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Today's news dispatch: Dec. 28, 2015

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Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi Message

Here below is a Vatican-provided translation of the Pope's traditional Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas day:


Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Christmas!
Christ is born for us, let us rejoice in the day of our salvation!

Let us open our hearts to receive the grace of this day, which is Christ himself. Jesus is the radiant “day” which has dawned on the horizon of humanity. A day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed his great tenderness to the entire world. A day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety. A day of peace, which makes for encounter, dialogue and, above all, reconciliation. A day of joy: a “great joy” for the poor, the lowly and for all the people (cf. Lk 2:10).

On this day, Jesus, the Saviour is born of the Virgin Mary. The Crib makes us see the “sign” which God has given us: “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too set out to see this sign, this event which is renewed yearly in the Church. Christmas is an event which is renewed in every family, parish and community which receives the love of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ. Like Mary, the Church shows to everyone the “sign” of God: the Child whom she bore in her womb and to whom she gave birth, yet who is the Son of the Most High, since he “is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). He is truly the Saviour, for he is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world (cf. Jn 1:29). With the shepherds, let us bow down before the Lamb, let us worship God’s goodness made flesh, and let us allow tears of repentance to fill our eyes and cleanse our hearts. This is something we all need!

He alone, he alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.

Where God is born, hope is born. He brings hope. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built. May Israelis and Palestinians resume direct dialogue and reach an agreement which will enable the two peoples to live together in harmony, ending a conflict which has long set them at odds, with grave repercussions for the entire region.

We pray to the Lord that the agreement reached in the United Nations may succeed in halting as quickly as possible the clash of arms in Syria and in remedying the extremely grave humanitarian situation of its suffering people. It is likewise urgent that the agreement on Libya be supported by all, so as to overcome the grave divisions and violence afflicting the country. May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples. My thoughts also turn to those affected by brutal acts of terrorism, particularly the recent massacres which took place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis.

To our brothers and sisters who in many parts of the world are being persecuted for their faith, may the Child Jesus grant consolation and strength. They are our martyrs of today.

We also pray for peace and concord among the peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan, that dialogue may lead to a strengthened common commitment to the building of civil societies animated by a sincere spirit of reconciliation and of mutual understanding.

May Christmas also bring true peace to Ukraine, offer comfort to those suffering from the effects of the conflict, and inspire willingess to carry out the agreements made to restore concord in the entire country.

May the joy of this day illumine the efforts of the Colombian people so that, inspired by hope, they may continue their commitment to working for the desired peace.

Where God is born, hope is born; and where hope is born, persons regain their dignity. Yet even today great numbers of men and woman are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, poverty, and rejection. May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade.

Nor may our encouragement be lacking to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives. May God repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees, helping them to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them.

On this festal day may the Lord grant renewed hope to all those who lack employment – and they are so many!; may he sustain the commitment of those with public responsibilities in political and economic life, that they may work to pursue the common good and to protect the dignity of every human life.

Where God is born, mercy flourishes. Mercy is the most precious gift which God gives us, especially during this Jubilee year in which we are called to discover that tender love of our heavenly Father for each of us. May the Lord enable prisoners in particular to experience his merciful love, which heals wounds and triumphs over evil.

Today, then, let us together rejoice in the day of our salvation. As we contemplate the Crib, let us gaze on the open arms of Jesus, which show us the merciful embrace of God, as we hear the cries of the Child who whispers to us: “for my brethren and companions’ sake, I will say: Peace be within you” (Ps 121[122]:8).



Pope's Homily for Feast of Holy Family

Below is the Vatican-provided translation of Pope Francis' homily for the Mass of the Feast of the Holy Family in St. Peter's Basilica Sunday:


The biblical readings which we just heard presented us with the image of two families on pilgrimage to the house of God. Elkanah and Hannah bring their son Samuel to the Temple of Shiloh and consecrate him to the Lord (cf. 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28). In the same way, Joseph and Mary, in the company of Jesus, go as pilgrims to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (cf. Lk 2:41-52).

