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Pope prays for peace, victims of war in Congo and South Sudan

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2017 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With plans to visit South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year thwarted by ongoing conflict, Pope Francis on Thursday led a prayer vigil for peace in the two countries, asking for an end to war and comfort for victims of the violence.  

“We want to sow seeds of peace in the lands of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in all lands devastated by war,” the Pope said Nov. 23.

Pope Francis had planned to visit South Sudan this fall alongside Anglican Primate Archbishop Joseph Welby for an ecumenical trip aimed at promoting peace in the conflict-ridden country. However, due to safety concerns, the visit was postponed until the situation on the ground stabilizes.

Though he was unable to go, Pope Francis said in his homily for the prayer vigil that “we know that prayer is more important, because it is more powerful: prayer works by the power of God, for whom nothing is impossible.”

South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, some 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country in hopes of finding peace, food and work. In August alone Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the urgency of the crisis as the world's fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who have not fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge in churches for protection from violence. Most IDPs are typically women, children and those who have lost their families in the war.  

Many are too fearful to stay in their homes because they know they could be killed, tortured, raped or even forced to fight. And despite successful partnerships between the local Church, aid agencies and the government, refugees in many areas still need a proper supply of food.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political unrest first erupted in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections. The bill was widely seen by the opposition as a power grab on the part of Kabila.

Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory, insisting it be controlled by the local leaders.

Catholic bishops in the country had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila. However, in January of this year, the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.

With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries.

In the past year alone, more than 3,300 people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region. The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group.

In his brief homily for the prayer vigil, Pope Francis noted how in the entrance hymn, the words “the risen Christ invites us, alleluia!” were sung in Swahili. As Christians, “we believe and know that peace is possible, because Jesus is risen,” he said.

The prayer vigil consisted of five prayers each followed by a song and prayers of intercession, as well as the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi asking God to make him an instrument of peace.  

The prayers consisted of petitions for conversion; to overcome indifference and divisions; for women who are victims of violence in war zones; for all those who cause war and for those who have responsibility at the local and international levels; for all innocent victims of war and violence and for all those committed to working for peace in South Sudan and the Congo.

Quoting from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Pope Francis said that Jesus Christ “is our peace,” and that on the cross, “he took upon himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies.”

“Jesus conquered all this by his resurrection,” he said, and, speaking directly to God, said, that “without you, Lord, our prayer would be in vain, and our hope for peace an illusion. But you are alive. You are at work for us and with us. You are our peace!”

Francis then prayed that the Risen Christ would “break down the walls of hostility” that divide peoples throughout the world, particularly in South Sudan and the DCR.

He asked that God would comfort women who have been victims of violence in war zones, and protect children who suffer from various conflicts “in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself.”

“How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children,” he said, noting that “here war shows its most horrid face.”

The Pope closed his prayer with a series of appeals, the first being that God would help “all the little ones and the poor of our world to continue to believe and trust that the kingdom of God is at hand, in our midst, and is justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

He asked that God would support all those who work daily to combat evil with good through words and deeds of fraternity, respect, encounter and solidarity, and prayed that the Lord would strengthen government officials and leaders with a spirit that is “noble, upright, steadfast and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation.”

“May the Lord enable all of us to be peacemakers wherever we find ourselves, in our families, in school, at work, in the community, in every setting,” he said.

Commentary: Giving thanks for trials - and for providence

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2017 / 09:07 am (CNA).- The best feast our family has ever had was in a hospital room, four years ago, on Christmas. Our daughter was being treated for leukemia, and my wife was living in the hospital with her. My son and I brought supplies for a makeshift picnic, and the four of us spent a long afternoon together, with an acute sense of gratitude for the gift of one another's presence.

Our daughter spent almost a year in cancer treatment, most of it living with my wife in a hospital's oncology wing, an hour away. It was a difficult time, in which we faced the crosses of our daughter's illness and of being often separated. 

And yet, we were aware then, as we are now, what a graced time that was for our family. We were aware of how much the Lord was doing for us. We could see how much he was providing for us. We were aware, in short, how much we had to be thankful for.

When we find ourselves radically dependent on the Lord to get us through a time of trial or suffering, we become aware of how much love he pours out into our lives. When we can't ignore how much we need the Lord, we see clearly what he's doing for us. This is why times of trial are also, so often, times of deep and sincere gratitude.

I'm often amazed when I talk with missionaries, living in very difficult circumstances, who seem also to live with a real sense of what God has given them, and real gratitude for how he has loved them. Their lives, which are often unpredictable and uncomfortable, seem to inculcate an understanding of what it means to depend on Divine Providence, and a gratitude for the small graces the Lord has given them.

It's much more difficult to really be thankful when we are comfortable enough to maintain illusions of self-sufficiency, or to focus on trivialities and our petty desires. It is often harder to see the ways the Lord is working in our lives when we have settled into a kind of pleasant satisfaction with ordinary living.

