Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Pope visits Italy’s south to honor popular saint, Padre Pio

March 17, 2018


SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy — Pope Francis on Saturday traveled to southern Italy to honor a hugely popular Italian saint, Padre Pio, praying silently before a glass display case holding the mystic monk’s body in a shrine town that draws millions of pilgrims each year.

Francis took a helicopter from the Vatican early Saturday morning to visit Pietrelcina, the birthplace of the Capuchin monk. There he told faithful that Padre Pio “loved the holy church … and its sinner children.”

He then flew to San Giovanni Rotondo, a mountain town in the southeastern region of Puglia

Padre Pio is famed for holiness, and his popularity began to spread in 1918 when he bled from his hands, feet and sides. The monk, who died in 1968, is considered the first priest in centuries to display signs of the stigmata, or the wounds suffered by Jesus at crucifixion.

Francis made the half-day visit to the south to mark the 50th anniversary of the saint’s death and 100 years since the stigmata was seen. The phenomenon is said to have caused the monk much physical torment in his life.

Padre Pio was made a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who himself, while still a simple priest, had journeyed to Puglia from Poland in 1947 to see him for confession.

In San Giovanni Rotondo, Francis visited a chapel where the monk’s body is kept in a see-through glass case and, with his hands clasped, prayed silently for a few minutes.

He also cheered up child patients in the oncology department in the hospital that Pio founded in San Giovanni Rotondo. He wrote a message on a drawing the children had made for him, thanked them for their greeting cards, and chatted with some of their parents.

In his homily at an outdoor Mass attended by thousands of faithful, Francis spoke about those needing help in life, especially the elderly and children.

“Whoever takes care of the little ones is on God’s side and wins over the throw-out culture, which privileges the powerful and considers the poor useless,” Francis said.

Doubted and rejected by many in the Vatican for much of his life, and accused by detractors of being a fraud, Padre Pio persisted in his lifetime labor of prayer, while his popularity among rank-and-file Catholics soared.

Many Italians display photographs or paintings depicting him in their homes, shops and even cars. Devotion to him spread abroad, thanks in part to Italian emigrants, who brought with them their faith.


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Pope Francis prays in front of the mortal remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) at the Santa Maria delle Grazie sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy March 17, 2018. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERSREUTERS

Pope pays tribute to mystic monk said to have wrestled with the Devil


SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (Reuters) – Pope Francis prayed on Saturday before the body of one of Catholicism’s most popular saints, Padre Pio, a mystic monk who is said to have wrestled with the Devil.

It was Francis’ first visit as pope to this hill town in southern Italy that is a main stop along the country’s pilgrim route linking places where saints are buried.

The bearded Capuchin monk, who died in 1968 after spending most of his life here, is said by the Catholic Church to have had the “stigmata” – the bleeding wounds of Jesus on his hands and feet. He wore brown half-gloves to cover the wounds and absorb the blood from his palms.

Many people said Pio knew what they were about to confess. He is said to have told then-bishop Karol Wojytla of Poland in the mid-1960s that he would become pope. Wojtyla became Pope John Paul in 1978 and in 2002 declared Pio a saint.

Padre Pio’s biographers say he wrestled with the Devil regularly in his cell in a small monastery that is now the centerpiece of a sprawling complex receiving more than a million pilgrims a year.

Francis made a reference to Pio’s battles with the Devil earlier on Saturday when he visited Pietrelcina, the village where Pio was born in 1887.

“His soul was greatly tormented,” Francis said in improvised remarks. “He felt assailed by the Devil.”


According to monks, the last demonic tussle was in 1964, when they heard him calling from his cell at night.

They found him on the floor, his forehead split open. He told them “The Devil tried to scratch out my eyes.”

The next day, the Devil is said to have spoken through a possessed person, saying “I went to visit somebody. I took revenge.”

Pio’s body was exhumed in 2008 and partially reconstructed with a life-like silicone mask. It is preserved in a temperature-controlled glass coffin. Pilgrims toss money and notes to the saint over a wrought-iron fence.

Thousands of Padre Pio prayer groups exist around the world. One group came from Nashville in the United States.

Pio’s fame as a mystic grew in the first half of the 20th century and the town expanded with it, making the pilgrim trade the heart of its economy. Former grazing lands are now dotted with hotels.

Souvenir stalls sell everything from cheap Padre Pio key chains to life-size statues of the saint costing thousands of euros.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Bolton)


Pope’s Deal With Beijing Is ‘Putting Wolves Before Your Flock,’ Cardinal Says

February 14, 2018

Retired Hong Kong prelate rails against Holy See’s plan to unite divided Chinese Catholics

The former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, 86-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen. Photo: BOBBY YIP/Reuters


HONG KONG—As a priest in the 1980s, Joseph Zen helped revive links between the Vatican and Catholics in China after decades of religious repression by the Communist government. Now, the retired, octogenarian cardinal is trying to block Pope Francis’ detente with Beijing.

Cardinal Zen calls a Vatican plan to recognize seven bishops appointed by Beijing a betrayal to Chinese Catholics who have refused to recognize the authority of government-backed church organizations and faced persecution for their participation in “underground” communities loyal to the pope.

“You are telling them, ‘You are stupid for being loyal for so many years. Now surrender,’” Cardinal Zen said in an interview in the Hong Kong seminary he joined seven decades ago.

A Chinese Catholic plays a keyboard as she sings a hymn during mass at an underground church in April near Shijiazhuang in China’s Hebei province. China places a number of restrictions on Christians, allowing legal practice of faith only at state-approved churches. Many people have therefore been forced to worship at underground churches. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Vatican officials and Chinese supporters of the plan say healing the 70-year-old rift with Beijing is a way to bring together China’s state-backed and unauthorized church communities.

Pope Francis’ recognition of the excommunicated bishops would open the way for an already-negotiated agreement with Beijing to give him the right to veto its future appointments.

Cardinal Zen, 86 years old, lives and keeps a paper-filled office in the Salesian House of Studies, an airy, four-story neoclassical building perched on a steep slope on the east side of Hong Kong island.

Choir members sing during a Christmas Eve mass at the Southern Cathedral, an officially sanctioned Catholic church in Beijing, in 2015. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

His blog posts, interviews and a personal appeal in Rome last month to oppose bowing to Beijing on Chinese bishops have put the Vatican on the defensive and stoked debate in Catholic communities in Asia about compromising with an authoritarian government.

