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Vatican City, Mar 29, 2015 / 06:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis' personal envoy to Iraq will return to the country during Holy Week, bringing with him the pontiff's love and solidarity along with a special gift from the diocese of Rome: cake.  

“During Holy Week, which is now close, these families are sharing with Christ the unjust violence of which they are victims, and participating in the pain of the same Christ,” a March 27 statement from the Vatican read.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, traveled to Erbil as Pope Francis' personal envoy in August of last year. He returns to Iraq in order to “stand beside the families” who have been forced out of their homes due to extremist violence.

With the funds taken up from a special collection, the families of the diocese of Rome will also show their solidarity with those suffering in Iraq by sending an Easter cake “to share the joy of Easter” based on faith in the Resurrection of Christ.

The gift being offered to refugee families is a traditional Italian sweet baked during Easter called a “Colomba” cake, which is formed in the shape of a dove.

In order not to “forget the suffering of the families in Northern Nigeria,” Pope Francis has also sent the cakes as a gift to those affected by extremist violence in the region by way of the local bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis, the statement added, prays for these families “and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where, for hundreds of years, they have lived and woven good relationships with all.”

The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, is where more than 70,000 Christians fled after their villages came under attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) last June. The militants have since established a caliphate and have persecuted non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert.

In an interview with CNA shortly after his return from Iraq last August, Cardinal Filoni revealed that at that time, Francis had given $1 million as a personal contribution to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who had been forced from their homes.

Of that sum, “75 percent of the money was delivered to Catholics, and the remaining 25 percent to the Yazidi community,” he said.

The cardinal also recounted that the Pope had entrusted him with letters for Kurdish president Masoud Barzani and Iraqi president Fuad Masum, presenting him “as his personal envoy and expressing his concern for what Christians and minorities in general are suffering, because they have been uprooted from their lands and persecuted.”

Pope Francis has spoken out numerous times assuring his closeness and solidarity to those affected by extremist violence in both the Middle East and Iraq.

In November, Francis visited a Salesian Oratory for refugee children during his three-day trip to Turkey, during which he which he told the youths that he shared in their sufferings, and prayed that God would offer them consolation.

The day before Christmas, the Pope wrote a letter to Christians in the Middle East recognizing that although their Christmas hymns would be “accompanied by tears,” the Child Jesus offers consolation.

“How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!” he said, also calling for an increase in efforts for unity and interreligious dialogue.

When the announcement of Cardinal Filoni’s first trip to Iraq was made in an Aug. 8 statement from the Vatican last year, it was noted that his presence among the refugees was a sign for them of the Pope’s “spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church.”
 

Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2015 / 05:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Palm Sunday said that imitating the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week “holy,” and encouraged attendees to mimic his attitude of humiliation as the week unfolds.

Referring to the day’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which recounts how Jesus “humbled himself” by taking on human form, the Pope said that “these words show us God’s way and the way of Christians: it is humility.”

Humility, he said, is “a way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!”

As the Church sets out on the path of Holy Week that leads us to Easter, “we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be holy for us too!” Francis explained.

Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his March 29 Palm Sunday Mass, which the Church celebrates in recollection of how the inhabitants of Jerusalem laid palms along the road where Jesus entered on a donkey, hailing him as king the week before he was killed.

After processing to the altar with his own palm in hand, the Pope blessed those the pilgrims were holding, and participated in the reading of Jesus’ entire Passion and death, taken from the Gospel of Mark.

In his homily Francis focused on how Jesus’ incarnation and death serve as strong examples of God’s humility, which he shows to his people even when they disobey and complain to him.

Despite the shame Jesus faced, “this is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation,” Francis said.

By taking on the “form of a slave,” Jesus shows us that true humility is expressed in service to others, and consists of stripping and emptying oneself of worldliness so as to make room for God, he said.

“This is the greatest humiliation of all,” the Pope noted, and warned against taking that path of the world, which tempts us with “vanity, pride, success,” just like the devil did with Jesus during his 40 days in the desert.

However, Jesus “immediately rejected” this temptation, he said, explaining that “with him, we too can overcome this temptation, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.”

He encouraged attendees to follow Jesus on his path of “humiliation” during Holy Week, and noted how throughout the course of the next week, the Church will participate in Jesus’ suffering in a concrete way.

“We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted,” he said.

In addition, we will also hear how Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, denies Jesus three times and will hear how the crowds, urged by their leaders, call for Barabas to be freed and Jesus crucified.

Jesus will be “mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God,” the Pope explained.

He closed his homily by recognizing the many who selflessly give themselves in hidden service to others, and by praying for those who are persecuted “because they are Christians.”

