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Dublin prepares for 2018 World Meeting of Families

Dublin, Ireland, Mar 23, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just a little more than a year away, the Archdiocese of Dublin released a video Wednesday inviting families from around the world to come together in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August 2018.

“I'm very pleased to have been asked to host this meeting, and to invite you to join with us in preparing for this event, and hopefully also to come to Dublin, to celebrate with families from all around the world,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin says in the video.

The next World Meeting of Families will be held Aug. 22-26, 2018. As the promo video, released March 22, says, it will include – “God-willing – having Pope Francis join us for the Festival of Families and the final Mass.”

Pope Francis’ visit to Dublin in 2018 will be a significant moment for Ireland, since it has been almost 40 years since their last visit from a Pope, Ireland’s ambassador to the Holy See, Emma Madigan, told CNA in January.  

The Archdiocese of Dublin is currently using the website http://www.worldmeeting2018.ie/ to provide information about the event in English, as they work on launching a more comprehensive, multi-lingual site soon, which will also include ticket and registration information.

The theme of the 9th World Meeting of Families is “The Gospel of family, joy for the world.” As the video says, “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. Our Catholic Church is a family of families.”

“Our Holy Father Pope Francis is encouraging families from all across the world to come to Ireland in 2018 to celebrate family life. And to reflect on the importance of family in our lives,” Cardinal Kevin Farrell says in the video.

Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, as well as a Dublin native, Cardinal Farrell is one of the persons responsible for organizing the event.

The last World Meeting of Families, which took place in Philadelphia in 2015, was attended by around 18,000 people for the congress and somewhere around 800,000-900,000 for the final Mass with Pope Francis.

The last World Meeting of Families was a huge success, according to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. “The spirit of the whole city was strikingly positive,” he told CNA Sept. 29, 22015 in an interview following the event.

Dublin is looking forward to a similar event in 2018.

“Every society, every person, understands a universal bond, a bond that connects us: family,” the promotional video states. “We look forward to welcoming people from every corner of the world to our shores for the 2018 World Meeting of Families.”

Don't lose your humanity in refugee debate, US bishops say

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The intense debate over U.S. refugee and migrant policy is a chance to meet newcomers and understand others' concerns, the country's bishops have said, warning against fear and mistreatment of others.

“It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity,” said the March 22 statement from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' administrative committee.

“Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: 'We are with you.'”

Immigrant or refugee families may themselves be seeking security from extremist violence, the bishops said. Their statement, titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” aimed to voice solidarity with those who have fled their homes because of violence, conflict or fear.

The statement comes at a time of significant debate over U.S. refugee and immigration policy under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on more restrictive policies.

His latest executive order on refugees calls for a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions and an entry ban on most foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries. The order caps refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017, a decline from 85,000 in fiscal year 2016.

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the temporary refugee ban and the travel ban from taking effect. The Hawaii-based federal district court said the state of Hawaii's lawsuit against the travel ban made a strong enough case that it unfairly discriminated against Muslims seeking entry into the U.S. and that the ban would significantly injure the state’s tourism industry and university system.

President Trump's other executive orders have sought an increase in immigrant detention centers  and the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. bishops' statement welcomed debate over policy, but criticized the “rhetoric of fear.”

“When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked. “Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children.”

Catholics need to show solidarity for migrants and refugees, the bishops said. They should pray for an end to the root causes of violence that cause people to flee.

“Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own,” the statement said. “Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and help them know their rights.”

“It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

The bishops urged Catholics to call their elected representatives and “ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

They placed immigration debate in a Christian context.

“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

They cited the Biblical command not to mistreat alien residents, in the Book of Leviticus: “you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Another source for the bishops was Pope Francis’ comments that migration is “that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued.”

“For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland,” the Pope said.

Gorsuch made an important distinction when asked about assisted suicide

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch made a crucial ethical distinction in his response to questions about doctor-prescribed suicide during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, said one ethicist.

When asked what his views were on end-of-life care in the case of a terminal patient enduring unbearable pain, Gorsuch replied that “anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death. Not intentionally, but knowingly. I drew the line between intent and knowingly.”

This is an important distinction, said Edward Furton Ph.D., director of publications and an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He told CNA that the situation presents the case of “double-effect,” where proper steps taken to alleviate a patient’s pain may have the side effect of causing their death, but are permissible when certain conditions are met.