He ramped up his opposition to the plan after Vatican officials in December asked two underground bishops to cede authority to two Beijing appointees.

“They are appointing bad people to be the shepherds of the flocks. How can you do that?” he said in the interview, closing his eyes and shaking his fists. “You’re putting wolves before your flock, and they are going to make a massacre.”

Cardinal Zen says the Vatican risks making the same mistake with China as it did in compromising with Communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. His critics call his fierce anti-Communist stance a relic of the past.

Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen hands a letter to Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this year. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, in an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa last month, said repairing ties with Beijing would help all Catholics in China to be in communion with each other and the pope.

Cardinal Zen once shared that view. In the 1980s, after Pope John Paul II called for building bridges to Catholics in China recovering from persecution under Mao, Cardinal Zen forged ties with the government-backed church community, teaching in official seminaries.

At the time, he was optimistic for an acceptable compromise. Under Pope John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI —who elevated him to the College of Cardinals in 2006—Cardinal Zen tried to negotiate the long-sought breakthrough with Beijing.

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, meets with new leaders of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China in late 2016 in Beijing. Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA PRESS

He thought the two government-run organizations overseeing China’s Catholics could be modified to become acceptable to the Vatican. He later became convinced that Beijing wouldn’t allow it.

“I had been one of the very first to plead with the Vatican on behalf of the aboveground church,” he wrote on his blog in February 2012.

Related Coverage

Pope Francis to Bow to China With Concession on Bishops (Feb. 1, 2018)
Five Things to Know About the Catholic Church in China (Feb. 1, 2018)
Pope’s China Calculation Clashes with Image as Champion of Oppressed (Feb. 2, 2018)
Pope’s Controversial China Overture Has Cold-War Precedent (Feb. 7, 2018)
By then, he was disillusioned, having reached the conclusion that Beijing was unwilling to cede any meaningful authority to the Vatican, a view he still holds.

“The atheist government absolutely did not change its policy of total control of religion,” he wrote at the time.

The last time the Vatican appeared close to a deal with Beijing, in 2016, Cardinal Zen said it would be better to pray alone than join churches that take their orders from Beijing.

“You can pray at home,” he wrote. “Even if you can’t be a priest anymore, you can go home and plow the fields. A priest is always a priest.”

Born to Catholic parents in Shanghai in 1932, Zen Ze-kiun grew up during the Chinese Civil War and left shortly before the Communist victory and the beginning of Mao’s 27-year rule. He arrived alone in Hong Kong to join the Catholic Salesian order in 1948.

Cardinal Zen joins leading pro-democracy activists in front of a Hong Kong police station in January 2015. Photo: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Taking contentious stands became a familiar role. His fellow Salesians dubbed him “tiger” for his sharp tongue, according to longtime acquaintances.

After his appointment by Pope John Paul II as assistant and designated successor to the bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, shortly before the British colony’s handover to Chinese rule, he urged people to defend their civil liberties against its new rulers in Beijing.

At 79, he held a three-day hunger strike to show his disapproval of new Hong Kong government oversight of Catholic schools.

“The reason why I am talking so much,” he wrote on Feb. 5 on his blog, “is because I’m afraid pretty soon I won’t be able to talk anymore.”

Write to Eva Dou at

A crane winching a large red cross from one Guantou’s three domes

A crane winches a large red cross from one of three domes on the Guantou church in Wenzhou


Hong Kong cardinal says Vatican deal with China ‘evil’ — There’s the Vatican and then there’s China’s Catholic Church

February 9, 2018


© AFP/File | Cardinal Joseph Zen is a staunch opponent of any rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing

HONG KONG (AFP) – A war of words between a Hong Kong bishop and the Vatican escalated Friday with the outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen calling the Pope’s warming ties to Communist China “evil”.Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations in 1951, and although ties have improved in recent years as China’s Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain bishops.

The Vatican relaunched long-stalled negotiations three years ago and now seems to be nearing concrete steps towards solving the major stumbling block of how to designate bishops.

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 Cardinal Joseph Zen. Photo by Dickson Lee, SCMP.

The issue has flared up again after two underground Chinese bishops, recognised by the pope, were asked by a top Vatican diplomat to resign in favour of state-sanctioned prelates, including one who was excommunicated by the Vatican in 2011.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of semi-autonomous Hong Kong and a staunch opponent of any rapprochement between the Vatican and Beijing, last month accused the Holy See of “selling out” to Beijing by reportedly promoting bishops endorsed by the Chinese government.

On Friday, the cardinal stepped up his rhetoric again.

“I am not objecting to an imperfect agreement — that I can accept — but not an evil one, not one that runs counter to the principle of our church,” Zen said on a local radio programme.

“They say they are doing it step by step, and yes it’s fine to do it step by step, but you can’t make a sinful step,” he added.

China’s roughly 12 million Catholics are divided between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party, and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.

The secretive negotiations between the two sides could come down to the Vatican recognising some of the bishops chosen by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in exchange for a more benevolent attitude from Beijing.

Zen revealed earlier that he had appealed to the pope in a private meeting in Rome last month, where he delivered a letter from one of the bishops who was asked to step aside, Zhuang Jianjian.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Why the Pope Is Genuflecting to China

February 9, 2018

On Feb. 1, the same day that new repressive regulations of religion went into force in China, the Vatican took a deep bow before Beijing. After long resisting, it finally agreed to recognize several hack bishops designated by the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), even sidelining two of its own long-serving appointees for the occasion.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the outspoken, blogging, 86-year-old retired archbishop of Hong Kong, had recently flown to Vatican City to personally plead the case of the two bishops to the pope himself. How nettlesome. He was shoved off, and has since been called an “obstacle” to a deal between the Vatican and Beijing.

The reasons the Holy See is caving to the (atheist) Communist government are not entirely transparent, but it appears to be hoping for a historic thaw. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1951, not long after the Communists came to power in China, and relations have since been testy at best.

Catholics in China are thought to number between 9 million and 12 million today, with about half of them adhering to underground congregations loyal to the pope in Rome and refusing to recognize a state-sanctioned version of the Church called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association or, more informally, the “patriotic church.”

One major conflict between the two governments has been the method for appointing bishops: Traditionally a prerogative of the papacy, Beijing has steadily tried to usurp it in China. The deal that the Vatican currently seems to be seeking would likely formalize some joint vetting procedure.

