Pope Francis Says That as a Child He Served A Ukrainian Priest Before Religious Leaders of That Country

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 25.01.2023).- On Wednesday morning, January 25, minutes before initiating the General Audience in Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father received a Delegation of the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations in a private audience. Because of the limited time available, he preferred to hand to them the address he had prepared and address them spontaneously. “I would like to listen to you, but we are slaves to the limitations of time, because at five to nine I have to begin the General Audience. I would like to listen to each one of you, but you can see the number, we cannot do it. So I ask you, please, to be brief, so that at five to nine I can be there. I am sorry, I would stay all morning with you but we too are slaves to time,” he said to them. 

The group was introduced by Orthodox Bishop Marcos. Then the Pontiff addressed them through a translator and, handing them the prepared address, but not pronounced, he said: “What you have un your hands is a text that brings together what has stirred my heart in these months of war, seeing the images of this immense tragedy. I am in dialogue with the representatives of the Ukrainian people and this enables me to feel I am with you, and to pray. I thank you for your unity: this, for me, is something great, like the children of a family – one here, another there, another over there, but when the mother is sick, they all come together. It is not so much about Jewish Ukraine, Christian Ukraine, Orthodox Ukraine, Catholic Ukraine, Islamic Ukraine . . . , no, it is about Ukraine, “Mother” Ukraine, and all together! And this shows the fabric of your race. It is an example in the face of the superficiality seen in our culture today. 

Explaining that he would not deliver the prepared speech, he said: “I had prepared an address but time cuts us short, and so, if you are not offended, I will hand it to you for it to be distributed. I am close to you. Since <I> was a child — he knows the story — a priest, Father Stefano, he had been there and I learned to serve Mass in Ukrainian, when I was eleven years old, and from that moment my warmth towards Ukraine grew. It is an old warmth that has grown and that brings me closer to you. Have no doubt, I pray for you! I hold you in my heart and ask God to have pity on this courageous populace. Thank you for your visit, thank you! I would like to greet you before leaving, one by one. Only, before we finish, I would ask you to pray, in silence, each person in his or her own way, in your own way, in silence but together for Mother Ukraine.” 

At the end of the meeting, the Pope went to Paul VI Hall for the General Audience. 


John Pontifex

Priest: The world has abandoned our terrorised people

(ZENIT News / North Kivu, 01.26.2023).- A Senior Catholic priest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has denounced what he describes as international indifference in the face of acts of terror sweeping parts of the country.

Father Marcelo Oliveira, a Combonian missionary priest responsible for North Kivu eastern province, spoke to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) days after an attack on a church in Kasindi, a town in the region. “Terror is widespread”, Father Oliveira told ACN.

Criticising what he described as a lack of international attention to poor and defenceless communities, Father Oliveira issued a desperate cry for help.

He said: “It’s one village here today, another there tomorrow, and all this in silence. And this is what gets to us, as missionaries, seeing the silence of the international community, the deafening silence, while human lives are massacred.”

Widespread fear among DR Congo’s population was also noted by Father Oliveira, especially in areas affected by various armed militias, whose presence over the past few years has caused huge security problems in Africa’s second-largest country.

He said: “Attacks are common in this area of North Kivu…and the rebels have the habit of attacking villages and spreading terror among the people, who are then forced to flee and hide in the forest until the militias leave again.”

Father Oliveira added: “Their goal is to get people to run, so that they can take part of their land, which is full of natural resources.”

He said that “terror is everywhere” in eastern DR Congo.

The priest’s comments come after attackers armed with improvised explosives struck on 15th January at a Protestant church in Kasindi, near the border with Uganda.

At least 15 people died and dozens were wounded after a bomb, which had been placed in the middle of the congregation, was detonated.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) insurgent group, which claimed responsibility, reportedly chose to carry out the attack on a Sunday, as the church was full and celebrating baptisms.



Jesus Teacher of Proclamation: Pope Highlights Five Elements of Proclamation

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 25.01.2023).- On Wednesday, January 25, Pope Francis held his third catechesis on apostolic zeal, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. At the end of the Audience, he recalled the World Day of the Holocaust, which will be observed on January 27.