“You’ve got a good intention, the action you’re doing is good – in this case, it’s alleviating the pain with appropriate amounts of medication,” he explained, emphasizing that the dosage of pain medication may never be lethal and should not render the patient unconscious except when “absolutely necessary.”

“You’ve got a side effect, which is not intended, but is foreseen. It is going to happen, but you don’t want it to happen, you’re doing your action for another reason. And there is really no other route to alleviate the pain. So this is perfectly appropriate, it makes good sense,” Furton said.

Gorsuch, a judge on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, faced his third day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as he is considered for confirmation to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

He wrote a book in 2006 on “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” Gorsuch explored various arguments made in favor of doctor-prescribed suicide and euthanasia before offering his own observations and opinions.

The book “was my doctoral dissertation, essentially,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It was written “in my capacity as a commentator” and not as a judge, he clarified. The book was published the same year he was nominated and confirmed to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

He argued in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” Regarding doctor-prescribed suicide, he upheld laws prohibiting it, basing his argument upon “secular moral theory.”

Asked by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to briefly discuss his book, Gorsuch suggested that doctor-prescribed suicide could pose a significant threat “to the least amongst us – the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled.”

It does this by becoming a cheap end-of-life option offered to vulnerable people, he said. “I do know that when you have a more expensive option and a cheaper option, those who can’t afford the more expensive option tend to get thrust into the cheaper option.”

“It’s a long book. It’s complicated. And I do not profess to have the right, final, or complete answer,” he admitted. “I hoped, at most, to contribute to a discussion on an unanswered social question where all people – and I do think all people – have a good faith interest in trying to reach some consensus socially on it.”

Currently, doctor-prescribed suicide is legal in six states and in the District of Columbia, with some 25 states to consider legalizing it this year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pressed Gorsuch on the matter on Wednesday, citing California’s End of Life Option Act that legalized the procedure in the state.

“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths – family, of cancer – when there was no hope. And my father, begging me, ‘stop this Diane, I’m dying’,” she explained. “And my father was a professor of surgery.”

“And the suffering becomes so pronounced – I just went through this with a close friend – that this is real. And it’s very hard,” she continued, asking him what he thought of California’s law.

Gorsuch, speaking in his personal capacity, said that for some terminal patients, “at some point, you want to be left alone. Enough with the poking and the prodding. ‘I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family’.”

“And the Supreme Court recognized in Cruzan” – a 1990 decision on an end-of-life case – “that that’s a right in common law, to be free from assault and battery, effectively. And assumed that there was a Constitutional dimension to that. I agree.”

Gorsuch added that the matter of a terminal, suffering patient foregoing treatment was a personal one for him.  

“Your father, we’ve all been through it with family. My heart goes out to you. It does. And I’ve been there with my dad. And others,” he told Feinstein.

Speaking as an ethicist, Furton clarified that in end-of-life cases, pain management may certainly be used but should never be an overdose and should not render the patient unconscious except in extraordinary circumstances.

Pain medication should be “measured, so that it matches the pain that the patient is experiencing,” he said.

“You can’t just give them a massive dose, or something like that,” he said, as “it would bring about their death in a way that was not measured and not connected to a proper intention which is to alleviate the pain.”

And medication should not induce unconsciousness, except in extraordinary cases, he insisted.

“Another important element is that the loss of consciousness in a person who is dying is very significant, and shouldn’t happen unless it’s absolutely necessary, because we should meet our Maker alert and in a prayerful way,” he added.

Furton praised Gorsuch’s knowledge and treatment of the matter as someone who “has obviously thought about these issues very carefully.”

“So I think we should be happy that he has such a strong sense of where to draw the line in a case such as this, where you’ve got a person with intractable pain and needs to have it remedied,” Furton said.

“He understands that that is not intentionally killing somebody. It’s not euthanasia, it’s not physician-assisted suicide. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between those two, so it’s good that he does because he’s obviously going to be a man of considerable power and importance in the area of law.”

 

Catholic college's new bridge too Catholic, neighbors complain

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 22, 2017 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bridge featuring crosses on the property of Villanova, a Catholic university in a Philadelphia suburb, will be built despite complaints from some local taxpayers.

