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Vatican City, 24 March 2014 (VIS) – Gratitude for the great work of evangelisation that is taking place in Guinea, despite a lack of material resources, and invitations to unity, reconciliation and dialogue with members of other religions were the key points of the Pope's address to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Guinea, whom he received in audience this morning, at the end of their “ad limina” visit.

“Christ's disciples form a living body that manifests the joy of the Gospel by the enthusiasm of faith, although the conditions under which the Good News is proclaimed are often difficult”, the Pope writes. “From a purely human point of view the means of evangelisation may seem ridiculous. Far from being discouraged, you must remember that this is the work of Jesus Himself, beyond all that we are able to discover and understand. However, for the Gospel to profoundly touch and convert hearts, we must remember that only if we are united in love can we give witness to the truth of the Gospel. … Discord between Christians is the greatest obstacle to evangelisation. It favours the development of groups that exploit poverty and credulity to propose easy but illusory problems to the problems faced by the people. In a world afflicted by many ethnic, political and religious conflicts, communities must be 'authentically fraternal and reconciled' for their witness to be 'luminous and attractive'. God will give us the grace, if we know how to receive it, to render unity greater than conflict”.

Pope Francis goes on to remark that, for the proclamation of the Gospel to be fruitful, all existence must be coherent with what is proclaimed. He thanks the bishops for having instituted centres for the formation of laypersons and catechists for this purpose, and he urged them to support families in which Christian marriage must be lived without ambiguity, given that polygamy is very widespread within the country. He also suggests that they encourage the young to “bear witness to their faith, by committing themselves within society, thereby demonstrating their attachment to their country. In collaboration with the different actors in social life, they must always be artisans of peace and reconciliation in the fight against the extreme poverty that Guinea faces. In this respect, despite difficulties, I encourage you to deepen your relationships with your Muslim compatriots, mutually learning to accept different ways of being, thinking and expressing oneself”.

The Pope turns his attention also to the religious who in Guinea “express the love of Christ in works of aid for the population, both in healthcare and in education and instruction … accomplishing a true act of evangelisation, and giving authentic testimony of God's tenderness towards all mankind, especially the poorest and weakest; a witness that touches hearts and firmly entrenches faith”. Despite a lack of resources, Francis urges the prelates always to support them, “both spiritually and materially so that they may courageously persevere in their work of evangelisation and social promotion”.

The final paragraphs of the Pope's address are dedicated to priests, who are however still few in number in Guinea. The Holy Father congratulates them for the recent opening of the “Benedict XVI” major seminary which offers hope for the future and emphasises that the example of priests who live their vocation with joy is essential for ensuring that the new priests “learn to live truly the requirements of ecclesiastical celibacy, and the proper relationship with material goods, rejecting worldliness and careerism – for the priesthood is not a means of social mobility – as well as a real engagement with the poorest”.

(Vatican Radio) Our salvation is not just in observing the Commandments, but in the humility to always feel the need to be healed by God. This was the message voiced by Pope Francis during Mass on Monday morning at the Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis’ homily on Monday found inspiration in these words that Jesus addressed to his fellow citizens in Nazareth: “No prophet is accepted in his hometown”. It was a place where he never worked miracles because “they had no faith”. Jesus recalls two biblical episodes: the miracle of the healing of the leper Naaman, and the meeting of the prophet Elijah with the widow of Serapta who shared her last morsel of food and was saved from famine. “Lepers and widows – Pope Francis explained – in those days were the outcasts of society”. And yet, these two outcasts, welcomed the prophets and were saved, while the people of Nazareth did not accept Jesus because “they felt so strong in their faith”, so sure of their faithful observance of the Commandments, they felt they had no need for other salvation”.

“It is the tragedy of observing the Commandments without faith: ‘I save myself because I go to the Synagogue every Saturday, I try to obey the Commandments, I do not want to hear that the leper or the widow is better than me!’ They are outcasts! And Jesus tells us: ‘if you do not put yourself on the margins, if you don’t feel what it is to be an outcast, you will not obtain salvation’. This is humility, the path of humility: to feel so marginalized that we need the Salvation of the Lord. He alone saves us, not our observance of the law. And they did not like this; they were angry and wanted to kill him”.

