Following the expulsion of Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul by ISIS jihadists, a new petition calls on the United Nations to intervene in the country.
“The last Christians have left Mosul, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria gave them a choice between conversion to Islam, ruinous taxation, exile, or death,” said the petition, posted to the website CitizenGo.org.
Posted on July 24, the petition had gained more than 133,000 signatures within five days.
“We must not be silent while another genocide occurs,” the petition said. “We must push for the international community to act on behalf of the Christians in Iraq. Their survival depends on it!”
Christians have been in Iraq for more than 1,500 years. Over 1 million Christians lived in Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion, but their numbers have now plummeted, and observers fear that they could soon be eliminated from the area altogether.
Extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — known as ISIS or ISIL — have taken over and imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories they control.
“We are speechless, because what has happened is really unbelievable,” Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Syroub of Baghdad told Fides news agency. “Christians have lived in Mosul for centuries and these families have suddenly been yanked out of their cities, their homes, their lives. We are very concerned about the future of Christians in this country.”
Pope Francis has called for peace in Iraq, and offering prayers for the situation of “our persecuted brethren” in the country.
“They are persecuted; our brothers are persecuted, they are driven out, they have to leave their houses without having the possibility of taking anything with them,” the Pope lamented in his July 20 Angelus address.
Many Christians have had to flee to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, whose governor Nawzad Hadi has promised them protection. However, according to U.N. estimates, there are some 2 million refugees fleeing the violence.
For this reason, the petition, created by the Catholic news site Aleteia.org, asks the United Nations and the Arab League to “act immediately to save the Christian community in Iraq.”
“Please do not remain silent while genocide occurs right in front of your own eyes,” the petition says.
The petition can be found at http://www.citizengo.org/en/9810-save-iraqi-christian-community.
Not only could the nearly two-hour execution of an Arizona inmate last week have been avoided, but the number of botched deaths by lethal injection is increasing in the U.S., says one observer.
“The problems that occurred in the execution of Joseph Wood on July 23 should have been foreseen and prevented,” Richard Dieter of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center told CNA July 25.
He said that the rate of failed executions is “greater than any other year since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.”
“Over 1,000 lethal injections were conducted earlier with only comparatively minor problems,” Dieter noted. “It is the secrecy and experimentation with new drugs that is causing the increased number of botched executions.”
On July 23, Arizona prison authorities executed Joseph Rudolph Wood by lethal injection at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence. The injection of lethal drugs took place at 1:52 p.m. after the man was strapped to a gurney. The inmate wheezed hundreds of times before he was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m. Doctors confirmed several times throughout Woods’ execution that he was sedated.
Arizona Republic reporter Michael Kiefer, who witnessed the execution, said that Wood’s mouth opened 13 minutes after the injection.
“Three minutes later it opened again, and his chest moved as if he had burped. Then two minutes again, and again, the mouth open wider and wider. Then it didn’t stop,” Kiefer wrote.
“He gulped like a fish on land. The movement was like a piston: The mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed.”
Witnesses could see, but not hear, the execution. However, when the doctor in the execution chamber confirmed through a microphone that Kiefer was still sedated, Kiefer reported hearing sounds from Wood: “a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air, a louder noise than I can imitate.”
Wood’s lawyers left during the execution to file emergency legal motions to halt the execution.
Wood was sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father Eugene Dietz in 1989. Witnesses of the execution included the murder victims’ relatives.
A priest was present at the execution. Before the execution, Wood told the victims’ relatives he was thankful for Jesus Christ as his savior, the Associated Press reports. At one point he smiled at them, an action that angered the family members.
Executions through lethal injection typically last 10 minutes when barbiturate drugs are used, the Arizona Republic said. Companies have begun to refuse to sell these drugs to correction departments following protests from death penalty opponents.
In response, states that still perform executions now use other drugs. Arizona is using the sedative drug midazolam in combination with the narcotic hydromorphone. The sedative was first used for executions less than a year ago.
Dieter said that the Arizona government had “ample warning” that midazolam might cause problems, noting the drug’s apparent connection to drawn-out executions by lethal injection in Ohio and Oklahoma.
