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Vatican City, Oct 23, 2014 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his homily on Thursday Pope Francis said that no one has the strength to be a Christian without the Holy Spirit, and encouraged attendees to imitate St. Paul in praying to him with praise and adoration.

“This is a mystical experience of Paul and it teaches us the prayer of praise and the prayer of adoration…he says to the Father: ‘thank you, because you are able to do what we do not dare to think.’ It is a beautiful prayer, a beautiful prayer,” the Pope told those present in the Vatican’s St. Martha house on Oct. 23.

The Roman Pontiff continued to reflect on the third chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which has been the source of the liturgy’s first readings the past few days.

In his letter, the apostle describes an encounter with Jesus that “led him to leave everything behind (because) he was in love with Christ,” the Pope observed, saying that this is a true “act of adoration.”

First St. Paul adores by bending on his knees in front of God the Father who is able to accomplish more than we can think or ask, he explained, but also through his “limitless language” describing God, who “is like a sea without beaches, without limitations, an immense ocean.”

St. Paul then prays that for all to be strengthened in the Spirit, the pontiff noted, because we are too weak to go forward on our own.

“We cannot be Christians without the grace of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit who changes hearts, who keeps us moving forward in virtue, to fulfill the commandments.”

Pope Francis then drew attention to how the apostle made another request to the Lord when he asks for the presence of Christ to help all grow in charity. The love of Christ which goes beyond our comprehension, he said, can only be understood through the adoration of such great immensity.

This mystical prayer of St. Paul teaches us to pray in praise and adoration, the Pope noted, saying that in front of “our pettiness, our many, selfish interests, Paul bursts out in praise, in this act of worship and asks the Father to send us the Holy Spirit to give us strength and to be able to move forward.”

In his prayer Paul helps us to truly understand the love of Christ, and that it is he who “consolidates us in love” by thanking God the Father for his ability to do what we would never imagine is possible.

The Bishop of Rome concluded his homily by pointing out how with an inner spiritual life that prays like this, it is easy to understand why St. Paul gave up everything he had, and considered it “rubbish” in comparison with what he gained by finding and following Jesus.

“It does us good to praise God, to enter this world of amplitude, of grandeur, generosity and love,” he said, and it also does us good “because then we can move forward in the great commandment – the only commandment, which is the basis of all others – love; love God and love your neighbor.”

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2014 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The cardinal heading the Church’s council for Christian Unity has expressed his hope that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Turkey will help strengthen existing Catholic-Orthodox relations.

“The ecumenical vision of the patriarch is very helpful for me because we have some tendencies in the dialogue to avoid the theological questions and to handle other questions,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA Oct. 22.

“His holiness, the patriarch, helped me to sustain that we have (the need) for theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, (and) in this sense I think this visit can deepen our relationships,” he observed.

Cardinal Koch, who serves as the current president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, made his comments the day after the Vatican’s release of Pope Francis’ official itinerary for the trip.

The trip will take place Nov. 28-30, and falls just days after Pope Francis’ Nov. 25 address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

It will take place largely in response to an invitation sent to Pope Francis by Patriarch Bartolomew I of Constantinople, asking him to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox world.

While relations between Catholic and Orthodox Churches are already on good terms, the cardinal explained that the Pope’s trip will be an opportunity to take these relations further through dialogue on theological points of diversion.

“It’s a very difficult dialogue because now we are discussing the theme of primacy within the Church and above all the primacy of the bishop of Rome,” Cardinal Koch observed, noting that due to historical divisions, the process of unity is “a very big challenge.”

He also emphasized the importance of dialoging with Muslims, saying that although continuous Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is needed, Islam is an especially crucial topic of discussion for the Church today.

For constructive dialogue to occur, the cardinal explained that moderate Muslims must make a clear distinction between themselves and extremist groups in order to help Christians and other persecuted minorities in today’s contentious times.

“I think it’s very, very important not to damage the dialogue with Muslims, but they must confess where they stand, and above all I think it’s very important to have the common message that violence is not the sister of religion.”

“The sister of religion is holy peace,” he said, noting that this is a message clearly and strongly promoted by Benedict XVI during his pontificate, which continues with Pope Francis.