The Pope observed that this was the same anger initially felt by Naaman, because he felt that Elisha’s invitation to wash himself seven times in the Jordan was ridiculous and humiliating. “The Lord asked him for a gesture of humility, He asked him to obey like a child, to be ridiculous”. Namman turned and went off in a rage, but afterwards his servants convinced him to do what the prophet asked of him. That act of humility healed him. “This is the message for today – the Pope said - in this third week of Lent: if we want to be healed, we must choose the road of humility”.

"In her Canticle Mary does not say she is happy because God was looking to her virginity, to her kindness or to her sweetness – all of them virtues that she possessed – no: because the Lord was looking to her humility, the humility of His servant, her smallness. This is what the Lord looks for. And we must take heed of this wisdom and put ourselves on the margins so that the Lord may find us. He will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us”.

“This – Pope Francis highlighted – is the path of humility”:

“Christian humility is not within the virtue of saying: ‘I am not important’ and hiding our pride. No, Christian humility is telling the truth: ‘I am a sinner’. Tell the truth: this is our truth. But there is another truth: God saves us. He saves us when we are on the margins; He does not save us in our certainties. Let us ask for the grace of having the wisdom to put ourselves on the margins, for the grace of humility so that we may receive the Lord’s Salvation”.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni...
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis praised members of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Workers for their support to the sick, the disabled and the elderly. His remarks came in an address to participants attending the Council’s plenary meeting currently underway in the Vatican.

Listen to this report by Susy Hodges: (Text below)

Pope Francis told the participants that when we suffer we are never alone because God in his merciful love for us embraces even the most inhuman situations in which the image of the Creator present in every person appears blackened or disfigured. That was what it was like, he said, for Jesus during his Passion who took on every human suffering, every anguish, out of his love for us.
The Pope said Jesus’s Passion is the greatest school for whoever would like to dedicate their lives to caring for their sick and suffering brothers and sisters. Experiencing the sharing of this fraternal love for the suffering opens us to the true beauty of human life including its fragility.

The Pope reiterated that when caring for life, we must recognize the dignity and value of every single human being, from conception until death. Mary, he continued, welcomed life on behalf of us all and for the advantage of all and has very close personal links with the Gospel of Life.

Pope Francis concluded his address by urging the participants to see the figure of Christ present in the poor, the suffering, the unwanted children, in people with physical and psychic disabilities and in the elderly.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday urged his listeners not to be afraid, judgmental or prejudiced, the Lord’s mercy – he said – is far greater than any prejudice.

Speaking to some 40,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, the Pope reflected on the reading from John that tells of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ In this way – the Pope explained – he cut across the barriers of hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans, crushing the prejudice that existed in relating to women.

The Pope said that Jesus’ simple request signals the beginning of an open dialogue, through which, with great delicacy, He entered the interior world of a person to whom, according to social convention, He should not even have spoken to.

“But this is exactly what Jesus does! Jesus is not afraid. When Jesus sees a person he goes towards that person because he is filled with love. He loves all of us. He does not stop before anyone because of prejudice” he said.

And Francis explained that Jesus does not judge, but acknowledges each person making him or her feel considered and recognized, and stimulating in that person the wish to go beyond their daily ‘routine’.

He explained that the thirst Jesus speaks of is not so much a thirst for water, but the with to quench the thirst of an arid soul. Jesus – Francis said – needs to meet the Samaritan woman to open up her heart: he asks her for a drink to highlight her own thirst. The woman – he pointed out - was touched by this meeting and asks Jesus some deep questions that each of us harbor, but often ignore.

“We too have many questions that we would like to ask, but we lack the courage to turn to Jesus!” the Pope said.

“Lent is the right time to look inside ourselves, allow our deep spiritual needs to come to the surface, and to ask the Lord for help in prayer” he said.

“The example of the Samaritan woman invites us to say: Jesus, give me that water that will quench me in eternity” he said.