“If the state had opened up its process to broader review, they might have heard from experts in anesthesiology and pharmacology who would have recommended changes to avoid the prolonged and inhumane way in which Wood was executed,” he said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, blamed protests of drug manufacturers for forcing the state to turn to other drugs.
Dieter said that the sodium thiopental drug Arizona previously used was taken off the market due to objections from workers at the Italian plant that manufactured the drug for its supplier, Hospira.
“Subsequent drugs, such as pentobarbital, which Arizona also used, were taken out of circulation for executions because of the European human rights’ stand against the death penalty,” he added. “To blame Europe for the botched executions seems strangely ironic. Should they have violated their conscience and helped facilitate executions? Arizona should have foreseen what happened and avoided it. They chose not to.”
In April, the Oklahoma execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett lasted 43 minutes. Lockett writhed and breathed heavily, eventually dying of a heart attack.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City on April 30 called for a reconsideration of the death penalty, saying “in general, there are others ways to administer just punishment without resorting to lethal measures.”
During his visit Monday to an evangelical Christian community in Caserta, Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit creates diversity and unity in the Church, so that the Church lives a “reconciling diversity.”
He suggested July 28 that the path to unity may be pursued by “going to peripheries and touching the flesh of Christ.”
Pope Francis’ second trip in three days to Caserta – punctuated by his return to Rome for Sunday’s Angelus address – was meant to be a private meeting with his long term friend, evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino and his Pentecostal Community of Reconciliation.
In his off the cuff address, which lasted about 30 minutes, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the Catholics who, in the 1930s, contributed to the persecution of pentecostals under Mussolini and the Fascists.
“Among those who persecuted and denounced pentecostals … there were also Catholics. I am the shepherd of Catholics, and I ask you forgiveness for those Catholic brothers and sisters who have not understood, and have been temptated by the devil.”
Pope Francis maintained that even for the Pope “there is the temptation of assessing: I am the Church, you are a sect. Jesus has prayed for unity. The Holy Spirit makes diversity in the Church. But the same Holy Spirit makes unity, and the Church is unity in diversity. A diversity reconciled through the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis spoke at the conclusion of an ecumenical celebration, in which some 350 persons took part. The celebration included three testimonials of faith, a musical performance, and addresses by both Traettino and Pope Francis.
Prior to the celebration, Pope Francis spent some 50 minutes with Traettino at his home.
Traettino’s reconciliation community was founded about 20 years ago, while Raffaele Nogaro was Bishop of Caserta.
Traettino and Bishop Nogaro soon became friends, which made the evangelical community’s church a central point for ecumenical efforts in the city.
Pope Francis had learned of Caserta’s ecumenical commitment from Traettino, who visited Argentina on business and with whom he had become friendly while Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In his address, Traettino said that the pope, “with but one gesture, overcame ‘protocol’ and got to the heart of human relations.”
“You gave us a great, and unexpected gift … I can say on behalf of all of us, that we love you. You came to visit your brother where he is, as he is.”
Pope Francis in turn stressed that “some may be surprised that the Pope has come to meet the evangelicals. I have come to visit the brethren.”
Pope Francis’ request of forgiveness dealt with religious persecution against evangelicals that took place in Italy under Fascism.
Pentecostals were excluded from the religious confessions admitted by a 1929 law, because they lacked a central governing body. Pentecostal worship was then forbidden in Italy in 1935.
After that time, their worship was denounced, including by some priests, and some pentecostal pastors were sent to prisons or concentration camps.
Pope Francis asked forgiveness for those Catholics who had behaved as did the 11 brothers of Joseph who, influenced by the devil and envious, sold him as a slave.
Following the celebration, he lunched with the evangelical community.
He was expected to visit the convent of nuns of Falciano, a Caserta suburb. The convent is home to five nuns who work with children, and a small crowd was waiting to see him in front of the enclosure.
But as his lunch with evangelicals lasted longer than expected, Pope Francis did not have time to visit the consecrated religious of Falciano.
Once the meal ended, he had time to meet two disabled children before returning to the Vatican.