After an hour long debate, the Board of Commissioners of the township of Radnor voted 6-0 last month to approve the controversial pedestrian bridge that will connect Villanova University's main campus with an expansion of the campus.

The crux of the debate was the two, 4-foot 7-inch crosses planned for the top of the bridge, which will be visible to travelers on Route 30 underneath. Some local taxpayers complained that the school was crossing the line of separation of church and state by placing the crosses over a public road.

“I think they are overstepping their sense of ecumenism to shove these crosses in our faces," Sara Pilling, a longtime resident and opponent of the crosses, told The Inquirer Daily News before the meeting.

Others argued that taxpayer dollars should not fund a bridge that will feature displays of religion.

Villanova officials argued that the school was within its rights to place crosses on the bridge, which will be owned by the university and on university property.

“On every building on campus, there’s a cross,” Fr. Peter Donohue, university president, told the Inquirer.

“I understand people’s sensitivities, but it’s just something we’ve always done. It’s just part of who we are. We are a faith-based institution.”

Some locals believe that a compromise would be to turn the crosses so they face the pedestrians, or to incorporate them into the design of the bridge in a more subtle way.

“While we recognize the importance of Villanova to our community and the notoriety it brings to Radnor, are there less ostentatious ways to reflect a Catholic institution?” said Roberta Winters, president of the League of Women Voters of Radnor, in an interview with The Inquirer.

Commissioner Luke Clark told local media that the bridge has been in the works for a long time, and is a way to keep safe the hundreds of students who cross that road every day.

“The design looks great. The crosses are going to go up there. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. But at the end of the day it is on their property. They are a religious institution and the law for the most part is in their favor,” said Clark.

Even after the board unanimously voted to approve the bridge, some concerned locals contacted the non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation wrote a “strongly worded letter” to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), contending that they were unconstitutionally funding Christian symbols on the bridge and asked them to removed either the crosses or their funding.

The department told local media that its $3.7 million contribution to the project was for the portion of the span over the right of way it controls.

PennDOT said it could not control what the university did with its own property and with its own funds, which are providing for the crosses and most of the bridge.

After the township vote Villanova's assistant vice president of government relations and external affairs Chris Kovolski told The Inquirer: "We're pleased that the conversation tonight resulted in an outcome that allows the university to move forward."

Prayers go out amid confusion, chaos following London attack

London, England, Mar 22, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church and government leaders offered prayers in the aftermath of an attack in London on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the incident in Westminster this afternoon,” read a post on Twitter from the news page of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

“We pray tonight for the victims, their families, for all affected by this terrible attack and those who responded so bravely,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster.

Details surrounding the March 22 attack in Westminster remained unclear some four hours after an attacker in a car apparently plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. The assailant then reportedly crashed the car and attempted to enter the Parliament building with a knife before being shot by armed police.   

According to the Guardian, four people were killed, including one police officer and one man believed to be the assailant. About 20 others were reported injured, some severely.

Nearby government buildings were placed on lockdown while authorities worked to ensure the safety of the area. Scotland Yard said the attack is being treated “as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise.”

March 22 marks the one-year anniversary of the Brussels airport bombings that left more than 30 dead and 300 injured. Those bombings were declared the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history.

While details surrounding the London attack remain uncertain, religious and national leaders offered condolences and prayers.

“Please join me in praying for the people of #London, especially those killed and injured today. St. George and St. Paul, pray for us,” said Bishop James Conley of Lincoln on Twitter.

“Terrible scene in London,” said U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in a post on Twitter. “Praying for the victims of this apparent act of terror. We stand with our friends in Parliament and Great Britain.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also released a statement offering prayers.

“On behalf of the United States, I express my condolences to the victims and their families,” he said. “The American people send their thoughts and prayers to the people of the United Kingdom. We condemn these horrific acts of violence, and whether they were carried out by troubled individuals or by terrorists, the victims know no difference.”

Watch this little girl steal Pope Francis' hat

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 10:57 am (CNA).- A cute moment was captured on camera Wednesday, as a 3-year-old girl “stole” Pope Francis’ zucchetto – or skull cap – at the papal general audience.

Little Estella lives in Georgia. She was in Rome with her godfather, Mountain Butorac. Waiting in St. Peter’s Square at the general audience, she was invited by a member of the papal security team to go greet the Pope as he came by.

