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(Vatican Radio)  As Gaza slides back into violence what is the humanitarian situation like for its inhabitants, as a result of the month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas?  Jessica Howell is the Program Manager for Catholic Relief Services based in Gaza and she spoke to Susy Hodges just after the cease-fire unravelled on Friday.

Listen to the full interview with Jessica Howell of CRS: 

Describing the current humanitarian situation in Gaza as “catastrophic” Jessica said this latest conflict has caused a major crisis for the people of the territory in terms of the death and destruction it wrought and its impact on power supplies and the other essentials of everyday life.   “Folks only have a couple of hours of electricity … and “the whole population has limited or no access to running water.”   In addition, she said, there are shortages of “bread, food and fresh produce” and the medical system is “on the verge of collapse.”

Asked about the scale of the destruction on Gaza’s housing, Jessica said she was really shocked to see the difference between before and after the latest bout of fighting. She spoke of how she toured one of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods east of Gaza City where she said the damage from Israeli air-strikes  was “really indescribable” with virtually nothing left “untouched” and huge piles of rubble all around.  What for Jessica   was “most gut-wrenching” was to then catch sight of the remnants of the belongings of families who had lived in those destroyed houses sticking out of the rubble, such as “an article of clothing, a house plant or a child’s backpack.”  Another shocking thing was “the strong smell of death” in those neighbourhoods, probably mostly from dead or abandoned animals.   

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

(Vatican Radio) At a press conference in the Vatican on Thursday Fr. Federico Lombardi briefed journalists on Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Korea which will take place from August 13th to 18th. It will be his third foreign journey and it will also mark the third trip of a Pope to the Asian nation.

Philippa Hitchen reports: 

Following in the footsteps of John Paul II, who travelled to the Republic of Korea twice in 1984 and 1989, Pope Francis will spend five days there, celebrating Asian World Youth Day with young people from across the continent and beatifying the large group of Korean martyrs who first brought the faith to the country.

A third important theme for the visit will be the quest for peace and reconciliation between the republic and its northern neighbour, which have been divided by a heavily armed buffer zone since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Answering journalists’ questions about the North Korean authorities declining an invitation to attend a concluding Mass in Seoul, Fr Lombardi said though the Pope is not planning to visit the so-called Demilitarized Zone, the problem of this division will be central to his thoughts throughout the visit:

The head of the Holy See Press Office noted that the leader of the Catholic Church in Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Suu-jung, is also apostolic vicar for Pyongyang and therefore has competency for the Church in the north as well. The Pope, he said, will be showing his concern with his presence, especially at the Mass in the Cathedral on August 18th, dedicated to the search for peace and reconciliation.

Altogether, Pope Francis will give eleven speeches and meet with thousands of people, including at least 5.000 who’re expected to attend the Asian Youth Day events. He’s also scheduled to meet with a delegation of families who lost loved ones in the ferry disaster last April in which some 300 people died, most of them high school students. Finally Fr Lombardi noted that at the concluding Mass before the Pope’s departure on August 18th, there will be a delegation of elderly Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during the Second World War.  

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, has issued a statement communicating the Holy Father's prayerful concern over the violence raging in Iraq, and especially for the Christians affected by the violence. In the statement, Fr. Lombardi says, "The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region."

Click below to hear our report

The statement goes on to say, "The Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering through this painful trial, and makes the impassioned appeals of the local bishops his own, asking together with them in behalf of their sorely tried communities, that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace." Please find the full text of the statement in English, below.

*******************************************************

Statement of Fr Federico Lombardi SJ regarding  the situation of Christians in Iraq

The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region.

At the Angelus prayer on July 20th, Pope Francis cried with pain: “[O]ur brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are pushed out, forced to leave their homes without the opportunity to take anything with them. To these families and to these people I would like to express my closeness and my steadfast prayer. Dearest brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are deprived of everything. I am with you in your faith in Him who conquered evil!”

In light of these terrible developments, the Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering through this painful trial, and makes the impassioned appeals of the local bishops his own, asking together with them in behalf of their sorely tried communities, that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace.

His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.

The Pope also appeals to the conscience of all people, and to each and every believer he repeats: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace! Let us pray in silence, asking for peace; everyone, in silence.... Mary Queen of peace, pray for us! (Angelus, July 20, 2014)”

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent greetings and encouragement to the Knights of Columbus who are currently holding their 132nd Supreme Convention in Orlando, Florida, in the United States. In a message, signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope says the meeting’s theme of ‘Our Vocation to Fraternity’ is especially important since “the Church is called to be a community of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another” thus serving as “a leaven of reconciliation and unity for the whole human family.”

