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Parolin in Russia: Vatican diplomacy has a key role in global debate

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As he arrived to Russia for his official three-day visit, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See has a special role on the global scene given its attention to both spiritual and diplomatic themes.

“The Holy See simultaneously performs both a spiritual and a diplomatic role,” Cardinal Parolin said in an Aug. 20 interview with Russian news agency TASS. “That is why the Vatican diplomacy is of special nature.”
 
“It does not rely on any other force, except for taking care of every person and every nation through dialogue,” he said, adding that with these aspects in mind, discussion with his Russian counterparts will focus on “the issues which are of mutual interest for us, as well as crises in different parts of the world, which are both distant and very near.”

The meeting with Patirarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular serves as proof of the openness that has come as a result of his historic meeting with Pope Francis in Havana last year, Parolin said, noting how both Kirill a nd Francis “spoke of rapprochement as a shared path.”

“When we walk this path together and conduct fraternal dialogue, we can feel the moments of unity. This path requires the search for truth, as well as love, patience, persistence and determination.”

Cardinal Parolin spoke to TASS the day before his official Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, during which he is set to meet with several heavy-hitters including Patriarch Kirill, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and several other high-level members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The interview touched not only on the Holy See's diplomatic task, but it also focused largely on relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, specifically in terms of preserving traditional Christian values. Parolin also spoke of U.S. President Donald Trump's policies so far during his brief tenure, and the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Traveling with Parolin as part of his official delegation is Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, adviser to the apostolic nunciature of Russia and an official in the Relations with States section of the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

On Aug. 21, the first day of this visit, Parolin met with the Catholic cardinals and bishops of Russia, and in the evening presided over Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, after which he held a friendly encounter with clergy and the laity.

He also met with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Tomorrow morning, Aug. 22, is dedicated to a working session with Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, while in the evening Parolin will meet with Patriarch Kirill, and will hold a brief press conference afterward.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, the last day of his visit, Cardinal Parolin will head to Sochi for his official meeting with President Putin. No other official meetings are on the schedule before the cardinal returns to Rome Aug. 24.

In his interview with TASS, Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican has been “working on the idea of the visit to Russia for a long time,” and that it is finally possible largely as a result of the February 2016 meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill.

“That meeting was the first step that had been expected for a long time,” he said. Not only did it strengthen contracts between representatives of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, “which became  more frequent and filled with concrete content,” but it also prompted the churches “to look at the discrepancies we had in the past and their causes in a new way.”

Although tensions can still be felt as the result of differing opinions on various issues, Parolin said Francis and Kirill's meeting “helped us see the unity we are striving for, the unity which is required by the Gospels we profess.”

“It is very important that we have this renewed mutual positive view that every servant of the God, priest and believer will share,” he said, stressing that in his opinion, this is the condition “for the fulfillment of new and, I would say, unprecedented steps in the development of the ecumenical dialogue and the rapprochement of our Churches.”

When asked how their Churches can work together to preserve traditional values and not impede efforts for modern democracy, Parolin noted that unfortunately “there is no shortage of challenges that the modern world produces.”

It's not just about preserving values so much as “the very concept of human personality and human dignity,” he said, pointing to the specific challenges presented by showing respect for humanity and his work, striving for social justice, interpersonal relations and relations among States.

“These are all challenges of a peaceful existence,” the cardinal said, noting that when their Churches insist on following the Gospel and upholding the values found in scripture, “they do so not to humiliate a modern person or to put unnecessary pressure on him but to show the path to salvation and fulfillment.”

“When performing this mission, which never ends, it is extremely important to establish effective cooperation between different religious denominations,” he said, adding that greater mutual understanding between Churches and the exchange of experiences “may become an important contribution to understanding of these problems.”

Pointing to the Catholic Church's decision to “loan” relics of the well-loved Orthodox Saint Nicholas, consisting of several bone fragments currently housed in Bari, to Russia over the summer, Parolin said the gesture served as a “spiritual uplift” of sorts for the Russian Orthodox Church.

“There is no doubt that this event and other similar initiatives, which can be called the 'ecumenism of the saints,' give an opportunity to fully feel what already unites Christians,” he said.

The relics were sent from Bari to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow from May 22-July 12, and were venerated by President Putin and thousands of Orthodox faithful.

