Asunción, Paraguay, Jul 11, 2015 / 08:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There is one way to annoy Jesus, Pope Francis said on Saturday: Keep the children from coming to him. The Roman Pontiff was speaking July 11 as part a question and answer session with a group of children receiving treatment at the “Niños de Acosta Ñu” pediatric hospital in Ascuncion, the Paraguayan capital. The visit was the first stop on his first full day in the South American nation. “Dear children, I want to ask you a question; maybe you can help me. They tell me that you are all very intelligent, and so I want to ask you: Did Jesus ever get annoyed?” The Pope answered that the only time Mark’s Gospel records Christ being “annoyed” was the instance in which the disciples try to prevent the children from coming to him. “We would say that he was really ‘ticked off’.” “Do you get annoyed every now and then?” he asked. “Jesus felt that way when they wouldn’t let the children come to him. He was really mad. He loved children.” The pediatric hospital was one of the stops on Pope Francis’ visit to Paraguay, the last country in his tri-nation visit to the continent of his birth from July 5-13. The journey has also included visits to Ecuador and Bolivia. The Pope clarified that it was not that Christ didn’t like adults, but rather he was especially happy being in the company of children, and “being friends with them.” More than this, however, Christ wanted children to be an example to others, telling his disciples that that “unless you become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” “The children kept coming to Jesus, and the adults kept trying to keep them away, but Jesus called them, embraced them and brought them forward, so that people us could learn to be like them.” Pope Francis said Christ has the same message for us today. “We need to learn from you,” he told the children. “We need to learn from your trust, your joy, and your tenderness. We need to learn from your ability to fight, from your strength, from your remarkable endurance.” “Some of you are fighters. And when we look at young ‘warriors’ like you, we feel very proud,” he said. “Looking at you gives us strength, it gives us the courage to trust, to keep moving forward.” Pope Francis then turned to the parents and grandparents of the children receiving treatment at the hospital, and the “moments of great suffering and uncertainty” they experience. “There are times of heartrending anguish but also moments of immense happiness. These two feelings often collide deep within us,” he said. Despite these difficulties, there is support which comes from the community of families, doctors, and hospital staff. “There is no better relief than your tender compassion, your closeness to one another. It makes me happy to know that as families you help, encourage and support each other, so that you can keep going in these difficult moments.” The Roman Pontiff expressed his gratitude in particular to the doctors, nurses, and staff at the hospital. “I thank them for their vocation of service, for helping not only to care for, but also to be there, for these young brothers and sisters of ours who suffer,” he said. Pope Francis once again reminded those present of Christ’s closeness to children. “He is very near, in our hearts. Never hesitate to pray to him, to talk to him, to share with him your questions and your pain. He is always with us, he is ever near and he will not let us fall.” The Pope concluded by encouraging those present to turn to Mary. “Wherever there is a son or daughter, there is always a mother. Wherever Jesus is, there is Mary, the Virgin of Caacupé,” he said. “Let us ask her to wrap us in her mantle, to protect and intercede for you and for your families. And also, please don’t forget to pray for me. I am certain that your prayers are heard in heaven.”   Read more

