Vatican to Propose Syrian Cease-Fire at Jan. 13 Meeting


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is to propose an urgent cease-fire in Syria at a Vatican-hosted meeting of diplomats and foreign-policy experts later this month.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Jan. 2, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that is holding the Jan. 13 meeting, said a cessation of hostilities was vital “in order to allow humanitarian aid, to create humanitarian corridors that at the moment don’t exist, and the cessation of persecution against Christians and so-called interreligious martyrdom.”

Syria’s Christians fear they are being targeted systematically by Islamist rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and there have been a number of documented attacks on Christian communities and individuals.

Bishop Sorondo’s comments come just days after a Syrian government delegation visited the Vatican to present a message from President Assad explaining his position. The delegation, which included Minister of State Joseph Sweid, an assistant foreign-affairs minister and Syria’s ambassador to the Holy See, met Dec. 28 with the Holy See’s secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, and the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

Pope Francis has said a military solution to the Syrian conflict would be “futile.”

On Dec. 20, the Register disclosed the Pope had taken the unusual step of organizing a meeting of experts on Jan. 13 to discuss possible solutions to the Syrian conflict. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has lined up an international panel of experts in what some diplomatic sources say is an attempt to influence the United Nations-backed “Geneva II” talks, which will begin Jan. 22. Those talks will bring together the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition to discuss a possible transitional government with full executive powers.

Those attending the Vatican meeting include Mohamed El Baradei, a former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a prominent Egyptian politician who helped lead the uprising against former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the American economist Jeffrey Sachs and French professor of international relations Thierry de Montbrial.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a predecessor of Archbishop Mamberti, will also be attending. Former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair has also been invited, but his attendance hasn’t yet been confirmed.


Seeking a ‘Transitional Authority’

In his interview with Vatican Radio, Bishop Sorondo said the ideal solution to the conflict would be to promote the creation of a possible “transitional authority” in order to organize an election.

“They have a constitution, but must respect it,” the Argentinian bishop said. “And at the same time, we want to combat trafficking in persons, prostitution — issues dear to the Pope, together with the globalization of indifference. These are some of our suggested ideals.”

The chancellor said the meeting is in line with the commitment shown by the Pope. The Holy Father spoke out firmly in support of a resolution to the conflict in his message and blessing urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the world) on Christmas Day.

“I remember his fast [on Sept. 7], at a time when the situation was dramatic, and his letter to President Putin, then president of the G20, in which he asked the governments concerned to reconsider the issue of bombing, a gesture that — as we know — had the desired effect,” he said.

Bishop Sorondo added that the Vatican wanted to promote the Jan. 13 meeting “to study some solutions and offer the Pope a few more elements.”

Asked about the possibility of Geneva II finding agreement on Syria, Bishop Sorondo said the very fact they are having a meeting means that there is a chance. “Let’s hope so. It is very difficult, but I think that, just as we avoided the bombing, something can be obtained at this meeting. I hope for the creation of humanitarian corridors.”

The Holy See views the resumption of the U.N. peace process, with the U.S. and Russia now working together to stop violence, as having the potential to keeping Islamists at bay and find a pragmatic long-term solution for Syria’s complex internal divisions. It also hopes it might help ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which is a strong supporter of the Assad regime.


Vatican Peacemaking Efforts

Not since the Iraq War of 2003 has the Holy See been so active in peacemaking efforts. In September last year, it took the rare step of assembling diplomats accredited to the Holy See to present them with a detailed peace plan for the country.

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, estimated yesterday that more than 73,000 people lost their lives in 2013 — including 22,436 civilians — making it the bloodiest year of the conflict. The total number of casualties since the war began in March 2011 is thought to be 130,000, most of whom are combatants on both sides.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Francis’ New Year Messages


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has invited the faithful to entrust their hearts to Mary, to look on her as a Mother to all and to see her as a messenger of hope during his homily on the Solemnity of the Mother of God.

The Holy Father’s homily marked the end of a series of traditional messages over the past 24 hours invoking gratitude to God for the year just passed and looking with an authentic hope towards the year ahead.

Addressing pilgrims in the Basilica of St. Peter on New Year’s Day, the Holy Father said the “Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission.”

By her “example of humility and openness to God’s will,” she helps us to transmit our faith in a “joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation,” he added. “In this way, our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary.”

He called on the faithful to therefore entrust to her “our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace.”

“Let us then together invoke her: Holy Mother of God!” he said.

The Pope began by recalling the ancient blessing from the Book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

“There is no more meaningful time than the beginning of a new year to hear these words of blessing,” he said.