Not only was the event important for the spiritual life of believers, but it also served as an example for future initiatives and gave “a new impetus” to dialogue on “more complex” issues in Church relations, he said.

When it comes to fighting terrorism, Parolin said there are two important factors to keep in mind, the first being the decisions on the part of governments “which are often dictated by concrete situations.”

“When one faces a situation of this kind, one has to make a certain choice based on the politicians’ assessments,” he said. “No doubt, the need to tackle terrorism is evident for the Church, but all actions must be weighted in order to prevent a situation in which the use of force would trigger spiraling violence or lead to violations of human rights, including the freedom of religion.”

On the other hand, the Church is always guided by a “long-term perspective,” he said, which first of all involves fostering personal development, particularly among younger generations, as well as “solid dialogue between religions.”

“During the past decades, the Holy See has been making all possible efforts to establish, strengthen or restore dialogue on the cultural and religious levels and in the social and humanitarian sphere,” the cardinal said, adding that he is “absolutely convinced that life under the guidance of the Gospel would in itself make an important contribution into forming the society and culture.”

Asked about some of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial policies since taking office, including his decision to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate agreement, and what the Vatican expects from Trump, Parolin voiced hope that the two States can move forward in mutual respect.

The meeting in May between Pope Francis and Trump “was held in the atmosphere of mutual respect and I would say, with mutual sincerity” in which both men were able to voice their thoughts and concerns.

Parolin voiced his hope that despite Trump's determination to “fulfill the electoral promises” and despite Washington's withdrawal from the Paris accord, “pragmatic approaches will prevail in continuation to the US administration's decision to keep the climate change discussion running.”

“We, in our turn, can only wish that President Trump, just like other members of the international community, does not neglect the extremely difficult task of tackling the global warming and its negative consequences.”

The cardinal then said that in his opinion, international relations are “increasingly dominated” by policies and strategies “based on open clashes and confrontations.”

Describing this phenomena as a “'dialogue of the deaf,' or, worse, (policies that) fuel fears and are based on intimidation with nuclear or chemical weapons,” Parolin said he believes there is a common realization that such approaches “do not lead to correct solutions and fail to ease tensions between states.”

He pointed to how Pope Francis' insistence that “building peace is a path,” explaining that this path “is a lot thornier than war and conflict.”

“Building peace requires a patient and constructive dialogue with mutual respect instead of focusing all attention to own national interests,” Parolin said. “This is all that is expected from the leaders of global powers.”

'Arbitrary expulsions' won't solve the migration crisis, Pope says

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2017 / 04:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his message for the next World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis outlined a four-step vision for responding to the ongoing global migration crisis, which he said is a “sign of the times” that can't be solved by simply expelling incoming foreigners, but rather by upholding human dignity.

Pointing to the “lamentable situation” of the many migrants and refugees who flee war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty in their homelands, the Pope said the scenario “is undoubtedly a sign of the times” which he has tried to draw attention to since his election as the Successor of Peter in 2013.

He has consistently spoken out about the issue from the beginning with his July 8, 2013, visit to Lampedusa, up to the formation of the new dicastery for Integral Human Development in January 2017.  

“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age,” Francis said in his message, released Aug. 21.

The Church in particular is asked to show solidarity with those who leave their countries in search of a better life, he said, stressing that this solidarity “must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience – from departure through journey to arrival and return.”

Part of this involves a four-step response to the crisis which Pope Francis said can be summed up with four verbs: “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.”

“Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights,” he said.

Rather, welcoming foreigners above all means “offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally.”

In order for this to happen, the Pope said there must be a commitment to “increase and simplify” the process for granting humanitarian visas and reuniting families that have been separated.

He urged a wider global adoption of both private and community sponsorship and humanitarian corridor programs for vulnerable refugees, as well as the issuing of “special temporary visas” for those fleeing conflicts in neighboring countries.

Making the human person the focal point of the issue “obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security,” he said, and stressed the importance of ensuring that migrants and asylum seekers be guaranteed both personal safety and access to basic services upon their arrival.

He also spoke out against the detainment of illegal immigrants in detention centers, saying that “for the sake of the fundamental dignity of every human person, we must strive to find alternative solutions to detention for those who enter a country without authorization.”

Dating back to 1914, when it was established under Pope St. Pius X, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated annually on Jan. 14. This year, the theme follows the Pope's action-plan: “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.”