Over 1,200 Spanish Bibles donated by the American Bible Society and the publishing house Verbo Divino have gone to unaccompanied minors from Central America. Requested by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, the Bibles were requested by the Department of Communications of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to the approximately 1,000 young people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador detained by U.S. Border Patrol near Nogales, Arizona.
The American Bible Society donated some 1,000 Bibles and approximately 600 copies of “La Llave,” an edition specifically for young people. Verbo Divino donated 200 copies of their Catholic Family Bible.
Bishops Kicanas issued the call for bible donations to serve the spiritual needs of these children as they await an uncertain future. “Currently about 1,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered into the United States are being detained in a Border Patrol facility in Nogales, Arizona. They are all from Central America – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador ¬¬– their physical needs are being attended to but the authorities wonder if Spanish [language] bibles could be given to the children while in the holding center to comfort them,” Bishop Kicanas said. “Many have been through some troubling and traumatic situations.”
Several dioceses and Catholic Charities offices also have responded to the unaccompanied children crisis offering humanitarian aid. And recently, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, also issued a similar call to volunteers for donations of Spanish language bibles and new testaments to be shared with unaccompanied children and women at entry points along the southern border.
After nearly two years of preparation, Father José Almy Gomes, 40, almost wasn’t ready for Pope Francis’ World Youth Day pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro.
A student at Rome’s Patristic Institute Augustinianum from 2003 to 2007, Fr. Almy was the pastor of St. Dominic’s in Perdizes – a rural neighborhood of São Paulo. He worked from June 2011 to August 2012 organizing a group of over 100 international pilgrims, including 20 Americans, for a three-week Catholic dream experience: seven days of tourism and cultural immersion in São Paulo, a week of mission work in Rio’s favelas, and seven days of WYD celebration on Copacabana Beach.
His only hope, for the sake of the project’s success, was not to be transferred before then.
But in February 2013, fewer than five months before WYD, Rio’s Archdiocese of St. Sebastian came calling. Fr. Almy was directed to Our Lady of the Rosary parish – just two blocks from where Pope Francis would stand on Copacabana Beach.
Shaken by his transfer, Father Almy faced the immediate challenge of building his new parish’s volunteer efforts almost completely from scratch.
“We had just one volunteer signed up when I arrived,” he said in Portuguese, his native language. “World Youth Day just didn’t seem very important here.”
Located in the Rio favela of Babilônia, Our Lady of the Rosary has long been a controversial setting in the heart of a neighborhood searching for a faith identity.
Of Rio’s 976 recognized favelas, Babilônia is among the most famous for its violent history. A subject of the internationally popular Brazilian film “Elite Squad,” the favela was governed exclusively by Rio de Janeiro drug-trafficking cartels for nearly 80 years before government police pacification forces took over in 2009.
According to Father Almy, residents lived amid frequent gunfire and constant law changes when new cartels assumed control of the neighborhood. Babilônia’s laws included a 6 p.m. curfew and restrictions on religion. Violators of the law were often executed.
Favela law nearly shut down Our Lady of the Rosary, as Mass was permitted only on church grounds. For three years before pacification, priests were prohibited from celebrating Mass in public areas or visiting Babilônia’s residents in their homes.
“To pray here with residents, the archbishop would have to ask for permission from a 17-year-old boy guarding the favela entrance,” Father Almy explained. “And the boy would normally grant permission, but only if priests used archdiocesan automobiles to enter the neighborhood instead of their own.”
Though the majority of Babilônia’s residents are Christian, their beliefs are often radical and come from a variety of cultures from across the world, says Father Almy. Popular religions within the favela include Pentecostalism, practiced only by an estimated 11-15 percent of all Brazilians and the Afro-Brazilian religions of Candomblé and Umbanda, practiced by less than five percent of the country’s population.
Among Babilônia’s Roman Catholics, Father Almy emphasizes the need for a stronger spiritual formation to fight a “magical” view of Christian faith. The combination of extreme devotionalism with non-Catholic beliefs such as reincarnation, he says, has mixed Catholicism with other favela customs and traditions.
“Spiritually, our community needs to have a stronger Catholic proximity,” he said. “It’s important … to have an accurate spiritual education.”