These “words of strength, courage and hope [will] accompany our journey through the year opening up before us,” the Pope said.

But the Pope warned this is not “an illusory hope based on human, frail promises, nor a naïve hope, which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future.” Rather, it is a hope based on God’s blessing, containing the “greatest message of good wishes there can be, and this is the message which the Church brings to each of us.”

The message of hope in God’s blessing, the Pope stressed, “was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God.”

“Mother of God is the first and most important title of Our Lady,” Pope Francis said, noting that in their devotion to her from early times, the faithful have understood this “from the beginning.”

Pope Francis recalled the ancient Council of Ephesus, which “authoritatively defined” the Divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary, and “the first Marian shrine in Rome and the entire West” that later was erected in devotion to her in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Mary is our Mother, too, the Pope stressed, “ever since Jesus, dying on the cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: ‘Behold your Mother!’”

Through the most difficult and trying times, Mary’s “sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, whether good or bad,” the Pope said, and she communicates “her maternal affection to each and every person … a source of hope and true joy.”


World Day of Peace

Today is also the World Day of Peace. In his message for the day, released last month on the theme “Fraternity: the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” the Pope underlines how Christians, as children of God, will be held accountable for our actions towards our brothers and sisters and their human dignity.

During his Angelus prayer after Mass Jan. 1, he reiterated the contents of the message. Fraternity as a foundation and pathway to peace stems from the conviction that we are “all children of one God and are part of the same human family,” sharing a common destiny, he said.

The Pope stressed everyone has a responsibility to build a world which “becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other’s differences and take care of each other.” We are also called to acknowledge “the violence and injustices present in many places around the world,” and we cannot allow ourselves to be “indifferent and immobile,” he added. Everyone must work to build a society of solidarity and one that is “truly more just.”

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis explained how moved he was by a letter he recently received from a man touched by personal tragedy. The man asked him why so many terrible things are happening in today’s world: “What has happened to the hearts of men?” the man wrote. The Pope repeated the question, asking the faithful: “What has happened in the hearts of men, in the heart of humanity? It is time to stop! It is time to stop!”

Remembering that today is a day when believers around the world pray to the Lord for the gift of peace and the ability to spread it everywhere, the Holy Father called on the Lord to lead mankind on a path of justice and peace “more decisively” and to “loosen” the hardening of hearts.

“Peace,” he said, “requires the force of meekness, the force of nonviolence of truth and of love.” And he prayed that “the Gospel of fraternity, proclaimed and witnessed by the Church, will speak to every conscience and break down the walls that prevent enemies from recognizing each other as brothers.”


Annual Examination of Conscience

Yesterday evening, at vespers and the singing of the Church’s great hymn of gratitude in faith, the Te Deum, the Pope made a point of explaining that the Christian vision of time is linear, not cyclical. The passing year is therefore a “step on the way towards a reality that is to be completed, another step toward the goal that lies ahead of us.” It a place of hope and happiness, he added, “because we will meet God, the reason of our hope and source of our joy.”

The Holy Father invited the faithful to examine their consciences: “Have we used [the past year] mostly for ourselves, for our own interests or did we know to spend it for others, too? How much time did we set aside for being with God, in prayer, in silence, in adoration?” he asked.

He concluded by inviting everyone to look toward the new year of 2014 grateful for what we have received, repentant for our failings and resolute to work with God’s grace to better our lives, our communities and ourselves.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Francis’ Christmas Messages


VATICAN CITY — In his first Christmas urbi et orbi message, Pope Francis has issued impassioned pleas for peace in the Middle East and war-torn countries in Africa, while also remembering children who are victims of war, the elderly, battered women, the sick, trafficked persons and refugees.

Addressing a crowd of pilgrims from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said that true peace is not a “balance of opposing forces,” nor a “lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions.” Rather, he said, peace calls for “daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”

Looking at the Child in the manger, he said “our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable, victims of wars; but we think, too, of the elderly, of battered women, of the sick. … Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!”

Too many lives have been “shattered” in the conflict in Syria, he said, “fuelling hatred and vengeance.” And he asked all to call on the Lord to spare the “beloved Syrian people further suffering,” end the conflict and guarantee access to humanitarian aid.

Implicitly recalling the vigil for prayer in Syria that he called in September this year, the Pope noted, “We have seen how powerful prayer is!” He added that he was happy that followers of other religions have also joined in prayer.

“Let us never lose the courage of prayer!” he implored.

The Holy Father said the Central African Republic is “often forgotten and overlooked,” but not by God, who wishes to bring peace to that land, too — a country where “so many are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life.”