His message comes amid heated tensions on the immigration issue in the U.S. in particular, as President Donald Trump has outlined new legislation with sweeping cuts to the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country, as well as the implementation of a merit-based visa system.  

The issue was one of the most contentious during Trump's campaign, and he even sparred with Pope Francis when he threatened to built a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border. So far during his time in office, Trump has promoted the idea of the wall, and has implemented a travel ban on six majority-Muslim countries, from which millions are fleeing due to war and violent conflict.

As it stands, current U.S. law forbids migrants from receiving food stamps, Medicaid and Social Security until they have been in the U.S. for at least five years.

However, in his message Pope Francis in his second point stressed that protecting immigrants means defending “the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status.”

“Such protection begins in the country of origin, and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure, and in providing safety from illegal recruitment practice,” he said.

This entails ensuring migrants have proper council and assistance, the right to access documents of identification at any time, the ability of opening a personal bank account and enough money to live on.

“When duly recognized and valued, the potential and skills of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are a true resource for the communities that welcome them,” Francis said. “This is why I hope that, in countries of arrival, migrants may be offered freedom of movement, work opportunities, and access to means of communication, out of respect for their dignity.”

For those who decide to return to their homelands, reintegration programs ought to be available, the Pope said, and urged for protection of underage migrants, particularly those who travel alone.

“They must be spared any form of detention related to migratory status, and must be guaranteed regular access to primary and secondary education,” he said, adding that when they come of age, these migrants must be “guaranteed the right to remain” in their host country and continue their studies.

Foster programs for unaccompanied minors ought to be set up, and nationality granted and “duly certified” for all children at birth, he said, adding that the “statelessness” some migrants fall into can be avoided with national legislation that respects “the fundamental principals of international law.”

When it comes to “promoting” the interests of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis said this refers to “a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator.”

This means ensuring freedom of religion, and promoting the personal and professional abilities of migrants, which must be “appropriately recognized and valued.”

Since work is essential to dignity, Francis voiced encouragement for “a determined effort to promote the social and professional inclusion of migrants and refugees,” guaranteeing for all – including those seeking asylum – the opportunity for employment, language classes and “active citizenship,” with enough information provided in their mother tongue to ensure that they are successful.

However, when it comes to minors, the Pope cautioned that their involvement with labor must be properly regulated in order to eliminate and prevent opportunities for exploitation. He also spoke out on the need to help disabled migrants, saying they “must be granted greater assistance and support.”

Francis also called for an increase in international humanitarian assistance for developing countries receiving high numbers of migrants and refugees, and voiced hope that local communities that are vulnerable and financially strapped “will be included among aid beneficiaries.”

His final point, integration, is something the Pope has often brought up in relation to the migrant issue, taking advantage of speaking engagements with large governmental bodies such as the the Council of Europe or foreign diplomats.

In his message, Francis said integration is not “an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity,” but rather, he said contact with others “leads to discovering their ‘secret,’ to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better.”

“This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings,” he said.

This process, he said, can be accelerated by granting citizenship that is free of financial or linguistic requirements, and by offering special legislation to migrants able to claim long-term residence upon arrival.

Pope Francis also drew attention to the plight of migrants who abandon their own countries only to flee their country of arrival due to a humanitarian crisis. These people, he said, “must be ensured adequate assistance for repatriation and effective reintegration programs in their home countries.”

The Pope closed his message insisting that “the contribution of political communities and civil societies is indispensable, each according to their own responsibilities” in order for a positive outcome to the current migration crisis.

To this end, he pointed to the U.N. Summit held in New York Sept. 16, 2016, in which world leaders gathered to discuss their own action-plan to support migrants and refugees with shared responsibility on a global level.

To execute this responsibility, the participating States committed to drafting and approving two Global Compacts, one for migrants and one for refugees, before the end of 2018.

In light of these ongoing processes, the Pope said the coming months “offer a unique opportunity to advocate and support” his own four point action plan, and invited leaders to “use every occasion to share this message with all political and social actors involved (or who seek to be involved) in the process which will lead to the approval of the two Global Compacts.”

