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(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered the homily at a penitential service over which he was presiding in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday afternoon. The order of the celebration included Psalms, readings from Sacred Scripture, and hymns, all focused on the theme of repentance and God’s boundless mercy.

The service was a part of the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, being celebrated throughout the Rome diocese and in many local Churches throughout the world, in which the faithful receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then become special ambassadors of Christ’s mercy, inviting people to avail themselves of the Lord’s forgiveness in churches that are to remain open through the night.

Below, please find Vatican Radio’s translation of the full text of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks…

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In the period of Lent, the Church, in the name of God, renews the call to conversion. It is the call to change one’s life. Conversion is not a matter of a moment or a year, is a commitment that lasts a lifetime. Who among us can be assumed not to be a sinner? No one. The Apostle John writes: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).” This is what happens in our celebration and throughout this day of penance. The Word of God we have heard introduces us to two essential elements of the Christian life.

The first [is]: put on the new man. The new man, “created according to God(Eph 4:24),” is born in Baptism, where one receives the very life of God, which makes us His sons and incorporates us into Christ and his Church. This new life allows one to look at reality with different eyes, without being distracted by things that do not matter and cannot last long. For this we are called to abandon sinful behaviour and fix our gaze on that, which is essential. “Man is more precious for what he is than for what he has. (Gaudium et Spes, 35)” Behold the difference between the life deformed by sin and the life illumined by grace. From the heart of the man renewed according to God come good behaviors: always to speak with truth and avoid any lie; to steal not, but rather to share what you have with others; especially with those in need; not to give in to anger, resentment and revenge, but to be gentle, magnanimous and ready to forgive; not to fall into backbiting that ruins people’s good name, but to look more rather on each person’s positive side.

The second factor [is]: Remain in my love. The love of Jesus Christ lasts forever, will never end because it is the very life of God. This love conquers sin and gives strength to get up and start anew, because with pardon the heart is renewed and rejuvenated. Our Father never tires of loving and His eyes did not grow heavy in looking at the way home, to see if his Son who left and was lost will return. And this Father does not tire of loving even His other son, who, though he remains ever in the house with Him, nevertheless does not take part in His mercy, His compassion. God is not only the source of love, but in Jesus Christ calls us to imitate his own way of loving: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (Jn 13:34)” To the extent that Christians live this love, they become credible disciples of Christ in the world. Love cannot stand to remain locked up in itself. By its very nature [Love] is open, it spreads and is fruitful, [it] always generates new love.