We often see pilgrims journeying to shrines and places dear to popular piety. These days, many of them are making their way to the Holy Door opened in all the cathedrals of the world and in many shrines. But the most beautiful thing which emerges from the word of God today is that the whole family goes on pilgrimage. Fathers, mothers and children together go to the house of the Lord, in order to sanctify the holy day with prayer. It is an important teaching, which is meant for our own families as well. Indeed, we could say that family life is a series of pilgrimages, both small and big.

For example, how comforting it is for us to reflect on Mary and Joseph teaching Jesus how to pray! This is a sort of pilgrimage, the pilgrimage of education in prayer. And it is comforting also to know that throughout the day they would pray together, and then go each Sabbath to the synagogue to listen to readings from the Law and the Prophets, and to praise the Lord with the assembly. Certainly, during the
ir pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they prayed by singing the Psalm: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem (122:1-2).

How important it is for our families to journey together towards a single goal! We know that we have a road to travel together; a road along which we encounter difficulties but also enjoy moments of joy and consolation. And on this pilgrimage of life we also share in moments of prayer. What can be more beautiful than for a father and mother to bless their children at the beginning and end of each day, to trace on their forehead the sign of the cross, as they did on the day of their baptism? Is this not the simplest prayer which parents can offer for their children? To bless them, that is, to entrust them to the Lord, just like Elkanah and Anna, Joseph and Mary, so that he can be their protection and support throughout the day. In the same way, it is important for families to join in a brief prayer before meals, in order to thank the Lord for these gifts and to learn how to share what we have received with those in greater need. These are all little gestures, yet they point to the great formative role played by the family in the pilgrimage of every day life.

At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. Returning home, Jesus surely remained close to them, as a sign of his complete affection and obedience. Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.

In the Year of Mercy, every Christian family can become a privileged place on this pilgrimage for experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the essence of the love which can understand mistakes and mend them. How miserable we would be if God did not forgive us! Within the family we learn how to forgive, because we are certain that we are understood and supported, whatever the mistakes we make.

Let us not lose confidence in the family! It is beautiful when we can always open our hearts to one another, and hide nothing. Where there is love, there is also understanding and forgiveness. To all of you, dear families, I entrust this most important mission – the domestic pilgrimage of daily family life – which the world and the Church need, now more than ever.

[Original text: Italian]



ANGELUS ADDRESS: On the Feast of St. Stephen

Here is the translation of the Holy Father's address before and after the recitation of the Angelus prayer to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square Saturday afternoon, on the Feast of St. Stephen.

* * *

Before the Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen. The memory of the first martyr follows immediately after the Solemnity of Christmas. Yesterday, we contemplated the merciful love of God Who became flesh for us; Today, we see the coherent response of the disciple of Jesus, that gives life. Yesterday, the Savior was born on earth; now, His faithful witness is born to heaven. Yesterday like today, the darkness of refusing life appears, but the light of love that overcomes hatred and inaugurates a new world still shines stronger.

There is a particular aspect, in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in which the story of St. Stephen is similar to that of the Lord. It is regarding his forgiveness before he was stoned to death. Nailed to the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); similarly St. Stephen fell to his knees and cried out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them' “(Acts 7:60). Stephen is therefore a martyr, which means witness, because he does as Jesus; It is in fact true witness, those who behave like Him: those who pray, those who love, those who give, but especially those who forgive, because forgiveness, as the word implies, is the highest expression of giving.

But – we might ask – what is the point of forgiving? It's just a good deed or opens the way to results? Right in the martyrdom of Stephen, we find an answer. Among those from whom he begged forgiveness was a young man named Saul; he persecuted the Church and tried to destroy it (cf. Acts 8.3). Shortly after, Saul became Paul, the great saint, the Apostle of the Gentiles. He had been forgiven by St. Stephen. We can say that Paul was born by God's grace and by the forgiveness of Stephen.