Pope Francis offered the young girl a kiss on the cheek, and she reached up and grabbed his zucchetto. A moment later, she returned the hat to a laughing pontiff.

Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! pic.twitter.com/SdSorop3uN

— Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) March 22, 2017 Meanwhile, Butorac captured the incident on his phone camera, and posted it to Twitter, where it quickly received more than 8,000 likes.

“It’s exciting!” Butorac told BuzzFeed News. “I’m sure every godparent would love for their godchild to meet the Holy Father. Mine just did and it was not only a special holy moment, but hilarious too!”

 

What the bishop who resisted the Nazis can teach us today

Münster, Germany, Mar 22, 2017 / 07:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Father Clemens August von Galen was consecrated Bishop of Münster in October 1933, he chose for his episcopal motto Nec laudibus, nec timore – neither by praises nor by fear, which summed up his ministry throughout Germany's Nazi period.

The motto was taken from the liturgy for episcopal consecration, which prays that the new bishop will love humility and truth, and not be overcome by either praise or fear.

Bishop von Galen wrote in his first pastoral letter that “Neither the praises of men nor fear of men shall move us. Rather, our glory will be to promote the praise of God, and our steadfast effort will be to walk always in a holy fear of God.”

During his entire episcopacy the bishop spoke up against the Nazis' euthanasia program and racial theories, and defended human rights and the cause of justice. He was among the most outspoken of Germany's bishops during that era, and assisted the writing of Pius XI's 1937 anti-Nazi encyclical Mit brennender Sorge.

He was made a cardinal in February 1946, just one month before his March 22 death, and he was beatified in 2005 by Benedict XVI.

Blessed von Galen's motto “would be a great motto to have for a bishop,” Fr. Daniel Utrecht of the Toronto Oratory told CNA. Fr. Utrecht is the author of The Lion of Münster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis.

Fr. Utrecht was drawn to write about Blessed von Galen because he was a model bishop.

“I was telling some people about him during World Youth Day in 2005, and they said, 'We need bishops like this, why have we never heard of this guy? Someone should write a book about him',” he related.

The priest recalled reading in German a two volume work of Blessed von Galen's documents, letters, and sermons written as a bishop. “They became more and more fascinating, and there just wasn't much in English to read about him. I eventually came to the conclusion that it was up to me to write an English-language biography.”

Blessed von Galen was born into a German noble family in 1878, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Münster in 1904. As a priest he wrote on the origins and limits of state power, and the importance of voting as a responsibility for the common good rather than doing so for private interests.

In the later years of the Weimar Republic, Blessed von Galen supported the German Centre Party, which worked to present a Christian voice in defense of Catholic interests and human rights in the public square, and entered into coalition governments with other parties in an effort to balance power.

But the priest was unable to sway many of his acquaintances to support the Centre Party – other Catholics were arguing that the Nazi Party was most compatible with Catholic ideals.

Many bishops had barred Catholics from being members of the National Socialist movement. But when Hitler softened his antireligious stance and stated early in 1933 that Christianity would be prominent in Germany's rule, the bishops took him at his word and began allowing Catholics to join the movement.

But when Blessed von Galen was made a bishop later that year, he maintained his anti-Nazi beliefs. Within a year he clashed with government officials over the rights of Catholic schools and the Nazis' racial and anti-Jewish ideology.

He was most outspoken against the Nazi's involuntary euthanasia program, which under which the disabled, mentally ill, deformed, senile, those with Down syndrome, and the incurably sick were killed. The program began in 1939, and more than 70,000 people were euthanized under it.

Blessed von Galen led Catholic protest against euthanasia. He delivered three sermons in the summer of 1941 which condemned the program, as well as Nazi attacks on the Church, and raised public awareness of what has happening. After the sermons' delivery he was nicknamed “The Lion of Münster”, and they resulted in a Nazi propaganda minister, Walter Tiessler, recommending that he be executed.

The bishop remained outspoken against Nazi atrocities throughout World War II, and afterwards spoke up against injustices committed by the occupying Allied forces.

“I see plenty of parallels today,” Fr. Utrecht told CNA. “I hope that people reading the book get it for themselves.” Blessed von Galen's “example of courage and being able to speak out in defense of human life is of interest, very much of interest today, in the fight against abortion and euthanasia …  the defense of liberty, religious liberty, the defense of a place for religion in the public square is a very, very big lesson that he has for us.”