He refers to Our Lady of Fatima, whose statue passed through Babilônia as part of a three-year celebration in Brazil for its upcoming 100-year anniversary in 2017, as an example. In honoring the Virgin Mother, Father Almy stresses the importance of thinking, beyond pure devotion.
“It’s important to be devout, to pray the Rosary, but also think beyond the image – what did Mary do? What qualities did she have that we can imitate?”
To educate residents, Father Almy is exercising new legal rights for Babilônia clergy members: the freedom to evangelize and participate in the favela’s community. His involvement includes celebrating Saturday Mass in Babilônia’s community centers, attending interfaith community meetings, bi-weekly visits to residents’ homes, and leadership in new seasonal church activities such as prayer of the Christmas Novena and neighborhood participation in an annual Emmaus Walk.
“My goal is to speak the language of our neighborhood and give a rationalized perspective,” he said. “I want to translate a high-level of theology into a language that’s more accessible, and being a consistent presence is one way to do that.”
Making it to WYD
With just one volunteer registered fewer than five months before World Youth Day, Fr. Almy put his new parish to work. Forming WYD community groups among Our Lady of the Rosary’s 300 parishioners, he began celebrating weekly Saturday Mass in Babilônia, and by May 2013 had recruited an additional 10 WYD volunteers from the favela.
Though the parish’s efforts were growing, Father Almy still felt unprepared to host the 70 French and Portuguese pilgrims scheduled to lodge in the parish two months later.
“I thought people here were still closed to the Holy Spirit in the months before World Youth Day, like no one really wanted this experience.”
But as FatherAlmy’s community groups continued to grow, so did Babilônia’s participation in WYD-related preparation. By July, Our Lady of the Rosary had 15 registered WYD volunteers, and an additional seven parishioners offered to help out part-time.
To make the church suitable for visitors, Father Almy used parish funds to rent eight bathrooms, adding to Our Lady of the Rosary’s single bathroom, and solicited food donations from the parish.
“Food was probably our biggest concern. We wanted to at least be able to offer snacks to our pilgrims.”
As parishioners divided responsibilities, food donations picked up, and it appeared that the church would have enough food to feed all of its WYD visitors.
But when Our Lady of the Rosary opened its doors to pilgrims on July 19, it wasn’t 70 French and Portuguese pilgrims, but 141 that arrived expecting WYD lodging. An additional group of French journalists also lobbied for a spot at the parish, in hope of easy access to Copacabana Beach.
“It was difficult. We thought we were pretty well-organized, but there was certainly confusion at the start.”
With more pilgrims than parish space available, some visitors were left to sleep on the floor in Our Lady of the Rosary’s church and in Babilônia community centers. As demand for lodging picked up, favela residents also stepped in. A total of 45 pilgrims were given housing by Our Lady of the Rosary parishioners in Babilônia, the neighboring favela of Chapéu Mangueira, and the surrounding neighborhood of Leme.
Most importantly, Father Almy attests, the combined effort of the parish and community successfully provided lodging and food for everyone who asked for it.
“Who are we, as the Church, to say no to someone in need? We always asked ourselves, ‘what can we offer so that other people can be taken care of’? We may not have had the resources right away, but we provided for everyone that needed our help.”
After eight decades of violence, a favela once known for suppressing Catholicism had played a key role in the success of one of WYD’s most relevant host churches in Rio’s largest ever Catholic event.
“I was happiest about the way people were welcomed here,” Father Almy said. “I think the way our community opened it arms to our visitors was the most important thing.”
Lasting lessons and mission
The success of WYD 2013 has brought a greater awareness of Pope Francis’ teachings to Babilônia and Our Lady of the Rosary, according to Fr. Almy. As Catholic residents grow stronger in Catholic faith formation, he believes the Holy Father’s presence in Brazil and his Latin American roots provide for a closer connection with residents and parishioners.
“I think the pope’s effect, more than anything, was that people here learned to see themselves in him and really love him. He knows how the church here functions and the perspective of our people.”
Lucia Kiris, one of the parish’s 15 registered WYD volunteers and host of two French pilgrims, agrees, adding that Pope Francis’ messages of acceptance and welcoming are becoming more characteristic among the favela’s residents.