Also, we are born from God's forgiveness. Not only in baptism, but every time we are forgiven our heart is reborn, it is regenerated. Each step forward in the life of faith is impressed with the early sign of Divine Mercy. Because only when we are loved, we can love ourselves. Remember, we will do well if we want to move forward in faith, but first of all we must receive God's forgiveness; [We must] meet the Father, Who is ready to forgive everything and always, and whose forgiving alone heals the heart and revives love. We must never tire of asking God's forgiveness, because only when we are forgiven, when we feel forgiven, we learn to forgive.

Forgiving, however, is not easy. It is always very difficult. How can we imitate Jesus? Where do we begin excusing the small or large wrongdoings we suffer every day? First of all, [we can do so] by prayer, as Stephen did. It starts from your heart: with prayer, we can deal with the resentment we feel, by entrusting those who have done evil to us to the mercy of God: “Lord, I ask you for him, I ask you for her…” Then it turns out that this inner struggle to forgive purifies from any evil and prayer and love set us free from the chains of the inner resentment. It is terrible to live in resentment! Every day we have the opportunity to train ourselves to forgive, to live this gesture which so greatly brings man closer to God. As our Heavenly Father, we too become merciful. Through forgiveness, we overcome evil with good, we transform hate into love and so we make the world cleaner.

To the Virgin Mary, we entrust those, unfortunately, many martyrs today, who are suffering persecution, like St. Stephen did, in the name of faith. We direct our prayer to her to receive and give forgiveness. To receive and give forgiveness.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]

After the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters,

I greet all pilgrims here, those of you from Italy and from different countries. I renew to you all the hope that contemplating the Child Jesus, standing next to Mary and Joseph, may inspire an attitude of mercy and love for one another in families, parish and religious communities, movements and associations, and to all the faithful in people of good will.

In recent weeks, I have received many greetings from Rome and elsewhere. I cannot answer each one. Therefore, today I express to you and to all my heartfelt thanks, especially for the gift of prayer.

Happy Feast of St. Stephen, and please do not forget to pray for me. Go
od lunch and goodbye!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]



ANGELUS ADDRESS: On the Joy of the Family

Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father's address before and after the recitation of the Angelus prayer to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square Sunday, on the Feast of the Holy Family:


Before the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

How well these young people sing! How talented! [commenting on the young people singing Christmas songs in the Square]

In the climate of joy that it is Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family this Sunday. I think back to the great meeting in Philadelphia, last September; the many families encountered during my Apostolic Visit; and to those around the world. I would like to greet them all with affection and gratitude, especially in this time, in which the family is prone to misunderstandings and difficulties of various kinds that weaken it.

Today's Gospel invites families to capture the light of hope coming from the home of Nazareth, which has developed in the joy of Jesus' childhood, which – says St. Luke – 'advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man (2:52).' The family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is for every believer, and especially for families, a true school of the Gospel. Here, we admire the fulfillment of God's plan to make the family a special community of life and love. Here, we learn that every Christian family is called to be a “domestic church,” to give the light of the evangelical virtues and become a leaven for good in society. The typical features of the Holy Family are: meditation and prayer, mutual understanding and respect, spirit of sacrifice, work and solidarity.

By the example and witness of the Holy Family, each family can draw valuable guidance for the style and lifestyle choices, and can draw strength and wisdom for its everyday journey. Our Lady and Saint Joseph teach all to welcome children as a gift from God, to generate them and educate them, [which evidences] cooperating in a wonderful way in the Creator's work and giving the world, in every child, a new smile. It is in united families that children have their existence and live the experience of meaningful and effective free love, tenderness, mutual respect, mutual understanding, forgiveness and joy.