Asunción, Paraguay, Jul 10, 2015 / 05:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Arriving in Paraguay on Friday, Pope Francis recognized the particular contribution of women in the nation’s warn-torn past.   The Pope said that he would “like to acknowledge with profound admiration the role played by the women of Paraguay in those dramatic historical moments.” “As mothers, wives and widows, they shouldered the heaviest burdens; they found a way to move their families and their country forward, instilling in new generations the hope of a better tomorrow.” Women played a key role in rebuilding society after the Paraguayan War, which lasted from 1864-1870, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 60-70 percent of the overall population, and 70-90 percent of the male population, leaving a 4-to-1 ratio of women to men. Francis spoke of the suffering of the nation, through war, fratricidal conflict and other human rights problems.   “Yet the Paraguayan people have also shown an admirable spirit of perseverance in surmounting adversities and in working to build a prosperous and peaceful nation,” he continued. “I wish to pay tribute to the many ordinary Paraguayan people, whose names are not written in history books but who have been, and continue to be, the real protagonists in the life of your nation.” The Pope’s remarks came July 10, in an address to Paraguayan leaders in the gardens of the Presidential Palace in the capital of Asuncion. The Pope pledged the Church’s support for building a just society “where each person can live in peace and harmony.” Paraguay is the final country of Pope Francis’ July 5-July 12 Latin America visit. He previously stopped in Ecuador and Bolivia. Noting the country’s reputation for hospitality and friendliness, the pontiff invited those present to promote the common good, five priority to the poor and needy, and follow Christ on the “path of mercy.” “Our sure faith in God, who willed to become man, to live among us and to share our lot, urges us to press forward,” he said.   “Christ opens up to us the path of mercy, which, founded on justice, goes beyond it to inspire works of charity, so that no one will remain on the fringes of this great family which is Paraguay, a land you love and which you wish to serve.” The Pope encouraged Paraguayans to work against homelessness and the displacement of farm workers, and to address and a lack of education and employment. “May there be an end to violence, corruption and drug trafficking,” he said. He encouraged authentic economic development that serves human dignity and especially the most vulnerable. “A people which forgets its own past, its history and its roots, has no future,” the Pope continued. At the same time, he called for a memory of the past that is based on justice and that rejects hatred and desire for revenge. Memory of the past also “makes us realize the tragedy and pointlessness of war.” “Let there be an end to wars between brothers! Let us always build peace!” Pope Francis said. He praised progress towards democracy and encouraged continued work to strengthen the country’s institutions. He said there is a need to reaffirm dialogue as the best means of promoting the common good. The common good must be promoted “on the basis of a culture of encounter, respect and acknowledgment of the legitimate differences and opinions of others.” To overcome “a spirit of constant conflict,” Pope Francis encouraged Paraguay’s leaders to blend their ideological convictions or party interest with “love of the country and its people.” “That love must be the incentive to increased administrative transparency and unceasing efforts to combat corruption,” he said. He prayed for God’s blessings on Paraguay and asked that all Paraguayans might embrace Our Lady of Caacupe, a subject of popular Marian devotion in the country.   Read more

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Jul 10, 2015 / 01:44 pm (CNA).- The organizers for Pope Francis’ visit to Bolivia made use of a local Burger King as a sacristy for the Pope and the 60 bishops that participated in the only outdoor Mass held in the country. The restaurant of the popular fast food chain is located adjacent to Christ the Redeemer Plaza in Santa Cruz. Organizers asked the company if they could use one of their locations near the altar that was set up in the plaza. An estimated million people attended the July 9 ceremony. “We were proud to provide one of our restaurants. In the next few months we’re going to put up a commemorative plaque there. This is an historical event,” Alfredo Troche told La Nación newspaper. Troche serves as general manager of Bolivian Foods, the business that holds the franchise for the country. Yesterday a group of employees covered up the overhead price list and hamburger promotions with white canvas to adapt the restaurant to the subdued atmosphere required by the ceremony. They also hung up curtains in all of the restaurant windows. Bolivia is the second of three stops on the Pope’s trip to South America. He visited Ecuador July 5-8 and will spend a few days in Bolivia before heading to Paraguay on July 10 to finish his visit. Read more

Washington D.C., Jul 10, 2015 / 01:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In its latest update to the federal contraception mandate, the Obama administration on Friday finalized a set of proposed rules which the U.S. bishops have previously said still violate religio… Read more

Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Jul 10, 2015 / 09:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Friday told Bolivian inmates that he too is a sinner who has experienced the merciful love of God, and encouraged them not to fall into despair but to accept forgiveness and to sustain themselves with prayer. “You may be asking yourselves: Who is this man standing before us?’” the Pope reflected with prisoners during his July 10 visit to Bolivia’s Palmasola Rehabilitation Center in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. “I would like to reply to that question with something absolutely certain about my own life. The man standing before you is a man who has experienced forgiveness. A man who was, and is, saved from his many sins. That is who I am.” Pope Francis said that although he doesn’t have much more to offer them, “I want to share with you what I do have and what I love. It is Jesus, Jesus Christ, the mercy of the Father.” Palmasola is Bolivia’s largest and most overcrowded prison, which holds as many as 5,000 prisoners – and their families. Young children are allowed to live with incarcerated parents, and while the perimeter of Palmasola is secured by guards, much of the interior functions as a small town, with its own economy. An August 2013 riot in the prison, which began as a gang rivalry, killed 31 persons, including an 18 month-old child who was living there. Pope Francis met with the prisoners on his last day in Bolivia, the second of his three-stage, July 5-13 tour of South America. The Pope spent three days in Ecuador before coming to Bolivia, and will transfer to Paraguay Friday afternoon. The Pope was greeted by Archbishop Jesús Juárez Párraga of Sucre, head of prison chaplaincy in the country. He reflected that in prisoners “we feel the contradictory sign of being victims and perpetrators, evidence of a society which produces poverty, inequality, and violence … and an incoherence between the great guarantees of rights and the administration of justice, which in fact flagrantly wounds rights.” Noting the more than 300 percent overcrowding in Bolivian prisons, Archbishop Juárez said that 84 percent of Bolivian detainees do not even have a set trial date. These figures, he charged, “call into question the ends of justice and of the prison system.” Indeed, most of the prisoners in Palmasola have not been convicted, and are merely awaiting trial in the gridlocked and corrupt Bolivian justice system, and some are detained over unpaid debts. Transparency International gave Bolivia a score of 35 out of 100 for perceived public sector corruption in 2014 – on par with Mexico, slightly less corrupt than China, and slightly more corrupt than Argentina. In the face of this, Archbishop Juárez said that “far from condemnation and finding fault, dear Vicar of Christ, we wish to unite our hearts and efforts with public authorities and civil society institutions, to seek together economic and structural solutions to the problems of justice in general and of penal justice in particular.” The archbishop’s address was followed by the testimony of three detainees, each of whom related part of their life, and their experience at Palmasola, including the long waits for trial, overcrowding, and corruption. Beginning his address, Pope Francis told the inmates: “I could not leave Bolivia without seeing you, without sharing the faith and hope which are the fruit of the love revealed on the cross of Christ.” “Thank you for welcoming me; I know that you have prepared yourselves for this moment and that you have been praying for me. I am deeply grateful for this.” “Jesus came to show the love which God has for us. For you, you, you, and for me,” he said, explaining that this love is both powerful and real, and takes seriously the plight of those whom the Lord loves. This love is also something that heals, forgives and raises up, and is close to us and restores our dignity, the Pope continued, adding, “we can lose this dignity in so many ways. But Jesus is stubborn: he gave his very life to restore the identity we had lost.” One reflection he said could help in understanding this is the fact that Christ’s disciples, Saints Peter and Paul, were also prisoners. “They too lost their freedom. But there was something that sustained them, something that did not let them yield to despair, that experience of darkness and meaninglessness.” That something, he said, “was prayer, both individually and with others.” Praying for themselves and others became a network that helped maintain hope and kept them from falling into despair. It encourages us to keep going forward, Francis observed. Once Christ becomes a part of our lives, we can no longer be prisoners of our past, but instead “we begin look to the present, and we see it differently, with a different kind of hope. We begin to see ourselves and our lives in a different light” and are able to make a new start. He encouraged the inmates to look at the Crucified Christ whenever they feel sad, depressed, or negative. “Look at his face. He sees us; in his eyes there is a place for us. We can all bring to Christ our wounds, our pain, our sins,” he said. “In his wounds, there is a place for our own wounds. There they can be soothed, washed clean, changed and healed. He died for us, for me, so that he could stretch out his hand and lift us up.” He urged the inmates to spend time talking with the priests who minister at the prison: “Jesus wants to help you get up, always.” Francis then noted that being “shut in” is not the same thing as being “shut out,” and explained that detention is merely a process of reintegration into society. “I know that there are many things here that make it hard: overcrowding, justice delayed, a lack of training opportunities and rehabilitation policies, violence,” he said, calling for a quicker and more efficient cooperation among institutions in finding solutions. However, despite these challenges he said they shouldn’t think that all is lost, because there are things they can still do today. The way they live together in the center “depends to some extent on yourselves,” the Pope said, noting that at times suffering and deprivation “can make us selfish of heart and lead to confrontation.” “But we also have the capacity to make these things an opportunity for genuine fraternity. Help one another. Do not be afraid to help one another,” he said. “The devil is looking for rivalry, division, gangs. Keep working to make progress.” Before asking the prisoners to pray together in silence for few moments, Pope Francis extended his greeting to their families: “I would ask you to take my greetings to your families. Their presence and support are so important! Grandparents, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, couples, children: all of them remind us that life is worth living and that we should keep fighting for a better world.” Pope Francis also greeted those who work at Palmasola prison, saying they have “an important responsibility for facilitating the process of reintegration. It is their responsibility to raise up, not to put down, to restore dignity and not to humiliate; to encourage and not to inflict hardship. This means putting aside a mentality which sees people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but instead tries to focus on helping others. This will help to create better conditions for everyone. It will give dignity, provide motivation, and make us all better people.” He concluded by leading everyone in an extended moment of silent prayer, and then asking the inmates to continue praying for him, “because I too have my mistakes and I too must do penance.” Following his comments, the detainees gave Pope Francis a hammock, a painting, a wooden carving of the Last Supper, and a tshirt. Read more