“He reminds us to stay true to our identities,” she said, “as grateful, caring, and loving people.”
Another Babilônia resident, David Bispo, owner of an internationally-awarded restaurant in the favela, attests to a lasting spiritual impact from WYD that remains nearly 11 months after Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Rio.
“Pope Francis passed a strong energy through here, a happiness and a simplicity,” Bispo said. “His presence rings strong in our neighborhood and across all of Rio de Janeiro.”
As the community’s pastoral presence, Father Almy continues to celebrate weekly Saturday Mass in the favela, attend community faith dialogues, and make visits to sick parishioners’ homes. His presence, Fr. Almy says, is based on WYD’s mission to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
“After WYD I decided, from now on, I’m really going communicate the Word of God to all of his creatures,” he said, “because through dialogue, a person grows closer to others and makes friends. Then, after, that person can listen and teach.”
He speaks especially about a weekly women’s community group, composed of eight Babilônia residents from Catholic, Pentecostal, and Afro-Brazilian communities, among others. Though often criticized by non-Catholic group members, Father Almy values the chance to facilitate conversation and to clarify misunderstandings among group members.
“These opportunities only exist because I’m present there,” he said. “Because I studied the Word, I studied theology, I can give people a stronger perspective. This small contact is important, because if I wasn’t there, people wouldn’t be able to ask these questions.”
Thanks to WYD, his involvement in the community, and improvement in basic amenities available to residents — such as computers and internet access, Father Almy says more people in Babilônia follow Pope Francis on a consistent basis, and he’s receiving more questions than ever about the Holy Father’s teachings.
“Even if I don’t talk about the pope, they still ask about him. When I’m asked, ‘Pope Francis said this, what does it mean?’ I’m honored to answer. The fruits of WYD gave people here a new, more positive vision of the church — a vision we needed for a rationalized, authentic view of the Catholic faith.”
The head of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee implored Secretary of State John Kerry to utilize U.S. foreign policy to address the “root causes” of child migration from Central America.
“The crisis on our borders will not be minimally resolved until drugs and arms flows, harmful trade provisions, and other critical economic policies that contribute to violence are addressed and rectified,” wrote Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines in a July 24 letter to Secretary Kerry.
Bishop Pates wrote the letter after his “solidarity trip” to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the origin countries of many of the child migrants coming to the U.S.
He outlined the root causes of migration there – violence at home, human and drug trafficking, and lack of economic opportunity – and asked Secretary Kerry to focus more on U.S. investment in education and jobs than on military assistance in order to spur a “long term resolution” to the problems.
The number of unaccompanied child migrants to the U.S. has doubled each year since 2011. An estimated 90,000 will have come by the end of this fiscal year, and in 2015 the number is expected to rise to 145,000, according to U.S. officials.
Bishop Pates blamed the exploitative practices of multi-national mining corporations, the over-militarization of U.S. assistance, and current trade agreements for the economic and social hardships that are driving migration.
“My brother bishops in Central America have urged us to encourage alternatives to militarization of U.S. assistance and instead emphasize economic opportunity,” he wrote. “The United States must recognize our own contributions to this crisis, and support more effective programs that reduce drug usage here at home.”
Current trade policies like the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) are suffocating small businesses in those countries, the bishop continued.
“As an example, U.S. corporations, receiving significant subsidies and other protections from our government, have been able to export corn and other agricultural products to Central America, driving down local prices for these products and forcing rural families off their lands,” he explained, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
And U.S. and Canadian mining companies are harming the environment and public health in those countries and forcibly silencing opposition to their practices, he added.
“We heard powerful testimonies, by civil and Church leaders, of brutality and oppression, including torture and murder. Community leaders and representatives of indigenous communities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who resisted the unregulated expansion of mining activities in their native lands, have been targeted,” Bishop Pates wrote.
The U.S. government must ensure that that companies abide by the same “standards of care for human life and ecology” abroad as they do in the U.S. and Canada, he said.
All these problems are behind the increase in migration, the bishop underscored, and the U.S. must address them to solve the current crisis in the long-term.