The Vatican justifies its conciliatory stance toward Beijing as an attempt to overcome the schism that has divided the Catholic community in China for nearly seven decades — as “a balm of mercy,” it has said, for the pain caused by the barriers that have prevented Chinese Catholics “from living in communion with each other and with the Pope.”

Rapprochement could also give the pope, nominally at least, ultimate authority over all the Catholics in China — a standing, however symbolic, that may well matter to a Vatican that is losing ground to other Christian denominations among Chinese converts.

The total population of Christians in China has grown considerably, from about 4 million in 1949 to perhaps as many as 100 million today. In relative terms, however, Catholics are falling behind. By some estimates, whereas Catholics in China outnumbered Protestants by 3 to 1 in 1949, today Protestants outnumber Catholics by 5 to 1.

A major explanation for the increasing differential is that the Roman Catholic Church wields not only religious and moral authority, but also political and diplomatic power.

The Catholic Church has a relatively unified command structure, a well-defined ideology and a disciplined organizational backbone. It has global reach and mass appeal, commands great loyalty and has long demonstrated the ability to survive and expand, all on the merits of peaceful soft power. In each of these ways, it rivals, perhaps even bests, the C.C.P.

And so, naturally, the C.C.P. sees Chinese Catholics’ allegiance to the pope as a direct challenge to their allegiance to the party. Vatican City is also, still, among the 20 states, all small, that recognize Taiwan diplomatically.

Many Protestant churches, although deemed suspect as well, are on better terms with the C.C.P. After a visit to Beijing in 1983, the archbishop of Canterbury gushed about liberalization in China and reportedly praised the emergence of “a church with Chinese characteristics.”

Like his predecessor, the current Anglican archbishop overseeing Hong Kong and Macau is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a body including luminaries that supposedly advises the C.C.P. but often promotes the party’s interests informally or clandestinely. Both men have tended to support Beijing’s restrictive readingof democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and opposed the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement of 2014.

Representatives of other faiths have gone further. A vice president of the Buddhist Association of China called President Xi Jinping’s speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress last fall, “the Buddhist sutra of the current age.” Buddhists in China — who are variously said to number between more than 100 million to more than 240 million — have been treated with a relatively light hand by the party, at least if they are not of the Tibetan kind.

Yet even if brown-nosing seems to pay off, the Vatican’s appeasement of the Chinese government would have great downsides, for itself and for the rest of the world.

By recognizing China’s so-called patriotic church, the Vatican could harm the wholesomeness of Catholic teachings in the country. Sermons given in government-sanctioned churches already have been known to exclude passages of the Bible deemed politically subversive (like the story of Daniel) or to include Communist Party propaganda.

Millions of faithful Catholics in China might also soon feel abandoned, perhaps even betrayed, after having suffered decades of oppression. Worse, the government, emboldened by the deal, could well come down even harder on them. In fact, the religious regulations that recently came into effect include much stiffer fines on underground churches and penalties for public-school teachers who give Sunday-school lessons on their own time.

And then, rapprochement might augur the Vatican’s readiness to eventually stop recognizing Taipei and instead recognize Beijing as truly representing China. Such a shift would alter the delicate balance of power across the Taiwan Strait, as well as harm Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. It would also confer legitimacy — and with the pope’s imprimatur! — on authoritarian regimes throughout the world that crack down on churches and sects.

The Catholic Church already has a checkered record dealing with fascist or totalitarian states. Pope Pius XII was criticized for betraying the Jews of Europe during World War II: Hewing to what he described as a position of neutrality between the Nazis and the Allies, he never denounced Hitler’s Final Solution. After Soviet forces violently repressed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the Vatican sidelined the outspoken anticommunist Archbishop József Mindszenty in favor of a deal with the new puppet regime.

The Vatican’s eagerness to play catch-up in China today may do it no favors either.

Beijing doesn’t have much of a reputation for honoring commitments. Just look at its application of the “one country, two systems” arrangement it promised Hong Kong, which was supposed to guarantee the city a large degree of autonomy until 2047.

Even under the deal the Vatican seems to want, the Chinese government could eventually come to control the Catholic Church in China — by, say, simply delaying nominating anyone for bishop or repeatedly rejecting candidates presented by the Vatican until all the bishops previously selected by the pope have retired or died out. Bishops ordain priests and so without bishops, in time there could be no priests, or very few, and Catholicism in China would have died a silent death.

Four decades ago, when a destitute China was emerging from deep Maoism, Western companies got tipsy at the mere notion of selling deodorant to two billion Chinese armpits. Now that average Chinese have much more disposable income, major international corporations are willing to hand over proprietary technologystoically endure violent xenophobic outburstsand take on members of the Chinese Communist Party as senior managersrather than risk losing out on the business prospects.

No one, it seems, can resist the lure of the great market of China, for deodorants, cars — or congregants. Not even the Vatican.

China, the Vatican and a controversial deal

February 4, 2018

BBC News

  • 4 February 2018
Pope Francis
Pope Francis says he would like to visit China. Getty Images

China and the Vatican are close to reaching a historic deal regarding the appointment of bishops, according to media reports.

An agreement could be signed in a few months, said a senior Vatican source. If reached, it would be a breakthrough in relations for both parties.

But what exactly is in the pipeline and what would it mean for the country’s 10 million Catholics?

What are relations between China and the Vatican like?

Ties between two have long been strained by disputes over who can appoint bishops in the country.

China first broke off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951, and many Catholics were forced to go underground during former communist leader Mao Zedong’s rule, emerging only in the 1980s when religious practices were tolerated again.

Today, Catholics in China face the choice of attending state-sanctioned churches approved by Beijing or worshipping in underground congregations.

The underground churches recognise only the Vatican’s authority, whereas the Chinese state churches refuse to accept the authority of the Pope.

There are currently about 100 Catholic bishops in China, with some approved by Beijing, some approved by the Vatican and, informally, many now approved by both.

Inside a home church in Beijing
People praying at an underground church

Relations between both parties appear to be thawing.

Last year, Pope Francis made his thoughts about China known, saying that he would like to visit China “as soon as they send me an invitation”. The pontiff also added that he hoped there was the “possibility to have good relations with China”.

Chinese and Vatican officials have met at least four times since 2016 over the issue of the appointment of bishops, state media report.

What is in the agreement?

Under the agreement, the Vatican would be given a say in the appointment of future bishops in China, a Vatican source told news agency Reuters.

For Beijing, an agreement with the Vatican could allow them more control over the country’s underground churches.