Here is his catechesis in English, translated from the Italian original by the Holy See, and with phrases in bold added by ZENIT. 

* * *

Last Wednesday we reflected on Jesus model of proclamation, on His pastoral heart always reaching out to others. Today we look to Him as a teacher of proclamation. Let us be guided by the episode in which He preaches in the synagogue of His village, Nazareth. Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah (cf. 61:1-2) and then surprises everyone with a very short “sermon” of just one sentence, just one sentence. And He speaks thus, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). 

This was Jesus’ sermon: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This means that for Jesus that prophetic passage contains the essence of what He wants to say about Himself. So, whenever we talk about Jesus, we should go back to that first announcement of His. Let us see, then, what this first announcement consists of. Five essential elements can be identified.

[First Element of Proclamation: Joy]

The first element is joy. Jesus proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; […] He has anointed Me to preach Good News to the poor” (v. 18), that is, a proclamation of gladness, of joy. Good News: one cannot speak of Jesus without joy, because faith is a wonderful love story to be shared. Bearing witness to Jesus, doing something for others in His name, is like saying “between the lines” of one’s life,  that one has received so beautiful a gift that no words suffice to express it

Instead, when joy is lacking, the Gospel does not come through, because — as the word themselves suggests, it’s the very meaning of the word — is Good News, and “Gospel” means “Good News,” a proclamation of joy. A sad Christian can talk about beautiful things, but it is all in vain if the news he conveys is not joyful. A thinker once said, “A Christian who is sad is a sad Christian.” Don’t forget this.

[Second Element of Proclamation: Deliverance]

We come to the second aspect: deliverance. Jesus says He was sent “to proclaim release to the captives” (ibid.). This means that one who proclaims God cannot proselytize, no, cannot pressure others, no, but relieve them: not impose burdens, but take them away; bearing peace, not bearing guilt. Of course, following Jesus involves asceticism, involves sacrifices; after all, if every good thing requires these things, how much more the decisive reality of life! However, those who witness to Christ show the beauty of the goal rather than the toil of the journey. We may have happened to tell someone about a beautiful trip we took: for example, we would have spoken about the beauty of the places, what we saw and experienced, not about the time to get there and the queues at the airport, no! So, any announcement worthy of the Redeemer must communicate liberation. Like that of Jesus. Today there is joy, because I have come to liberate.

[Third Element of Proclamation: Light]

The third aspect: light. Jesus says He came to bring “sight to the blind” (ibid.). It is striking that throughout the Bible, before Christ, the healing of a blind man never appears, never. It was indeed a promised sign that would come with the Messiah. But here it is not just about physical sight, but a light that makes one see life in a new way. There is a “coming into the light,” a rebirth that happens only with Jesus. If we think about it, that is how Christian life began for us: with Baptism, which in ancient times was called precisely “enlightenment.” And what light does Jesus give us? He brings us the light of sonship: He is the beloved Son of the Father, living forever; with Him we too are children of God loved forever, despite our mistakes and faults. So life is no longer a blind advance toward nothingness, no; it is not a matter of fate or luck, no. It is not something that depends on chance or the stars, no, or even on health or finances, no. Life depends on love, on the love of the Father, Who cares for us, His beloved children. How wonderful to share this light with others! Has it occurred to you that the life of each of us — my life, your life, our life — is an act of love? And an invitation to love? This is wonderful! But so many times we forget this, in the face of difficulties, in the face of bad news, even in the face of — and this is bad — worldliness, the worldly way of life.

[Fourth Element of Proclamation: Healing]

The fourth aspect of the proclamation: healing. Jesus says He came “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (ibid.). The oppressed are those who feel crushed by something that happens: sickness, labours, burdens on the heart, guilt, mistakes, vices, sins… Oppressed by this. Let us think of the sense of guilt, for example. How many of us have suffered this? We think a little bit about the sense of guilt for this or that….  What is oppressing us above all is precisely that evil that no medicine or human remedy can heal: sin. And if someone has a sense of guilt for something they have done, and that feels bad…. But the Good News is that with Jesus, this ancient evil, sin, which seems invincible, no longer has the last word.