This is a reminder that disciples of Jesus should avoid the kind of comfortable complacency that the world often calls success or security. That illusions of security and self-sufficiency are inimical growing in intimate unity for the Lord, or sincere gratitude for his grace.

In short, when our lives require sacrifice, or entail hardship, because we are stretched by the demands of love, we are far more likely to see the power of God's goodness, and to be grateful for the ways in which he loves us.

If we want a deeper unity with God, we should consider the ways in which he invites us to deny ourselves for the sake of love, and we should pick up our crosses. If we want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes from real, and powerful, experiences of God's Providence, we need to give up the idea that our lives are our own, and offer them more fully and freely to the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of bishops, priests, and Church leaders, at which we discussed some of the challenges the Church is facing in contemporary American culture. Most of those issues are well known. It was important to discuss them openly, but by the end of the day, many of us were feeling very discouraged.

After the meeting, I talked with a friend who said that we should be grateful for the challenges of our world. He said that it will likely become harder to be a Christian disciple in the years to come. And he said that our pending difficulties might invite more of us to intimate unity with God.

This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the crosses the Lord has already placed in our lives – the illnesses or struggles during which Christ reveals the depth and constancy of his love for us. We should ask the Lord to show us how he calls us to give ourselves more concretely to love, and thank him for opportunities to grow in wonder and appreciation for his Providence. And we should thank the Lord for the challenges which may lie ahead of us, which might deepen our faith and dependence on the grace of God. 

“In all circumstances,” writes St. Paul, “give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This Thanksgiving, no matter our circumstances, let us give thanks for the love, goodness, and generosity of Jesus Christ, our King.

 

When you serve others, stay humble, Pope tells Franciscans

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2017 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said on Thursday to always be humble when serving others, especially the least of these, remembering how much you yourself have received that you did not deserve.

“When you do some activity for the 'little ones,' the excluded and the least, never do it from a pedestal of superiority,” Pope Francis said Nov. 23. “Think rather that all that you do for them is a way of returning what you have received for free.”

“Make a welcoming and friendly space for all the least of these of our time to come into your life: the marginalized, men and women who live in our streets, parks or stations; the thousands of unemployed, young people and adults,” he continued.

As well as the “many sick people who do not have access to adequate care; many abandoned elders; mistreated women; immigrants seeking a respectable life; all those who live in the existential suburbs, deprived of dignity and even the light of the Gospel.”

Learn to be, as St. Francis said, “sick with the sick, afflicted with the afflicted,” the Pope said.

Francis met Thursday with a group of around 400 Franciscans, members of the First and Third Ordinary Orders, encouraging them to approach everything they do with the humility of a child.

“That is why your relationship with Him should be that of a child: humble and confident and, like that of the Publican in the Gospel, (who is) aware of his sin,” and asks for God’s mercy.

The Pope said that the Franciscan concept of “minority,” or of humbling yourself, is an important aspect of their relationships with God, with their brothers in the order, and with all men and women, because for St. Francis, “man has nothing of his own if not his own sin, and his value is his worth before God and nothing else.”

But how do we remain humble in all our relationships and interactions with others? he asked. By avoiding any behavior of superiority, such as quick judgments, speaking badly of others behind their back, demanding repayment for favors, and using our authority to subdue others.

We should also try to avoid the temptation to become angry or upset at others’ sins. In all your interactions with fellow brothers of the order, follow “the dynamism of charity,” the Pope said.

“Therefore, while justice will bring you to recognize the rights of everyone, charity transcends these rights and calls you to fraternal communion; because it is not the rights you love, but the brothers, whom you have to accept with respect, understanding and mercy.”

Cardinal DiNardo: This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for immigrants and refugees

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2017 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Thanksgiving message, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he is grateful for the gifts and contributions of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States,” DiNardo said.

“My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.”

Following the lead of Pope Francis, as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Bishops have been increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding immigration reform and policies, particularly those that harm families or endanger the safety of immigrants.

The U.S. bishops have expressed “a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago,” DiNardo said.

These policies include the ending of DACA, which benefited hundreds of thousands of young people who entered the U.S. as migrants, as well as the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people of several Central American countries, who have sought refuge from violence and natural disasters in the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops recommended that the government extend TPS status for tens of thousands of Haitians, who came to the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

The bishops, who sent a delegation to assess Haiti’s capability to accept returned nationals, found that the country would not be capable of supporting tens of thousands of people who would be forced to return home. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that TPS status would end for Haitians in the United States by July 2019.

“One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society,” DiNardo said.

“These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families,” he added.

These current issues are symptomatic of a broken immigration system that has long been in need of comprehensive reform, a process which will take years but to which the bishops are committed, in order to ensure that the United States is “welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law,” DiNardo said.

“So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation,” he said.

“I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer.”

 

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