Father Dong Guanhua has been kicked out of the Chinese Catholic church for calling himself a bishop

Globally, it would also enhance China’s prestige – to have the world’s rising superpower engaging with one of the world’s major religions.

Symbolically, it would the first sign of rapprochement between China and the Catholic church in more than half a century.

The Vatican is the only European state that maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It is currently unclear if an agreement between China and the Vatican would affect this in any way.

What will this mean for the country’s Catholics?

There are currently around 10 million Roman Catholics in China.

It’s not certain how such an agreement will affect the community, though some are sceptical.

Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong had on Wednesday criticised the Vatican for its attempts at diplomacy with China, accusing the Church of forcing bishops to retire in favour of replacements picked by Beijing.

“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China?” he wrote on Facebook. “Yes, definitely.”

Others however, are slightly more hopeful.

Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian priest who has spent 60 years trying to help Chinese Catholics, said that he believed China was “ready to have a dialogue.”

“For 2,000 years in China, the emperor was emperor and pope at the same time,” he told the BBC. “But China has changed and the Church has changed and this is what constitutes a new opportunity for this dialogue to succeed.”


Pope’s China Calculation Clashes with Image as Champion of Oppressed — Vatican Caves In To China — Ukrainian Catholics also Angry

February 3, 2018

Some believers say they feel abandoned when Pope Francis pursues diplomatic goals in China, Russia, Mideast

Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees during an Easter Week Mass in 2016 outside Rome.Photo: Sipa USA

ROME—Pope Francis’ recent decision to replace two Chinese bishops loyal to Rome with selectees of the country’s Communist government, heralding his broader moves to reset the Vatican’s ties with Beijing, has drawn cries of betrayal from advocates of the country’s long-persecuted “underground” Catholic Church.

The pope’s actions in China are characteristic of a leader who has repeatedly practiced realpolitik to achieve important goals. But they clash with Pope Francis’ image among many Catholics and others as a defender of the oppressed—a profile likely to be further tested by his campaign to improve Vatican-China relations after seven decades of estrangement.

The pope has decided to recognize seven government-appointed Chinese bishops, according to a person familiar with the matter, in a major concession to Beijing in pursuit of warmer relations and—in the very long term—possible reestablishment of diplomatic ties broken in 1951. As part of that decision, Pope Francis has moved to replace two bishops loyal to the Vatican with prelates from China’s state-controlled Catholic church.

Cardinal Joseph Zen marching to urge Hong Kong voters to the polls in 2014. Photo: bobby yip/Reuters

Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, wrote on Monday that the Vatican seemed to be “selling out the Catholic Church in China.” Vatican officials now expect the pope’s stance in China to provoke more such criticisms from Chinese Catholics who reject government control of the church.

This isn’t the first time Catholics have complained that the pope has abandoned them in pursuit of diplomatic or political ends. But while the outcome of his China initiative remains uncertain, when Pope Francis has seemed to make such trade-offs in the past, the nature of his long-term goals has generally limited the outcry and any damage to his image.

Pope Francis “is a man of extreme realism who calculates very much the effects of what he says or does,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine. “In order to achieve certain results he is quite ready to play down the concern that he otherwise shows for the persecuted and the oppressed.”

Ukrainian Christians say Pope Francis has deemphasized Russian aggression against their country by describing the fight against Russian-backed separatists in the east as “fratricidal.” They say that stance reflects his effort to cultivate relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin. In 2016, he achieved a dramatic milestone in his effort to reunify the Catholic and Orthodox churches after a 1,000-year split when he held the first meeting by a pope with a Russian Orthodox Patriarch.

Similarly, Middle Eastern Christians have accused the pope of neglecting their plight to promote better ties with Islam, such as when he brought only Muslims back with him after a 2016 visit to a refugee camp in Greece. His conciliatory approach to the Muslim world, including his repeated insistence that Islamist terrorism is in no way inspired by religion, has been widely understood as an effort to make peace with a religion with more than 1.6 billion followers world-wide.

Many saw that approach as vindicated in 2017, when an audience at a Muslim university in Egypt welcomed the pope’s denunciation of violence committed in the name of God.


  • Pope Francis to Bow to China With Concession on Bishops
  • Five Things to Know About the Catholic Church in China

In China, the pope seeks to increase at least incrementally the religious liberty of Catholics, even by means of compromise with an officially atheistic state. He also seeks to unify the underground Catholic community and members of the state-controlled church.

A number of Catholics and their sympathizers are bound to deplore that policy no matter what happens next. Whether the rest of the world judges it as prudence or opportunism will depend on its success.

Write to Francis X. Rocca at

Modi to deliver first keynote speech at World Economic Forum in Davos

January 23, 2018

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to his supporters as he arrives to address them .PHOTO: REUTERS

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND (AFP, BLOOMBERG) – After a gala opening set against spectacular snowfall, the World Economic Forum (WEF) starts in earnest on Tuesday (Jan 23) basking in robust global growth but facing warnings that the world’s have-nots are missing out more than ever.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to deliver the first keynote speech of the WEF in Davos, where his key message will be that India is open for business and the economy can contribute to world growth as living standards improve at home, said Vijay Gokhale, New Delhi’s top diplomat for economic affairs.

Modi’s debut at the WEF comes a year after Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to address the conference, mounting a strong defense of globalisation amid US President Donald Trump’s trade threats.

Modi’s speech is scheduled for 11am in Davos (6pm Singapore time).

At the end of the forum, Trump is expected to deliver an address, a year after he took office on a populist platform.

The president’s trip to the Swiss ski resort had seemed in doubt due to a government shutdown triggered by congressional warfare last week. But a deal that took shape on Monday freed him to travel, the White House said.

Undermining rosy data on the world economy are warnings that elite fora such as Davos must start finding solutions for everyone else down the income ladder as the “one percent” amass untold riches a decade since a major financial crisis erupted.

“We certainly should feel encouraged, but we should not feel satisfied,” International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde said on Monday in presenting an upbeat update to the organisation’s forecasts for global growth.

“First of all, there are still too many people left out from the recovery and acceleration of growth,” she said.

Accounting group PwC underscored the IMF’s positive outlook with survey findings pointing to record confidence among company bosses worldwide.

The survey had good news for Trump, touting his party’s huge corporate tax cut as a boon for the US and foreign investors.