And Pope Francis said the Gospel tells of Jesus’ disciples’ amazement when they discovered that their Master had spoken to that woman. But – he said - the Lord is greater than prejudice, that’s why he was not afraid to speak to the Samaritan: mercy is greater than prejudice, and Jesus – the Pope said – is very merciful.

The result of that meeting at the well – Pope Francis continued – “was that the woman was transformed: leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and told the people of her meeting with a man ‘who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ She was so happy. She had gone to the well to draw water and she found the living water, the spring of living water welling up to eternal life. She ran to the village which had always judged condemned and rejected her and announced that she had encountered the Messiah who had changed her life” he said.

And, Pope Francis said: “each encounter with Jesus changes our life, forever”.

In this Gospel reading – the Pope explained – “we too can find the stimulus to ‘leave our water jar’, the symbol of all that appears to be important, but that loses its value before ‘the love of God’. We all have one, or more than one! I ask you, and I ask myself: ‘what is your water jar, the one that weighs you down and takes you far from God?’ Let’s leave it aside and with our hearts listen to the voice of Jesus who is offering us another kind of water, the water that brings us close to the Lord” he said.

Pope Francis concluded inviting the faithful to rediscover the importance and the sense of our Christian life, and just as the Samaritan woman did, bear witness of if to our brothers. Bear witness to the joy stemming from our encounter with Jesus.

After the recitation of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis pointed out that on Monday we mark “World Tuberculosis Day” and asked for prayers for all those who are affected by the disease and for those who, in different ways, sustain them.

And the Pope also mentioned an event that will be taking place next Friday and Saturday in parishes and dioceses across the world, called “24 hours for the Lord” during which the faithful are called to focus on penitence.

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Pontifical Congregation for Eastern Churches, has applauded a Rome initiative reexamining the so-called Amman Message on the tenth anniversary of its publication. The Message was issued by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in November 2004 as an exhortation for tolerance and unity within the Islamic world and dialogue with Christians.

Speaking Tuesday at Rome’s City Hall during a Day of Study on the Amman Message, Cardinal Sandri said he “appreciates the desire that the Message becomes better known and valued.”

The Study Day was sponsored by the Rome Municipality, the British Council, and the Ducci Foundation. Muslim and Christian leaders, representatives of political, cultural and educational institutions and the media are taking part in the day-long event to examine the theme of "the role of press and media in interfaith dialogue."

Cardinal Sandri, whose dicastery is responsible for Catholic Eastern rite Churches, spoke as part of a panel discussion on media engagement around interfaith work in schools. He admitted that everyone today feels “wounded” by situations or people who display, sometimes in a “violent” way, “their aversion to our respective faiths.” Cardinal Sandri also noted that in this fast-paced world of social networks, the media, through “disinformation, or worse, bad information” can sow discord among communities.

Similar antagonisms, he said, can be found in each of our own communities, in people who fail to live up to the values and ethics of the faith they profess. And here, the Cardinal gave Rwanda as an illustration of the tragic and senseless genocide in which Christians brutally killed their Christian brethren.

Citing the Amman Message which expresses concern about the danger posed to Islam by those who profess to be Muslim but “commit terrible acts in its name,” Cardinal Sandri pointed to the “unspeakable suffering and cruelty in Syria, in other zones in the Middle East or in Nigeria.”

But there are glimmers of hope, he said, in a suffering region. And here, he pointed to his own 2012 visit to Iraq where Sunni and Shiite Imams came together to demonstrate their solidarity with the Christian community suffering under a devastating series of attacks. He also pointed to stories of tolerance among Syrian refugees and families of different Islamic confessions living side by side in Lebanon but who, back in Syria, might be at war with each other.

Cardinal Sandri also spoke of the positive contributions towards peace and coexistence of the many educational institutions and training programs offered by the Catholic Church in Rome and in the region which are open to all, indiscriminately of their faith, and which “incarnate and sustain Islamic-Christian dialogue.” The “constant, competent and generous” work of such institutions can only be a sign of hope for the region, he said. And he expressed his own hope that “such virtuous examples” will multiply so that “peaceful and constructive coexistence is possible.”

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