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report: 

Recalling the vision of Fr Michael McGivney who founded the Knights of Columbus in the late nineteenth century, Pope Francis encourages members of the order today to continue drawing inspiration from Christ’s example in order to reach out to others, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

The Pope also thanks the knights for their efforts to defend the role of religion in the public square and to encourage lay people in their mission of shaping a society that reflects true Christian values. Pope Francis praises the order for its commitment to educating people in the faith and in a strong sense of civic responsibility. Finally he thanks the knights for their support of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, to be held in the Vatican in October, and the World Meeting of Families which will take place next year in Philadelphia

Please find below the full text of the Pope’s message to the Knights of Columbus

From the Vatican, 28 July 2014

 His Holiness Pope Francis was pleased to learn that from 5 to 7 August 2014 the 132nd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus will be held in Orlando, Florida. He has asked me to convey his warm greetings to all those in attendance, together with the assurance of his closeness in prayer.

The theme of this year’s Supreme Convention - You Will All Be Brothers: Our Vocation to Fraternity - is one particularly close to the Holy Father’s heart. Faith teaches us that, created in the image and likeness of the triune God and redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice of atonement, the Church is called to be a community of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another and serve as a leaven of reconciliation and unity for the whole human family. In the complex social and ecclesial situation of late nineteenth century America, this vocation found particular expression in principles of faith, fraternity and service which guided the establishment of the Knights of Columbus. The fidelity of the Knights to these high ideals has not only ensured the continued vitality of your Order, but has also contributed, and continues to contribute, to the mission of the Church at every level and, in particular, to the universal ministry of the Apostolic See. For this, His Holiness is profoundly grateful.

Just as faith is shaped by charity and bears fruit in good works, so the fraternal spirit inculcated by Father Michael McGivney and the first Knights of Columbus continues to be fruitful in the numerous charitable activities of the local Councils which, while meeting the needs of individuals, also build up communities in solidarity and concern for the common good. Conscious of the sacrifice which this great outpouring of charity entails, His Holiness is confident that the Knights will continue to draw inspiration from the teaching and example of Christ in order to reach out to others, especially the poor and disadvantaged, with heartfelt empathy. If service is the soul of that fraternity which builds up peace (Message for the 2014 World Day of Peace, 10), then every charitable work carried out by your Order should be a reflection of the love of Christ, alive and at work in the communion of his body, the Church. By dwelling in that love, we come to see those whom we serve as brothers and sisters; we respect their innate dignity, and we venerate Jesus present in them (cf. Mt 25:40). Jesus assures us that in giving we also receive (cf. Lk 6:38); our works of charity thus become a source of spiritual enrichment, for they open our hearts to a transforming encounter with the Lord.

As the distinguished history of your Order clearly shows, the call to fraternity also finds fruitful expression in the virtue of patriotism and in an active commitment to the growth of an ever more harmonious and just society. His Holiness is grateful for the active role played by the Knights to resist efforts to restrict religion to the purely personal sphere, to defend its proper place in the public square and to encourage the lay faithful in their mission of shaping a society which reflects the truth of Christ and the values of his Kingdom. As he made clear in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “the earth is our common home, and all of us are brothers and sisters”; consequently, “no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence...

(Vatican Radio) Three French bishops visited the Christian communities affected by the ongoing conflict and unrest in Iraq last week. Their four-day trip included stops in Karakosh, Alqosh, Kirkuk and Erbil.  

Among those they met were numerous Christians who fled Mosul last month, following the threats of Islamic extremists to either convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed.

Speaking with Vatican Radio upon his return to France on Friday, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons, said he was moved by the joyful welcome of these communities, despite the difficulties they have lived and everything they have lost. Iraqi Christians have been persecuted for centuries, he added.

He remarked on their witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and noted that none of the Christians who fled Mosul were killed by the Islamists.

In four days, the French bishops met with 50 people in a school, about 200 people in a chapel and more than 1,000 people in a cathedral. They also met with Iraqi Christians, several times per day, in various centres in each of these cities. The Cardinal said he listened to their stories and was strengthened by their witness.

He said Christians in Iraq felt they had been forgotten but were encouraged by the visit of the French bishops, as well as by the demonstrations that were organized in France in a show of support for Christians in Iraq.

French Catholics have also organized a special collection for refugees who fled from Mosul. Cardinal Barbarin said he met with Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, who was himself exiled from Mosul but whose ministry now consists of visiting his dispersed flock. 

Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci:

 

(From archive of Vatican Radio)
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