But in a separate report unveiled in Davos, Oxfam said the world’s richest one percent raked in 82 per cent of the wealth created last year while the poorest half of the population received none.

The British charity described a global economy in which the wealthy few amass ever-greater fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are “struggling to survive on poverty pay”.

“The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said.

And in a message to the Davos forum, Pope Francis warned that debates about technological progress and economic growth must not supplant concern for humanity at large.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of the suffering of millions of people whose dignity is wounded,” the pontiff’s message said.

Few countries display the abyss between rich and poor as much as India, where newly minted billionaires live in close proximity to street urchins. The gap endures despite rapid growth under Modi’s right-wing government.

The Hindu nationalist leader – accompanied by several ministers, a high-powered business delegation, and two yoga instructors – will advertise India’s appeal for investors as he vies to untangle decades-worth of red tape.

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was one of three celebrities awarded on Monday night by the WEF for their humanitarian work, along with singer Elton John and actress Cate Blanchett.

That ceremony was followed by a ballet performance featuring music derived from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” – fitting on a night that saw the Alpine resort of Davos hit by its heaviest snowfall in two decades and avalanche warnings raised.

After Tuesday, the week will continue with appearances by some 70 other leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, whose campaign for a “French Renaissance” kicked into overdrive Monday as his government welcomed 140 multinational business leaders en route to Davos.

Perhaps looking on enviously was British Prime Minister Theresa May, who faces the challenge in Davos of persuading many of the same bosses that Britain remains a safe haven for investment, despite its messy Brexit divorce from the European Union.

Pope urges hope in visit to Peru area devastated by floods — “Fill your lives always with the Gospel. Never lose faith and hope in Jesus” — “Unite your suffering to Christ’s suffering on the cross.”

January 21, 2018


TRUJILLO, Peru (Reuters) – Pope Francis, visiting an area of Peru that was devastated last year by heavy rains linked to climate change and plagued by gang violence, urged people not to lose hope.

On his penultimate day in Peru, Francis flew north to the this city near the Pacific Ocean to say Mass for about 200,000 people on the beach at the nearby oceanside town of Huanchaco.

“Peruvians today do not have the right to lose hope,” he said in improvised comments in his homily to the vast crowd from his vantage point on a huge altar overlooking the Pacific.

Trujillo, capital of the region of La Libertad, was hit by major floods after six landslides in less than a week at the beginning of 2017, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless. The vast majority of people affected were poor.

 Image result for Pope Francis, in Perus, photos

The disaster was caused by the climatic phenomenon called Niño Costero, a warming of surface waters on the Pacific Ocean that generates intense rains on the coast of South America. Scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

“You know the power of nature, you have experienced its force,” Francis said. “You had to face the brunt of the ‘Niño Costero’ whose painful consequences are still present in so many families, especially those who are not yet able to rebuild their homes”.

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass next to a statue of the Virgin de la Puerta, at Huanchaco beach in Trujillo, Peru, Jan. 20, 2018.

Apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media broadened the sense of chaos. Bridges collapsed as rivers breached their banks and cows and pigs turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.


Francis, who has often warned about the effects that climate change has on the poor, wrote a major document in 2015 on the need to protect the environment in which he backed scientists who say climate change is at least partially caused by the burning of fossil fuels.


Throughout Peru, an unusually brutal rainy season last year killed at least 162 people, slowed economic growth sharply and caused damage equivalent to 2 percent of Peru’s gross domestic product. The cost of rebuilding damaged infrastructure was expected to be about $8 billion.


In his homily, Francis also mentioned increasing violence in the Trujillo area, where there have been hundreds of murders related to drug trafficking.



The pope said “organized violence, like contract killings, and the insecurity they breed,” insecure housing, and unemployment were the other “storms” the area had to bear.


Thousands of people spent the night on the beach in tents and sleeping bags waiting for the pope.


“You cannot imagine the enthusiasm we have for the pope, our faith is so great that it makes us forget the cold and fatigue in this vigil,” said Roger Montañez, 56, who was wrapped in a blanket to protect from the ocean breeze.


Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Bill Trott




Pope in Peru: When Storms Come, Have Faith in Jesus
‘The crucified Jesus wants to be close to us,’ Francis said at Mass Saturday. ‘Fill your lives always with the Gospel.’
HUANCHACO, Peru — In a homily Saturday, Pope Francis spoke about the natural disasters Peru experienced over the last year, praising the way in which Peruvians joined together to help one another during these difficult moments.
“I know that, in the time of darkness, when you felt the brunt of the [storm], these lands kept moving forward,” the Pope said during Mass near Trujillo, Peru, Jan. 20.
Like the five wise virgins in the parable in the day’s Gospel, the people of Peru were prepared with “the oil needed to go out to help one another, like true brothers and sisters,” he continued. “You had the oil of solidarity and generosity that stirred you to action, and you went out to meet the Lord with countless concrete gestures of support.”
The Mass, which took place in Huanchaco, a beach town outside the city of Trujillo, was part of Pope Francis’ Jan. 18-21 visit to Peru.
In his homily he referred to the “Niño,” or “Coastal El Niño,” the name given to a weather phenomenon off the coast of Peru and Ecuador, which began in December 2016. The pattern caused warmer-than-usual water temperatures off the coasts of the two countries, which in turn triggered heavy rainfalls in the mountains.
The excess run-off from the rains caused severe flooding and mudslides, devastating parts of Peru, particularly in the north. Trujillo, Peru’s third-most-populated city, was one of the worst hit after a period of heavy rains last March caused mudslides and flooding, directly affecting around 800,000 people and killing almost 100.
Francis encouraged Peruvians not to lose heart during these times of trials, but to use this Eucharistic celebration as an opportunity to unite their suffering to Christ’s suffering on the cross.
“These times of being ‘buffeted,’” he said, “call into question and challenge our strength of spirit and our deepest convictions. They make us realize how important it is to stand united, not alone, and to be filled with that unity which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.”
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Pope Francis waves from his pope mobile as arrives to celebrate Mass on Huanchaco Beach, near the city of Trujillo, Peru, Jan. 20, 2018
Many people are still suffering from the damage caused by “Coastal El Niño,” the Pope noted. And it’s possible these difficulties have caused their faith to waver.
If this is the case, “we want to unite ourselves to Jesus,” he said, because “[Jesus] knows our pain and our trials; he endured the greatest of sufferings in order to accompany us in our own trials. The crucified Jesus wants to be close to us in every painful situation, to give us a hand and to help lift us up.”
Like the story of the 10 virgins in the Gospel reading, who were surprised by the bridegroom’s arrival in the middle of the night, the storms of life — both the physical storms as well as other difficulties — can catch us off-guard.
In the passage, we learn that five of the virgins were prepared with oil for their lamps and five were not. “At the appointed time, each of them showed what they had filled their life with,” Francis noted, and “the same thing happens to us.”
“There are times when we realize what we have filled our lives with. How important it is to fill our lives with the oil that lets us light our lamps in situations of darkness and to find the paths to move forward!”
He commended the Peruvians for being well-prepared with the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that “in the midst of darkness, you, together with so many others, were like living candles that lighted up the path with open hands, ready to help soothe the pain and share what you had, from your poverty, with others.”
“Fill your lives always with the Gospel,” he concluded. “I want to encourage you to be a community that lets itself be anointed by the Lord with the oil of the Spirit. He transforms, renews and strengthens everything.”