First Option - First Reading: Judges 2:11-19

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Ba'als;
12 and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger.
13 They forsook the LORD, and served the Ba'als and the Ash'taroth.
14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.
15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in sore straits.
16 Then the LORD raised up Judges, who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them.
17 And yet they did not listen to their Judges; for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed down to them; they soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so.
18 Whenever the LORD raised upJudges for them, the LORD was with theJudge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the Judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.
19 But whenever theJudge died, they turned back and behaved worse than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them; they did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

First Option - Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 106:34-37, 39-40, 43-44

34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;
39 Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the harlot in their doings.
40 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;
43 Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes, and were brought low through their iniquity.
44 Nevertheless he regarded their distress, when he heard their cry.

First Option - Gospel: Matthew 19:16-22

16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?"
17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments."
18 He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
20 The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?"
21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Second Option - First Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:2-8

2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philip'pi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition.
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile;
4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.
5 For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness;
6 nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
7 But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

Second Option - Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 89:2-5, 21-22, 25, 27

1 I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.
2 For thy steadfast love was established for ever, thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens.
3 Thou hast said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant:
4 `I will establish your descendants for ever, and build your throne for all generations.'" [Selah]
20 I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 so that my hand shall ever abide with him, my arm also shall strengthen him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
26 He shall cry to me, `Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'

Second Option - Gospel: John 21:15-17

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

Pope Francis prays for end to ‘inhuman violence’ after recent terrorist attacks

Vatican City, Aug 20, 2017 / 08:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis prayed for the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Spain, Burkina Faso and Finland, asking the Lord to bring peace and to end the violence of terrorism around the world.

After praying the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis led the 10,000 people present in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silence and in a 'Hail Mary' for those killed or wounded in the most recent terrorist attacks.

“In our hearts we bear the pain of the terrorist acts that in recent days have caused many victims in Burkina Faso, Spain and Finland,” he said Aug. 20.

“Let us pray for all the dead, for the wounded and for their relatives; and we plead for the Lord, God of mercy and peace, to free the world from this inhuman violence. Let us pray together in silence and, afterwards, to Our Lady.”

The night of Aug. 13 gunmen opened fire in a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou, the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, killing at least 18 people and taking hostages before police ended the standoff early Monday morning.

On Thursday of that week, at least 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured in Barcelona Aug. 17 after a van sped into a crowd of people in the Las Ramblas tourist area.

Then, on Aug. 18, a stabbing in Turku in Finland left two people dead and injured eight others. Originally considered to be a murder, it is now being treated as an act of terror, according to police.

Before the Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading about the Canaanite woman who begs Jesus to heal her demon-tormented daughter.

At first, the Lord does not seem to hear her cry of pain, the Pope pointed out. But she does not let this discourage her.

"The inner strength of this woman, which allows her to overcome every obstacle, is found in her maternal love and in the confidence that Jesus can fulfill her request. And this makes me think of the strength of women,” he said.

We have all known many strong women, he continued, who with their fortitude have achieved great things. “We can say that it is love that moves faith and faith, on its part, becomes the reward of love.”

Francis explained how it is the woman's great love for her suffering daughter that leads her to persevere in her request for the Lord's healing, shouting: "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!"

"This evangelical episode helps us understand that we all need to grow in faith and strengthen our trust in Jesus,” Francis said. “He can help us find the way when we have lost the compass of our journey; when the road does not look flat, but hard and difficult; when it is difficult to be faithful to our commitments.”

“It is important to daily feed our faith, listening attentively to the Word of God, with the celebration of the Sacraments, with personal prayer as a 'crying' towards Him – 'Lord, help me!' – and with concrete attitudes of charity towards our neighbor,” he said.

In the Gospel, the woman’s perseverance and act of faith lead Jesus to heal her daughter. “This humble woman,” the Pope said, “is pointed at by Jesus as an example of unshakeable faith.”

"Her insistence on invoking the intervention of Christ is for us a stimulus to not discourage us, not to despair when we are oppressed by the hard tests of life.” The Lord does not turn away from us when we present our needs. If sometimes he seems insensitive to our demands for help, it is only to test and strengthen our faith.

And when this happens “we must continue to shout like this woman: 'Lord, help me! Lord, help me!' Thus, with perseverance and courage,” he said. “And this is the courage needed in prayer.”

"Let us trust in the Holy Spirit," Pope Francis concluded, "so that He will help us to persevere in the faith.”

“The Spirit infuses courage into the hearts of believers; he gives our life and our Christian witness the power of conviction and persuasion; he encourages us to overcome disbelief towards God and indifference to our brothers."

Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”