Washington D.C., Jul 10, 2015 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For those pilgrims thinking about participating in World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Bishop Frank Caggiano has a message: It will be worth the sacrifice. The Bridgeport prelate, who is… Read more

Oklahoma City, Okla., Jul 10, 2015 / 12:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Responding to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling that a Ten Commandments monument on capitol grounds violates the state constitution, critics say that the decision is a legal outlie… Read more

Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 9, 2015 / 08:28 pm (CNA).- The California state legislature has abandoned efforts to pass a measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide – for now. Sponsors of SB 128 said July 7 that they didn’t have t… Read more

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Jul 9, 2015 / 06:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis on Thursday asked forgiveness for crimes against the indigenous peoples of Latin America during “the so-called conquest of … Read more

La Paz, Bolivia, Jul 9, 2015 / 05:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an address to international NGOs on Thursday, Pope Francis said the poor and marginalized have an irreplaceable role to play in reversing what he calls the global dictatorship of greed. “This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable,” the Pope said. “The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.” “You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot,” he continued. “I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands.” Pope Francis made his comments in a colorful, lengthy address to the Second World Meeting of the Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The three day congress gathers international NGOs to discuss modern challenges facing the poor and marginalized. The Vatican hosted the First World Meeting of the Popular Movements last October.   Bolivia is the second of three stops on the Pope’s trip to South America. He visited Ecuador July 5-8 and will spend a few days in Bolivia before heading to Paraguay on July 10 to finish his visit. During his remarks, the Pope echoed many of the points in his recent environment encyclical, “Laudato Si.” He lamented global exclusion and injustice; the farmer with no land, the family with no home, the worker with no rights. He warned that unfettered greed is the driving force behind these injustices. “Behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called ‘the dung of the devil,’” he said. “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind.” “Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.” “Let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change,” he said, adding that even those who are benefiting from the current status quo have become dissatisfied and despondent.   Pope Francis said change is urgently needed, but it will also take time. He said change is also not dependent on one political decision or change in social structure. To illustrate his point, the Pope adopted a phrase he heard during his time in Bolivia: “process of change.” “We know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure,” he said. “That is why I like the image of a “process”, where the drive to sow, to water seeds which others will see sprout, replaces the ambition to occupy every available position of power and to see immediate results.” He also said human relationships are the major agents of change in society. “Commitment, true commitment, is born of the love of men and women, of children and the elderly, of peoples and communities…of names and faces which fill our hearts. From those seeds of hope patiently sown in the forgotten fringes of our planets, from those seedlings of a tenderness which struggles to grow amid the shadows of exclusion, great trees will spring up, great groves of hope to give oxygen to our world.” Pope Francis then laid out three main goals for the NGOs gathered at the Expo Feria in Santa Cruz. First, put the economy at the service of the people, the Pope said. “Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money,” he continued. “Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.” The Pope called for communitarian economy, which he said is not only possible but a moral obligation. “For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment,” he said. “It is about giving to the poor and to the peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples. And those needs are not restricted to consumption.” The Pope then urged NGOs to work to unite communities in justice and peace. He praised growing collaboration and fraternity between many Latin American countries. But, despite this progress the Pope warned colonialism still rears its head in new and old ways. “At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor,” the Pope cautioned. “The world’s peoples want to be artisans of their own destiny..They do not want forms of tutelage or interference by which those with greater power subordinate those with less,” he said. “They want their culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions to be respected. No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice to possibility of peace and justice.” The Pope also urged NGOs to work to protect the environment, an issue he described as “perhaps the most important facing us today.” “Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin,” he said.” “I ask you, in the name of God, to defend Mother Earth.” Pope Francis promised his solidarity with the NGOs as they work to uproot global injustice and poverty. Though he admitted that even he doesn’t have a recipe to fix all the problems of the world. “Don’t expect a recipe from this Pope,” he said. “Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart.” He urged the NGOs to seek creative solutions to modern-day crises. He also cautioned NGOs to be on wary of ideological misguidance. “Be creative and never stop being rooted in local realities, since the father of lies is able to usurp noble words, to promote intellectual fads and to adopt ideological stances. But if you build on solid foundations, on real needs and on the lived experience of your brothers and sisters, of campesinos and natives, of excluded workers and marginalized families, you will surely be on the right path.” Read more

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