In addition to supporting Catholic witness to the value of human life in the face of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the dictatorship of relativism, Fr. Utrecht said that the cardinal can speak to Catholics facing political dictatorships as well.

The priest shared how during a recent trip to Germany he met a priest from Africa who is “very keen on making von Galen known to the Africans, because he said 'In many places we have totalitarian governments and not enough of the bishops speak out', – so he thought there was a great parallel there.”

Since Cardinal von Galen was beatified 12 years ago, there is a need to develop devotion to him, Fr. Utrecht reflected. “Greater devotion to him is the next step, not just locally, but worldwide.”

“There are plenty of people who do know about him and who are pushing devotion to him, but it needs kind of a new push, so I hope we can get a push, and not only there, but among English- reading people elsewhere.”

March for life, peace and migrants in Tijuana draws 30,000

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 22, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Some 30,000 people gathered last Sunday for the 17th March for Life, Peace and Migrants in Tijuana, Mexico.

Led by the Archbishop of Tijuana, Francisco Moreno Barrón, participants marched from the former bullfighting stadium, Toreo de Tijuana, to the Tijuana Auditorium, where they arrived at 11:30 am.

Before the march on March 19, the Archbishop of Tijuana prayed for the migrants and young people depicted on the wall at Aeropuerto y Cuauhtémoc Norte Boulevard. “We want to make present on this wall all our brother migrants, not just those who cross this border, but all the migrants from all over the world,” the prelate said.

“The entire human community is one family, which came forth from the hands of God out of love. And we are called to live united in love as one family,” he added.

The archbishop said that “unfortunately because of selfishness in the world, the selfishness in the human heart, walls have been raised up, not just in past times, but also in the present, which seek to divide us, alienate us and also at times to confront us.”

Instead of walls, he said, what is needed are “spaces, elements, bridges which would rather bring us closer together and help us build fraternity, so that we can live in peace and realize in our midst God's dream for his children: that they live united and in peace.”

The State Government Religious Affairs officer, Marco Antonio González, representing the Government Undersecretary, said that “the importance of this march for us is the fact that the Catholic Church is proclaiming, supporting the need we have as a community to promote values and principles.”

The march started around 9:00 am and began with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. During the march, Archbishop Moreno carried a cross as a symbol of the crosses that migrants carry.

“I invite you to remain united as a Church, making our contribution to building a better society in the Archdiocese of Tijuana, I invite you to be builders of peace, to fight for life and to have an open heart to our migrant brothers,” the prelate exhorted.

After the march, the archbishop celebrated a Mass in the Tijuana Auditorium.

 

Pope Francis: When we want to give up, God helps us persevere

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said each person must strive to imitate the perseverance and consolation of God, which not only gives us the strength to keep going, but also to help others who are in difficulty.

“Perseverance we can also define as patience; it’s the ability to support, to remain faithful, even when the weight seems to become too big, unsustainable, and we are tempted to negatively judge and abandon everything and everyone,” the Pope said March 22.

Consolation, on the other hand, “is the grace of knowing how to welcome and show in every situation, even those largely marked by delusion and suffering, the presence and compassionate action of God.”

He noted how these two attitudes are highlighted by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, both in reference to scripture and to God himself, who is “the God of perseverance and consolation.”

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience, the Pope continued his catechesis on the virtue of Christian hope, saying the qualities of perseverance and consolation shed light on what having hope really means.

Francis noted how in the day’s reading from Romans Chapter 15, St. Paul reminds us that these attitudes are communicated throughout scripture. The Word of God, he said, “leads us to turn our gaze to Jesus, to know him better and to conform ourselves to him, to increasingly become more like him.”

By calling the Lord “the God of perseverance and consolation,” the apostle is revealing the nature of God as someone “who always remains faithful to his love for us and takes care of us, covering our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy.”

“He’s perseverant in love for us, he never tires of loving us,” he said.

Pope Francis then pointed to how in the passage, St. Paul also insists that “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

While the phrase “we who are strong” could seem presumptuous, the Pope stressed that when understood with the logic of the Gospel, “we know that it’s not like this. Rather, it’s precisely the opposite because our strength doesn’t come from us, but from the Lord.”

“Whoever experiences in their own lives the faithful love of God and his consolation is able, even obliged, to be close to his weakest brothers and to take charge of their fragility,” he said.