“We must recognize that there are correlations between these harmful trade practices and the deplorable conditions that lead to poverty, increased unemployment (especially among the young), violence, trafficking and the resultant push for migration,” he concluded.
Pope Francis on Sunday stressed the priceless value of encountering Jesus, noting that Jesus’ parables speak of those who are willing to trade everything for the Kingdom of God.
“He who knows Jesus, who encounters him personally, remains fascinated and attracted by so much kindness, so much truth, so much beauty, and everything in great humility and simplicity,” the pope said July 27.
“Look for Jesus, meet Jesus: this is the great treasure!” the pope exhorted, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
Speaking before the noontime Angelus prayers, he addressed thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square from his window in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The pope reflected on the two parables in the Sunday Mass reading from the Gospel of Matthew: the parable of the treasure discovered buried in a field and the parable of the pearl of great price.
He said these parables show that the discovery of the Kingdom of God can come “suddenly,” as when the farmer discovers unexpected treasure in a field and sells everything to buy it. The Kingdom of God can also come “after a long search,” like the case of the merchant who sought a precious pearl.
Pope Francis stressed the primary fact of both parables: the farmer and the merchant “give up everything else” to buy what they have found.
“They do not need to reason, to think, to reflect: they realize immediately the incomparable value of what they have found, and are willing to lose everything to have it.”
“So it is with the Kingdom of God,” the Pope explained. “He who finds it has no doubts. He feels that this is what he was searching for, what he was looking for, and what responds to his most authentic aspirations.”
The pope reflected on how many saints were converted because they were so affected by Jesus. He noted that St. Francis of Assisi was a lukewarm Christian but when he encountered Jesus in a “decisive moment,” he found the Kingdom of God “and then all his dreams of earthly glory vanished.”
“The Gospel makes you recognize the true Jesus, it makes you recognize that Jesus is alive. It speaks to your heart and changes your life.”
When someone is “born again,” he explained, “you have found something that makes sense, that gives flavor, that gives light to all, even to hardships, even to suffering, even to death.”
The pope repeated his previous encouragements to read the Gospels and asked everyone to carry a small book of the Gospels in their pocket or purse.
“Everything makes sense when there, in the Gospel, you can find this treasure, which Jesus called ‘the kingdom of God,’ that God who reigns in your life, in our lives,” Pope Francis said.
“To read the Gospel is to find Jesus and to have this Christian joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of having found the treasure of the Kingdom of God shines, you see,” he continued. “The Christian cannot conceal his faith, because it shines through in every word, every gesture, even in the most simple, everyday: it shines, the love that God has given us through Jesus.”
On Sunday Pope Francis also renewed his calls for peace in the world.
After the Angelus, the Pope noted the July 28 anniversary of the start of World War I.
“This conflict, which Benedict XV called a ‘senseless slaughter,’ resulted, after four long years, in a most fragile peace,” he said.
“Tomorrow will be a day of mourning for this tragedy,” said Pope Francis, who lamented the millions killed and the “immense destruction” in the war.
“As we remember this tragic event, I hope that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” he said.
He urged everyone to learn from a history that is “increasingly dominated by the demands of peace through patient and courageous dialogue.”
Pope Francis particularly noted ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq, and Ukraine.
“I ask that you continue to join me in prayer that the Lord may grant the people and authorities of those areas the wisdom and strength needed to push ahead on the path of peace by addressing each dispute with the tenacity of dialogue and negotiation with the power of reconciliation,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters: Never war! Never war!” he exclaimed.
The pope especially lamented war’s effects on children: those killed, wounded, and maimed; the orphaned; those who have lost “hope for a decent life”; and children who “do not know how to smile.”
“Stop, please!” he said to those involved in violent conflict. “I ask you with all my heart.”
Pope Francis on Saturday visited the Italian city of Caserta, encouraging the people of the region to place God at the center of their lives.
“Giving primacy to God means having the courage to say no to evil, violence, oppression; to live a life of service to others and in favor of lawfulness and the common good,” Pope Francis said July 26.
The pope spoke during his homily at evening Mass in front of the Royal Palace of Caserta, a former residence of the King of Naples, Vatican Radio reports. The city is in the southern Italian region of Campania.