I want to focus especially on the joy. The joy that is experienced in the family is not something casual and accidental. It is a result of profound joy among people, [enjoying] the beauty of being together, supporting each other in the journey of life. But behind the joy, there is always the presence of God, His welcoming, gracious and patient love towards all. If the family does not open the door in the presence of God and His love, the family loses harmony, individualism prevails, and joy is shut out. Instead, the family that lives joy, the joy of life, the joy of faith, communicating spontaneously, is salt of the earth and light of the world, and is leaven for the whole society.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph bless and protect all families in the world, so they reign serenity and joy, justice and peace, which Christ was born to gift to humanity.

[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]

After the Angelus:

Dear brothers and sisters,

My thoughts at this time to the numerous Cuban migrants who find themselves in difficulties in Central America, many of whom are victims of human trafficking. I invite the countries of the region to renew generously all necessary efforts to find a timely solution to this humanitarian tragedy.

I now send a warm greeting to the families present in the Square, to all of you! Thank you for your testimony. May the Lord accompany you with His grace and sustain you in your daily walk.

I greet all of you, pilgrims from all over the world, especially the young people of the Diocese of Bergamo who were recently confirmed. And also I would like to thank all the boys and children who sang so well and continue to do so … A Christmas Carol in honor of the families.

I wish you all a good Sunday. Thank you again for your good wishes and your prayers and please continue to pray for me. Good lunch and goodbye!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Deborah Castellano Lubov]



Pope Urges Youth to 'Have the Courage of Mercy'

Pope Francis, through a telegram sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, addressed the participants in the 38th European Meeting of Young Adults organized by the Taize Community, which began today in Valencia, Spain. It will conclude on New Year's Day.

The Holy Father encouraged the more than 30,000 expected participants to ''have the courage of mercy, which will guide you not only to receive it in your lives but also to be close to those who are in distress. You know that the Church is here for all of humanity and where there are Christians everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”

“This,'' he emphasized, ''particularly applies to the many migrants in such need of your welcome.''

The Pope also expressed his hope that ''during these beautiful days” you might better discover Christ, “the face of the Father's mercy,” and he sent them his blessing.



Pope Sends Condolences to Victims of Violence in Philippines

The Pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent a telegram of condolences on behalf of the Holy Father to Msgr. Giuseppe Pinto, apostolic nuncio in Manila, following the attacks on the island of Mindanao, in the south of the country.

''The Holy Father was deeply saddened to learn of the senseless killing of innocent people in Mindanao, and he sends condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. His Holiness prays that security and safety will be established for all people in the region, so that dialogue, tolerance and peace may enable each person to live free from fear. He asks all believers to reject violence in the name of God who is love, and invokes abundant divine gifts of consolation, mercy and strength upon those affected by this tragedy.''

Nine civilians were killed Christmas Eve in Mindanao, a volatile region where the government is in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Christmas victims were shot by a breakaway Muslim group that is opposed to the peace talks, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. The Fighters killed seven farmers who were working in their rice paddies and two more people in a grenade attack at a church. Four of their own members were killed by army troops in the violence.



Pope Sends Condolences to Victims of Explosion in Nigeria

Pope Francis, through Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, sent the following telegram of condolences to Msgr. Augustine Kasuja, apostolic nuncio in Abuya, following the tragic accident that occurred in the Nigerian city of Nnewi when a truck exploded in a gas plant.

''The Holy Father was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic explosion at a gas plant in Nnewi, in which so many people died or were seriously injured. He sends heartfelt condolences to the relatives of the deceased and injured, to the authorities and to the entire Nation. His Holiness, commending the souls of the departed to the tender mercy of God, invokes the abundant divine gifts of consolation and strength upon those who mourn and upon all who have been affected by this tragedy.''

It is stillunclear how many died in the blast, which happened on Christmas Eve. The explosion and
resulting fire occurred as residents gathered to buy cooking gas.



Will the Christians of Iraq One Day Be Able to Live the Joy of Christmas?

