sgs 8:6). In Christ it was stronger than death!

 

In his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, the Venerable Bede tells how the Christian faith made its entrance into the North of England. When the missionaries from Rome arrived in Northumberland, the local King summoned a Council of dignitaries to decide whether to allow them, or not, to spread the new message. Some of those present were in favor, others against. It was winter and outside there was a blizzard, but the room was lit and warm. At one point a bird came from a hole in the wall, fluttered a bit, frightened, in the hall, and then disappeared through a hole in the opposite wall.

 

Then one of those present rose and said: “Sire, our life in this world resembles that bird. We come we know not from where, for a while we enjoy the light and warmth of this world and then we disappear back into the darkness, without knowing where we are going. If these men are capable of revealing to us something of the mystery of our lives, we must listen to them”. The Christian faith could return on our continent and in the secularized world for the same reason it made its entrance: as the only message, that is, which has a sure answer to the great questions of life and death.

 

The cross separates unbelievers from believers, because for the ones it is scandal and madness, for the others is God’s power and wisdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 1:23-24); but in a deeper sense it unites all men, believers and unbelievers. “Jesus had to die […] not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God”(cf. Jn 11:51f). The new heavens and the new Earth belong to everyone and are for everyone, because Christ died for everyone.

 

The urgency that comes from all this is that of evangelizing: “The love of Christ urges us, at the thought that one has died for all” (2 Cor 5:14). It urges us to evangelize! Let us announce to the world the good news that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because the law of the spirit which gives life in Christ Jesus has delivered us from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).

 

There is a short story by Franz Kafka that is a powerful religious symbol and takes on a new meaning, almost prophetic, when heard on Good Friday. It’s titled “An Imperial Message”. It speaks of a king who, on his deathbed, calls to his side a subject and whispers a message into his ear. So important is that message that he makes the subject repeat it, in turn, into his ear. Then, with a nod, he sends off the messenger, who sets out on his way. But let us hear directly from the author the continuation of this story, characterized by the dreamlike and almost nightmarish tone typical of this writer:

 

” Now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng; if he encounters resistance he points to his breast, where the symbol of the sun glitters. But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end.  If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly, and soon doubtless you would hear the welcome hammering of his fists on your door.  But instead how vainly does he wear out his strength; still he is only making his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he get to the end of them; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; he must next fight his way down the stair; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; the courts would still have to be crossed; and after the courts the second outer palace; and so on for thousands of years; and if at last he should burst through the outermost gate—but never, never can that happen—the imperial capital would lie before him, the center of the world, crammed to bursting with its own sediment.  Nobody could fight his way through here even with a message from a dead man.  But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself”.From his deathbed, Christ also confided to his Church a message: “Go throughout the whole world, preach the good news to all creation” (MK 16:15). There are still many men who stand at the window and dream, without knowing it, of a message like his. John, whom we have just heard, says that the soldier pierced the side of Christ on the cross “so that the Scripture may be fulfilled which says ‘they shall look on him whom they have pierced”(Jn 19:37). In the Apocalypse he adds: “Behold, he is coming on the clouds, and every eye will see him; they will see him even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the Earth will lament for him “(Rev 1:7).

 

This prophecy does not announce the last coming of Christ, when it will no longer be the time of conversion, but of judgment. It describes the reality of the evangelization of the peoples. In it, a mysterious but real coming of the Lord occurs, which brings salvation to them. Theirs won’t be a cry of despair, but of repentance and of consolation. This is the meaning of that prophetic passage of Scripture that John sees realized in the piercing of the side of Christ, and that is, the passage of Zechariah 12:10: “I will pour out on the House of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and consolation; they will look to me, to him whom they have pierced”.

 

The evangelization has a mystical origin; it is a gift that comes from the cross of Christ, from that open side, from that blood and from that water. The love of Christ, like that of the Trinity of which it is the historical manifestation, is “diffusivum sui”, it tends to expand and reach all creatures, “especially those most needy of thy mercy.” Christian evangelization is not a conquest, not propaganda; it is the gift of God to the world in his Son Jesus. It is to give the Head the joy of feeling life flow from his heart towards his body, to the point of vivivfying its most distant limbs.

 

We must do everything possible so that the Church may never look like that complicated and cluttered castle described by Kafka, and the message may come out of it as free and joyous as when the messenger began his run. We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.

 

In Revelation, Jesus says that He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20). Sometimes, as noted by our Pope Francis, he does not knock to enter, but knocks from within to go out. To reach out to the “existential suburbs of sin, suffering, injustice, religious ignorance and indifference, and of all forms of misery. “As happens with certain old buildings. Over the centuries, to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets. The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins. This was the mission that was received one day by a man who prayed before the Crucifix of San Damiano: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church”.

 

“Who could ever be up to this task?” wondered aghast the Apostle before the superhuman task of being in the world “the fragrance of Christ”; and here is his reply, that still applies today: “We’re not ourselves able to think something as if it came from us; our ability comes from God. He has made us to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; because the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”(2 Cor 2:16; 3:5-6). May the Holy Spirit, in this moment in which a new time is opening for the Church, full of hope, reawaken in men who are at the window the expectancy of the message, and in the messengers the will to make it reach them, even at the cost of their life.

Caritas pledges support for Syrian refugees

Caritas pledges support for Syrian refugees | Caritas Syria

Refugee camp in Bekaa valley – image: Sam Tarling/Caritas Suisse

 

Caritas members pledged their support to the work of Caritas Syria, and to members in the region who are helping in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan with food, shelter, medical supplies, healthcare, education and finding employment in combined programmes of nearly €15 million. Those programmes have been focused over the last few months on helping Syrians survive the winter, but will be extended as we move into spring and summer.

Caritas provides aid to Syrians regardless of their political or religious beliefs.

At the end the meeting which took place on 21-22 March Caritas organisations joined their voices to send a strong message of hope and solidarity to people suffering from the conflict in Syria: “In this Holy Week at which end we celebrate the risen Christ, we stand with those suffering from the violence in Syria and we will continue to alleviate their suffering.

“We pray for peace and dialogue among the conflicting parties so further suffering and bloodshed is avoided. Easter is a season of solidarity and hope reborn out of despair. Although the war in Syria seems to be intractable, there is a solution through a dialogue.”

Source: Caritas