The Pope stressed the importance of doing this “without complacency,” but as “a channel that transmits the gifts of the Lord,” sowing hope to the world. Witnesses of hope “are needed today,” he said, but noted that unfortunately “it’s not so easy” to do.

However, Francis cautioned that this lifestyle doesn’t mean dividing the community so that “some are from ‘group A,’ which is the strong, and others ‘group B,’ which is the weak.”

Instead, it means having the same attitude toward one another that Christ did, he said, adding that the Word of God “nourishes a hope that is concretely translated in sharing, in reciprocal service.”

This reciprocity is essential, he said, because “even those who are strong sooner or later find themselves fragile and in need of comfort from others; and vice versa, in weakness one can always offer a smile or a hand to the brother in difficulty.”

But this is only possible “if we put Christ and his Word at the center,” Pope Francis said, and urged faithful to thank God for giving us his Word through scripture.

“We never thank God enough for the gift of his Word,” he said, stressing that “it’s there that we become aware of how our hope is not based on our own abilities and our own strength, but on the support of God and on his fidelity and love.”

At the end of his audience Pope Francis also gave a shout-out to those participating in the “Watershed” Conference currently taking place in Rome in honor of the U.N. World Water Day, and which is being co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Argentinian Chapter of the Club of Rome.

“I am happy that this meeting is taking place,” he said, “for it represents yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance.”

The Pope then made an appeal for his “24 hours for the Lord” event, which takes place each year on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent

“I hope that also this year this privileged moment of grace on the Lenten path is lived in many churches in order to experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the Father, and that everyone welcomes and forgives,” he said.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Took my Goddaughter to meet the pope. She stole his hat! <a href="https://t.co/SdSorop3uN">pic.twitter.com/SdSorop3uN</a></p>&mdash; Mountain Butorac (@MountainButorac) <a href="https://twitter.com/MountainButorac/status/844505243538931714">March 22, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Italian bishop bans mobsters from being godfathers

Palermo, Italy, Mar 22, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hollywood precedent notwithstanding, an Italian bishop has announced that known members of the mafia cannot be godparents for the Catholic sacraments of baptism or confirmation.

The diocesan decree came from Michele Pennisi, Bishop of Monreale, near Palermo in Sicily, Italy.

“The mafia has always taken the term godfather from the church to give its bosses an air of religious respectability, whereas in fact the two worlds are completely incompatible,” the bishop said in the announcement.

He admitted that it may be hard to enforce, given the secrecy of the mafia, the Guardian reported.

“If someone has not been convicted we cannot judge people on rumours, without proof,” he said, adding that he would not ban anyone willing to repent of their actions.

“If one of them admits to having done wrong, asks to be pardoned for the bad they have done, in that case we can discuss a path of conversion.”

Pennisi has been outspoken against the mafia before, and received death threats in 2008 after he banned Catholic funerals for known mobsters.

According to Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Bishop Pennisi made the decision after Giuseppe Riina, son of the notorious “boss of bosses” ‘Toto’ Riina, was allowed to act as a godfather at the Catholic baptism of his nephew.

“But the Christian godfather must guarantee the child’s education and upbringing in the faith and how can he do that if his life is in contradiction of the gospel, if it is violent and totally ruled by the god money. There is a total incompatibility here and we’ve got to be clear about that...” Bishop Pennisi said.

The move is just the latest in attempts by Church authorities to crack down on the notorious and influential groups in the country.

In 2014, Pope Francis said that members of one of the most notorious mafia groups, the “’nDrangheta” were excommunicated from the Church.

“The ‘nDrangheta represents the adoration of evil and total contempt for the common good...Those who in their lives have chosen this path of evil are not in communion with God, they are excommunicated...” he said at the time, according to the Irish Times.

This year, on March 21, Italy’s first “National Day for Remembrance and Commitment to Remembering the Victims of the Mafia”, Pope Francis sent a message to Mafia victims gathered in Locri, Italy, expressing his “spiritual closeness” to them.

The Holy Father said that he “hopes that the meeting will help to reflect on the causes of the numerous violations of law and legality, which in many cases lead to violence and criminal offenses.”

Pope Francis also assured his prayers for those who “fight the social problem of crime and corruption” and offered his apostolic blessing.