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 Catholic News 

Vatican City, Aug 29, 2014 / 02:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a brief encounter with Pope Francis following his general audience Wednesday, former Pakistani minister Paul Bhatti discussed persecuted Christians and invited the pontiff to visit his country.

“I met him with my mom and it was a desire and a heartfelt wish of my mom to see the Holy Father and to share her views regarding peace in the world and regarding the persecution of Christians in the world,” Bhatti told CNA Aug. 28.

“I translated for her and conveyed this message, and I saw that the Pope was really moved by her statement, and he showed her, and me, that he is with us with his prayers,” and is with “all who are persecuted in the name of religion.”

Bhatti is the former Federal Minister of National Harmony and Minorities Affairs in Pakistan, which is a position he took on after the assassination of his younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed in 2011 by Islamic extremists.

The two had worked closely to assist the most marginalized and oppressed in the country, and strove to promote religious freedom, equality and social justice, particularly fighting violations of those areas within Pakistan.

Meeting Pope Francis was important, especially for his mother, Bhatti noted, because he is the “head of the Christian Church, it means head of all those who follow the Christian Church, our faith,” so his role is one of “humility” and a sharing in the “suffering due to the general situation of law and order.”

Recalling how his mother invited the pontiff to come and visit their small Christian community in Pakistan, the former minister explained that although he didn’t give a decisive answer, “He just had my mom’s hand in his hand and he had a big hug with my mom.”

“Afterward he expressed that he is with us and his love, care, etc., is toward all those who are a part of our Church.”

The current situation in Pakistan “is quite complicated,” he noted, because there is “sectarian violence, there’s extremism, there’s terrorism and there’s instability” on a political and economic level, as well as problems with “law and order” in general.

“So the situation of Christians and all those who belong to the weak sector of society is directly proportionate to the general stability of our country,” Bhatti observed, stating that “I think it’s getting worse.”

“It’s not only one community that’s being targeted, but the whole country and its population, where we lived in Pakistan even Muslims are a target. But it’s getting worse.”

What can help, he explained, is if the international community unites to “try to bring peace and stability in that country. And if the country is stable, if there’s peace in the country I think everybody will get benefit of that.”

“It’s needed that the international community and those who have influence should use it to bring peace in that region and stability.”

Reflecting on the great solidarity Pope Francis has shown toward persecuted Christians across the Middle East, Bhatti explained that what the pontiff is saying is that “we belong to one community, we belong to one faith, we belong to one Church and everybody is united with each other whether they are in Pakistan, whether they are in Italy or whether they are in America.”

“So this bond, this kind of relationship on the basis of the faith we have with each other, this keeps us united and he is there to help us, to be with us, and for him it’s not important who is where, but he is strongly concerned with the persecuted people of the whole world.”

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2014 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A South Korea-based U.S. missionary who frequently crosses the border to North Korea to bring medicine and support says that Pope Francis' visit advanced efforts to heal a divided country.
 
Father Gerard Hammond, an 81-year-old Maryknoll missionary, has lived in South Korea since 1960 and has made 51 trips to North Korea since 1995.

His mission: to stop deaths from Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis in North Korea.
 
“Due to do the security laws in South Korea, it is very difficult to send humanitarian aid to North Korea without the agreement of the Ministry of Reunification,” the priest told CNA.
 
Fr. Hammond can enter North Korea thanks to the Eugene Bell Foundation, a U.S.-based organization allowed admission to enter the country to give humanitarian aid, which includes a “slot” for Catholic missionaries. The latest trip took place this spring from Apr. 21-May 6.
 
Their work is well-known in the Vatican, and Pope Francis had been informed about them.
 
“He met each one of the 14 Maryknollers in our Seoul House. When Pope Francis met me, he spoke two words, 'North Korea-tuberculosis' and squeezed my arm,” Fr. Hammond recounted.
 
He stressed that “the visit of our Holy Father was a great blessing for all of us especially for the Korean people that have suffered so much. His visit left a tremendous impression on all Koreans, Catholic and non-Catholic.”
 
“Now we have to implement the challenge to heal a divided country, society and church,” he said.

