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Pope Francis on the family synod: ‘We need prayers, not gossip’

Rain falls as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Elise Harris

During his weekly general audience Pope Francis spoke about the gift and call of the Christian family, and urged attendees to pray for the intentions of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.

“The Church needs a prayer full of love for the family and for life,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in a drizzly St. Peter’s Square for his March 25 general audience.

“Because of this, I ask you to pray insistently for the next Synod of Bishops, on the family, so that the Church is increasingly more committed and unified in her witness of the love and mercy of God with all families,” he said. Continue reading

Vatican statistics show modest, steady church growth worldwide

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service 

VATICAN CITY — The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests and permanent deacons rose slightly in 2013, while the number of men and women in religious orders declined, according to Vatican statistics.

For the second year in a row, the number of candidates for the priesthood also decreased.

The numbers come from the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which was completed in February and published in March. The yearbook reported worldwide church figures as of Dec. 31, 2013. Continue reading

Blood of Naples’ patron liquefies during pope’s visit to cathedral

Pope Francis kisses a reliquary containing what is believed to be the blood of St. Januarius during a meeting with religious at the cathedral in Naples, Italy, March 21. The dried blood of the saint is said to liquefy several times a year. After the pope handled the relic, the blood apparently liquefied. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service 

VATICAN CITY — At the end of Pope Francis’ spontaneity-filled meeting with priests, seminarians and religious in the cathedral of Naples, the vial of dried blood of the city’s patron saint appeared to miraculously liquefy.

After Pope Francis blessed the congregation with the reliquary holding the vial, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples announced, “As a sign that St. Januarius loves the pope, who is Neapolitan like us, the blood is already half liquefied.”

The thousands of people present in the cathedral applauded, but the pope insisted on taking the microphone. “The bishop said the blood is half liquefied,” he said. “It means the saint loves us halfway; we must all convert a bit more, so that he would love us more.” Continue reading

Pope asks people walk Way of Cross to find Christ’s light, Jesuit says

Jesus carries his cross in this painting in a chapel at the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs in Rome March 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis shows people that only by walking the Way of the Cross can they discover the “Way of the Light” — the glory of God resurrected and the salvation of mankind, said the Jesuit editor of a new book.

To help people reflect more deeply on the message of Pope Francis, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro created a collection of “Way of the Cross” prayers and meditations culled from homilies and reflections written by Pope Francis before and after he was elected pope.

“The Logic of Love,” available only in Italian, was published in late March. They are not the meditations that will accompany the pope’s Way of the Cross service April 3 at the Colosseum. Here are some excerpted passages from the meditations:

– First station: Jesus is condemned to death.

“Sometimes it may seem as though God does not respond to evil, that he is silent. In reality, God has spoken, he has replied and his answer is the cross of Christ: a word that is love, mercy and forgiveness. It is also judgment: 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 by myself, because God does not condemn, he only loves and saves.” Continue reading

In Holy Year, pope wants to share experience of mercy he had as teen


Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ decision to convoke a special Holy Year of Mercy has its roots in the event that led a teen-age Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the priesthood.

Pope Francis has recounted the story several times in the past two years. On one occasion early in his pontificate, he told members of Catholic lay movements about his faith journey, particularly the importance of growing up Catholic and the influence of his grandmother. Then he said:

“One day in particular, though, was very important to me: Sept. 21, 1953. I was almost 17. It was ‘Students’ Day,’ for us the first day of spring — for you the first day of autumn. Before going to the celebration I passed through the parish I normally attended, I found a priest that I did not know and I felt the need to go to confession. For me this was an experience of encounter: I found that someone was waiting for me. Yet I do not know what happened, I can’t remember, I do not know why that particular priest was there whom I did not know, or why I felt this desire to confess, but the truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice, or a call. I was convinced that I should become a priest.” Continue reading

Listen to young people, take seriously their radar for fakes, pope says

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Young people are honest and bold in identifying fakes, which is something church leaders should not be afraid of, Pope Francis told the bishops of South Korea and Mongolia.