Dear brothers and sisters, after this celebration, many of you will make yourselves missionaries to the experience of reconciliation with God. “24 hours for the Lord” is an initiative in which many dioceses all over the world are participating. To everyone you meet, you will communicate the joy of receiving the Father’s forgiveness and regaining full friendship with Him. The one who experiences the mercy of God, is driven to be the creator of mercy among the poor and the least. In these “littlest brothers and sisters” Jesus waits for us (cf. Mt 25:40). Let us go to meet them! And we will celebrate Easter in the joy of God!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the bishops of Madagascar on Friday. Below, please find the report of the Vatican Information Service in English on the meeting.
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Vatican City, 28 March 2014 (VIS) – The vitality of the Church in Madagascar despite the difficult circumstances in which this country finds itself and the commitment of the dioceses to human development were some of the central issues in the message Pope Francis addressed to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Madagascar at the end of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit.
The Pope thanks the prelates for their “courageous and tenacious work of evangelisation” and acknowledged the serious socio-economic problems encountered in Madagascar, mentioning at the same time that the bishops have urged all of society to contribute to building a new future”. He encouraged them to take their rightful place in the “task of reconstruction, with respect for the rights and duties of each person”. He writes, “It is important to maintain constructive relationships with the authorities of your country. You must search for unity, justice and peace to better serve your people, refusing any involvement in political disputes at the expense of the common good”.
“In this context, I wish to acknowledge the invaluable commitment of your dioceses in social work”, he continues. “Indeed, there is an intimate connection between evangelisation and human development. ... I encourage you to persevere in your attention to the poor and materially and spiritually supporting those who devote themselves to them, especially religious congregations, whom I thank with all my heart for their dedication and for their authentic witness to Christ's love for all men. I also invite you to call out without fear to all Malagasy society, and especially its leaders, with regard to the issue of poverty, which is largely due to corruption and lack of attention to the common good”.
Education is field in which the Church is very active in Madagascar. Therefore, the Pope asks the prelates to do everything in their power to “ensure that the greatest number of children, including those from the poorest families, have access to education, since as a result of economic difficulties many parents no longer have the economic means”. He also urges them to guarantee a Christian presence in public schools, so that Christians occupied in the field of education may “contribute to forming the Gospel and human values in the young generations that will be the leaders of the society to come”.
He goes on to mention that in their message for the end of the Year of Faith the bishops complained of the loss of the true “fihavanana”, a way of life typical of Malgasy culture, which promotes harmony and solidarity, and in relation to this he affirms that “the values that the Creator has instilled in your culture must continue to be transmitted, illuminated from within by the message of the Gospel. The dignity of the human person and the culture of peace, dialogue and reconciliation will find their place in society, leading to a better future”.
The Pope praises the implementation in dioceses throughout Madagascar of “an ambitious and very dynamic programme of formation for life and love”, and emphasises that the family “needs to be protected and defended so that it so that it may offer society the service expected of it, that of providing men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony”. With regard to challenges in the field of interreligious dialogue, he repeats that it is “urgent to develop, and also at times to initiate, a lucid and constructive dialogue in order to maintain peace between communities and to promote the common good”. He urges the prelates “never to doubt the strength of the Gospel, nor its ability to convert hearts to the resurrected Christ”, reiterating that for this to happen, “it is necessary that Christians bear daily witness to the faith they proclaim”, and for this witness to be credible, “life must be consistent with faith”.
“This invitation”, he continues, “is directed mainly at the clergy and consecrated persons. The priesthood, like consecrated life, is not a means of social climbing, but rather a service to God and to man”. Likewise, he remarks that chastity and obedience are essential virtues for priests and concludes, “The same applies with respect to temporal goods and prudence in their management. Offering a poor example in this area is particularly disastrous because of the scandal it causes, especially before a population that lives in poverty”.

(Vatican Radio) God always forgives and does not know how to do otherwise, said Pope Francis in his homily at Friday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. The Lord always waits for us and forgives us, he said. He is “the God of forgiveness” and he celebrates every person’s return to him.

The Pope went on to say that God longs for us when we distance ourselves from him. Drawing on the day’s first reading from Hosea, he observed that the Lord speaks to his people with tenderness.

Even when God invites us to conversion and uses stern words, God’s words always include “this loving longing” and the exhortation of the Father who says to the son: “Come back. It is time to come back home.”

“This is the heart of our Father,” he said. “God is like that: he does not tire, he does not tire. And God did this for many centuries, with so much apostasy… among the people. And he always returns because our God is a God who waits.

“Adam left paradise with a punishment but also with a promise. And … the Lord is faithful to his promise because he cannot deny himself. He is faithful. And, in this way, he waited for all of us, throughout all of history. He is the God who waits for us always,” the Pope added.

Francis then turned his thoughts to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Gospel of Luke, he said, tells us that the father saw the son from afar because he was waiting for him. The father, he said, “went onto the terrace every day to see if his son would return. He waited. And when he saw him, he went out in haste and ‘threw himself on his neck’. The son had prepared some words to say but the father did not let him speak; his embrace covered his mouth.”

“This is our Father, the God that waits for us. Always,” he said.

“‘But father, I have so many sins, I do not know if he will be happy’,” the Pope said, suggesting a conversation between a priest and a person fallen from God. “‘But try! If you want to know the tenderness of this Father, go to him and try. Then come and tell me.’”

The Pope insisted on the loving welcome of God: “The God who waits for us. God who waits and also God who forgives. He is the God of mercy; he does not tire of forgiving. We are the ones who tire in asking for forgiveness, but he does not tire.”

“Seventy times seven, always. Let us go forward with forgiveness. And from a business point of view, the balance is negative. He always loses: he loses in the balance of things but he wins in love,” he said.

God “is the first to fulfill the commandment of love,” he continued. “He loves and does not know how to do otherwise.”