“I hope the visit of the Holy Father to be the spark for the beginning a move toward Peace on the Peninsula and for Reconciliation for the peoples of North and South Korea.”
 
Fr. Hammond will return to North Korea for a trip this fall from Oct. 13-Nov. 4, saying that “there is no shortage of places and people that need help, whether it is through medicine, diagnostic machines, or other critical supplies.”
 
Until now, “we delivered medical supplies to patients in 12 treatment centers. Starting early in the morning, we work ceaselessly to make sure all the patients waiting at each center could be tested and we could enroll as many new people as possible.”
 
Fr. Hammond explained CNA that the missionaries are able to use six Gene X-perts – state-of-the-art medical devices “that allow us to diagnose Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis within 2 hours and deliver medicine to critically-ill patients without having to wait 6 months until our next trip.”

“On each trip we treat a 1,000 Multi Drug Resistant tubercolosis patients.”
 
Until now, the missionaries have cured more than 70 percent of their patients, compared with a worldwide cure rate of only 48 percent.
 
Fr. Hammond recounted that “for the past few years, we have been providing nutritional assistance to patients to supplement their diet and aid in their quick recovery.”
 
“Patients receiving nutritional assistance have gained weight, energy, and are better prepared to finish their difficult multi-drug resistant treatment.”
 
He said he has been “happy to see patients who once had difficulty just holding up their boxes of medicine now happily talking about how they had put on extra pounds.”

For the majority of patients in North Korea who have been “suffering for years” from the condition, “there is no option for treatment” and “reliable testing for MDR-TB is not yet widely available.”
 
“For the sake of the unreached people of North Korea, we must keep fighting to bring medicine,” Fr. Hammond said.

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2014 / 05:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his weekly general audience Pope Francis spoke on the unity and holiness of the Church, stating that despite the fact we are sinners, we are called to live as a community centered on Christ.

“In a Christian community division is one of the most serious sins, because it does not allow God to act,” the Pope said in his Aug. 27 general audience address. “What God wants is that we be welcoming, that we forgive and love each other so as to become more and more like Him, who is communion and love.”

Addressing the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Roman Pontiff explained that as Catholics “we affirm in the Creed that the Church is one and that she is holy.”

“One because she has her origin in the Triune God, mystery of unity and full communion. Holy since she is founded by Jesus Christ, enlivened by his Holy Spirit, and filled with his love and salvation.”

We continue to refer to the Church as “one” and “holy” despite the fact that “we know by experience that it is also composed of sinners and that there is no shortage of divisions,” he said, recalling how the night before he was arrested Jesus “asked for the unity of his disciples: ‘that all be one.’”

“We trust in his desire that unity will be one of the characteristic features of our community,” the Pope continued, noting that “While we, the members of the Church, are sinners, the unity and holiness of the Church arise from God and call us daily to conversion.”

Observing how “We have an intercessor in Jesus, who prays…for our unity with him and the Father, and with each other,” the Bishop of Rome drew attention to the sins that often cause division.

“Sins against unity are not only schisms,” he said, “but also the most common weeds of our communities: envies, jealousies, antipathies...talking bad about others. This is human, but it is not Christian.”

These sins “which occur even in our parish communities,” Pope Francis continued, “come about when we place ourselves at the center.”

“God’s will, however, is that we grow in our capacity to welcome one another, to forgive and to love, and to resemble Jesus.”

Explaining how “It's the devil who separates, destroys relationships, sows prejudices,” the Pope affirmed that “the holiness of the Church” is “to recognize the image of God in one another.”

“The holiness of the Church consists of this: reproducing the image of God, rich in mercy and grace.”

Concluding his address, the Roman Pontiff prayed that all might “examine our consciences and ask forgiveness for the times when we have given rise to division or misunderstanding in our communities, and may our relationships mirror more beautifully and joyfully the unity of Jesus and the Father.”

Following his reflections Pope Francis greeted groups of pilgrims present from around the world, giving special notice to several Cuban bishops who have come for the enthronement of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, patroness of Cuba, in the Vatican Gardens tomorrow.

“I greet with affection all of the bishops from Cuba, who came to Rome for this occasion,” he said, “while at the same time I ask you to convey my closeness and blessing to all of the Cuban faithful.”

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