By Patriarch Louis Sako I

The feast of the birth of Christ—bearer of justice and peace—building love among people, is one of the greatest feasts celebrated by millions of Christians around the world and particularly in Iraq. A true feast is always an occasion to remember an exceptional person or event, bearers of joy and hope. Such a feast strengthens us in our daily life. But this year Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas in deplorable circumstances, one the one hand because of the deteriorating condition of the situation of our country at all levels, and, on the other hand, because of what they have gone through as Christians, victims of segregation and exclusion.

For a year and a half now, the Islamic State (Daesh) is still occupying Mosul, as well as the towns on the Nineveh Plain. Some 120,000 Christians were driven out of their homes only because they belong to the religion of Christ. No one, aside from those who plotted this religious purification, could have imagined such a catastrophe. Christian refugees, far from home for 18 months now, are living in very trying conditions, in camps more or less without any kind of care except for what is given them be the Church or Non-Governmental Organizations.

In Baghdad, the homes of the faithful are subject to the greed of militia who have confiscated their belongings. That is what happened just a few days ago to a Christian family living in Palestinian quarter, in the center of Baghdad. The family was threatened and robbed in broad daylight!

From a legislative perspective, we are also victims of discrimination. To this day, the Deputies have not changed the terrible law linked to identity cards which forces minors born into Christian, Mandean or Yazidi families to become Muslims themselves if one of their parents follows Islam. The behavior of those who are chosen to represent us, our Deputies, have harmed the very heart of Christian families and their children. It is as if liberty and the most fundamental rights don’t apply to us—as if they are reserved for others. All this robs us of the joy of the great feast.

This situation is that much more saddening given that Muslims, according to their sacred writings, consider Christ and His mother to be “miracles of worlds” and consider Christians to be “closest to them in affection.” What’s more, Muslims continue to remind us and repeat to us that we are founding citizens of the country, while, in reality, they treat us as second-class citizens, and do nothing to ensure that public freedoms, equality under the law and the right to security are applied to all of the population, and not just a part of it.

Given the continued gains of ISIS, the Assembly should have countered the vision of Daesh by affirming that the nation’s unity and cohesion depends on the granting of equal rights to all Iraqis, making them one single family without distinctions based on ethnicity or religion.

As proof of this national cohesion, we would expect the Deputies to declare the feast of Christians to be a national holiday, as had been announced by the former prime minister of Iraq and as is already the case in Kirkuk, since 2012 and in Kurdistan. Naturally, we have expressed this demand. It would have been a strong sign of the promotion of the coexistence of all communities and the progress of brotherhood.

Unfortunately, this brotherhood has only been slipping away. Recently, Christians found themselves directly threatened. In Baghdad, on Dec. 13, certain individuals, likely Shiite militia, pasted images of the Virgin Mary on the homes of Christian families. These posters carry a message inviting Christian women to imitate the Holy Virgin and to wear veils. These posters are an assault on the liberty of Christians to dress themselves as they see fit. The Very Holy Virgin Mary lived 2000 years ago in a different culture and society—and the true veil is the veil of the spirit and of morality.

On this occasion, we want to be very frank again: we will not give in to injustice. On the contrary, we will remain attached to our land, and to our patriotism and we will continue to show love for our fellow citizens, simply because they are our brothers and sisters.

In Iraq, we will celebrate the birth of Christ, who will come into our hearts in silence and amidst tears, without public displays or festive gatherings; nonetheless, we continue to enjoy an inner peace with perpetuates the joy of faith, and the hope that, despite all the suffering, we are moving toward the building of a more just country and a better future.

His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, by virtue of his office as supreme leader of the largest Church of Iraq, sends his sincere thanks to all those who have supported human rights in Iraq. He thanks all those who have supported the Christians and who have made efforts to promote the rights of all Iraqis without distinction.

“Glory to God in the highest and peace to people on earth whom He loves.”

We wish for peace for Iraq.

This letter was sent to Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)




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