“The miracles that Jesus did with many sick people were also a sign of the great miracle that every day the Lord does with us when we have the courage to get up and go to him,” he added. When people return to God, God celebrates “not like the banquet of the rich man, who had the poor Lazarus at his door,” he said. “He holds banquet, like the father of the prodigal son.”

Every person who has the courage to approach God “will find the joy of the feast of God,” he said. “May this word help us to think of our Father, who waits for us always and who always forgives us and celebrates our return.”

Listen to the report:
(Vatican Radio) This morning, Friday 28 March 2014, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in Audience the President of the Hellenic Republic, His Excellency Mr. Karolos Papoulias, who subsequently went on to meet with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Eminence Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.

The cordial discussions, an expression of the existing good relations between the Holy See and Greece, focused on issues of common interest, such as, in particular, the legal status of religious communities, the role of religion in society, and ecumenical collaboration.

Attention then turned to the social consequences of the worldwide economic crisis, as well as the contribution of Greece within the European Union. Finally, concern was expressed regarding the future presence of Christians in the Middle East, in relation to political instability and the situations of conflict that affect various regions of the world.

(Vatican Radio) The Council of European Catholic Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), has issued a statement following a March 20-21 seminar for world bishops in Rome focusing on family ministry with regard to current social challenges and Pope John Paul II’s legacy in this area. The meeting was organized by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family. CCEE members supervised the final session and have made the following observations:

The purpose of the final session of the meeting was analyzing the resources of the family ministry in front of the current challenges. The session, chaired by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and moderated by Mgr. Duarte da Cunha, Secretary General of CCEE, benefitted from the contribution of several European experts.

During the works an observation has been repeated several times - the widespread ignorance of the teaching of the Church on the family, which is very often perceived as a set of rules. This is confirmed also by the many responses to the questionnaire on the family received by the Synod of Bishops. The mission of the Church, instead, is first of all and in every circumstance, proclaiming Christ who comes to meet everyone and knocks at the door of every hearth to bring the fullness of life. It is Christ who saves the families through the Church. In Rome, participants and speakers have rather emphasized the pastoral challenge to bring out the beauty of the Gospel of the Family without concealing its demands of truth that ultimately correspond to the expectations of the human heart. Cardinal Baldisseri urged participants to use this time of preparation for the forthcoming Synod as an opportunity to debate on the topic of the family and make visible the beauty of the teaching of the Church, as witnessed on a daily basis by the life of many Christian families. In fact, one of the purposes of the next Synod is to analyze the doctrine of the Church in front of the challenges of today's world in order to discern what the Lord is teaching to his own people, thus also addressing the great thirst for learning more about what the Church proclaims on the topic of the family. And especially to arouse the enthusiasm of the whole Church to bring Christ to all the families.

On the eve of the canonization of the one who has already been called the Pope of the family, the figure and the contribution of John Paul II on the topics of marriage and the family were repeatedly evoked. The passion for the family of the Blessed Pope has led him to develop a rich magisterium which is still relevant today. Familiaris consortio, his catechesis on human love and many other documents, but above all the memory of his way of dealing pastorally with the families, are still sources of inspiration as witnessed by the family ministry operators from five continents who attended the meeting.

In fact, the magisterium of John Paul II clearly shows how the family is, even for our time, a really good news and that marriage, if it is lived in the light of divine grace that redeems the human heart, is a source of love also in very adverse circumstances.

In short, the teaching of this future saint is an invitation to unceasingly proclaim the love of the family, even when this proclamation must go against the general trend, because this is a responsibility of the Church, a heir of this Pope. In this sense, the Church is invited to promote an adequate family ministry, which can accompany the individuals and the families and bring everyone to the truth and love of Jesus.

The family ministry cannot be understood as a sector or an aspect of pastoral care, but rather as the perspective to which all pastoral care refers to. This adequate and complete pastoral care which had been wholeheartedly promoted by the Blessed Pope coincide with the urgency to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to which Pope Francis drew the attention of the whole Church.

The participants paid tribute to Pope John Paul II by taking part in a Thanksgiving Mass celebrated by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, first dean of the John Paul II Institute, in St. Peter's Basilica at the tomb of the Blessed Pope.

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