“When we speak with young people, they challenge us to share the truth of Jesus Christ clearly and in a way that they can understand,” he said in the written message handed to the bishops March 12. The bishops met with the pope during their “ad limina” visits to report on what is happening in their dioceses.

Later in the day, Pope Francis, to the surprise of tourists, briefly entered St. Peter’s Basilica to greet the bishops again and speak to members of the Korean community who had joined them for Mass. Continue reading

Time for a change: Holy years proclaimed to encourage spiritual renewal

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A holy year as a time of spiritual renewal has its biblical roots in the jubilees observed by the Jewish people at 50-year intervals, when debts were pardoned and slaves were freed.

The term “jubilee” itself comes from the Hebrew word “yobel,” meaning a ram’s horn, which was used to make the trumpet that signaled the beginning of this time of forgiveness.

For the Catholic Church, a holy year remains a time of great spiritual significance, and emphasis is placed on the examination of conscience and conversion, the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, concrete acts of solidarity and initiatives to restore justice.

The jubilee is called a holy year because it aims to encourage holiness, strengthen faith in Christ and inspire greater communion within the church and society.

The first Holy Year was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, when thousands of Christians from throughout Europe came on pilgrimage to Rome. Among those who journeyed to the Eternal City for the first celebration was the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who is commonly said to have found the inspiration for his “Divine Comedy” during that pilgrimage. Continue reading

At Lenten penance service, pope announces Holy Year of Mercy

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door and walks into St. PeterÕs Basilica on Christmas Eve 1999. Opening a sealed Holy Door is one of the traditions that usually marks a Holy Year.(CNS photo/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy.”

“No one can be excluded from God’s mercy,” the pope said March 13, marking the second anniversary of his pontificate by leading a Lenten penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“I frequently have thought about how the church can make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy,” he said during his homily; that is why he decided to call a special Holy Year, which will be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016.

The biblical theme of the year, he said, will be “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” an admonition that applies “especially to confessors,” the pope said with a smile.

Traditionally, every 25 years the popes proclaim a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession. Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth. Continue reading

Anniversary interview: Pope talks about his election, papacy, future

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on his election night at the Vatican March 13, 2013. From left are Cardinals Agostino Vallini, Claudio Hummes, Giovanni Battista Re and Tarcisio Bertone. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis went out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, he said he did not prepare what he was going to say, but “I felt deeply that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also of his people.”

He did not know if it was right to explicitly ask the thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square to bless him, so instead he asked them to pray that God would bless him, he said. And he bowed for their prayers.

Marking the second anniversary of his election March 13, Pope Francis spoke about the conclave that elected him in 2013, about his life the last two years and about the future in an interview with Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s Televisa.

The pope even joked about the reputation Argentines have for being proud or haughty. “You know how an Argentine commits suicide?” he asked Alazraki. “He climbs to the top of his ego and jumps!”

And, he said, while he doesn’t hate being pope, he is not a fan of the travel involved and he really would like to go out of the Vatican unrecognized, perhaps “to a pizzeria to eat a pizza.” Continue reading

Christians either follow God or they’re corrupt hypocrites, pope says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians either love God and their neighbor or they are hypocrites; there is no middle ground, Pope Francis said.

“Jesus says, ‘Whoever is not with me is against me.’ Well, can’t there be a compromise — a bit here and a bit there? No. Either you are on the path of love or you are on the road of hypocrisy,” he said March 12 in the homily at his early morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives.

The day’s Gospel reading, Lk 11:14-23, shows the opposition and uncertainties surrounding Jesus after he drove a demon out of a man; some accused Jesus of using the power of the devil, others stayed neutral, wanting more evidence. The day’s first reading from the Book of Jeremiah (7:23-28) recounts how God’s people choose not to listen or obey him and let their hearts be hardened by evil. Continue reading