“We have the experience of what St. John Paul II mentioned, the ecumenism of martyrdom, because all of the churches, the Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Churches, the Catholic Churches in the Middle East have martyrs,” Cardinal Koch explained.

He drew attention to how the Church often refers to the blood of the martyrs as the seed which gives life to new Christians, and voiced his hope that the blood of the many modern day martyrs will be “the seed of the new unity between Christians.”

Prior to the announcement of his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis and Bartholomew I had already met numerous times. They issued a joint declaration during the Pope’s voyage to the Holy Land in May, and worked together in organizing an Invocation for Peace in the Middle East held at the Vatican Gardens June 8.

Bartholomew I has also been committed to organizing a pan-Orthodox synod, set to take place in 2016, in an attempt to transcend divisions between Orthodox Churches and to move towards an internal unity in favor of dialogue with Rome.

The close relation between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch have sparked rumors that they are collaborating on the Pope’s anticipated encyclical on ecology, making it a joint encyclical letter on the topic.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2014 / 12:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At Monday's consistory on the Middle East, patriarchs gathered to discuss the threats facing local Christians, and focused on the key task of returning displaced families to their homes.

“We are suffering … we feel that we are isolated and that we are forgotten,” Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, told CNA after the Oct. 20 consistory.

“I asked the Pope to send a message to Christians, to encourage them to stay home, to keep their hope, and maybe also to visit displaced families to encourage them to stay and not to leave their homes, and to have patience to persevere.”

The Syrian civil war has forced 3 million Syrians, of all religions, to become refugees, with an additional 6.5 million internally displaced. And in Iraq, since the rise of the Islamic State, there are more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons.

Cardinals and patriarchs from the Middle East, together with top officials of the Secretariat of State and interested dicasteries attended the consistory with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Initially set in order to advance the causes of canonization for two blesseds, the consistory’s schedule was expanded by Pope Francis who wanted to dedicate it to discussion surrounding the plight of Christians in the Middle East, taking advantage of the presence of Middle Eastern patriarchs in Rome on the heels of the synod.

Patriarch Sako said that what representatives from the Middle East most want from the international community is further aid in gaining back the Christian towns in Iraq's Nineveh province from the Islamic State so that displaced families can go home and “continue their life as it was before.”

Although multiple countries have launched airstrikes against the Islamic State, Patriarch Sako explained that it is not enough, and would like to see “something on the ground” that will help regain the fallen cities.

“We know that just bombing and killing people is not a solution,” he said. “But also, when they are killing innocent people and destroying houses” there needs to be a military action.

In the long run, Patriarch Sako said, it is necessary “to destroy this kind of ideology with a new culture, new programs of religious instruction; and also, religious leaders should refuse this fundamentalism.”

He also extended a personal invitation to the Pope to visit Iraq in order to “encourage Christians and Muslims to live together, and also to push forward the culture of dialogue and peace, and to resolve problems with negotiations.”

Another participant in the consistory, Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, told CNA Oct. 20 that at this moment, Christian in the Middle East “are facing a very, very critical phase in their history.”

One of their great concerns, he said, is that Christians and other persecuted minorities have no means of defending themselves against Islamist militants, and so they are completely dependent upon military force exercised by their countries' governments and by the international community.

Patriarch Younan said, “We are calling again on the powers of this world, international societies, to be faithful to the principles of the Charter of Human Rights from 1948: that we have the right to live as true citizens in dignity and freedom.”

Many families are scattered or lost, he said, and are living under “precarious conditions” in tents at makeshift camps, facing terrorism and the loss of their homes.

“These are our challenges,” Patriarch Younan explained, saying that in the consistory he and the other patriarchs made sure Pope Francis “understood the sum of all our drama,” particularly the fact that at this moment “we don’t know what to do to respond to (our people’s) questions – if they can return to their homes or not.”

Yostinos Boulos Safar, who is the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Zahle and Bekaa, in Lebanon, attended both the Synod on the Family and the following consistory as an ecumenical observer.

Speaking to CNA Oct. 17, he expressed his hope that the consistory would result in concrete solutions for the challenges present in the Middle East.

His own nation -- whose population in 2011 was slightly more than 4 million -- has since then become home to well over 1 million Syrian refugees.

Although it’s not possible to expect anything immediate, he said, “just to meet is something important. Just to talk is starting to resolve the problems.”

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