He called on the Lord to “foster social harmony” in South Sudan, where violence over the past two weeks, including a failed coup, has cost more than a thousand lives in the country. The conflict is “threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state,” he said.

Calling on the “Prince of Peace” to turn hearts away from violence and to pursue dialogue, he recalled the “constant attacks” in Nigeria. He asked the Lord to bless the land “where you chose to come into the world” and to grant “a favorable outcome” to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He also asked that the wounds of the “beloved country of Iraq” be healed.


‘Hope and Consolation’

The Pope called on the Lord of life to protect those persecuted in his name and to “grant hope and consolation” and a “dignified life” to refugees, especially in the Horn of Africa and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He said tragedies, such as the hundreds of refugees who died after their boat sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa earlier this year, must “never occur again!”

The Pope also noted the scourge of human trafficking, imploring that God “touch the hearts” of those engaged in it and so realize the “gravity of their crime.” He remembered the many child victims of armed conflict on a planet that is so “frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity” and the victims of natural disasters, especially of the recent typhoon in the Philippines.

Christmas bids us to “give glory to God,” the Pope said at the beginning of his message, “by lives spent for love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.” He closed by asking that our hearts be touched “by the tenderness of God.”

“God is peace,” he said. “Let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.”

After giving his apostolic blessing the Pope gave a special greeting to those present and those following through the media. “I invoke the Christmas gift of joy and peace upon all: upon children and the elderly, upon young people and families, the poor and the marginalized,” he said. “May Jesus, who was born for us, console all those afflicted by illness and suffering; may he sustain those who devote themselves to serving our brothers and sisters who are most in need. Happy Christmas!”


Midnight Mass Homily

During his homily at his first Christmas midnight Mass as Pope, Francis recalled Jesus’ humble, poor and vulnerable beginnings and urged everyone to emulate him. “You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful, and you made yourself vulnerable,” the Pope said of Jesus in St. Peter’s Basilica.

He warned that if, by contrast, our hearts are “closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit and the constant pursuit of self-interest, then darkness falls within and around us.”

Jesus, he reminded, “came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom; he is not an ideal for which we strive, while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.”

The Pope closed by repeating what the angels said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”

“Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient; he loves us,” Francis said. “He gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the Promised Land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: Our Father always forgives us. He is our peace. Amen.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Canterbury and Rome prepare for cricketing showdown


The Catholic Herald: 21-12-13

The Church of England has agreed to play a cricket match with the newly formed “Vatican cricket club”, with Lord’s cricket ground as the planned venue.

The announcement was made today at a press conference hosted by Archbishop David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome.

The match is scheduled to take place in September 2014, probably at the “home of cricket”, although Lord’s has yet to be officially approached.

Known formally as the St Peter’s Cricket Club, the Vatican team members will be made up of priests and seminarians drawn from various colleges in Rome and Vatican offices. Similarly, to ensure a level playing field, the Church of England side will be made up of “ordinands and those associated with theological colleges”, Archbishop Moxon said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, welcomed the initiative in a telephone call to Archbishop Moxon today.

“He said he was delighted by the idea, is looking forward to seeing the teams playing in England, and he appreciates the partnership, the sense of playfulness, and friendship,” Archbishop Moxon said. Furthermore, he said Archbishop Welby hopes it will “raise money for charity” and joked that he had “forgiven the Australian cricket team”.

The Australian side recently thrashed England in the latest Ashes series in Australia.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, formally wrote to Archbishop Welby earlier this month requesting the Anglican leader’s consent for the match.

“We are convinced that the game being played between teams of these, our two sisterly Churches, would evoke much attention and would also be an opportunity to witness our common faith in the Lord through a sport shared so many,” he wrote.

Recalling how his dicastery has been looking for new ways to promote dialogue between the Christian faith and contemporary cultures, he said that he had “discovered” that “one of the gateways to the English-speaking world is through the cricket pitch as the game appeals to millions of people of all faiths and cultures”.

John McCarthy, Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, who first had the idea of creating the Vatican side, said he was “thrilled” at the “generous response” of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“We now have a whole new game that is part of the cricketing calendar,” he said. “One of my Christmas wishes has been achieved – seeing this game come about.”

The St Peter’s Cricket Club was formed in October this year under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Matches between various teams at the Vatican will be played between March and May, from which a 1st XI side will be formed to play the Church of England.

The newly formed club hopes to play against sides made up of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and other faiths in the future.

During the press conference, a match cricket ball was presented to the Church of England as a “symbol of challenge in the spirit of competitiveness and friendship.”

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