Pope shocks Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slander

January 19, 2018

AFP and The Associated Press

© Vincenzo Pinto, AFP | Pope Francis celebrates an open-air mass at Maquehue airport in Temuco, 800km south of Santiago, Chile, on January 17, 2018.


Latest update : 2018-01-19

Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious paedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima in Chile, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”

The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.

“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

The Karadima scandal dominated Francis’ visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church cover-up was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

Karadima’s victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Karadima’s victims say Barros knew of the abuse, having seen it, but did nothing. Barros has denied the allegations.

His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno diocese and further undermined the church’s already shaky credibility in the country.

Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.

We pray to God for the courage to ask forgiveness and to learn how to listen to what he is saying to us.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Francis had defended the appointment before, calling the Osorno controversy “stupid” and the result of a campaign mounted by leftists. But The Associated Press reported last week that the Vatican was so worried about the fallout from the Karadima affair that it was prepared in 2014 to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and go on a yearlong sabbatical.

According to a Jan. 31, 2015, letter obtained by AP from Francis to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, the plan fell apart and Barros was sent to Osorno.

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who have mounted a three-year campaign against Barros, questioned why Francis was now accusing the victims of slandering Barros when the Vatican was so convinced of their claims that it planned to remove him in 2014.

“Isn’t the pastoral problem that we’re living (in Osorno) enough to get rid of him?” Claret asked.

The reference was to the fact that   guilty or not   Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don’t recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.

‘Sad and wrong’

Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database, said it was “sad and wrong” for the pope to discredit the victims since “the burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims   and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed.”

“He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis,” she said in a statement. “Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”

Indeed, Catholic officials for years accused victims of slandering and attacking the church with their claims. But up until Francis’ words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.

German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago’s Universidad Mayor, said the pope’s comments were a “tremendous error” that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.

Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said Francis had gone much further than Chilean bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal, which many Chileans appreciated.

“Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: ‘By the way, I don’t think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,’” Navia said, adding that the comment will probably erase any good will the pope had won over the issue.

Navia said the Karadima scandal had radically changed how Chileans view the church.

“In the typical Chilean family, parents (now) think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen,” Navia said.


Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, January 11, 2018 — The Lesson of Total Defeat and the Cure of a Leper — Never Surrender Hope

January 10, 2018

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 308

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Lepers beg Jesus that they be healed

Reading 1 1 SM 4:1-11

The Philistines gathered for an attack on Israel.
Israel went out to engage them in battle and camped at Ebenezer,
while the Philistines camped at Aphek.
The Philistines then drew up in battle formation against Israel.
After a fierce struggle Israel was defeated by the Philistines,
who slew about four thousand men on the battlefield.
When the troops retired to the camp, the elders of Israel said,
“Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today
by the Philistines?
Let us fetch the ark of the LORD from Shiloh
that it may go into battle among us
and save us from the grasp of our enemies.”So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there
the ark of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim.
The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were with the ark of God.
When the ark of the LORD arrived in the camp,
all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth resounded.
The Philistines, hearing the noise of shouting, asked,
“What can this loud shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?”
On learning that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp,
the Philistines were frightened.
They said, “Gods have come to their camp.”
They said also, “Woe to us! This has never happened before. Woe to us!
Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?
These are the gods that struck the Egyptians
with various plagues and with pestilence.
Take courage and be manly, Philistines;
otherwise you will become slaves to the Hebrews,
as they were your slaves.
So fight manfully!”
The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated;
every man fled to his own tent.
It was a disastrous defeat,
in which Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers.
The ark of God was captured,
and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were among the dead.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25

R. (27b) Redeem us, Lord, because of your mercy.
Yet now you have cast us off and put us in disgrace,
and you go not forth with our armies.
You have let us be driven back by our foes;
those who hated us plundered us at will.
R. Redeem us, Lord, because of your mercy.
You made us the reproach of our neighbors,
the mockery and the scorn of those around us.
You made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples.
R. Redeem us, Lord, because of your mercy.
Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth.
R. Redeem us, Lord, because of your mercy.

Alleluia  SEE MT 4:23

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom
and cured every disease among the people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Jesus heals


Gospel  MK 1:40-45

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched the leper, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Pope Francis’ Reflection For 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and Mark 1:40-45

Faith makes the difference between victory and defeat, says Pope Francis, and faith is not something we learn in books, but simply a gift — a gift we should ask for.

The Holy Father contrasted the defeat of the Israelites recounted in the First Reading with the victory of the leper recounted in the Gospel.

Taken from Samuel, the First Reading speaks of the Philistines’ conquest: “the slaughter was very great,” and the people lost everything, “[even] their dignity,” the Pope noted.

“What led to this defeat?” he asked. It was because the people “slowly walked away from the Lord, lived in a worldly fashion, and even kept with idols.”

The people went out to the Sanctuary of Shiloh, but, “as if it were a mere cultural habit,” he said. They had lost their filial relationship with God – they did not worship God – and He left them alone.

Even the Ark of the Covenant was viewed more as a magic talisman, Francis said. “In the Ark,” he recalled, “was the Law – the Law that they did not keep and which they had abandoned.” There was no longer “a personal relationship with the Lord – they had forgotten the God who had saved them,” and were defeated.

Thirty thousand Israelites were slain, the Ark was taken by the Philistines, the two sons of Eli, “those criminal priests who exploited people in the Sanctuary of Shiloh,” met their end. It was “a total defeat,” the Pope said. “Thus does a people that has distanced itself from God meet its end.”