I can sin because I am weak. Each of us can do it, but that is not the last word. The last word is Jesus’ outstretched hand that lifts you up from sin. “And Father, when does He do this? Once?” No. “Twice?” No. “Three times?” No. Always. Whenever you are sick, the Lord always has His hand outstretched. Only He wants us (to) hold on and let Him carry you. The Good News is that with Jesus this ancient evil no longer has the last word: the last word is Jesus’ outstretched hand that carries you forward. Jesus heals us from sin, always. And how much do I have to pay for this healing? Nothing. He heals us always and gratuitously.

He invites those who “labour and are heavy laden”  — He says it in the Gospel — He invites them to come to Him (cf. Matthew 11:28). And so to accompany someone to an encounter with Jesus is to bring them to the doctor of the heart, Who lifts up life. That is to say, “Brother, sister, I don’t have answers to so many of your problems, but Jesus knows you, Jesus loves you and can heal and soothe your heart. Go and leave them with Jesus.”

Those who carry burdens need a caress for the past. So many times we hear, “But I would need to heal my past … I need a caress for that past that weighs so heavily on me …”  He needs forgiveness. And those who believe in Jesus have just that to give to others: the power of forgiveness, which frees the soul from all debt. Brothers, sisters, do not forget: God forgets everything. How so? Yes, He forgets all our sins. That He forgets. That’s why He has no memory. God forgives everything because He forgets our sins. We only have to draw near to the Lord and He forgives us everything. Only He wants us to draw near to the Lord and He forgives us everything. Think of something from the Gospel, from the one who began to speak, “Lord I have sinned!” That son… And the father puts his hand on his mouth. “No, it’s okay, it’s nothing…” He doesn’t let him finish… And that’s good. Jesus is waiting for us to forgive us, to restore us. And how often? Once? Twice? No. Always. “But Father, I do the same things always …” And He will always do His same thing! Forgiving you, embracing you. Please, let us not distrust this. This is the way to love the Lord. Those who carry burdens and need a caress for the past need forgiveness, and Jesus does that. And that’s what Jesus gives: to free the soul from all debt. In the Bible it talks about a year when one was freed from the burden of debt: the Jubilee, the year of grace. As if it were the ultimate point of the proclamation.

In fact, Jesus says he came “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). It was not a scheduled jubilee, like the ones we have now, where everything is planned and you think about how to do it and how not to do it. No. But with Christ the grace that makes life new always arrives and amazes. Christ is the Jubilee of every day, every hour, drawing you near, to caress you, to forgive you. And the proclamation of Jesus must always bring the amazement of grace

This amazement… “No, I can’t believe it! I have been forgiven.” But this is how great our God is. Because it is not we who do great things, but rather the grace of the Lord who, even through us, accomplishes unexpected things. And these are the surprises of God. God is the Master of surprises. He always surprises us, is always waiting, waits for us. We arrive, and He has been expecting us. Always. The Gospel comes with a sense of wonder and newness that has a name: Jesus.

May He help us to proclaim it as He desires, communicating joy, deliverance, light, healing, and wonder. This is how one communicates about Jesus.

[Fifth Element of Proclamation: Addressed to the Poor]

The last thing: This Good News, which the Gospel says is addressed “to the poor” (v. 18). We often forget about them, yet they are the recipients explicitly mentioned, because they are God’s beloved. Let us remember them, and let us remember that, in order to welcome the Lord, each of us must make himself or herself “poor within.” It’s not sufficient like this, no: [you have to be] “poor within.” With that poverty that makes one say … “Lord, I am in need, I am in need of forgiveness, I am in need of help, I am in need of strength. This poverty that we all have: making oneself poor interiorly. You have to overcome any pretense of self-sufficiency in order to understand yourself to be in need of grace, and to always be in need of Him. If someone tells me, “Father, what is the shortest way to encounter Jesus?” Be needy. Be needy for grace, needy for forgiveness, be needy for joy. And He will draw near to you. Thank you.