Pope Francis visited the city for the Feast of St. Anne, its patron saint.
The pope stressed the importance of the presence of Jesus, saying his presence “transforms our lives and makes us sensitive to the needs of our brothers.” Jesus’ presence “invites us to accept every other presence, including that of foreigners and immigrants.”
He added that God is “the true treasure.”
“He who becomes a friend of God loves his brothers, is committed to safeguarding their lives and well-being, and also respects the environment and nature,” Pope Francis said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
The pope said the beauty of the Campania region needs to be “protected and preserved.” He also called on the people of Caserta to have the courage to reject corruption.
Everyone should be “servants of the truth,” living a gospel-inspired life that is shown in “the gift of self” and in giving attention to the poor and excluded.
On Monday Pope Francis will return to Caserta to visit with the Italian Protestant minister Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended during his visits to Rome when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The Vatican’s employees were surprised by a lunch guest on Friday, when their ‘boss’ and bishop, Pope Francis, turned up at at their cafeteria.
“Pope Francis acted as the humblest of the workers,” Franco Paini, chef of the Vatican cafeteria, told Vatican Radio July 25. “He got here, he took his tray, his utensils, he got in the line and waited his turn, and then we served him.”
Taking cafeteria by surprise, #Pope Francis eats with Vatican’s blue collar workers http://t.co/0qRR37xGLp pic.twitter.com/n2ptR6RC5f
— L’Osservatore Romano (@LOsservatoreUSA) July 25, 2014
The Vatican’s cafeteria is located behind it’s central post office, on the Via Sant’Anna; this is on the north side of St. Peter’s Square, while the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis resides, is on its south.
Today was the first time that Pope Francis has lunched with Vatican employees. Customarily, he dines in the refectory of Domus Sanctae Marthae.
He arrived around 1 p.m., and spent about an hour dining at a table with around 10 other people.
Paini reported that for his Friday lunch, Pope Francis chose to have pasta without a sauce, and cod with grilled tomatoes.
“We met, he asked us how we were, he asked us how we worked, he congratulated us … he blessed us, he took a picture with us.”
The Vatican’s cafeteria, which opened in 2008, is open to employees of Vatican City and the Holy See, and of institutions linked to it.
Reports that Pope Francis will travel to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families in 2015 remain unconfirmed by the Vatican; however, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia is confident of the pontiff’s attendance.
On July 25, reports began to circulate the Archbishop Chaput had confirmed Pope Francis’ presence at the meeting in his cathedral city next year.
However, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia explained in a statement that there “has been no official confirmation by the Vatican or The Holy See of Pope Francis’ attendance.”
“We still expect that any official confirmation will come approximately six months prior to the event,” the archdiocese said, explaining that “Archbishop Chaput’s comments do not serve as official confirmation, (but) they do serve to bolster our sincere hope that Philadelphia will welcome Pope Francis next September.”
“Archbishop Chaput has frequently shared his confidence in Pope Francis’ attendance at the World Meeting and his personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence,” the statement said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
The 2015 World Meeting of Families will be held Sept. 22-27 under the theme, “Love is our mission: the family fully alive.” Tens of thousands from across the world are anticipated to attend the event.
The World Meeting of Families began in 1994 by the Pontifical Council for the Family under St. John Paul II. Its mission is to strengthen families across the globe, encouraging them to live their faith with joy and sincerity.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the meeting is to be under the patronage of St. John Paul II, who visited Philadelphia in 1979, and St. Gianna Molla, who died while giving birth.
Archbishop Chaput has previously hinted at the pope’s presence at the event.
While “obviously a papal visit is never official until the Holy See confirms it,” he said June 11 at the U.S. bishops’ spring general assembly in New Orleans, “we do have good reasons to believe that Pope Francis will take part in the meeting, and we are planning to welcome him wholeheartedly.”
He added that the meeting “comes at a time when the Church in the U.S. urgently needs an opportunity for joy and renewal. It is also a time of great confusion about the nature of marriage and family,” he said, noting that its goal is to “offer the beauty of Catholic teaching about marriage and the family with confidence and a spirit of invitation to every person of good will.