Moving mountains

The Gospel of the day, however, speaks of a victory, the Pontiff explained:

“At that time, a leper came to Jesus and begged him on his knees – precisely in a gesture of adoration – and said, ‘Look, you can make me clean.’ He challenged the Lord, saying, ‘I have been defeated in life’ – the leper had suffered defeat, insofar as he could not live life in common with others, he was always cast off – ‘but you [he said to the Lord] can turn this defeat into victory!.’ That is: ‘Look, you can make me clean.’ Before this Jesus had compassion, he stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘I desire that you be made clean!’

“So, simply: this fight is over in two minutes and ends in victory; that other lasts all day long, and ends with the defeat. The man had something that drove him to go to Jesus and send up the challenge: he had faith.”

The Apostle John says that the victory over the world is our faith. “Our faith wins, always!”:

“Faith is the victory. Faith: like [that of] this man [who said], ‘If you want to, you can do it.’ The losers of the First Reading prayed to God, bearing the ark, but they had no faith, they had forgotten it. This leper had faith, and when you ask with faith, Jesus himself told us, mountains will move. We are able to move a mountain from one place to another: faith is capable of this. Jesus himself said, ‘Whatever you ask the Father in my name, you will be given. Ask and you shall receive; knock and it shall be opened,’ but with faith – and this, this is our victory.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily with this prayer:

“We ask the Lord that our prayers always have that root of faith, that they be born of faith in Him. The grace of faith: faith is a gift. You do not learn [it] from books. It is a gift that the Lord gives you, but just ask for it: ‘Give me faith!’ ‘I believe, Lord!’, said the man who asked Jesus to heal his son: ‘I ask Lord, that you help my unbelief.’ Prayer with faith … and the man is healed.

“We ask God for the grace to pray with faith, to be sure that everything we ask of Him we will be given, with the confidence that faith gives us – and this is our victory, our faith.”



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Homily from the Abbot of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
It is not easy for us to understand being excluded completely from society, as were lepers in much of the Old Testament and even in the time of Jesus. Perhaps at this time in history, a close approximation to this situation would be someone who has just returned from a countrywiththeebola virus. There can be an enormous fear of being infected and a complete rejection of the person who has beeninanebola area.Thinking aboutebola and the scare that it can cause helps us understand the first reading and the Gospel today. The first reading, from the Book of Leviticus, tells us about how lepers are to be treated. We understand this attempt at quarantine as an effort to protect the community as a whole. Such efforts are not rejection of a person but an honest attempt to deal with the disease the person might spread and which could affect the whole people.The person afflicted with leprosy seeks healing in order to be allowed back into normal society.

Most of us don’t want to be completely shunned by others! We want to belong to society even if we don’t need to be the center of attention. Sotoo the person with leprosy. He or she would want to become part of the community once again but it would be impossible for most of them. For a few, whatever disease afflicted them might disappear and they could be readmitted.In the Gospel, a leper comes to Jesus and is cured. Jesus tells the leper not to tell others. That is impossible. The Gospel tells us that then Jesus begins to remain outside, in deserted places. That is to say, Jesus begins to live as most lepers lived: apart from others and in deserted places. It is almost as if Jesus trades place with the leper after he cures him.Two challenges present themselves to us today. Am I willing to pray for the life of others and to ask God to cure them? Most of us Christians, followers of Jesus, are able to pray for others. But am I willing to offer my own life for the sake of another person? It is not just the healing of the other person, but am I willing to take on the form of a slave, as was Jesus?

Am I willing to become outcast from all others so that another person can be accepted once more within the human community? Am I willing not to seek my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved? This is the teaching of the First Letter to the Corinthians in the second reading today.

To follow Jesus and to ask the healing presence of Jesus is not about doing good without a cost! Instead, I must be willing to give up my life for others, as did our Lord Jesus. There is no life in Christ without being willing to give up my life. There is always a cost to following Jesus. Yet we know that if we give all, He also will give us all in His Kingdom. Praise God forever!


Commentary on Mark 1:40-45 from Living Space

This healing story does not actually belong to that “Day in the life of Jesus” which we reflected on over the past two days.

Lepers were among the most piteous of people in scriptural times. Although little was known of the origin of the sickness, it was clearly known to be contagious and therefore greatly feared. The only solution was to isolate the victim and not allow him/her to approach people. So, apart from the appalling physical disintegration of body and limbs, there was the social ostracism, the contempt and the fear which the victim engendered.

What was probably even more tragic was that many who were branded as lepers were suffering from some other ailment, which may not have been contagious at all – such as ulcers, cancer or other skin diseases (some of them perhaps purely psychosomatic). The signs for diagnosis are given in chapter 13 of the Book of Leviticus and, by our standards today, are rather primitive indeed. The room for a wrong diagnosis was huge. It was a question of being safe rather than sorry.

The leper in the story indicates his great faith and trust in Jesus, a necessary and sufficient condition for healing in the Gospel. “If you wish, you can make me clean,” he says. He knows this because he has undoubtedly seen or heard of what others have experienced.

Jesus is filled with a deep sense of compassion for the man’s plight. Highlighting the emotional feelings of Jesus is a characteristic of Mark’s gospel and is seldom found in Matthew. What Jesus feels is compassion not just pity. In pity we feel sorry for the person; in compassion, we enter into the feelings of the other, we empathize with their experience. And in doing so Jesus does the unthinkable – he reaches out to touch the leper. This must have been a healing act in itself. The leper was by definition untouchable. “I do will it.” says Jesus, “Be made clean.” The man is immediately healed.

But that is not the end of the story because the man has still to be reintegrated into the community – this is the second part of the healing process. He is told to go to the priests to make the customary offering of thanksgiving. They will examine him and then pronounce him fit to re-enter society.

He is also told not to say anything to anyone about it. Jesus wanted no sensationalism. But how could the man refrain from telling everybody about his wonderful experience of coming in contact with the whole-making power of Jesus? He becomes an ardent evangeliser, a spreader of good news – something we are all called to be.

What is the outcome of our experience of knowing Jesus? How come we do not have the enthusiasm of this man? It is worth noting that that experience was the result of his first having been the victim of a terrible cross. It is often in our crosses that grace appears.