John Newton

New Iraq convent is a milestone in Christians’ return

(ZENIT News / Nineveh, Iraq, 01.26.2023).- A Catholic charity has hailed the re-opening of a convent in a village devastated by extremists as a sign that Christianity can once more flourish in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) helped rebuild the Dominican Sisters’ new convent and kindergarten in Batnaya which replaces buildings razed by Daesh (ISIS) during the jihadists’ occupation of the village from 2014 to 2016.

ACN (UK) national director Dr Caroline Hull, who visited parts of the Nineveh Plains seized by Daesh, said the new convent was a sign of new life in a town where militants had smashed altars, decapitated statues and daubed anti-Christian messages on church walls.

Dr Hull said: “Visiting Iraq, I saw the suffering of those forced out of their villages by armed extremists – which is why it is vital that we continue to help those who want to return to their villages to do so.”

“Batnaya became a ghost town after Daesh left and some wondered if it would ever thrive again – but the Sisters’ new convent is a sign that Christianity can flourish and have a future in the Nineveh Plains.”

Speaking at the consecration of the new convent last month, Chaldean Archbishop Paul Thabet of Alqosh announced it would give life and hope to the local Christian community.

He said: “The presence of the nuns in this village is a sign of encouragement for all the people of the village to return too…

“We Christians in Iraq have a deep wound, this wound must be healed by faith”.

He added: “We must have faith to rebuild the village, and you are a sign of that faith.”

Appealing for Christians who had left the village to return, Archbishop Thabet said: “Your name and identity are in Batnaya and your roots are in Batnaya, not in the places of emigration.”

Around 5,000 – mostly Chaldean Catholics – fled the village in 2014. Some went to IDP camps, while others emigrated.

ACN backed projects to help rebuild key buildings in the Christian-majority village, which was on the frontline of fighting between Daesh and coalition forces, included St Kyriakos’s Chaldean Catholic Church, which re-opened last Easter.

Widespread booby-trapping and an extensive underground tunnel system created by Daesh delayed the start of reconstruction work in Batnaya.

The Dominican Sisters returned in 2017 and began ministering to the families which had come back to Batnaya. Initially they lived in a house in nearby Telskuf provided to the order by a resident.

Stressing the importance of the Sisters’ witness, at the consecration ceremony on 18th December, Archbishop Thabet continued: “Consecration is a call through which God builds up the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Wherever monastics come, they can change the desert into a paradise, and the presence of the nuns and their coming to the stricken and demolished village is a sign of great reconstruction.

“We are not only rebuilding stones, we are restoring humanity.”



USA: student may wear previously banned masks with “Jesus Loves Me” sign

(ZENIT News / Jackson, Mississippi, 01.26.2023).- The Simpson County School District has agreed to change an unconstitutional policy that prohibited a 3rd-grade student from wearing a face mask with the phrase “Jesus Loves Me” on it. As part of a settlement agreement ending a federal lawsuit, which Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of the student and her parents, schools within the district will respect students’ freedom of expression regardless of religious viewpoint, as the First Amendment requires.

The student, Lydia Booth, wished to peacefully share her Christian views with her schoolmates by wearing her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask, but the principal at her school in the community of Pinola required her to remove and replace it even though she had previously worn the mask, without disruption or incident. Two days later, administrators announced a districtwide policy that prohibits messages on masks that are “political, religious, sexual or inappropriate symbols, gestures or statements that may be offensive, disruptive or deemed distractive to the school environment.” As a result of the lawsuit, filed in November 2020, the district has changed its policies to be viewpoint-neutral for political and religious expression.

“Public schools have no business discriminating against a 9-year old for her religious expression,” said ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross. “Other students within the school district have freely worn masks with the logos of local sports teams or even the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Lydia deserves and will now have an equal opportunity to peacefully express her beliefs.”

Under the settlement agreement, Simpson County School District will retract its previous restriction on masks that have “political” or “religious” content and will allow Lydia to wear her “Jesus Loves Me” face mask to school if she chooses to do so.

“No student should be singled out for peacefully expressing her religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Today’s students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public schools demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”

In light of the settlement, ADF attorneys filed a stipulation of dismissal Wednesday of L.B. v. Simpson County School District with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of the student and her parents.

Sharkey Burke, one of more than 4,700 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, served as local counsel in the lawsuit.