Referring to them as the “martyrs of our own time,” Francis said these people refuse to deny Jesus and therefore endure “insult and injury with dignity.”

He prayed that as the Church sets out on the path of Holy Week, faithful would commit to following Jesus’ way of humility with determination and “immense love” for him, saying that it is this love which “will guide us and give us strength.”

After Mass the Pope led pilgrims in the recitation of the traditional Angelus prayer, and noted in comments after how Palm Sunday also marked the 30th World Youth Day, which was established by St. John Paul II in 1984.

This year's theme – the second in a series on the beatitudes – is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” while last year’s was “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Next year’s theme for the international gathering in Krakow, Poland, will be “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

The Pope also prayed for the 150 victims of the Germanwings Airbus plane crash in the French Alps earlier this week, which included a group of German students, and entrusted them to the intercession of Mary.

Francis’ slate of activities for Holy Week includes a Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Holy Thursday, as well as a visit to a Roman prison later that evening, where he will wash the feet of inmates and celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The next day, Good Friday, the Pope will keep in line with papal tradition and celebrate a service for the Passion of Our Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica before heading to the Colosseum, where he will lead thousands in the traditional prayer of the Stations of the Cross.

The Roman tradition of holding the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday goes back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

On Holy Saturday Francis will preside over the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica starting at 8:30 p.m., during which he will administer the sacrament of baptism to certain individuals.

Easter morning, April 5, he will celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection in St. Peter’s Square before giving his 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing – which goes out to the city of Rome and to the world – from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2015 / 01:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa of Avila's birth, Pope Francis praised the Spanish mystic and reformer for her witness of self-gift to God, as well as her particular relevance during this Year of Consecrated Life.

“How much goodness does the testimony of her consecration – born directly from the encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer as continuous dialogue with God, and her community life, rooted in the motherhood of the Church – do for us!” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio's translation.

In a Mar. 28 letter addressed to Fr Xavier Cannistrà, superior general of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the pontiff wrote that it is providential that the anniversary of the saint's birth should coincide with the Year of Consecrated Life, which began late last year.

St. Teresa of Avila, the Holy Father said, “shines as a sure and attractive model of total self-giving to God.”

Born March 28, 1515 in Avila, Spain, St. Teresa is known as a mystic and reformer. Entering the Carmelite order in 1535, she became disillusioned by the laxity of monastic life within the cloister, and committed herself to reforming the order. She is considered one of the founders of the Discalced Carmelites.

During her lifetime, St. Teresa wrote several important works on the spiritual life, such as Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. Canonized 40 years after her death in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, she was declared as one of the first ever female doctors of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

St. Teresa of Avila remains relevant for consecrated men and women, Pope Francis wrote, as demonstrated by her prayer life, her proclamation of the Gospel, and her understanding of the importance of community life.

Describing her as “primarily a teacher of prayer,” the pontiff said that “the discovery of Christ's humanity was central to her experience.”

For St. Teresa, prayer arose in all occasions, not simply in times and places of seclusion, the Pope said. Moreover, she believed that “continuous prayer” – even when it was imperfect – had value.

“The saint asks us to be steadfast, faithful, even in times of dryness, personal difficulties or urgent needs that call us.”

The “concrete proposals” and methods of prayer left by St. Teresa offers “us a great treasure to renew consecrated life today,” the Pope said.

“Far from closing us in on ourselves or leading us only to inner balance, (they) always make us start again from Jesus and constitute a genuine school to grow in love for God and neighbor.”

Pope Francis went on to describe St. Teresa as a “tireless communicator of the Gospel,” at a time when the Church was in the midst of difficulties. Instigator of the “Teresian reform” of the laxities demonstrated by the Carmelite cloister in which she lived, she demonstrated a “missionary and ecclesial dimension has always marked the Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites,” he said.

“Even today the saint opens new horizons for us, she calls us to a great undertaking, to see the world with the eyes of Christ, to seek what He seeks and to love what He loves.”

Finally, St. Teresa recognized the importance of “authentic community life” in sustaining both prayer and the evangelical mission, the Pope said.

Warning against “the danger of individualism in fraternal life,” he added, the saint commends those living in community to place themselves “at the service of others,” with a humility consisting “of self-acceptance, awareness of one’s own dignity, missionary courage, gratitude and trust in God.”

“Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion, capable of witnessing to fraternal love and to the motherhood of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, torn by divisions and wars.”

Pope Francis concluded by imparting his Apostolic blessing, praying that the Carmelite community's “witness to life” would allow “the joy and beauty of living the Gospel to shine and attracts many young people to follow Christ closely.”

The worldwide Year for Consecrated life began Nov. 30, 2014 and will continue until the World Day of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2, 2016.
 

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