Once again, Jesus goes out into the desert to avoid the enthusiastic crowds. Jesus was not interested in having “fans”, only genuine followers. He would not be ready until his full identity was recognised. That would only happen as he hung dying on the cross (Mark 15:39)

Before we leave this story, we may ask who are the lepers in our society today? One very obvious group are those who have contracted contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases which are becoming ever more widespread. Even though these are of little danger to most people who have no physical contact, the victims are often rejected in fear or disgust or embarrassment by family members, friends, employers, colleagues, even medical people.

There are also people like homosexuals. If many of them are not lepers it is simply because they dare not reveal their orientation. They dare not do so because they are most likely to be “leper-ized” by even family and friends. There are other marginal groups – nomadic groups like Romanies, drug addicts, poor single mothers, the homeless, alcoholics… Indeed, we have many lepers among us. Let us examine our attitudes today and revise them if necessary.


The leper women as shown in the film “Ben Hur”
Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
11 JANUARY, 2018, Thursday, 1st Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 SM 4:1-11Mk 1:40-45   ]

When we experience failure at work or in ministry, we tend to blame others for our difficulties.  We try to look for scapegoats for our mistakes.  This was the case of the Israelites.  When they were defeated by the Philistines, “about four thousand of their army were killed on the field”, they began to ask “Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines?”  Instead of looking at themselves, the morale of the soldiers, the moral standards of the officers, their military preparedness, they sought other reasons.

Oftentimes, when we feel guilty about our sins, we can become overly superstitious.  Instead of putting our house in order, we think God is taking revenge on us.   The Israelites came to conclude that it was because the Ark of the Covenant was not there.  Instead of repenting for their sins, they took out the Ark of the Covenant.  They said, “Let us fetch the ark of our God from Shiloh so that it may come among us and rescue us from the power of our enemies.’  So the troops sent to Shiloh and brought away the ark of the Lord of hosts, he who is seated on the cherubs; the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, came with the ark.  When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel gave a great shout so that the earth resounded.”  Religion became a means to satisfy their selfish interests.  Instead of being used by God and allowing Him to work in our lives, we seek to make use of God and to control how He is to fulfill our whims and fancies.

The Israelites’ faith in God was based on a mere superstitious belief in the mechanical action of God through the Ark of the Covenant, when in fact it was but a symbol and a promise of His presence with them.  Unless they were open to His presence and faithful to His covenant, the Ark could not save them. As a result, they were slaughtered by the Philistines.  “So the Philistines joined battle and Israel was defeated, each man fleeing to his tent.  The slaughter was great indeed, and there fell of the Israelites thirty thousand foot soldiers.  The Ark of God was captured too, and the two sons of Eli died, Hophni and Phinehas.”

This is true for many of us.  There are many Catholics who hardly pray or attend Church services regularly and least of all, live an upright life, but they would carry their rosary and wear blessed medals for divine protection.   Some think that if they wear the scapular, they will be protected from all harm and be assured of salvation, regardless what they do.  Such thinking is no better than the way the Israelites made use of the Ark of the Covenant.  When we are not ready to look into the source of our problems, we will end with more dire consequences.  Just blessed medals alone cannot protect us unless we have a faith relationship with God.  Unless we know Jesus, His strength and His power, when it comes to the test of faith, we will falter.  The blessed medals can only protect us provided we believe in the power of the one whom the medal represents.   But this presupposes that we have a living relationship with Jesus or Mary or the saints that are represented in the medals.  What the medal or scapular does for us is to help us to recall the presence of the saints so that we will not be afraid or think that we are alone in our time of difficulty.

What was the real reason for the Israelites’ failure to defeat their enemies?  It was their sinful life that pushed God out of their lives.  The leaders, including the religious leaders, were laxed in their moral life.  As a result, God had abandoned them to themselves.  Earlier on, the Lord said to Samuel, “On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I tell him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.”  (1 Sm 3:12-14)

Holiness of life is essential to the success of our ministry.  This is the key to fruitfulness in ministry and work.  But we also cannot be superstitious in our relationship with God as the Israelites did over the Ark of the Covenant.  We must not treat our prayers like magic or instruments to control God.  Today, we must be like the leper who begged for healing.  We must begin by acknowledging our sins and our need for mercy.  “Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us; you no longer go forth with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe and our enemies plunder us at will. You make us the taunt of our neighbours, the laughing-stock of all who are near. Among the nations, you make us a byword, among the peoples a thing of derision.  Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?  Arise, do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face and forget our oppression and misery?”  We must confess our sins humbly, especially in the Sacrament of reconciliation so that we can begin our relationship anew with the Lord.

Most of all, we must listen to the Word of God attentively as Samuel did.  This also explains why the author said, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”  (1 Sm 3:1)  They could no longer hear the voice of God.   Indeed, when our lives are not in order, we cannot act in accordance with the will of God.  Without hearing the Word of God, we cannot act according to His word.  If we want to act in union with the Lord, we must seek His will.  This is what the Lord asks of us.   “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  (Mt 7:24f)

Faith in God’s power is dependent on us hearing the Word of God first.  For this reason, Jesus preached the Word before He healed.  He instructed the disciples, “And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without pay, give without pay.” (Mt 10:7f) He solicited faith in the person before He performed the miracle.   So too, in our healing ministry, the Word of God always precedes the sacramental action.  The Word of God comes before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Without faith the action that we perform would be meaningless and lacking in power.  Preaching must always be accompanied by signs.  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. And these signs will accompany those who believe.”  (Mk 16:15f)

We ask the Lord to redeem us because of His love.  This is what the psalmist prayed.  We must place our confidence in His love for us.  The leper approached Jesus humbly and with trust in His love and power.   He was assured that Jesus would not reject him, for lepers were not supposed to come near to the people.  Jesus is ever ready to heal us and empower us, for that is what He said, “A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’  Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.  ‘Of course I want to!’ he said.  ‘Be cured!’  And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.”   Indeed, Jesus showed forth not just His power but His love by touching the untouchables.  Not only did Jesus heal his body but also his heart which needed much acceptace and human love.

However, like the leper, we must cooperate with His grace.  He was told to see the priest and make an offering.  “Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’”  We must cooperate in prayer and conversion of life.  Many of us are not fruitful in our ministry, nor in our workplace, or even in family life because we are not living a righteous life.   St John Mary Vianney once asked a priest who lamented that his ministry was not fruitful, whether he had prayed, fasted or did penance.  If he had not done all these, then he had no reason to complain.  Let us renew our love for the Lord, beg for His mercy and open our hearts to His healing grace.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh